NASA Headquarters Oral
Edited Oral History Transcript
A. Thomas Young
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Greenbelt, Maryland – 10 June 2013
is June the 10th, 2013. This oral history interview is being conducted
with Tom Young in Greenbelt, Maryland, for the NASA Headquarters Oral
History project. Interviewer is Rebecca Wright, assisted by Sandra
Johnson, and we thank you so much for coming in today.
know you have a busy schedule, and it certainly started out early
this morning. We’d like for you to start, if you would, by sharing
with us how you first became interested in working with NASA.
Young: I went
to engineering school, University of Virginia [Charlottesville, Virginia],
and about the time that I was graduated and leaving was really when
a lot of the human space flight part of NASA was becoming active.
There clearly was an interest. I hear a lot of people say, “Oh,
I read science fiction and I wanted to do it all my life.” That
wasn’t me, and I didn’t. My idea was, get out of school,
and one, get married, and two, after my wife finished at [The College
of] William & Mary [Williamsburg, Virginia], was to go back to
graduate school. I got out and went to work on hydraulic systems for
nuclear submarines at the nuclear shipyard until I went back to graduate
school. A friend of mine worked at [NASA] Langley [Research Center,
Hampton, Virginia]. My last year at University of Virginia, I took
a course where we used a digital computer, the first one they ever
had. He called and said they had a need for someone who had seen a
digital computer before in their life, and was I interested in coming
I said, “Sure,” and that’s almost how it happened.
I guess I even go back a step beyond that. I did interview—when
you graduate, the interviews for jobs. There was somebody from NASA
there, and I still remember when I went to talk to them. I don’t
remember who it was, and it’s probably good I don’t remember.
They said, “Well, there are really not any openings at Langley
that you’d be interested in.” They said, “[NASA]
Goddard [Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland], it’s just
a bunch of longhairs there, you wouldn’t enjoy working with
those people.” That’s when I abandoned looking at NASA,
and then reverted largely because of a contact with a friend. Then,
I never went back to graduate school, I was having so much fun. I
did go off to MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge,
Massachusetts], but for a business activity. It was a great decision.
us about some of the first projects that you worked on. I understood
you were involved with Project Vector?
first thing I did was a small sounding rocket program called Vector,
which had an active control system. In fact, it really was to look
at using rotating solid rockets to control the rocket, which was looked
at as a possible control system for the big solid that was being thought
about by NASA at the time. Worked on it, as I said, small project,
small budget, small number of people. Looking back, most of the people
who worked on it went off and worked later on some of the big space
projects, which is kind of interesting. Probably you don’t want
to spend a lot of time on that, but an observation. In fact, I gave
a talk at Langley one time on the subject. But, the University of
Virginia trained me in the academic aspects of being an engineer,
but NASA really made me an engineer.
Working on the sounding rocket program, Vector, as you mentioned,
was the name of it, we really did everything. We did a trajectory
analysis, we did the loads analysis, I built a large, six-computer
program, using analog computers actually to analyze the control system.
Tremendous amount of hands-on experience, and it was a part of an
activity at Langley, at the time. There was a division, when I got
there, it was called AMPD, which was Applied Materials and Physics
Division. It previously had been named PARD, which I guess was Pilotless
Aircraft Research Division. The division chief, who had left just
by the time I got there, was Bob [Robert R.] Gilruth. Branch heads
and section heads were people like [Joseph Guy] Thibodaux and the
Manned Spaceflight program principals. There must have been, I don’t
know, a dozen or 15 projects like Vector going on at one time. It
was a pretty booming place.
I’m coming around to something that I think is important to
NASA even today. PARD basically was invented because Langley, doing
largely aeronautics work, not space work at the time, had run out
of some capabilities with wind tunnels and they really concluded that
they needed—particularly for transonic and some other flight
regimes—they could fly sounding rockets at Wallops [Island,
Virginia] and out of that, could get the aerodynamic data that they
needed. One of the people heavily involved was Chris [Christopher
C.] Kraft, so most of the people who people know about that really
made the early days of the [NASA] Johnson Space Center [Houston, Texas,
(JSC) formerly Manned Spacecraft Center] successful really came out
of this division, out of PARD.
I’ve always thought, isn’t that strange that so many came
out of that activity, one, and secondly, in reflecting back and in
talking somewhat to Kraft about it, the other question that you have
is these folks that really made the human space flight system so successful,
including Apollo, what was the basis for which they developed their
capabilities? I argue it really was out of that sounding rocket program.
At that time, the NASA folks did everything. We had no contractors
that worked on the team, not that there’s anything wrong with
contractors because I’ve been one of those, too. I don’t
know if it was intended to be, but it really was a development kind
of activity. I’m convinced that the Johnson folks, that’s
where they got their expertise, from Gilruth to Thibodaux to Kraft,
and you could keep naming on and on and on, the people. It’s
a part of NASA history which maybe we’ve a little bit lost sight
didn’t have any inclination to move towards the Houston crew,
when they were starting to pull more and more people out of Langley
to send to the Manned Spacecraft Center?
Actually, they were still there at the time because the Space Task
Group was on the other side of Langley and to tell you the truth,
I don’t know I thought about it one way or the other, to be
absolutely honest about it. The Space Task Group had been set up,
and when I was there, the original seven astronauts were at Langley.
It was an exciting time, with a lot going on.
know you were busy working on other projects as well. I think the
Lunar Orbiter Project you started in the mid ’60s?
after Vector, I went to work on the Lunar Orbiter, which was an interesting
experience also for a young engineer—and I really was young,
at the time. Actually, the guy who had been the section head where
the Vector Project was had gone over to Lunar Orbiter, and he asked
me to come over. I remember thinking about it and trying to figure
out what are the pros and the cons of doing it? I met with my branch
head. I still remember what he said. He said, “If you’re
good here, you’ll probably be good there, and if you’re
not good here, you probably won’t be good there.” I’ve
never quite figured out where that fit in, but it must have been profound
stayed with you.
Young: I sat
down with a piece of paper and I said, “Okay, what are the pros
and what are the cons?” I wasn’t very good at that because
my thoughts were, “Good gracious, that’s a big space project.
I mean, somebody could really fail there.” I really concluded,
you will never be satisfied if you didn’t try it, so I went
to work on Lunar Orbiter, which was a fantastic experience. I had
an enormous amount of interaction with JSC at that time.
got pretty much a responsible role. Didn’t you start to define
of it was just because of filling vacuums. In fact, that was true
of NASA in those days. There was really so much going on. Most people
were working beyond their experience level, beyond their age level,
which was terrific, but not without good leadership. I’m deviating
a little bit, but there was a lot of latitude to do almost anything
you wanted, but on the other hand, there was sufficiently really good
leadership that you might fall, but you weren’t going to fall
very far because somebody’s going to help you in the process.
Lunar Orbiter, how old was I when I started Lunar Orbiter? I guess
that was maybe ’64, so I was 25, 26, something like that. The
basic purpose of Lunar Orbiter was to photograph the areas on the
surface of the Moon to provide a landing site for Surveyor and Apollo,
and more operational than science. There was nobody at Langley knew
anything about the Moon, other than looking at it at night. Langley
was not a space science organization, so we weren’t overwhelmed
with a lot of space scientists.
My basic job was doing mission analysis kinds of work, working for
a guy named Norm [Norman] Crabill, who encouraged people to go beyond
their limits. There were many big issues—obviously, how to build
a spacecraft and operate it—but a big item was the Moon and
landing sites. There really was nobody to deal with the U.S. Geological
Survey, the Gene Shoemaker operation in Flagstaff [Arizona], and the
people at JPL [NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California]
who were doing Surveyor, and the people at Houston who were doing
the Apollo stuff. I really got to do those kinds of things at a very
young age, so I basically, with a lot of other people involved, had
a first-hand involvement in picking the sites that we photographed
and learning something about the Moon, which was interesting. Going
to [NASA] Headquarters [Washington, DC] and selling the mission to
Sam [Samuel C.] Phillips, who was running the program at the time.
Interacting, as I said, with the people in the other organizations.
It was a pretty interesting time, and it wasn’t unique with
me, but people just had an opportunity to really function, I guess,
way beyond what any formula would say they should be allowed to function
at. I then went to JPL, when we did the operations, worked with Boeing,
who is the prime contractor, doing the operations, really doing real
time adjustments to taking pictures. One of the interesting circumstances
that we had was that we noticed that the spacecraft, the pictures
were not always pointed exactly where we wanted the pointing to take
place on the early ones. It was because, finally, we began to notice
that the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft, as it went across the Moon from
the eastern side of the Moon to the western side, going towards the
center, it would speed up. Then, going towards the other side, it
would slow down. We were not smart enough to figure out why. We recognized
it and we started using Kentucky windage to adjust the sites, which
worked very well—but it was the mascons, it was the mass anomalies
on the Moon that was causing it. As I said, other people really figured
out what it was, but again, a good, interesting experience.
We were more operational, so we weren’t so much trying to figure
out what it was as what was really going on, so that was an interesting
experience. I don’t know why, but because of this particular
activity, I had a lot of interaction with the press and with the media,
so I was involved in it, which was interesting. In fact, at that time,
Langley had its—must have been its 50th anniversary, I don’t
know—I remember they had a big open house and I spoke at the
open house. My speech was carried through the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft,
like we are, but they came through. Because of the round-trip time,
it was one-and-a-half seconds each way, if I remember right, I think
it was a three-second total delay. It was an interesting process.
I’m really rambling beyond what you want, but it was a really
interesting process in that as the speaker, I could hear what I said
either one-and-a-half or three seconds before. It was a real experience,
trying to learn how to talk when what you said, some one-and-a-half
to three seconds earlier, you were hearing that while you were talking
the next activity. I later found out that apparently, they used that
technique, I think, in the military draft in World War II. People
who claimed that they were hearing-impaired or what have you, and
then if you did that and you weren’t prepared, you would trip
up in what you were saying. Lunar Orbiter was a fantastic experience
for a young engineer, and really pretty exciting times. A lot going
on, and I got to know and work with all the people that you read and
hear about these days.
had no way to look in the future, but a lot of the places that you
would go to work and be contacting those people, in the future, you
started laying some of that down—
it’s a network, it does develop. I guess that’s probably
true in any circumstance, there’s such a thing that exists,
moved into Advanced Space Projects, and actually helping to develop
some Mars missions. Was that your next assignment?
tell you just a couple more things on Lunar Orbiter which just strikes
me. First off, there were five spacecraft, and all five worked, which
was exciting. If I’m not mistaken—this was way beyond
my involvement—I think when the contract was signed with Boeing
on the Lunar Orbiter, the first spacecraft was in orbit about the
Moon only 27 months later. If you think about today, we haven’t
completed phase A in that time period. There just was a lot of motivation
to move on, and you can do these things a lot faster.
The other thing I remember was dealing with the people on Apollo at
Houston; they had a focus that they couldn’t allow anything
to get in the way. I remember their comments—which I think were
right on—they said, “Look, you should know the following:
we don’t need you, and we’ll never say that we need you.
Now, if you provide some data, we’re going to be delighted to
have it, but we’re going whether you’re there or you’re
not there.” I actually think that was the right way for them
to function, but it was an interesting perspective. At Langley, or
if you went to JSC or JPL, anywhere the activity was going on, it
was just a beehive of activity, that’s what I recall. Everywhere
you went, there were meetings and things being decided and moving
on towards accomplishing goals, which was pretty interesting.
After Lunar Orbiter was over, I guess the powers that be were saying,
“All right, what now,” for the people that were there.
I guess that was the first, relatively speaking, large space project
that Langley had ever done. I really come back and say they did sounding
rocket programs and a lot of activity in that regard, but relative
to the so-called larger space projects. JPL had always been the organization
that had done both the lunar and the planetary programs. I guess—and
I don’t even know this, by the way—JPL was doing, at the
time, Ranger [Program], and it had some challenges, and they were
also doing Surveyor, which was a very demanding program, and probably
the leadership of NASA—and I’m beyond my knowledge—would
probably say, “Well, maybe we need somebody else involved,”
and that’s how the Lunar Orbiter got done at Langley.
Then, after that, there was the Advanced Projects Office had put together
a few of us, worked in, and we looked at a few possibilities. Landsat
[Satellite] kinds of programs were looked at, then there really was
coming to be in the Mars activity, there had been really a large Mars
program that had started but then decided not to proceed, and again,
I can’t recall exact details. There really was some look at
what really should be done next on Mars. JPL was doing the Mariner
series, which was not only Mars, but the Mariner series. I guess there
was Mariner 4 that was happening, and then Mariner ’69, which
must have been 5 and 6, and then Mariner 8 and 9. JPL was doing the
Mariner series, and Langley was asked, again, beyond my level of involvement,
to look at a mission that had a lander.
Again, for somebody like me, still pretty young in the process, I
think there were three of us working on it when we started. Jim [James
S.] Martin, who became the project manager and was one of the most
impressive managers with whom I ever worked, and Iz [Israel] Taback,
who was the Chief Engineer extraordinary, who was the most impressive
systems engineering folk I ever worked with, and then they had to
have somebody, so I was the somebody, I guess. Began to do little
studies of it, and other people, largely from Lunar Orbiter heritage,
got involved, and so it became a fairly active process. We had a collection
of studies done by the folks in industry that had some expertise in
that—Boeing had a study, Martin Marietta, General Electric,
who was doing, at that time, GE had an entry capability in Valley
Forge [Pennsylvania]. There were a lot of studies, so we really looked
at a large collection of options as to what was the best way to go
Finally, had a Saturday meeting with John [E.] Naugle from NASA Headquarters,
and John was the head of Space Science, whatever it was called at
that time. John was the senior folk. Ed [Edgar M.] Cortright was the
Director at Langley who was another just incredible person. If there’s
any message I’ll give you out of all this, the greatest advantage
I’ve had is just working with super people. If you work with
super people, you can’t help but learn something in the process.
We had a Saturday meeting to present the results of all of our studies,
and to begin the process of deciding what really should be Viking.
I remember several things about that day, and I’ll tell you
what some of the options were, and I’ll tell you what we recommended
and what really happened. The first thing I remember was John Naugle
came in and it was Saturday and he said, “Well, I don’t
know if this is a good omen or not, but the flag outside is upside-down.”
When the guard put up the flag that Saturday morning, he got it upside-down.
That was more humorous. The big issues were, is it a hard lander or
is it a soft lander, is it a short-lived lander or a long-life lander?
“Hard lander” meaning the big balsa ball and it hits,
and then the ball breaks open, and the Russians had used that concept.
The lifetime was should it be three days or multi-months? Then, the
question was, should there be an orbiter with it or should there be
a flyby module that is the mother ship on the way to Mars and then
the lander separates and lands? By the way, our knowledge of Mars
at that time was incredibly poor. We knew little about the atmosphere,
which was critically important, and the smallest thing we had seen
on Mars was about the size of the Rose Bowl. That was the level of
knowledge that we had at that time.
As I remember, we recommended that it be a soft lander because you
could do so much more science with a soft lander, be a long-life lander,
meaning months, which meant that it had to have radioisotope thermoelectric
generator power or nuclear power, which was an interesting twist at
the time. We said a flyby module, no orbiter. It was a great meeting,
and again, for a young guy to sit and watch. Went through the whole
process for the day and the Headquarters folks took it all in and
went back for their discussions there. It went to the Administrator
at the time, Tom [Thomas O.] Paine, and kind of interesting—as
I said, the concept being pursued, somewhat budget-driven, technology-driven,
was a flyby support module with a lander, like Viking ended up being.
Paine changed the recommendation, and he added an orbiter to it, which
is pretty phenomenal, if you think about it today. The word was that
the reason he did it was that he said, “You don’t do these
things very often, and when you do them, you should really do them
right.” That had a lot of implications because—and by
the way, it was incredibly the right decision in retrospect, and I’ll
come to that in a minute—if you think, again, messages to an
organization, and I’m using myself, the Administrator says,
“Hey, we really need to do this right and we want to do more
than you’re recommending, not less than you’re recommending.”
That was a pretty powerful message. The other implication it had was
we had no launch vehicle that was compatible with that, and it really
meant that the Titan-Centaur had to be developed. Titan existed and
Centaur existed, but it really meant that you had to bring online
a Titan-Centaur launch vehicle to do the program. I’ll jump
ahead. That was an interesting experience in itself, but it happened
that because the Titan-Centaur was developed, first a joint program
with the German’s Helios—if I remember right, was the
name of it—flew on the Titan-Centaur, but equally more important,
Voyager 1 and 2. I don’t know, for Voyager, that a vehicle would
have been developed by itself. It facilitated that program happening,
so it was a pretty significant decision.
That happened, and we were off and running, and then we were aiming
towards a ’73 launch. Then, congressional budget activities
resulted in the launch being changed to ’75, but ’75 was
what we went to for a landing in ’76. I want to talk about some
of that in a bit, but it was two things, when I look back on it, that
I didn’t appreciate at all. One is I didn’t appreciate
what incredible people were working on the program. I knew they were
good, but I didn’t really appreciate how much above norm they
The second thing I really didn’t appreciate, even in the middle
of it, what an incredibly difficult thing it was. That was about as
hard a thing as you could do from a robotic spacecraft standpoint.
Almost everything was new; the systems were new on the spacecraft.
We had something called a plated-wire memory computer, where the memory
really is plated wires about the size of a human hair. That almost
brought us to our knees. The spacecraft had to be sterilized because
the international agreements on not contaminating Mars with Earth
life. That meant that ultimately, after it all got put together, the
spacecraft at the Cape [Canaveral, Florida]—there were special
ovens built—and the spacecraft was baked. I think—I’m
really pulling numbers out—it was 113 degrees centigrade, which
is pretty high, for more than a day. That meant that the tape recorder
had to have metal tape for the recording of the tape recorder; it
meant everything in there had to be sterilized, which was something
that we had never done before.
We also had an organic experiment, so there had to be no organics
that could be released on Mars. These were special items. The atmosphere
was such that we had to have a supersonic parachute, which we had
never developed. That’s kind of a pretty interesting side thing
in itself, that Langley, because of its aerodynamics background, really
developed the parachute system in parallel with the Viking Project.
Viking oversaw that, but there really was a team of people at Langley
that were heavily involved in the entry systems. Almost everything
was new, and plus the fact that, if I remember right, a 10-inch rock
could punch a hole in the bottom of the spacecraft, and the smallest
thing we had ever seen on Mars was, like, the size of the Rose Bowl.
These were pretty incredible times, and it just took incredible people
to make it happen. I learned a lot in that time period, which I think
is applicable today. What made Viking successful clearly was the incredible
people, both in NASA and industry, and it was really the partnership
between the two. The industry could not have come close, in my view,
to having done it by themselves, and NASA couldn’t have come
That partnership we had, in the project team, experts in every element
of the system, and they worked hand-in-hand with their industry counterparts.
One relied on the other. Then, when we got to the operations and flight
missions, we now had to operate this thing, and it was pretty sophisticated.
In fact, operations beyond anything we had done before. I guess I’ve
left myself out, but I went through various phases on the program,
and in fact, left it, even, for a year because Jim Martin and Ed Cortright
concluded that I could benefit by going to MIT for a year as a Sloan
Fellow. That, again, was a fairly significant message to somebody
like me, who didn’t think I was the most important person ever,
didn’t think I was a contributor on it, and they said, “Look,
we think the most important thing for you to do is to go to MIT’s
Sloan program for a year,” which was quite an experience. One
of my classmates was Kofi Annan, who became head of the U.N. [United
Nations]. Different folks like that. We used to have dinner together
Again, a great experience, and it shows a little bit of what NASA
was all about. That really was Ed Cortright and Jim Martin. I’ll
say one other item, just touching on that, when the year was coming
to an end, people who were in the program from IBM, they maybe started
at a particular level and they were being promoted to vice-president
to go somewhere, and a good friend was going to this. Jim Martin said,
“Hey, look, you’re going to come back to the same job
you left. If you’ve learned anything and you’re any good,
you’ll go beyond that. You’re not going to get promoted
because you went to school, you’re going to get promoted because
maybe you learned something and you can do something better.”
you applied it.
was pretty good, too. I’ve used that a lot in my life since
then, to tell other people. When we got to preparation of the operations,
we were having a lot of struggles. I became head of that activity.
We did another bold thing, which again, was Cortright and Jim Martin
and Iz Taback. We had prime contractor, who was Martin Marietta, and
we’re not satisfied that this was something that they had the
experience and the background to do, so we changed the contract. We
made them a time and material contractor and we took total responsibility
for the operations. Some people were saying, “Boy, that’s
a crazy thing to do. You’ve relieved the contractor of that
responsibility.” But again, people like Jim Martin had courage
to, obviously, do what they considered was right. It probably wasn’t
a politically-smart thing to do, if somehow we had screwed it up.
His criteria was simple, and that is, you just have to take what you
think is the best you have and most capability you have to do it.
We took it over and ran the activity with JPL very much a part of
the activity—because they were responsible for the Orbiter—and
the Martin Marietta people, the Lander, but we from Langley ran the
activity. We were the so-called prime, so we weren’t monitoring,
we were doing it. Again, if you look back, that probably took some
courage, it was somewhat bold, and that’s what outstanding program
people do, is to make those kinds of decisions. I remember we were
struggling with some of it and we got some help from Houston. We went
to Houston and said, “Hey, help us learn to operate these big
space programs.” Goodness gracious, probably he’s dead
now so I don’t know if you ever interviewed him or not, he headed
a lot of the software activity at Houston.
The Houston folks designated him to lead some reviews for us, and
he did, he was extraordinarily helpful. We learned about a Houston
technique, which you may have come across in your stuff, called Black
Friday. Black Friday was where things were about to fall apart, so
instead of going home on Friday, you lock the doors and say, “We’ve
got to simplify this so the human beings can handle the situation.”
He helped us do that. We got a lot of help from everywhere, I guess,
is what I’m saying.
In the operations, we had the launches, there was a group of us on
the West Coast which I headed up; a group on the East Coast launching
this stuff. Went pretty well. I want to stop there, so if you want
to ask questions, because I’m going to now talk about the operation
and I don’t know if I’ve missed something in the process.
because you’re filling in the blanks. I did want to make sure
we got what you did, so this is exactly where we wanted to go.
Young: I guess
if you would go all the way back, I was originally, on Viking, I was
something called Science Integration Manager—that’s because
they couldn’t figure out anything else—but what I basically
did, I was the go-between, between the scientists and the engineers
in the early days of the project. Then, I did mission analysis, definition
work, then headed the operations. Then, I was Mission Director for
the program, and we had a Flight Team; we had about 800 people in
the Operations Team.
All the scientists were required to be there all the time, and it
was a 24-hour operation, obviously. Not any different than other places
have, but for a pretty long duration. In fact, I remember, again,
the people at Headquarters, there were a couple of problems. One is
there had not been a mission, maybe, of that duration before, so they
were really worried whether or not we would crumble under the stress
of it. The other was Mars is different from Earth in that the day
is a little longer than an Earth day, and we call Mars days sols,
and what that meant was the time for all the operations on Earth kept
rotating a little bit every day because you really had to be on lander
time, so to speak, or on Mars time.
There were a lot of people who thought that probably people psychologically
couldn’t handle that, and so, actually they set up medical teams.
I think the real answer is that for a given amount of time—and
this cannot be infinite, but it was okay for what we were talking
about, which was the first landing was in July and then the nominal
mission really ended in November, that was the critical time period.
You might say when the orbiter got there, it was in June, but it was
a six-month activity. For that amount of time, adrenaline will carry
you, the excitement, the motion, whatever you want to do will carry
you. I don’t think there was ever any real—the concerns
were not justified. Now, I think if something goes on like missions
today, that go on and on and on forever, then I think that is a real
factor to be considered.
I’ll back up again. When we launched, we did not fully know
how to operate the lander on the surface. The lander was very sophisticated,
the software was sophisticated, and we really had not worked out how
to operate the lander, I guess. In fact, we used to somewhat joke
and somewhat serious, we said, “We’re not quite sure whether
this thing is an obedient robot or a Frankenstein in the process.”
The idea was that there’s a long cruise to Mars, so it’s
a lot of time to do work, so we would really work that out on the
way to Mars, which was fine. There was no reason not to do that. We
did learn something very quickly. As I said, I was Mission Director,
and Jim Martin was clearly the senior person, as the Project Manager.
In the early days of the cruise to Mars with the two systems, we found
that we weren’t really getting the work accomplished that was
necessary for when we got to Mars, the reason being every time there
was a little problem, if the battery had a little bit too high a voltage
or the temperature was a little high or a little low, everybody went
to work on the problem because that was the problem of the day. The
problems that occurred didn’t require everybody to work on them,
but you just gravitated to them.
A real decision was made to separate the flight team, and the idea
was to take one group of people and say, “You go prepare for
when we get to Mars,” and another group of people, we said,
“You fly the spacecraft to Mars.” I was given the responsibility
of heading the activity of getting ready for when we went to Mars.
We actually moved out of the Operations Center. We stayed at JPL,
but we went to different facilities. That decision probably was one
of—well, there are a lot of good decisions that Jim and his
people made—but that was a critical decision because when we
got to Mars, we were ready. We had done all the training, we’d
planned the sequence, that we were ready when we got there. We may
not have been ready if we hadn’t have done that.
We’re approaching Mars, and we had an interesting circumstance,
in that the propulsion system on the orbiter had a helium tank and
then the propellant tank, I guess you could say. Helium tank pressurized
the propellant tank and forced the propellant into the engine, to
fire the engine. We had a helium leak that developed as we were approaching
Mars. If you looked at the data, what happened, the helium was leaking
in the propellant tank. You could see the pressure build up, and it
was pretty clear that before we got to Mars, it was going to explode.
That really wasn’t controversial. The question is, what do you
do about it?
There were really two big options to do. One was there was a pyrotechnic
valve that you could close that would shut off the leak, but then
it had to open in order to be able to get into orbit at Mars. If it
didn’t open, the mission would be a failure. That was one option.
The other option was periodically do small mid-course maneuvers, burn
the engine periodically, to reduce the pressure. That clearly would
work, but that put an awful heavy workload on the operating team because
you had to continually regenerate the commands and doing the operations
to do that. It was a heavy workload on the work team, opportunity
for making a mistake, but you weren’t vulnerable to a valve
having to open in order to have a successful mission.
Lot of discussion about it. The valve was put there, by the way, for
that purpose. I remember, at the final decision meeting as to what
to do, the large majority were in favor of the valve solution. I think
there were maybe three people—there was a small number of people
in favor of the workload decision. The decision was a Jim Martin,
Project Manager decision, and we did the workload decision. There
were two logics. One is, much of what you’re doing in even space
missions and in operations, consensus is probably the reasonable solution
to the problem, but when it’s life and death, consensus doesn’t
have any role. Some accountable person has to make a decision, and
that accountable person decided to go in the direction that the minimal
number of people supported, simply because it was his view that you
should not put yourself at catastrophic risk of having to have the
valve open. He trusted the team more than he trusted the valve, I
guess, would be the way to say it. What a great learning experience,
Then, we did that. It worked, and we went into orbit. We had a pre-selected
landing site that we had selected more than a year beforehand, maybe
even two years, in fact, because I chaired the landing site selection
process, which I’ll tell you a couple of interesting tidbits
on. We went into orbit and we had prepared ourselves to validate in
a collection of ways the landing site after we got there. Our plan
was to land on July the 4th, 1976, a rather significant day. It had
been advertised everywhere that we were going to land on the bicentennial
anniversary of the United States. It was not insignificant that that
was the plan.
We had set up a ground telescope capability in Arecibo, Puerto Rico,
that could look at the area at about the same time as we got there,
and give us some indication of roughness, and then we had cameras
on-board the orbiter that were better than anything that had ever
flown before. When we got there and we got our first looks at the
place we were going to land, the indications were it was a lot rougher
than we had thought it was. Quickly, we abandoned the landing site
and abandoned landing on July the 4th.
Looking back on it, that was another fairly significant factor—because
I remember the process when we decided that—we never hesitated
one minute to abandon July the 4th for the safety of the mission.
It didn’t play a role one way or the other. People from the
leadership, from NASA Headquarters in the East, they were involved,
many of them were there, informed, but it wasn’t a decision
we asked anybody about. We made it and we did it because as far as
we were concerned, it was clear. Then, we went about searching for
a site, and we didn’t have an awful lot of time because we had
another spacecraft coming right behind it, so we had to get on the
ground before the next one got there because we could never have operated
them both simultaneously. That was, again, an interesting learning
We picked a site, landed, and fortunately, we were successful. Not
too far from us was a rock—if we’d have landed on it,
it would have destroyed the spacecraft. You could see it sitting there,
and there wasn’t anything we could have done about it. It was
just—I started to say “luck,” I don’t know.
I remember a press conference, one of the press people asked Jim Martin—Jim
and I were both doing the press conference—if he believed in
luck, and Jim said, “There’s no such thing as luck.”
He was that kind of person. They asked me, I said, “Look, I
don’t believe in it, but I’ll take all I can get.”
extraordinary mission. The press involvement, it’s worth spending
a minute on, if somebody might read this part of it. We—again,
I’d say that Jim was the motivation behind it—went out
of our way to be open, transparent with the media. We had a press
conference every day for the activity and we both discussed science,
but also engineering. There were problems that came up; we told about
the problems when they occurred. We told them, “We don’t
know the answer, but we’ll tell you as we went along.”
Two things came out of that. We were searching for life, obviously,
and really exploring the unknown, and two things happened. One is
the press really got enamored with watching the scientific process
work, and most of them who had planned to go home after three days
stayed for the total mission. I’d say we had almost everybody
there for the total mission, although maybe some of the network stars
for the whole time, which was pretty interesting because they got
to see the scientific process work.
The second thing that I learned out of it was we eliminated the investigative
reporter. There was no role for an investigative reporter because
there wasn’t anything to investigate. As I said, we were extraordinarily
open, as a policy, but we did have a rule, and that was if you were
involved in a press conference, no matter who you were, you were not
allowed to speculate, but you could tell any fact that existed. Don’t
speculate until you really know something. That’s carried me
a long ways, in the rest of my life. I’ve treated that—way
ahead of my story, I worked with one other individual who taught me,
a guy named Norm [Norman R.] Augustine, who taught me one other factor
about dealing with the press, which I’ve used ever since and
I use today, is, never do anything on background. If I interact today,
testifying, if I interact with anybody, my comment is, “Anything
I tell you is on the record.” If I’m not willing to be
quoted, I really shouldn’t say it. I think that’s, again,
another important factor.
speaking, when Viking, when you were working on that mission, the
manned programs had concluded, Apollo had closed down at the end of
ASTP [Apollo Soyuz Test Project], and we were also post-Watergate
[political scandal]. It’s interesting, you talk about the transparency
of what you were doing, and then I’m sure they were hungry for
space missions, and so it was a good opportunity to show the science
side of what NASA does as well.
sure that’s right. As I said, we went from not seeing something,
as I said, any smaller than the Rose Bowl to being able to see a blade
of grass. There wasn’t any grass, but you know, see something
We had extraordinary people on the program, extraordinary scientists.
I remember—and I want to be careful I say this right—when
we were picking the site after we got there and abandoned the site,
I remember one night with Carl Sagan, and Carl made a comment, “I
have to be very careful what I say because you all are listening.”
You learn from that, too. If somebody’s not listening to you,
you can say anything you want, but if they’re really going to
After we landed and we operated, another interesting aspect, when
we were doing the planning, the imaging team leader was a guy named
Tim [Thomas A.] Mutch, who was a pretty incredible person, who actually
shortly after the mission was over died mountain-climbing in the Himalayas.
I shouldn’t say “shortly after,” it was maybe two
years, three years after that. We put together a pre-planned sequence
of images that we could take on maybe the first 7 or 10 days, and
what we would do each day, in case we did have an early failure or
in case we couldn’t get commands into it.
We had a pre-planned program that was ended for the images, and I
remember when we were planning that, Tim and some of us were advocating—I
was, others—that we had a picture of the American flag on a
top of the piece of the structure on the lander. I can’t remember
what it was, but maybe the fifth one or something like that was a
picture of the American flag. We were doing the planning, and Tim
Mutch, who was the head of the imaging team, was against it. He thought
all the pictures should be of Mars, and that’s certainly a worthy
idea. We were, I don’t know, a few weeks into the mission and
he called me one day, his office was in another building at JPL, and
he said, “I need to come over to see you just for a minute.”
So he came over. We had been friends forever. He came over and he
said, “Look, I just got to tell you something.” He said,
“I was sitting at my desk and I happened to look at the wall
at my desk, where I put notes and stuff,” and he said, “I
only had one picture up there—it was the picture of the American
flag. I just wanted to tell you that maybe that was an important thing
to do after all.” Which is, again, an interesting story because
you do these for a lot of different reasons. Science is a fundamental
reason, but there is a human prestige and what have you.
you were talking about the operational aspect, I was thinking about
how you started, as you mentioned, as an engineer, but now you’re
encountering all these scientists. Reading about research in planetary
programs and Earth science, all of those, there’s a mixture
of science and engineering. Can you share with us how that chemistry
has to be so right to make that mission work?
question. I think that that mixture is important. Most of the robotic
programs, in particular, really are science missions that are enabled
by engineering. There’s got to be a strong degree of understanding
and respect of the engineers for what the science folks are trying
to do. There’s got to be a strong appreciation from the scientists
and trust that the engineers are going to push the limit but not go
beyond the limit of risk to the mission. Not only that trust, but
that mutual understanding, I guess fortunately these things take a
few years to develop. That really develops over time.
If I’d use myself as an example, I am not a scientist, but I
have developed a lot of appreciation for science activities and I
actually have done a lot of things in that regard which we’ll
probably get around to. Most of the good scientists had a high regard
for the engineering activity. I think you really touched on an idea.
These things would not happen if it was not that cross-pollenization.
It really says that engineers, you don’t have to become world-class
scientist, but you’ve got to become a scientist at some level
to be able to really understand the communication, and vice-versa.
For me, personally, just happenstance, luck, or what have you, but
as I mentioned, back on Lunar Orbiter, I really was the guy in the
project who worked with the scientists, simply because there wasn’t
anybody else, not because of any great ability. These folks who—I
don’t know whether names mean something to you all or not—Gene
[Eugene M.] Shoemaker and Hal [Harold] Masursky and these guys, I
used to spend days and weeks with these folks, doing that. They’d
visit my house when they were in Langley, and vice-versa. It somewhat
rubs off on you, and in both directions. Then, started off on Viking,
really being that interaction.
I think it is critically important that the trust and the mutual understanding
really be there. If the scientists think that the engineering side
is trying to too much make their job—the engineering job—easy,
or they’re being too conservative with risk, that relationship
will break down. On the other hand, scientists have got to recognize
that when someone with a deep engineering knowledge really draws the
line, they’ve got to be supportive of that. I would say on the
two projects I really was heavily involved with, which was both Lunar
Orbiter and Viking, and particularly Viking, that really was true.
That mutual support, respect, was there.
times do you need that conduit, a person like you, who is kind of
in the middle to bring them together or to help work those out?
Young: I think
so, yes. I think that conduit does help, but it’s really got
to go through the organization. I’ve talked a lot about Jim
Martin, who’s kind of my hero, as a project manager. Jim was
about as hardnosed a project manager as you can imagine. His focus
on success could almost be brutal, and I mean that complimentary,
but he had a strong recognition of how important the science was.
I would say, with Jim, ties typically went to the scientists. I don’t
mean that if it was clearly the right engineering decision, it didn’t
go, but if there was a tie, the tie went to the scientists. That’s
the way it should be, by the way. I think when we landed on Mars the
first time, there was clearly enormous euphoria, but I think there
was a big respect that the mission was just starting, not ending.
Sometimes, you see missions when the enormous engineering feat has
happened, there’s this feeling that it’s gravy from that
point on, but that’s not the attitude that permeated Viking
and permeates most, I think, of the robotic programs, but really critically
seemed like the Planetary Program became your path for a while. I
believe you went to become the Director of the program for that?
when Viking was over, when the nominal mission was over, there was
one really great thing, and that is when the Earth and the Sun and
Mars line up, you can’t communicate with Mars. It’s called
a solar conjunction. The one we encountered was on November the 15th
of ’76, and that was the end of the nominal mission. Those of
us who really were committed to carry out the nominal mission—and
I worked on Viking eight or nine years, and I’ll touch on that,
that’s a point I should make in case some young person happens
to trip across this—several years in advance, even assuming
everything worked, I knew the last day I was going to work on the
project. That was at solar conjunction; it was two weeks with no communication.
There was a team that was put together to operate it in extended mission,
but on November 16th, was heading east. I’m now talking about
myself personally, but I guess I started on Viking, we did the advanced
studies, as you talked about, almost after Lunar Orbiter and so, it
was eight years, nine years, something like that, I worked on Viking.
My biggest fear was somebody would come along and figure that they
should promote me or do something else there because the only thing
I wanted to do was see it to the end. Not many people see projects
from day one to the end. Actually, a job did come up, which was similar
to the one I went to. I was asked to come to Headquarters to interview
for head of the Astronomy Program—not the Planetary Program—the
same kind of activity. John Naugle was still head of Space Science,
and John said it in a nice way. He said that, “You won’t
be selected for this because I want you to stay on Viking.”
had a practice interview.
would have been perceived as a significant career advancement, but
I remember how I thought, “God, I sure hope I don’t get
this job.” I really touch on that because I must say that both
in my NASA life and in my corporate life, I’ve had a lot of
people come in and say, “Well, I’ve been working on this
project for two years and I’m ready to go on to something else.”
And I say, “Well, let me tell you about an experience.”
I don’t think there’s anything quite like seeing it from
the beginning to the end. I’d say there were a lot of people
who were in that category, who really had no interest in doing something
else. When it was over, I’ve never been very much of a career
planner, so I had no idea what to do.
Naugle had moved up, he’d got promoted, he moved up in NASA,
and a guy was head of the Space Science Program, Noel [W.] Hinners
was his name—I don’t know if you’ve done Noel or
not, but a pretty incredible person—Noel was the head of it.
It’s always been a scientist-engineering partnership, and a
guy named Tony [Anthony J.] Calio, who died not very long ago, was
the engineer partner with Noel. Noel asked if I would come to Headquarters
to head the Planetary Program, and it took me about 30 seconds to
say yes, and I went off to Headquarters to do that.
It was an interesting experience because up until that time, if you
really looked, the only thing I knew was projects. People who are
involved in projects have a completely different outlook on life to
people who are involved in more functional or institutional kind of
management. Project people, they don’t really say this, but
the way they operate, it’s okay with them on the last day of
the project, if all the buildings fall down, if the institution disintegrates
on the last day of the project, that’s okay. Then, there’s
another group of people who are trying to make the institution carry
on for the next projects that are taking place. I probably didn’t
say that very well.
I went to NASA Headquarters, which was an interesting experience in
a whole lot of ways. One was I probably had never seen the government
operate close-up so much. [President] Jimmy Carter and I went about
the same time, but he didn’t realize that. What I’m really
saying is there was a new president, a new administration, and so
it was a chance to see that a little bit closer-up than I’d
ever seen anything before, and to operate in the Washington environment,
which was challenging for somebody who’s come from the project
world, I’d say. It was a great experience, a good experience.
a lot of different changes going on with that. Talk about some of
the programs that were under your direction.
were a lot of things going on. There was a big discussion as to what
to do after Viking, and that’s worth spending one minute on.
Actually, Tim Mutch had gone back to Brown University [Providence,
Rhode Island] and Tim headed this study at my request, looking at
a Mars sample return. We’re still looking at Mars sample returns,
so some things go on for a long time. Budget environments were changing,
in a less favorable—which they go through those cycles. JPL
had a new director, Bruce Murray, who became a very good friend, who
is a very hard-charging scientist. He came from Caltech [California
Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California], and had been involved
in the planetary work from a science standpoint and was eager to change
the world, and the world wasn’t ready to be changed. I worked
with Bruce a lot. One of the early experiences was trying to understand
how you deal with the budget situation, for me.
I’d say my first year, it seemed like being on a roller coaster,
until you finally figured out there is a pattern to the whole process.
I remember trying to do some budget priorities, and one of the things
that fell below the line, so to speak, in activity was there was a
seismometer that was operating on the Moon that had been carried by
Apollo. The scientist was Frank Press, still have some interaction
with him. Frank was the President’s Science Advisor, and I decided
to turn it off, which was interesting.
I come back again, though, to a lot of these things are learning experiences,
and that is, you see it today, but I think somebody who has a government
position like that, and that’s an insignificant position compared
to a lot of the things that you see in the government, but you have
two roles. One is you’re an advocate for the program, and so
you’re trying to maximize the funding for your program, and
it never turns out to be just what anyone wants. Once that’s
determined, then the responsibility is to spend it on the highest-priority
items, and the lower-priority items should fall below the line. I’m
not sure we do that so well, today, to tell you the truth. The lunar
seismometer fell bellow the line, and I think Press accepted that,
even though I probably was naïve in recognizing that it was the
President’s Science Advisor who was the experimenter.
The program that had been started that was the main item going on
at the time had not launched, was in development and going forward,
was Voyager, which turned out to be an incredible success, and is
even today. We were looking at starting some new programs, one of
which was called VOIR [Venus Orbiter Imaging Radar], which was an
orbiter around Venus. There was a lot going on, a lot of budget challenges.
A new Administrator, Bob [Robert A.] Frosch, was there, and Noel Hinners,
working with him was, again, a real learning experience. Noel comes
out of a science background; was not a lot of management roles but
has a management instinct that just was incredibly impressive and
did a great job there, and was a principled person above almost all
want to elaborate on the management by instinct? That’s an interesting
I think Noel Hinners—and I’d say the same thing throughout
his life—I’d put him high up on the list of managers who
I’ve interacted with, but if you were looking at his background,
you would not figure out that from either experience or education,
they would not be obvious characteristics that one would have. I think
that his instincts were just good, and he knew how to use people,
and where his expertise maybe was not as developed as somebody else’s,
he knew how to use that. I thought he just made incredibly good decisions
and was a really good leader. I also think you watch people who are
very, very bright and very capable who don’t have an intuitive
feel for the business or what it is they’re trying to do, and
they really struggle. Having instincts is a way to say having an intuitive
feel for the activity in addition to being smart and capable and experience
is a critical element, and I don’t totally know how people get
that. You can see those who have it and those who don’t.
weren’t there very long before they sent you back to California.
I wasn’t. A chain of events happened; one is the Director at
[NASA] Ames [Research Center, Moffett Field, California]—Hans
Mark was the Director at Ames, and Hans was selected to be Secretary
of the Air Force, and his deputy, Sy [Clarence A.] Syvertson, moved
up. Sy did a search for people, for someone to be his deputy. I guess
I was one of the candidates; not something I had applied for, but
Sy came and talked to me, did a systematic interview, and I think
there were a lot of good people, but Sy needed someone who had some
understanding of projects because he had projects that were not doing
all that well. I was asked to do it, and we packed up and moved across
country and went to Ames. I was there, I think, one year, and my family
was there nine months, or something like that. I’ll come back
to that because that also was a good experience, and working with
Sy was a good experience—who also died not very long ago.
Then, I got a call. Al [Alan M.] Lovelace, I guess, was the Acting
Administrator at that time. Al Lovelace called up and asked, he was
going to be at Rockwell, and if I’d come down to meet with him.
The Goddard position was open. Bob [Robert S.] Cooper had left and
gone to the DoD [Department of Defense], and he asked if I’d
be interested in the Goddard job, which I obviously was. In fact,
for my background, there are really two great jobs: one is Goddard,
and one is JPL, just from the standpoint that my experience was more
in the robotic world, and that’s where flight projects is their
primary business. I remember he said, “Tell your wife I owe
her one.” I told her that and she said, “One is not adequate.”
It worked out that we were coming back, so to speak, so we packed
up and came back to Goddard. Ames was an interesting experience. I
don’t think people often stop and think, but Ames, at the time,
I think, was smaller than Headquarters, it terms of total number of
people, and just accomplished an incredible amount in that timeframe.
There really were some world-class people who were there who I would
say took me under their wing, at the time.
I remember—again, these are the learning experiences—when
I went out, it was an Ames tradition that the Director and the Deputy
Director had an assistant, but it was stronger than that. It was a
very competent researcher or technical person, and I remember I had
this woman who was really impressive. When I got out there, trying
to show that I deserved to be there, I said, “Do you all have
anything like NMIs?” NASA Management Instructions, which I’d
seen at Headquarters.
She said, “Yes, we have AMIs,” Ames Management Instructions.
I said, “Could you get somebody to pull them together because
I’d like to read through them.”
She said, “Why do you want to do that?”
I said, “Well, I should know what the policies are of the Center.”
She said, “All it does is tell you what you can’t do—why
would you want to know what you can’t do?” She said, “I
recommend you not read them,” and I never did! I don’t
want to get carried away with that because policies are important,
but there was an interesting message she was giving, “Don’t
come out here and write off, spend all your time trying to understand
what you can’t do. We need help.” I remember that quite
Sy was interesting, in that he, relatively to projects, pretty much
said, “Hey, they’re yours.” There were some space
projects but also some aeronautics projects. I was there a year, so
at my retirement dinner they said, “We hardly knew you.”
In fact, it wasn’t really a total year because towards the latter
part of it was when—which is an interesting step in my evolution
or what have you—Shuttle had run into a big problem in Washington,
which I’ll talk a little bit about. Lovelace put together a
small group of people to do an independent review of Space Shuttle,
and I was one of those people. The first one of those I’ve done,
I’ve now done zillions of them, but that was the first one I
did or was involved with.
An incredibly interesting group of people—one of them was a
guy named, if I remember right, [Howard E.] McCurdy, who had come
to NASA and had been Chairman and CEO of Sun Oil. Another guy who
had worked very closely with [James E.] Webb when Apollo was being
formed, Jim [James A.] Abrahamson, who, at that time, was head of
the F-16 program, but then became head of Human Space Flight at NASA
Headquarters. Who else? A couple of other people.
I really say that because the reviews were interesting, but the dinners
where we were just chatting about—the guy who had been with
Webb was telling all kinds of stories about dealing with [President
John F.] Kennedy and getting approval of Apollo, and it was like having
a front-row seat to history. That was really quite an interesting
experience. I don’t know much else I can tell you about it,
but we spent a lot of time going to JSC.
I remember we were interviewing Kraft, and I remember we went down
to see Chris and all of his lieutenants and what have you were in
the room. Chris said, “Why are you all here? Don’t you
all have something to do?” And he kicked all of them out and
we sat and talked a bit. He had a very interesting view of it—which
he always does; I’m a big fan of Chris Kraft—his view
was, “God, there was something bad happened in Washington, a
lot of my friends were probably injured, but sure glad it had nothing
to do with us down here.”
The Ames experience was short, interesting, probably my first real
introduction to Center management, even though I’d been at a
Center. When you’re on a project, you don’t care about
anything else that’s going on at the Center. I’ll stop
was going to see if you wanted to talk any more about the Shuttle
assessment because when we were looking into it, I think one of the
aspects that the group talked about was it seemed to be an inadequate
long-range planning effort that the team felt that needed to be put
into more. I was curious to see if there was anything from that study
that you thought about or have thought about over the years?
the answer’s yes, and I’ve come across it a bit. First
of all, I’m not sure it’s a good way to do it, but the
way it was done was interesting in that—I guess Lovelace really
said this. He said he was not interested in a consolidated committee
view. He really wanted each individual to document their views, which
was interesting because that’s a way to do it. The circumstance
was the following: the Shuttle was rolling along—and this is
my perspective—the Shuttle was proceeding along. Basically the
process was that they put together a request for a budget every year,
and it’s still the process, obviously. They advocated it, they
got out of it as much money as they could, but not enough, each year.
What they really did was they did all the work in the year that the
budget would afford, and did it well. What they didn’t have
money for, they moved it to the next year. That was basically the
process that was being followed, and they had no alternative. You
could say that they were at the mercy of budget decisions that were
made in Washington, and I don’t know the details on all those.
What was happening was they were using schedule as reserve, in effect,
so as I said, they did everything they could do for the funds that
were available in the year; they probably did the top-priority items
and probably did it all very, very well. But, they didn’t accomplish
the plan because there wasn’t enough budget to accomplish the
plan, so it moved forward. What happened was that that was a process.
I think everybody was functioning in that regard, and then there was
a DoD payload that had to be launched at a particular time period.
That was when they were launching defense payloads. It had to be launched
at a particular time period, and it was one the President was involved
with. It was a program of that level of importance.
When they said it had to be launched—and Shuttle had never flown,
obviously, they were still developing—at a particular time period.
Then it became apparent, and I think everybody working on it knew
it, there had been a deficit accumulated over time because every year,
you weren’t accomplishing the work that you had planned to accomplish.
Even though, I really want to highlight, probably accomplishing everything
that could be done for the funds.
There was an amount of work to meet that schedule, about $5 billion
that was un-funded. There was a bubble, or whatever you want to call
it, that existed to do that. In order to launch when it was needed
to be launched, there was essentially a $5 billion budget problem.
That is caused by, as I said, the total system failing to fund to
the level, to the most probably cost of the mission, which I’ve
actually, in my later life, seen a lot of programs like this. It’s
a tragic problem because the problem is when you do the work when
it should be done, it maybe costs you a dollar. When you do it out
of sequence like this, that same thing probably costs you $3. It’s
a very expensive process to move, to delay things.
I think it probably happens throughout the government. What really
happened in this case was, and the reason this review was taking place,
all of a sudden, Shuttle had a $5 billion problem, which was a big
problem at that time. I think the JSC leadership probably said, “Why
is anybody surprised?” I don’t know whether you’ve
had other people discussing this or not in your interviews, but they
said, “This is the way the project has been managed.”
By the way, [International] Space Station was managed exactly the
same way, and we may come to it.
That was the first real review that I’d been involved with,
and it was the first time that I had really appreciated how much schedule
was used as reserve. By the way, it’s worth, again, commenting
a little bit. Of the options [available], that was good. You’ll
say, “Well, that’s a little bit crazy.” The other
option that could have been used would have been risk could have been
the reserve, and there are examples of that. We probably will talk
about that. If the people at Johnson had not been so good and had
been trying to prove that we can manage this thing for this budget
no matter what, they might have taken the course where instead of
schedule being the reserve, risk would have been the reserve.
When you use risk as the reserve, you’re really in troubled
waters because pretty soon, you’re to the point of having failures.
When you’ve got a given amount of work to accomplish and you
don’t have the budget to accomplish it, you’ve got to
have some safety valve. The safety valve that was used in this instance
was keep moving the first launch out, keep using schedule as a reserve,
and when we get there, we’ll do it. That was pretty good until
somebody said, “You’ve got to launch on this date.”
That’s when the problem really presented itself.
An interesting way for you to move into Goddard, and you have this
little break of the study group, and then take on your own Center,
and again for a short amount of time. Of course, you didn’t
walk into that—what were your expectations when you were asked
to take the leadership at Goddard?
as I said, for somebody with my background, if you were identifying
great opportunities, Goddard would be one of those. I was getting
excited about the opportunity. Again, that was probably the last time
ever, a little on the young side for it. I also remember Al Lovelace
saying, “I’ll tell you, a lot of my people say that you’re
not seasoned enough for this job, but I don’t know what that
means.” He said, “Should I sprinkle salt and pepper on
you?” I still remember that humorous discussion.
The Goddard thing, for me, worked out well. Goddard had—every
Center has this—its share of extraordinarily competent characters.
One of the things, and I want to say this right, also, I had one advantage
and Bob [Robert S.] Cooper, who was a friend and really a very capable
person, Bob and Goddard didn’t get along well. That made my
transition easier, in that regard. Goddard had always had a concept
of being both a doing and a managing organization, and they had always
had an in-house project as well as managing contracted projects. Bob
stopped that, said there would be no more in-house projects, and I
happened to have come to through the school that I thought the in-house
projects were good things to do. It was a no-brainer that when I said
we were going to do an in-house project, that love was just showered
was not a hard thing to do. I do remember a few items that jumped
out, two or three experiences. As I said, first of all, really capable
people. I guess that I had been involved in a lot of project activity,
so I had a lot of experience with that, which was important to the
Goddard mission. I don’t know what I want to say, but I was
a strong believer in identifying problems, solving them, and they
fell in line with it. I think we got along well, so I can’t
say I really had any great problems at Goddard.
I remember again, something that goes back to this Viking experience
we were talking about earlier, about no investigative reporters. I
remember my first big presentation to the all-hands briefing, and
by luck, I said, “I’m establishing ground rules for these
briefings. I’m going to answer you in three ways for questions.
One is ‘I know, and I’ll tell you.’ The second is,
‘I don’t know.’ But the third is, ‘I know,
but I can’t tell you.’” I said, “You’re
going to have to respect that.” I said, “I’m not
going to tell you that I don’t know when I know, but there are
some budget issues that are privileged.” We had a rule in the
beginning that things were in those three categories. That was a little
luck, but not a terrible amount of luck.
A little bit was really based on, as I’ve said, what I had learned
from others as I was coming along. That served me pretty well. I remember
one other experience there. Almost day one, there was a collection
of problems, but there was this big issue of a data processing a problem
that Goddard could never get right. Headquarters and others, it was
a big reputational item. We started getting together to work it, had
Saturday meetings and Sunday meetings and the typical NASA approach.
In a couple of months, we got the problem solved. So I went to one
of the senior old-timers there and I said, “Look, I have a curiosity
question—how did we solve that problem?” I said, “That
had gone on for months and almost years, how did we solve it?”
Again, I don’t want to get carried away with it, but it’s
an interesting thing. They said, “Look, if the Center Director
decides this is the most important problem at the location, then the
most capable people go to focus on it, and then they solve the problem.”
I learned a fair amount out of that process, and I think that’s
true. I think that’s true no matter where you are. I think it’s
probably true in the White House, it’s true at Martin Marietta.
If the senior person says, “This is a critical problem that
must be solved,” the best people are going to gravitate towards
helping solve it, and it’s probably going to get solved.
is interesting. Do you feel like you set some things in progress and
was able to make an impact in your short amount of time at Goddard
before you left?
Young: Yes, I do, actually. We had some programs that were in serious
trouble, Landsat being one I remember. Again, from the learning experience
standpoint, there’s a guy there named John [H.] Boeckel. John
was head of Engineering at the time, but he really was looked at as
the best technical person at Goddard. I remember on Landsat, we were
having meetings all the time, trying to solve the Landsat problems.
I remember John saying, “If you function tomorrow the same way
you function today, you probably should expect about the same result.”
He said, “If we’re going to solve the trouble, we’ve
got to do something different.”
They were just good people at Goddard, and I think the thing that
I probably brought—and I don’t want to get carried away
with this—was that I identified very much with the kind of work
they were trying to do. I really was quite supportive of what they
were doing, and I think that we went about correcting a lot of the
project kinds of problems that existed. It was one of my personal
better experiences. My best experience, there’s nothing that
beats being a project manager. I knew when I finished Viking that
I would never do anything like that again in my life.
have that same feeling.
never have that same feeling. I remember, I’m really deviating,
John Naugle, one time, he was now the number three guy at NASA, whatever
he was called at the time, and John said, “You have had the
opportunity to have the thrill of being on the project, and the rest
of your life, your job is to create that opportunity for other people.”
a good legacy to leave, yes.
is, yes, it is.
we are is basically closing up your years at NASA, and those 21 years
you were there were pretty full.
were. They were terrific, and I figured I’d probably be there
the rest of my life, and made a career change, obviously. People have
often asked why, and I don’t know if I even know why. I’ve
always been an advocate and still am of the partnership between NASA
and the industrial partners in making these things happen. I had a
great curiosity as to how it really worked on the other side, even
though I had worked heavily with the contractors and knew some of
the people at Martin Marietta, I was not out looking for a job. They
asked me if I was interested, and one thing led to another, and I
made the change.
I will tell you that later on, when I went to Orlando [Florida] operations
and the guy at Martin Marietta, the newspaper guy there was interviewing
me about it and I was talking about this kind of higher calling. He
says, “Oh, come on, it was the money, wasn’t it?”
But it intrigued me, how the process works on both sides. I just decided,
much like when I went to work on Lunar Orbiter, to give the industrial
side a try. It was a good decision for me, also. NASA was a terrific
decision and that was a good decision. Now, sometimes there are Ys
in the road and you don’t know what the other branch would have
done. I made the decision to go to Martin Marietta, left Goddard,
which was a hard thing for me to do.
time, when you left a location, you also left the agency. You weren’t
just moving from another position.
right, yes. In retrospect, it was an different aspect of my career.
I went to work there, started out working at the corporate headquarters.
At that time, Martin Marietta had a position they called Vice-President
of Technical Operations. It’s not really a vice-president; I
guess it’s a title but it’s not a corporate item. It was
a position that they used at the time, used after that, too, but in
essence, somebody like me could come in from the outside, and could
pretty much see across the total corporation. The total corporation
could pretty much see the individual, and you couldn’t do much
damage in the process. The guy who had the job before me was Norm
Augustine, I don’t know if you know Norm. Norm had it before
I did, then I had it. In fact, I went there first working for Norm,
then he went to Denver [Colorado], and then I took the job. It was
interesting, got to see quite a bit of what happens on the corporate
I’ve often been asked, particularly by colleagues, about the
transition. For me, the transition from NASA or from government or
whatever you want to call it to the private sector turned out to be
incredibly easy. The reason being that NASA’s an organization,
but all the things I was involved in were very objective-oriented
or goal-oriented. Where industry, probably the ultimate common denominator
is profit, it’s a very goal or objective-oriented organization.
Not that different than everything I’d done in NASA. I found
the transition to be incredibly easy, in that regard.
The activity at the headquarters, a little bit like NASA Headquarters,
it’s not as exciting as being in the field operations. Somebody
has to do it, so I don’t mean to imply that, but so, I went
from everything being a buzz to a different kind of an environment.
Took me a little while to adjust mentally to that, but that was more
me. I actually was at headquarters for, I think, six months, and at
that time, Martin Marietta was not an enormous company. They had really
three primary locations, Denver, Orlando, were the two largest, and
then Baltimore [Maryland], which was by far the smallest. Baltimore
was largely a manufacturing activity. Norm had gone to Denver, so
they had a super person in Denver, they had a good person in Orlando,
and they had terrible problems in Baltimore. I was asked if I wanted
to go to Baltimore. I came from a technology, high-tech, project kind
of a background, and Baltimore was a blue-collar manufacturing kind
of an operation, but I said, “Sure, what the heck?” It
was interesting, too. First off, Baltimore is where the company began.
didn’t have to move, right?
have to move, that’s right. I went to Baltimore and learned
a lot about the finance side of the business, which they had been
terrible at. Learned a lot about dealing with a CFO [Chief Financial
Officer] and that side of the business. I would say that my problem-solving
skills, which were really honed from working on projects where that’s
all you’re doing, is problem-solving, really worked pretty well
there. Drove the people crazy, I would say, I think really crazy.
We applied much the same concept of, all right, let’s get it
all on the table and see if we can’t shuffle through this to
find the problems and work nights and weekends. Actually, the organization—it’s
still a small organization—turned around pretty well, so that
It had a mixture; it had commercial programs, it also had a major
Navy project, which was called Vertical Launch System. This was a
system that actually a guy in Orlando had created, where on Navy destroyers
and cruisers you can launch missiles right out of the bowels of the
ship. I think you can launch one every second, and it can launch 120-some
missiles, Tomahawks or different cruise missiles, one second apart.
Just as fast as you want to. It’s where almost all the cruise
missiles that were used in Iraq and Afghanistan were launched, off
of this. We had that system—I’m really coming around to
it—the customer, it was the Aegis [Combat] System, and there
was a Navy guy named Wayne [E.] Meyer.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Wayne Meyer; Wayne
Meyer was the Admiral in charge of this program, and Wayne Meyer was
just an incredible systems guy. It’s a learning experience from
the customer. Wayne, every morning outside of his office, had one
of these flip charts and he had a pull up your socks list that he
did every morning. He was so enormously dedicated to the success of
this program. Again, even in a manufacturing, blue-collar thing, you
interact with people who are just incredible.
Another guy who was there at Baltimore, a guy named Mel Ruth [phonetic],
who’s still living, who had been there for years. When Mel Ruth
[phonetic] started there, he made $0.37 an hour, I still remember
that, because I remember he said the boss came out one day—and
this has nothing to do with it, but it’s just interesting—and
said, “Mel, you’re doing a terrific job and we’re
going to raise your salary. We’re going to raise it to $0.38
an hour on one condition, you don’t tell anybody, because we
don’t want the word to get around that you’re making $0.38
Mel Ruth, we had a program for the B-1 bomber, where we built the
tail structure for the B-1. There were a lot of problems with it also,
and it was probably one of the beginnings that Mel really was doing
this. But, the basic concept in a lot of the manufacturing at the
time was so-called commodity shop. You just take everything, the manufacturing
people do everything, you just take your end and they’ll manufacture
it. He changed that around to being very project-dedicated. Today,
that’s the technique that’s used throughout American industry,
really. He wasn’t the father of that, but he was just the guy
that was smart enough to recognize. Today, lead manufacturing and
stuff like that all came out of that.
I was at Baltimore for I’ve forgotten how long, a couple of
years or something like that. Then, I got asked if I wanted to go
to Orlando—I don’t know whether you’re asked or
not—but I went to Orlando. Orlando was a lot like Goddard in
that it had a lot of high-technology activities. I left Baltimore,
having had a terrific learning experience in the so-called manufacturing
side, the industrial side of the business. It helped transition me
away from just projects and NASA Center kinds of activities, and we
went to Orlando.
Orlando was full of high-technology, pushing the state-of-the-art
projects. We’re doing incredibly good things, but we’re
doing it by what I used to quasi-jokingly and seriously say, “hand-to-hand
combat,” and that is that a customer wasn’t happy, and
it was just an agonizing way to do things. It was, again, a great
opportunity to go there and try to make a real contribution.
They were delivering—now, some of these are small things, I
guess the smallest was, like, Hellfire, that’s the missile that
the controversial drones fire—a missile or an electronic system
every 10 minutes. It averaged out every 10 minutes on the working
day, one was being delivered. We had about 17,000 people, and the
volume of work was just incredible. Everything worked pretty well
but was behind schedule, over budget, so that was what I encountered
when I went to Orlando, which was a different situation. Interestingly,
we used to joke, Norm Augustine, who came from an Army kind of a background,
he went to Denver, which was all space, and I, from a space background,
went to Orlando, which was all Army and Air Force kinds of activities.
I don’t know what you want to know about those. I’ll stop
there. I’m away from NASA, so you probably want history of NASA.
think it was interesting, that you’ve talked so much about leadership.
My curiosity now is going to lead you to talk to us about the types
of leadership skills, and you’ve been bringing those in as you’ve
gone through your work with NASA. Now you’re out working with
a company that does work in space exploration, and then as you lead
up furthermore into your career, you start taking those two areas
and you come back and try to be an independent voice. So much of these
last 15 to 20 years, you have been able to work—I guess even
on both sides—and lending your expertise or lending your problem-solving
skills and doing that. If you could share with us some of those management
pieces and some of those skills, and then maybe even reasons why you
think that you were pulled into some of those studies or to lead some
of those panels to come up with some solutions to some big problems?
a good observation, so let me touch on the Orlando situation. As I
said, Orlando was an enormous amount of business, enormous volume
of products, very important to the country. One of the programs was
Pershing II, which really played a key role, clearly, in the SALT
[Strategic Arms Limitation Talks] agreements and probably in the demise
of the Soviet Union. It was one of the factors in it. Very critically
important programs—night vision systems for both helicopters
and for fixed-wing airplanes. Up until that time, the air was really
a daytime operation and we really developed systems that turned it
into a 24-hour operation, whether that’s good or bad, we did.
As I said, the big item was the success for hand-to-hand combat, so
again, a little bit of it was a problem-solving concept I had learned
and had honed through the NASA activities. We went about trying to
fix this. Again, a lot of good people, and so the first thing we did,
I remember we had a big campaign and it was heavily-focused on quality,
and we said, “Quality is one of the three legs of the stool.
There’s cost, there’s schedule, and there’s quality,”
a big poster, “and now that we understand that, we’re
going to really go put a lot of attention on it.” Nothing happened.
People didn’t have any idea what we were saying. “The
three legs of the stool, you got to juggle the schedule and you got
to juggle goals, the profit, you got to juggle the quality, and we
don’t know what you’re talking about.”
We then got together and we said, “Okay, we’re going to
have a new approach. We’re going to say that quality is first
amongst equals. We’ve got schedule and cost, but quality’s
more important than either one of those, so it’s first amongst
equals.” We had a big effort on that and nothing happened. Nobody
understood what we were talking about. We finally got together—you
really touched on this, I think this comes from NASA and really space—and
I said, “Okay, we’re going to try a new approach.”
I will tell you, I was petrified at this. I said, “We’re
going to say that quality, meaning doing it right the first time,
is it. Nothing else matters. If we never make another penny, if we
never deliver another product, we’re going to do it right.”
The space world is mission success-oriented. We said, “That’s
it, quality is the only thing that’s important, and if you’re
building something and the drawings are not right, stop. If the test
is not going right, stop.” We kind of put that out as a concept
and as I said, I was petrified the whole place would come to a screeching
There was a person on an assembly line on what was called TADS/PNVS
[Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor],
which was the navigation and night-targeting system Apache helicopter.
Stopped the line, she said, “I can’t build it to this
drawing.” I don’t think we realized it, but I think 15,000
people stopped with alarm to look as to whether or not we’d
fire her. We told her to take the week off, or what. It was a slightly
different time, but what we did—this was mid ’80s, now,
at that time—we gave her a clock radio and we said, “Hey,
what you have done is terrific.” It was the belief that for
people doing the right thing, you don’t lavish them with a lot
of stuff, but we would give somebody dinner for they and their significant
other, so when people did what we were asking them to do, instead
of shooting them, we rewarded them. The turnaround was incredible.
The other thing that we did—which is back to what, I think,
I was talking way back in Viking—was the government was a big
kick at the time. NASA started doing it somewhat, but mostly, it was
the DoD organizations. They would come in and do audits. We said,
“Well, why do we wait for them to come in? Let’s do our
own.” We put together our own system of looking at ourselves
and we had red-yellow-green reports, which is not very innovative.
Every organization, every place, whether it was manufacturing optics
or whatever it was, they had a red-yellow-green chart, and most of
them were red, at the time.
We had a big visit coming by the customer, a big deal. There was a
lot of debate that we should not have these boards up when the customer
came through because it was kind of admitting to problems. Again,
I think it goes back to the Viking investigative reporter, but I decided,
“Hey, we’re going to leave them up. We’re going
to do it exactly as it was.” Again, a turning point, that people
said, “Hey, maybe these folks are a little bit serious about
the whole thing.”
Then, the government became somewhat a partner and they said, “Okay,
here’s the criteria you’ve got to have to so-call pass
these future audits.” We got on the kick of saying, “We
don’t want to pass, we want to pass with excellence. Passing’s
not good enough.” We began to build in these themes, and the
first theme was quality. As I said, if you’re talking space,
mission success, that’s the only thing that’s important.
In the end, if you do that right, the rest will take care of itself.
The second thing we said is transparent, don’t put the charts
back just because the customer’s coming in. The third thing
is, don’t just pass; pass with honors. That’s what we
said, “Pass with honor.” An astonishing thing to me was
most people said, “This is a multi-year project,” and
in six months, we pretty much had solved the problem. What I really
mean by that is not only we were delivering on time, but we were also
were within budgets, but the other side issue thing for everybody
was that even though we thought the quality was really good before,
everything was better. The products were better.
I do think—you really said this yourself—I think from
my standpoint, a lot of that came from some of these experiences that
I had at NASA. I think, again, the people, they were ready for this
long before management was. They were saying, “Tell me, why
are we screwing around with all these crazy things? Let’s just
get on and do the right thing.” By the way, a lot of it, again,
you see in some of the things that are happening in lead manufacturing
and what have you, but we really institutionalized this. There were
a lot of next-level managers who were just very taken. They were just
waiting for somebody to tell them to go do it, so to speak, and we
turned an organization around in a very short amount of time.
When I run into people from down there today, they’ll still
comment on that experience. What I got out of it is it doesn’t
matter what you’re doing—and you call it quality or call
it mission success or what have you—if it’s number one,
everything else will probably be better. If it’s not number
one, you’re probably heading for a lot of trouble, which I’ve
found a lot of places were heading for a lot of trouble in some of
these crazy reviews.
Orlando was really a good experience in that regard. Then, after that,
I went to our corporate headquarters for five years, I guess, as President
and Chief Operating Officer. Norm was CEO and Chairman, so Norm and
I had adjacent offices for five years, so we worked closely together
for that time period.
do you remember starting to be kind of the go-to person to pull in
groups together to make outside assessments? I know that in ’97,
you were asked to review the safety of the Russian Mir Space Station,
to help decide whether that was a good time for Dave [David A.] Wolf
to go up, but do you remember the other ones prior to that?
me kind of come back, that’s a really good item. I don’t
exactly know, to be honest with you. I was on the NASA Advisory Council
for a long time, when Dan [Daniel S.] Goldin was there. I’m
sure you’ve gotten a lot of Dan Goldin stories over the time.
I’m actually an admirer of Dan Goldin, and he too is an unusual
person. Let me even back up a bit.
At corporate headquarters, while I was there for the five years, the
whole industry changed. The Defense budget declined enormously. The
procurement in the R&D [research and development] budget, which
is almost where all contractors are funded, was reduced by more than
half. Today, we talk about 10 percent and everybody panics. There
was a real activity aimed on what to do about this. We were trying
to figure out, at Martin Marietta, what to do. I don’t know
quite where I’m going to go with this, but it was an interesting
experience. We knew the world was changing and we knew the budget
was changing, and we knew that we had to do something different.
As a corporation, we always were very focused on strategic planning,
but we did something slightly different. That is, we would take an
afternoon and we would either go to Norm’s house or my house
or the CFO’s house, and we would just leave for the afternoon.
Most of the time, it was three of us, the CFO, Norm, and myself, and
we’d go off and we would just talk about and argue about what
was the right thing to do. We did that for probably a few months,
and then we said, “Okay, maybe there are other people out there
have some bright ideas.” The people who really look at corporations
are the Wall Street analysts, and there were a lot of them at the
time. They were always coming by, “What are you going to do?”
We said, “We’re not going to pay you anything for this,
but anybody who wants to, if you want to come in, we’ll take
a better part of the afternoon and listen to what you have to say.
The fundamental question is, if you were running Martin Marietta,
what would you do?” We did that.
We had maybe 20 people at different times come in, and some of them
really were quite interesting. We did what I kind of crazily call
strategic-strategic planning. When we finished that process—and
this is how to deal with just a big change; NASA has the same big
changes to face—we fundamentally got our convictions as to what
we thought was the right thing to do. We concluded that the industry
was going to consolidate, and you could either be a buyer or a seller,
and we wanted to be a consolidator and not a liquidator.
We asked our board of directors, who was quite a good board, to come
and spend a Saturday. We said, “Look, we want to tell you what
we think we should do, but we don’t really want to do a typical
board of directors’ thing.” We didn’t want them
to have a vote, “we want you to argue with us, to test us.”
We said, “What we’re about to do is going to forever change
this company,” so we did that.
When we finished, the management and the board were on the same page.
I will tell you that we put together a list. We said we thought that
companies that had defense or space parts of their business would
get rid of them, and then later, major companies would consolidate.
We put together a list, if we were king for a day, what we might have
happen. Two weeks after that, Jack Welch called up and said, “I’m
thinking about selling the General Electric aerospace defense business,
and you’re my choice to buy it. If you’re interested,
let’s have dinner.” Two weeks after that, the deal was
done and the board approved it.
The reason was, it had all been thought out in advance, and the board
was on board. We went through it and then, on a Saturday, I remember
Norm came in and said, “Well, I just had an interesting call.
Dan [Daniel] Tellep just called up and said, “Do you have any
interest in putting Lockheed and Martin Marietta together as companies?”
Fundamentally, Martin Marietta went from $5 billion sales to $35 billion,
and they went from about 40,000 people to 180,000 people, out of that
process. Interesting experience, in that it really came from just
an awful lot of preparation and an awful lot of discipline.
Once that was done, the Lockheed one was done, it’s not something
I thought of before, but I thought, “I’m not sure that
I wouldn’t like to have a third life.” I say that my first
life was NASA and my second life was Martin Marietta. I didn’t
know what the third life was, to be honest. I was, relative to corporate
retirements, relatively young. I was 57 at the time, and I remember
talking to Norm, and I said, “Norm, I think I would like to
retire, and I don’t know quite what that means, but I would.”
He said, “Look, why don’t you take a month, and you and
I will not mention this discussion again in a month, and you tell
me whether that’s still what you’d like to do.”
I did, and my interest was in doing some of the kinds of things I’d
done, but I didn’t know exactly what they were. The answer was
that I—not different than tons of other people—knew a
lot of people, both at NASA and in the DoD world, and jokingly say,
when you’re free and available, you can get a lot of work. One
thing I was not interested in doing, and I was fortunate enough that
my corporate life had allowed me to do it, I wasn’t interested
in consulting. I didn’t want to be a consultant. Two or three
people asked me to do things; I said if I could help, I’d be
glad to. Joe [Joseph P.] Allen was one; Joe asked me to come look
at his company, and I said, “I’ll do it only on one condition—you
don’t pay me.”
About that time, two or three things came along. Mir was the first
one. I was on the NASA Advisory Council, and knew Dan reasonably well,
and Dan said, “I’d like to chat with you, I’ve got
a real problem. There’s a lot of concern about the risk of flying
U.S. astronauts on the Russian Space Station.” He said, “Would
you be willing to take a look at it and tell me whether or not what
we’re doing is a good thing?”
I said, “Sure, I’d be delighted to. How long do I have?”
He said, “Well, the next launch is in two weeks.”
I said, “Well, terrific, who’s going to help me with this?”
He said, “You can do it by yourself or you can get somebody
to help you. It’s up to you, but I just need to know before
we have the next launch whether we should do it.”
I had three people that I asked to help with it. One was Larry [Laurence
J.] Adams, who had been President and CEO, had the job that I’d
had at Martin Marietta before me, one was Charlie [Charles F.] Bolden,
and one was Frank [L.] Culbertson. The four of us met for a few times,
and really a side issue, but one of the things I really learned is,
first of all, Frank Culbertson, you got to know because you just talked
to him, is just an incredibly capable guy. We went off and looked
at it, and simultaneous with that, Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford headed—and
probably still does—a standing review with the Russians on doing
the Russian joint stuff. His group was also looking at it, but we
were an ad-hoc group.
We really concluded rather quickly that there are two ways you can
really be killed on the Space Station. One is you can have a rapid
depressurization, and one is you’d have a fire. They’d
had both of them, Mir had, but the big issue that everybody was concerned
about was that Mir is getting old, and was that the problem? The two
ways you can get killed had nothing to do with age—it could
have happened any time in the process.
Our conclusion was that it was no riskier—we said life up there
may be terrible, with the temperature control bad and what have you—there
was no additional risk of continuing to fly than there was when they
first started in the process. That was really a controversial subject.
When Dan was having a press conference for us, both Tom and me, to
report, they snuck us in the back of NASA so we wouldn’t see
That was one that I did. I really touched on the Shuttle one because
that really was the first one that I had done extensively. I think
out of all of this process—and we’ll touch on several
of those because you probably have a list; I’ve done a lot of
them. I think again, because of my background, the kinds of things
that I had been exposed to and the kind of people I’ve had as
mentors over various parts of my life, largely from the NASA activity,
but then carried it over to corporate life, I developed a problem-solving
capability. Most reviews don’t ever get to the root cause. Most
reviews get to the cause, but not the root cause.
I think I learned enough over time that if you don’t understand
the root cause, you’re probably not going to solve the problem.
I’m a stickler for really trying to understand root cause. As
I said, on this, it wasn’t a great invention, thought, but on
the Mir thing, it was that there were two ways to be killed, and if
you’ve done everything you can to minimize those, and if you’re
going to be in this business, it’s a reasonable risk to take
with it. I think one of the things—I’m always hesitant
to say what I want to say—I probably have a real capability
at is not being satisfied until you get to a root cause of the problem,
again, having a way to dig to find that. Often, people who have been
reviewed probably don’t enjoy it a whole lot in the process.
I did that one, and then it wasn’t long after that that the
Mars ’98 failure occurred.
couple of years later, he asked you to do that one, and you found
the root cause of that problem.
called me at home, I remember, and I still remember this experience.
I was sitting with my wife, and we were watching TV and Dan was on
the phone. Dan was talking about patriotism and do good things for
your country and my wife was saying, “Tell him no, tell him
I said, “Dan, any chance we could discuss this tomorrow?”
I took that, I chaired it. There are just a lot of good people who
are around. I guess the other critical item of these reviews is they
really be independent; it’s so important they be independent.
There was a little concern that Martin Marietta was the contractor,
or Lockheed Martin, at the time, and so I told Dan, I said, “You
need to think about that.”
He said, “I have thought about it.” In fact, even when
I testified, I got asked about that question. I think you often go
in with preconceived notions, but the other thing that’s important
is to really be pretty open, and that your preconceived notions are
I went into that one and really with a pretty intense effort. The
interesting item was a little bit different than Shuttle, I talked
about earlier, this was when faster, better, cheaper was happening.
Nothing wrong with faster, better, cheaper, except that the way people
were implementing it. The whole problem with the Mars ’98 was
they didn’t have enough money to do the job, and a planetary
program makes it harder because it’s a fixed launch window.
Fundamentally, a competent but inexperienced project manager really
used risk as the reserve and risk is a little bit like radiation.
It comes in small doses, but it accumulates until it kills you.
Mars ’98, I would say, had no chance to succeed. Most of these
things, probably even bad programs, are only a 20 percent chance they’re
going to fail. Mars ’98 probably had a 90 percent chance it
was going to fail. If it hadn’t been the reason that we identified,
it would have been something else, and it fundamentally was using
risk as a reserve. I think out of that, again, a little bit of a rewarding
situation. I think it’s forever changed NASA, the review of
that program, as to how they treat programs and look at programs.
These things bounced along. When that one was over, Pete [Peter B.]
Teets, who was President and Chief Operating Officer of Lockheed Martin,
and they started having some Titan failures. Every time you’d
launch a Titan with a classified payload on top, it’s about
a $1 billion package, and they were having failures. They were concerned
about it, and Pete asked if I would chair for Lockheed Martin an independent
review of their activity. Again, had really super people, and we did
it. It was a little bit back to, again, what we were talking about.
In essence, what had happened was cost had become more important than
mission success, and, by the way, stimulated by the customer, the
Air Force. Really, if mission success is not first, you have a big
A real example was one of the Titan IVs with a classified payload
on top. Martin Marietta, and then Lockheed Martin, always had at the
Cape a handful of people, gray beards, who always, jokingly said,
didn’t have a job. In other words, they’re kind of like
firemen—firemen don’t have a job, but they have a responsibility,
and these people are the same way. Their job was just to be a third
set of eyes, or whatever you want to call it, to help assure success.
In this enthusiasm by the Air Force and by the corporation to reduce
costs, they got rid of that group of people. On this particular program,
in the guidance equation for the Titan IV, somebody wrote down a gain
or a multiplier to guide this equation, and it should have been 100,
and it was 101, handwritten, you could see it on a piece of paper,
just wrote it down.
An important thing to recognize in all of this activity is that we’re
involved in a business that’s very unforgiving—space—but
it’s executed by humans, and humans make mistakes. It doesn’t
matter how hard you try to minimize, there are going to be mistakes.
You shouldn’t assume that you can ever make it mistake-free.
You can’t. What you have to do is to have a process that keeps
that human mistake from being mission catastrophic. We do that by
testing, we do it by independent analysis, we do it by independent
reviews, there’s various ways that we have a safety net to make
sure it doesn’t happen.
This group at the Cape was one of those pieces of the safety net.
This got written down wrong, got implemented in the software, got
missed in the test program, and the vehicle was at the Cape. They
were going through checkout at the Cape, and there was a group of
people there that check it out who are knowledgeable but not expert
in the systems. This person noticed that in the roll channel, it looked
different than it typically looked.
The normal process would have been to have gone to these five people
I talked about who don’t have a job and say, “Hey, would
you take a look at this?” They would have solved the problem,
no question. Those people weren’t there, so this individual
sent an e-mail to somebody in Denver, who happened to be on vacation,
in the process. The net result was it was launched with a problem
there, and it was a $1.2 billion failure.
These things are small problems, and so, again, back to what I was
talking about, you could say the cause was clear, but the root cause
wasn’t. The root cause was that the basic corporation and the
Air Force partner had moved to the point that cost was more important
than the mission success. By the way, I don’t think they would
say that—I said it wrong, too—it wasn’t that it
was more important, it was just that it was the top priority. People
recognized that. It’s a little bit back to this Goddard experience
I was talking about, how in the world did we ever solve that problem?
If every time you go in the meeting, the first thing you’re
asked about is cost, you probably don’t believe mission success
is the top priority.
Did that one, and then another one I did was for Pete Teets, again.
He had gone to be an Undersecretary of the Air Force, head of the
NRO [National Reconnaissance Office], and they had big problems. Pete
asked if we’d come in and do a review for them, and did that.
I guess it was before, I don’t know, somewhere along there,
I did the Space Station cost and management review.
one’s pretty significant, in the fact of was there a question
of stopping construction on the Station at the time.
the transition of Administrators at the end of that report.
was. In fact, a humorous side to that—which is public, I guess—was
testifying on the report. [Sean] O’Keefe had been at OMB [Office
of Management and Budget], when it got started, and so he was testifying
for the administration and I was giving our results. The chairman
was [Ralph] Hall, from your State of Texas, so we’d been all
morning, it went on, and on, and on. Hall said to O’Keefe, “Mr.
O’Keefe,” or “Honorable O’Keefe,” or
whatever, in a little sarcastic way, he said, “Your staff has
told me that you must leave here by noon as you have another commitment,
so I only have one more question I’d like to ask you before
Sean, to his credit, recognized that a faux-pas has taken place then
because Hall was really angry that he decided he had to be somewhere
else. O’Keefe said, “Mr. Hall, nothing’s more important
than being at your committee. I’ll stay here as long as you
want, so I will cancel whatever else I had to do today.”
Hall said, “Well, frankly, Mr. O’Keefe, I’d prefer
you left after this question.”
But you’re right, it was. That was dealing heavily with the
human space flight activity, and we spent a lot of time at Johnson
and the various Centers. I guess one of the items that came out that
I think people really worked on, Johnson had become—which is,
again, a really good lesson—a pretty insular organization. They
had the attitude, with a lot of justification, that at that time,
only two people in the world over know how to do human space flight,
the Russians and us; that we’re better than anybody else.
You can understand how you could do that, but once you develop that
attitude, you cut yourself off from a lot of learning because there
are a lot of people who know how to do things. If you lose the motivation
to listen, to interact with other people, to recognize that maybe
somebody else has some good ideas, pretty soon, you’re not as
good as you used to be. I think Johnson really had slipped into that
kind of characteristic. That was an interesting one, and, well, they’re
still going on, still doing one for NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration], for the meteorological satellite programs.
I was going to ask you about that one because I remember being at
the Earth System Science at 20 meeting several years ago. They had
a map of the world on the wall, and then watching all the lights go
dark of the satellites that were going to go away within the next
5 to 10 years. You’re kind of in the midst of this discussion
as well, of trying to find the way to decrease the gap of those satellites?
[National Polar-orbiting Operational Satellite Systems], which was
the joint program between the Air Force and NOAA and NASA, was proceeding
along, and had a fair amount of trouble. I was asked to chair a review
of it, again, with some extraordinary people involved. Our summary
statement was that there was a negligible probability of success on
the program. I guess this was arrogance, that’s probably not
the way to say it, but it said that the probability of success was
actually zero, but you need to leave room for a miracle.
If you go back, again, a lot of what happens to these programs is
unintended consequences. Nobody starts out wanting one of these things
to fail or not go well. Way back when [Albert A. “Al”]
Gore [Jr.] was Vice-President, there was a major initiative in reinventing
government and saving money, and one of the items was there were two
meteorological satellite programs. The Air Force had one, called DMSP
[Defense Meteorological Satellite Program], and NOAA had one, which
NASA was a partner with, and the idea was if you put those two together,
you could really save a bunch of money.
The problem was that people didn’t recognize that in crunch
time, their objectives were different. NOAA’s objectives actually
were more demanding over the Air Force’s objectives, and the
Air Force had the control of the contract and the budget. Congress
had directed that they each be a 50 percent participant, and the Air
Force wasn’t going to put any more money in, and NOAA couldn’t
accomplish their objectives unless more money was put in, and it was
guaranteed to fail. They couldn’t come to accommodation, and
the only solution was that the White House had to cancel the program
and direct they go in different directions.
It took so much time that the probability today is very high that
we will have gaps in the coverage of the meteorological data. I don’t
mean you can’t put it there, but it’s off the subject.
An interesting circumstance with [Hurricane] Sandy, the best model
actually that forecasted Sandy was a European model. There are tons
of these models, but the European model actually forecast the strange
left-hand turn that Sandy took earlier than the other models. All
of them eventually did it.
If you take the satellite data out of the models, the forecast is
it would have gone out to sea. If there had been no satellite data,
there would have been no warning for New Jersey or New York with it.
Really, a serious item that people were not paying much attention
to because of mixed signals. The program does both meteorology and
climate, and climate is a very political item, and a lot of signals
were coming from higher-ups that climate was more important than gap.
Therefore, project people said, “If that’s what people
are saying, then I’m not going to worry about the gap.”
Our push, which has now been done, is take the climate stuff off.
Make it meteorology only, which has been done. It’s a contribution
that review groups can do—I mean, review groups typically tell
people to do what they know they should be doing anyway.
have somebody else to blame, right?
that kind of highlights it. We’re about to go back and do a
reexamination because it had a whole lot of aspects to it. NOAA’s
management had really deteriorated, and Senator [Barbara] Mikulski
was going to move everything from NOAA to NASA, and probably not the
right thing to do. They’re still on probation. We're going to
go back and do a re-review in August of it.
a bunch of activities, so that’s kind of been my third life.
My third life is doing these. I think again, you really helped me
understand it, but my background with NASA—and a lot of other
people—really has facilitated us being able to do credible reviews,
and critically important that they be independent. I go back, and
I’ll say something again about NASA in that regard, really for
Dan Goldin. A lot of people characterize Dan differently. In the reviews
I did, Dan never once made a suggestion as to the outcome. Never changed
any aspects of their findings. Never changed any aspects of the report.
He, too, was adamant that they be independent and not have his fingerprints
on it at all, which is exactly right. I went on Mars ’98 and
briefed the White House on it, and he didn’t go. I testified,
and nobody from NASA reviewed my testimony before I went.
I never had anybody really try to influence the outcome of the review.
I’ve had people on projects who thought what we were doing is
dumb or crazy, and one person I much admire, Tommy [W.] Holloway,
you know who I’m talking about, I remember one time we were
having a heated discussion. He said, “We’re the only people
who really know about human space flight, you can kill people in this,
and what do you all know about that?”
My comments, I said, “Tommy, you know more about human space
flight than I do, but we do know a little bit about management, so
we might learn from you and you might learn from us in this process.”
There’s been a lot of pushing back and what have you with it,
but overall, I think the reviews have gone well, and generally they’ve
been welcomed. It’s something I kind of have found rewarding
in my so-called third life.
me ask you one more, then I’ll certainly let you go because
I don’t want to wear you out before you head back. In fact,
it’s just recent that you’ve testified, and has to be
what you believe, that maybe NASA and the civil space program is on
a declining trajectory, I believe, was the term that was used coming
out of those. Based on everything you’ve told us about all these
experiences over the last years, can you give us your thoughts on
those and what you would recommend on how to turn this trajectory
I’ve testified several times on this subject, but I recently
did it, and did have some thoughts, there. Human space flight is probably
the largest concern, and we do not, in my view, have a credible human
space flight strategy. I’m going to touch on it in a little
bit, and then I’ll expand a bit beyond that. We went through
this for quite a bit, what do we do after Shuttle? Constellation came
out as the option, and then this administration cancelled Constellation.
There’s no question that there’s a collection of people,
influential in the direction of the space program, who are very focused
on NASA facilitating the commercial end of it. My personal beliefs
are that the commercial cargo is a reasonable thing to do. I personally
am adamantly against the commercial crew. My reasoning is a collection
of it; I believe that the country benefits enormously by having a
highly-capable NASA and a highly-capable industry, where NASA is setting
direction, NASA is a continuity of expertise as to how to do these
things, and industry is extraordinarily capable implementers. I think
that partnership is so important, and I think that whatever we do,
we should preserve it.
For the commercial activity, I think anything that people want to
do, like the Virgin Galactic activity, I’m all for it. If people
want to pay for joyriding in space and it’s a business, terrific.
I just don’t want to compromise the NASA capability in order
to facilitate the commercial side of it. I think we’re doing
that; it’s my personal belief. I think that the Space Station—and
I also had this in the testimony—is an incredible technological
achievement, a marvel, a real success in terms of diplomatic activities.
I’ll use almost the words I used in that testimony. It’s
on the cusp of being a scientific and research failure. What I really
mean by that is we spend almost a fourth of the NASA budget on Space
Station, and we spend more on Space Station than we do on all of the
planetary, astronomy, solar system exploration work, and I don’t
think we get the return for it. I’m not convinced that we’re
spending the money on the highest priority. I’m back to where
I was way back when you maximize the budget and then do the highest
priority kinds of items. I recognize these are not easy items, but
I think we’re muddling along, is my personal view.
Do you blame anybody? That’s hard to say. Everybody has a role
in this. There’s no question about this administration has a
focus on the commercial activity, and I recognize that. I just don’t
put commercial crew as more important than maintaining the expertise
of NASA. When I look around, I think it really is somewhat on a decline,
and to me, it’s a real worry. Maybe everybody, when they’re
in their third career, worries about things like this. I don’t
know. I don’t see a great activity aimed towards, “My
God, we got a problem, and let’s see if we can’t fix it.”
I don’t know what you see—you see a lot of this from the
things that you all are doing. I don’t think it has to be the
old NASA. The asteroid mission, my original thoughts with that, and
I’ll acknowledge, was, that actually makes a lot of sense. No
gravity, easier thing to do. Turns out, an asteroid mission is a hard
mission. I’m not talking about this lassoing one, but, there
are not a lot of targets, they’re small, most of them are tumbling,
the trip times are in excess of a year, the risk is high, and you
don’t really walk on one of these things. If you do rendezvous,
it’s almost like scuba-diving. You get out, it’s almost
like an EVA [extravehicular activity] up to it. I think that the more
we’ve learned about it, the asteroid makes no sense whatsoever
as the target.
We’ve got this mentality, and I don’t mean this to be
political, but “The President said we’re going to do it,
so therefore we’re going to do it.” If it’s wrong,
somebody should tell the President it’s wrong, this is not the
right thing to do. I happen to think that this go out and put a net
around one and bring it back, is not exploration. I just think that
we’re not sitting down and facing up to issues and deciding
what we can afford and what we can’t afford. Budget is an issue,
I recognize that, but I also believe that great nations do great things.
We should decide, is it important? I think what we’re doing
is that we’re muddling through, and we should be a lot better
there anything else? I know we could talk for more hours, but is there
anything else you can think of, off the top?
Young: I don’t
know, I don’t know whether any of this is useful to you.
all great. I guess one of the other projects you’re working
on, it’s interesting—it’s not corporate and it’s
not a federal institution—you’re working on a kind of
collaboration between the Commonwealth of Virginia and with the Mid-Atlantic
Regional Spaceport [MARS]. I understand you’re on that board
an interesting experience—interesting and frustrating, also.
I live about 20 miles south of Wallops, care a lot about NASA, and
Wallops has been an orphan and is really one of the growing aspects
of it. Before me, there had been a concept of having a Wallops research
park, which I thought was a pretty good concept. All of the state
and local stuff to make it happen all happened before my time, but
there is a committee chair, and I chair the Wallops research park.
I had this idea that if you’re really going to make this thing
a success, it needs to be a partnership between the state and the
The idea is to build a park with infrastructure, but also, NASA has
agreed that their facilities can be used, but you’ve got to
build a taxiway to connect the park to the NASA runway. We were proceeding
along the line of a partnership—again, talking about how the
money changes, we’re talking about a total of $8 million, 4
for the county and 4 for the state. I thought the state was a done
deal and the county was the hard item, so I spent a lot of time convincing
the supervisors to do it, and actually got it to the point that it’s
a vote of 8-1 in favor. Now, the state is choosing not to support
the $4 million, so they spent a bunch of time on that. In fact, they’re
doing a letter to the governor, saying what a dumb thing this is that
they’re doing. I don’t know, some of these things are
then you have the challenge of a new governor coming in as well.
there will be a new one coming in. Then, they do have the MARS activity,
as you said, and they put together a new board and I’m on that.
I have a little background with that. It’s interesting, when
I was in Florida, the governor at that time—this was mid to
late ’80s—became interested in how space could be a larger
part of the Florida economy, even though it was booming at that time.
I chaired a review for the governor. My co-chair was Jeb [John Ellis]
Bush, so Jeb Bush and I spent a year working together, doing it. We
recommended, which is now the competitor, that Florida have a space
all comes back to haunt you, doesn’t it?
and put it together, yes.
became part of Goddard when you were there in that time brief time.
did, that’s right.
must just be in your stars, that’s what happened.
was interesting. There was a lot of pressure on NASA at the time,
they had too many Centers, so they got rid of two Centers by making
Wallops part of Goddard and [NASA] Dryden [Flight Research Center,
Edwards, California] part of Ames. I don’t know whether that
did anything or not, but I know that the Director of Wallops didn’t
think that was a very good idea. I’ve seen a lot in the process,
and it’s been an exciting time. It can be a great time in the
future, if we’re up to it. The country right now, in many ways,
we’re trying to find our way on some of this new stuff.
easy path, is there?
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