NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Carol Butler
Houston, Texas – 1 December 2000
Today is December 1, 2000. This oral history with Dr. Ed Gibson is
being conducted for the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project
at the JSC studio in Houston, Texas. Carol Butler is the interviewer.
Thank you very much for joining us today.
Thank you, Carol.
To begin with, if maybe you could tell us a little bit about your
background and how you became interested in science and first went
into engineering and then became interested in physics and—
Sure. I started out being president of my first-grade class two years
in a row. I was not a good student. They kept me around, not because
they liked me. So the one thing that I did enjoy was science and astronomy.
I used to draw pictures of the solar system and so forth. That was
the only thing when I was young that I ever did was academic at all.
When I got into high school, I improved my performance a little bit,
but still was oriented all toward science and math, to some degree,
even, though I finally learned I had to study. I barely got into college.
University of Rochester [New York] accepted me. Cornell [University,
Ithaca, New York] did not. Four years later, Cornell was willing to
give me a fellowship to come back for graduate studies. I thought
that was interesting. University of Rochester really, which is where
I grew up scientifically, and they presented great opportunity for
me, and I'm forever in debt to those people that they first took me
in, and then the quality of the education that I got there.
I got into engineering because my father ran a marking devices company.
He made rubber stamps, steel dies, and stencils, and those kinds of
things, and he wanted me to go into business with him. He thought
that if I'd learned the engineering side, I could always get the business
side later. So for lack of any real course direction in my life, I
went into engineering. Once I got into it, I found I really like the
basic science more. I like physics, and then I combined that interest
in physics with my interest in astronomy, got interested in rocketry
and space travel.
I had always hoped to go into the Air Force and fly jet airplanes,
but I once had a disease called osteomyelitis and that was a disqualification
at that time for being a pilot. So I thought, well, if I can't fly
them, maybe I can go build them. So much to my father's regret, I
did not go into his business, and I went off to graduate school at
Caltech [California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California]
with a National Science Foundation fellowship. Had I to do over again,
I probably would have gone straight into physics, because I really
loved it, and to this day it's a real passion. But to really be good
at it, you've really got to get that sound background in physics and
mathematics to make some real headway in it.
So then I went through Caltech, a big struggle to do that. My wife
helped me out quite a bit and she worked. She got a Ph.T., a Put Husband
Through, and after five years I got a Ph.D. Never would have anticipated
that, because your self-image changes over time. I was the youngest
of three, and the two older ones were A students, and I was the dunce.
So it was tough to get that self-image to change, and it was only
after five years of struggling and all of a sudden realizing that
if you work hard enough at anything, you can do well at it. Maybe
opera singing perhaps not, but most things.
Well, even opera singing, it takes a talent to be able to work hard,
and you obviously had that talent in the science side of things.
Yes, I was lucky. The gray cells worked in that area. They didn't
work in the language area very well. I like to say English is my second
language and I don't have a first.
Well, your first maybe is physics.
Yes, maybe so.
And I'm sure that even though at the time your father may have regretted
that you didn't go into his business, I'm sure he ended up later on
being happy with—
Yes, he was. He was. He was rather proud when it was all said and
done. So I felt perhaps I came back around and brought a little cheer
into his life as a result of getting into the space program.
It certainly would be something for a father to be proud of in his
Yes. Yes, he was always supportive of me in everything I did.
That was good.
It helps a lot.
It does. It really does. It makes all the difference in the world.
If you have a wife and parents that support you, then that's all the
difference in the world.
You said you had been interested in astronomy and in the solar system.
Had you followed much of what was going on in the space program while
you were studying and in school?
Yes, I was a graduate student at the time that the Mercury and Gemini
Programs were going, and I had followed them. Like everybody else,
I would stay up and watch the launches late at night, never thinking
I'd have a chance to be involved in them. But I could see where it
was headed and just was fascinated by it. So when the opportunity
came along for me after I got out of graduate school, I was working
at Newport Beach, California, with Aeronatronic [phonetic]. Setting
up breakfast one morning, my wife was reading the Los Angeles Times
and read an article about NASA looking for scientists who wanted to
fly in space, fly aircraft and fly in space. I thought she was making
it up, but then it went on and on and I knew she couldn't make it
up quite that fast. It sounded too official. So, yes, it was. They
were really looking for scientist astronauts, the first group.
I thought long and hard about it and, eight o'clock that morning,
applied. So I had no qualms whatsoever. That was something I wanted
to do. It offered a great opportunity to fly airplanes, which is something
I always wanted to do, and be on edge of a real forefront in science
and technology, which is space travel, and then just space travel
itself, which is inherently fascinating. I knew it was going to be
extremely challenging, and I think after getting out of graduate school—going
through Caltech was really a challenge—and after that you look
around and you say, "What's the next step?" What can you
do now that is really going to get your motor running and make you
work? And I looked at the space program and say, "By God, it's
big, it's vast, and it's going to be demanding." And so I said,
"From a personal standpoint I just need that type of challenge,"
and so it was great to get into from that standpoint.
Absolutely. And it sounds like your wife was behind you then, if she
was the one pointing out the article to you.
She was, all the way. Yes, my wife Julie was my girlfriend since,
well, since she was in freshman year and I was a senior in high school.
Oh, that's wonderful.
So she's been with me for a little over forty years now.
I tell her we're still in a trial period.
Well, hopefully that trial period is working out pretty well.
Yes, it's working fine.
It certainly sounds like it is.
You mentioned going to Caltech being a challenge and that getting
into the space program would be a challenge, but you did say that
in between you worked. You mentioned Aeronatronics and you also worked
for Philco Corporation for a while, if that's correct, or maybe they
Yes, Philco Corporation and Aeronatronics were one and the same. It
was Aeronatronic Division of the Ford-Philco Corporation. It was a
year in which I was doing research in Newport Beach, California. My
wife and I wanted to stay in California, and also I liked the person
who was running that laboratory, and it was consistent with my background,
which was in plasma physics, the study of high-temperature gases.
What was different about it was that it was no longer so theoretical
as what I had in graduate school. It was more applied physics, which
I found interesting, but at the same time not interesting. I was kind
of sitting on the fence, depending upon the type of project.
And so it was just the right time and place for that new challenge
with the space program.
That's right. Exactly.
When you did apply, tell us about what that process was like, your
application process, your interview, and what some of the steps along
the way were, and what you thought about the whole thing.
I was really debating whether I should apply, because I knew the odds
were so extreme in terms of getting in and also of my background with
osteomyelitis. I thought, "They'll blow me off immediately."
But, I thought, "Well, what have I got to lose?" So I just
went ahead and I got the paperwork and applied, and it went back and
forth a couple of times. To me, it was just paperwork. Then they had
said that anybody who comes down to Johnson [Space Center, JSC] for
an interview would get a ride in a T-38. So I said, "Hey, the
paperwork is worth it. I'll do whatever paperwork I have to just to
get a ride in a T-38."
So I continued on with the paperwork and going through several doctors
and the doctors sending things back and forth. There were some questions
obviously about the osteomyelitis. And they finally agreed that since
it had been dormant for so many years, it probably was going to stay
dormant and was a thing of the past and not a factor at all, which
was a real change, because it was, for example, the kind of thing
that kept Mickey Mantle out of the service because he had it at one
time. Other people have had similar problems with it and not been
as lucky as I have been.
So I kept on sending the paperwork back and forth and then came down
to Johnson for an interview. Actually, it was a physical. They took
us over to Brooks Air Force Base [San Antonio, Texas] and shook us
and heated us and cooled us and vibrated us and then sent us to the
shrink to see what they could learn. There were sixteen of us, and
they selected six of us. I just felt lucky to get into that group,
and I enjoyed the airplane ride, of course.
But I was really surprised when they called me and said that I'd gotten
in. You never think of yourself on a national scale. You're always
used to working on a local scale, whether it'd be a university, a
town, or whatever. And to be involved then in a national program like
that and to have that opportunity, which very few people did, it was
kind of daunting at that time.
I can imagine that.
That wouldn't be something that everyone would think of. You're right.
Yes, I was actually a 28-year-old kid. I'd spent almost my life going
through school, so I hadn't had a chance to get out in the world and
grow up in any way. So I was just really a kid thrown right in the
middle of that. It was the glory days of the Mercury, the Original
Seven, and then the next group, the Gemini Program was still on. And
all of a sudden to be brought in with that group, I felt like an imposter.
It was one day you're just a kid sitting in the corner and the next
day all of a sudden you are one, and you say, "Now what do I
do?" And people treat you like you know everything about the
space program, and you don't. So it takes a while to make that adjustment.
That was probably a little challenge at the beginning.
Well, you had been looking for a new challenge.
Well, I found it, yes.
It might have been a little different than what you thought it was.
At any point during the process of applying and the various testing
and shaking and heating and cooling and everything they'd put you
through, did any of those make you stop and think, "Gee, do I
really want to be doing this?" or did you just keep—
No, that stuff was relatively easy. It wasn't like we were trying
out to be a Navy SEAL or anything. I had been in athletics most of
my life, swimming, so I was used to thinking and working in confined
spaces and a number of things that they put us through just to see
how you would mentally respond, and I felt very comfortable in all
those things just because of my background was that and also I was
highly motivated to do it. So I thought, "Jeez, is this all they're
going to have us do?" I expected a lot more, actually.
And had they told you during the process that if you were selected,
you would then go through flight training?
Yes. Yes, at the very beginning that was part of the process of acceptance.
They tell you what was in store for you. At one time we thought we
were going to have a good shot at landing on the Moon. Well, actually
one of us did, [Harrison H.] Jack Schmitt, who was with me, did get
in that way and finally landed on Apollo 17. But, no, we all knew
we had to go through flight training. There were six of us who got
in. One left immediately and then there was five. Two, Joe [Joseph
P.] Kerwin and [F. Curtis] Curt Michel, already had pilot training,
so they didn't have to go, and then Owen [K.] Garriott, Jack Schmitt,
and I went off to Williams Air Force Base [Arizona] for a year of
I loved it, other than, again, the military service is a bureaucratic
process, and so they didn't know how to treat us. One day we'd be
out there as subairmen picking up cigarette butts, and the next day
we'd be out there meeting dignitaries coming through. But we just
looked like anybody else, had standard Air Force uniforms on, and
went through the classes like everybody else.
When you got in the airplane, the airplane doesn't lie. If you're
off a hundred feet in the altitude, you know, there's no way to talk
your way out of that one. So, you know, you got to perform, and in
that sense it was really enjoyable.
Was it the flight training itself and getting in the airplane that—you
said the airplane's not going to lie—was that how you had expected
it might be and of a level of difficulty that you expected?
Yes, I was a little surprised there at the very beginning that there
is a learning curve and it's rather steep at the beginning and when
you first get in to just soloing an airplane, which I had actually
done before that, but with, of course, an instructor hiding behind
the barn, I had soloed out in San Clemente [California]. But then
when you got into the light airplanes and flying it the way the Air
Force wants it and then finally T-37, a 6,000-pound dog whistle, this
little two-seater trainer, and then finally the T-38, each one is
a real challenge, and there are certain phases of it which are also
challenges. When you first start out, you think, "Jeez, I'm never
going to get this." It's like rubbing your head and patting your
stomach and touching your tongue with the back of your nose while
you're shining your shoes with the back of your cuff, and it's trying
to do all those things simultaneously, and it takes a while before
you get to where it becomes second nature, and then you feel comfortable
doing it. But at the beginning it takes a while, and you realize this
is not a handout.
Did the three of you that were there from NASA, from the astronaut
program, did you begin hitting it off right away? Did you communicate
a lot with each other?
Oh, yes, yes. Yes, we did. We got along very well. Owen Garriott and
I were in the same class. We're different backgrounds and different
nature of people, but we were in something together and when you're
in that environment, you work together, and I got to really like and
appreciate Owen. It worked well. Jack Schmitt was over in another
squadron, so we didn't see very much of him, but we got along obviously
very well when we did. We all tried to be geologists, though; that
was the hoax we were trying to pass off on NASA. But Jack didn't;
he was a really geologist. But I was in physics, so I was trying to
look like a geologist so I could get to the Moon, too, and so was
Owen, but as we talk later on, you'll see that that wasn't really
When you returned from the flight training, which had gone successfully,
and you did quite well in the program and came back to NASA, then
you began your NASA training more specific for the space program.
If you could tell us about what that process was like? Now you actually
worked with even another group of astronauts that had come in at the
same time, is that correct?
If you could tell us about what some of that training—
Yes, the integration of us back into Houston. Well, we thought naively
that Houston just couldn’t wait to get us back there because
we were so vital to the space program. So we showed up back here at
Johnson Space Center, and it was, you know, "Hey, boy, bring
the stool over here." We were not regarded as really instrumental
to what was going on; that's an understatement. I then realized that
maybe they sent us off to flight school hoping we would quick flunk
out or kill ourselves, or, anyway, not show up back here, because,
quite frankly, the way it worked is we were rammed down NASA's throat
by the National Academy of Sciences. They didn't want to do it.
So they said, "But if you're going to spend all this money on
a lunar program, then you'd better put some people up who know something
about the science of geology," and NASA really couldn't fight
that argument. So they went out and selected people, and that's why
we went off to flight training, I think, to become more like one of
them or to wring us out a bit and make sure that the people who were
going to get through were not afraid of being in that operational
environment. So there was a lot of lack of acceptance, I would say,
on the part of many people, primarily within the astro corps when
we first got back here. It wasn't hostility; it was just that "You
guys are scientists and, therefore, scientists are another form of
life and not a test pilot, and this is a test pilot's world, so you'll
stand aside, boy, while I do my work." That changed, obviously.
That's changed quite a bit, and not everybody had that attitude.
There were some people, Jim [James A.] McDivitt and others, who just
were extremely open and friendly and cooperative and helped the integration
process. Deke [Donald K.] Slayton, much to his credit, even though
he was a hard-boiled test pilot, he was motivated purely by what was
good for the space program. He didn't have ego or any of these "which
club should I represent here?" None of that was part of his thinking.
His makeup was strictly, "What's good for the space program?"
If we could do something constructive on the Moon or in space, then
all for it. If we didn't perform, then you're out. But it was all
straight by the book, and I admired and liked Deke. Probably to this
day I think if I could pattern myself after the way he acted, I'd
be doing well.
That's good to hear. He obviously had a very vital role in the program,
and so it's good that he was able to put that perspective on things.
Yes, he did play a very vital role. Unfortunately, he never got to
fly until Apollo-Soyuz [Test Project, ASTP], which was too bad, because
he could have contributed quite a bit in Mercury and all the way through.
He certainly had his own unique contributions in a different way.
In a different way, he sure did. He was a good leader, though, in
Absolutely. It certainly seems like it from what we've heard. It must
have been disappointing, though, to have some of that other resistance
for all of you.
Yes, it was, but as I reflect back on it, there was nothing hostile
in people's intent or anything. It was strictly a belief. These guys
grew up in a test pilot world. We grew up in a science world. We both
thought we had a lot to contribute. The test pilots were always there
first, a natural extrapolation of test flight, so it was natural that
that's the way it was. But it did take a while in order to break down
those barriers, and it was just working alongside the guys and finally
Was there anything specifically, as you were going through the training
initially, what were some of the areas that you first focused on?
And as you began to realize that it would take working with them more
closely and integrating yourself into the group, was there anything
specifically that you would then work towards or work on?
Well, we all started out with general training; it's just background
training. Then you ask, where do you go from here? How do you get
yourself on a flight? So you had to look for a seat and say, what's
the requirements? At that time we still had Apollo 20 was on, and
17 was not the end of it. So we all thought we had a shot at a lunar
landing. So I tried to look like a geologist like everybody else and
did a respectable job, but I was no better than maybe a bachelor of
science in geology at the level I was, where Jack Schmitt was a Ph.D.
and was practicing. So there was no question about that.
When it was decided that we were going to cut back and not have the
last three flights, Jack Schmitt, who in people's minds was earmarked
for one of those flights, they moved him back and put him on Apollo
17 and unfortunately had to bump Joe [H.] Engle to do it, which was
tough. I felt sorry for Joe. I understood why it happened, and I thought
it was the right thing to do, but it was tough on Joe.
It's certainly a tough decision to have to make.
Oh, sure. Yes.
But as many people have said, to have an Apollo and not send a geologist
to the Moon when you had one employed would have been—
Sure. Well, that's what the space program is all about. What we'll
get around to when we talk to Skylab is, either you're extending a
frontier or breaking a frontier, pushing it out, or you're making
use in the science or technical way where you already have a turf
you've already conquered. So if you're going to send people up to
either be test pilots, to extend the boundaries, or once you've gotten
that new scope established, now you'd go up and start utilizing it,
just like settlers coming across our country. So you've got to have
the best and you've got to focus on it, and when I look at what we're
doing on [International] Space Station now and what we did on Skylab,
it was all taking and applying and learning, using a new environment
and doing it with expertise, and you need people who are very skilled
in that work, in exploring that new environment and with a great deal
of expertise. If you don't, that you've just got button-pushers and
you're not fully utilizing what people have worked hard to achieve.
That's a good evaluation of the whole program. I like that. Helps
put things in perspective for someone who doesn't necessarily grasp
After you had completed your initial training and the general training—you
had mentioned classwork and so forth—and began then to get more
involved in the specifics of the program, a lot of people had specific
technical assignments in specific areas. So did you have a specific
area like that yourself?
Well, initially I had to go kind of pick it out myself, and I saw
the Apollo Extension System, it was called at the time, coming down
the pike, and part of it was solar physics. Now, I didn't know much
about the sun except that it was big, round, yellow, and hot, but
I did know a lot about plasma physics, which is what the sun is all
made out of. So I thought, "Well, maybe if I become the resident
expert in solar physics, I'll stand a chance in getting on board one
of the seats when we finally fly on whatever Apollo Extension."
I think it had another name in there. Then Apollo Applications, it
was called, and then finally Skylab.
So I started reading up on solar physics and found I really enjoyed
the subject, just because it was compatible with my background. It
was just interesting. So what became a past-time then became part
of my profession because I thought I could use it when I got out of
NASA as well as help get me on board a flight and contribute when
I was on that flight with some real expertise. So once I started working
on Apollo Applications, it became natural to push in that direction.
You also at some point in this time began training, and this was probably
before they had canceled the latter Apollo missions, you began helicopter
Oh, yes, that was when we were still all going to land on the Moon.
So we all had some helicopter training, and, of course, my helicopter
career came to a screeching halt one day. We all went through the
Navy program at Pensacola [Florida] and got Navy helicopter certification.
I enjoyed it. It was one of those things, again, where it takes a
while to catch on, but once you do, you really enjoy it. It was a
little Bell 47 helicopter. I really enjoyed flying it.
One Saturday morning I went off to fly and I wanted to practice what's
called run-on landings work, because you skid. You come in at around
20, 30 miles per hour and slowly set it down on the skids and let
it land. Unfortunately, Ellington Field [Houston, Texas] had some
high grass and they had not mowed it, and I knew that there were some
cement and metal posts out there. And I thought, "I'd better
not do that. That'd be dangerous to try to make the run-on landings
when I can't see what's underneath the high grass."
So I went up north by the ship channel, and there was some, what I
thought was some dry bed, and it looked dry from the surface. You're
not allowed to land on areas outside of the main field anyway, so
I shouldn't have been doing it, but it was common practice, and so
I was up there.
I was making run-on landings, and everything was going great. I tested
the center of the field and it was firm. Then I thought, "Well,
I'll just go over on the side and make it." The surface was that
bed was dried and cracked just like a regular lake bed would. Of course,
that's not a lake bed up there, but, nonetheless, it appeared that
way. So I went over to the side and made a run-on landing. Unfortunately,
the things was crowned so that on the side it was lower, and relative
to the water table, the water was this far below the surface, whereas
over in the center it maybe had been a couple of feet below. So the
center was firm; the other had just a small layer that looked firm,
but when you put the skids on, the weight on the skids, it broke right
So I was making the beautiful aerodynamic, aerodynamically beautiful
anyway, for a run-on landing, and put the weight on the skids, and
the next thing I knew I was hanging in the straps looking at the mud,
with the gasoline dripping over my shoulder and one destroyed helicopter
all around me.
So it was good airmanship; it was just lousy geology. So that ended
my helicopter career. I remember walking away from it. I turned the
battery off and got out and started walking and was slogging through
the mud. And I was thinking, "Well, the heat ought to blow over
in another two weeks, and in another four weeks, I can probably start
looking for another job." I thought I had really cooked my goose.
But it turned out that other people had done similar things, only
with not such dramatic results, that no one knew about. So perhaps
I took a lot of heat for it, but they left me in the program, which
I thought was good, and I appreciated that, because certainly if they
wanted to get rid of me or another scientist, they had a very good
reason to do it right there.
It was just a basic error and really no—
Well, I shouldn't have been landing out in areas which were unprepared
or not approved. It was common practice, but I still shouldn't been
doing it, so it was my screw-up. Good airmanship, though.
It's the geology I was off.
So you should have gone back and talked to Jack Schmitt and have him
give you a run-down on it.
Did you get a chance to ever go back up in a helicopter after that?
They always talk about getting back on the horse after—
No, I have since never been able to go up and fly one. I've been in
helicopters many times and someone let me take the controls, but I
haven't been able to go up to fly helicopters since then, because
after that they said, "Why are we spending all this money? These
guys aren't going to the Moon, anyway." So a number of us who
had been flying were taken off helicopter status, which I thought
Unfortunate, but maybe it was just a—
Well, it was the right thing to do. I mean, I just precipitated a
change that was already going to take place.
Around this time also you were serving on the support crew and as
the capcom for Apollo 12. Is that correct? Was that the same time
That's right. That's right.
What are the duties of a support crew member, and what did you even
think of it when you got the assignment?
Well, I was glad. I was glad to do it. I knew [Lunar Module Pilot
Alan L.] Al Bean reasonably well, and when he got to assigned to Apollo
12, I indicated, "Gee, I sure would like to be on the support
crew." What the support crew does is just what the name implies.
They're not trained to fly. You get a little simulator time, but it's
the prime and the back-up crews which get all the training and the
back-up crew is if something happens to the prime, obviously then
they fly. The support crew has all of the crew's interests at heart
and understands from an operational side what needs to be done and
then tries to integrate those concerns into the rest of the system.
So my role was to work with the lunar landing and all of the lunar
traverses, the EVAs outside, when [Charles] Pete Conrad [Jr.] and
Al Bean went outside. I helped put together all the procedures for
what they would do, with a lot of scientific input, of course. But
you had to integrate what they wanted scientifically with the actual
operations and make it happen. So I helped design the procedures,
all of the checklists. I think we might talk about the cuff checklists
Al Bean, God love him, he was one of these guys who wants to be so
precise and know exactly what happens, what's required of him, so
he wants to everything spelled out by a checklist before you can go.
And if you could put numbers like Arthur Murray [dance instructor]
on the Moon and with a procedure by each numbered step, he'd love
it. But you don't know it that well. But, anyway. So I really tried
to support him by getting all—we had checklists we were going
to put everywhere—on the legs of the LM [lunar module], on the
inside, and a whole host of places we were going to post things up
so Al had checklists. And finally we said, "You know, this is
So a gentleman by the name of Bob Roberts, who was in flight crew
support, and I said, "Why don't we find a way to write it on
a list that they could put on the cuff?" And he went away and
worked on it and came up with the idea of a little spiral-bound cuff
checklist, and that worked real well. That just kind of grew. So that's
how that whole thing got started, and obviously we had a little fun
Yes, some interesting things included in those checklists.
Right. Yes. Yes, that got Pete's attention on the Moon.
Including some of these things and working so closely with the crew,
and we talked a little bit before about some of the camaraderie just
between everyone in the program, and Pete Conrad, of course, was quite
a character, what was that dynamic like between you, the prime crew,
and the back-up crew?
Surprisingly good. I found that once they realized that you were going
to work as hard as they, and maybe harder, if you could demonstrate
that, I mean, they worked pretty hard, and that you were on their
side and were trying to make life better for them, and you were on
their side of the table, once they realized that, then it was great.
And that's the way it should be. They finally accepted us for being
able to contribute and having the same interests at heart as they
did, which is making the space program work. So that worked.
For me, it was a very gratifying period because I really got a chance
to get first-hand into the space program, and to this day I realize
that even though it was the second landing on the Moon, which we always
teased Pete about, it was still a very unique time in history, and
I was just in the right place at the right time and very lucky to
It certainly was very unique. In fact, each mission, though it might
not have been the first, accomplished so many new things. On Apollo
12 they had the precise landing, the pinpoint landing, that hadn't
been done before. And, of course, it must have been interesting for
you, too. You then served as capcom, and I'm not sure what shift you
were on, but they got hit by lightning during the launch.
Yes, I wasn't there. Jerry [Gerald P.] Carr had the launch. I was
primarily on when they were out on the EVAs. So as soon as they started
getting ready for the EVAs, then, because I had worked with them on
developing all those procedures, I was the capcom. Some of those EVAs
were five and a half, six, seven hours.
Did you stay in there for the whole shift?
Oh, yes, I got a chance to do that, and that was just fascinating.
It was tough to believe, actually, when you were sitting there and
you were talking to the guys you were normally used to talking to
over in some other part of the building or somewhere out in the desert,
and all of a sudden you realized that they're really up there on the
Moon, and the communications there was better than they usually were
in our training exercises. So it was tough to realize that these guys
were really up there, other than the two-second delay, which made
it difficult to talk.
Was there a point at all during the mission where you remember thinking
that and reflecting on the fact that, "Jeez, these guys are up
there doing it"?
Oh, yes. Yes, that went through my mind several times, because all
of a sudden the training exercises we had gone through and the lunar
traverses which we had practiced, this time, even though we had trained
with a two-second delay in the communications, just knowing that they
were still up there, it was real difficult. If I'd been on the flight,
perhaps I wouldn't have had as much time to reflect. But since I was
on the ground, you got a little more time to think about it than you
would if you were actually on the scene.
Had there been points previous to this, during other missions that
you might not have been directly involved with, perhaps Apollo 11,
perhaps Apollo 8, even, where you thought about the impact of what
this whole program was having on the world at all?
Yes. I think when you're in the midst of it, you don't step back and
be too philosophical about it. But I remember when Apollo 11 landed,
I was in mission control. I was not part of the support crew for Apollo
11, only for 12, but I was in the viewing room, and Wernher von Braun
and Chris [Christopher C.] Kraft [Jr.] and [Robert R.] Gilruth were
there, among others, and I looked at their face when they landed,
and von Braun just had tears in his eyes. And here's a guy that I
had grown up to admire from his contributions he had made to rocketry
because I've studied it for some many years and read a lot of his
writings and his philosophy and his technical approach to the space
program. I really admired him. Then it hit me. I said, "This
is really monumental, what has happened."
It's certainly a unique moment in human history, as you mentioned.
As all of this was going on and you were working on the support crew
for Apollo 12, you and the scientist astronauts were still working
yourselves into the program and integrating. As you said, with Jack
Schmitt, even that decision to put him on a crew was debated and it
came toward the end of the program. What did you all think when that
happened, as he got the assignment?
Mixed feelings, which I've already expressed to some degree. I was
glad to see Jack go. It was the right thing to do for the program.
I was sorry that the timing was such that they announced that they
were cut off the last three missions after they had named Jack to
that crew. Then you really had a double hit on Joe. It's not like
not getting named. It's like getting named and then getting yanked
off, and that was hard for Joe, and I felt sorry for him because he
was very competent pilot, extremely competent pilot. But it was the
right thing to do.
What I regretted was that they cut off the last three missions. After
we had developed this tremendous technology and then for just a very
small additional effort to continue to reap the benefits, it just
made no sense whatsoever. But that was the time. It was the sixties.
There was a lot of anti-technology sentiment. We had the war going
in Vietnam, and the U.S. in some eyes was looked upon as technologically
superior, and using that technology for a war which was not popular.
So technology itself took a black eye to some degree, and the height
of the technology from a visibility standpoint was the space program.
So we had an awful lot of people marching against the space program
because we were spending money on the space program as opposed to
other things, as though it was a choice, one or the other. The additional
funds to carry on the space program, especially the lunar landings,
was not that much. It was a poor technical, financial, and political
decision at the time.
Would you ever have imagined that this many years would go by and
we hadn't gone back yet?
No. No, I reflected when we were up in Skylab, I'd look back and think,
you know, this is a pretty crude space station. We cobbled together
some pieces of old Apollo hardware. I'm not trying to diminish it,
but it really was a makeshift space station, and I said, "We
know how to do this so much better. In five years we'll be back up
here with a much better space station." Now here we are today,
twenty-seven years later, we're just starting to build a space station
again, at a much greater cost than in time than it should have been.
And it's not that the technologists can't do it; it's the political
It certainly has had a large impact on the space program as a whole,
the political decisions.
Well, yes, and, unfortunately, politicians via subcommittees love
to get in and micromanage. As opposed to just giving a top-level requirement,
we get the guys in who are frustrated engineers. You know, I've seen
them get in and start trying to micromanage how you build a space
station. Shouldn't be done, shouldn't be done. Should be top-level
management. You select the goals you want and keep them constant.
Get good people and give it the right financing, hold them to various
milestones and then just get out of their way. And if you look at
the way the program has evolved because of the federal bureaucracy,
every one of those things has been violated. We've shifted goals.
We have a tough time retaining good people. We bring a lot in, but
there's also an awful lot who leave who should not.
We have micromanagement of programs as opposed to just giving top-level
requirements. And then when things don't go right, the outside world
says, "Well, obviously we got to step in and fix things,"
which stirs the pot in the wrong direction again. So we've had a lot
of difficulty since the Apollo era in getting things accomplished
in a cost-effective and efficient way, and a lot of it is because
there's too much political structure, too much help.
And certainly the space program, as you've mentioned, is so much in
the public eye that even though it may only be the small percentage
of the national budget that—
It's a political football.
You've mentioned a little bit back to the Vietnam War and some of
the unrest that was going on. How aware were all of you at NASA of
what was going on in the rest of the country and the rest of the world?
Did it impact your jobs much, or were you very focused on the program?
We were rather naive, I think, about the political impact of what
was happening and how it would affect the space program, but I do
remember thinking about some of the people who I had gone to flight
school with and a lot of the people who my friends knew who were over
in Vietnam and risking their lives every day and some of the not coming
back. And then people were trying to glorify what was taking place
in the space program, and I thought somehow this doesn't fit. It's
not right, because here we were not getting shot at and really just
enjoying life and being very lucky to be there, and we were getting
praised for doing it, whereas the other guys were out there defending
our country and taking the risk every day and some of them not coming
back, and they got the derision of the nation heaped on them because
all they were doing was standing behind their flag and doing what
their commander-in-chief told them. I thought that was extremely unfair.
I still do. It was a wrong thing to do. Our nation, we should’a
been in or out. We never should have done that to our military.
Absolutely not, because, as you said, they were doing what they were
told to do, what they were asked to do, and they were doing it to
the best of their ability.
The space program at least did give something positive for the country
to reflect on. I think even someone after Apollo 8 had sent back a
telegram saying, "You saved 1968," that it was something
good for people to be able to focus on.
It was, and the whole lunar landing was something that we did for
all humanity. It was us taking a major step off our planet and landing
on another body. Mentally, how we view ourselves now is changed. There's
no way to ever go back.
Not at all.
Well, you had become involved in planning for Skylab and Apollo Applications,
as you said, actually even had a couple of other names there at the
beginning, and you mentioned some of the work that you began investigating
solar physics and doing some of that on your own to build up for the
Skylab Program now that Apollo was coming toward an end. At what point
did you actually then—somewhere in here you wrote the book,
The Quiet Sun. Was this before you actually were officially assigned
to a Skylab mission, or was this during this phase when you were—
It was during the very early phase. Al [Alan C.] Holt, who was in
flight crew support, and I decided that the guys didn't know anything
about the sun or solar physics, and we were looking around at how
to get people educated, at least enough so that they would know what
they were doing. So he and I decided to write a solar physics guide,
it was called, and it was strictly just top-level stuff. Some of the
books that were out there really didn't address the way, the simple
way, which guys needed to understand.
So we flipped a coin, almost. I said, "Al, what do you want to
take, the active sun or the quiet sun?" There's two parts of
the sun. There's the steady state, and the one that has all the transient
and flares and explosions and all that. And obviously the latter's
more interesting, so he chose that.
So I took what's called the quiet sun and wrote up on that. Al never
pushed it along as far. He finally got something in a guide put out,
but then I wrote The Quiet Sun and it was in a very preliminary state.
It was really just a guide, like you would mimeograph off and hand
out to people. It was not text book at all. But then I realized, "Hey,
there's an awful lot more that I can do with this," and because
of my academic background I knew how to do it. And also I said, "Well,
if there's going to be any question about me getting on board a flight,
this will do it." Also I'd learned a lot in the process, so—
... several reasons for doing this. So then I wrote it up as a textbook,
which I was trying to get published through the [Massachusetts Institute
of Technology] MIT Press, but since some government work had helped
me, I couldn't publish it outside. So the Government Printing Office
came in and they did an outstanding job. I was very surprised. I knew
that they could, but I didn't know that they would. And they did an
outstanding job of putting that together, and it turned out to be
a very good textbook, and I've been surprised ever since then. People
come up to me and tell me they've used it as a textbook in their training
and thought it was very good. That's probably one of the more positive
feedbacks I've ever gotten in my life about what I've done.
It's certainly something to be proud of, and it certainly did help
you in securing your seat, or at least help you on the mission.
Well, I don't know. I could have written anything, and maybe because
there were three scientists and three seats, it was that simple. Probably
was. I didn't know it at the time.
Well, certainly your research in preparing for it gave you a lot,
when you were working on your mission, a lot to build off of and run
with in completing all of your experiments and procedures and such.
Right. It really helped me. At least I felt I was fully contributing
then. I would have felt probably a little as though I had missed an
opportunity if I had not really fully applied myself, because I knew
I could, and taken advantage of the opportunity in space flight to
really do good science. I figure that's why I was there. I'd gone
through Caltech, and if I was going to do anything good, it had to
be in that area.
As the Skylab Program was coming more fully up to speed and things
were being formalized, what role, before you were assigned to a mission,
did you have? Were you just continuing on, on work like this and on
studying the solar physics? Were you involved then with the ATM [Apollo
Telescope Mount] work early on?
Yes, I was involved in the ATM early on because of my background in
solar physics, but then I got involved in the film retrieval from
ATM, which was done by EVAs, space walks. So then I got into the space
walk world, which was an awful lot of fun. I really enjoyed that,
and then also got into the design of the laboratory, but only in a
review basis for what other guys were doing. My specialty was the
ATM. So the space walk activities and the procedures for running the
equipment turned out to fall on me next, along with Owen Garriott,
who did quite a bit of that, too.
You mentioned the EVAs and the film retrieval and you had come in
during some of the Gemini work, and they obviously had a lot of problems
with EVA. Did you build on a lot of their experiences?
Yes, yes, we did. They had learned about how to train, and that was
when neutral buoyancy just came into vogue and they said, "This
is the way to do it." Somewhat to the chagrin of Chris Kraft,
our friend over there over there at Marshall Space Flight Center [Huntsville,
Alabama], Wernher von Braun, had built a large water tank, and before
anybody knew, he had a mock-up of Skylab in there in the water tank.
The guys at Johnson, who were so focused on Apollo, all of a sudden
realized that these guys had a one-up-manship on them, and that continued
for quite a little while until we finally got this neutral buoyancy
facility over here at Johnson.
But, anyway, we got a very good facility over there and put a good
part of the Skylab mock-up in there and did a lot of development work
and then training for Skylab. I spent a lot of time going back and
forth in a T-38 and in and out of the water.
That must have been interesting and maybe not something you had thought
about doing as an astronaut, is underwater—
No, it was very natural, because I had an athletic background and
also the swimming. I was a lifeguard at one time. So it all seemed
to fit. It just all fell together.
Well, that's good. Good connection there.
Was the Skylab design then pretty well in place as you were working
on these, or were there any large changes that came across?
Oh, we had an awful lot of changes. We started out, we were going
to have a wet workshop, it was called. The ATM initially was going
to be flown just in place of the Apollo module on a command service
module [CSM]. So it was going to be just independent. And then there
were some other experiments which people wanted to fly and finally
they said, "Why don't we get this thing all together and make
a space station out of it." And so that's when the Apollo Extension
System came along, and then finally Apollo Applications with the integrated
It started out that we were going to have a wet workshop. In other
words, we were going to launch and then use the upper stage for our
space station, part of our space station. But it turned out that that
was just too complex. We found it was much more cost-effective as
well as operationally effective to just go design a thing the way
you wanted it and put it on the ground and then launch it that way.
So you were involved then in that—
Oh, yes. Yes, all the way through that, yes. It was a natural evolution,
and we look back on it now and we made an awful lot of decisions that
really influenced how things came out, but they all seemed like natural
steps at the time.
You mentioned the Apollo Telescope Mount and that it was actually
originally planned to be launched with the command module and to do
just some activities on orbit then.
For a short time frame, and that's how actually it guided some of
the layouts of the control panels and boards and such. Was there much
modification to the ATM once it was decided to go with this fuller-scale
Yes, I think the instruments were laid out differently. They had more
weight and more structure that they could work with. The panel was
changed somewhat, but it was undergoing a natural evolution anyway.
We had a little more space in which to fit it.
Initially the layout of that panel which you controlled it with—that
requires a little explanation. With eight different instruments up
there, and they all had many different controls and displays that
you would see pictures of the sun and being able to take pictures
in either a very narrow slice of the sun or the total sun and various
X-rays, you always had choices of space, where to take the picture,
where it pointed, the wavelength, and then how long you exposed it,
and how rapidly. So there were an awful lot of decisions to be made,
and that was reflecting the complexity of the control panel. So we
found ways to make that as simple as we possibly could and as logical
as we possible could, but it took a little doing. So that in itself
was a major study, but it worked out well.
Certainly seems to have. How did the idea for the ATM come about in
the first place?
Let's see. Gordon [A.] Newkirk [Jr.] at the High Altitude Observatory
and Dick [Richard L.] Tousey at the Naval Research Laboratories were
the leaders, I believe, behind this, and someone at the—yes,
Leo Goldberg, at the Harvard College Observatory, they all had instruments
which they wanted to put up and to use this ability to get above the
Earth's atmosphere. And fortunately they said there was an awful of
advantages to using a man operating that equipment as opposed to doing
it unmanned. One, of course, was because most of their instruments
were designed for film, and there's no way to get the film back unless
you have a man there. But they also saw that the intelligence of a
man could get better pictures than trying to do it all automated.
Fortunately, that worked out well.
So those were those instruments which NASA had selected to fly, but
they didn't have a vehicle yet. So there was a series of instruments
looking for a home, and that's when the Apollo Extension System came
along, where they would just fly it on the top of Apollo in place
of the lunar module. Actually, the descent stage they were going to
operate it out of the ascent stage, but that, of course, went by the
wayside when we decided to build a full-fledged space station.
Well, that certainly ended up good, because it was able to continue
so many long-term then observations.
Yes, much longer. We made observations over much longer periods than
we had originally planned. Twenty-eight, fifty-six, and then eighty-four
days, with some observations in between. So maybe we got really a
rich harvest of data.
So they were able to do some automated observations, then, when you
weren't there? Is that what you mean by in between?
Yes. Some. Not much, but some.
That's certainly good for a continuity—
As Skylab was being finalized, as its design was being finalized,
the ATM was coming along, and the other experiments began to be worked
into the program, Earth observations and medical and many of the others,
how did planning for that all come together? I think your crewmates
have mentioned the Joint Operating Procedures that were eventually
developed to make it all work.
Yes, we did the Joint Operating Procedures or job programs for the
solar telescopes. That was something we designed because it got rather
complex on how to operate all these instruments simultaneously. We
said, let's pick out maybe a dozen or so types of observations that
you're going to make, whether it's backing off and looking at the
total sun and understanding the atmosphere around the sun, or whether
you're looking at a flare or whatever it be, and then put some programs
together that shows you exactly you're going to operate each piece
of equipment. And then on one little sheet of paper—well, it
wasn't little, it was eleven-by-seventeen, show a good sequence of
the instruments, one right next to the other in a time frame, what
mode they would be operating in, how you would do it. So on a single
sheet of paper, you could say, "Well, we're going to the flare
program." You immediately pull that out and you'd know exactly
what you were doing. So those were the Joint Observations Programs
that you referred to.
Integrating all of that into the operations of the total space station,
that took a little more doing. We were usually solar-pointed, except
when we were doing Earth observations, and there we had what was called
the Z-local-vertical, where we'd point the axis on which the Earth
observations equipment was mounted at the Earth and kept it pointed
at the Earth that we went over. So it was always pointing at the nadir,
so it would rotate slowly as you went around the Earth, and the control
moment gyros that controlled this system could only do that for a
certain period of time. So we could make one, two passes or so at
the most, plus one of our control moment gyros was broken by the time
we got there, so it put a little restraint on it.
But things were able to progress pretty well.
Yes, they did, but one thing, and I still get into the whole crux
of the space program and how we do science, it was really obvious
there in the different approaches that we had to these different—there
were the medical observations, which if you were a trained physician,
you could really make in addition to all of the data which was taken,
you could make good observations, and Joe Kerwin did that when he
went up. The rest of us were kind of, you know, we'd been in emergency
rooms and so forth, but we didn't know that much about medicine, not
to the depth that Joe did. But he was able to make on-the-spot observations,
which was good, in addition to just taking the data.
The Earth observations equipment was designed to be operated just
by pushing buttons. You'd get the instructions up from the ground
and you'd go to Z-local-vertical, and you'd just start pushing the
buttons on command. We had a tough time convincing them that if we
saw three-quarters cloud cover, maybe we shouldn't be taking the data,
and they didn't want to let us have that judgment. On the other hand,
we had hand-held photography, which, of course, was limited because
it was photographic camera, but which we got some very good observations
of the Earth and documented it for oceanographers, geologists, demographers,
and other scientists in other sciences where we had a lot of people
working with us, telling what they wanted, and training us before
we went. So there with a little hand-held camera we got a lot of good
judgment there on how we took the data. The real sophisticated instrumentation
we operated like an automaton. It didn't make sense.
Then the other, the solar physics experiments really was the best
of all of them. We had high-quality instruments and we had the ability
to operate from a baseline where we knew exactly what we were doing
and it was specified ahead of time, but then we could deviate from
that, depending upon the intelligence of the observer and what he
saw. So that's the optimal way to do good science in flight. So much
of it, though, turned out to be push-button that you'd lose a lot.
You'd get good data, but you'd lose a lot of opportunity in doing
In your opinion and experience, why did this evolve that way?
Oh, I think it's a stereotype thinking that people have. People who
came over from the Landsat program or from other Earth observations
programs have always operated that way and didn't see the value of
having someone make an observation in flight. Also, the time in which
we could go Z-local-vertical was so limited that they said, "We
don't want some guy up there playing around with our instruments.
We know exactly what we want to look at."
Later when I was at the Aerospace Corporation, I wrote up something
that said, "Why don't we make a manned Earth observatory and
run it the same way we did the solar observatory," and that never
went too far, but it was, and I still think is, a very credible idea.
You think it's something that they'll be able to incorporate in with
the Space Station at all?
Well, you're going to always be able to take hand-held photography,
but you need good instruments up there to do it with, as I was suggesting,
infrared, ultraviolet, being able to look at selected wavelengths,
and process the data differently than you'd normally do with just
a hand-held camera. So that's going to require some dedicated instruments,
and that's going to have change a few minds, I think, before that
happens, unfortunately, but I think when you look down and you see
the diversity of things that you can from orbit—you can spot
ocean currents, cold-water upwelling, and some of the more obvious
things, hurricanes, and fault zones, and so forth—often you
can get a lot of specialized data that you wouldn't otherwise if you
were just pointing straight down and shooting by the clock.
Yes, Earth observations would certainly seem like a natural, very
important application of space operations.
Yes, you'd think so, and so far most of it's been hand-held photography,
other than, of course, the unmanned stuff, which is all valuable and
they've done a great job there, but there are some very specialized
things that do happen on the face of the Earth that you're going to
miss if you don't have someone there to see it, detect it, and figure
out how to get data on it.
It will be interesting to see the evolution here now once we have
It'll happen in the long term. It'll happen. So eventually it will
happen. Whether it takes ten years, fifty years, I don't know, but
like all good ideas, you can't keep them down forever. It'll happen.
Hopefully before too long. Hopefully it won't take fifty years.
Looking at this and the solar observations, the Earth observations,
the medical, and knowing to look for these things, being able to spot
things with ocean currents or volcanoes going off and so forth, what
sort of scientific training in these different areas did you all receive
as a crew that was either generalized or then more specific?
For that we initially started out, when we were all going to try to
pass ourselves off as geologists, we got a lot of geology training,
which was useful for our Earth observations later on. And then our
crew in particular, although the first crew in Skylab, Pete Conrad
and Joe Kerwin and Paul [J.] Weitz, really just had their hands full
pulling and making the space station work, pulling it together, doing
the EVAs, and fixing it. Al Bean and his crew, Owen Garriott, Jack
[R.] Lousma, did a lot more Earth observations, and that gave us the
idea that we ought to really take advantage of this long opportunity
that we were going to be up there.
So we asked to have a program established, and they responded very
well here at JSC to do that and bringing a number of leading people
who were geologists, oceanographers, atmospheric scientists, you name
it. We had many, many different lectures from them, and then site
identification of areas they wanted us to take and make observations
on while we were up there. And then we had a lot of targets of opportunity
that would come up from their standpoint. They'd send up from the
ground and say, "If you have time, get over to the window with
a camera." But what they did most was to make us aware of all
the things you can really see when you're up there.
When we first get up there, you see the outline and you say, "Gee,
I guess I'm over Africa because it looks like the outline of Africa."
After a while you can just go out and look at a little patch of land
and say, "There's the red wind-swept deserts. I must be over
now North Africa," or, "There's an ocean current, and I
can tell by its color and the way it's meandering, it's the Falkland
current right off the coast of South America," or you could see
cold-water upwelling where clouds are no longer generated and they're
quenched so you see a little round circle where there's clouds all
around but nothing there, and you say, "That's where the cold
water's coming up. I bet the fishing is good down there."
You can see these things by eye, and you get to know the Earth like
the back of your hand. There's a very enjoyable part, but it's also
scientific and a very important part, because once you're up there
for a long period of time, you really get to see one opportunity after
another for taking data on phenomena that the scientists really want
to learn more about.
There certainly was a lot learned about the Earth through the Skylab
Program in particular, because you were able to do these types of
observations and to spend this time looking down at the Earth.
Unfortunately, even though we were up there for 84 days, we were kept
pretty busy, so we didn't have a great deal of time to look out the
window as much as we liked.
I'm sure that's something that would never grow old.
No, it really doesn't. I've often thought if there was some way I
could get people to experience what we experienced, it would be to
have their eyes in orbit and being able to see that view. If you're
down here and you take a picture of a rose garden, it's not quite
the same as being there, and the same is true of observing Earth.
Yes, there's no way to recreate that experience unless you—
Not really. Some of these IMAX films come close, but it's still not
quite the same.
It's still that awareness. Well, for one thing, you can still feel
the gravity while you're watching the IMAX.
That's right, yes. You're not floating by a window.
Well, maybe some day more people will be able to—
Oh, yes. It will.
As you were going along and training for Skylab, at what point were
you officially assigned to the crew?
Gee, I'm trying to think. I think it was about as year and a half
or so before the flight. I'm not positive. About a year and a half
before. We all knew we were pretty much lined up because of the way
the work was shaping, and there were three of us who were working
on the program: Owen Garriott and Joe Kerwin and myself. There were
three missions, and it was logical to spread the three of us across
them. We just didn't know which was going to go where. Does Joe Kerwin
get the mission where the person's up there the longest because that's
where you learn the most about medical aspects of long-duration space
flight? So maybe Joe was going to go on the last flight? Or do you
put him on the first one where he's going to be up there for four
weeks and there might be problems encountered that you ought to have
someone there to understand what they are? And that's ultimately what
they did do. And then Owen was more senior to me, or there was some
other reason for Owen going second, and I went third. There was a
time there where I thought, well, maybe I got the short straw because
Skylab might not hold together for that long. But then when it did
hold together that long and we ended up going from 56 to 84 days,
I came out and really got the good deal. Again, the right place at
the right time.
That's good. [Tape interruption]
We were just talking about you getting your Skylab assignment and
talking some how you, Joe Kerwin, and Owen Garriott were eventually
divided up and how it worked out pretty well for you, getting the
long mission. When you got your crew assignment, yours was the first
rookie crew to go up since the Gemini Program. Did you think anything
about that at the time?
No, I didn't. To tell you the truth, I think I probably realized it,
but it didn't make much impact on me. Jerry was a pilot and he was
the commander. Bill [William R.] Pogue was a pilot who used to fly
with the [U.S. Air Force] Thunderbirds, extremely competent guy who'd
never get sick on the ground, and so I had all the confidence in the
world in those two guys, and off we went. Look at every flight that
went up in Mercury. Every one of those guys was a rookie when they
went up. I never paid much attention to it. The world seemed to make
much more out of it, especially when we came back, than I ever did.
Didn't worry about it at all.
By then training procedures had been well developed and you had time
to become well prepared for the mission.
Yes, we were flying the Apollo system, and, of course, that had gone
through a lot of trials and tribulations, and the training was well
established for it. So by the time they got around to training us,
they really knew how to do it and they had good simulations. So we
really received probably the best training that anyone ever could,
because it had evolved quite far by the time they got to us.
What did your training and simulations for your specific mission involve?
Obviously you had trained for launch and landing that were very similar
to what had gone on for the other Apollo missions. But then on-orbit
would, of course, be very different.
Well, there were various types of training. One was an integrated
training where you would work with what was happening in the orbital
workshop, with what was happening on the LM, and what was going on
in the command module, and that was primarily in the periods of the
first couple days where you got up there and you had to set up shop
and start operating and it required you to be back and forth between
all these different facilities.
Then once we were up there, of course, then you'd be focusing on a
given area. So we had part-task trainers, the ATM part-task trainer,
the one for the Earth Resources Experiment Package [EREP], and the
medical experiments were all part-task trainers. So most of our training
there was done that way.
What we found we lacked when we finally got there and now that we've
reflected back on it, we lacked the integrated training with the mission
control. And usually they do that as much to train mission control
as anything else, but mission control's been through it with two flights
already. So when we came along, they just said, "Well, here's
the set of procedures. We'll do it." But it didn't allow us to
get the interaction with the mission control, which later on it can
cause a problem.
Hopefully that's a lesson learned that maybe can be applied for the
Space Station Program.
I hope so. That's one thing they do need to learn, keep in mind for
the Space Station. Even though everybody on the ground has done it,
it doesn't mean the crew and the ground are in sync on how they're
going to run the flight.
Did you have much interaction with any of the principal investigators
for the scientific experiments as you were doing those?
Oh, yes. I had an awful lot of interaction in the early days in the
development of the instruments, or at least the crew interface with
the instruments and the procedures. We'd talk with them daily. For
the Earth Resources Experiment Package we'd talk with the principal
investigators daily as well as for the hand-held photography.
I think for all of them, yes, we tried to make sure that even though
NASA tried to get each one of them to write everything down and have
it all laid out neatly so that they would be then the middle man and
we wouldn't have to talk to the investigator, it never worked that
way and it didn't make sense to work that way. It was great that they
wrote everything down and had the procedures figured out, but we talked
to those people right up to the end, as it should be. Even when we
were up there, that was a little bit of breakthrough, too. We finally
got the chance to talk with some of the principal investigators on
the ATM—Apollo Telescope Mount, or the solar physics experiments,
while we were up there, and that worked well. We should have had more
It's certainly a vital connection since they did know those experiments
Oh, yes. Yes, and that's what we should be getting down to in the
Space Station ultimately, is where the people in flight are an extension
of the people on the ground, not necessarily an extension in a robotic
sense, but make sure you communicate with them, and then as you see
things in flight, you use your own intelligence to get the data as
you knew if the investigator was there that he would want.
As the program came along and you continued your training for your
mission and, of course, the first Skylab crew was going to have more
simulator time as they were on the shorter time frame. Once the workshop
launched, of course, there was problems with the launch, the thermal
shield and micrometeoroid shield coming off the solar array and the
other array jamming and they had to come up with a fix for everything.
At what point did you hear about what had happened, and what were
I went down to the Cape to watch the launch and so it was not more
than three or four minutes into the launch that I heard about what
happened. And since I had been working a lot of the space walk procedures
for the film telescope retrieval, the film retrieval, it was natural
to go then down to Marshall and start developing procedures for the
repair of the station. So I spent an awful lot of time with some other
people down there over a period of ten days developing these procedures
to fix the space station. I did a little capcomming as a result of
that, when Pete and Joe were out there trying to cut the strap that
the one solar panel was held down by.
Oh, good. It must have been nice to be able to make that contribution
than just having to sit and wait to see what was going to happen.
Oh, yes, sure. I mean, everybody was focused on that. That had to
work, or nothing else followed. So you dropped everything you were
doing and lent a hand where you could.
Probably all of your work, too, both with training for this EVA and
having to be put together at the last minute, but your other work
planning for the EVAs on the Telescope Mount, it must have been nice
then knowing that you would get a chance to have that experience.
Never knew it at the time. When we had the problem with Skylab, I
didn't know whether, first of all, the first mission was going to
be launched, and then, secondly, whether it would be successful. Once
that worked, then I started thinking, well, maybe I will get a shot.
And then the second crew went up and started having troubles with
one of the control moment gyros. And it was finally decided, okay,
let's go ahead, we can now try to make it 84 days. So by that time
we had a lot of confidence that the station had stabilized and whether
or not the control moment gyro problem and the rate gyros had a little
bit of a problem and a few other technical problems, but they were
fixable. The station had stabilized, and we thought we could stay
up there for that long.
The difficulty with staying up that long was, we had only had enough
food for 56 days, and we had too many experiments to take up in the
command module. It was already overloaded. So we volunteered, or agreed
to, that every third day we would eat nothing but food bars, and that
was probably one of the most supreme sacrifices anyone has ever made
for the space station or the space program, was to eat food bars every
third day. We had four of these little guys, and your breakfast consisted
of four or five crunches and that's breakfast. Now you can go on.
I still have a tough time looking at a food bar in face now.
I can understand that.
But they worked, and we stayed. It had all the minerals and calories
and so forth that you needed. So it worked well, and I'm being a little
facetious about it, but it worked. It's not an ideal way to make it
work, but it did work.
And I guess for the chance that you had then to be able to have such
a unique mission, it balanced out in the end.
It balanced out, yes. We were running out of other expendables, so
we couldn't have stayed up there much longer.
There also was in the lead-up to knowing whether you were even going
to, first, be able to go and then to be able as stay as long, during
the second mission they had some problems on the command module and
even debated at one point sending up a rescue on that. From some of
my research I found that it was actually going to be members from
your back-up crew that would fly that rescue if that had needed to
That's right, yes. Yes, the people who were the back-up crews for
each of us were, if we weren't going to fly, they would have flown
on the flight, but they also were going to fly the rescue mission.
So they were training for that rescue mission at all times for each
of the three flights. If we had a problem, for example, and they had
to rescue us, they would have used the command and service module
that later was used for the Apollo-Soyuz. So it was always for the
rescue mission you would use the next vehicle coming up. It turned
out that they didn't need to do that. I didn't pay much attention
to it at the time. We were so busy in training. It's one of those
things you get a briefing on at the end of the day for five minutes
and then get on with your work of training for what you've planned
to be your mission.
That's certainly an interesting, well, basically a new concept for
the program as a whole, being able to go up and rescue someone. None
of the earlier programs would that really have been possible.
That's correct. And, you know, ultimately we'll need it. Well, you
look at what happened on Mir when they rammed it and Mike [C. Michael]
Foale and company were up there in a situation that could have required
a rescue. Fortunately it did not, but it will happen, and maybe something
will happen to Space Station. You don't know. So now they're looking
at and have the capability of a crew return vehicle.
Certainly is, especially when you're talking on these long time scales,
a very vital part.
In the long term eventually something will happen. Murphy [Murphy’s
Law] tells you it will.
Absolutely, and we're all human after all, so anything's possible.
Building up to your launch and your mission, the time frame shortly
before the launches, you were gearing up and things were really going
to go now. All of these details had been worked. But then things started
happening for your vehicle actually on the booster, collapsed tanks
and cracked fins. Did you still have these questions going in your
I had so much confidence in these people. George [M.] Low and the
engineering staff, they would periodically give us briefings, and
these guys were so on top of the details and knew exactly what they
were doing. I knew that obviously Murphy is alive and as we've seen
since then, that we've had only one launch problem, but those things
do happen, and in the back of your mind, you know that's a possibility,
but you think it's remote. Same as driving down a two-way street at
60 or 70 miles an hour, you know your left front tire could blow at
any time and you might hit an oncoming car. The odds are that mostly
likely it won't happen, but it could happen.
I tended to think that same way. It's something that could happen,
but the odds are very low. I think anybody'd be crazy if they thought
the odds were high that they would go. I mean, that's the nature of
the program, is you do all you can to reduce the odds. A few times,
people, you really admire them for when you can't reduce the odds,
the first lunar landing, for example, or Apollo 8, or Al [Alan B.]
Shepard [Jr.] on the first Mercury, I mean, those kinds of things,
those really required stepping up to the plate and not knowing what
the chances were. But by the time they got around to us, I had a lot
of confidence that we were not going to have that kind of a problem.
The Saturn certainly had an excellent service record. In fact, no
launch failures on the Saturn.
Yes, it worked pretty well. So we were glad to be going on a real
tried and true vehicle like that.
As time came for your launch, if you could walk us through some of
those final moments and then what the launch was like for you.
Okay. I remember the cracked fins. We were really eager to go and
not too happy with that five-day delay that was required for the cracked
fins. So we started making some comments about calling the vehicle
"Old Humpty Dumpty." We were just kind of kidding, and then
somehow that got out in the press, and, of course, those guys who
were working around the clock all day and all night, it didn't sit
too well with some of them, but to most of their credit, they didn't
say anything, at least not until launch. When we got about 20 minutes
before launch, we got this message from them, "Good luck and
God speed from all the king's horses and all the king's men."
It was a neat little comment.
We were eager to go and didn't like that delay. The launch itself,
I remember walking across the—I was the last one in the vehicle
because I had the center seat in the command module. So while they
were putting those guys in, I had a chance to just stand outside and
look at the vehicle. At that time it was being fueled, and it was
creaking and groaning because of the cold, the shrinking of the metal
and also the weight. It started to come alive. The electrical side
of it was working, unlike what we had seen before where it was just
a passive hunk of metal. Now it seemed like it had a life of its own.
It was a very exciting time. You got a look at the vehicle when it
was dark out and had the lights on it and just be a very short distance
from it and reflect on what was actually going on. Most of the time
you're busy. You're moving all the time. You don't have time to reflect.
But I had around 20 minutes there where I could just sit back and
watch that. To this day I really just felt lucky.
That's certainly a very unique experience.
Yes, it really was.
The launch. Okay. What's a launch like? You know, all the time we
had practiced that thing, we had taken the elevator to the top floor
and gotten out, walked across the gantry and gone into the spacecraft,
which was like just walking down a hall and going into a room. And
you do this day after day. You begin to think that what you're in
is just another building. And then finally you do all that on launch
day, and you're laying there, and you're going through the launch
count like you always do, and then all of a sudden the bottom floor
of the building explodes. Intellectually you know what's going on,
but those images flash through your mind. You think, "Oh my God,
this building I'm in is shaking and rumbling." It's like being
in an earthquake where the world underneath you is no longer stable.
But we all knew, of course, what was going on.
I should go back a little bit and talk about why I think how when
you become a pilot in high-performance aircraft like we did, at that
moment I was fully operational, fully functional during that launch,
and I think a lot of credit goes back to flying high-performance airplanes.
I made a lot of light of how I love to fly T-38 and it was a lot of
fun and so forth, but I also thought it was a very useful thing, and
I'm sorry to see that most of the scientists don't get that anymore.
But it was a psychological preparation for getting the confidence
in yourself and the machinery that in an environment like that you
can be fully functional at that time. I knew if I had not flown high-performance
airplanes and gotten a couple of thousand hours in doing that, I would
not have been anywhere near as capable at that time as I was. And
that's not because of me; it's just a natural learning progression
that you get as you fly airplanes.
Nonetheless, we took off, and the first stage is rather rough, especially
around Mach-1, 30,000 feet, around one minute. You get an awful lot
of turbulence and a lot of shaking. I would equate it to being a fly
glued to a paint shaker. There's something massive there that you're
sitting in that's really giving an extreme turbulence. Then once you
break through the atmosphere, you get above the atmosphere, even though
you're still accelerating, the atmospheric pressure or density drops
off so you don't get that turbulence.
At staging, John [W.] Young has called it "the great train wreck."
It's like where you all of a sudden get thrown out. You go from four
Gs to one and a half and then back to around one G or so when you
light on the second stage. And all that happens real quick, so you
really get shook around again. We had a lot of observations that we
could make and procedures we had to follow if something went wrong,
so we were glued to the gauges watching everything to make sure it
was all going well. But at the same time all this physical dynamics
are going on around you.
The second stage was a beautiful ride. It was just a long elevator
ride. As you burned out fuel, you just got a higher acceleration as
the mass of the vehicle went down. So you went from weighing around
your normal gravity up to four times your normal gravity, four, four
and a half, and eight and a half minutes later after the launch, the
engines cut off and all of a sudden in this allegedly clean spacecraft,
all this dirt and dust and particles, a little paper clip, and the
stuff floats up around you. People had done their best down there
at the Cape to keep it clean, but you just can't keep everything out.
But all that is soon dissipated or taken out by the airflow in the
cabin. It all happened real quick.
You look out the window and there's the curved horizon, and you think,
hey, this is the best simulation we've ever had. And then you look
back for just a short while, do a few things with the checklist and
make a few system changes, look back out, and there's the boot of
Italy going by. And you think, "Man, we're really hauling the
mail." It was a great experience. To physically finally experience
what you had dreamed about for so long, it was great.
It must have been wonderful.
Yes, it really was.
Coming up on Skylab, as you were coming up to it, your first sight
of it—actually what was your first sight of it?
I was sitting in the center couch, so I didn't get to see too much
of it. I was doing a lot of hand-held calculations for the rendezvous
in case the computer system went down, using range and range rate.
This was an old HP [Hewlett-Packard] calculator, long before they
had the ones with all the programs in them. So I was doing a lot of
hand calculations, so it wasn't until we got pretty close in that
I finally looked out, pushed the commander aside a little, looked
out and saw it. I still marveled that we were able to get there. We'd
done it in simulations and all that, and it's like flying in weather
where you take off and you're completely in the weather and then finally
when you land, the last two hundred feet you break out and there's
a runway, and you've done it all by instruments, and you're amazed
that you're there. The same is true with going up to Skylab. You go
through all these procedures. Finally you look out the window and,
yes, we are there.
We looked it over pretty carefully, although we didn't do a fly-around.
We did a fly-around after we left, but not before, and it looked pretty
good to us. It was a good oasis in the sky there.
When you first came on board Skylab, what were your first impressions?
In fact, I think the previous crew had left some surprises for you.
Yes, the previous crew had left three dummies in various positions
on Skylab, and we kind of laughed about it and thought it was kind
of funny. When you opened up the orbital workshop, it was like going
into a dark cave, just because it was all dark.
It hadn't been lived in for a little while, and we had to go in there
and get the lighting and get all that up. So we saw those things and
we were really busy trying to get going, and we said, "We don't
have time to take them down now." And it was kind of eerie, because
you'd see things going over your shoulder. It's like a mannequin next
door to you. Your mind tells you it's a person, so it was kind of
eerie for a little while, but we liked the joke.
That's good. Again, that shows some of that spirit between everyone
in the corps.
Yes. Yes, it was good. I was glad they did that.
Coming up on Skylab, Bill Pogue became ill, actually, which surprised
a lot of people because he had been one of the ones, I think you called
him "Old Iron Ears."
"Iron Ears," yes. You could never make him sick on the ground.
You'd put him in a rotating chair and he'd never get sick. He used
to fly for the Thunderbirds, so you figure if there's anybody going
to get sick, it'd be Jerry or I, not Bill, which showed that we didn't
really understand the problem.
I think that's something probably they're even still working on to
They are. They've gotten some better medications now, but they still
don't fully understand the problem.
And as he became ill, that may have been the beginning of some of
the misunderstanding, I guess, between you and—.
Yes, let me explain that. I know where we're going here. We called
it "the big barf cover-up." What happened, where it originated
was about three or four days before flight, maybe a week before flight,
where some of the medical community came to us and said, "Before
you lift off, we want you to take some of this medicine." It
was either scopolamine, dexadrine, or it was an upper and a downer,
or promethazine ephedrine. And we all had personal preferences, and
we were planning to take them once we got there in flight to try to
make sure we didn't get sick. But we never thought of taking them
before we lifted off because it made me dizzy, and I would never want
to drive a car while I had that stuff in me. I could walk, but I didn't
want to drive a car or ride a bike.
Then they came along and said, "Well, in a prophylactic sense,
we want you to take it before you go." And we thought, well,
here's these three rookies going up and being asked to take this stuff
that if we had an abort and had to have our full wits about us when
we landed, we could be incapacitated to a degree. And when we needed
our faculties most, they wouldn't be at 100 percent. They could not
demonstrate that it made sense for us to take it. They didn't know
whether it was to prevent sickness, and, of course, it didn't.
So at that point we said there's two parts of this medical community.
One is the political side, which is being forced to do something because
of the politics, and the politics were that they were already casting
their eye toward the [Space] Shuttle, and Congress was saying, "Jeez,
if these guys are up there for only five days and they get sick, the
Shuttle is going to be a week or two weeks. If they're going to spend
their full time sick, then maybe we don't need a Shuttle, and you
ought to re-think the whole thing." And NASA said, "No,
don't worry. We can solve the problem."
Well, I had a lot of confidence we could solve the problem, as obviously
the Shuttle came out well, but we were the brunt of that one. It was
where the rational physicians who we worked with every day had one
opinion, and the politicians had another opinion, and that got forced
on us. And we said, "Ah-oh. There's a decision-making process
here which we no longer trust." And to this day I still claim
that was something that shouldn't have happened.
Nonetheless, so we launched and Bill got sick. We were eager to get
this mission going, and my thinking was, "Jeez, why don't we
just put it in a bag. We'll make sure we keep it for the mineral balance
experiments, but let's just get on with the flight, because the guys
down there because of the politics and all that, let's not stir the
hornet's nest. We'll just press on and do the mission and tell them
when we get back."
Well, we had the Nixon problem: the tape recorder was running. So,
of course, the ground found out that we had had the big barf cover-up
going on. I mean, think about it. What advantage did we have in doing
that? Did they think we were going to come back and sell it? There
was no advantage to doing that whatsoever other than to get this mission
rolling, and we just wanted to get on with the mission.
But then that caused a big problem, and I guess we had made a few
comments along the way, like, "Probably a lot of management are
just as happy if we just press on with the mission." Well, of
course, then that put the heat on them. So then Al Shepard got on-line
and it was his decision to chew our fannies out. So we're up there
getting chewed on by Al Shepard, and that was a hell of a way to start
a flight. That's where the miscommunication started, because all of
a sudden it put the ground on one side of the table and us on the
Then we got behind. Bill Pogue was trying to—he was working
around half efficiency, and the poor guy was struggling, and then
he'd make a mistake, and then he'd feel worse about it, and then he'd
struggle some more. We all were, of course, just getting used to that
environment, trying to find things, and where they were. The record-keeping
degraded as Skylab went on, so by the time we got there, it was the
knowledge of where things were, were not as well as they were in the
first couple of flights. We were just getting adapted to the whole
environment, and so we got behind, and the more we got behind, the
more detailed messages came up to make us—they were trying to
help us, obviously, but it wasn't perceived that way. And there was
no open communication. You couldn't just call them up and say, "Hey,
guys, let's talk this out," because everything had to be open
and for the world. And we thought, okay, we'll work through it. And
it didn't work. It just got worse as we got further behind.
It turned out when you look at the total mission, that what was accomplished
per unit day, we were just as good as the previous crews, and toward
the end there we were surpassing the rate at which the previous crews
had worked. So it was that we weren't getting things done, it was
just that our perception was that the previous crews, especially Al
Bean, had gotten so far ahead of the ground, the ground said—and
this is perception only—the ground had said, "We're never
going to let the crews get ahead of us again. We're going to make
sure we're ahead of them." So we'd get teleprinted messages.
One day one was 60 feet long, and we had to cut it up and had to hand
it out, all the procedures for the various things. So it was micromanagement
to the nth degree.
It's very disheartening to be in a situation where you can never catch
up; it's only a question of how far are you behind. We were not used
to working that way and we didn't plan on it being that way. And then
the level of micromanagement, especially in running the experiments,
was difficult because it never gave you any time to really use your
intelligence in how you took data. It was just push the buttons as
fast as you can and move on to the next.
So it was a very abrupt change from what we had pictured. That's why
I said had we had more time to work with the ground before we went
and developed some rapport with the ground controllers, it might have
been a different situation, but the fact that Bill threw up and then
our dumb response to it was what set it all off. It was dumb. We should
have just said, "Hey, guys, your pills didn't work. They're just
wafting across the command module now along with the Bill's tomatoes."
It didn't work. That's probably the most regrettable thing I have
about that whole flight, is that we were not smart enough to handle
it properly because it caused everybody a lot of problems, mostly
Unfortunately, in a sense, your crew was—"guinea pig"
is not the right word, but I'm not sure what is—in that the
first crew with Pete Conrad that came up, they had to do repairs to
the station, and they were up there for a shorter time frame and it
was a first mission. So everybody was new at it, the crew, the ground
controllers. And then on the second mission, the ground control had
had a chance to broken in, to learn how the flow was going, and they
were able to grow with Al Bean's second crew. Then people didn't really
even realize the need that you were going to have to get used to the
environment before you could get up to speed.
Yes, the ground was way ahead of us at that point. As you say, the
second crew and the ground grew together in how to run a space station,
and Pete and his guys did a great job, but there was repair work mostly
at the beginning. And did a great job, and so by the time we got there,
we were set up for it. There's no difference between Jerry Carr and
Bill Pogue and I in our ability to operate than any of the other guys.
It was a situation and we should have recognized it. But you couldn't
communicate with the ground because everything had to be on an open-voice
channel. We already felt on the other side of the table, so we didn't
want to get into an argument with these guys on an open channel, or
what would be perceived as an argument. But a lot of it, we just had
to come out and say, "Hey, guys, this isn't working. Here's how
it ought to work. Let's get your thoughts on it," and you couldn't
do any of that.
It wasn't until we finally got far into the mission, we said, "The
hell with it. We're just going to do it." And then once the air
was cleared and we figured out what was bugging each one of us, then
we could move on. But I still think NASA ought to allow private communications
between the ground and the crew, and if the press wants to know what
it is, tell them to go pound sand. I mean, it shouldn't be. For the
efficiency of running that space station, you need private communications.
Well, you have to be able to talk—there's almost a language
that you would have between the ground crew and the mission control
where you could say things in a certain way where the two of you would
be able to understand, whereas it wouldn't necessarily make sense
to somebody from—and not just the technical language, but more
of that connection—
Oh, sure. But that comes with working with the ground, and that's
where we didn't have many simulations and really working with the
crew, with all of the flight controllers and the flight directors,
the capcoms. We'd work with them to some degree on very specific parts
of the mission, but mostly launch and reentry. But in terms of the
day-to-day activity on the station, everybody considered that was
so benign, we didn't simulate it very much, and that was the aspect
where we really didn't simulate enough and it showed.
Certainly a very big lesson learned here for application for any long-duration
missions now, especially for Space Station.
Yes. Treat people like humans. The level of micromanagement is not
what the people live with down here. I defy anybody to set a checklist
out that is, say, 10 feet long, that tells you how you're going to
operate that day by, in some cases, right down to the second, certainly
down to the five-minute block, and then go run your day that way.
You can do it that way for a launch and a reentry, and it makes sense
to do it that way. Everything's got to be choreographed. But not how
you operate on a day-to-day basis onboard a space station.
And I think that's a lesson they're going to have to learn all over
again. They operated that way to a degree on Spacelab, and it's going
to be quite a little while before they learn that lesson all over
again. The people who were there don't remember anything about Skylab,
weren't there and got burned. So they're picking up where Spacelab
has left off. Maybe when you're putting a space station together,
it's all right, but we were just starting operating as a laboratory,
you can't operate that way. It's not efficient, anyway. You can, but
it's an awful way to do it.
You're talking such long duration, months on end, years, even.
You need to establish those things that have to done by ephemerous-related
or time-related, because at the point you are over the ground or some
other time-related and let that form a backbone, but then you put
a shopping list together of all the other things that need doing,
maybe with some prioritization, and let the person there use his own
best judgment how he gets it done and when he gets it done. And you
can bet that they're going to charge full bore and get some satisfactions
out of it, as opposed to always trying to figure out how far they
are behind the time line.
Got to take advantage of having the person there and having that human
element. Robots can do that regimen and schedule.
Yes, I think you really need that. The only way you convince people
is give them a schedule down here on the ground and make them operate
that way for a couple of days. See how effective you are.
I know it'd be hard for me.
I don't care how well it's thought out. The real world just doesn't
operate that way.
As you mentioned, you did have a chance to talk with mission control
eventually, and even it was everyone hearing it, you were able to
work it out, and you'd come to a really good understanding, from what
the reports say.
God love Jerry. He was trying to be a good commander and he was watching
out for us, because he could see that we were really getting worn
down to a little nubby trying to work as late as we could and getting
up early and just trying to make the whole thing work. So he said,
"Look. This is not the way. We need Sundays off." So all
of a sudden it was "We're going on strike," and that somehow
got out in the press. So I still hear about it today. Because Jerry
asked for Sundays off. I was going to work Sundays anyway, because
I always did. I always worked every day. Every minute I was up there,
I was doing something.
But then also we had one other occasion where—have you read
A House in Space by [Henry S. F.] Cooper? It was part of this, and
this strike came out of this where they said we just ignored the ground.
What happened was that the ground got to be a little obnoxious at
times, just continually asking for one thing after another. And every
time we'd come up on a ground station, we'd start working, you'd have
to drop whatever you were doing and go on over and talk to them. We
said, "Well, let's make it only so that one person has got to
do that. We'll take turns. The rest of the guys, you turn off your
radios and just one person does it."
Well, we screwed up again. We ended up in a situation where all of
our radios were off. We didn't have it right who was doing what. So
there was about an orbit went by and finally we said, "We haven't
heard anything from the ground, have we." So then we turned the
radio back on. Of course, they'd been calling us all that time, and
they attributed it that it was something deliberate. At least the
press did, anyway. That furthered this myth that's gotten going, which
I keep hearing about, of a strike in space and all that. Even the
Harvard Business School has a case study called "The Strike in
Space." No one's ever talked to us about any of that.
Yes, people just dreamed it up out of—taken a few facts and
then looked at newspaper reports, which were, as you know, rather
creative at the time—it made good headlines—and written
up. And so they've never gotten a true picture of it. And Cooper,
who wrote the book, never talked to us.
Well, that's very unfortunate.
Yes, I thought it was unprofessional. The guy should have at least
talked to us. He could write what he wants, but he ought to have at
least heard what the two sides were. He took Channel B tapes, which
is our debriefings of what went on, and then inferred from that what
was going on. Well, as you can see, you hit a nerve.
Sure. Well, it has, as you said, persisted through the years.
Yes, it has. Granted, we screwed up on a few occasions, but it was
a total misunderstanding of what was really going on in how to operate
a space station. And I just hope out of some those experiences that
the current space station is going to be able to benefit. My belief
is that it's a whole new world of people and lessons learned. I think
the one lesson you learn from history is that no one pays attention
to the lessons learned. So I'm afraid we're going to learn that one
all over again.
Well, we'll hope that with a project like ours, maybe there'll be
a chance to have some of the those lessons learned, somebody listen
to them and apply them, hopefully, because it certainly is very valuable
to know and to build off of your experience so no one else has to.
And that'll just make things more efficient in the long run and run
But you did get everything running well, and you did get communications
going well with the ground, and by the end of the mission, as you
said, you accomplished a great deal of science and got everything
done that had been intended. Tell us about some of the things that
you were doing there. We've talked a little bit about the [Apollo]
Telescope Mount. Was there a typical day for you once you got through
this period of trying to—
Yes, a typical day would consist of getting up, doing some measurements
for medical, a little housekeeping, maybe, setting up the food or
other things, going to the teleprinter and getting the messages, weighing
yourself every morning on this little scale which would vibrate and
from the frequency of the vibration you'd know what your mass was.
So everybody weighed themselves every morning.
We had a lot of medical experiments, so about everything we did, we
were biological laboratories. So everything that went into us, they
measured six minerals in the content and kept it plus or minus 10
percent every day so that we would have a nice even inflow of minerals.
Then we pooled the urine and vacuum-dried the feces and all that was
brought back, pooled the urine for twenty-four hours and then brought
back a small sample of it, frozen for each 24-hour period. We called
them "urine-cicles." They got some really good data from
So they learned we were in balance with everything except calcium.
We had a very slow, steady calcium loss, and that was also reflected
in the decrease in bone density. So it's just like a bed-rest patient,
you take the stress off the bone, you tend to lose the calcium. And
every time I come down here for a physical, they talk about my condition
as being postmenopausal. [Laughter]
Well, that's interesting.
Kind of interesting. Obviously it's not quite the same, but you do
tend to lose calcium. The balance is not there because you take the
stress off the bones. Different reason than you lose calcium for other
reasons down here, but a bed-rest patient is the exact same thing.
You've heard of people getting out of bed after half a year to a year,
or depending upon the person, even shorter than that, and breaking
a hip when they put weight on it. Same thing. As a matter of fact,
at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Weiden [phonetic], who is
studying that phenomenon also, got so interested in space flight because
of the analogy, he was the one who did the mineral balance experiment.
It certainly has a lot of implications for future exploration of the
solar system as well as for here on Earth.
Sure. Oh, yes, very much so. We're going to Mars. Do you want a rotating
space station so you have gravity, so you can make sure that you have
healthy bones, not only when you get to Mars, but also when you come
back? Yes, there's a lot to be learned there.
So you would participate in these experiments every day then?
Every day you do the getting ready and then you have four types of
experiments going. Either it was the ATM—we each took a couple
of passes, orbits. I usually got more than the others. Then there
was the medical experiments we all had to do, either be a subject
or an operator. Earth Resources Experiment Package, when we went to
Z-local-vertical, so we had to study the Earth. Or then there was
a whole host of corollary experiments, medical.
The high school experiments, too, those were interesting. High school
students proposed things to do, like what happens to a spider in flight,
or in zero gravity. It took a little while, but eventually it built
a web, but it was pretty confused there at the beginning. Fish, what
do they do? So we had a little container of fish. Actually, the second
flight was the one that did the most for that. They swim around in
little circles, like an aviator's outside loops, because they don't
have gravity. Yes, there was a whole host of little things like that
that were interesting, and other corollary experiments.
Then there was the hand-held photography. Aside from the ATM, that's
what I enjoyed the most. The Earth is so fascinating. There's something
different coming over the horizon all the time, and the more you look
at it, the more you see.
When you did have free time, did you spend a lot of time looking out—
Oh, yes. Looking out the window, yes. Yes, we all did.
It certainly was only something you were going to be able to do for
That's right, unfortunately. At the same time, we did have a little
time to just think about that aspect of we were going to do it for
so long. And it seemed like a very natural place to be, to be up orbiting
Earth. Now, maybe you can't picture it, but after you've worked for
it for such a long period and you finally do it and you're up there
for a couple of months, you being to think of it as a very natural
phase. It's like going camping, where the first couple of days takes
a little getting used to, and after a couple of weeks you feel at
home, and after maybe a month or so, it's just another phase of your
life. And that's what it was for us. You think eventually you're going
to have hundreds of people up here doing the same thing, thousands.
So we were just glad to be one of the first.
A testament to the human adaptability, I guess.
You certainly were very fortunate to have that opportunity.
Oh, yes, very much so.
During the mission, you also had a chance to go out on EVA.
Oh, yes, the great outdoors. Loved it.
That must have truly been a unique experience.
Yes, it was for three different reasons. One is, we had a lot to do
on the EVAs. There were space walks and it went off well.
Another was, since we were having it especially early on, like Thanksgiving
Day I think we had one, because we were having these problems of getting
things done, it was a real satisfaction to go outside and to perform
the EVA and get it done ahead of schedule, except in one instance,
and come back in and feel totally tired and drained, to know you had
done it well. And no one can take that away from you. You know, all
the other things that were going on, it was matter of spin as opposed
to anything else, but that they couldn't take away. And that was very
There was one EVA we went out, I think it was the first one where
Bill Pogue and I were out and we had to repair an S-193 antenna. It
was an Earth Resources Package. It had an antenna that was supposed
to swivel, and it was no longer swiveling, so we had to go take a
part outside and run some electrical diagnostics on it to figure out
where it was wrong and then, depending upon what we found, how we'd
fix it. We eventually got it to where we could at least get it to
swivel on one axis but not two.
But in doing that, to take that thing apart, turned out to be not
like it was on the ground, where you said, well, what you do is you
take the insulation off, get a screwdriver, and you just go bum, bing,
bing, bing, take the screws out, and there you are. Well, it turned
the real flight article was not quite the same as the training one,
so the screws were here, but there was a lip over it, so that what
you had to do was to come in and undo it using a screwdriver from
the side. I don't know if you've ever tried to undo a screw from the
side with bulky gloves on and with someone holding your feet while
you're thrashing around. And that took a little doing.
Bill didn't think it was going to be possible, but we figured, let's
keep pressing on it. So we took turns on it, and finally I got it
and got that thing off. But came back in and had blue fingernails,
just from doing the scrunching down all the time. To this day, I don't
think most people on the ground understood what was really going on,
how difficult that thing was. But it was satisfying that we made it
The other part about a space walk that's fun is it really gives you
the perception of height. It's like going up into a tall building
where you look out the window and you think it's interesting that
you see all the little people down there. But now if we open the window
and take you out to the end of long springboard where we get this
steel-fisted Arnold Schwarzenegger who's going to grab you by your
ankles and hold your head down, and you're at the height as you were
inside, but somehow it feels a bit different. On a space walk you
get that same feeling, just a little bit more of it.
Think a light over the Earth, very serene, five miles a second, and
in your mind, you know from the laws of Sir Issac Newton that you're
up there to stay, but when you look straight down at Earth and you
don't feel anything around you one way or the other on either side
of you and it's just you and the Earth 270 miles below, this little
voice comes out of nowhere and says, "Maybe this Newton guy is
just a little bit wrong." Intellectually you know what's going
on, but your gut's telling you something entirely different. Aside
from the view, I guess you'd just call it a thrill. I mean, to be
up above Earth and be falling toward Earth, which you are, but you're
not part of a space station, you're not part of anything. It's just
you and the ground. It's a great sight and it really gets your heart
Oh, I bet. Again, one of those things that you truly have to experience
to be able to understand, I'm sure.
Yes. I've tried to give you that analogy, but that's the best analogy
I could give you.
That's a very good analogy, a very good analogy. I can imagine being
held out, and I guess it is that sense of not being enclosed anymore.
You're not enclosed. You're not part of anything any longer. In an
airplane you feel part of; you're inside the airplane. But you were
hanging from the bottom of the airplane you might feel different about
Sure. I guess it's more natural being inside and enclosed and you
know that support's there.
You get that feeling also, I've since gone skydiving with my sons,
and you get that feeling when you step out the door sometimes. That
first step is a long way down.
Sometimes it's hard for you to make your body make that first step.
That's right. You get that same feeling with an EVA when you move
away from the spacecraft. That's why really I think Bruce McCandless
[II] and all those guys who have flown the MMU [Manned Maneuvering
Unit], that must have been a great experience. I don't know to this
day whether they felt that, with this thing on their back, it felt
as though they were driving a little sports car out there or whether
they felt like we did, just you and the ground.
It's probably pretty similar, I would imagine, since there was nothing
I think it'd have to be. Yes, it's just getting away to where you
don't feel part of the structure around you.
And even from Bruce McCandless being able to see that structure off
in the distance looking back toward the Shuttle and truly recognizing
You know, we were talking about that feeling. He didn't realize that
when we were up there how stable that space station was and how much
of it felt like a home in the sky until we finally left it and got
into the command module. And as soon as we undocked from the command
module, all of a sudden we're in this little sporty vehicle that we
really maneuver, and I thought, "Hey, we're flying again."
And all this time, of course, we'd been flying. It was spaceflight
all the time, but all of a sudden we're in this little sports car.
It's like going out to your car, out of your house and going into
your garage and getting into a sports car and you get back on the
road again. Well, that's what we felt when we left it. And I thought,
"Gee, that's great." That space station felt so stable.
It felt so much like a home in the sky that we felt completely at
home there, very comfortable.
That's good. That's really good. Hopefully that perception will continue
for [International] Space Station, and that'll help—
Oh, I'm sure it will and even much more so because this thing is so
large and massive. I'm sure people will have that feeling. I'm sure
they did with Mir, too.
Yes, that's so big you could not see somebody for the whole day, from
what we've heard. Very different experience.
Yes. Well, actually they lost me for one morning.
Yes, I mean, the Skylab had several different compartments, and I
was in the orbital workshop and I was trying to find some of the old
procedures that the previous crew had used for something. So I was
behind the freezers where they had put all that data. Jerry and Bill
were looking for me, and they just glanced in the orbital workshop
and didn't see me. They looked out and said, "Hey, the command
module's still here. He hasn't left. So where is he? The door's not
open." So I finally meandered up and they said, "Where have
you been?" So, it could happen.
That's pretty good. That's certainly not something you would expect,
to lose a fellow crew member.
Yes, it was a pretty large area, volume, that we had in there.
And you were able to enjoy that volume to some extent with being able
to do various acrobatic-type—
Yes, that was enjoyable.
Looking back over your mission, was there any one point that was your—well,
I guess, looking out at the Earth, was that your favorite part of
everything that went into it?
Yes, when I look back on it, there are several things. One is this
totally integrated enjoyment of looking back at the Earth and realizing
that you're just on the forefront of something which is going to grow
and become much larger in the future. Another was the space walks,
for what we accomplished as well as just working in that environment.
And the last was some of the good science that was done and being
able to use your human ingenuity, not to be a button-pusher, but to
exert some human judgment into how you did the experiments and then
improve the quality of what was brought back. So all those things,
those were real satisfying.
Certainly something to be proud of and to be glad to be a part of.
Yes, just glad to be a part of it. I today just realize how lucky
I was to be in the right spot at the right time.
As your mission came to a close, this was one of the first missions
since early on with some of the early Gemini missions that hadn't
been covered extensively by the media. In fact, they didn't even cover
the return. Did you have any thoughts on that?
You know, at the time it happened I didn't realize that it was. People
make a big deal of that, being an exception. It wasn't until I was
back for a couple of months, I don't think, that I really thought
about it very much. And then when I did, I thought, well, in a way
that's good, because what we're trying to do is to get space to be
more commonplace and to get space operations to be more accepted because
they are done repetitively, over and over again. You know, people
can't be sitting on the edge of their chair all the time. So it's
only natural that that would happen. And I thought, well, maybe we've
reached in the space program where we've become more mature and it's
only natural, so accept it. And that's the way it is.
What I later reflected on was that people had lost interest in space,
to the degree that they had before. It doesn't have to be a fever-pitch
interest, but the level of support had dropped off and that was reflected
in all the problems we had post-Apollo and finally getting the Shuttle
approved and funded and up and then finally getting a space station
going. All of it was just like pulling out hen's teeth. It's just
much more difficult than it should have been, much more costly than
it should have been.
What's a way that can keep, in your opinion, keep the public interest
and keep that through the Shuttle as it's going mission after mission?
People tend to take it for granted, almost, but there should still
be that interest and excitement. Is there a—
Well, there are two things. One, of course, is practical applications,
and that's always a tough sell, but I think when we get a space station
up there and get it fully operational and can take people who are
really specialists in their given fields and creative people who can
be put in that environment and allowed to think and experiment creatively,
do an experiment for what the word "experiment" really means
and not just pre-canned, then we're going to learn an awful lot, and
we'll have coming out of that new scientific discoveries, technology,
and, in some cases, basic science.
Then the other is, all people have to do is go out and look at the
stars and say, hey, we've just made the first micro step out our front
door, and it's all there and it's becoming more within reach all the
time because of improvements and technology.
You know, one of the real competitors that we have is Hollywood. They
do such a great job with Star Trek and other movies, that it's very
difficult for the real world to measure up against that, and that's
why we were so glad to see Apollo 13, the movie, come out. Ron Howard,
[Tom] Hanks, and those folks did such a great job. They showed how
much drama there really is in the real world.
But we have a tough time, because if we're not out there with a tricorder
and beaming people around, then it's all mundane. But it does open
people's eyes up to what lays in our future, not those specifics,
of course, but we've just barely put our toe out the front door, and
we're going to be looked upon, I'm sure, in five hundred years to
a thousand years hence, as the caveman era. We think we're pretty
advanced, but compared to where we're going, we're just neophytes.
People need to get that perspective and see where we're going and
say, "Let's move ahead as fast as we can, because it sure is
interesting to explore and to learn new things."
Exploration's almost a part of human—well, it's been a part
of human history and hopefully it will continue to be.
Well, it is. You go out and you go around the next bend, you've got
to see what's there. You go over the next mountain, you've got to
see what's there. You go across the ocean, and finally into the air,
and now into space, and you realize, look out how many stars are out
there. Terence Dickinson wrote a book, excellent book, called The
Universe and Beyond, and in there he cites from a probability standpoint
a number of star systems that have planets out there, numbers like
all the grains of sand on the beaches of the whole world. So, you
know, to think it in those numbers, you say, "We're not unique."
There's other forms of life out there, and it's only a question of
time and distance, and eventually we will find other life or they
will find us. I'm not UFO'er or anything, but the odds are so overwhelming.
And let's get on with it and let's not spend much of our gross national
product on it, but let's get serious about it. Let's get on with it.
It's an infinite universe. There's so much possibility out there.
Yes, it really is, and we got the stepping stones called planets,
and, you know, let's move on from there.
And we are on the way, slowly, but we are on the way.
We are. At least we're still moving.
Shortly after coming back from Skylab, you chose to move on from NASA,
in fact, to be able to work some more of the information that you
had been able to bring back.
That's right. There was not much happening when I came back. So I
said, "Well, why don't I go work on some of the Skylab data for
a while," which I did.
That must have been an interesting time period for you to have first
been on the Skylab doing that work and then being able to come back
and spend so much time at it.
It was. That was gratifying, to take it from one end to the other.
Not many astronauts even had that opportunity.
That's right. Right.
Before you came back to NASA, you worked with a group in Germany.
Is that correct?
That's right. I worked with ENRO Raumfahrttechnik, which is a German
aerospace company which was an integrator for Spacelab. What happened
was that I'd learned of that opportunity through Joe [Joseph P.] Allen,
who had worked there many years previous, and I talked to Chris Kraft
and said, "You know, I sure wish Space Station were going to
get going," and he said, "It's right around the corner.
As soon as the wedge from the Shuttle spending opens up, more funding,
when the Shuttle drops off in terms of funding requirements, all this
money will open up and we can get on with the Space Station."
That's really what I wanted to hear because I really wanted to fly
on the Space Station. I was willing to dedicate the rest of my professional
career to it. So I talked to him about going over to Europe for a
year, and he said, "Sure. We need someone over there to work
with the Europeans to try to integrate them into the manned program,
and anybody who can help us with that, that's great. We're not doing
much with the station right now."
So it was agreed that after I went over to Europe for a year, I'd
come back to Johnson, which I did. But unfortunately, when I came
back, even though the Shuttle was interesting, the station funding
had dropped to zero, or close to zero. It was just a study. It was
during the [James E.] Carter administration. Other selections that
were made, we had people there who did not pick the ball up and go
I started calculating out my age and adding eight years to it, because
that's how long it would take, I thought, to get a space station up.
And when that came out over fifty, I said, "Well, heck, you know,
my chances are I'll never fly on Space Station." And even now,
obviously, it would have been doubtful if I had stayed in the program
I'd ever fly on Space Station. So I said, "Well, I have to make
a career decision. Flying in the back of the orbiter would be interesting,
but it's not worth spending another eight years just waiting for it
and giving up an opportunity to have another career in something else."
So, much to my regret, I didn't really want to leave the program,
but I just didn't see where there was that next mountain in the program
to go climb. So I did leave. I reflect back on it, and I think maybe
if I had stayed in, I could have done the space walk for the Hubble
Space Telescope repair with Story Musgrave. That probably would have
been something that had I known ahead of time, that it would have
been worthwhile sticking it out, but you didn't know that. The Hubble—didn't
even know what problems that Hubble was going to have, and what was
perceived was, you'd go up with seven other people in the back of
the orbiter and push a few buttons and come back down in a week. Compared
to Skylab, that was not much. So I'm sorry to put it in that context,
but in a relative sense that's the way I viewed it. I wanted to go
help build a Space Station and then fly it, and when that was no longer
a possibility, I said, "I'd better move on," so I did.
Before you did move on, you worked as chief of the scientist astronauts
there at NASA.
Yes. Actually, I was in charge of the new candidates that came in,
all of them across the board.
What was that like in comparison to your days when you had been going
through the training initially?
Oh, I think it was good because I was sensitive to what we had experienced,
especially as scientists coming in, and I knew anybody coming in the
program is somewhat intimidated when they come in the front door,
and yet they're all real fast burners and really capable people. So
your job is to make them feel comfortable and get them going doing
something productive, because if you don't, if you give them just
busy work, they'll see through that in a second. So make them feel
comfortable and give them something worthwhile to do and make sure
that their training is efficient. And that was satisfying. I enjoyed
doing that because I know how we were viewed when we came in and what
happened to us, and I said these guys shouldn't see the same thing.
Certainly the views on scientists and on science in general for the
space program have changed since the beginning as the goals and as
the program has grown. Science now has a much higher emphasis in the
program than it did before.
Oh, yes, now you regard the breakdown of the classes—what, 46
or so, where 40% are pilots, 60% are mission specialists of one kind
or another. People do realize that the objective of this whole thing
is to accomplish things in orbit, many of them scientific, and you
ought to have the right people up there. We have still yet to learn
the lesson of how to make it most productive, though. But that'll
come with time. That will come.
Hopefully now we will have lots of time to almost experiment with
Well, we saw the natural progression in Skylab. Gene [Eugene F.] Kranz,
much to his credit, said toward the end of our flight, "Just
give them a couple of days off. Let them do whatever they want."
And it was great. I took a Sunday off and I worked the ATM figuring
out what I needed to do and then coordinated with the guys on the
ground and went off and did it, and it was one of the most satisfying
experiences up there, because it was no longer just trying to work
to see how close you could get to where you were supposed to be and
not be behind, but you really get ahead of it. It was enjoyable.
You got to flex your mind as well as just trying to keep up with things.
Well, when you did move on from NASA on that last stage as Shuttle
was coming into view and since, unfortunately, the station was more
than a few years down the road ultimately, what did you move on to
I went to TRW, which is technically a very high-powered place, in
California, worked on all their energy projects. At that time, if
you recall, we had the energy crunch on. So I figured, okay, that's
one of the larger challenges that our nation has right now, is alternate
energy. So I did that for quite a few years and then the price of
oil came back down, and, unfortunately, a lot of emphasis came off
those things. But it was enjoyable while I did it.
And at some point along the road you got interested in writing science
Oh, yes. Well, see, I had written that textbook and I knew how hard
it was, because every fact had to be right and it had to be explained
exactly. And I thought, gee, wouldn't it great some day to just sit
down and you don't have to worry about facts or anything, just sit
down and let it flow. By God, you ought to be able to rip a novel
off in week, two weeks, no problem. And so I thought I'd give it a
try, and I found that it isn't quite the way it works. But, nonetheless,
it was really an enjoyable experience. It was a very creative experience,
and I was always looking for something creative to do, and that was
my outlet, because I'd find some of the things that I was doing, whether
it was at TRW or others, where a lot of it was bureaucratic, unfortunately,
even though you're working on the end result is very noble and very
worthwhile, but the process for getting, many times creativity is
left out of the picture. So I needed an outlet, and so I'd do that,
and it was enjoyable.
And I'm sure you were at least able to put some of your experiences
with the space program into play.
Yes, I did in the first novel, called Reach. I thought it was a good
way to explain to people what it's really like to fly and do in a
way which—no one wants to hear the Ed Gibson story.
Well, we do.
Well, yes, but I mean seriously. Maybe the Al Shepard story or the
John [H.] Glenn [Jr.] story, but, you know, by the time we came along,
people didn't even know who we were. But I still was interested in
trying to get across to people what it was like to fly, so I put a
lot of that in there.
Certainly a unique avenue to move into, and another new challenge
for you, as you said.
Yes, yes, that's right. Another. If the hill's not there, you've got
to create your own.
Always good to have those hills and those challenges. Looking back
over your whole career with the space program in particular, what
do you consider was your biggest challenge?
Probably the biggest challenge was that huge step up that I faced
when we first got into the program, was to become technically competent,
learn all you had to about spacecraft and how to make it fly, the
public relations, working alongside people who you regarded as legends
at the very beginning. It was one heck of a challenge.
I mean, you're down here and you look at where you've got to be is
up here, and that's a pretty high step to climb, and you were just
scrambling every day trying to figure out if you were ever going to
get there and how to do it. So that was probably the biggest challenge.
I mean, you had to balance all these things, the technical side, the
public relations side, the human interaction side, and still try to
keep some semblance of a family together. Fortunately, my wife did
a great job there. So I think without having a supporting wife, I
couldn't have done that.
How did your family take all of your activities in the space program
and adapt to them?
Well, the kids nowadays, they look back and now they realize what
we were doing. But at the time they just thought every dad flies.
You know, when they're in elementary school, we had so many kids around
us, around them, who had fathers who were in the program. I know when
I was up for 84 days, my wife was at at least a hundred parties, so
she had a great time while I was gone.
It was great group that was created, of the first four or five groups
there, of people who were in the program. We got together socially,
not in a compulsive sense, but when we did, we really enjoyed them.
All the kids knew each other and that was a certain little community
there that you just don't run into again. Most of the environments
you live in, people are aloof, and that was not true here. Everything
was young, vibrant, make it happen, we're all in this together, and
we worked hard and we partied hard, and it was a good time.
There certainly were, as you mentioned, a lot of unique individuals
and people, everyone working together to make it all happen, but were
there people that stand out for you even now that made a large impact
on you or, in your opinion, on the space program that you'd like to
Yes, I already mentioned one, was Deke Slayton. Again, I was really
intimidated by him when I first met him. He was a tough cigar-chomping
test pilot and you could tell he was a no-nonsense guy. At the same
time, when you got underneath him, you find out he was purely motivated
to make the program work. And if you were on his side of the table
and trying to make it work, he'd support you to the hilt. And so,
yes, I think Deke—I think that characteristic is something that
people should emulate. You can certainly do a lot for other people.
Another guy whom I really admired in his quiet capacity was Story
Musgrave. He got in the group after me. Even though he was not a test
pilot, he was probably the best pilot I've ever flown with in terms
of an instrument pilot. There's a few others, I think Fred [W.] Haise
I've flown with, who was very good. But Story, it was like when you
were in the back seat watching him fly instruments, even in rough
weather, it was just like the machine, it was run by computer. He
was such a good pilot. He did almost everything that well. He was
a very meticulous guy.
He started out by leaving high school and joining the Marine Corps
and finally he ended up with, I don't know how many thousands of degrees
he's got. I mean, he's got degrees in computer science and he was
a physician and surgeon and degrees in computer technology, business
administration, you name it. But he's kind of a unique guy. You don't
run into many Story Musgraves throughout your life, which was the
interesting part of being in that program, because a lot of these
guys were all unique and hard-charging in their own way. Those two
Those two are good examples of the unique people you worked with.
We talked about what you would consider your biggest challenge. Do
you have anything that you would feel is your most significant accomplishment?
You know, I've said many times that if it wasn't me, it would have
someone else who would have gone through and done the whole thing.
So I'd have to say what did I bring to it that was unique? I think
it was that I had this background from Caltech and had a real good
understanding of physics in some areas and then applied it in solar
physics. Then I also had an athletic background, so I was able to
work all these things in together and apply it to the astronaut program.
I think that's an accomplishment, being able to bring all those things
together and perform at a certain level of excellence that someone
else may not have because they didn't have the same background or
the same inherent wiring in their brain structure, whatever it is.
But I thought perhaps that was something that I was unique in and
was able to contribute in that one area. So, you know, I was in the
right place at the right time. If they'd asked to be an opera singer,
it would have been all over.
Well, you certainly did have all the right stuff, in a sense, to make
it all happen and to make quite a unique contribution, and we certainly
appreciate you sharing that with us today.
Is there anything that you can think of that we didn't touch on, that
you'd like to mention?
No, other than that, as I said many times, I was just glad to be in
that spot, because since then you realize when you're not in such
a privileged spot, how difficult it is sometimes to make an impact
the way you'd like to. There you just had everything going for you.
The wind was at your back all the way. It was a great opportunity.
And then you get a lot of people, my wife in particular, who supported
Well, I thank you for the opportunity of letting me talk to you today.
It's been a pleasure for me.