NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Kevin M. Rusnak
Huntsville, Arkansas – 25 October 2000
Rusnak: Today is October 25, 2000. This interview with Jerry Carr
is being conducted in his home in Huntsville, Arkansas, for the Johnson
Space Center Oral History Project. The interviewer is Kevin Rusnak.
I'd like to thank you for having us into your home today to do this
interview. If we could start out, please tell us a little bit about
your background and some of the interests you had before going into
Well, I was growing up in Santa Ana, California, and I had always
been interested in technology and that sort of thing. At about age
fourteen is when I really was infected with the love of aviation.
Back in those days we were looking at World War II. World War II had
just completed. We had seen a lot of airplanes, experimental airplanes,
flying over Southern California, brand-new airplanes.
What is now the John Wayne Airport out there was called Orange County
Airport, and the Martin Aviation Company, this was the brother of
Glenn [L.] Martin, but anyway, Martin Aviation had a bunch of old
Taylorcraft there. One of my chums from Santa Ana and I used to ride
our bicycles about fourteen miles from Santa Ana down to Orange County
Airport and we would wash airplanes all Saturday morning. Our pay
for that was a twenty-minute flight in an old Taylorcraft. So that
kind of began my interest in aviation. I should say I really became
totally infected by it by then.
My early years before college, in high school, I played high school
football and was in student government, was very active in the Boy
Scouts and did a lot of work right up to my senior year in high school
as a junior assistant scoutmaster, but spent many years in the scouting
program and got a lot from it. I was an Eagle Scout with several palms,
and just thoroughly enjoyed that whole program. Had a very busy and
very happy high school career, really enjoyed it a lot.
Moved on to University of Southern California. I did that through
the naval ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps] program. I had gotten
an appointment to the [U.S. Naval] Academy [Annapolis, Maryland] and
also was accepted into the naval ROTC program. That final year, my
senior year of high school, I was a naval reservist as well. I was
a plane captain, a seaman apprentice. I used to go to Los Alamitos
Naval Air Station [Los Alamitos, California]. My responsibility when
I was there was an [Grumman] F6F Hellcat, and my job in the morning
was to get out and clean it all up and make sure the gas and oil were
in good shape, and then the thing that I really liked was the opportunity
to start it and run it and warm it up. Those were my “pre”
The thing that got me to a place where I chose the naval ROTC was
my commanding officer of the naval reserve squadron there. Here I
was a high school senior with two opportunities: I could go to the
Naval Academy or I could go to the naval ROTC at the college of my
choice. At the time I had an opportunity to go to USC [University
of Southern California, Los Angeles, California], UCLA [University
of California – Los Angeles], or Cal, so I went in to my commanding
officer and told him of my opportunities and asked for his advice.
He was a Naval Academy graduate, but had left the regular forces and
was a reserve officer at the time. He thought about it for a minute
and he said, "Well," he said, "if you really want to
go Navy, then probably the thing to do is to go to the Naval Academy,
but," he said, "if you intend to go Marine, then you should
give serious consideration to the naval ROTC. The reason why is because
in the Marine Corps they don't care where you came from, whether you're
an Academy graduate or not." He said, "Also, why should
you lock yourself up in the Bastille for four years when you can go
to a college with girls for four years?"
So I thought about that for a while longer and then decided that maybe
his advice was the right advice. So I elected to accept the appointment
to the naval ROTC at the University of Southern California.
So my college years were, for the most part, I started out as a math
major, very quickly realized it was too academic for me, and that
I really wanted to be an engineer. I shifted into the mechanical engineering
program at the University of Southern California.
I played one year of football for the Trojans as a freshman, and I
was the smallest man in the entire Pacific Coast Conference. At the
end of that season, I realized that if self-preservation was going
to be any kind of a factor, I'd better quit playing football, because
the guys that I was up against in those days were people like Frank
Gifford and some of those kinds of fellows. USC in those days was
kicking out a lot of All Americans, they were pumping out a lot of
All Americans, and they were also playing pretty high in the national
So I then dedicated myself to my fraternity, which was Tau Kappa Epsilon,
and to my studies at the university and to my career, my naval career
with the naval ROTC. I was made the battalion commander of the ROTC
battalion my senior year, and I graduated with honors from USC with
a bachelor's in mechanical engineering.
That's about it up to and through college.
You mentioned that if you wanted to go in the Marine Corps, that the
ROTC route was a better one. Had you always intended to be a Marine?
Well, having grown up very close to the air station at El Toro, I
had a feeling that I really liked the Marine situation. I really didn't
commit to the Marines until I was a junior in college. The person
who really convinced me was the Professor of Naval Science, a Marine
Corps officer, a lieutenant colonel. He was really a very, very fine
man, a man that I really admired, and he convinced me that I really
ought to go Marine.
But the interesting thing was, he said, "Why don't you stay Navy
until you finish your junior year and then make your Marine option
selection when [you] come back from your junior cruise," because
the junior cruise was a cruise on a naval vessel, a cruiser the USS
Worcester [CL-144], and we had a wonderful midshipman cruise and I
learned a lot about the Navy from that cruise. If I had not done that,
I would have gone to Quantico [Virginia] to the basic school there
to get some officer training. He said, "You'll probably enjoy
going to sea, and that will also probably convince you without doubt
to be a Marine." And he was absolutely right.
I had a wonderful midshipman cruise that year, got to see Norway and
Denmark, had a wonderful cruise. Came back, took the Marine option,
and became a Marine second lieutenant in June of '54.
Was your intention to get into aviation in the military?
Yes. Yes, it was always my intention to get into aviation. They wouldn't
allow you to go directly from the university to flight training; you
had to go through what we called charm school, what the Marine Corps
called Officers' Basic School. So when I finished at the University
of Southern California, they sent me to Quantico, Virginia, and I
spent the rest of that year of 1954 in officer basic training.
Came home for Christmas in California, then went back to school for
one more month of what they call postgraduate training, which was
mainly a lot of administrative training, how to do a lot of the administrative
work, and then from there I had known then that I was selected for
flight training. From there in January we left the Quantico area and
went down to Pensacola, Florida, and we were in Pensacola there in
January of '55.
My first daughter, Jennifer, was born in July of 1955, in Pensacola,
at the naval hospital there. I must say that one of my fondest memories
of that, when I first saw Jennifer, was that she came in on the arm
of a great big burly Navy corpsman instead of a little white-frocked
nurse, and it was quite an experience to see my daughter come in on
the arm of a big corpsman.
That sounds wonderful. A nice way to come into the world, I guess.
So tell me some about your flight experiences as a Marine aviator.
Well, as a Marine aviator, I finished and got my wings at Kingsville,
Texas, in 1956, in May, and was sent to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry
Point, North Carolina. I was processed in there, and after a few weeks
I was assigned to [Marine Fighter Squadron] VMF-114, which in those
days was flying the old [Grumman] F9F-8 Cougar. Shortly after that,
about six or eight months after I joined the squadron, we were assigned
the [Douglas] F4D Skyray. So we flew that for several years.
I was in that squadron for about three years. My final part of that
tour of duty was a Mediterranean cruise. The Marine squadrons must
be carrier-qualified, and we did a lot of practicing in getting ready
for carrier work. We went aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt [CVA-42]
and went to the Mediterranean.
It was about four months into that six-month cruise that I was informed
that I had been selected for U.S. Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey
[California], so I left the ship in about August, I think it was,
and reported to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. I spent
two years there studying aeronautical engineering, and that was really
murder, because it was four years of college crammed into two, and
what they did is they took out all of the English and the economics
and the history and it was just all math and physics and aeronautical
engineering. It was a tough, tough course.
Finished that in two years, then was sent to Princeton University
for a master's degree in aeronautical engineering in stability and
control of aircraft, and was very, very fortunate to have the opportunity
to study with, I guess, the man who has been called the father of
the study of aircraft stability and control. His name was Cortland
[D.] Perkins. The books that he has written are still being used today,
I believe, in the study.
After that tour of duty when I got my master's degree, I was then
assigned to the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina,
and was assigned to VMF-122, which was at that time flying the [Vought]
F-8 Crusader. I flew the Crusader for several years. Again, it was
about a three-year tour of duty. I was very fortunate. Most guys don't
get three years.
My main duty, because of my background in engineering, I became the
maintenance officer of the squadron, and I was in charge of not only
flying my share of the flying and doing that sort of thing, but it
was also my responsibility to run the department that kept the airplanes
flying. That was a real challenge and I really did enjoy that kind
Flew with 122 for a couple of years in the U.S., and then was sent
to Japan. The squadron was deployed overseas to Atsugi, Naval Air
Station Atsugi, Japan, which is just outside of Tokyo. I moved my
family back to Santa Ana, California, and we bought a house in my
old neighborhood. Some of my children went to my old grammar school.
I spent a year over there in Japan. We were there when the Tonkin
Bay [Vietnam] crisis hit, when the—what were they called? Patrol
boats, I guess, they got into a big fracas with our Navy. But since
we were about ready to go home, they kept us in Japan. We transitioned
and went back home, and the new squadron that came and picked up our
airplanes was immediately sent to—I believe it was Cubi Point
in the Philippines, and that was the beginning of the U.S. involvement
Came back to Santa Ana. I was assigned to the Marine Corps Air Facility
at Santa Ana, California, and because of my background as an interceptor
pilot and with aeronautical engineering behind me, I was assigned
to an outfit that was automating the flight intercept system. That
is, we had the kind of airplanes or were getting the kind of airplanes
that can be, when launched, the radar guy on the ground, when he finds
an enemy, the pilot would put his airplane on autopilot and they would
establish a datalink between the radar people and the guy in the airplane.
Actually, the radar on the ground was the thing that flew the airplane.
It was called the Tactical Air Data System.
My job was to design the fighter intercept trajectories that we would
fly in order to intercept various kinds of targets, and then we would
put those into the computers and then we would go practice flying
them and see if they worked okay. We would keep modifying and tweaking
that sort of thing.
It was there that the Marine Corps came out with an announcement that
NASA was getting ready to select a new group of astronauts, and suggested
that anybody in the Marine Corps who was interested in making application
should send their application to the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
So I decided that I would give it a try, and I was mainly interested
in just seeing how far I could get. An old friend of mine, an old
Marine fighter pilot friend of mine, was an astronaut at that time,
it was C.C. Williams, and I figured, "Well, C.C. made it, maybe
I can. I'll just see how far I can go in the process."
So in 1965, I made application. Didn't hear much of anything for quite
some time until it seemed to me it was late 1965, when I was notified
that I had been selected as a conditional candidate, and would I like
to go ahead further with the process. Of course I said, "Yes,
that will be just fine."
So I was sent to Brooks Medical Center there in San Antonio [Texas],
where we did our physicals, and our physical was very much like the
one that they show in the movie The Right Stuff, just about all the
same stuff. We didn't have any of the comedians like Pete [Charles
C.] Conrad [Jr.] in the movie, but there was lots of good memories
about that. It's an unforgettable experience, I'll tell you.
Came back from that. I found out that I have mild flat feet and I
had hay fever, so I figured, "Well, I'm not a perfect specimen,
so I probably won't be selected for this thing." So I sat back
and went back to my work and didn't think much about it anymore until
I got another call. This time they said, "We would like to have
you come to Houston. We're going to put you in the old Rice Hotel
and we're going to have oral interviews to try to select someone for
So I went to Houston and met again some of the guys that I had met
at the medical screening. We went through a process of sitting in
front of a long green table, and guys sitting at the table were Deke
[Donald K.] Slayton and Warren [J.] North and Al [Alan B.] Shepard
[Jr.] and several other engineers. I think there was a psychiatrist
and a doctor there. And just were thoroughly grilled. In hindsight,
I could see that they were just trying to find out, get a good handle
on how we would react, how we could handle ourselves under pressure,
but they really worked us over.
What kind of things would they ask you?
Oh, across the board, from what types of airplane I had flown and
what I'd done in the airplanes, and what my hobbies were, they grilled
me, asked me questions about my military flights and my military experience,
asked a lot of family questions, as I remember. So when I finished
that, I said, "Whoa. That was really pretty tough." And
there were fifty of us in that group. There were 350 of us that were
medically screened. It started from a group, I think, of 8,000 candidates.
So I went home. This was after the first of the year, 1966. Went back
home and said, "Well, gee, I got further than I thought I would."
So one day—in fact, it was April Fool Day in 1966—I was
up in Van Nuys, California, at a meeting with Litton Industries. These
were the people who were designing the Tactical Data System that we
were flying with the radar people. I was conducting a meeting in a
big conference room with about—oh, golly, there must have been
fifteen or twenty engineers and people sitting around, and we were
busy talking about the system, when the secretary came in and she
said, "Major Carr, there's a Captain Shepard on the phone who
would like to talk with you, and he says it's very urgent."
I said, "Well, what in the heck is Bill Shephard wanting?"
Because we had a young captain at my control squadron named Bill Shephard.
It's not the Bill Shephard, incidentally, who's associated with the
International Space Station. So I said, "Well, he says it's important,
so I guess I'd better talk with him."
I picked up the phone and I said, "Hello." I said, "This
is Major Carr."
He said, "Jerry, this is Al Shepard down at the Manned Space
Center in Houston, Texas."
And I said, "Oh. Yes!"
And he said, "If you're still interested, we would like to have
you come down here and join the astronaut group and work with us."
He said, "Now, one thing I must tell you is that you must keep
this very quiet, because we haven't made the press release yet. You
can tell your wife, but please don't tell anybody else."
And here I was sitting at a table with about fifteen or twenty engineers.
So I said, "Well, yeah, I'll do that," and I thanked him
and I tried to be noncommittal while I was talking with him so that
these people wouldn't get a hint. But they said afterwards, after
it became common knowledge of what I'd been selected for, they said
they could tell something was definitely afoot, because they said
it looked like I had risen up out of my chair about a foot and was
just kind of floating there.
Well, anyway, that was the notification and that was April Fool's
Day of 1966. I came home. Incidentally, they wanted me to report within
thirty days. So I came back home and my wife was fixing dinner. I
came in the back door and I said, "Guess what? They just called
me and I've been selected to be an astronaut."
And she looked at me and said, "April Fool." [Laughter]
As it turned out, things really got wild then. When the press release
was made, we had newspaper people all over the house. I had six children
at that time, and at least four of them were hams, so we had a lot
of fun with my kids hamming around. They came, and the newspaper people
later on came to watch us pack the house and pack the van, just covered
everything that was going on.
That was quite some time later, though, I should say, because within
the first thirty days there was no way to move the family. I had to
drive to Houston myself. In those days I had a 1953 MG-TD, so when
I packed up the MG with all of my clothing and things that I was going
to need at NASA, and left the family in Houston, the plan was I would
go over, report, get settled in, find us a house, and then we would
move the family.
Well, I made it as far as Yuma, Arizona, the first night. It was very
hot. So the plan was that I would go across the desert at night and
spend the days sleeping at Yuma and other motels and things like that.
Well, I woke up the next morning. Let's see. When was that? I arrived
about two o'clock in the morning. I woke up at about eight or nine
in the morning and I was very flushed. I went in and I looked at myself
in the mirror, and I was just covered with spots and I was flushed.
So I went to the flight dispensary at the Yuma station there. I think
in those days it was Naval Air Station Yuma; it wasn't a Marine station
yet. The flight surgeon looked at me and started laughing. He said,
"You've got the three-day measles."
I said, "What am I going to do? I'm supposed to report to NASA
and here I've got the measles." [Laughter]
Well, he said, "Well, it won't hurt you to go ahead and drive
on out there. By the time you get there, it'll be about gone."
But he said, "You should drive at night when it's cool. Don't
overheat yourself or anything like that," which was the plan
So I started out that evening, out of Yuma, and went across. I don't
know where I stayed, but I remember the first motel I went into, about
two or so in the morning, the person behind the desk took one look
at me and his eyes got large. I knew I was probably scaring him half
The second night I was in West Texas, and again this was in May, and
you know that's the rainy season. West Texas is very prone to flash
floods, and I had been told to watch out for flash floods, and it
was raining. I started out, and was probably about thirty miles west
of Fort Stockton, I was following another car and the rain was really
coming down, and all of a sudden that car in front of me disappeared.
I started to put my foot on the brake, and about that time I saw brown
water hit the side of my car and go up over the hood of the MG, but
the distributor and everything is on the left side of the engine,
so all of the water went over it, just missed the distributor and
everything. So all I could do was downshift my MG and just keep on
About halfway across this thing I caught out of the corner of my eye
the other car was right in the middle of it, dead in the water, and
I had been washed to the left side of it so that I got by him without
hitting him. But I was up to my waist in water, sitting in that MG,
and it was cold. I was going [gasps]. And got around the other car
and got up on the other side, checked on the people to see if they
were okay, and they were fine. They'd gotten out. The water had already
started coming down.
So I went on into Fort Stockton and went into a gas station, just
opened the doors of my car and let all the water out, hosed everything
down, and got back in the car and kept on going, and arrived the night
before and stayed at the BOQ [Bachelor Officer’s Quarters] at
Ellington [Air Force Base, Houston, Texas]. That was the night before
we were formally announced on May the first. But it was quite an experience
coming across the country.
It sounds like you had an interesting journey not only getting that
trip, but the whole way to NASA in your career.
By the time you had joined NASA, they were about midway through the
Gemini Program, so there had been space flights. They had done Mercury
and a few Gemini flights. What had you thought years earlier when
they had selected the first astronauts and these Mercury guys had
become somewhat celebrities?
Icons. Yes. Well, I was very, very proud of them and I was very excited
about the whole thing, but never identified myself with that program
at all. As far as I felt at the time, I was a fighter pilot, a Marine
fighter pilot, and had no visions of having done that or wanting to
do that. It wasn't until that announcement came out from the Marine
Corps when I was a junior major, that I decided it would be a thing
to try for, and I really only did it to see how far I could go. It
wasn't one of my driving ambitions to be an astronaut, because I just
didn't think that that's what I was going to be. I figured, well,
I was going to be a Marine fighter pilot.
Did you pay a lot of attention to, say, the Mercury Program or these
other early events in the space race?
Yes, I did. I paid a lot of attention to it. I followed all of the
missions very, very avidly and very carefully and was really interested
in what was going on, but I never identified myself with that program.
I might say that when we first reported to NASA, it was a rather tumultuous
time because that was about the time that [Charles A.] Bassett [II]
and [Elliot M.] See [Jr.] had their accident in St. Louis [Missouri]
and were killed. It wasn't long after we arrived that Gemini VIII
flew and Neil [A.] Armstrong had the thruster stuck on and got into
the spin-up mode. I think maybe it made a few of our guys say, "Gee,
I wonder what we've gotten ourselves into here."
If we can stop and change out our tape here.
What did you expect from the job of an astronaut when you first joined
Well, the lunar program, you know, the moon program, Apollo, had already
been announced, and we were all very hopeful that we had in our future
an opportunity to fly to the Moon. That's one of the things that we
were told very early in the ball game, "If you expect to fly
to the Moon, forget it. Those seats are all taken. By the time you
get through your training phase and get on to where you would be ready
for it, you will have not had the chance. So your missions will be
post Apollo," which turned out not to be true. We ended up with
quite a few of our guys that were selected for the lunar program.
As we began our what we called astronaut basic training—and
it seems to me in those days it took about eighteen months—we
began studying—we studied a little bit about Gemini systems,
but for the most part we studied all the Apollo systems. The thinking
there was that we were going to become support crew members. We would
be third-stringers and we would be the guys who tracked the vehicles
through the manufacturers as they were being built and did all that
sort of specialty support work.
The original seven astronauts were still there at NASA when we arrived,
so we got a chance to get to know all of them. John [H.] Glenn [Jr.]
and I became good friends because we were both Marines and we also
attended the same church. He was an elder at that church, and when
he left to pursue other things, I took his place as Elder of the Webster
The kind of work that I got selected for, once we finished all of
the training, was the lunar module. I became part of a group of guys
who were responsible for following the lunar module [LM] through its
development and fabrication and delivery, testing and delivery to
the Cape. The other guys who I worked with were Ed [Edgar D.] Mitchell
and Fred [W.] Haise and John [S.] Bull and Jim Irwin. I think that's
about it. Some of the guys were assigned to the booster, guys like
Jack [R.] Lousma and Stu [Stuart A.] Roosa. Some of the guys were
assigned to the command and service module [CSM]. So that's kind of
the way we were spread out.
About that time we decided to give ourselves a name, too. There was
an Original Seven, so we called ourselves the Original Nineteen. Somewhere
along the line there, I can't remember the dates, we lost Ed [Edward
G.] Givens [Jr.] to an automobile accident, so we were down to eighteen.
Then I think it was [F. Curtis] Curt Michel decided to resign. So
our numbers started coming down a little bit.
As soon as the Gemini Program was over, we immediately rolled right
into the Apollo Program, and that's when my work with the lunar module
got very hot and heavy. I spent a lot of time at Grumman [Aircraft
Engineering Corp.] Bethpage in New York while they were building the
lunar modules, and we actually had sleeping quarters in the building
right next door to where the vehicles were being built. We were on
call day or night to go in there to work with the people.
As they built the lunar module, we would do the testing of the systems
as they were put in, so you can think of it as kind of a layered cake.
They put the first layer in and we tested all those systems. Then
they put the second layer in and we tested those systems and then
them with the ones below. As they built up the entire lunar module,
we did a lot of the testing work. We were the subjects. We were the
people who did the switch throwing and that sort of thing during the
The same thing was going on in Downey [California] as they [North
American Aviation] were building the command and service modules.
Meanwhile, the guys working the booster spent a lot of time at the
Marshall Space Flight Center [MSFC, Huntsville, Alabama] working with
the booster people.
Those were really great years. They were the real heady years of NASA.
My first assignment outside of following the lunar module was as a
support crew member on Apollo 8. In those days, Apollo 8's mission
was changing very regularly. Frank Borman had been the chairman of
the investigating group of the fire, the Apollo  fire.
Flashing back to that now, I can remember the day that happened. We
were in Los Angeles. We'd been doing some sort of a tour or familiarization
thing with Downey [afterthought – I think maybe we were returning
from a field trip], and we were at Los Angeles Airport getting ready
to fly back—as I remember, we were flying commercial—when
the word came out that there had been a fire and that astronauts had
been killed at the Cape. We had no other information. A bunch of us
were just kind of wandering around, "How can we find out what
I said, "I'm just going to go call the Los Angeles Times and
ask them." So I did. I picked up the phone and called the L.A.
Times and told them who I was, and I said, "We've just learned
about this. We don't have any information. What can you tell us so
that we'll have some knowledge as we go back home?" And so they
gave me the information and I passed it on to the rest of the guys.
But that was a pretty terrible time. I think it really demoralized
all of us. NASA was beginning to feel very confident. It had completed
the Gemini Program and had done a beautiful job, and things were just
swimming along great in the Apollo Program, and this disaster hit.
We had to dig our way out of that. Frank Borman, his leadership, along
with the management [team] that worked with him, were responsible
for getting us out of that and getting us psychologically prepared
to get on and get the rest of the job done.
At any rate, Frank was assigned Apollo 8. But the problem was, it
was clear that Apollo 8 was not going to have a lunar module ready
in time. The lunar module schedule just would not support Apollo 8.
So they decided, well, Apollo 8 should probably be a precursor like
9 and 10 were going to be. That is, just go around the Earth and test
out the systems and that sort of thing.
Well, I think Frank had a lot to do with the decision that we really
ought to be more audacious about this thing and we really ought to
head to the Moon. So the Apollo 8 mission was finally finalized as
that mission to the Moon that would be there Christmas Eve. That was
I was a lunar module man, but we had no lunar module, so my job became
the flight data file coordinator for the mission, so I worked with
the other guys that were working the Apollo 8 mission, getting all
the flight data file together. I worked a lot with Bill [William A.]
Anders on getting this done.
Then we began doing all of our sims [simulations], and that's when
I began to meet some of the really great guys that are in mission
control supporting the program. I got to really get to know people
like Cliff [Clifford E.] Charlesworth and Gene [Eugene F.] Kranz and
Milt Windler and—oh, gosh, I could just go on and on. One of
my favorite guys was Gordon [M.] Ferguson. Gordon Ferguson was sim
sup [simulation supervisor], and he was always the villain. Whenever
we had a sim, Gordon was the guy who threw in the problems, and sometimes
they were formidable problems. But he really worked over both mission
control and the crew in the spacecraft because of these integrated
mission sims we were doing.
My memories of Apollo 8 are particularly fond because I remember Susan
Borman and how concerned she was. Frank was very concerned about Susan,
and so, you know, it was just the anxiety sort of thing. They had
sort of a code work between them, and that was when things got kind
of iffy and everything, she would say or he would say, "The roast
is in the oven at 350," or something like that. It's in the transcripts.
And so I remember on Christmas Eve after the launch and they were
headed on their way, they'd done translunar injection and were on
their way to the Moon, Susan asked me if I would say that to him,
so I said it. He said, "What?" Then he said, "Oh."
Took him a minute. It was totally out of context for him and he didn't
know what to do with it, but he got the picture.
I really was thrilled to be part of Apollo 8. It was really a monumental
mission, very gratifying to be part of it.
My next assignment after Apollo 8 was Apollo 12, and so we moved right
on. Then the lunar module that I had worked on in Bethpage was the
lunar module assigned to Apollo 12, so this time as a support crewman
I had a piece of machinery that I was responsible for working with,
and that made it even more gratifying to work Apollo 12. Working with
Pete Conrad and Dick [Richard F.] Gordon [Jr.] and Al [Alan L.] Bean
was just a joy. There was always light-heartedness, there was always
a lot of fun along with the hard work that was going on while we were
I was the capsule communicator for launch, and the pre-launch, all
the phase went just beautifully and we got to the weather and the
weather people started sweating thunderstorms. I can't remember, I
don't think we held for anything. I'd have to go back and review the
data. But there were thunderstorms in the area and people were worried
about them. But the decision was made to go ahead and go, because
they were far enough away that they didn't think that there would
be any problem with it. So we launched.
Just about the time we had tower cleared, everything, all the lights
went on, and the people in mission control could see that all of the
navigation systems, the guidance, everything in the command module
was just rolling over on its back and putting its feet up in the air.
One thing I remember the guys down in the booster console were saying,
"The booster's okay. The booster's okay. It's guiding properly.
We're all right." I don't remember who the mission director was,
but he heard that, so he said, "All right. Let's sort this thing
And the [flight] dynamics officer and the flight—FIDO, I guess
he was, anyway, we were all working the system, and all of a sudden
the guys came up on the radio and they said, "We've lost everything.
We've got the master alarm light on. The inertial guidance system
has rolled over on its back. What's going on?"
And about that time one of the guys on the console told the flight
director to have me tell them to put the SCE switch to AUX [Auxiliary].
So I said, "Apollo 12, this is Houston. SCE to AUX. Put your
SCE to AUX."
And there was this silence, and they said, "What was that again?"
And I said, "SCE, signal conditioning electronics, to AUX."
"Where is it?" [Laughter]
So I told them the panel number and they finally got it turned on,
and that helped get things back together again.
As you know, the IU [Instrument Unit] on the booster took the system
up, put it into orbit, and everything was just fine, and they had
time then to begin sorting things out, re-erecting their gyros, and
we sent them a new state vector update and everything got back in
good shape again.
Then we began to try to find out what in the world happened. Well,
they looked at some of the video of the launch, and they saw that
it had been struck by lightning, that essentially lightning had gone
in at the escape tower, gone all the way down the vehicle, and as
long as the exhaust gases from the rocket, from the booster, were
still impinging on the launch tower, that electricity went right down
through those gases and were expended out, grounded out on the launch
tower. So once they got far enough up, then everything was okay, and
they'd just been zapped, that's all.
So the big question now was, was anything damaged. So we went through
a lot of diagnostics and checked out a lot of things to make sure
that the vehicle was okay.
One of the funniest things was the download tapes. You know every
few minutes the guys on the ground download the tapes, the conversations
that are going on in the spacecraft. Well, they downloaded the tapes
of the crew during the incident. It was so funny, because Alan Bean
was saying—no, Pete said, "What the hell is going on?"
And one of the other guys says, "I don't know." And Alan
Bean says, "We've got power on the bus. We've got power on the
bus," which means our electrical system is okay. And Pete's saying,
"What the hell's going on? I got this wrong and I got that wrong,"
and he started calling off all the things. I could just imagine the
confusion and the mayhem that was going on in the command module.
Then I heard my voice come in and say, "SCE to AUX." And
I heard them questioning back and forth, "What in the world is
he talking about?" Because it's a very remotely located switch
and it was something that I don't think anybody ever fiddled with
in training. So it was not up front in their minds and they couldn't
find it. But once we got it done, got things taken care of, the mission
went on beautifully. But that tape is one of the funniest tapes I've
ever heard in my life, because Pete, besides saying, "What the
hell's going on?" he started giggling after a while, as only
Pete can laugh. So there's a guy, even under stress, had a sense of
Well, that was pretty much it. Apollo 12 went from then on according
to Hoyle, was a very successful mission. I did a lot of work with
training the crew on going to the other vehicle that was on the lunar
surface, and I can't remember the name of that communications vehicle,
but they landed not far from it.
Surveyor. That's right. Surveyor III or Surveyor VIII? Can't remember.
Three, I think.
Three, I think. Anyway, their job was to go over to Surveyor with
a pair of bolt cutters and bring back some pieces of it, and I worked
that segment of the lunar surface portion with them and thoroughly
enjoyed working that part of the program.
After Apollo 12, if I remember correctly, I was assigned to work with
the lunar rover. We fiddled with the hand-cart idea for a few missions,
but NASA decided to build a lunar rover, and I've always admired that
as a real monument to good engineering, because in one year's time
we went from concept to flight configuration. It was the Boeing Company
and Bendix and Delco-Remy, and we did all of our testing of the lunar
rover vehicle in California, at Goleta. So I really enjoyed working
that. I got to know a lot of good Boeing people and did a lot of work
at the Marshall Space Flight Center.
Then when we got it fabricated, it was put together, I think assembled
at Goleta at the Delco-Remy plant, and we did our testing at Pismo
Beach, California, because the dunes at Pismo are a lot like what
they thought the lunar surface was going to be like. Jack Lousma was
the other astronaut assigned to that, so the two of us worked that
rather heavily and had a really fine time working that program.
I'll never forget one time that we were testing on the sand dunes
at Pismo Beach, and in those days dune buggies were a big thing, and
Pismo Beach was a big dune buggy haven. Well, we had the lunar rover,
the prototype lunar rover, out there, and we were practicing ingress
and egress; that is, getting in and getting out of it while you're
fully suited. Jack was fully suited up in his suit and he was working,
grunting, and snorting and working his way in and out of the lunar
rover when we heard this roar on the other side of the dune. Here
came this dune buggy over the top of the dune, with this long pole
with a little red flag on the end of it, and this guy came over the
dune and all four of his wheels left the ground and he landed on our
side of the dune. He apparently had applied the brakes while he was
airborne, because when he hit, he just stuck. You could see his eyes
get as big as saucers. He put it in reverse and he backed over the
dune and never came back. [Laughter] But those are great Apollo 12
and lunar rover memories.
How do you go about designing a vehicle to drive on the Moon when
you haven't had that much experience with the surface or with really
the kind of environment that this is going to be driving in? How do
you approach these problems?
They had some parameters. They knew that this lunar surface was heavy
in dust and that it was thick, so they were going to have to have
a wheel that wouldn't throw dust all over the place, and they also
had to have a wheel or a tire that would roll over the sand or the
dirt and not sink into it. So we ended up with hollow tires. They
were made out of a stainless steel mesh. They actually put little
chevron treads on the tire made out of aluminum. They knew they wanted
maneuverability, so they designed this vehicle with front wheels that
could turn and back wheels that could also turn, or you had the selectability
that you could turn off the back wheels and they would stay straight
and it would go like a regular car, but if you wanted both sets of
wheels to turn, you could throw the switch and it would turn in its
own footprint. So it was a very, very maneuverable thing.
The other thing was that we had to have a vehicle that was compatible
with the gloved hand, because the astronaut has very little mobility.
So we had to have the kind of seat arrangement where the astronaut
could see and be fairly comfortable. He had to be able to control
it all with one hand. And that hand controller eventually became the
standard for hand controllers that are used on wheelchairs, on mobile
wheelchairs today. But the hand controller was very much like the
hand controller in the command module, except that you could pull
it back like a lever and you would get reverse, or push it forward
and get the forward. But then we had the turning. The yaw was for
turning. It worked very well.
But basically we had to look at the sand and we had to look at the
maneuverability we want, and we also were very, very concerned about
navigation, because one of the concerns was that if the lunar rover
got behind a dune or behind some kind of a hill and the crew needed
to find their way back, you might have a problem. You need to have
backup systems so if one system failed, if a battery failed, you could
make it back.
Basically, the nav system, it turns out, you could just follow your
tracks. But the idea was that you could have been on some kind of
a circuitous traverse and then at that point want to go right straight
back to the LM, and you certainly don't want to follow your tracks
back to the LM.
But after the lunar rover vehicle assignment, my next assignment was,
I think, selection as backup crew, or on the crew for Apollo 19. So
they put us, as I remember, as backup crew to Apollo 15. Our crew
was to be—Fred Haise was going to be the CDR [commander], Bill
[William R.] Pogue was to be the command module pilot, and I was to
be the lunar module pilot. We got started on that, began our training
program, and, oh, if my memory serves me correctly, it was around
1970, early 1970 or so, when it was decided that Apollos 18, 19, and
20 would be canceled. So that was a bad day at Black Rock for the
three of us. We had lost our opportunity to go to the Moon. I remember
we moped around for quite a few weeks.
Then Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford called me into his office and informed
me that I was to be the commander of the third Skylab mission and
said, "Do you think you can work with Bill Pogue and Ed Gibson?"
And I said, "Of course I can." [Laughter]
At that time, then, they took us off our roles as the backup crew
for Apollo 15 and put another crew in there, and we began focusing
ourselves on the Skylab mission.
With all that was going on in Apollo, had you paid much attention
to Skylab as it was developing?
Very little. I paid very little attention to it. Bill Pogue had had
an assignment, a short one like I did with the lunar rover. I think
he worked Apollo Applications for a little while, so he was a little
more familiar than I. But most of us had been totally focused on the
What did you think, then, of Skylab when you got this assignment?
Just happy to get a seat?
I was delighted to get a seat, and I was absolutely floored that they
would select me to be a commander, because there hadn't been a rookie
commander at NASA since—what was it? I guess it was probably
Armstrong on Gemini VIII.
And so I was really flabbergasted to be selected and very happy to
do it. What delighted me the most, I think, was the fact that I was
going to be working with Al Bean and Pete Conrad and people like that
again, so it was really a wonderful thing.
We didn't have a chance in the beginning to get much training, because
the two crews ahead of us were going to get it all, but we had to
wait till the Apollo Program was over. So even Pete Conrad and his
crew were only getting catch-as-catch-can training whenever the simulator
was available. So we were playing with cardboard and things like that
to try to figure out what to do.
One of our main tasks was to help put together the training program
that the Skylab astronauts were going to be using, and we worked very
hot and heavy with people in the training department, helping them
brainstorm and get that sort of stuff out of the way. Since we didn't
have any simulators to work with and we couldn't do anything else,
it was probably an excellent use of our time.
That program, the Skylab Program, was really quite a training opportunity,
I guess you could call it, a challenge. We were going to have to learn
two systems. We had to learn the command and service module system.
We also had to learn the Skylab system, the workshop systems. And
on top of that, we had experimental systems that had to be learned.
So three years from announcement to flight was certainly not an inadequate
amount of time; it was an adequate amount of time to do all of this
kind of work.
One of the interesting things about the Skylab Program that developed
later on was that this was the first opportunity for people who were
not capcoms to speak to the crew. It was on our mission that Dr. [Robert
M.] MacQueen was allowed to talk to Ed Gibson directly about an experiment.
It was the first time that I know of that anybody on the ground other
than capcom was allowed to speak to anybody on orbit. Of course, that's
changed significantly over the years since then.
But the jobs that we ended up individually with, naturally Ed Gibson
was the guy in charge of experiments, and particularly the solar physics
experiments. Ed had written a book recently, called The Quiet Sun,
and was somewhat of a solar physics expert, among us, anyway. So he
really focused pretty much on that particular experiment, the ATM
experiments. Bill Pogue got a lot of the Skylab fluid systems and
a lot of the other experiments. My main task was the Skylab navigational
guidance and nav and all of that. We focused on those. We structured
ourselves so that all of us could operate anything, but if anything
went wrong, there was one expert.
That's a good place to stop.
If we can talk a little bit more about some of the specific training
you went through to learn the experiments and systems that you had
to know to be up on Skylab.
Well, the training is kind of two-phase or three-phase. The first
thing you have to do is you've got to read the theory of the experiment,
so we had to get some level of understanding as well as we could,
considering we weren't astrophysicists or astronomers or something
like that. We had to learn about what the experiment was all about
and why it was being done in order to be a competent performer, if
you want to call it, or executor of the experiment.
In many of the collateral experiments that we did, the experiment
hardware wasn't there, and in many cases we worked with, again, cardboard
and things until the principal investigator finally got his piece
of experiment there. Many times we found human factors problems with
the experiment. We found that a lot of the PIs [principle investigators]
knew nothing about human factors and they knew nothing about being
weightless, so they would prescribe things to be done that just weren't
practical at all in a weightless environment. So we worked very diligently
with those fellows, trying to get their experiments in a configuration
that could be easily accomplished, and I think they appreciated our
willingness to do that. For us it was important, because we wanted
The three main tasks, of course, of Skylab were to study the human
body, to study the sun, and study the Earth. So we spent a lot of
time on those experiments. The medical people really wanted us to
thoroughly understand what we were doing, and they actually could
use the experiments in the final months. They could use the experiments
on the ground as the way of gathering the baseline for the physiological
data that we took on orbit. So again we studied the theory, we started
looking at the equipment, we advised the people designing the experiment
as to how to make it more compatible with a weightless environment,
and then we accomplished the experiment.
The medical stuff, that was pretty straightforward. We just learned
how to use the experiment and we actually took baseline data on ourselves,
which became part of our medical records.
The solar physics work was extremely difficult, because the Apollo
Telescope Mount [ATM] control panel controlled a great number of different
experiments. The Apollo Telescope Mount itself, the telescope, there
were five or seven experiments in that big mount, and I always thought
of it being like a big Gatling gun or a gun turret, because it turned.
What you did is you would turn the drum inside there and you'd position
one of the experiments to take solar data, and then when you finished
with that, you would position another one and take data.
All of the various experiments were the proprietary interest of a
whole bunch of different principal investigators, so one thing that
Joe [Joseph P.] Kerwin and Ed Gibson and Owen [K.] Garriott had to
contend with was the competition between the principal investigators
to make sure that their experiments were done with a reasonable amount
of priority and that they were done properly.
So those guys developed a handbook. It was called Joint Operating
Procedures, and that turned out to be the bible. It was almost like
signing up to a truce or a pact. We had to get all of the experimenters
to sign up to that and agree that this JOP, this Joint Operating Procedure,
would be the one everybody would go by. And if somebody's experiment
failed or something went wrong and it didn't get done, there would
be no screaming and yelling, that an effort would be made by the planners
to re-program it later on down the line, but that they would go with
It was a real breakthrough, because until then, there was a lot of
infighting going on. Particularly Owen Garriott and Ed Gibson were
getting a lot of flak from experimenters wanting to make sure that
we understood they had invested a lot of their money, probably most
of their budget on this thing, and they didn't want it screwed up.
There were a few experimenters out there who had absolutely no confidence
that we could do anything, and they probably considered us to be not
much more competent than a bunch of chimpanzees up there trying to
do these very important experiments that they wanted to have done.
I'll jump forward and say at the end of the mission those guys came
forward and thanked us and said they had misjudged us and that they
were very, very happy with the work that we had done for them.
Now jumping back to training again. We did a lot of those experiments
that way. The other one, the ATM was, I guess, the most complicated
of the bunch because of all of the things that were involved in it.
It was also tightly involved with our navigation system and the pointing
system. The spacecraft had to be in exactly the right attitude, and
then the drum had to be pointed also just a little bit more—even
more accurately, to within something like a—seems to me it was
a tenth of a degree of accuracy, which is incredible accuracy.
The third experiment was a study of the Earth, the Earth Resources
Experiment Package. That again was a tough one, because we had people
from all over the world who wanted data taken and certain sites down
on the Earth, and we had to have photography. They had to rig up a
simulator that would allow us to practice tracking these targets and
taking the data that these people wanted. But it worked out very well
and we were able to get all of that good data that we wanted.
One of the things that Ed and Bill and I decided early, probably halfway
through our training program, was that we really wanted to have extra
film, we wanted to get briefings from people around the world who
were experts in different kinds of Earth phenomena, because, as we
said in those days, we did not want to be in the position at a debriefing
of having someone ask us about something and being able to say nothing
more than, "Yeah, we saw it. Sure was pretty."
So that was the beginning of the Earth Observations Program. We went
to Ken [Kenneth S.] Kleinknecht and said that we really wanted to
be intelligent observers of the Earth when we weren't doing other
things, and could he help us with it. Well, they gave us forty hours
of training time and they said, "What we'll do is we will find
at least twenty world experts on various phenomena on the Earth, and
we'll have them come, and they get two hours of your time to brief
you on what's important about what they want to know and how to look
That turned out to be probably the most exciting and the most rewarding
of all of the experiments that we did, was the opportunity to ad lib,
and to ad lib intelligently. The kinds of people we had were a guy
named Silvers, who is an earthquake-fault expert from Southern California;
a fellow named Campbell, who is an expert on ice formation in the
northern and southern latitudes; there was a desert formation expert;
meteorologists; a fellow named—oh, boy, he's going to kill me
because I can't remember his name—from La Jolla. But these people
were programmed in and they very happily came and sat down with us
and talked about what it was, what it would take to get them data
that would teach them more about their particular studies of the Earth.
So we enjoyed those forty hours of training. They gave us a lot of
extra film, a lot of which was ruined when the Skylab had its problem
and part of the insulation was torn away. But we were able to get
by with what we had.
The Earth Observations Program has been carried on now, and I understand
it's still going strong in the Shuttle. We kind of feel like we were
somewhat the fathers of that. I think Al Bean and his crew got to
do some of that, too, because we got it started. They were able to
get in on it, too, and spend some extra time taking photographs of
ad lib things on the ground.
The other training we got at the last minute was regarding the comet
Kohoutek. It was discovered at the Hamburg Observatory early in that
year, that this comet was headed toward the sun and it looked like
it was going to do perihelion about Christmas Day of '73. There was
a lot of talk about maybe that's—the period of the comet was
2,000 years, so there was a lot of talk that maybe that's what the
Star of Bethlehem was, was actually that comet, because of the biblical
stories of this new star. At any rate, we did some studying of that
and tried to do some preparation for that experiment as well.
We also had student experiments that we had a lot of fun with. Skylab
was the beginning of the time when student experiments were brought
aboard. The other crews and we had a very good time working some of
those student experiments.
So as you can see, we had a very busy life learning all of the different
kinds of science, so we were essentially dabbling in a lot of science.
We also had all of our regular command module and training that went
along with that. I think that's a very exciting one. The command module
training they give you for when you land in a Stable 2 position, that
is, with the point of the command module pointing down instead of
up, and it's a stable position and periodically a spacecraft is likely
to do that. So over there in one of the buildings they had a big old
pool, and it's not the neutral buoyancy system over there, either
the old or the new. This was one way in the back by the astronaut
They had this command module in there, and what they do is they put
you in it and then you're all strapped in and you're in a mode and
the dress that you're in when you're coming back from the mission.
Then they take a crane and they flip it over, nose down. The idea
is that you have to get out of it. It's like a milk bottle. You turn
a milk bottle upside down and it'll float, but it fills up part way
with water. So basically what they did is, we went to Stable 2, and
then the next thing we do is throw the switches on the bags that are
supposed to flip us back over on our back. Oh, it failed.
So now the question is how are we going to get out of this spacecraft
while it's upside down and we're in our pressure suits. So what we
had to do is put on neck dams, which are a rubber thing that goes
around the ring and fits tightly around the neck so your suit won't
fill up with water, and wrist dams. Then when we're all ready to go
and we've got all our suits all sealed up so we won't sink, then the
next thing to do was to release the pressure in the command module
and remove the hatch.
Then you have to sit and wait quietly while the water fills up in
the command module, and the three of you have to sit there and wait
till the water stops. They told us just about where the water would
quit. Well, then the next thing to do is then one at a time you go
out, go down in the water and swim out through the hatch and up through
the side of the spacecraft, and then inflate your vest. It was a pretty
routine thing; it wasn't too terribly difficult. Any of us who had
been through Navy flight training had done that at Pensacola in what
we call the Dilbert Dunker, where you train for planes that land,
crash upside down.
Well, we were sitting in there. We'd done all of the things we needed
to do and the water was filling up. Incidentally, all of our families
were sitting in the galleries watching this little exercise. NASA
had said, "The families can come and watch this one if you want
to." Well, the water came up and hit the point where it was supposed
to stop, kept on coming. When it got another three or four inches
above that, I said, "Guys, I think we'd better step up the pace
a little bit, because something is wrong."
So we stepped up the pace and got out of the spacecraft and got our
vests inflated and got into our little rubber raft, and by that time
the spacecraft was extremely low in the water. It turns out that a
valve had either failed or been left open, an air valve on the other
side of the spacecraft. So that the air that was supposed to be trapped
in there and holding us was leaking out, so the water was leaking
up on us. I'm not sure whether our wives and kids knew what was going
on, but we got out. But that was probably the most exciting piece
of training that we had the whole time. They used to do that out in
a lake or out in the ocean, but by Skylab they had brought it and
put it in the tank.
I'm sure it's safer that way, with more controlled conditions.
Yes. But I understand that divers were going in the water and people
were getting pretty excited when our spacecraft didn't stop sinking.
I imagine so. At least you guys had enough sense to get out of there
before it filled up too much.
I assume that you guys were still in the training mode when they launched
the orbital workshop by itself.
Yes. We were in our final training mode. That is, we were mostly focusing
on the command and service module training and things like that. But
when the orbital workshop launched, we left the launch area and said,
"Oh, boy, that was really beautiful." It just went off beautifully.
By the time we got back to the Holiday Inn, the word was beginning
to come out that there was something wrong. We learned about that,
and again we had another bad day at Black Rock, because that looked
like that might be the end of the program.
John and Annie Glenn were with us at the time, and John said, "Now,
hang on, Jerry. Don't worry. They'll think of something." And
history has it that they were able to do some wonderful things. It's
again another monument to the flexibility and the versatility of the
human being, and that is that we were able to figure out how to deal
with that problem and correct it and stabilize the vehicle and get
it back, thermally stabilize the vehicle and get it back in operable
Did you have any role in that recovery process or in training?
No. The support crews for Skylab did most of the work in those. The
other two prime crews and Pete's crew, we kind of stayed out of the
way. We lent support. I think we went down to watch every once in
a while as to what was going on, but if my memory serves me correctly,
we didn't get involved too much in finding the solution, because that
was kind of a thing where we were just in the way.
Now, Pete's crew, once they began to focus on how they were going
to solve the problem, Pete's crew got very deeply involved in it,
and the electric company, they got those big electric company tools
that were needed for cutting off branches and things like that, that
Pete and his crew had to work with.
Once they had the vehicle stabilized, it was clear that they were
going to be able to send their crew up and other crews. How much did
you pay attention to the activities of the previous crews and the
activities going on up there on the Skylab?
We watched everything they did. We were very, very interested in what
they were doing and we followed them very closely. We followed a lot
of the activities on the ground. When the temperature didn't stabilize
low enough and they wanted it to get lower, we were very interested
observers in design of the new umbrella that was put out by Al Bean's
crew and how that was going to work.
Did you learn anything from their flights that you could then apply
to your training and think about for your mission?
Yes. We drew a lot of conclusions from what we saw there. I think
the most important conclusion that we drew was that when the first
crew came back after twenty-eight days, they were pretty wobbly, pretty
weak. So the second and third crews decided to bump the exercise periods
up, and we doubled the exercise from half an hour to an hour. Al Bean's
crew went up, and their exercise period was for an hour a day. Turns
out that that didn't appear to be enough either, so we increased it
again to an hour and a half for my crew.
We watched the way experiments were being done, and some procedures
were modified based on what the first two crews had learned. One of
the things that we noticed on the second crew is that they were really
hustling all the time. The rate of work, the rate of activity for
them was extremely high. We began telling some of the managers that
we didn't think that that rate of work was going to be wise, that
over a ninety- or an eighty-four-day period of time we weren't sure
we were going to be able to sustain that. We thought that the work
load should be leveled off some and there should be more rest.
Everybody agreed to that, and the experiments that were on the schedule
were slowed down and spread out quite a bit, but unfortunately they
added a whole bunch of new experiments, and we allowed ourselves to
get trapped into a situation where with all the new experiments that
were added at the last minute and all the new problems that would
be associated with those that weren't taken into consideration, so
when we got up there, the first thing we found out is we were again
overcommitted just like the first crew was and that we were going
to have to sustain it for eighty-four days instead of the fifty-nine
that they were able to do it on.
Let's get into your mission, then.
Going up to launch, they discovered some problems with the booster.
Tell me about those.
Well, I think it was the day before we were to get in our T-38s and
fly to the Cape, they found cracks in the fins of the booster and
they notified us to hold, that there were cracks and they were going
to have to evaluate that situation and see what to do with it. We
had already gone into confinement, into the pre-mission confinement.
So it was just a matter of waiting to see what happened. Finally they
allowed that it was going to take probably a week or so to change
the fins, that they had to be changed.
So we just had to settle back and we continued our command module
training and just kept our skills warmed up and went back to training
and waited the extra time. The disappointment for me was that we were
to have launched on November the tenth, which is the Marine Corps
birthday, and I was very excited about that. The Commandant of the
Marine Corps was to be at the launch, along with some of his staff.
So when it was canceled and slid to the sixteenth, we missed that
little opportunity that was kind of a nice opportunity, but we missed
That was about it. The delay didn't bother us all that much, but it
was just kind of an irksome thing.
Describe the launch experience for us, the time leading up to it and
actually going up the hill and then in orbit.
Okay. Went to bed early that night, knowing full well I wouldn't sleep
worth a hoot, but we had started several days earlier trying to shift
our Circadian clock to allow us to go to bed at something like six
in the evening and expect to wake up at two or three in the morning.
So at about two o'clock in the morning, Elmer [L.] Taylor, who was
our coordinator, our flight crew systems coordinator, came into my
room and said, "Well, your bird's waiting. It's time to go."
I had actually fallen asleep, finally, so I was awake with a start,
We went down and had our—the first thing is the physical. One
part of the physical was microbiology scrubs. They took swabs and
they swabbed many parts of our bodies to find out what kind of flora
and fauna were living on us, and they catalogued that. It was part
of an experiment, a long-term experiment. They wanted to know how
much of it we would leave on the spacecraft. They wanted to know if
we would pick up anything from crews ahead of us and that sort of
thing. So that was done.
After the physical, then we went into the crew dining room and had
breakfast with Deke and Al and Kenny Kleinknecht and people like that.
It's interesting that our meals at the crew quarters were always steaks
and eggs and all those good things that are just wonderful for cholesterol.
In the subsequent years, my wife and I have totally modified our diet
now to where we don't touch either one of those, mainly because of
the cholesterol and fat content of the food. But it's amazing that
dieticians in those days thought that was the best thing in the world
for us, was lots of steak and eggs and things like that.
After the meal was suit-up time. We went in the suit room and began
suiting up. On my ankle I carried a watch. I put a watch on my ankle.
I was not supposed to be taking anything extra up, but I had this
Movado, which was a self-winding watch, one of those with a little
counterweight in it, and I was very curious to find out if the self-winding
watch would still work in weightless environment or whether that weightless
environment would inhibit the motion of that little counterweight
and keep it from being wound up. Our Omegas were regular hand-wind,
plain old mechanical watches. So I put that on my ankle and then we
After the suit period was done and the pre-breathing was all done
and it was time to launch, we got up and picked up our little canisters
that generated the oxygen that fed the suit and walked down the hall
toward the van. Of course, all of the staff, all of the people that
had been supporting us over the years were all standing in the hall.
I think that was probably one of the more moving experiences to me,
to see all those wonderful people there to see us off. We managed
to hug a few of them and tell them "thank you" through the
helmet, since we were all sealed in.
We got aboard the van, and Charlie [Charles A.] Buckley was the security
man. He was the guy who was there with us, along with our suit techs.
Incidentally, Charlie Buckley would be an interesting guy to interview
if you can. That's a little side thing.
We rode the van up the hill and decided this was the slowest any of
us had ever ridden on that particular highway, since we all tended
to drive a little fast. And we rode up the hill. One of the things
that we had done before was, of course, the tower escape training,
and that was an exciting ride down that gondola, down the cable to
the side of the vehicle and into a half-track which would take us
away from the scene of any kind of a catastrophe.
We stopped at the launch platform and we were all struck by the desertedness
of it. There was just nobody there. Every other time we'd been at
the tower, there were people everywhere working on things. This morning
there was just nobody there except us and the van. We said goodbye
to Charlie and headed for the elevator with our suit techs. Went up
the elevators and went across the swing arm to the vehicle.
In the white room of the vehicle was the crew, the white room crew,
and they had been the white room crew since probably early Gemini
or maybe even Mercury, I'm not sure. But one of the traditions that
we had was that the fellow who was in charge of the white room crew
was a German, and age has gotten to me and I've forgotten his name.
Guenter [F.] Wendt.
Guenter Wendt. Guenter Wendt. That's right. Guenter Wendt's favorite
candy was sourballs, and it had become somewhat of a tradition for
the crew to present Guenter with a bag of sourballs when you get into
the white room. So when we got out of the elevator and got into the
white room, one of the techs handed me my bag of sourballs and I handed
them to Guenter.
Then we loaded up inside the spacecraft. As I remember, Hank [Henry
W.] Hartsfield [Jr.] was the guy who was in the spacecraft at the
foot, helping us get settled in and everything, and then his job was
to go underneath the couches and squeeze out and go out the hatch
before they closed the hatch door.
So they closed the hatch on us.
If we could stop there and change out the tape.
Okay. [Tape Change] Okay. Well, after Hank exited the spacecraft,
then they closed the hatch and it was just the three of us in there,
and we began the preparations that we had done so many, many times
on the simulator. But I remember we looked up, we leaned forward a
little bit and looked over at each other and just giggled like a bunch
of schoolgirls, because we had been waiting for this opportunity for
eight years and at last it was really going to happen. I think I remember
saying something like, "I can't believe it's really going to
But that was it before launch. From then on, most of the launch was
just doing the things we were supposed to be doing, and we were very,
Launch went off perfectly. It was a beautiful, clear day. I remember
when the escape tower was finally kicked off and it took the shroud
with it, the light that came in the cabin was just blinding for a
minute. It was incredible. I tell a lot of people that riding on a
booster like that is kind of like riding on a train with square wheels.
You've got lots of noise, lots of vibration, and all that sort of
thing. Then sure enough, when you hit that first booster shutdown
and staging and then the next booster kicking off, it's just exactly
what everybody has called it: a train wreck. I just thought that was
We got into orbit without any problems at all. Everything worked just
fine, and eleven minutes and twenty-eight seconds later we were on
orbit and things were beginning to quiet down.
Looking out the window for the first time, I was totally disoriented.
I didn't recognize a thing. Suddenly somewhere in the first hour or
so of the mission, I saw Italy and I said to myself, "Italy really
is shaped like a boot." And it was a wonderful experience. I've
never forgotten that particular experience.
Then we went on with our preparations for rendezvous. Got out of our
suits, got ourselves situated in our couches, and began doing all
of the things we needed to do for the rendezvous. The rendezvous went
very, very well. The docking didn't go too well. The procedure was,
when we were within about—I can't remember what the distance
was, but we were to have a closure rate of about a half a foot per
second, and I let it drift to about a quarter [or] less foot per second.
So essentially we just came in and kissed it. Well, what happened
was, we didn't kiss it hard enough, and the capture latches, we bounced
out and then the capture latches…closed. Then we just kind of
drifted back out.
We thought we had contact, and I reported contact, and then I noticed
that the line of sight reticle that I had was drifting. About that
time Bill said, "Uh-oh." And then I said, "Uh-oh. I
don't think we captured."
So we reported it to the people on the ground and they said, "Well,
you'd better back out and hold your position while we try to figure
out what to do next."
We had to go through a special procedure to recock the capture latches
on our probe so that they would be withdrawn and be ready to work
again. I don't remember how long it took, but it seemed like hours,
but I'm sure it only took a few minutes to go through that procedure
and get that recocking done.
The second time I went in, I must have hit it at three-quarters of
a foot per second, or a foot, because I belted it good and we captured
and locked up and rigidized very well. But it was an interesting feeling,
because when I hit it, apparently the Skylab module moved away from
us a little bit and the capture latches grabbed it and pulled it back,
so it rebounded and came back and hit us back. It was sort of a rebound
sort of a situation, which I didn't expect and I'd never experienced
it or even thought about it in training. But the old bird hit us back.
Then we went through all of our procedures, but the plan was not to
enter the workshop at night. We were to go to bed and take it easy.
So we worked fairly late and then we decided to have dinner. About
that time, Bill was saying, "I'm not really feeling too terribly
well." So we talked about it and we said, "Well, best thing
to do, probably, is to eat. Maybe that'll make you feel better."
So we went ahead and ate our dinner. One of Bill's items was stewed
tomatoes, and he ate them and he waited for a while and he said, "It's
coming back up." So he got his bag and he barfed into his bag.
So then we started talking about what we were going to do about it.
The day before we left JSC, the doctors had come in and said, "Now,
we're real concerned about this space-sickness thing. We want you
to take medications." In the medical sensitivity tests they'd
done on us, they found which of the anti-nausea kinds of medications
were best for us, didn't have the most side effects and all that sort
of thing. So the doctors said, "Jerry, we want you to take something
and we want all three of you to take something."
I said, "Wait a minute. I'm driving this million-dollar vehicle,
and I'm not even allowed to drive an automobile or fly an airplane
when I take Scopdex. Why do you want me to do it now?"
They said, "We don't want you to get sick."
I said, "I'll take the sickness rather than the disorientation
or the side effects." So I decided not to take it.
Well, Bill wanted to be a good patient and he said, "Okay. I'm
not driving or anything, and I'll be able to manage fine, so I'll
take the Scopdex." And what surprised us was Bill's the one that
got sick. And the other thing that surprised us is that Bill had been
a [U.S. Air Force] Thunderbird, an acrobatic pilot. Whenever Bill
and I went up in a T-38 to do acrobatics, I was usually the one that
got green, not Bill. So it was very puzzling that Bill was having
a problem here.
But that's kind of the way it happened. We discussed this sickness
thing, and Ed and I said, "Well, look. Maybe the best thing we
ought to do, with all this pressure they're putting on about the sickness,
we just won't say anything." In fact, one of us suggested that
we even toss the vomit down the trash airlock and not even report
it. That way we won't get people all fuzzed up down on the ground.
So we said, "Okay. That's what we'll do." And we said, "We
hope Bill will feel better tomorrow and we won't have to confess."
Well, unfortunately, Bill, being the sick one, was also the guy in
charge of the communication system, and Bill had left the switch on
that was recording all the intercom conversation. So while we slept
that night, people on the ground played it back and heard all of this.
So the next morning, Al Shepard came up on the capcom loop and said,
"Jerry—" I forget what he said, something like, "You
guys have made a mistake here, and I hope you haven't destroyed the
I said, "No, we haven't done anything like that." I said,
"I agree with you. It was a dumb decision. We'll just go from
here. We'll report it in our medical report, we'll weigh it, we'll
do all the things we're supposed to do and we'll just go on from there."
So they caught us red-handed, trying to cover up information, which
we felt pretty bad about. But that was our motive: we didn't want
to fuzz things up anymore. So we did it. It was a dumb decision. I
wish I hadn't done it, but we did it.
The next morning, Bill wasn't feeling great, but he was feeling better.
Ed and I were both feeling okay. I had a feeling in my stomach that
was kind of like a big knot, but I wasn't sick. Ed just didn't have
any problems at all. We always thought that was kind of a marvel,
that Ed, the one who had the least flying time, was the non-sick one,
and the rest of us, based on the amount of flying time, that was our
measure of sickness.
Anyway, Bill and I decided to change jobs, because my job was a little
more sedentary than Bill's was to be, so we swapped checklists and
went on. That helped. Bill was able to stay quiet and got my work
done, and I got his work done and it worked out. For the next couple
of days, when Bill got to feeling a little funny we would swap jobs,
but for the most part Bill was able to pick it up within twenty-four
hours and carry his load without any trouble at all. But he didn't
The other thing that we noticed was the head stuffiness. We'd been
warned, but we just didn't recognize that it was really going to happen.
When it came on, we began to realize that this is something that's
really a bother. You feel like you're standing on your head. All of
your fluids are up in your head. Your eyes are kind of puffy and you
have this feeling of congestion. That was the only uncomfortable part
of being weightless. The rest of it was just a blast.
We went through the hatch into the workshop, and we found that we
had some visitors waiting for us. It seems that Al Bean's crew had
taken some of our spare clothing and stuffed them and made dummies
out of them. One was on the bicycle. I believe that was Bill. And
the one with Ed's name on it was latched down in front of the ATM
control panel, and mine was out in the large part of the workshop
at one of the storage lockers. So that was kind of funny.
We went ahead and did all of our preparation. It seems to me it took
three or four days to just get things moved in and set up before we
even really began doing our experiments. It was a lot of setup time,
a lot of preparation time. But we got all of that done and then began
doing our experiments.
That's when the schedule caught up with us. We found that we had allowed
ourselves to be scheduled on the daily schedule, and the schedule
was so dense that if you missed something or if you made a mistake
and had to go back and do it again, or if you were slow doing something,
you'd end up racing the clock and making mistakes, screwing up an
experiment or not doing a procedure correctly.
That went on for many, many days, and it was hard on our morale to
be rushed like that and not be able to get things done and get them
completed and get the experiments done. We knew, we were sure the
experimenters on the ground were grinding their teeth when we would
have to report, "Well, I didn't get this experiment done because
in my rush, I put the wrong filter in," or I did this or I did
that. We found that it was almost to the point where you almost had
to schedule a time when you could go to the bathroom, it was that
At night we would have dinner and we would go right back to the experiments,
and we'd work till probably nine o'clock at night. Then it would be
time to wind down and go to bed. So at ten o'clock when we were supposed
to be in bed, none of us were ready to go to sleep yet because we
still had things to pick up and put away and do things. Our minds
were still moving too fast to rest. So we just weren't getting the
right kind of rest. We weren't getting the right kind of leisure time
that would allow us to do the right kind of job.
So finally somewhere—well, I should also say that we began to
get a little bit testy, too. In order to make up some of the experiments,
some of our fluffs, they were having to redouble and even tighten
the schedule even more. They were juggling exercise around, and we
ended up in several cases where we were having exercise right after
a meal, and that's no time to be exercising, particularly up there,
when you can't belch, because with food floating, you're liable to
get it back with your belch. So we started grousing at them about
that, and they were working hard trying to keep up with the schedule,
and we were giving them a hard time and they were giving us a hard
So finally, at a point in the mission, I guess it was the third, maybe
the fourth day off we were to have. We kind of set up a ten-day week,
and the tenth day of each week was to be a day off, and we could do
what we wanted on the day off. That was to be our shower day, too,
when we could take a shower in the little makeshift shower that we
Well, we gave back our day off the first three or so times, two or
three times. We said, "Go ahead and schedule us, and we'll try
to do some makeup." Well, we got to the point where the morale
was low. We weren't feeling too good. We were getting tired. So we
said, "Let's take our day off and maybe a good day's rest will
get us back in good shape again and we can begin to maintain the pace."
So we took our day off and did what we wanted to do. We all took a
shower. Bill and I did some reading and some looking out the window,
doing Earth observations, photographs and things. Ed played at the
ATM panel and did some little rough experiments and did some observations
ad lib. We had a good day. One of the things we did is we got careless
with our radios and we forgot to configure for one of our passes,
so when we went AOS [acquisition of signal] over one of the sites,
people on the ground called us and we didn't answer them. So the press
just thought that was wonderful. They said, "Look at that. These
testy old crabby astronauts up there won't even answer the radio now.
They've turned off their radio and they won't listen to the people
on the ground." So we have lived under that stigma all these
years, but basically it was we just got careless and we were busy
doing other things and didn't think to configure our radios. For some
reason they couldn't get through to us and we missed a pass, and I
think it caused a certain level of concern down there.
But anyway, day after that, right back onto the treadmill again, working,
working, working, doing all the things we had to do, and things didn't
get any better. So somewhere on the order of the fiftieth day, after
dinner we have a medical conference where we talk with the flight
surgeon. We tell him physically how we're doing, we gave them the
readings of the food that we'd eaten and the water we had drunk and
all that stuff that they needed for their metabolic analysis. At that
time I said, "You know, I think we need to have a seance here."
I told him about our situation, that we weren't feeling good about
things, we weren't getting our work done, we weren't too terribly
happy, and we were quite sure the people on the ground weren't happy
with us either. I said, "I think it's time for us to have a discussion,
a frank discussion." I said, "We can do it on this channel
if we want."
That went down to the doctors. The doctors passed the word. The press
got a hold of it and raised Cain. So the people came back, mission
control came back and said, "We're going to have to do it on
the open circuit." I said, "That's fine."
So that evening or whenever the evening was that we did it, we started
talking with them as we came up over Goldstone [California], I think
it was, on the West Coast. We had the whole U.S. pass and out over
a mile or two, essentially for me to tell them all the things that
were bothering us. I told them everything. I said, "We need more
time to rest. We need a schedule that's not quite so packed. We don't
want exercise after a meal anymore. We need to get the pace of things
under control." Then we said, "Okay, now, next pass over
the U.S., you guys please tell us what your problems are."
So we went over the next time, and they bent our ear with all of the
things we were doing, making it difficult for them to have the flexibility
to schedule when they needed to because of our rigidity and things
So we said, "Let's come to a solution here. Let's try and think
about it overnight and then maybe we can come up with a solution in
Well, we slept on it. The next morning they sent a teletype message
up to us and they recommended quite a few things. The most important
thing was to take all of the menial, routine housekeeping chores out
of the schedule and put them on what we called a shopping list. It
was something that needed to be done that day but they didn't care
when you did it, as long as you did it that day. That opened up the
schedule, took all the pressure off. We were no longer racing the
clock to get things done. That really solved the problem.
The other thing they said was that "We're not going to hassle
you anymore during meals, and we're not going to give you any major
assignments after dinner. After dinner is relaxation time for you.
Do a few things like some student experiments, but we're not going
to have any major experiments after dinner."
We said, "That sounds great. Let's go with that." And it
worked beautifully. It's a testimony to the human condition, really,
that you think—Henry Ford probably learned it on his assembly
line. The assembly line can only go so fast before you start making
We also felt that the extra time was needed to be creative and do
some creative thinking, and as a result of having all that extra time,
we were all able to gin up little experiments that we had wanted to
do and put them on TV, and a lot of those are being used today in
schools, little physics experiments with water and things like that.
That really solved the problem. The loosening of the schedule allowed
them to get their more important experiments done, and the rest of
the stuff got done when we could, instead of on a real tight schedule.
It worked out beautifully.
Bill Pogue and I recommended very, very strongly to the International
Space Station Program that that's the way they [should] program their
days, and I think they took it to heart. I hope that they're working
that way. They're going to end up with the same problems we had on
International Space Station if they try to put the crew to the wall
and make them get all the things done.
Part of the motivation was, "My gosh, it's costing $20,000 an
hour for you guys to be up there. We've got to get things done."
And we agreed with it, but when we got in the middle of it, we realized
that that was a fallacious basis to try to do our work. So we learned
a lot in terms of just human condition, human frailties, and how to
As it turns out, when the mission was over, we completed every one
of the experiments that we needed to do. We got them all done, plus
a lot of extra ones that we dreamed up. Ed was—he and Bill were
the two guys who dreamed up more experiments than you could shake
a stick at. I think one of the funniest pieces of footage I've ever
seen is the experiments that Bill did that he wanted to demonstrate
the fact that air is a fluid, a medium, just like water, but when
you're in air, you know, you can't kick and paddle and swim and get
somewhere. Nothing happens. So what he did is he made some big cardboard
fins for his hands and his feet. He put on a crash helmet with big
bubble eyes on it, and he looked like some kind of bug. And he was
out in the middle of the thing, flapping his wings and actually moving
around, and proving that—the physics proof was that air is a
medium like water, you've just got to have the right kind of surfaces.
Let's talk about a couple of the specifics from your mission. If you
could tell me a little bit about the EVAs [extravehicular activities]
you guys did.
The EVAs. They were spectacular. The first EVA Bill and Ed went out
on, and we had a lot of repair work to do on that one. We had some
microwave devices on the side of the spacecraft that faced the Earth,
and unfortunately there are no handrails on that side of the spacecraft.
So we trained for it in the water and we tried to figure out how we
were going to do it, and basically what happened was, we found a place
on a truss where we could fasten foot restraints. Bill got into the
foot restraints, and then Ed got on Bill's lap and stood up, and Bill
held Ed while Ed reached up and did the work that he had to do on
a microwave antenna. That was the way we had to ad lib that particular
We also did all of our routine work that meant going into a lot of
the cameras in the ATM and removing film packages and putting new
film packages in. But that was the first EVA.
The second EVA I went on. In fact, I went on the last three EVAs,
and I'm trying to remember which one was next. I guess the second
one was the Christmas Day EVA, and that was Bill Pogue and me, as
I remember. That was a seven-hour EVA. I believe that broke a record,
a world record for length of time on an EVA. I was amazed when I got
back in. I figured I'd have to go to the bathroom something fierce,
but I didn't. I decided that what happened was that I got rid of those
wastes, fluids, through my pores. The system somehow compensated and
I sweated it out, because I was really sweaty, but I really didn't
have to urinate, and I was just amazed at that, after seven hours,
that I wouldn't be pretty interested in getting to the urinal.
We finished that EVA and then that evening we were supposed to do
a TV thing, where we were to do a presentation for the people on the
ground. The three of us observed what it was like to be up there and
what we saw on the ground and how we felt about it. We had built a
Christmas tree. We had taken a bunch of food can liners from our kitchen
and fashioned them into what looked like a little aluminum cedar tree.
Then we had taken all kinds of decals and things, orange and red and
green decals, and stuck them on the tree for decorations, and then
we made a foil star with a trailer on it to put on the top, which
was the comet Kohoutek. That was our tree.
So after dinner, we did what we called our Christmas program, and
then the people on the ground said, "There are some Christmas
presents for you up there." They told us where to go look, and,
of course, we went scampering over to look. One of the things they
had for us was a beta cloth Christmas tree, but we already had one.
My family sent to me a little gold icthus, you know, the little Christian
fish symbol that you see on automobile bumpers and a lot of people
wear them on their lapels. That was my Christmas present.
My Christmas statement, I had a lot of help from my minister. I had
written that before I left and brought it up with me, and my minister
helped me write that Christmas statement. I, frankly, don't remember
exactly what I said. But I think the one thing Ed said and the one
thing that impressed us the most was that Ed pointed out—and
he was the first astronaut I know of to point it out—that you
can see no boundaries on the Earth, no man-made boundaries, that the
barriers that man puts up between himself and his fellow man, that
the only boundaries you can see are the natural ones, the rivers,
the lakes, things like that. So his message was that there's a universality
of human beings up there. We're all in the same boat together and
we really ought to learn to live peacefully together.
That's a very nice message, particularly for Christmas. Did you guys
have images of what Apollo 8 had done on Christmas when you were preparing
your messages and the meaning that had for a lot of people?
You know, I don't remember whether I folded Apollo 8 into that or
not. I just don't remember.
One of the things you mentioned for the missions of your Skylab flight
was to do these comet observations. That's what these second and third
EVAs were for, too. Tell me about looking at the comet and what you
guys thought about that.
Well, the comet was a disappointment in terms of brilliance. Everybody,
and even on the ground, thought that it was going to be a beautiful,
brilliant comet, and it turned out to be very faint. We really had
to work to find it. And once we found it, it was a gorgeous little
thing, but it was really small and faint. We took as many pictures
as we could of it, but I don't think our film was sensitive enough
to really get good pictures. I think the only decent one that was
taken was with a coronagraph on the ATM. I think the people on the
ground got better pictures of the comet than we did.
So in order to describe what we saw, we did drawings. Ed Gibson was
the point man on that. He did the drawings and then he would do a
TV report, showing the drawing to the TV and describing the colors
that he saw. There's a little beak on the front end of the comet that
he talked about and the significance of that. That was it. It was
a disappointment, but it was really fun looking for the comet and
finding it. We set experiments up outside to try to capture it while
we were inside, and we brought them in on subsequent EVAs as well.
If we can stop to swap the tape.
You mentioned that the comet was a little bit of a disappointment
from what you had expected. How did the other types of experiments
you were doing, the medical and the Earth observations, compare to
your expectations in terms of their performance?
Most of the experiments went just as we had expected them to go, except
those new ones they added in at the last minute where we had to kind
of fumble our way through the procedures and work them out. That's
the neat thing about the simulation systems we have at JSC. There
just really shouldn't be any surprises, and there weren't really many.
Most of the experiments worked well. We had a few that failed. We
did a little repair work here and there and got some of them to come
back and gather some data. We had one or two experiments that failed
and just never got a bit of data, which is a disappointment. But we
had fifty-three experiments, and to only lose one or two out of fifty-three,
I thought was pretty good.
Most all of the experiments were just about what we expected them
to be. The physiological experiments were really interesting to us,
to watch how our bodies accommodated to the weightless environment.
We were really interested in that.
What would you say were the greatest contributions or achievements
of your Skylab flight?
I think probably the most important contribution of the Skylab flight
was the medical stuff. We proved, I think, just absolutely positively
that the human being can live in weightless environment for an extended
period of time, and it's, of course, subsequently been proved that
you can stay up at least a year or a year and a half. But medically,
we gathered the data that I think gave the Russians and other people
the understanding and the courage to say, "Okay, we can stay
up for longer periods of time." And I think that was a real breakthrough,
because if you remember back in the Mercury days, the doctors weren't
even sure if an astronaut could swallow or defecate or urinate on
orbit. We have come a long, long way. Our experiments were very rigorous
experiments. They were very well done, and data was very well taken.
I think that that solved a lot of problems.
The next question is, if you're going to go to a place like Mars,
can you go there weightless? If so, are countermeasures that we've
developed, are they going to be adequate for that? Because the problem
is, you can stay up there for a year, but when you get there, you've
got to be able to do something. Then you've got to turn around and
fly back, and that's another year. So that's what Space Station is
really good for, I think. We're going to find answers to those kinds
But I think the medical experiments were probably the most important.
I'm not a solar physicist, but I have a strong feeling that the solar
physics community gathered a wealth of data that answered a lot of
unanswered questions in the world of solar physics, and I think Ed
Gibson will probably have a lot of really good things to say, very
cogent things to say about that program.
Earth Resources was very, very helpful. The Earth Observations Program
created a lot of great data that a lot of experimenters have been
using and working with for years. I think it was a good program, too,
but I would rank it maybe number three, a close number three. But
I would lump Earth Observations in with Earth Resources. The two programs
really went beautifully together.
After coming back to Earth, what kinds of things were you doing in
NASA before you left the space program?
Well, when I came back, that was the end of the Skylab Program, so
we began shifting gears into the Shuttle. As I remember, the Shuttle
RFP [request for proposals] was beginning to come out or maybe was
already out, but they were beginning to move definitely into the Shuttle
Program. Then the Apollo-Soyuz Program was getting going, and they
were getting started with their training and all of that was going
During those first two years, I kind of moved toward the Shuttle Program
and Shuttle cockpit design and that sort of thing. I ended up working
with the Shuttle seats, the ejection seats for the early model, going
out to White Sands and seeing tests done and working that part of
the program for quite a few years—not quite a few, just a couple,
I think the major thing that I got involved with was the Shuttle cockpit
design, trying to put human factors to work. As a result of Skylab,
I became a convert to human factors. Before that, in the early years
up until probably 1970, 1971 or '72, people looked at human factors
engineers as kind of weirdos, you know, these guys that always want
to touch and feel things, and they thought it was kind of silly to
be measuring the distance from your wrist to your elbow and how it
reached things and that sort of thing. But in Skylab, we began to
realize the importance of the relativity of the human to the piece
of machinery you're working with and what the weightless environment
does to your skeleton and affects the way you do your work. So that
precipitated my interest in working the Shuttle cockpit and doing
it rather extensively. That was really my swan song.
One other side job that I got during that period was when the Shuttle
simulator was to be built, I was named chairman of the Acquisition
Board, SEB [Source Evaluation Board], I believe they call it. That
was a monumental job, trying to get the requests for proposal put
out and then get it modified and then get the proposals in and select
the person, the people who were to build the 40-million-dollar simulator
that we use today. That was administratively scary, because you had
to be so careful to make sure that the decisions that were made were
unbiased, that they were not shaded by any of your own biases or anything
like that. You had to be very, very careful that everybody was treated
fairly and equally. So we had administrators and we had lawyers breathing
down our necks, procurement specialists.
Why did you finally decide to retire from NASA?
Mainly I left NASA because it looked like we were looking at six to
eight more years before the next flight, so I just didn't want to
wait that long for another flight. I was also very interested in the
idea of beginning to ply my trade as an engineer in the commercial
world, as a professional engineer.
So when I left NASA, I joined a company in Houston, Bovay Engineers,
and I did some business development work for them for a few years,
and then I became the director of the Houston Operations office. I
learned a lot about the business of engineering from the other side
of the proposal. Having done the SEB work in the simulator and had
to deal with people who wanted the work and having to deal with them,
now I got to be on the other end of the stick and be one of the people
who wanted the work. It was very interesting. And then learning to
manage an engineering department to get a quality product out on time
was really an interesting challenge for me, too.
At that same time I did a little bit of moonlighting with the Air
Force in Los Angeles. I did some consulting there on human factors
engineering with those kinds of folks, but it was a small amount of
time kind of an effort, but it was something that at least kind of
kept my hand in the business a little bit.
But as it turned out, after about four and a half years, with Bovay
Engineers and a little company I was working with in Los Angeles,
called Applied Research Incorporated, I got homesick for aerospace
again. So Pat [wife Patricia L. Musick] and I decided to set up a
company. We started a little company called Camus Incorporated, C-A-M-U-S,
and we got the name from our names, "C-A" for Carr and "M-U-S"
for Musick. But when we put it all together and saw that it said Camus,
we said, "Gee, that's a French existentialist philosopher and
we're kind of a philosophical kind of a company, and it's also the
name of a good Napoleon brandy, so this has got to be a good name."
So that's how Camus Incorporated got started.
Camus Incorporated had two lines of business. Number one was my wife's
art. She was a painter and then became a sculptor. One facet of our
business was art production, art marketing, and that sort of thing.
The other part of the business was my aerospace consulting that I
wanted to get back into.
It was about that time that Bill Pogue and I linked up again and said,
"You know, we really need to try to get in on this new Space
Station Program, because we've got so much knowledge in our heads,
we really ought to offer it to somebody and we really ought to try
to do something." But we decided we didn't want to become employees
of an aerospace company; we wanted to be independent. We wanted to
be something like consultants. So we began by approaching the various
large aerospace companies with Camus Incorporated and saying that
"We want to offer Bill Pogue and Jerry Carr and other astronauts
and engineers who may become available to help you with the conception
and the design of the Space Station." We talked with Lockheed,
Rockwell, Boeing, Vought, quite a few different companies.
Boeing, I think, was really the only company that took us seriously.
Most of the other companies were willing to use us for business development
and to be spokespersons, but they didn't really see us as being "in
the trench" kinds of people who want to work with engineers.
But Boeing did. Boeing wanted to get back in the aerospace business
again, because they had left it, and they decided they were going
to compete in the Space Station Program. So in the Phase B effort,
they hired Camus Incorporated as a subcontractor to help them with
their proposal, and they won a Phase B proposal, so then they decided
to go for a Phase C/D, and they kept us on.
What it boils down to is, I have been working Space Station for fourteen
years with Boeing as their subcontractor. We started out with just
Bill and me. We've added quite a few different people, other astronauts,
Byron [K.] Lichtenberg, Jack [R.] Lousma, Harrison [H. “Jack”]
Schmitt. I'm leaving somebody out. We also got a lot of engineers,
former NASA engineers, who worked with us. Milt [Milton L.] Windler
worked with us, Gordon Ferguson, Glen [H.] Cress [III], Ed [Edward
L.] Pavelka, Nellie [N.] Carr.
But essentially we went into the very guts of the Boeing Company that
was doing the Space Station work, and we essentially tried to train
their engineers. We tried to teach them about weightlessness and what
the effects of weightlessness are on the body, how it affects your
ability to address the piece of machinery you're trying to work. We
talked to them about the importance of scheduling and how to make
your machinery user-friendly so that you don't end up getting people
wrapped around the axle when something goes wrong. I think a lot of
that probably paid off. So we've seen the space program go from Space
Station to Space Station Freedom, to International Space Station,
to what it is today, and we've been through the whole thing.
I finally retired completely from aerospace work about two years ago,
and my new job description now is studio assistant. I'm enjoying welding
and woodworking and running heavy equipment while I assist my wife
in the design of her sculptures. I do a lot of the engineering design
for it, to help her make sure that we have good solid bases and that
they stand up straight the way she wants them to and the way she envisions
It sounds like it's just as interesting work for you to do.
Before we got on tape, you and I were talking a little bit about some
of the people who were mentors for you and who were important through
your career. If you could tell us about some of those people.
Well, I guess my first real mentor was my scout master as a boy, who
essentially taught me independence and self-confidence and how to
take care of myself.
The next was that Marine…lieutenant colonel that was at the
naval ROTC program. He was a person who taught me, I think, integrity
and the need to be dedicated and work hard and accomplish what it
is you intend to accomplish, set goals and then accomplish them.
In the fighter squadron I was in, I had a Marine fighter squadron
skipper, his name was Dale Ward. He commanded VMF-122, which was the
Crusader squadron I was in. He's the guy who taught me leadership.
He taught me that if you're going to have good leadership, you need
a leader and you need people who want to be led. Then the leader has
to very clearly tell the people that he's leading, what he wants from
them, and how he wants them to do it, and then he's got to leave them
Then in NASA there were a couple of guys who really were very influential.
The most influential person to me was Wernher von Braun. He and I
struck up a friendship and were friends for quite a few years. He
was a man that embodied the leadership and the dedication and the
integrity that I think that's important for a person to have. I remember
one day he and I, after my mission, were walking after the Shuttle
mockup that's in Building 9A had been built. He and I walked and he
grabbed my arm and we were walking in the European arm-in-arm kind
of configuration that European men walk in, and we were walking down
the center of the payload bay, and he stopped in the middle of it
and he looked in both directions and he looked it over, and he said,
"You know, this is a wonderful machine. I've dreamed of a machine
like this for years." But he said, "If I had the choice
of any mission that I would have liked to have flown, it would have
been your mission." He said, "That was because of the things
that we learned about humans as space inhabitants." He said,
"If I'd had any mission I could fly, I would have flown that
The other guy who I consider to be my mentor at NASA was Pete Conrad.
Here was a guy who knew how to lead, he had integrity, he knew how
to set a goal and get it done, and he knew how to make people enjoy
it while they were doing it. He was a free spirit. I was never as
free as Pete Conrad was. He imbued in people the willingness to just
get anything done, and we would do anything to avoid disappointing
Pete. So those are my really great mentors in the space program.
Post space program, my most important mentor is my wife. [Carr becomes
I want to take this opportunity to give you a chance to make any last
comments you would like to get on tape before we close for the afternoon.
Okay. As soon as I get my marbles gathered up again.
Would you like to take a break for a minute?
Yes, let's take a break till I— [Tape recorder turned off.]
The thing with my wife, Pat Musick, is that when I met her, I was
a technocrat, an engineer, a technician, an astronaut, a pilot, and
after having met her and getting to know some of her friends, a door
was open and there's a whole new aspect of my life that was open to
me that I hadn't any appreciation for, and I learned to appreciate
and love art. At the same time I took some of my expertise in planning
to help her. I helped organize her career so that we had records.
You know, artists don't keep very good records. So I did a lot of
that work for her in the beginnings and helped her kind of get organized,
taught her about backup systems. She wasn't accustomed to working
with more than just one plan, and if that plan went down the tubes,
then she went down the tubes with it. She wasn't too tolerant of her
So after we had been together for quite some time, she began to get
the picture that it's good to have backups and it's good to have ideas
what you're going to do if this doesn't work, and then she began to
realize, "Shoot, I kind of do that all the time anyway, I just
didn't realize it." Because when she's doing a painting or a
piece of art, if something doesn't come out just right, there's always
a shift you can make and a mode you can do, a backup system that will
allow you to go ahead and complete it and still be happy with it.
But that's where I helped her.
Where she helped me was in teaching me to appreciate art, and through
the art the two of us have influenced a lot of people, a lot of young
people. We spend a lot of time with kids. We're enjoying our life
together. So for me it's been wonderful to be able to have art to
step into when I decided it was time to quit doing the aerospace work.
It seems like you certainly have a wonderful life going for you. I'd
like to thank you for taking these few hours to sit down and talk
with us a little bit about that life.
You're welcome. It's been my pleasure, too. It's been a real wonderful
experience just to reminisce through all that.
Great. I'm glad you enjoyed it.