Space Center Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Houston, Texas and New Brunswick, New Jersey – 4 May 2006
Today is May 4th, 2006. This telephone oral history with Dr. Paul
Lachance is being conducted for the Johnson Space Center Oral History
Project in Houston, Texas, and in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Jennifer
Ross-Nazzal is the interviewer, and she is assisted by Sandra Johnson.
Thanks again for joining us this afternoon. I wanted to begin by asking
you how you found out about the opportunity to work at the Manned
Spacecraft Center [MSC].
I was pursued. What happened was that I was an ROTC [Reserve Officers’
Training Corps] graduate, and I got a category C delay in order to
[pursue the] Ph.D. I did that in Canada. I had a choice of a couple
of different places I could [be assigned]. I had to go into active
duty. One was the [United States Air Force] School of Aerospace Medicine
in San Antonio [Texas], and the other was Wright Field in Dayton,
Ohio. I was able to [obtain assignment to] Wright Field. It was closer
to where my wife and I and the children were from, which is Vermont.
So we could drive and see them once in a while. So that’s the
beginning of that.
Then in my duties at the Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory at
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, I became very involved with the fact
that NASA had no one to help them develop what they needed [for new
sustenance], and the military laboratory at that time was still a
viable [program]. In other words, the military were devising a space
program of their own, plus the NASA one, which had been touted as
being open and free of secrecy, and the purposes it might be used
for for those reasons.
So our laboratory, or the laboratory I was in, provided all the preflight
and postflight—well, not so much postflight, because it wasn’t
an issue—but the preflight feeding of the Mercury astronauts.
I got involved in tube feeding for U-2 pilots at the tail end of it.
So we were making product, and we were actually even interested in
far-out things. We were growing algae and tilapia and all kinds of
things, just spanning the immediate feeding, if you will, for military
rations, this kind of [need], to going all the way to a Mars mission,
which we still talk about today.
As a result of that, I became the representative from the Air Force,
from Wright Field, to the National Academy Space Science Board, which
was looking at criteria and all the different issues that were involved
in spaceflight, not only human but other experiments they might do
and whatever. In fact, we had one of those meetings [at the University
of] Iowa, and we had, I remember, [James A.] Van Allen of the Van
Allen belt hosting a party at his house on July Fourth. So those were
the caliber of people that were brought together.
But I found NASA had no representative whatsoever, and there was a
Colonel [Rufus R. Hessberg] on loan from the Air Force, an M.D., as
Director of Research for Crew Systems Division of NASA-Houston, of
the Manned Spacecraft Center. I made a wiseass remark about, you know,
“What’s the matter with you guys? Don’t you have
anybody that can do anything down there?”
He just said to me, “Take your foot out of your mouth, Lachance,
and come to Houston and do the job,” because he knew that I
knew more about it than anybody else did, or I was acquainted with
it; that I kept answering the questions or trying to answer the questions
that were state of the art.
So I did a trade-off. I was due out of the Air Force, and I had lined
up a couple of different job opportunities. So I added this one to
the list. My wife and I do trade-off and look at the pros and cons.
We’d never lived south of the Mason-Dixon Line, so we had all
kinds of apprehension. We chose [NASA-Houston] because I saw it as
an opportunity to lead something that would be unique, making many
contributions both in the field of nutrition as well as in food science,
[in] which I had very little training in. I was trained as a nutritionist,
So when I went to Houston, there was no Spacecraft Center. The land
had been bought and all that at Clear Lake, but the main building
was just beginning to take foundation. So we, [the scientists], were
scattered all the way into twelve or thirteen different rental properties
in the city of Houston, the southern part of Houston, mostly. So we
commuted back and forth to our temporary locations to make the program
continue to operate.
The big pressure then—Mercury was pretty much over—was
Gemini and how it would operate. The Apollo [Program] was beginning.
It had its own program office; they both did. In fact, NASA operated
these completely separate from each other. The Gemini Program Office
operated completely independently from the Apollo Program Office.
So that led to redundancies and other issues which I had to end up
dealing with, because the spacesuits were different and things like
When I got to Houston, I was given a desk and a telephone. There were
no windows in the room. This is how crowded we were. Within a matter
of months they started Building 4, and we were allowed a little laboratory
space to be built into that and office space and this sort of thing.
We moved a couple more times in a matter of three years. I mean, the
buildings kept coming up, mushrooming all over the place. It was a
very exciting time to be in Houston.
So what I inherited then was the fact that the Gemini Program had
a food system that someone, some engineer, was trying to put together,
and the Apollo Program Office had contracted, subcontracted, through
the—North American Aviation was the main contractor. They had
subcontracted to a consulting company, [Stanford Research Institute],
in California to develop or work on the food systems.
So my first role was to take and evaluate the two systems and figure
out which one we would retain or whether we would merge them or what
we would do. The most important question I asked was, “Has anyone
eaten this, and what was the result?” When they told me that
they’d had problems with people eating the Apollo food system
prototypes that they were using, some sickness—could have been
the flu, but could have been food problems; we weren’t sure—I
just said, “That’s enough. I’m going to go with
the Gemini system.” For one extra man—going from a two-man
to a three-man system—it makes a lot of sense to just not have
two separate systems, and capitalize on one and improve it as much
as we can.
Well, that left me in a need for a technical support for all the different
types of foods, different types of packaging, different types of safety
standards. In the Air Force I had learned that I could transfer money
between government agencies very readily, and so I was able to transfer
monies to Natick Laboratory. The U.S. Army Natick Laboratory in Natick,
Massachusetts, had just moved there from Chicago [Illinois], where
they had been for years and years, [known as] the Quartermaster Food
and Container Institute, which provided for military feeding during
World War II and before that.
But they had quite a contingency of talent, [for example] people specializing
in packaging and in vegetables and fruit and ionizing radiation as
a means of preservation. You name it, they had the capability. So
I just said, “Here is a couple hundred thousand dollars. When
I ask you a question, you’re going to help me solve it.”
And that’s what they did. They wrote the specs [specifications],
at my request, that we used. They developed products and prototypes.
So that was the beginning of a coherent program of food development,
and I started learning my food technology that way, having to become
familiar with different processes that were used for different foods
and choosing different choices that we had and putting together something
that we could fly in Gemini.
Then complicating [all this as] a nutritionist, I was also in charge
of the experiments for bone density changes with zero gravity (microgravity)
and also the changes that would occur in muscle mass. There were some
ongoing experiments that had already been started, bed rest studies,
by NASA-Houston, [however].
I had already started one when I was in the Air Force, a bed rest
study that was done at Lankenau Hospital in Philadelphia [Pennsylvania],
where we had put some Mennonite student volunteers to bed for six
weeks in complete bed rest, and then studied the effect of exercise
by putting a bicycle ergometer at the foot of the bed upside down
so they could move their butt down to the end of the bed for twice
a day and pump the bicycle with 600 kpm of work for thirty minutes
twice a day. [Exercise] didn’t do a thing, [but standing one
hour per day did], which was our discovery, but we almost lost one
of the subjects in the tilt table test because of how much debilitation
took place in six weeks. So, all subsequent studies were done in three
weeks, because we could see the change [we were looking for].
Meanwhile NASA had its studies, and so I inherited those, particularly
the bone studies, which were coming out of Texas Woman’s University
[Denton, Texas], pre- and postflight. They were done by X-ray. So
you can see I became in need of knowing how much calcium was in the
diet, how much protein was in the diet, and other nutrients; how we
would measure the excreta. I found that Crew Systems had not done
much about that. How did an astronaut go to the bathroom and all of
the physiological things that are involved.
So I had some buddies that I had, First Lieutenant associates of mine
that I’d left behind at Wright Field that were still there at
that time. I knew we had a chamber at Wright Field. I made a deal
with them to set up a contractor to work with them to put men in the
chamber in spacesuits that I would get from NASA, some volunteer airmen,
to live in the suits [two weeks] to see what would happen, because
no one had looked at the impact of fourteen days in a spacesuit on
skin. No one had looked at moral hygiene. No one had looked at other
problems, you know, the actual physiological phenomena that are involved
in the bathroom.
So I had my hands full, but I needed—it was helpful, I had one
associate with a master’s degree in food science, food technology,
actually, so he did a lot of the running around. Bob [Robert A.] Nanz
was his name. He was not strong scientifically, but he was a very
smooth person who could get anything out of anybody. He was good with
the secretaries and other people. He was a charming guy, very helpful,
because he got things done for me when I needed.
For example, I needed blocks of wood the size of the food we were
going to be putting into the Gemini lockers—there were two of
them on each side, on the back side of the spacecraft, or aligned
with the back of the astronauts—so that we could see how these
different shaped foods would fit in and how we’d pack them.
In fact, when we ended up flying Gemini, the packaging of food had
its own blueprints with the [meal] sequence they were in, the fact
that [each] astronaut would have [colored] Velcro tabs on them. Then
in Apollo I went with red, white, and blue for the three different
astronauts. They could identify which foods they had selected or had
agreed to eat, which was another area I got into, sensory testing
to find out the food preferences of astronauts. Some did not want
to eat any fish, for example, so we’d have to change the menu
to accommodate them with chicken or beef.
Then we had all of the technology problems of the foods themselves,
each one separate from each other. So the easiest ones were the powders,
[for example] the puddings and things that were pretty easy [to formulate].
You could really take them off the shelf, and then just find a way
to add the water and shake them up and make a pudding and then squeeze
it out. Of course, at that time, and what the issues were in Mercury—Mercury,
we didn’t really need food to eat. We needed to test the concept
[of swallowing]; it was very important. The medical literature was
really half and half, even though the Russians had beat us to the
draw. They had the theory that we would aspirate some foods, because
it floats around in your mouth as well as anywhere else. So that was
the first testing that we did with food in Mercury was to see if they
could swallow it, whether they had any problems with it. Of course,
they weren’t there long enough to worry about whether they would
be able to excrete it. But that solved that problem, so we knew we
could do—as long as we had either bite-sized foods or dehydrated
foods of one type or another, that we could squeeze these [packaged]
foods to get them into the mouth directly. So we got into a number
of developments that were important in themselves.
Then, of course, the question came up about safety and the fact that
most companies—as a matter of fact, all [food] companies—even
today, there are many that don’t even meet [GMP] “Good
Manufacturing Practices” but are beginning to, are being forced
to, just in this time period, which is quite a few years since. So
we were buying top-quality stuff for about a hundred ingredients or
foods. We had forty-eight that we used to make our menus with—forty-eight
to fifty-two—but about forty-eight, where we could [assure]
a variety and different meals and this sort of thing.
As [we] bought ingredients, we checked the microbiological, which
was the key or the most important issue in terms of safety, would
be whether they would get sick. I mean, [could] there be a [food poisoning]
problem? We found that some categories, such as spices, were heavily
contaminated [microbiologically], and we had to find a way to make
sure that we processed them before they would be used so that they
would have no pathogens. They were loaded with pathogens. In fact
[would preserving assure safety]?
Then, of course, you have the problem [indicators] that are known.
Salmonella is associated with chicken and eggs, milk products, so
we needed to screen that. Staphylococcus usually comes from contamination,
usually a human contamination of one type or another. We didn’t
have salads, but somebody mixing something who has a pustule on their
finger or something. That was a complete no-no. But we had to make
sure all of this would be covered.
So I went back to Natick again and said to Natick, “Well, what
can we measure that we can [use] as biomarkers, that are true pathogens
and yet we can use them as biomarkers, and also maintain the one that’s
usually used by the industry?” which is just the total coliform
count like they do for a swimming pool. We have to test like that
in order to know that the coliforms were very low. We allowed a level
of coliforms, but no staph or pathogen was allowed in a product, so
that if product ended up being made, and tested as an end item [and
found] to be positive for staph or salmonella or vibrio, they were
out. The whole batch had to be [discarded] and we had to start over.
But that brought up the whole issue of the sequence of things you
do and how you get contamination and the idea of critical control
points. We started implementing something like that on our own for
Project Gemini, but when we dealt with the Apollo Program Office,
they had a regulation which was part of the package of the Program
Office, on reliability. In fact, that document probably could be found.
It’s a reliability document, and it was part of the boilerplate—I
guess you understand that—of all contracts that were let, and
this goes back to July 1963. It was “Reliability Program Provisions
for Safe Systems Contractors.” In it, it covers all kinds of
dimensions, some of which are much too much for a food system. They
talk about criticality and other ways of measuring. They don’t
use the words “critical control points” exactly, but they
do make you blueprint your whole process, how you make the spaghetti
bar, or how you make the chicken or the small shrimp that we had,
or the pudding, or how we started with the standards that were used
to purchase the products, the standards that were used to receive
the products, the standards that were used to process the products.
In fact, the story that tells how that worked and how critical it
became was the Swift Company, which was a very important food company
in meats in Chicago for many, many years. I don’t know who it
was bought by, Armour, I think. I mean, you could trace that kind
of history; it can be traced very easily. But they were still in the
stockyards, and the stockyards were filthy.
So they created a [“clean”] room with polyethylene, where
they manufactured all the meat products, and then had a positive-pressure—or
a negative-pressure situation such that we would be free—essentially,
pretty sure that—well, we would run the tests, actually. But
that’s what made it possible to take their foods, because before
we did that, the meats would end up being contaminated with a little
bit, and we weren’t allowing any.
We have to realize that this was the first time in the history of
the American—or of the food industry in the world, in fact—but
for the United States, that zero pathogens in foods [was required].
They were required in life islands, for example, and sterilized foods
were being experimented with by the medical community, but they cooked
the hell out of it, and it wasn’t too damn palatable stuff.
And, of course, they could use regular dishes and pass-throughs and
very fancy equipment to do that.
So there was a precedent in the medical community, in a way. We didn’t
draw it from there. We just drew it from what we knew about the organisms
that would be of interest to us and that we needed to pay attention
to. And that’s how that were chosen, and even the amount of
food that would be tested. In other words, you can look for one cell
of staphylococcus in a tenth of a gram or half a gram or five grams,
and because it becomes more and more possible that you’re going
to find it if you get a bigger sample. So, all of these things had
to be worked out.
The Army, the U.S. Army, had already dabbled in this field, and they,
as a matter of fact, had developed a document, which I don’t
know the name of, but they had a document for a procedure for trying
to minimize military feeding contamination. So the microbiologists
who, at the time—the senior microbiologists at Natick—wrote
out a spec that we used. We reviewed it and looked it over, and all
of us, the technical people, we got together—there was no one
else at NASA to look at it, but all the outside people and government
people—to see if that would do the job. Even though we’ve
said from the beginning, and you can say it today, there’s not
100 percent assurance, but we’ve never had a problem.
The other reason that drove the, as I tell the story of, the need
to have foods that would not get astronauts sick, is I did not want
a telephone call at two o’clock in the morning from Chuck [Charles
A.] Berry, who was the Chief Medical Officer of NASA, telling me that
his astronaut or astronauts were sick and had stomach problems and
were having a hard time holding things down. So I’ve always
said that I was concerned about that to the point where I was CYAS.
Do you know what that means?
Okay. So I said, “We’re going to do this for scientific
reasons, and we’re going to do this because we just don’t
want this kind of turmoil, nor do we want astronauts getting sick,
period.” Of course, I had a working relationship with all of
them, one way or another, either as experiments that were being conducted
or food selection or their opinion about things.
So we were concerned, and we got involved with all the other aspects
of Crew Systems Division which related to food. You know, how do you
wipe your mouth? How do you get rid of the storage containers? How
do you disinfect them? Then you get into picking them up, you know,
taking them out of the spacecraft at the carrier level and reserving
those for analysis.
It’s a long story, but as these blueprints basically come together,
you find you get the critical control point that you need. I mean,
HACCP [Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point] is a systematic
way of advancing safety. It involves identification, evaluation, and
control of the hazard, and we thought we [accomplished] that. It has
evolved a lot since then.
So that’s the general story, the overriding story, I guess.
I just did not continue—I had collected a number of things I
was going to write as kind of a story, but I didn’t, because
I was very busy doing international work and one thing and another
after I came to Rutgers [University, New Brunswick, New Jersey].
What motivated me to do that, you may ask the question, is that the
Apollo fire is what threw me off. I had everything ready for Apollo.
I had worked on Skylab. In fact, I have photographs of some of the
initial foods for Skylab. Those did not change very dramatically from
what I had started with and set up. But I did have the in-flight experiments,
which I had written all the protocols for, the bone loss experiments,
the muscle loss experiments. So I predicted it would be about five
years before we’d ever get a chance to fly those, that the engineering
feat itself would take precedence.
Then, of course, after the first landing on the Moon, Americans are
fickle. When we did it, you don’t have to watch the rest of
them, and as you know, they didn’t even have TV coverage for
some of the flights, like 13, until they were in trouble, and everybody
worried about whether they were going to live or die. So it plays
a role, though, in terms of how we do things. That’s it, I think.
Let me go back and ask you some questions. How far along was the Gemini
food system when you arrived at MSC? You said you had to choose between
the Gemini food system and the Apollo system.
That’s a good question. What NASA had done is they had made
an arrangement with Natick Lab to provide food and to do the work,
but they had no idea of the systems requirements. They had no NASA
angle. They had nothing to do with that. So it was very primitive.
My chief, who had started that at the time, was a lung physiologist,
so he really didn’t know much about it.
So I made a decision immediately that one did not ask a government
agency to put out a product. It’s not our capability. Maybe
somebody can contradict my views about that, but my experience, both
in the Air Force and in NASA, was that you don’t try to make
them an end item producer. They set the specs. They monitor it. They
pay the budgets and the whole bit, but don’t—so that was
a second reason, in addition to the sickness that had occurred with
the Apollo system. And the fact that I had experience with Natick
Lab, because I became a USAF [United States Air Force] Coordinator
of the Quartermaster Food and Container Institute before it moved
to Natick, so I knew some of the people, and it made some sense that
we would gel our talents.
The Navy had its own system here in Bayonne, New Jersey, but at the
time Secretary [Robert S.] McNamara took care of that. He consolidated
a lot of things, not only belt buckles, but food laboratories. So
I was in an Air Force laboratory, basically, fooling around making
food and looking at things. Each service had their own facilities
and their own people and their own different-sized laboratories, and
that was all standardized by [designating] the U.S. Army Natick Laboratory
[for all branches of the military]. So that’s how that came
about. They were really the first con[tractor]—well, I had used
the word contractor, I guess, for Gemini foods, but they had just
made the prototypes. There was no meal system. There was no packaging
done. It was just the beginning. No specs had been written.
Who were some of the key people working on the food system at the
Well, I had two people that I worked through. The chief of the lab,
Herbert [A.] Hollender, is dead, but Herbert Hollender was a food
technologist, very competent man, and he was the Director. He knew
his people, and he knew who would do what when. And he had an associate
who, last time I knew, was still alive, a few years ago, Mary [V.]
Klicka. Mary was, she really was my right hand. Herb would come to
the meetings and one thing and another when we met. We met at all
kinds of places, scientific meetings and NASA-Houston and other meetings,
and I would to go Natick, and it was a lot of traveling around. Then
when we finally decided on the Gemini feeding contractors, we met
in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and places like that.
So they were the two people who [we] would draw on whatever the issue
was. If it was vegetables, they’d go to a certain [Natick Lab]
food technologist. If it was packaging, they went to a different food
technologist. Then they would prepare samples, and then we’d
meet, and I’d make a decision. Or I’d say, “Well,
let’s try this, or let’s—you know, try it.”
They, [Natick], could do [sensory] panel work, too. They had a sensory
panel that could do not only sensory of food, they could even check
out a package [design too]. I mean, you know, they would do it blinded
and otherwise in control, so you have a pretty good assurance of what’s
going on, although the packaging part came to grips when the contractor,
the integrator for Gemini foods, was hired.
That was the Whirlpool Corporation in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The
man in charge was a microbiologist, scientist, by the name of Norm
[Norman G.] Roth. He had a few associates. He was called the integrator
because he didn’t produce any food to speak of, although he
did take over the puddings eventually and the easy things, just adding
so much Tang® to a packet or something like that. We didn’t
need a separate contractor for that.
We had two other contractors, subcontractors. One was Pillsbury. Pillsbury
did all the baked goods, all the bite-sized brownies and the bacon
bars and all these kinds of things. There weren’t that many,
but I have a list somewhere—probably in my chapter—[if
you want to] look at it. All of these kinds of foods. So they were
given specs and guidelines and criteria by me through the integrator,
although we had worked directly many times. I met at Pillsbury for
meetings several times in Minneapolis [Minnesota].
Pillsbury had a—the Director of Research, which was Howard [E.]
Bauman, was a microbiologist by training, Ph.D., and so he really
knew his microbiology. So he was an ideal person, in some ways, to
develop a laboratory where microbiology had to be paid attention to.
But he had to do that initially for Gemini, and so he really had a
feeling for how to do it for Apollo, because he inherited [the contract
for] all of Apollo food systems.
Not initially; the initial contract was won by Melpar, as the integrator,
and they were in Maryland somewhere; anyway, near the green belt.
But they got so involved in the paperwork that they were not doing
very much technically, and the other [subcontractor] company, which
was Swift, which we mentioned that made all the meat products.
So [for Gemini] all that was brought together in Benton Harbor, and
then the packaging, either the initial packaging or the additional
packaging that was needed, was done there, and some tests were done,
again, on eating in zero gravity; not using an airplane, but standing
on your head and swallowing. We just tried all kinds of things.
We also did that in Wright Field with the zero parabola, the parabola
of flight. It was so many seconds of weightlessness. You’ve
seen photos of that, I’m sure. NASA used to use that facility
out at Wright Field quite a bit. They used to fly from one corner,
the southwest corner, of Ohio to the northwest, and make about three
different—as it went down [in altitude], it would take off on
another parabola. [For] a few more [minutes], then it would be weightless.
So you could try different things.
One of the most difficult experiments we had to do for that was trying
to see what would happen with defecation. Timing that was—you
can imagine. You’ve got so many seconds, and you’re asking
somebody to hang on till they had to—to test the devices that
we had proposed to handle that waste. So that shows you the extent.
I worried about things from the beginning to the end.
Literally. I think it would be a good idea if you did a comparison
for us of the Mercury foods and the Gemini food system that was eventually
put into place.
Well, the Mercury foods were things that we got out of Natick or that
we put together at Wright Field. Usually we had Natick finish them
We had made cube-sized foods. We called them sugar cubes—well,
they weren’t sugar; they were cereal cubes. What we did is they
chopped up corn flakes and put in freeze-dried strawberries, for example,
and then compress it with tremendous pressure, and you can make a
cube that sticks together, stays together, and gives you about fifty
calories, and it has a nice strawberry taste; that kind of thing.
Then we could always put a shellac on them, a food-grade shellac to
hold the things from sticking to your fingers and [issues] like that.
There weren’t too many items. I’d have to look it up.
There are probably a half dozen things. The U-2 foods were used. The
ones I had used for the U-2 pilots, because they stayed in their spacesuits
at a very high altitude, because, as you know, they went from Turkey
to the North Sea. So they would go up to 80, 90,000 feet and
then turn off the engine and glide. Of course, they had their suit
on all the time. If they would depressurize or anything, they were
very dependent on—they had to have some way to eat. We first
started with junior baby food in a toothpaste tube, and that’s
what we basically used. We got some empty toothpaste tubes of different
Water was not a big issue. You could put water in a tube, and you
could squeeze it in. We developed a gun for Gemini and Apollo, where
you could drink from it or you could rehydrate your food from it by
using the gun. The gun was calibrated so we could tell how much water
you had taken if you recorded the information.
The Gemini foods allowed for a two-week varied diet, forty-eight,
forty-nine—you know, we had a couple of spare items, things
we never flew, like freeze-dried ice cream, which people felt that—we
never flew that. Then, you know, adjusted to the preferences of the
astronaut, adjusted for an estimate of a couple of thousand calories
a day. No one had any idea what caloric needs were, whether they’d
be up or down.
The theory was they would be down, because you’re weightless,
and you don’t exert much, and you’re sitting all the time.
I mean, you don’t have any room for exercise to speak of. In
the Gemini capsules—I’m sure you’ve looked at them
there at the Center. They’re very constraining in space. So
foods had to be convenient.
We assembled them by meal, and white and black were the tabs, the
Velcro tabs put on the containers. The inside of the spacecraft had
a lot of hooks to hook Velcro, so you could paste things to the ceiling
or to the sides, wherever there was and hang onto them. They didn’t
really do that. They used to let things float all the time. They got
in very bad habits of letting things float. They would come home,
and then they’d be shaving, and they’d let the razor go,
and it would drop to the floor and bang, crash, because they forgot
they weren’t weightless anymore. Stories.
So we provided an entrée, basically chicken or beef. I think
that’s in the chapter that I sent to you. If it isn’t,
we can always come up with it, I suppose. And there was a vegetable,
but these were minimized, because we wanted a low-residue diet. There
would be only one or two foods that were high residue, green beans
or peas or things like that, because they didn’t want to go
to the bathroom while they were up there.
They were put on a low-residue diet before takeoff for four days,
preflight feeding. Then they had the in-flight food, so they would
go about four diets before they really had to—if the mission
was that long, like in many. Gemini IV, there were just there four
days. All those durations are in the chapter, too, and I’m sure
you have access to all of that. So that decided certain parameters.
Then we had bite-sized foods, and we had puddings. In the container
containers, we had the entrée, which came invariably spaghetti
or the shrimp or the beef or the chicken for the entrée. Then
there’d be a side dish of one type or another, a vegetable,
only one serving. Then there would be puddings of one type, which
were pretty loaded with calories, vanilla, you know, different flavors,
whatever they liked. Well, we only carried two or three, but they
were the most popular ones.
We had quite a few bite-sized foods. The bite-sized foods were liked
a lot. They were very compact. There were six to a package, fifty
calories apiece, so you got three hundred calories right away. But
we had these coatings, edible coatings, on there, and those melted
at above room temperature, which was one of the problems we had and
[Walter M.] Schirra, he wanted to fly with all bite-sized food, and
I said, “No, I don’t believe you should do that, but I’ll
tell you what I’ll do. A couple of you get together and decide
you’re going to—we’ll provide you with all bite-sized
foods, and you survive on that for a few days and see what you think.”
And they all gave it up, because it was coating the throat; some of
the coating would stay in the throat, and they got tired of biting
these hard chips and getting—you know, they just decided on
their own. It was their decision, then, not to do that again, and
it was never brought up again.
Let me ask you a couple more clarifying questions. You mentioned that
the requirement that you had for the Gemini food system was the first
to be imposed on the food industry, and you said that—
For pathogens, I’m sorry. And you said that the date on that
was July of ’63?
The date on the Apollo document is ’63. The date on the Gemini
specs was ’63. So they do coincide. July of ’63.
Could you tell me how this—
No, wait. I take that back. The critical control point of the reliability
document was July ’63. The NASA documents on foods, the one
I wrote for Gemini, which was used for Apollo, was 1964, 14th of August.
It was the one that carried—there were several of them with
different dates. I don’t know how they archived it, if they
archived it at all, but the code on it was CSD, meaning Crew Systems
Division, dash G, meaning Gemini, dash 079 was the major food descriptions.
There were several documents, ten of them, I think, dealing with different
aspects of the whole delivery system. Those were used with Gemini,
and then they were used as the foundation document for the Apollo
contract, the Request for Proposal, the RFP.
I wonder if you could tell me how this quality control program differed
from those that were used by industry prior to this time.
Well, there was a substantial—I mean, it was a breakthrough,
in the sense that actual pathogens were being measured and not tolerated.
I mean, they never even bothered to measure them unless they got into
a problem. In other words, somebody gets sick in a beef joint in the
West Coast, and all of a sudden somebody’s trying to figure
out, “Is any of it left that we can analyze it for and find
out what it was?” That whole reverse etiological approach has
been used over and over and over again, the food poisoning issue.
It doesn’t mean that the industry doesn’t care, but a
couple of examples, here in New Jersey in the fall season some of
the men operating—not for NASA, but just operating a retort,
a still retort, for the canning of vichyssoise, or cold potato soup,
whatever term you want to describe it by, shut off the retorts a few
minutes early in order to go out and get enough light to do deer hunting
during the season. Well, that product was sold, and several people
came down with Clostridium botulinum. I think a couple died. Anyway,
it was the end of the company.
But here was a situation where the pathogen was not killed. All the
data that was needed to know how much—I mean, the actual timing
and the temperature and the pressure that’s used, is a known
entity, followed by all the canning industry. In fact, we at Rutgers,
one of our former professors [C. Olin Ball] was very much involved
in the establishment of that, before computers, a handbook that was
used by the canning industry to prevent [spoilage and viable pathogens
(but not measured)]. So that’s an example number one.
Example number two is the juice, the Odwalla situation, where again
you have a situation where there’s some contamination that remains
in it, because it wasn’t checked for, nor did anybody—and
juices are not—you give them a hot treatment, and then you [sell]
them cold. You may even cold fill them, but usually you hot fill them.
You have to reach a certain temperature, and then you close it. Well,
they almost went out of business. They survived, but that was the
extent of the technology, and that was the routine that was used.
It was dated by quite a bit.
So NASA comes along and says, “Thou shalt.” NASA-Natick,
because it involved the input of Natick, that “Thou shalt measure
these in a certain quantity,” and you ask for it from the beginning.
I mean, from the specs that you asked for purchase, which are checked
at the incoming docks, set aside and then checked before they’re
allowed to go any further into the laboratory, into the manufacturing
So this was like a major step. I mean, today other organisms might
be mentioned or used, depending on who you’re talking to. I
mean, the whole system has evolved. I mean, we learned by doing, by
Pillsbury doing and Swift doing the actual foods, by trial and error.
Then we documented the stages we were going through, and then we identified
the critical steps that would make the difference between something
being safe or not safe. In other words, the temperature, the pressure,
whatever that criteria was, whatever that critical control point was.
I wonder if you could walk us through a food item that you’d
like to choose, that you recall, and sort of walk us through what
some of the critical control points would be for one of those food
items, and how you determined what those critical control points would
Well, it’s difficult to pick something. Maybe a meat would be
it, because of the staph sometimes if you don’t keep—well,
the chicken would have salmonella possibilities, which it could contaminate.
That’s a case where the situation would be important, because
you can’t buy a chicken that’s not contaminated or egg—not
the interior of the egg, but the outside of the egg—that does
not have—it’d be rare to not find salmonella in the tissue
or on the tissue.
So your spec would say that you want a minimal amount of that or that
you want it—in this case, we would be going through a shredding
process, a cooking process, a pressure-canning process, the actual—then
these items were freeze-dried when they were done, so you add another
step. The processing step included cooking it so that it’s ready
to eat. Then you check your end item. It’s a critical control
point to see whether all the pathogens are gone, whether you meet
the microbiological steps, whether you meet the other hazard steps,
which would be the shape, you know; not hazard, but you would check
other things at the same time. If the bar has broken, you’re
not going to use it. I mean, everything has to fit just right to meet
the needs of the end item.
So you start out with chicken that you know—it invariably has
salmonella. You process it like you ordinarily would in a supermarket;
take the skin off, this kind of thing, debone it. You have all these
different steps that you would have involved. The pieces had to be
very small to freeze-dry. You couldn’t have chunks bigger than—oh,
even smaller than the tip of your little finger. That would be the
size, the best you could do rheologically and still get it through
the mouthpiece and still have palatability. So you would cook it.
Once it’s cooked, obviously it’s sterile at that time.
But then how you move it from the cooker to the former to the freeze-dryer,
and from the freeze-dryer, you check it again, make sure the end item
is—so just the person handling it makes a difference. A person
could have—well, as they do in hospitals, your hands are the
worst contaminants of patients and instruments that we have. So we’re
playing with that even in a hospital system. So how these were handled,
put into these plastic containers, the actual food container—each
individual food container—which had to be clean and had to be
checked, its surfaces, also. Generally speaking, the way plastic is
made—when we had different laminates, there’s a whole
packaging thing. It’s a whole story in itself in terms of checks.
At any rate, once you’ve done that, you pull a vacuum on it,
on the container, so that it won’t expand once it gets into
zero gravity, and you have to spot check that once in a while. But
anyway, one of the biggest problems we had was putting a chicken stew,
for example, or whatever you want to call it, into a pouch, is that
it’s put in there hot, and the pouch has to be sealed. You do
that by heat, but if there’s any food that got onto the seam,
it will either let go then or it will let go later. You don’t
want that. It’s one of the biggest areas where we had to redo
them. You could save the food inside. You could put it back through
One of the things we had an awful hard time solving was how to load
that without—we had about a 10 to 15 percent reject rate right
there, because once it, [a closure seam], was contaminated, it could
go bad in itself, or it could be contaminated from the outside in.
It’s like a dented can. It would be a no-no. So all of these
things become critical control points.
Then after that, you have a batch, and so you do a representative
sampling after an accelerated shelf-life test, which, again, is not
done by the industry very often. They do take samples. I mean, they’re
moving at a different rate than we were. I had two to three people
and the backup crew to feed. [When] they feed [you and I], the [processing]
line is a thousand a minute. So it’s a different kind of ballgame,
and yet it’s doable. It’s been shown to be doable. So
if you determine your points, and there’s seven steps that have
to be involved, and once you’ve done that—and these steps
actually evolved out of the Pillsbury and Natick experience, and with
NASA and Natick watching, or the Pillsbury and Swift experience, for
That was our testing ground. I mean, we really figured out a lot of
things. In fact, only recently did we devise a way of filling half-steam-table
trays for the military—for the Department of Defense here at
Rutgers. We do that work here at Rutgers. We’re the only academic
unit that does work like that for the military—to have a decrease
in the failure rate at the seams. So it’s been a problem for
years. It was a big problem for the space program. So it would be
a major, major critical control point in terms of how it’s done.
It would become a major, major critical control point at the end,
when you do end item testing of a batch to make sure that it has zero
pathogens and a minimal amount of E. [Escherichia] coli. That was
tolerated, but very low level.
Were you referring to this concept at this point as “critical
control points,” or were you referring to it as another concept?
Critical control points, you know, that’s a tough question.
Pillsbury probably was the first to put the acronyms together. We
had a hazard thing, and we had a requirement, you know, a plan document,
reliability document, and we imposed that. So the CCP really came
from NASA. NASA created that terminology. It’s not in the document
But I’m very adamant about the fact that everything, every component
of the Apollo spacecraft, required reliability that we did not have
on Gemini, as sophisticated. And critical control points, I remember
seeing drawings, blueprints everywhere, and these being identified
as to a point where you would have to [do a] check of one type or
another, the size, the dimension, the weight, whatever, something.
So the critical control points [related to] every part of the spacecraft.
No matter what it was, [it] had these drawings, which identified what
they called critical control points.
I don’t know. There should be a way. I don’t know if searching
your system at the archives—it’s probably not that well
tabulated, [whether] you could find it or not, because I’m convinced
the CCP came from there.
What happened with Pillsbury is that they saw this. They saw the use
of the CCP and the hazard analysis [requirement] we had imposed before,
and Howard Bauman just gave a paper at a microbiology meeting where
he called it “HACCP,” and the HACCP stuck. Then it took
of from there. But everything was in place, just the acronym was not.
We didn’t start with the acronym. We ended up with the acronym.
I remember a Vice President of Pillsbury telling me that the whole
[HACCP] program had advanced the company five years, [and] had given
them a five-year advantage over other suppliers in food systems, [and]
in their regular baking [products and] in their regular cookie blends,
and everything else they make, doughs and everything else, which I
thought was a tremendous compliment to the system, because once they
had worked it out—see, they did it in individual rooms at first
and brought things together kind of like the integrator did, or Swift
did when they did their meat work. But—I lost my train of thought.
We were talking about the critical control points, and you were talking
Yes. Once they solved it, they applied it to the rest of their food
lines. That was what the VP was telling me about, which saved them
a lot of money and gave them an advantage, because they knew what
to check right away. They could [apply it to] their own product lines.
I’ve never heard that repeated anywhere else nor written anywhere,
but I can swear on a stack of bibles that that’s [true].
Tell me a little bit about the hazard analysis portion of this discussion.
We’ve talked a bit about the critical control points, but can
you talk about the other aspect?
Well, there are three different kinds of hazards, microbiological,
chemical, and physical. You could have a physical hazard, let’s
say, for example, that some piece of food crystallized and became
hard physically. You can do that with Tang®. You can make a candy
out of it if you heat it enough. If you didn’t know it was there,
and you crunched on it, and you broke a tooth, and you’re an
astronaut, you know, you don’t have a dentist with you. So it’s
a physical hazard.
But more importantly, if it’s on the surface of the block [of
food], on the corners, the edges, or whatever, [the crystal can] perforate
the package. And though it might hold initially, initially it would
not probably be—well, it would hold the vacuum, but with the
rubbing or with it being packaged together with an overwrap into the
meal component—these were not all singular; [each meal] was
organized by astronaut [preference]. They pulled out their overwrap,
and then they had food [servings] in the inside. They could pick and
choose what they wanted to do. For example, they never returned Tang®.
It was always empty. It was the only liquid they had to drink, other
Now, in Apollo and later on, they were allowed tea and coffee, but
they weren’t allowed in Gemini. That was not my decision. That
was the Chief Medical Officer’s decision. They didn’t
want them, [astronauts], to be taking any stimulants of any sort,
whatever that meant. I guess for the sleep testing we were doing,
that made sense, and the depth [and] the amount of sleep they were
getting. The depth of the sleep was a part of it, the EEG [Electroencephalogram]
experiment that was done on astronauts, who hated to see [some of]
these [medical experiments] come.
But anyway, that would be a physical thing, so you can see that. So
you have a physical thing from the inside that you get once you chew
it, or ingest it, or it destroys the integrity of the package system.
Because remember, these are not cans. They’re flexible cans,
I call them, but they’re not cans.
Then the chemical area is not as difficult, and that is we know how
much nutrients. We had all of these analyzed for their nutrient content
[and] for other residues. So the reject would be at the beginning.
For example, if there were pesticide residues or something that we
felt was not ideal, the batch—the whole order would be rejected.
Or with microbiological contamination [or] contamination of spices;
a lot of spices are irradiated.
The public doesn’t know that, but that’s the way they
kill the pathogens, because they’re really—spices, if
you think about where they’re picked and by whom, you already
know how dirty they are and how much of an issue it can be. So that
was a concern, but it was a microbiological concern more than anything
else. The chemical concern was probably the least of the concerns,
other than the fact that we wanted to know the [nutrient intake] so
that we could plan out—we could see what they ate and therefore
how much nutrition they’d [consumed].
What sort of challenges, if any, do you think you faced while you
were working on designing the hazard analysis and then coupling it
with the critical control points?
Challenges. Well, there was a lot of give and take, I mean, of testing.
We were dealing small amounts of [components], and we had a chance
to look at [variables]. But, of course, the ultimate challenge was
to have a food delivery system that would be eaten and that would
satisfy and would be healthy and would not compromise the astronaut
at all. So the challenges were trying to make sure that it all would
For example, something we did not discuss at all, but once the blueprints
were made of how the food container in the spacecraft was going to
be packed, that was down at Kennedy [Space Center, Florida]—or
[Cape] Canaveral, in those days. So it was already fixed, but somebody
had to go and load them.
Well, we actually would fit these together in a foam shaped box, a
box that was actually shaped to the shape of the Gemini “box,”
so that each item would fall into place exactly where it belonged.
Then these were all taped together. They not only had nylon tape connecting
one meal with another so they could pull them out, because you [would
not] be able to pull them out of this container without [a lanyard].
Well, you just wouldn’t have the room in the Gemini [cabin]
to turn around and fish the box.
Then there was a recorder put in [the shipping box]. One of my challenges
was—which is real—was that none of this food should see
any substantial temperature change, so the foam box was an insulated
box. As it shipped from Benton Harbor to the Cape by air, [an internal
temperature] recorder was kept, and the instructions to the receiving
officer, which was a separate NASA, independent person, would open
that. There was going to be a refrigerator it was all going to be
put into, but would open that case and check the clock to see that
the temperature had not been exceeded.
If the temperature had been exceeded, for example, if it had gone
to a hundred degrees, the whole thing would be rejected. Anything
that would accelerate microbial growth. So we tried to keep it pretty
much within normal temperature, seventy to eighty [degrees Fahrenheit],
something like that. I can’t remember. There’s a document
that probably tells this. … I know it could not exceed body
temperature, which would be about a hundred, ninety-eight-point-six,
Then that was returned to us. The box would be returned to us; not
to us, but to Benton Harbor, to the integrator, for the next flight.
So you go [Gemini] IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, you know. [Gemini] VII was
a fourteen-day flight, so it took a lot of ingenuity to get everything
So these were all separate challenges. I mean, you’ve got to
realize that for me the challenge was integrating not only food, but
the food going in with the food coming out, the experiments that were
being conducted at the same time. They weren’t done on all flights,
but there were different component parts that did make a difference.
I mean, I collected sweat off [Gemini VII] astronauts.
How did you do that?
Well, that was on the carrier, after they got the suit off from them.
They had a long john, and the long john was one that we had prepared,
had especially prepared free of any minerals, any residues. Then we
had a basin they would stand in, and then we had an allocated amount
of water to get as much out of their hair and their face, and then
we just had a sponge, and we worked the body all the way down, taking
the [long john] suit off with everybody there.
Oh, my gosh.
Asking questions about how this went. Nobody was worried about anything.
But I remember [Frank] Borman saying, “It’s wonderful.
I hope you got more of that [water] somewhere.” He was anxious
to get into a shower. Because we obviously couldn’t get everything
off from them. We got as much as we could, and then, of course, the
suit and the water and all that was shipped off to Cornell [University,
Ithaca, New York]; they were the contractor at the time for doing
the analyses. As a matter of fact, the co-investigator, he was an
M.D.-Ph.D., Leo Lutwak, well known in the field of calcium metabolism.
They did all of the analyses, checked that out.
I’m trying to show the challenges [of] putting all these pieces
of a puzzle together and making them work. I think part of it was
being the one person—I mean, there was a team already for each
part, but like I had a team on the carrier. I had an X-ray person
[George P. Vose], one of these co-investigators, because they wouldn’t
let the PI [Principle Investigator, Dr. Pauline Berry Mack] on because
she was a woman. That was against the Navy rules in those days. She
could visit [the carrier], you know. We went to Boston [Massachusetts]
to visit the ship. But she could not go with the trip. Anyway, that’s
neither here nor there. It’s just some of these incidences.
So it’s kind of a wheel and a spoke. You know, I’m the
hub, and all these pieces come together and then make possible the
whole thing—our share of the job done so that we could claim
some things. We did get bone loss. We did get muscle loss. Still problems
today. No longer cited—the original papers are not cited any
more. Everybody cites the most recent paper. But that’s the
penalty of science.
Let me ask you a question. You said something that I thought was interesting.
You mentioned that the Pillsbury and Swift experience was expanded
upon and that steps evolved out of their experience. I was wondering
if you could tell me more about that.
Well, their experience, the biggest was not so much making the food.
I mean, some of them, they even made some experimental foods for me
for the LEM, the Lunar Excursion Module, that was really a takeoff
from the U-2 900-calorie diet in a tube, that kind of thing. So there
was independent little investigations going on around us, anticipating
what we would do or how we would meet a problem, with alternate prototypes.
That’s getting away from your question. What was your question
Well, you had mentioned that the experience from Swift and Pillsbury,
and you had learned from those experiences.
Well, I mean, we discovered other things. That was, I guess, what
I just left with you. We discovered other feeding approaches we needed
to consider in the future, so that was ongoing in terms of Lunar Excursion
Module feeding, even a feeding on the Moon if you wanted to, although
that did not happen that I know of.
The challenges otherwise were learning, were how to spec the food
in the first place, the ingredients that you were going to put together.
I mean, you know, you could spec a beef stew, for example, and use
a certain spice, and that one spice could ruin the whole thing if
it wasn’t sterile or close to it, or free of the two pathogens,
biomarkers we were using, which were pretty strong pathogens.
So the sanitation that had to be maintained of the equipment, the
sanitation that had to be maintained of the processing room, the processing
that took place, especially the packaging stuff as we went from a
freeze-dried bar that was free of pathogen into a food container,
into a individual, self-serve container.
We had to deal with the weight of the container, too. We didn’t
talk about that at all. But it was an issue, because if your waste
gets putrefied, and you have that going off in your spacecraft, it
probably wouldn’t overwhelm the air control system, but it might
have caused problems. So we came up with a sulfur-based disinfectant
used in the milk industry that would be torn off [from] the outside
of the [individual] package and then put into the package [after]
they were finished with it—to take care of the residue. Then
they would roll it up and [discard] it [into the former food cabinet].
But I never found, when I was unloading a spacecraft, I never found
any of these exploding or—in other words, the disinfectant worked.
It worked very well. But we needed to know how much was left in the
container. We would very meticulously keep track of every gram, every
few grams. A teaspoon is five grams, so that gives you an idea.
Let’s talk about the Apollo food system. When did you begin
working on that food system?
I was working on both at the same time, as I [indicated], earlier
in our conversation. The Gemini was going to fly and had its schedules
and the dates were set. Apollo was pretty well set, but North American
was the prime contractor, and they had everything. They had chosen
a different contractor for the spacesuit, a different contractor for
food, and so they were moving. So there had to be some compromises
made or some—well, compromises, that’s not the right word—some
unification, some debate, some standardization, and I’ll give
The Gemini and the Apollo spacesuits are different. The Apollo spacesuit
is heavier; it’s made for walking on the Moon, for more radiation
protection than the Gemini suit is, although Gemini did have several
extravehicular operations, EVAs.
I’m having a moment. I’m thinking of [Edward H.] White
[II]. I feel for those guys. He died in the Apollo fire.
At any rate—
Would you like to take a moment?
No, I’ll be all right. At any rate, I had to get the Gemini
suit people and the Apollo suit people to talk to each other. We had
already, in Gemini, had talked about a [water] gun. It looks like
a gun. It has a handle, and it has a port for a certain size to be
put in either the faceplate or the area in the throat, just underneath
the faceplate in the metal that’s there, and that it would be
tight. We don’t want a leak, either. It’s got to be very,
very close engineering. So they would aim towards the mouth, and you
could drink. You would turn your head to the right, and you could,
if the thing was all the way in, then you would depress the bar on
the outside and take a drink.
Other ideas which we toyed with [for] Apollo, later in Apollo, little
packets on the inside of the helmet that could be taken, and different
things were tried. But the gun was an important thing, because it
was going to be used—we had to have something in common that
would be used for the [biomedical] experiments, that we could count
the amount of water being consumed by putting a meter on it, on the
gun. So it took me six months to get all the drawings and everybody
in agreement that that gun would fly on Apollo as well as on Gemini.
Their [Apollo] food containers were different. They were going to
go definitely for fourteen days several times, or several days. I
mean a max fourteen days, which we only tested once with Gemini VII.
So—I’m having these spots here. It took a while to get
things coordinated, but the food boxes were a different shape and
different—you know, it’s a different spacecraft. They
were against the wall, but there were five of them. So those had to
be much more elaborate. A blueprint had to be made for each one of
the cabinets. Of course, the cabinet doors were not heavy-duty. They
didn’t have to be sealed, because the food was already sealed,
and each day was already packaged in an overwrap, the flexible can,
as I called it; a flexible overwrap. It had aluminum foil in it, which
makes a barrier like a can, if you don’t scratch it or hurt
it, but we had nylon on the outside, which is pretty strong, and polyethylene
on the inside, which is food-grade.
The food had to fit into those containers, and again, the experience
of how we did it in Gemini was carried over into Apollo. But after
the Apollo fire—food has to be flammable. I mean, it just has
to be flammable, or you can’t exist, right? You’ve got
to have something that will digest. You [eat] it, and you absorb it
and burn it, and make ATPs [adenosine triphosphates] out of it, and
that’s how you get energy. So it’s got to be burnable.
So he came to me and said, “We’ve got to do something
about the food.” That was Frank Borman. He was head of the astronaut
I said, “You give me stainless steel astronauts, and I’ll
give you stainless steel food.” He understood right away that
there was no way; that the only thing we could do, we could reinforce
the doors, make them a little tighter, airtight. We could do that.
But it would be foolish to think that we were going to be able to
stop a fire in the food compartment, if it ever would happen. There
was nothing there to do that. I mean, there’s absolutely nothing,
no spontaneous anything. But it was just the idea. But Frank, he understood.
See, what he was doing, which makes a lot of sense, he was thinking
of every conceivable component, and one of the components that came
out was the Velcro. They had put Velcro all over the floor, and we
didn’t have that in Gemini. We used tabs. We had Velcro in a
lot of places, but not as extensive; we didn’t wallpaper it.
That stuff burns like a fuse. I’m sure that’s not what
created the pressure where they could not open the doors.
That was a major, major mistake of NASA, was the Apollo doors opened
inward. The hatch opened inwardly. The Gemini doors opened outwardly.
A major change in the Apollo spacecraft thereafter was the Apollo
door opens outward. Because once you increase the pressure on the
inside, you cannot open the door. You’ve wedged it in place,
and you’re just increasing your wedge. So that there’s
no way you can save anybody, unless you blew it up or had a gun, or
I don’t know what you would have had, but [we] didn’t
have it. That would have made a difference, a relief valve of some
sort. I don’t know. But anyway, it was a sad story.
You mentioned a couple of the astronauts, like Wally Schirra and Frank
Borman. How much contact did you have with the astronauts?
Well, in Building 4 we were in the same building. I mean, I’d
run into them in the hallway and different places and different things.
I wasn’t the type that pestered anybody. I mean, if I needed
to know something, I would ask.
It was easier to solve problems then, because you didn’t have
the complexity that automatically comes with any new agency. I mean,
when I was with NASA, I had my own travel vouchers. I could go anywhere
in the world on my signature. Find a civil service who can do that
today. You won’t find very many. They have to go through the
travel office to get their tickets or their e-ticket or whatever it
People misused it, misused the privileges, and because we wanted to
roll, the average age was thirty-five. We came from everywhere, every
agency you can think of. We were assigned rent-a-cars. When we got
into airports, we had a Hertz or whatever car. Sometimes, once in
a while, we had government cars. Didn’t make any difference.
But somebody goes parading around with them after hours, it’s
against the rules. So the rules start getting written, and I’m
sure there’s a manual over there that’s thicker than can
be that tells you what you can’t do.
We need to take a break for just a second to change our tape.
Then I just had a couple more questions for you. You have such an
interesting career. I wish that we had more time to talk with you
about your other experiments and so many of these other items that
you were working on.
Let’s see. You were assigned to the Biomedical Research Office
at MSC, according to your biosheet.
Not originally. Originally I don’t think it was called that.
I was just part of Crew Systems Division.
Okay. How did that office change from the time you arrived at MSC
until the time you left?
It changed every few months.
Well, I mean, you added—I got an office that was real. It wasn’t
a desk in the hallway with a phone. Everybody else did, too. So it
was clean. We had a little laboratory space. I had a refrigerator.
I could store some of the samples. I didn’t have anything very
fancy, just enough to show and tell, mostly for visiting firemen,
is what I call all these congressmen and everybody else that comes
So, I mean, every few months—it seemed that way, anyway—there’d
be another building that came up. Then we stayed in [Building] 4 for
quite a while, and then we were moved down. I can’t remember
which building we went to, which is strange, why I’m doing that,
but—or maybe it’s the astronauts that moved. Maybe that
was it. That was it, because there were new groups of astronauts.
In other words, you start with the original seven, and then you have
the next seven or eight or whatever it was, the John [W.] Youngs and
those people, Ed White. Then they had to have more space. Each one
had had his own office, and they shared secretaries and this kind
of stuff. So that’s probably where that went.
The big building that was being built at the time was the Moon rock
building; was a major issue, again, for contamination of the Earth
by some foreign, you know, some bug that nobody knew anything about
that would come back with—I don’t know how old you are,
but you may or may not remember their landing on the aircraft carrier
and they were put into a trailer, and they talked to the President
of the United States by looking through the back window, which was
[Richard M.] Nixon at the time, and talking over a telephone, but
he could see their faces there. They had to be transported all the
way to Houston through various chambers, interlocks, to make sure
everything was—nothing would be contaminated from the outside
or the inside out. Thank God, it never was—never found anything.
I think we’ve contaminated the Moon; I’m sure of that
now. But not the other way around.
Who were some of the key people you worked with in the office? You
mentioned one of the people you worked with was Bob Nanz, but who
were some of the other key people you worked with at the Manned Spacecraft
Oh, boy. You know, I would have to go back into my stuff—some
of these names. We’re talking about forty years here. There
was a few engineering people [like William J. Huffstetler]. I mean,
we were a small group. I mean, I worked with—the Colonel obviously
lasted quite a while, Rufus Hessberg.
Dick Johnston, Richard [S.] Johnston, was the Chief of Crew Systems
Division. Well, I didn’t have a Chief for a while. Well, I did
have. I first reported to this lung physiologist, and then I was put
under a guy, a physician, who knew more about total body issues and
things like that, the name was [Walter W.] Kemmerer, Bill. So from
the technical side of the experiments and the health of the astronauts,
and therefore the feeding, that compromised a good share of the group.
There was another man who was a Branch Chief, who I don’t remember
his name. He was a British fellow. He had a lot to do with the physiological
aspects, and I didn’t have anything to do with it, other than
being a guinea pig myself. But that was in my Air Force days on the
centrifuge and things like that. But I would have to go fishing my
memorabilia, which I have in boxes. I mean, it would be a terrible
[strain] for me to do.
Oh, sure. Did you have a chance to work with Rita [M.] Rapp?
Yes, that’s a good point. Rita had a master’s degree,
and she worked with a physiologist, mostly. After I left, there was
kind of a hiatus, and Malcolm [C.] Smith [Jr.], who was an Air Force
veterinary officer on loan to NASA, to my area, kind of handled the
food part. Rita kind of took over the experiment part until they hired
a guy who I had tried to get, who is not an American citizen. I want
to say Paul [C. Rambaut], but that’s not it. It’s close
to that, though. Anyway, he—I’ll look at some reprints,
see if it comes out—his Ph.D. and a few other things had priority
over her master’s degree. Rita was a hard worker and a good
person, and she knew a lot of things. She was a real expediter.
Do you have other names like that sitting there?
Not in front of me. She’s just one person that popped into my
Have you interviewed her?
No. Unfortunately, she passed away.
Well, there’s a couple of other people that passed away. Come
to think of it, I was told that some years ago, and I’d forgotten.
Yes, and we also tried to interview Malcolm Smith and learned that
he passed away last summer.
Oh, my. Because he went off and became an independent consultant.
I don’t know if he came back to NASA or not. Malcolm was very
interesting. I mean, he was more a veterinarian. He got a master’s
degree. He was a veterinarian who had chosen to get a master’s
degree in food technology, because veterinarians are in charge of
all the military sanitation of all its agencies. So he was trained
from that point of view, so he was helpful. But he knew more about
foods than he knew anything about experiments and nutrition or anything
like that. Even though you’d think a veterinarian would, but
Well, I just had a couple more questions for you. Earlier you had
talked about botulism and some cases that had occurred in the 1970s.
As a result of this breakout of botulism in the early 1970s, the FDA
[Food and Drug Administration] actually began to use HACCP in low-acid
canning food regulations. I was wondering, were you ever contacted
by the FDA to talk about your own experience at NASA with these concepts?
No. The answer is no. I mean, we talked about it. I taught things
like that in my classes, or mentioned it. But the FDA never officially,
or even unofficially—I mean, I’ve had some dealings with
the FDA, but not too many. I’ve written some petitions, like
I have a pending one, on calcium restoration to flour, since 1943.
Not me, but four of us together, and we’re trying to do the
same thing with vitamin D. Because of the osteoporosis story, we’d
like breads to automatically carry more calcium and D than they do
now. Well, D, they don’t at all, but calcium they do.
But anyway, that’s neither here nor there, as far as something
that goes back to 1979—1974. The National Academy’s Food
and Nutrition Board made a recommendation, and it didn’t fly,
which applies to the space program. I might tell you that I was not
allowed to add any vitamins or minerals or anything. They used no
supplements in that program initially. Again, the Chief Medical Officer,
Charles Berry, had his own views. He thought things were adequate
enough, and besides which, his view was for short flights, it doesn’t
matter. In some ways he’s right, and in some ways he’s
not. On Gemini IV we had a person take a sample of blood before and
after for vitamin E, and it went down 50 percent in four days. I think
that’s serious, but—neither here nor there. We didn’t
win that battle, either.
Just a couple more questions for you. HACCP has been touted as probably
NASA’s best spin-off. Would you agree with that statement?
I saw that at the end of your letter. It’s news to me. I don’t
feel it’s been touted anywhere near, because it’s been
touted all mixed up. Pillsbury gets the credit. Natick gets some credit.
Sometimes NASA gets credit. Very few people know what I contributed
or “honchoed” or whatever the word is. So it just sits
there as kind of a confused thing. There are people who do know. [O.]
Peter Snyder of Minnesota, professor who introduced it into the retail
area, credits me, and a couple of other people have. And somebody
from England does.
In fact, there’s a document, a WHO [World Health Organization]
document—I don’t know if you saw it or not—“Hazard
Analysis Critical Control Point: Concepts and Applications,”
from 1995, 2931 May 1995. It’s a beautiful report; it’s
well done. But they completely avoid getting into the issue of history.
But they do cover—and I think it’s a driving document
for including people from other countries on the committee, and I
think that had a lot to do with spreading the whole concept of HACCP
to other countries in their food processing industry and what they
were doing. I think it plays that role.
But if you ask me, I would say people take for granted the color video
cameras that were really invented or made for the first time for NASA
by RCA [Radio Corporation of America] here in Hightstown, New Jersey.
And I think that had a lot to do with the development of cameras,
video cameras for all these news stories and everything that we use
today, more compact than ever. But if they really look at history,
I don’t think there was much to—there certainly wasn’t
a color version available at the time that I know of. Now, I’m
not in my field, but it’s something I point to as being important.
So I don’t know. There may be other—there is a commercial
impact I just talked to you about, and what’s happening now
is I’ve integrated it into—in Toxicology Letters. I’ve
integrated HACCP as a component of antiterrorism safety assurance.
So then I published a paper before that, which was the American Chemical
Society book, which wasn’t [referenced]. But this one gets picked
up. It’s not very long, but I talk about HACCP and its coupling,
the bar coding, using three different technologies that could be brought
together to make possible—[reads] “Global positioning,
bar coding, and HACCP offer safety and protection in products and
the foods.” Nutraceutical, pharmaceutical. I’ve not gotten
much mileage out of it, but I did put it out, so it adds to the commercial
area the things that are being done already and moving from there.
The economic one, I mentioned to you about Pillsbury’s comments
to me. I feel it was there. It’s costly to do, to set up, but
in this day and age, as we have more and more food poisoning incidences,
there’s got to be a better way, and I think some of the HACCP
concepts would help that out.
We ought to remember HACCP didn’t measure [E. coli] HO157, which
was what has gotten quite a few food joints in trouble. But I’m
not sure that the coliform indicator we were using would not have
picked it up. I find it incredible that the markers that we used have
been so powerful, even though we have to say to people that they do
not assure 100 percent. There’s no question about that. They
will not guarantee that all foods will be safe. I mean, it’s
not—but it’s not applied across the board, so you can’t—that
The regulatory agencies are Johnny-come-latelies, as far as I’m
concerned. The FDA had to have a crisis to do that. And your question,
if you think about it—and part of that is because—I do
support them from the budget point of view. I don’t think they’re
adequately funded or manned, and I’ve given testimony to that
But on the other hand, they forever—well, one of the problems
of being a civil servant, I think you get dead after ten years. I
used to tell my wife, “Don’t let me stay in this environment
more than ten years. I’ll lose my ambition or challenge or whatever.”
And I don’t want to insult you by making that statement, but
it was my experience, anyway. I mean, it bothered me. Not so much
the military, because the military are moved around from base to base,
and they have to readjust. But the civil servants are not, and some
of them are very nice people, but they’re behind the times.
I wonder if you could tell us, looking back over your short career
with NASA, what do you think was your most significant accomplishment
while working for MSC?
Well, you know, it’s interesting. I was able to do a lot, because
there was money available. The year I left is the year the budget
went down for the first time, the total on NASA projects, NASA Program
Office, or whatever you want to call it; NASA administration. And
I really have seven years into it, because the years I spent in the
Air Force all contributed to that, and we contributed to it in things
that were done and things that were not done that we’re still
We had a multimillion-dollar project from NASA here two years ago,
for five years, looking at food systems for Mars and sanitation issues.
So Purdue [University, West Lafayette, Indiana] has had it, and we’ve
had it, and I think Cornell’s got it now. I mean, they kind
of move it around. But we’re still—you know, it’s
there. The mountain is there to be [climbed]. You know, why you want
to do it, that kind of thing.
But I was fortunate, I think, in being able to expedite, to move,
without anybody giving me a hard time. In the Air Force it took five
initials before the Commander of the laboratory could stamp a letter
to go out. In NASA you didn’t have anybody signing anything.
I mean, I did more closure with a contracting officer over the phone—over
the phone—before a flight, where I had to change something.
The change order would be issued after the flight was over. Completely
unheard of, in my opinion, in a federal agency.
But it was driven. [John F.] Kennedy had given a mandate. The dates
were set, and we just used the dates as a reason, and we moved. In
a way, we moved too fast. I look back and wonder, you know, are there
things we did do that we could have—we didn’t write them
up. A lot of reports are sitting in an archive. People don’t
know how to retrieve them. I’m sure you know more about that
than I do, but I think there’s a lot of information that would
be still valuable, in terms of other applications, other medical applications
or other kinds of applications.
If you had to look back over your career with NASA, what do you think
was your biggest challenge?
Getting something that was flyable, that was standardized. I mean,
making sure that—I wasn’t afraid of the challenge. It
was just working with people to get it done, keep solving. I mean,
there wasn’t a day went by we weren’t on the horn for
some reason or other, trying to fix something or getting something
I’ll give you an example. The outer-wrap packaging—I’ve
called it flexible packaging, flexible cans—three layers. It
has an aluminum layer in the middle, which is your can layer. You
don’t want any pinholes in it. You have an outer layer of nylon,
and you have an inner layer of polyethylene. Those have to be glued
together, so the material that’s used to put them together is
an issue in itself. So when we had to buy a quantity of this overwrap
to do this packaging into the spacecraft—into the meals and
then into the spacecraft. Everything had to be overwrapped.
There were two companies that gave us samples. We asked for samples
of this kind of a spec. One was DuPont, a major, major corporation,
and another was—oh, man. It was a company in Milwaukee [Milprint
Co.], and it was a small company, a very small company, but it made
that kind of material. It processed plastics. So I went to a meeting
in Benton Harbor, and the Natick people were there, too, and they
said, “Well, how are we going to tell which one [to select]?”
We tested different things.
I said, “Give me some boiling water and a beaker. Let’s
boil it up. Let’s make strips of this overwrap, and let’s
just put them into A’s and B’s, and check it out.”
Sure enough, the small contractor won. The DuPont stuff started peeling.
We couldn’t have that, just couldn’t have it. So whatever
they did, they didn’t do—so, again, it’s a laboratory
bench, simple test, that you make a decision that was major as far
as subsequent use of that kind of material for the spacecraft, and
for Skylab and for whatever, and even for the public today. I mean,
that’s available in backpack food, all these kinds of things,
That’s one of the major areas we contributed to, incidentally,
when you brought it up. Backpack food became very improved with space
foods, with our developments, because those specs became available,
and companies like Oregon Freeze-Dry—now it’s not called
that anymore; it got bought out by somebody else—made all those
freeze-dried bars. But, you know, it went into the business. They
weren’t making money doing things for NASA. They were making
money doing things for backpacking, for camping. That material worked
very well. They made it a little cheaper, but it still worked. I mean,
you can lengthen the shelf life with it, one way or another. But it
depends on whether it hits cold or heat or, you know, this kind of
Right now, in our military rations, we’ve extended the military
ration shelf life from three years to five years, although we’[ve
dumped] them out of airplanes in Bosnia and places like that. So you
see, I’m talking about things that are today that I learned
then, quite a few years ago.
It’s amazing. Now, I’m looking at the clock, and we have
about ten minutes. Is there anything else that you would like to talk
about? I know you have that meeting you mentioned to me.
Yes, I have to drive to Princeton [University, Princeton, New Jersey].
Is there anything you think that we haven’t touched on that
I should know about?
We’ve covered a lot of things.
Yes, we have.
I didn’t think it would last this long. Of course, I’ve
had a lot of asides.
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