NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Houston, TX – 26 July 2011
Wright: Today is July 26, 2011. This
oral history is being conducted with Tom Sanzone in Houston, Texas,
for the Johnson Space Center [JSC] Oral History Project. Interviewer
is Rebecca Wright, assisted by Sandra Johnson. Thanks again for coming
in this afternoon. I know your schedule is a bit hectic these days.
We’d like for you to start by sharing with us how you first
got involved with the space industry.
Sanzone: Well, I have to almost apologize
for the way I got involved, because I know most people who work at
NASA and JSC have dreamed about working there their whole lives. For
me that really wasn’t the case.
NASA was really starting to “go and blow” with the Mercury
program when I was in high school, and I don’t remember following
NASA particularly closely. When I was in college at Villanova [University,
Villanova, Pennsylvania], I was so focused on trying to get out of
college that I didn’t do much extracurricular stuff, including
following the space program. As I was about to graduate, I interviewed
with Hamilton Standard. I was from Connecticut, and they were a Connecticut
I interviewed and was actually offered a job to work on the Boeing
747 [aircraft] which was being developed at the time. Hamilton Standard
provided many of the subsystems, particularly the environmental control
systems, on the 747. I was offered a position in the Field Service
department, and the plan was for me to go to Seattle [Washington]
and be stationed out there for a couple years. The day I reported
to work I was met by a man, Howard Goldberg, who had taken me to lunch
when I had interviewed several months before. He informed me that
he had recently been promoted to be the supervisor of the Service
Department that supported Hamilton Standard Space Systems. He told
me, “You’re not going to go to Seattle, you’re going
to go to Houston, and you’re not going to work for that other
guy who interviewed you, you’re going to work for me.”
The joke that’s existed in our company for more than four decades
is he also told me [I would be in Houston] for one year, maybe a year
and a half. That was 43 years ago. And that was one of the best things
that ever happened in my life.
I wasn’t particularly interested in coming to Houston, probably
heard things about how hot it was. I had never been south of Delaware,
so I’d never been south of the Mason-Dixon Line [division between
northern and southern U.S. states]. I showed up with my dad in July
. We drove down in a Triumph TR250 sports car that I had just
purchased as a graduation gift to myself. No air conditioning. I didn’t
even know what air conditioning was for a car. This was in the late
’60s, 1968. We drove to Houston. There was an air show at Ellington
[Air Force Base, Houston] that weekend, they were selling water. This
was long before water was sold like it is today.
There were very few places to live around JSC. Of course then it was
still called the Manned Spacecraft Center. Very few apartments. I
ended up living in Pasadena [suburb of Houston] for the first two
years or so, maybe two and a half years. I remember quite distinctly
being shown this apartment and going in. The air conditioner was blowing
and going. I said, “Okay, I’ll take it.” So for
about two and a half years I made the drive from Pasadena to the space
center every day, and arrived dripping [wet], with no air conditioner
in my car.
Obviously after I was here probably less than a month, maybe even
less than that, I was really hooked on what was going on here.
Wright: Where were you located? Were
you on site?
Sanzone: I was actually on site in Building
7. It was called Crew Systems Division then. Later the name was changed
to Crew and Thermal Systems. That division was responsible for many
of the items that the crew utilized, most significantly the space
suit and the portable life support system that they used when they
walked on the Moon. But they were also responsible for the environmental
control and life support systems in both the Command Module and the
Lunar Module. That was done out of there, and life rafts and clothing,
and everything like that. It was an exciting place to work.
Wright: Lots to see, lots to do.
Sanzone: There really was. I always
say that everybody was young, so it wasn’t as intimidating as
it might otherwise be. Today I can imagine a 22-year-old, like I was,
showing up to work at Johnson Space Center and seeing decades and
decades of experience from these other guys that are working there.
But back in 1968 there was nobody that had more than ten years’
experience, and most of them had two or three years’ experience
in space. So we kind of grew up together, if you will, from an experience
There were obviously some folks who were a lot more knowledgeable
than I was and had a few years on me, some maybe more than a few years,
but very few more than ten. It was a tremendous team to be a part
of. I haven’t worked in Building 7 for 25 years, but I always
appreciated Crew Systems Division, or now Crew and Thermal Systems
Division, because they got to deal with real hardware on a daily basis,
hardware that was going to fly.
There were other people that dealt with hardware, but most of the
Command Module went from California to Florida, the Lunar Module went
from New York to Florida. The space suits came from Delaware, and
the portable life support systems came from Connecticut where Hamilton
Standard was headquartered. We dealt on a daily basis with the hardware
that was actually going to fly.
We liked to refer to the extravehicular mobility unit, which is the
space suit and life support system combination, not as a large garment
but rather a small spacecraft. One of the things dealing with EVA,
extravehicular activity, over the years and decades was we really
had our own spacecraft. Everybody that dealt in the EVA world knew
pretty much everybody else. They knew the trainers, they knew the
flight controllers, they knew the technicians, the doctors who were
involved in the tests. We really knew everybody. We knew the guys
at the Cape [Cape Canaveral, Florida] that did training, we had an
office at the Cape. I’m not sure I recognized it at the time,
but over the years looking back, I really recognize how special that
It takes thousands and thousands of people to make a successful space
program. Many of those people are working on a particular subsystem,
almost a component, and it all comes together when we launch and go
to space, but we had the added pleasure and experience of dealing
with our whole system, our whole spacecraft. I used to tell people
we can literally get our arms around our spacecraft. That made it
very special. So although I was not a space aficionado before I came
to the Manned Spacecraft Center, it didn’t take me long to get
there. And obviously I never left.
Wright: That’s true. Talk about
some of the first duties that you had, because you were sent down,
as you mentioned, to be a field representative.
Wright: Did you do you what you thought
you were going to be doing, and how did that change?
Sanzone: I don’t think I had a
clue what I was going to be doing, to be honest with you. My degree
was in electrical engineering. When I first came down, they were really
looking for somebody to help out in that area. While I had a degree
in electrical engineering, I had very minimal experience, virtually
none. I did a little work for the first couple of months on the communications
system that was part of the life support system. It was called the
Space Suit Communications System, we called it SSC—basically
testing it, making sure it worked properly prior to going into a vacuum
chamber training run with an astronaut, and eventually flying.
Then I also was involved some with the power distribution system in
the life support system. I mentioned earlier that the extravehicular
mobility unit is really a small spacecraft, so virtually everything
that a spacecraft had, other than propulsion, we had. We had our own
power distribution system, so it had some of its challenges. It had
terminal boards and solder issues and things like that that I got
to deal with.
But my boss asked me one day if I would help out on a test to evaluate
how long and how efficiently we could recharge the primary oxygen
system bottle in the life support system. I ran that test, and I enjoyed
doing that test, and I think he gave me another mechanical, not electrical,
test to do. I enjoyed doing that as well.
So he came to me one day and he said, “You seem to enjoy doing
these mechanical tests more than the electrical tests.” That
was probably the best assessment that anybody could make, and he gave
me more and more. We had another engineer that had come down that
had done some of that stuff, so I got involved more and more with
the hydropneumatic and mechanical aspects of the life support system,
and really for the most part backed out of the electrical stuff.
I do remember one time, however, briefing Bruce McCandless [II], who
was the capcom [capsule communicator] on Apollo 11. It may have been
one of my first experiences with an astronaut. He came over to our
office, and I was supposed to explain the schematic and how the communications
system worked in particular. One of the things that struck me was
after me explaining it to him for ten minutes he knew it ten times
better than I did. I looked up his resume later, and he had a master’s
degree in electrical engineering. Plus, he had all the practical knowledge.
I think one of the last electrical things that I actually did was
to brief him before Apollo 11 since he was going to be the capcom.
I got to do more and more of these mechanical tests, and that led
pretty quickly to system-level testing of the portable life support
system, running it through its paces on a great big test stand that
we had in the high bay area of Building 7. Just checking out all the
subsystems—the oxygen system, whether the regulator worked properly,
the sensors and the warning systems and all the systems in the life
We did things a little differently then, than we’ve done more
recently at JSC, in that a particular engineer, myself for example,
would run the unmanned tests to make sure that the hardware worked
properly. Then we would take that unit, and we would put it in a vacuum
chamber unmanned. In Building 7 it was the eight-foot chamber—that
is what we referred to it as. I think today they call it the “canned
man.” We could simulate CO2 [carbon dioxide] removal capability,
things like that, before we would ever put an astronaut in a space
suit with that life support system.
I started getting involved with some of those more system level tests,
and one day my boss came to me, matter-of-factly in hindsight, and
said, “I want you to sit on the console when we do this chamber
run with this astronaut crew.” I was still pretty inexperienced.
When I think back on it, I was very inexperienced. I was like, “okay.”
Everybody did whatever they were asked to do, it was a tremendous
team effort. I hadn’t thought about it too much—his name
was Fred [Fredrick] Keune [Jr.] by the way. He was a great leader
in my life, he passed away a number of years ago.
This first crew that I got to train was the Apollo 11 crew. In hindsight
it seemed like that should have been done by somebody a lot more senior
than I was, almost as a reward. But I got the task, and did the hardware
preparation and sat on the console when they made the training runs.
It was not necessarily in this order, but the prime crew was obviously
Neil [A.] Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and then the backup crew was
later the Apollo 13 crew, Jim [James A.] Lovell and Fred [W.] Haise
[Jr.]. We did all the training runs with four guys. We’d do
them four days in a row if we could, if we didn’t have any issues
or anything like that. That was pretty interesting, as a virtual first
task. That was about March or so of 1969.
Wright: When you said you prepped [prepared]
the hardware, what did that entail and how long did all of that take
to get ready for those tests?
Sanzone: We would do a lot of unmanned
testing in our lab leading up to a vacuum chamber run. As I said,
we actually, as part of our test stand, had a small vacuum chamber.
We would take this portable life support system, which we affectionately
called the PLSS, and we would put it in there. We would hook up the
oxygen umbilicals and the water umbilicals and with the very large
test stand we would run the life support system through its paces.
We had to circulate chilled water through the life support system
and through the liquid cooling garment that the astronaut would wear.
It was four pounds a minute, I think, of flow, so we would have to
verify that the pump was actually putting out the flow rate that was
expected. If we found that it wasn’t we would have to troubleshoot
why, what had happened. Usually change something, put a new pump in,
and at the same time, in parallel, understand what happened to that
pump that had failed and—similar to what we do today—how
do we assure ourselves that that failure was not going to occur on
the Moon for example. We didn’t just change out parts, there
was also a lot of analysis.
We had a fan that circulated at approximately 19,000 revolutions per
minute. It would put out about six cubic feet a minute of flow through
the suit. It would come up over the back of the helmet and flow down
in front of the astronaut’s face to remove carbon dioxide. We
would have to verify that that system was providing the proper amount
We had about a dozen or so channels of telemetry, we would need to
make sure that all the telemetry was working properly. Each subsystem
had some type of warning device—not each, but several of them
had warning devices. We’d have to verify for example that the
low suit pressure warning switch would actually trigger the alarm
at the appropriate pressure, so that if the astronaut was in the vacuum
chamber or on the Moon and he started to get reduced suit pressure
even before he was aware of it, he would get an alarm. All those sensors
were checked out as well.
There are four primary subsystems in the life support system. One
is the feedwater system, where the water is fed up to a heat exchanger
that we called a sublimator, because the process of sublimation is
going from solid to gas without going through the liquid state. With
the vacuum of space or the vacuum chambers that we used we could verify
that that system worked properly. We had a feedwater system that around
Apollo 11 time I think had about eight pounds of water. It would feed
this sublimator, which was a very simple system and very complex system
at the same time. It had no moving parts, it was an amazing system.
We still use the same technology today 40 years later.
We had a transport water system. The pump would push four pounds a
minute of chilled water through the system up to the sublimator to
be chilled. The astronaut had a temperature regulator; he could regulate
the temperature. Then it would go through the liquid cooling garment,
absorb the heat from his body, and then be returned to the portable
life support system to be rechilled through the sublimator again.
We had a carbon dioxide removal system. Because the astronaut is in
the suit, he’s producing carbon dioxide. It’s not being
dumped overboard. Some people are not aware of the fact that the life
support systems are not scuba type systems where you breathe it in
and you dump everything over. They’re actually a rebreathing
system. When the astronaut exhales, he exhales some carbon dioxide
and some unconsumed oxygen. We don’t want to waste that oxygen
so it goes back through the loop. The carbon dioxide went through
a CO2 removal bed, a chemical called lithium hydroxide. It’s
one of the few chemical equations that I can remember, lithium hydroxide
plus carbon dioxide yields lithium carbonate and water. My chemistry
teacher would be proud of me, but that’s the only one I remember.
We absorb the carbon dioxide, and with that system it would enable
an astronaut (through Apollo 14) to be out for approximately four
Wright: You were talking about how you
prepped the hardware for the crews to come in for training. But did
you have the use of test subjects?
Sanzone: That’s a very good question.
Yes, we routinely used other test subjects. There weren’t many
of them. One that I know the best is a guy by the name of Jack [Jackie
D.] Mays. I don’t know if you’ve ever interviewed him,
but you might consider it. First of all I should say that in the Apollo
program every astronaut had his own space suit. Matter of fact, most
of them had three. The flight astronauts had a flight suit, they had
a backup flight suit, and they had a training suit.
The life support systems were separable, so we didn’t have life
support systems assigned by name but ultimately only one life support
system went with an astronaut to the Moon because they didn’t
come back. Jack Mays was the only person that I know who had his own
space suit, only person who wasn’t an astronaut who had his
own space suit with his name on it. He did that many vacuum chamber
training runs. There was another fellow that did some work over in
the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory, guy by the name of [Kenneth]
Ken Dessert, who I still know today. He hasn’t worked at NASA
for decades, but I do run into him at church occasionally. But Jack
Mays was the guy that did most of the “guinea pig” type
runs to make sure that this stuff was going to work okay.
Things were so compressed timewise that most of the proving of the
design was done before we got into the real flight stages of things.
We did certification runs in Building 32, the Space Environment Simulation
Laboratory. We put a test subject out there or maybe an astronaut
who wasn’t planning to fly, and we would not only pull a vacuum
on the system, which would allow our heat exchanger to work and fully
test the suit and life support system, but we would also have the
ability to put thermal loads on the suit and the life support system.
Both hot and cold, very extreme temperatures, similar to what you
would see in space, couple hundred degrees Fahrenheit plus or minus.
That was to really wring out the suit and to prove that it would actually
meet all of its design requirements, including these thermal design
requirements. As you know the suit is like a thermos bottle with like
a dozen layers of insulation, a fabric thermos bottle if you will.
We wanted to be sure, we needed to be sure, that the life support
system in the space suit would provide the environment to keep the
astronaut both alive and comfortable, as comfortable as we could.
Because the human body is like a heater, we didn’t have heaters.
We didn’t heat up anything. Even when they were in the cold
environment, we didn’t have a heater in the life support system
to heat them up. Their own bodies heated themselves up. I always said
it was like being in a fraternity party with a whole bunch of people—the
room gets pretty warm, because bodies are giving off a lot of heat.
Well, the astronaut or the test subject would give off heat to keep
himself warm. With the level of insulation that we had, we didn’t
have to put any heat in, but we did have to take heat out, even in
the cold case, but particularly in the hot case, where it was a couple
hundred degrees Fahrenheit. It was insulated, but in that kind of
environment, you do have what’s called, thermal leakage. That’s
where we would prove out the design of the system.
Once we got into the training aspects with the astronauts—of
course the Apollo flights were so relatively close together, that
it was one on top of the other on top of the other. We were just cranking
them out. We weren’t concerned any longer about the design,
the design had been proven. Now we were pretty much into asking, does
this life support system work the way it’s supposed to, do the
sensors work, the pumps, the fans, the regulators?
The fourth system, that I left out a minute ago, was the oxygen system.
We had a high pressure oxygen bottle—I’m speaking Apollo
11, because the pressure was raised for the last three Apollo flights—but
it was about 900 pounds per square inch. We would drop that pressure
through a pressure regulator to about 3.85 pounds per square inch.
That’s what the space suit was pressurized to. We would have
to make sure that that regulator was regulating at the proper pressure,
and that the sensors that provided us warning if it wasn’t working
properly, if we somehow got high oxygen flow, if we had a hole in
the suit or something, suddenly oxygen started going out faster than
we had planned for it to go out, we had a warning device that would
give off a tone and provide the astronaut a little symbol that he
We also had a backup system called an Oxygen Purge System, and it
sat on the top of the portable life support system. It was totally
separable though; we could take it off. It had two oxygen bottles
that were charged to 6,000 pounds per square inch, which is really
high pressure. More than six times the pressure in the primary tank.
The reason for that kind of pressure was to be able to contain as
much oxygen as we possibly could, because as the name indicates, it
was an oxygen purge system. If we had a failure of the primary life
support system—for example a power failure, where suddenly we
had no fan circulating, removing carbon dioxide, we had no pump circulating
chilled water—we had the ability through what was called a purge
valve that plugged into one of the ports in the suit to actually open
the purge valve, turn on the oxygen purge system. Not in that order—you
wanted to turn the oxygen purge system on first, then open the purge
valve. It would flush oxygen across the astronaut’s face. As
it took the CO2 away from the astronaut’s face, it would go
to the purge valve and be dumped overboard. It was clearly an emergency
system. It was good for about 30 minutes, and it was time to get back
in and get on the spacecraft life support system in the Lunar Module.
I’m happy to say that we never had to use the oxygen purge system
in an emergency mode. We did use it. On the last three Apollo flights
we actually did a spacewalk on the way back from the Moon. There was
a film canister outside the Command Module, and the Command Module
pilot would be hooked up to the Command Module environmental control
system, would open the hatch, stick his head out, get this film package,
and come back in. This oxygen purge system was actually mounted behind
his helmet in case it was needed, in case there was a failure in the
umbilical system or the suit or something like that. Again we never
had to use it.
But we also didn’t want to land with a 6,000 psi [pounds per
square inch] charged oxygen system. We didn’t want to land in
the ocean with that, so after this spacewalk was done by the Command
Module pilot, periodically they would dump some of the oxygen from
the oxygen purge system into the cabin. It would literally pressurize
the cabin. It had so much oxygen that they would do it in several
steps over a couple days. They’d actually allow the Command
Module pressure to drop a little bit, and then just take this thing
and turn it on, and it would pressurize the Command Module. When they
actually landed, those bottles would be virtually empty.
One of the ironies as I’m telling you this is we were always
a little jealous of the suit guys. Back then the suit was made by
ILC [Dover, LP], and Hamilton Standard made the portable life support
system and the oxygen purge system. NASA was really the integrator
of those two systems. We all worked together obviously and we integrated
But, they [ILC] got their suits back. Every time the astronauts went
to the Moon, they got their suits back. We never got anything back,
because all the life support systems were left on the Moon. After
the last moonwalk on a particular mission, the astronauts would come
back into the Lunar Module, the hatch would be left open, they would
hook up to the Lunar Module environmental control and life support
system. They would put the portable life support systems on the porch
of the LM [Lunar Module], disconnect from their suit, and kick them
off. So there are 12 life support systems, two each at the base of
six lunar modules, on the Moon.
Wright: Your litter.
Sanzone: Yes, our litter. If we get
to go back there someday, we’ll retrieve them. I said we were
a little bit jealous that the suit guys always got their hardware
back, covered with Moon dust by the way. It wasn’t until Apollo
15, that was the first time we ever got any hardware back, because
that was the first mission where they actually did the spacewalk from
the Command Module on the way back from the Moon. We actually got
the oxygen purge systems back for the last three Apollo missions,
which was fun to see something that had actually been on the Moon.
It was there.
It was also there as a backup system when they did this Command Module
EVA. Then they used it to pressurize the Command Module. I suppose
our greatest joy was it didn’t have to be used in an emergency.
That was one system we never wanted to have to use, and we didn’t,
except on the ground obviously. We would simulate failures, that was
part of the crew training. We would simulate a failure, allow an astronaut
to just shut off his oxygen regulator, and his suit pressure would
start to degrade. He would go through the experience of hearing the
warning system go off, looking at his pressure gauge, knowing what
it felt like in the suit. It wouldn’t drop very much though.
Then he would know to activate his oxygen purge system, which would
immediately repressurize his suit up to the normal level.
If you had an oxygen regulator failure, you could actually use the
oxygen purge system without going into the purge mode, just as a redundant
supply of oxygen. But again we never had to do that either. I sit
here four decades later thanking my lucky stars that we never had
to do any of that.
Wright: Since you’re talking about
simulation, let’s go back to those first days when you were
testing the equipment with the Apollo 11 crew and its backup. You
said that was your first crew to work with. How long did you test
them? Was everything working the way you wanted, or did you have to
make adjustments before the crew took it?
Sanzone: For the Apollo 11 crew I remember
that there was a problem with the vacuum chamber, because the facility
was very complex as well, the facility that was used to test the equipment
and the astronauts. So I’m almost positive that we actually
didn’t get the first run off with Neil Armstrong. I mentioned
to you earlier that this was, as I recall, in the March timeframe,
and it was only a few months later he was walking on the Moon, so
he was a very busy person. Although I don’t remember him really
“venting” or anything, I don’t think he was really
happy that he was going to have to come back another day.
He could count the days he had between then and the time he was actually
going to the Moon, and the astronauts needed to spend most of their
time in flight simulations. Back then you’ll recall that unlike
[Space] Shuttle where we have a commander and a pilot who fly the
vehicle, and then we have usually five mission specialists who do
most of the other stuff, back then our pilots were our mission specialists.
Everybody was a pilot, until Apollo 17 with Jack [Harrison H.] Schmitt.
He was the first and last of the 12 astronauts who walked on the Moon
and was actually a scientist.
I remember vaguely not feeling all that guilty personally, because
it wasn’t my system. I learned over the years that if you’re
part of a team, it’s your system even if it’s not your
system. But at that point I don’t remember it being a big emotional
“oh no we let him down,” kind of a thing. The chamber
run that I was managing, at least from the life support side, was
generally just several hours. That’s about the only time that
they would actually spend utilizing the flight hardware.
I wasn’t on console for this so I don’t remember exactly,
but I think for the early Apollo lunar flights we would also take
them over to Building 32 and put them through the thermal environment.
I don’t know if we did that all the way through the program
or not. We may have. We may have done it all the way through the program,
because I do remember doing some other thermal vacuum tests over there.
Generally what would happen is two or three days before the simulation,
we would take part of one day and would do a briefing of the crew,
like “portable life support system 101.” It’s got
four subsystems, really basic stuff—the controls, how they operated,
where they were located; the warning system, what they could expect,
when they could expect it, what actions they would need to take when
a particular alarm went off—like the classroom session of a
course. Then either that day or the following day we would do a dry
run. This was the norm.
We would do a dry run where we would go through the whole scenario
with the astronaut, get him in the suit, the whole thing, but we wouldn’t
take the vacuum chamber to vacuum. Then the next day we would do what
we called the wet run, which was get in the suit, and we’re
going to suck all the air out of the chamber and take you—people
used to actually refer to it as taking you to altitude. We would take
all the air out of the chamber, then the heat exchanger would work,
and then you could use all the systems.
Back to Apollo 11, we probably took two days. Obviously the classroom
training was done with all four astronauts, the prime crew and the
backup crew. One thing I should mention, I keep talking about two
astronauts. The two astronauts that I’m talking about are the
commander of the mission and the Lunar Module pilot. We did not train
or interface with the Command Module pilots ever until Apollo 15,
16, and 17 when they used our oxygen purge system as the backup system
for that return from the Moon EVA to retrieve the film cartridge.
Usually a briefing would be the prime commander and Lunar Module pilot
and the backup commander and Lunar Module pilot. Those four guys would
hear what was going on, and then they would each make a vacuum chamber
run. Those wet runs would occur over four days, usually four days
in a row. Then for their flight hardware training, sometimes we would
take them over to Space Environment Simulation Laboratory and take
them through a thermal run as well. That was it for their vacuum chamber
runs, they didn’t make multiple vacuum chamber runs.
They spent their very valuable time, like I said, flying simulators,
and doing a lot of what we called one g [gravity] training, which
was putting an astronaut in a space suit that was flight-like. It
was designed to the same specs [specifications] as the flight suits,
but not using a functioning life support system. The backpack, if
you will, was really more of a box that could either have a little
cryogenic supply of air—and I think that’s what we used
most of the time—or you could use an umbilical type system.
It was virtually an empty box because our life support system would
only operate totally in a vacuum. The heat exchanger could not work
outside of a vacuum environment. The astronauts would spend a lot
more of their time doing this one g [gravity] training than the vacuum
chamber training. The vacuum chamber training was really to get them
familiar with and confident with the portable life support system.
The other training that they did was much more extensive and that
was for learning where you put the experiments, how you deploy them,
how you pick them up. From that standpoint, we were there as a tool
that the astronaut would use, but they would spend hours and days
doing that kind of training as well. For the most part I wasn’t
heavily involved with the one g training, I was more with the flight
hardware and the vacuum chamber training.
Wright: Did the results of the two types
of training, the one g and the flight simulation, have impacts on
each other? As they were training in the one g did they want to change
things that affected your flight hardware or vice versa?
Sanzone: You’re making me laugh
because I had a small group of a couple of guys. One of those guys
was assigned to support the Apollo 11 crew in these one g training
exercises. I would rarely if ever go to them, so he would come back
and just report on what happened. We were very close to Apollo 11,
seemed like weeks away, and he came from one of these training sessions
and said to me, “Neil wants a camera bracket mounted on the
front of his remote control unit.” The remote control unit was
the control box that they wore in front of the suit.
My first reaction was, “there’s no way, we can’t
do it.” It wasn’t that we couldn’t build it; my
thinking at the moment was that we couldn’t get it certified.
We couldn’t go through all the thermal environment tests that
we would need to do to verify that this big piece of metal on the
front of this remote control unit wasn’t going to provide heat
into the inside of the control unit, maybe damage the electronics.
There just wasn’t time to do it. Well, I say this with a big
smile on my face, because if you look at pictures on the Moon, Neil
Armstrong had a camera bracket, and it wasn’t just the -1 [first
model], it was the -2 [second model]. In that very limited amount
of time we not only designed a bracket, we modified it and ultimately
flew the second version of the bracket.
That’s when I think I started to realize the power that astronauts
had. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time, but you made
me smile. That’s probably the best example of how something
coming out of the training might affect what we do with the flight
hardware. Usually it didn’t, but in that case it certainly did.
Many people at NASA are not aware, but Armstrong was the only one
with a Hasselblad camera on the Moon, so all the photos taken on the
Moon by the Hasselblad camera are of Buzz Aldrin taken by Neil Armstrong.
If you want to see Neil Armstrong in a Hasselblad photograph you have
to look in the gold visor worn by Aldrin to see the reflection of
this little tiny person taking the picture.
That was probably the biggest example of a change, I can’t remember
another one. There may have been some. I wasn’t working on the
suits myself then, so there may have been some visor requests or some
things like that that may have made some changes, but for the most
part they didn’t. It was more just using the suit to go through
the exercises that they would go through.
Wright: I would think the whole ensemble
had to be in balance with each other. If someone wanted you to have
a change, could it affect your portable life support system? What
type of safeguards were included?
Sanzone: One thing I should tell you,
and I often don’t think about it, is the portable life support
systems in both Apollo and Shuttle—it’s called the primary
life support system, an integral part of the space suit—are
called fail safe systems. Most of the systems in the spacecraft, both
Apollo and Shuttle, are called fail operational systems. The difference
between those two systems is in the fail operational system when you
have a failure of a component, you go on to the backup system or what
I would call the first backup system, and you just keep on operating.
It’s only when you would have a second failure of that system
that you would have to abort the mission or whatever part of the mission
that you were doing. So hardware failures in the spacecraft are often
not seen clearly by the public, by those outside of NASA, because
we just keep on going.
But the primary life support system and the portable life support
system in Apollo were what were called fail safe, because we really
couldn’t afford the weight and size that it would take to have
extra backups for every system. Consequently if we had a failure in
our system, everybody knew about it, because we had to stop what we
were doing, go on the backup system, and get back to the spacecraft.
I mentioned earlier the oxygen purge system was a 30-minute system.
If your pump failed for example, you would get on the oxygen purge
system and you would get back in. There was no, “just keep going
for a while.” That wasn’t possible. It was just accepted.
Our systems were designed to keep the astronaut alive with a backup
system, not to keep pressing on with the operational aspects of that
One of the things that I remember that ties to experience with spacecraft,
or any element of the spacecraft, is as you gain more confidence in
the hardware [you have to determine] the risk that you’re willing
to take. It’s not that you’re taking more risk; it’s
that because you have more confidence in the hardware you feel that
the risk is less, therefore you might accept something without the
same level of backup system. For example, we had three means of monitoring
the pressure in the space suit. The astronaut had on the forearm of
the suit a pressure gauge where he could look at it himself and see
what the pressure in the suit was. We also had telemetry that was
being sent down from the Moon so we could monitor to see what the
suit pressure was. Then we also had a low suit pressure warning alarm.
If the telemetry were to fail and the suit pressure were to drop,
an alarm would go off to alert the astronaut that you better get on
the backup system and you better get back in. We had three different
means of verifying that we had safe suit pressure.
On Apollo 11 the mission rules were that all three had to be functional.
On Apollo 17 only one of the three had to be functional, because by
the time we got to Apollo 17 we had a lot more confidence in the hardware.
We felt we could keep going as long as we could see one of those three
things. For example, if we lost telemetry and the warning system didn’t
work for some reason and the astronaut could still see his pressure
gauge, we were okay to go.
The biggest backup system that we had was this oxygen purge system,
because it would not only provide more oxygen if needed, it effectively
would provide body cooling and CO2 removal. Just the gas flowing away
from your body would provide some level of cooling, not the same that
a liquid cooling garment would provide, but enough to keep you safe
in order to get back in. It was definitely a fail safe operation.
I know that I learned a lot working on life support systems early
in my career that served me well later in my career. It was because
when you worked on life support systems, to borrow a quote from Gene
[Eugene F.] Kranz, failure is not an option on a life support system.
It’s right there in the name—you are supporting someone’s
So you never took a shortcut. That mentality tended to serve me well
later in my career, while working on systems where you maybe could
have taken a shortcut and gotten away with it without hurting somebody.
It was in our DNA [deoxyribonucleic acid]. We didn’t do things
that way. So we had some other systems that we treated like life support
systems, even though you weren’t going to lose your life if
they didn’t work properly.
I wanted to share a story about Fred [W.] Haise [Jr.]; it is something
I’ve always smiled at. One of the things that we tried to do
in the training—and I learned this more as missions went by—is
we not only were trying to give the astronauts training in the nuts
and bolts of how the hardware worked, but we were also at the same
time giving them confidence in the hardware, that it worked just as
advertised, that we understood how it worked. It was very predictable.
Therefore, you could depend on it and not think about it.
I remember my boss, Fred Keune, saying one time—because we couldn’t
wait to be on stage with our hardware, and everybody liked to hear
an astronaut say, “Oh, I love this hardware,” and mention
the company name or maybe some engineer’s name or something
like that. On one of the missions—it might have been Apollo
11, I don’t remember—there was no mention of the life
support system. We were like, “Oh, he didn’t say anything,
he didn’t pat us on the back.” My boss said, “That
is the highest compliment we could ever receive. This astronaut is
using our equipment as a tool to do other work on the Moon and he’s
not even thinking about it.” I’ve joked with people over
the years. You drive your car downtown and you don’t say, “Hey,
my car worked all the way downtown.” That’s really a compliment
to the car, that you have that kind of satisfaction and confidence
in the hardware.
Fred Haise took that—I don’t want to say to the limit
but certainly to a higher level. We had him in Chamber B of Building
32, the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory, SESL it was called.
There was a step in the procedure that was always confusing to the
astronaut, and a little to the test team. It occurred right near the
end of the run, when we had done all the operational things that we
were to do. He was still in a hard vacuum. In SESL we had a trolley
system that was utilized to hold most of the weight off of his shoulders,
so the astronaut didn’t have to carry this very heavy life support
system around on his back. Of course we had a backup safety system,
which was a cable, so that if the astronaut for example lost consciousness
he wouldn’t drop to the floor, he would drop down several feet,
and then this cable would catch him and hold him up.
So the test director read the step. I was on the console as the life
support guy. The test director said, “Crewman rest until ready
to proceed.” I don’t know why we never changed that. It
said, “Crewman rest until ready to proceed.” On virtually
every test the astronaut thought he was waiting for us. He was going
to rest while waiting for us to tell him we were ready to proceed,
but it was really intended for the astronaut to rest because he had
to walk a distance out of this chamber. Inevitably, the astronaut
would eventually say, “Are you guys ready?” or we would
say, “Are you ready?” and he’d say, “Oh, I
was waiting for you.” So Fred Haise, this was probably when
he was part of the Apollo 13 crew, he was out there and we told him
to rest. He said, “Hey, will this thing hold my weight?”
The test director called on me, and I said, “Yeah, absolutely.”
So he lowered this cable until it took up his weight, like on a swing
almost. It was always very quiet during this period of resting, because
we were waiting for him and he was waiting for us. Nobody said anything
on the net[work]. About three minutes went by with nobody saying anything.
The test director called him. He said, “Crewman.” There
was no response. He called him a second time. I think on the third
time he actually raised his voice a little bit. He woke up Fred Haise
who was in the suit, in a hard vacuum, sound asleep. I think we were
successful in demonstrating to him that he could have a lot of confidence
in the hardware. So yeah, that is one of those. Everybody was like,
“Can you believe that? He went to sleep out there.”
Wright: I noticed you called him crewman
too. Did you not refer to the astronauts as individuals when they
were in your suits?
Sanzone: Rarely. The test discipline
was such that we would usually refer to them as crewman. The test
procedures were all written somewhat generically. When we would see
them at the post-test debriefing and things like that, we would call
them by name, but everybody had a code name, much like Mission Control.
You have a capcom and a FIDO [flight dynamics officer] and a GUIDO
[guidance officer] and an EECOM [Electrical, Environmental, and Communications].
It was similar to that. Actually my position had a word tied to it
because it was PLSS engineer. Then there was TD for test director
and MO I think for medical officer and things like that. But almost
always, we referred to them as crewman. They were all men back then.
Wright: Speaking of those that were
involved, you sound like you had a variety of people around for testings.
For instance did you always have a medical officer present?
Sanzone: Absolutely, yes, we always
had a medical officer, because again this is testing a life support
system. It wasn’t just loss of life that was a concern. The
astronaut, because of the environment that he was in, had the risk
of getting the bends, much like a scuba diver going from higher pressure
when he’s down say at 90 feet or four atmospheres up to sea
level, one atmosphere. When we would do a spacewalk say in Shuttle
we would go from one atmosphere just like we are here in the room
to slightly more than a quarter of an atmosphere. That could enable
astronauts to get the bends.
Now I should say in Apollo that risk was significantly less if not
nonexistent. I’m not a physiologist, but Apollo was 100 percent
oxygen environment, not just the space suit, which it is in Shuttle,
but also in the spacecraft. The astronauts were breathing 100 percent
oxygen all the time, whereas in the Shuttle cabin they’re in
an air environment, breathing nitrogen as well. So we would go through
a prebreathe protocol. We do it both on the ground and in flight for
Shuttle and [International Space] Station.
In Apollo the astronaut was coming from an air environment as he arrived
on the morning of the test. He would go up into the second floor of
Building 7 and we had what was called a prebreathe room. He would
get in his suit, which was separable from the life support system.
The life support system would be hanging in the chamber. He would
get in his suit. There were a couple of big easy chairs.
Put him in the suit. Button him up. Hook him up to 100 percent oxygen.
Lean him back in the suit. Put a towel over the helmet. Tell him to
go to sleep for a couple of hours. They would breathe pure oxygen
for I believe three hours, then they would come down the stairs to
the chamber on a portable oxygen ventilator that would continue to
provide 100 percent oxygen. They didn’t have any exposure to
the air, nitrogen, which could result in him potentially getting the
So the doctor was there. The doctor started very early in the day
actually when the astronaut first arrived. He would do a quick physical
[on the astronaut] for example, to make sure that his ears were clear.
If he had a cold or something, the odds were very high we would just
cancel the test, because like flying in an airplane, you get your
ears plugged. When you’re going all the way to vacuum or only
four pounds per square inch above vacuum, and then back down, you
could literally burst an eardrum. Those were the kinds of things the
doctors would look at.
Obviously they would monitor the astronauts. We had CO2 carbon dioxide
level telemetry. They would monitor that along with us, so if the
CO2 level started to climb he might say, “Okay, that’s
it, we’ve got to shut it down.” This is somewhat obvious,
but he was really there protecting the health of the astronaut, because
you had all these engineers that are trying to collect data. They’re
not as focused on the astronaut—it wasn’t that we didn’t
care, but we were focused on other things. The doctor was focused
strictly on the safety and health of the astronaut.
There was always a doctor. There was always a test director. There
was usually an assistant test director. Then there were various operators
of the facility, the vacuum chambers, and the power systems and those
kinds of things. Particularly when we went to SESL in Building 32,
that was like a mini mission. It was really like a mini Mission Control.
It had a lot more console positions than the chambers in Building
7. It was structured more like Mission Control; you really almost
felt like you were in Mission Control. That’s the way I always
There was a lot of discipline. There were probably—I’m
going to guess 15 to 20 people sitting at consoles. Maybe I should
say ten to 20 people, each sitting at a console, most of the time
monitoring whatever their particular system was—the vacuum in
the chamber, or the temperature in the chamber, or things like that
and informing the test director if they saw a potential issue cropping
Most of the on-network discussion during the chamber runs were either
the test director talking to the crewman about setting up certain
conditions, and then the PLSS engineer, the portable life support
system engineer, would be delegated the authority from the test director
to communicate directly with the astronaut during the training portion.
When I was the engineer, it would be me and the astronaut. We would
communicate back and forth almost directly, as long as everything
else was okay.
Wright: Quite a first year, wasn’t
Sanzone: Yeah it was. My mother, God
bless her soul, kept telling me to smell the roses. Not in those words,
but my mother was born before the Wright brothers [Wilbur and Orville]
flew their airplane [first flight] and here her son was helping train
the first man to walk on the Moon. She kept reminding me to recognize
where I was and what was going on.
But I have to say we were all so focused on the task at hand. People
at NASA are very task-oriented, that’s an understatement. We
are so focused on the task at hand that it was difficult to do that.
We didn’t generally ask astronauts for autographs as we thought
that was a little unprofessional, but I do remember thinking this
guy is going to be the first guy to walk on the Moon, I don’t
care if it’s unprofessional or not. I went and I cut this ridiculous
photo of Neil Armstrong in a Gemini space suit. I cut it out of the
[local] newspaper, remember the Exchange newspaper? I had him sign
it with a red pen, which was all I could find. I still have that someplace.
He signed some other stuff for me over the years.
It was an amazing environment to be in. Of course as I said earlier,
we had one mission after the other after the other. Once we got the
Apollo 11 crew trained, we were training the Apollo 12 crew. Then
the 13 crew was behind them. There was always stuff going on.
We did work a lot of hours. I was single at the time, and it really
wasn’t like work. I think I shared with you a Hartford Courant
[newspaper] article where the guy that wrote the article interviewed
me. His last line quoted me; it’s true. I said, “We would
have done it for nothing.” I’m not sure with [their] kids
in college, people could have done that, but nobody had kids in college.
Everybody was 22, 23, 25.
It was very intense, but there was so much passion around what we
did. The fact that we had this incredibly powerful vision of landing
a man on the Moon in this decade and returning him safely to the Earth—there
was never any need to motivate anybody, to remind people what we were
there for. It was part of the DNA of everybody.
There was also this incredible attitude of never quitting, never even
thinking about quitting. I can remember we were getting ready for
a chamber run. It was around midnight and we were running a pump test.
Today you’d never be running hardware eight hours before a chamber
test with the astronaut; you just wouldn’t be doing it, but
everything was so compressed and that’s what happened. This
pump failed. There wasn’t the slightest consideration of, “Well,
let’s just scrub the run tomorrow.” It was just like okay,
let’s do what we have to do.
I remember that in particular because I was obviously a contractor
and we had NASA civil servants who had leadership responsibilities.
For each mission, Crew Systems Division had someone they assigned
to be what was called the mission manager, or their mission manager.
He was responsible for making sure all the hardware that the astronauts
needed worked properly, got to be where it needed to be at the right
time whether it was at the Cape or chamber run or whatever. It included
clothing and food and cameras and things like that. Obviously it included
space suits and life support systems. In order to work on these life
support systems or run tests on them, we had what were called test
preparation sheets that identified everything we were going to do.
Everything was documented. Attached were procedures and things like
that. They were signed by several people approving and concurring
on what was going to be done.
If we had an issue in the middle of the night like happened here—I
was the lead engineer and I had to call the mission manager and get
his permission to change this pump out, and let him know we just had
a pump failure, because we don’t want to scrub this training
run. We knew we’d have to figure out what happened with the
pump later. But what we wanted to do was put a new pump in, test it,
make sure it’s going to work okay, and then deliver this life
support system to the chamber. All this would take five, six, seven
hours to do.
So I called him and I woke him up; I’ll say midnight but it
may have been closer to 2 a.m. Woke him up, told him what we wanted
to do. We all had white clothes on, working in the clean room, so
he gave me the okay. We started to work. About ten minutes later,
maybe five minutes later the phone rang. It was the mission manager
and he said to me, “What did I just agree to?” Because
I woke him up out of a dead sleep, he called. So I told him. We got
the pump in. We got it tested.
From the astronaut who was being trained, from his aspect, if he was
coming for a chamber run, he had a chamber run. I’m interested
in car racing. When you’re working on a car, when the clock
is running, it’s called thrashing. That’s what we would
do, it was like thrashing. Then we would deliver the hardware. We’d
have the chamber run.
Interesting times for sure.
Wright: It was. Where were you on Apollo
Sanzone: Apollo 11. For the landing
I was in my apartment in Pasadena, totally by myself. We were all
going to work the moonwalk or the EVA, so we got instructed, appropriately
so, to all go home and go to bed, to get some rest and be sharp for
the EVA. But there was no way I was going to sleep when they were
landing on the Moon, and I don’t think anybody else did either.
The original plan—at least as I remember it—was to land
on the Moon and then they were going to rest.
None of us were overly surprised when the crew decided, “We
need to go out and do this.” I don’t remember exactly
if the plan was changed before the mission or real-time. I think it
was real-time, but I don’t think anybody was really too surprised,
so I watched the landing at home all by myself on my little TV. I
think shortly after that I got a phone call that said, “They’re
not going to rest before they go out, you need to come in right now.”
So I don’t think I’d gotten any extra sleep. No less than
We all came in. I say all; I don’t know how many of us were
covering the mission. There were probably about eight Hamilton Standard
people. There were some ILC people. Then there were some NASA people,
all having to do with the extravehicular mobility unit. At that point
there wasn’t a whole lot more that you could do with the suit.
The life support system had all the stuff. The suit could have problems,
but the life support system had a whole lot more stuff that could
go wrong just by its nature, so there were more of us monitoring the
life support system. There were some NASA people—Harley [L.]
Stutesman comes to mind and Don [Donald L.] Boydston who was a tremendous
mentor to me in that first six months, just a tremendous mentor. He
was like the expert, so he was there.
We were together in Building 45 on the third floor. Back then it was
the Mission Evaluation Room [MER]. Something that we still have today,
but it was a lot more Dark Ages compared to the MER today. We were
literally in what are still today used as offices.
So there was a front room, a fairly large room, with lots of people
with headsets on and all that. Then our group was in a room that was
relatively small; we were all together. We would monitor the telemetry
that was coming down from the Moon, and there were 10 or 12 channels
of telemetry. We had two engineers monitoring each life support system,
each looking closely at their half dozen elements of data.
I had Armstrong’s data. There was another engineer with me that
was looking at the other half of Armstrong’s data. Then we had
two other engineers monitoring Aldrin’s data. We had some more
senior folks that were looking over our shoulders. One of the more
humorous things in hindsight is we got the data telemetered down,
and it was displayed on CRTs [cathode ray tubes] like TV screens in
a digital format. But we also wanted to be able to monitor things
like oxygen consumption, how much is the oxygen going down.
We had—I never say this without laughing—we had big sheets
of graph paper that we hand-plotted the data on like every two minutes.
Primary oxygen system pressure, for example, might start at 900 PSI
[pounds per square inch], and then we would plot it as it came down.
Suit pressure we would hope to hold at approximately 3.85 pounds per
square inch. We would know that if it goes to 3.8 that’s not
a huge problem; if it goes to 3.9 it’s not a huge problem. If
it gets out of that band, we better take a closer look at it.
We would literally take Magic Markers [permanent ink markers]—this
was before highlighters existed—yellow Magic Markers, and we’d
go across the graph paper, where we expected the data to appear. Similar
to what computers do today, but this was all by hand. I have one of
those actual sheets of paper from the night of Apollo 11. I have copies
of all the data. Somebody actually had the foresight to take a couple
of photos, wasn’t me, but somebody took a couple of photos of
maybe four, five of us—took photos of us sitting there.
It was so antiquated compared to today. We had these display boards
with stopwatches on them, because we wanted to know how long the astronaut
had been on his primary oxygen system. That was one of the important
jobs that existed during the mission. We had some other folks in there,
some other NASA folks and some other contractors helping do calculations
for consumables or expendables. The system was designed for approximately
I had said earlier we had a certain amount of water in the tank that
would be used to sublimate, to remove heat. We had a certain amount
of oxygen. We had a certain amount of lithium hydroxide chemical.
We had a certain amount of amp-hours in our battery. We would watch
that stuff very carefully so that we could accurately and safely predict
how much time they had. We didn’t want them running out of gas
on the last lap of the race.
Well, there was no worry on that for Apollo 11, because the EVA ended
up being about two and a half hours I think. Everybody was interested
in, “Let them get back in, get them back in, and close the hatch.”
In later missions, we would push the limits more. Obviously we wanted
to get them as much time on the Moon, and later in Shuttle as much
time during an EVA, as we could provide them, so that they wouldn’t
have to be rushed. We would keep a very close eye on that and a lot
of it was engineering calculations—understanding what the heat
load was, the Sun angle, leakage rate in the suit, then predicting
how long this was going to go.
I have to say tongue in cheek that there were the engineers who worked
on the life support systems that worked very closely with them and
just almost became one with them. Then there were thermal analytical
engineers that would calculate stuff—with their slide rules
by the way—would calculate the stuff. We always had a little
friendly rivalry on who could predict it more closely. I don’t
remember the numbers, but a fair number of times, we winged it a little
more closely than they could do it with their slide rules. It was
always pretty close. We never were in any particular risk.
So, [going to] the Moon was really similar to what it is today [Shuttle],
where often the contractor experts are the people that really know
the “blood and guts” of the hardware. Flight controllers
knew the hardware very very well, and they knew how to react to certain
failures very well, but sometimes you could have a failure that would
just stump people. We’d have people that would know if you rip
this thing apart, this red wire is the one that goes over here. It
would be something you would never expect a flight controller to have,
not that level of detail.
NASA had a front room flight control, the Mission Operations Control
Room. For Apollo 11, [James A.] Jim Joki was working. He had as I
recall three prime people in the first back room. I’m not sure
exactly what it was called; it’s had different names over the
years but it is what I call the first back room. You didn’t
see them on TV. One person was monitoring one life support system—one
was monitoring Armstrong’s, one was monitoring Aldrin’s.
The third was responsible for the consumables and the expendables
and how much time do we have left, because that was the question you
got more than anything. How much time do we have? How much time do
we have left? We were constantly updating that. Once you got beyond
their level of expertise or experience—and they had a lot of
experience—then it would quickly get bounced back to the MER,
and they would ask for assistance. Or [ask], “What’s going
on here, what should we be doing? We’re using more expendables
faster than we thought.” So we might say, “We’re
looking at this, we’re looking at that.” It was very much
a team, separated by walls and in our case by one building because
45 was right next to Building 30. But we knew each other. We worked
closely together. That always worked pretty well. So Building 45 was
the MER back in the Apollo days.
Wright: Were you able to actually watch
Armstrong on the Moon?
Sanzone: No, I was asked that same question
by the person who wrote the article for the Hartford Courant on the
40th anniversary of Apollo 11, and I don’t remember watching
it. I don’t remember even having a TV monitor in our room, in
the room that we were in. There may have been one, but by virtue of
the fact that I can’t even remember it, tells me that if it
was there I didn’t watch it. Again, it was that we were so focused
on the task at hand. We were in the critical path. By the time he
got down to step onto the Moon, our system had already been operating
roughly for more than 30 minutes. We’re staring at data, looking
for any sign that something might not be right so that we could take
quick action. Although I don’t remember a single issue on Apollo
11, we still were incredibly focused on what we were doing.
Wright: It seemed like a long three-and-a-half-hour
time period. Or did it go by quickly?
Sanzone: In hindsight I think it went
by pretty quick. We had a lot of personal confidence. I keep saying
we’re looking at things to not go right, but I probably had
more confidence than I should have had because I really expected things
to go well. I had a lot of confidence in the hardware. It was quite
a while later, maybe years later, when I became a manager, and just
older and more experienced, and started having a better understanding
of what could go wrong, that it doesn’t always go the way it’s
supposed to go. I remember one of the early Shuttle EVAs. Joe [Harold
J.] McMann was a NASA EVA guy, really sharp guy.
He and I had been through the wars together in past years. This was
a Shuttle EVA. We’re over in the new MER. We had these young
engineers—older than I was on Apollo 11, but they were young.
They were—I don’t know what the right word would be. I’d
say jovial or certainly not the slightest bit worried. They weren’t
lackadaisical, but they were joking around. I remember Joe saying,
“Get them [astronauts] back in. Get them back in.” They
were in no rush to get them back in. I remember talking to Joe, and
we were thinking, “You guys don’t know what can happen.”
So I guess we were in a total risk avoidance mode, and they were in
the “Let’s be on stage” mode.
Wright: You sound like you have posttraumatic
anxiety attacks; you didn’t have them when you should have.
Sanzone: There is. Many years after
I became the general manager in Houston I often used to go over to
the viewing room in Building 30 in Mission Control to just sit there
in a comfortable seat and watch the EVA, knowing that if something
happened I could run downstairs and be there in a minute. This was
long past the time where I was sitting on consoles and monitoring
data. As much as anything, if I saw something that might be tricky,
I might alert our Hamilton public affairs folks because I knew they
would get questions and explain what was going on technically, because
they didn’t understand the nuts and bolts. So many times I got
to sit there. It was not boring; [it was] like being a fireman—a
lot of boredom separated by moments of sheer terror. That’s
how EVAs are.
It was fairly common for astronaut wives to be in there [viewing room];
this became the norm. I knew some of the wives and I would go in there.
If I knew the wife, I’d often sit with her and even tell her
what I thought was going on or whatever. One time we had an engineering
manager for our department in Connecticut here during an EVA. His
name was [Chris Poythress]. He came down and I took him over to the
viewing room with me. Jerry [L.] Ross was doing the EVA. I’d
known Jerry for a long time, and his wife Karen was in the viewing
I said, “[Chris], come here, I want you to meet Karen Ross.”
We went over, I introduced them, and they exchanged pleasantries and
all that. We sat there for a while. EVA was successful, no problem.
I don’t think [Chris] said anything to me right away, at least
I don’t remember him saying that to me right away. But when
he went back to Connecticut—he was running our whole department
from an engineering standpoint—he got with his engineering staff
and he said, “We all know we work on life support systems, and
we all know how critical it is that we do a good job. Let me tell
you something. When you are sitting next to the spouse of the person
that your life support system is keeping alive, it gives you a different
I never really thought about it because I knew some of the astronaut
wives. To him it was a new experience, because he was 1,800 miles
away. I always remember him saying that. At JSC what I have found
is even for people who don’t know the astronauts personally
or know their spouses or [families], they get that. There’s
an understanding of that, which is why it’s such —when
we had the Challenger and the Columbia accidents—why it’s
such a family loss. It really is a family loss.
I think for some people who don’t work at JSC or NASA, it is
very, very hard for them to comprehend that. It’s something
that is part of us. It’s very hard to explain. I’ve tried
somewhat unsuccessfully to explain it to people sometimes. They’ll
nod their heads, but I know they don’t really know what I’m
saying. I personally think it’s because people outside of the
JSC area view astronauts the same way they view NFL football stars,
movie stars,—people that they only see on the big screen. They
live very, very private lives, where astronauts don’t live private
lives, at least in this area. You go to church with them, you see
them in the grocery store, you see them at Little League games. They
are your coworkers, and they are your friends. They just happen to
be astronauts, too. It is very, very hard to get somebody to understand
that who doesn’t work here.
Wright: You were talking earlier about
working so focused. Your days were full, especially that first year,
second year. A bond was created with all of the teams, and the teams
within the teams. Can you share a little bit about how you also found
time to have camaraderie outside of the building as well?
Sanzone: You’re probably talking
about Friday afternoons at the Flintlock. It was very common for us
to work seven days a week. It was very common for us to work double
shifts. It’s not that we worked double shifts seven days a week,
but it was not uncommon. I don’t know who started it, but—there
was no liquor by the drink sold in Texas; it was only sold in private
clubs, so there was a place on NASA 1 called the Flintlock. On Friday
afternoons, and I don’t know who initiated this, but on Friday
afternoons it was like the malt shop for NASA, except with scotch
and bourbon. They had a band that played, started I think around 4:00
or 5:00. They actually had a great buffet. I was a bachelor, and it
was tremendous food, but people didn’t go there for the food.
I think you could join the Flintlock for $1 or something. Every Friday
afternoon the place would be absolutely packed.
We would actually send somebody over from work to hold a table for
us till the rest of us got over there. Everybody was young and so
there was a lot more drinking done then than there is now. People
would just let their hair down. They would park cars up and down NASA
Road 1 on medians. The place later had signs in there, “No parking
in the medians.” There would be cars parked all up and down
the road. That was the one afternoon everybody would blow off steam,
then Saturday everybody’d come back and work again.
One of the things about JSC that I know you know is it’s a campus
environment. It looks like a campus. I say it’s a campus without
a football stadium. It really looks like a campus. The vast majority
of people who work there are college-educated. This is just my own
assessment. They bring with them a fraternity, sorority, love your
school background. JSC becomes like their new school. They have their
college banners up [in their work areas]. Everybody has pride in their
own banners, but you’ve gone off to this new school, a graduate
school if you will. I just really can’t describe it. I don’t
think it’s as much the environment of the physical facility
as it was the mentality of the people and this common bond and this
common goal. If you go to a school that’s playing in the Final
Four for the national championship, there’s not a single alum
who doesn’t want them to win. Our Final Four, Super Bowl, whatever
you want to call it, were the missions. Certainly Apollo 11 was the
ultimate Super Bowl because that was [President John F.] Kennedy’s
vision. It was met, but the missions after that there was tremendous
passion as well.
I think it was the thought that we were doing something really special,
but because we all knew it was really special we never talked about
it being special, because we were all doing it together. It was an
amazing place to work.
Wright: Must have not had much time
to celebrate Apollo 11, because like you said, the missions were so
condensed. You were working on [Apollo] 12?
Sanzone: We didn’t celebrate for
weeks, but I can tell you we celebrated for a day or two for sure.
One of the places—as I said there were no liquor by the drink
places—well, Ellington [Air Force Base] was still going and
blowing. It had an officers’ club, so we would often go to the
officers’ club. I know on the night of Apollo 11 we went there.
The Nassau Bay Resort Motor Inn—a hotel on NASA Road 1—actually
had an NBC news studio on the very top floor, so they could shoot
across [the street] to show the Manned Spacecraft Center. I remember
that the grand piano at the Nassau Bay Resort Motor Inn ended up in
the swimming pool on the night of Apollo 11. So people, yeah, there
were a lot of celebrations.
And the splashdown parties were renowned. They weren’t totally
crazy, but Apollo 11 was just a total celebration, because it was
the implementation and the finalization of Kennedy’s goal, this
vision that had driven people for a decade.
The other splashdown parties, after each of the Apollo missions, they
were all a lot of fun too, but not quite as intense as Apollo 11.
It was a culmination of another championship, that kind of a thing,
but people enjoyed getting together to celebrate. Almost everybody
did. There were very few people that didn’t go out. Yeah, fun
times. They were fun times.
Wright: [Charles] Pete Conrad and [Alan
L.] Al Bean [Jr.] were a different team of astronauts compared to
Armstrong and Aldrin. Do you remember working with them much as they
prepared for their mission?
Sanzone: Ironically the Apollo 12 crew
was the only crew that I didn’t work with closely. I think it
may have been that things were so compressed that I had the Apollo
11 crew and another engineer who worked for us had the lead for the
Apollo 12 crew. Then I jumped to [Apollo] 13, but then I think I did
the others after that. I think it was just that we had it down now
more, and it was a little bit more of a routine that could be done
by one person versus the whole intensity of Apollo 11. I wasn’t
thinking about anything other than Apollo 11. I wasn’t thinking
about Apollo 12, so somebody else took care of the Apollo 12 crew.
By the time I got there—I had sometimes used the phrase that
I felt a little bit guilty in that there were guys at Hamilton at
NASA that had been working toward Apollo 11 for eight or nine years.
Here I was, this 22-year-old kid that comes in and gets to play in
the championship game, “Here’s your uniform.” Some
of these other guys were on the bench. Not really on the bench, but
they deserved a lot more credit than I did. I got to play in this
incredible universal championship game. So I felt a little bit strange
I think I must have supported the Apollo 12 chamber run maybe a little
bit, because I do remember Pete. What I remember most about Alan Bean
is not the professional side of NASA but being a renowned space artist.
And he’s such a perfectionist in his art. He called me one day
and he was doing some artwork for on the Moon [scene]. He wanted to
know exactly where these certain snaps were on a flap on the portable
life support system. I pulled the drawings or sent him the drawings
or a sketch or something like that.
He was always a nice guy. I didn’t deal with him that much but
he was always a very nice guy. Then Pete was a little bit more of
a sailor—the “right stuff” astronauts. Not that
they all didn’t have the right stuff, but some were a little
bit more spirited. I think Pete was a little bit more spirited. I
got interested in car racing in the early ’70s —I’m
sure today they [NASA management] would just have a coronary, but
Pete Conrad was racing Porsches up at Texas World Speedway [College
Then the [Apollo] 13 crew. They had been the backup crew for the Apollo
11 crew. I do remember it being pretty straightforward, because they
got to train for 13 not too long after they trained for 11, so that
was pretty easy. I remember Fred Haise being one of the nicer guys,
just a real nice guy. It’s not to comment on anybody else, but
he just seemed to be particularly nice. I remember we had some issue
with his life support system. We had some problem in the chamber run.
I don’t remember what it was, but I remember calling him at
the Cape. I was like 23 [years old].
I called him at the Cape because we needed his input on something,
“Did this happen or did that happen?” We’re troubleshooting
something, and he couldn’t have been more cordial. He said,
“Call me anytime, if I can help.” That kind of thing.
I’m thinking my God, this guy is getting ready to go to the
Moon. Telling this kid, “Anytime, just call me.”
[T. K.] Mattingly [II] was supposed to be the Command Module pilot
on Apollo 13, but he got bumped because of his exposure to a contagious
illness. We had done some work with Mattingly, not so much me but
some of the other guys. Mattingly was involved with the portable life
support system development. He had worked with a lot of our guys during
the development stage.
So [Apollo] 14 was [Alan B.] Shepard [Jr.] and [Edgar D.] Mitchell.
Mitchell was a little quieter. Shepard, I had never dealt with him
before. He was the first American in space and probably the sharpest
astronaut that I dealt with in training. Again, not that they’re
all not sharp, but you tell him one time, and that was it. I remember
it distinctly. He was just really sharp.
Then when we got to Apollo 15. We haven’t really talked about
this, but the life support system up through Apollo 14 was a four-hour
life support system. Approximately four-hour life support system.
When we got to Apollo 15, 16 and 17, it was called the J Mission series.
There were quite a few design changes, including substantial changes
to the extravehicular mobility unit, the life support system.
From the spacecraft side it was the first time we ever flew the lunar
roving vehicle, the rover. We wanted to give them longer time on the
Moon. One of the things that we did was we changed the design, improved
the design of the portable life support system to take it to a seven-hour
system. Almost doubled the duration.
I think we had one EVA on the Moon that was seven and a half hours
if I’m not mistaken, so virtually twice the capability, in virtually
the same package. That was the technical challenge. The size of the
life support system didn’t change with one exception and that
was we added a water tank on the side. We haven’t figured out
how to compress water yet, so we put an extra water tank on the side
that was maybe a four-inch-diameter tank. If you look at photos of
EVAs during Apollo 15, 16, 17, you’ll see this little bulbous
object. It’s about two feet high and maybe three inches, four
inches in diameter. That held an additional three or four pounds of
water I think, the water that’s used in the heat exchanger.
We enlarged the battery but it still stayed inside the enclosure.
We packed more lithium hydroxide into the canister that absorbed carbon
dioxide. We used new materials and technology in the oxygen tank.
We took the oxygen tank up by about 50 percent in pressure. With that
they were able to do seven-hour moonwalks.
So leading up to that, I had said earlier that I didn’t have
too much to do with the design, virtually nothing to do with the design.
I was working the operational stuff when I got down here, but I did
get involved with this design change. Ironically the only trip in
my 43 years that I ever made to NASA Headquarters was part of the
design certification review for the J mission series or Apollo 15.
I helped put together the presentation that was made to the board
up there [Washington, D.C.]. I went up with Harley Stutesman, who
was the NASA life support expert, and [Charles C.] Charlie Lutz, who
was the NASA space suit expert, and whose son [Glenn Lutz] currently
runs EVA for NASA, which is another story. So Harley made the presentation
on the life support system and Charlie made the presentation on the
Because I had pulled it all together, I got to go with them. I didn’t
actually make the presentation, but one of the things that stuck in
my mind—and I can’t remember everybody who was on that
board—but it’s the most impressive board that I’ve
ever been in front of. It was like Rocco [A.] Petrone. It was [Robert
R.] Bob Gilruth. Wernher von Braun. In hindsight 40 years later, it’s
like, “Holy mackerel,” all of these guys in one room.
I also learned on that particular presentation—I’m trying
to think of the right word—I’ll say, the relativity of
[James A.] Jim McDivitt was the Apollo Spacecraft Program manager.
He was a former astronaut. He flew on Apollo 9, so when we would present
at JSC, he was the highest level person that we would present to.
It was one of the first times I was ever in the big conference room
on the ninth floor, and everybody has their own microphone, and somebody
else is putting the slides up [for view]. I was pretty impressed.
But when we got to Headquarters and all these presentations were being
made, he [McDivitt] had a substantial presentation that he had to
make as the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office manager. When he was
finished, one of those guys, Petrone or von Braun or somebody said,
“Okay, sit down. Next.” I thought, “Oh my gosh.”
It was just to us he was like the highest guy we ever saw, and up
there it was, “Okay next. Who’s next?”
The J mission series, Apollo 15, 16, 17 had the rover. Obviously,
the astronauts got much farther out from the Lunar Module. We actually
designed something called a buddy secondary life support system, which
was a long fancy series of words for what was an umbilical with a
splitter connector. I talked about the oxygen purge system would only
give us 30 minutes to get back in. It gave us the ability, we actually
redesigned it so you could get less flow out of it and it would last
You ran a little risk that the CO2 level might build up if you started
working really hard. So we designed this thing that would enable one
astronaut with a working, say a cooling system or a pump working,
to unplug his water connector from his suit, plug in this big adapter
with an umbilical coming off of it, and then plug his connector back
in. It basically split the water cooling to two guys. They wouldn’t
want to work that way, but they could ride back in and be more than
30 minutes a way riding from the Lunar Module. That was another system
we never had to use. I love the fact that I can sit here and say we
had this backup system and that backup system, but we never had to
Wright: And everything you designed
had to work with space gloves.
Sanzone: Yeah, it still amazes me what
the guys do, particularly in Shuttle. I say particularly in Shuttle,
because in Apollo we didn’t have anybody taking little tiny
screws and trying to put circuit boards in and work like that. They
make it look so easy. It’s not.
In Building 7, we have something called a glove box. We have the ability
to take somebody in shirtsleeves, ideally an astronaut who wants to
try on a pair of gloves without getting in a space suit, and by sucking
some of the air out of the glove box, the differential pressure across
the glove is about 4.3 pounds per square inch, which is what the pressure
in the suit is normally. So you can just go in shirtsleeve, put your
hand through these arms and gloves [glovebox], and manipulate them.
I’ve taken our company presidents and visiting dignitaries to
the glove box, and I warn them how hard it is to operate the gloves
when they’re pressurized, how challenging it is. We have little
tools in there that they can play with. As much as I try to warn them,
I have never taken anyone, not a single time—I have never had
anyone put their hands in the gloves and not heard, “Oh my gosh,
this really is challenging.” You just can’t really comprehend
As I’m telling you that story, I’m remembering that I
was doing this astronaut training in the vacuum chambers. In Apollo
we had three controls that were not on the remote control unit. They
were in the back of the portable life support system. The astronaut
had to put his hand back there to operate them. One was to turn the
oxygen on. One was to regulate the temperature. The other was to turn
the “feedwater” on, the water that would go to our heat
exchanger. You didn’t want that water on if you weren’t
in a vacuum, because it would just dump overboard. For multiple chamber
runs I’m telling these astronauts, “Oh, just reach back.”
They’re having a hard time getting back there. “Just reach
back. Swing your shoulder back. Drop your arm down. Do this. Do that,”
I’d tell them. They would struggle with it.
Then one day I got in a space suit for the first time. I learned,
this is so hard to get to these controls, because you’ve got
this pressurized glove on. I was trying to teach somebody to do something
I had never tried to do myself. Then when I finally did it was–if
I were them and I heard from me, “Just swing your shoulder back
and drop your arm down,” I know how I would feel. When we got
to Shuttle, all the controls were put up front. They’re all
in the box.
I never actually made a vacuum chamber run, but I did do at least
some of the one g pressurized suit exercises.
One of the things that we had to demonstrate obviously was that we
could still get out of the Lunar Module hatch. Now dimensionally we
knew we could, but could somebody in a pressurized space suit do this?
We had to prove it, so I was the subject. It was supposed to be really
a quick exercise. Just go in. But this is one g—compared to
one sixth g on the Moon when you are lying on the floor of the Lunar
Module trying to back yourself out onto the porch. It was supposed
to be a quick test, and we don’t normally provide cooling in
one g other than through an umbilical. We couldn’t use an umbilical
because that would destroy the test; the mockup was in Building 5.
I remember being facedown on this Lunar Module trying to back out,
sweating so much that my perspiration was sloshing in the helmet in
front of my face. Anyway we showed, we proved that you could get out.
I always liked doing those kinds of things, because it just, I don’t
know. It made you closer to the hardware. I regret that I never made
a chamber run. They didn’t throw those opportunities around.
My boss swung it where he did one one time, but it’s not going
to happen in this lifetime.
Wright: You talked about the buddy secondary
system being one of the changes for those last three missions. Were
there more that you can think of?
Sanzone: As I said, the whole life support
system expendables size changed–making the battery bigger, more
lithium hydroxide in the canister, the extra water tank, the redesigned
oxygen tank. Those were pretty substantial changes to make in the
middle of a program, now that I think about it, but they worked. They
worked fine. The technology in the battery was there. They just put
more cells in. Now I say, “just.” There’s not much
just in the space business. Everything is more challenging. Any time
you change anything you run risk, particularly if you try to make
I think it was Charlie Lutz that said, “Better is the enemy
of good.” So it’s not that you don’t want to improve,
but engineers will always want to improve. They’ll never be
satisfied with what you have. So it’s important to get something
that works, and then prove that it works, and then stick with it without
constantly tweaking it, tweaking it, tweaking it.
Wright: In your case it was heavier?
Sanzone: It was a little heavier. Well,
certainly the water tank was heavier, because we put another four
pounds of water in there. It wasn’t substantially heavier. We
did pack in some more lithium hydroxide, and we did have a little
bit more oxygen in the tank, probably making it a little bit heavier,
just because of its strength. Like a pound maybe, but not substantially
The one sixth g environment was something where nobody ever commented
that this is too heavy. Because we’re talking about–I’m
trying to remember the weights, but the Shuttle EMU is around 275
pounds. Apollo was somewhat similar to that, maybe 250. When you start
thinking about how much is the weight that they’re carrying
around on their back, it’s 35 or 40 pounds. That’s the
whole system, that’s the suit and the life support system. I
don’t ever remember any issues.
Wright: Was there a concern it was adding
weight to the spacecraft?
Sanzone: No. There’s probably
concern, but what we did we couldn’t have done it and made it
any lighter. It wasn’t a substantial increase, because the life
support systems in the space suits were already a couple hundred pounds.
If we added ten pounds, it’s probably not that big of a deal.
I don’t know. I don’t think they had to do anything with
the Lunar Module or anything like that. They weren’t changing
engines or anything like that. It was more that the Lunar Module was
going to fly the lunar roving vehicle. The lunar roving vehicle itself
had to go through design reviews and show that it would work. Then
the suits and life support systems were good for almost twice as long.
Those were the major changes that I remember. There were probably
Wright: Did the astronauts have an extra
training aspect for getting in and out of the rover with the life
Sanzone: That’s a good question.
As I said earlier, I didn’t work on the suits until Shuttle
came along and Hamilton Sundstrand was the prime contractor. I still
didn’t do much with the suits personally. In Apollo ILC was
the suit contractor and Hamilton Standard was the life support vendor.
As I remember, the first time the astronauts ever sat in a rover in
a suit, their bodies dropped in the suit so their noses were—,
well, they were looking out with the top of their eyes. That was one
of those uh-oh moments. I remember flying over to Huntsville [Alabama].
I can’t remember if this was after it was fixed or maybe the
first time we saw it. I think it was probably after they had fixed
it; I don’t even know what changes they made to the suit, but
I do remember that uh-oh moment.
The rover was developed in Huntsville [Marshall Space Flight Center].
NASA had a charter plane. There was so much travel between here and
Huntsville that this charter was going back and forth all the time.
I remember going over there. We did some sort of an exercise. They
had a lunar rover simulator over there, too, and a trainer that was
really cool. It was like the size of a wall of a lunar simulator,
and then this little tiny rover with these four sensors. The astronaut
would sit in a chair or something with a hand controller. In front
of him would be a screen; it was really a cool toy.
This is only on the subject of going to Huntsville. John [W.] Young
and [Charles M.] Charlie Duke were over there when I was there; they
were the Apollo 16 lunar crew. They each had flown T-38s. They landed
at the Redstone Arsenal [Alabama]. Because we were using the NASA
charter, the charter was there too. While we were all getting ready
to get on the charter to come back, they went down the runway in their
T-38s, and right in front of us and flipped their planes over–it
was like show time. I thought it was great. They were headed back
to Houston. They were probably back in Houston before we were on the
Wright: Sounds like that made a lasting
impression. You mentioned to me earlier some other iconic astronaut
images including the parking lot at JSC. Share with us that illustration
because it’s such a good one, for those of us who didn’t
get to see what the parking lot looked like during this timeframe.
Sanzone: I’d give a lot of money
for a photograph of it. In Apollo the whole environment was different.
The times were different. Astronauts were able to inexpensively buy
or lease Corvettes from a Chevy dealer in Florida by the name of Jim
Rathmann who won the Indy 500 in the early ’60s. Consequently,
the vast majority of astronauts drove Corvettes.
My office was in Building 7. The Astronaut Office was Building 4,
and the cafeteria was Building 3. In between Building 3 and Building
4 was an astronaut parking lot. We would go to lunch almost every
day to the cafeteria in Building 3. We would cut through Building
4, and when we came out the door there was the parking lot. The parking
lot was full of Corvettes. Looked like a Chevy dealer almost. Not
everyone had one. I don’t know what the distinction was, but
there were a lot of Corvettes in that parking lot. We just got so
used to it. We didn’t think anything about it, which is why
I never took a picture of it. I wish I had.
But of all the Corvettes that were there, there were two crews that
I remember, and these were the only two that I remember, that had
matched sets. The Apollo 12 crew, Conrad, Bean and [Richard F.] Gordon.
The cars were gold and black and specially painted. Three Corvettes.
Behind where the driver sits, outside, one had the letters CDR for
commander, one had LMP for Lunar Module pilot, one had CMP for Command
Module pilot. It was fairly common to have the crew members who were
flying together also park next to each other, so you’d have
these three gold and black identical-looking cars except for the insignias
on the side. Gold and black Corvettes. Alan Bean’s Corvette
occasionally shows up at Space Center Houston; I think it’s
now owned by somebody in Dallas, but I’ve seen it at Space Center
Houston a couple times. There were three like that.
The other crew that had a matched set that I remember was the Apollo
15 crew. That was [David R.] Scott, [James B.] Irwin and [Alfred M.]
Worden. The three of them had Corvettes, but they were matched differently
than the Apollo 12 crew. The Apollo 12 crew had identical black and
gold Corvettes. Apollo 15 crew chose to have one with a red Corvette,
one with a white Corvette, and one with a blue Corvette. Then each
of the three had the corresponding alternating stripes that would
go across the hood, across the roof, and down the back. It was very
colorful to see these three cars parked next to each other. One red,
one white, one blue, with these stripes on it. I wish I had a photo
Wright: One of the things that we haven’t
talked about is how your role changed. Were you given more responsibilities
and starting to move toward management?
Sanzone: I didn’t really have
a particular desire to be a manager. Through my whole career things
just were handed to me, and then I just did them. I never plotted
out my career.
Even when I mentor folks, I tell them do the best job you possibly
can at the job you are doing, and people will find you; you won’t
be left behind. I’ve seen some folks try to focus on their career
and take some emphasis off their daily job, and it hurts them a lot
more than it helps them. So through Apollo I pretty much did the same
thing. I had this small group of two or three people.
The other thing in retrospect, when you’re that young you never
think about anything ending. I never really thought about Apollo 17
being only two years away and what’s going to happen? I’d
always been so blessed in my life and still am. It was like, “It’ll
be all right.” I didn’t really think it through, “What’s
going to happen after Apollo?” I just didn’t seem to worry
that much about it. I was single. I was still in this, “Okay,
I can get a job somewhere else.” I think more of me just thought
that I was just going to be here and won’t be affected by all
these layoffs. Ironically I wasn’t, but that was almost miraculous
in itself. Part of it was trying to do a good job in the job you’re
From Apollo 11 and through 12, 13, 14, I picked up a little more responsibility.
I was running a group in Houston, a small group that was responsible
for what we called systems engineering. I’m not even sure that’s
the right title, but we took care of the crew training, the vacuum
chamber runs, the mission support during the missions, getting ready
for the missions, making sure all the data packages were complete—anything
at the system level versus the component level. When Apollo was over,
we did ASTP, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, but we didn’t fly our
life support system on that mission. I helped with oxygen masks and
stuff like that that weren’t even manufactured by Hamilton.
Then when Skylab came around, the life support system for the suit—the
extravehicular system—was not a portable system. It had an umbilical,
but it was made by a competitor of ours. That point was the most likely
that I’d be put out to pasture, because we didn’t have
a big contract anymore.
But because of the experience that I had had at the Manned Spacecraft
Center, the NASA manager over us chose for several of us to stay and
support Skylab even though we, Hamilton Standard, didn’t make
the Skylab system. So in Skylab I was involved with the ground support
equipment for the space suits and portable life support systems, because
Hamilton had designed and built all the ground support equipment for
the Apollo program for the extravehicular activity equipment. It made
sense that we could still do that, maintain that equipment, which
was pretty elaborate.
Then we had a lot of experience maintaining the training equipment
that the astronauts used in Apollo. So this NASA manager made the
choice to ask us to take care of the training equipment for Skylab,
and we did that. That kept us busy—like runs in the water tank,
and all the preparation of that training equipment. Somewhat similar
to what we had done before, but with another company’s equipment.
The other company was obviously responsible for all the flight hardware
that was used, so they would test that. Then after Skylab there was
more than a lull.
Contrasting it to today, I think the planning for Shuttle—I
just saw this the other day. I thought it was the early ’70s,
but the first working group actually came together in 1969. So about
the time we were landing on the Moon they were starting to plan Shuttle.
Now 12 years passed before it actually flew, but I know that [North
American] Rockwell, the eventual winner [to build the Shuttle] submitted
its proposal in 1972. The winning proposal in 1972.
We knew Shuttle was coming. Ultimately Hamilton Standard built about
a dozen systems for the orbiter. None of this stuff I worked on personally.
It was designed and manufactured in Connecticut, shipped to California,
installed in the orbiters out there. So the big thing for us was the
EVA system. The EVA system was put out for bid around 1976.
Wright: Now if you don’t mind,
before we get too deep into Shuttle, I did want to ask you just a
couple quick questions. One is about your effort in the MER. Did your
role change through the course of the missions?
Sanzone: That was our place in Apollo,
the MER. I did take a picture, and I probably have it someplace. I
did take a picture of the main room in the MER in Building 45 after
the Apollo 17 splashdown. It was just a room but there were all these
tables. They were just gray tables, the gray government tables. It
was very unconsolelike compared to today’s MER where everybody’s
sitting at a console. I guess I had the foresight, I knew this was
the end. This was the end of Apollo. I took a picture of that room
with nobody in it, and just all the tables that had headsets on them.
I don’t think I was that nostalgic, but I knew this was the
end, and in a way the photo says, this is the end.
Wright: Everybody put their headsets
Sanzone: Yeah, they put their headsets
down, and Elvis has left the auditorium. It was like that. But we
knew Skylab was coming. There was always something coming. It really
did feel like, this is just a phase.
Now the challenge of this phase that we’re in right now is not
as clear as it was back then. Shuttle was already on the drawing board.
There was a fairly clear plan of what we were going to do. So through
Apollo that’s pretty much what I did. It didn’t change
Wright: Did you have participation in
Sanzone: Yeah. I did. Apollo 13 was
interesting. I had mentioned earlier that everybody was young, and
there was more drinking being done then than there is now. We had
landed on the Moon in Apollo 11, done that, then we’d done Apollo
12, so this was going to be the third one. It was already starting
to feel a little bit routine. Those of us that worked with the EMUs,
we worked the spacewalks. We didn’t really work other parts
of the mission. We didn’t work the launch or the landing, anything
I remember [the Apollo 13 problem] being on a Monday, because I was
in a ski club, a snow ski club in Houston. Space City Ski Club. It
was more of a social club than a ski club. They met at Sonny Look’s
[Restaurant], down on the South Loop. I think they met once a month
They had their meetings on Monday, so several of us would go down
there. Everybody had a few scotch and waters. I was driving home from
that meeting maybe 11 p.m. or something like that, and I turned the
radio on. I didn’t know anything had happened. Turned the radio
on, and the first impression that I got from the news was there was
a problem, they’re not going to land on the Moon, they’re
going to have to come back. But it didn’t convey to me, or I
didn’t infer from what was being said how serious it was, so
I just didn’t have a sense that it was as serious as it ended
So I get home. Of course, we have no cell phones or anything. So I
got home and I got a call shortly afterwards from somebody from my
office, maybe my boss. He said, “Hey. We have this problem with
Apollo 13.” I was like, “yeah, I know about it kind of,”
although I didn’t know much. He said, “We’re going
to start working three shifts around the clock.” I said, “Well,
I just came from the ski club meeting, I’ve had a couple drinks,
why don’t you just put me on third shift starting tomorrow?”
Or whatever it was. “Because I just don’t feel right coming
in right now to work.” Wasn’t that I was drunk or anything
but I just didn’t feel right. They were splitting up shifts
and talking about who’s going to work what shift.
I still didn’t have a sense of the significance, so I went to
bed. I slept. No CNN [Cable News Network], no Internet. I slept as
late as I could the next day, because I knew I was going to be working
this crazy shift. Maybe it was second shift, I don’t know. I
drove in, parked the car, still not having a sense of what was going
on. I went to the MER, Building 45. I think it was a different room.
It was probably a room where the environmental control and life support
system guys were. If I hadn’t already mentioned this, Hamilton
Standard was the manufacturer of the environmental control and life
support system for the Lunar Module. I didn’t work on that system.
Again, it was designed and manufactured in Connecticut, shipped to
Grumman in Long Island, the Lunar Module manufacturer. I was far from
an expert on the Lunar Module system.
But I got there; this still sticks in my mind. I went to the room.
I walked in the room. The first guy I saw was a NASA engineer, guy
by the name of Al Behrend. I said something like, “What’s
up?” His response was, “We’re not sure we can get
these guys back alive.” Suddenly I got it. I had no idea that
it was that serious. Then it became very intense. We were trying to
do as much as we could do with our portable life support systems to
help the situation. Clearly they weren’t going to need the portable
life support systems because they weren’t going to go to the
I talked earlier that the portable life support system had a canister
that contained lithium hydroxide chemical to absorb carbon dioxide.
Well, not so coincidentally, the Hamilton Standard-designed environmental
control and life support system in the Lunar Module used the same
technology, the same lithium hydroxide cartridge. It had a primary
canister that was maybe a foot in diameter, maybe 15 inches. It was
pretty big. Then they used what was called a secondary lithium hydroxide
canister which was maybe five inches in diameter.
The secondary lithium hydroxide canister was identical to the lithium
hydroxide canister that we used in the portable life support systems.
One of the first things that was obvious is that—I think we
had six of them; no, we were only going to do two EVAs so we probably
had four of them that could be used in the Lunar Module system. But
we knew that was far from enough.
I talked about we had like eight pounds of water. I think somehow
we looked at how can we use this water, how can we use the PLSS as
almost like a water bucket to transfer water.
We had batteries in the portable life support systems. Obviously,
the Lunar Module was dying for power, so we had a little bit of power
that we could use. There was a lot of engineering going on about,
how do we do this? How do we take this battery from here and kludge
it up so that we can tie it into something else?
I won’t go through the whole Apollo 13 story. Most people are
aware of that. The Command Module was built by North American and
their supplier for their environmental control and life support system
was a competitor of Hamilton Standard, and was an independent design,
as was the Lunar Module system. There was no attempt to make them
compatible, although I think I mentioned to you that I actually know
someone who turned in a chit in the early design phases to make them
compatible, Richard Hergert. It was obviously disapproved.
So the command module was designed for three astronauts for about
two weeks. The Lunar Module was only designed for two guys for like
three days to be on the Moon. Again I won’t go through the whole
design thing, but the lithium hydroxide canisters in the Command Module
were rectangular. Those in the Lunar Module were cylindrical. So the
whole Apollo 13 thing was kludging them together with the tape and
the plastic and the checklist and all that so that they could get
the oxygen in the Lunar Module to recirculate through Command Module
Obviously that was successful, but I’m not sure most people
even today know how close of a call that was. For years in Building
7 they had framed and on the wall in the hallway the expendable chart
for oxygen and the CO2 level—what the level of carbon dioxide
was inside the vehicle. It’s amazing. I don’t know. I
seem to remember reading that they had a couple hours to spare or
something like that. It was close. Those of us from Hamilton were
proud of the fact that it was a Hamilton system in the Lunar Module,
but because those of us in Houston didn’t work on it that much
it wasn’t like “yeah, yeah, yeah, we did it.”
I do remember being in the Control Room over in Building 30. They
used to take Polaroid shots [pictures] of data screens so that they
could go back and look at the Polaroid and see the data. Well, somebody
from the Lunar Module side of the house—I don’t know if
it was somebody from Grumman or one of the NASA guys, and this was
after they’re safely back—but like an hour after they’re
safely back somebody drew this little sketch. It humanized the Lunar
Module with a big smile on its face towing this Command Module with
the side of it missing, back to Earth. So it was one of those little
“we’re all on one team, but then well, there’s an
offense and a defense too” reminder. Nobody took it in a bad
way. It was a fun thing.
That celebration rivaled—not so much the drinking and the partying—but
the emotional part of it was very similar to Apollo 11. That’s
what I remember. It was like “man, did we dodge a bullet on
this thing,” and it brought home that it ain’t easy. This
stuff is not easy, despite the fact that NASA still makes it look
easy. It’s not easy. It’s really really hard. I think
that probably helped us maybe refocus or realize that it’s not
a given that this stuff is just going to work.
We did have a little bit of a scare. Not Apollo 13-like but on Apollo
14 which was the only Apollo launch I ever saw, and I am thrilled
to say that I did get to see an Apollo launch. We were at the Cape
during the early part of the mission, when the Command and Service
Module mates with the Lunar Module. Shepard couldn’t get it
to dock. He tried once, he tried a second time.
This is one of those things that you remember where you were. I was
in the parking lot of the Cape Kennedy Hilton. [Walter M.] Wally Schirra,
me and two other guys that I didn’t know were listening on a
car radio. On the third attempt they actually got it to mate. I don’t
remember if anybody said it out loud, but I know how I felt, and I
think the way they felt was after we’d already successfully
walked on the Moon twice but then had Apollo 13, now if we can’t
dock, this could be the end of Apollo. It really could, because we’d
already met Kennedy’s vision. They docked and the rest is history.
He [Shepard] got to hit his golf ball. Shepard got to hit his golf
ball on the Moon.
Wright: You mentioned that you went
to the launch, but getting to see Apollo 14 launch was a little different
for you than it was other people, wasn’t it?
Sanzone: Well, yeah it was. I worked
for two great guys. One was a NASA manager, Harley Stutesman, and
one was my Hamilton manager Fred Keune who I’ve mentioned before.
Harley had a NASA badge which was good for any NASA site, so no problem
for him to be at the Cape. My boss [Fred] had a KSC [Kennedy Space
Center] contractor badge in addition to a Houston badge, so he could
get on site. I, however, did not have a KSC badge. I was down there
for a meeting the day before that we had on ground support equipment.
So on the morning of the launch, I think we were probably supposed
to go back to Houston. But on the morning of the launch the two of
them said to me, “Well, let’s go see if we can get in.
Let’s go see if we can go watch the launch.” I said, “I
don’t have a badge to get in.” They were like well, the
most that’s going to happen is they’re just going to turn
us around at the gate, doesn’t hurt to try. We’ll just
So we pull up to the main gate, the one closest to Cocoa Beach on
the Air Force side. All I had was my KSC one-day badge from the day
before. That wasn’t going to work. I had a Houston badge, but
I had one other badge. It was a Mission Evaluation Room badge for
Houston. It had a big 14 stamped on it. Now we do everything electronically
with badges, but back then every mission had its own badge.
For Apollo 11, by the way, the MER badge actually had artwork on it.
Black-and-white artwork. It said “first manned lunar landing”
and all that, but the other missions simply had Mission Evaluation
Room and had a big number stamped on it.
So we pull up to the guard. My boss shows his KSC contractor badge.
The NASA manager shows his NASA badge. I hold up my Mission Evaluation
Room Houston badge with the big 14 on it. The guard looks at it, and
I’m sure all he can figure out is that he doesn’t know
what it is but it sure looks official, and the other guys are legal.
So he waved us in. I’m like, “oh my gosh, I can’t
believe that we’re here,” and “I’m not supposed
to be here.” So now I’m thinking I’ve gotten away
We pull up to a second guard station. Now I’m really starting
to get worried, because now I am on KSC illegally. I do not have a
badge. He’s going to ask, “What is this?” The same
thing happens. I’m in the backseat. There are stories. I can’t
substantiate them, but there are stories about people that got onto
KSC flashing packs of Marlboros [cigarettes].
Now we’ve gone through the second station. I’m like, “Oh
my gosh, I can’t believe I’ve dodged this bullet.”
We drive out toward the VAB [Vehicle Assembly Building]. We get, I
don’t know, maybe half a mile from the VAB or something. Now
there are Marines in uniform carrying weapons. Now I’m thinking
I’m not only going to go to jail, I’m going to get shot.
Same thing happens. He waves us through. We go over and we park in
the parking lot of the VAB and watched from the Launch Control complex
parking lot. Watched Apollo 14 launch.
In hindsight, I would have risked going to jail. An Apollo launch
was just an amazing thing. I love Shuttle launches, but they’re
pretty quick. I sometimes describe them like a bottle rocket. By the
time you hear the sound, boy, it’s starting downrange. Apollo
was so slow. The thrust-to-weight ratio was so close to one that it
would just like sit there. The old, “I think I can, I think
I can,” almost like that, to the extent that many people when
they see the videos today think that it’s slow motion when it’s
not. They just took that long to launch. Consequently you got to just
soak it all in, because the sound got to you when the vehicle was
much closer to the launch pad than with the Shuttle. It was just of
course incredible power with the Saturn V. Just incredible. So I’m
very happy to say I got to see one Apollo launch. I’d really
regret it if I didn’t.
Wright: Let’s go back to the beginning
when you first got here. One of the first things that they asked you
to do when you arrived in Houston was go on a business trip to Grumman.
Sanzone: I was actually here probably
maybe a month and a half. There was so much work going on in Houston
that they had to triage who got assigned to what. Since everything
was important but some things were more important than others, there
was a lot going on this particular week, chamber runs, astronaut training,
etc., etc., and one of the important things but least important of
all the things that week was for somebody to go to Grumman with a
portable life support system in order to do a communications check
in a Lunar Module.
It was Lunar Module number four. It was the Apollo 10 Lunar Module.
My boss tells me, “Okay, you need to go to Grumman. Take this
life support system up there with you. They’ll run this communications
check.” When I had been in Connecticut for a month and a half
before I came down here, they did some training with me. Familiarization
stuff. The life support configuration that was going to be used during
the first spacewalk on Apollo 9 was a -5 configuration. It had a remote
control unit, a control box on the front with all the switches, etc.,
etc. Because that’s what was going to fly, that’s what
they trained me on. Took me through the schematics and how it worked,
and all those kinds of things.
So I take this trip to Grumman, which was interesting unto itself,
because there was a story that said nobody gets into Grumman on the
first day. I think that happened to me. You show up and say, “I’m
here for this.” And you hear, “No, you’re not on
the list. You have to call back to Houston” and all this stuff.
I got in there. They take this life support system in the shipping
container out from bonded storage. Take it out to the side of the
Lunar Module on the ascent stage level. It was a big shipping container.
They take the cover off of it. Here’s this portable life support
system sitting in the box, but it was a -4 configuration, not a -5
I didn’t even know anything about configurations. But the most
significant part was the -5 system had all the switches on the front
to turn it on, to turn the power on, to get the communications to
come on. This system had no remote control unit. It was an earlier
version. All the switches were in the back. So I as the contractor’s
expert from Hamilton Standard, there to support the test, did not
know where the on-off switch was on the life support system.
Luckily the NASA guy from Houston—his name was Ted Buras—he
was from the communications side of the house. He was way more familiar
with this life support system than I was, so I took about three big
steps backwards and just let him do whatever he wanted with it. He
took it over, and they took it inside the Lunar Module. Ran a bunch
of tests. So isn’t there some saying like if you can’t
do it, fake it or something? That was the ultimate “fake it”
for me. That was my first ever business trip.
Wright: Learned a lot in that trip,
Sanzone: I did. I learned that there’s
a lot I don’t know.
Wright: Explain to me the reference
to the -4 and the -5 configurations.
Sanzone: For any hardware at NASA you
start with a particular part number, and as improvements are made,
there’s a dash number that comes after it. I can’t remember
what I had for breakfast this morning but I can remember the part
number. It was SV706100. That was the base part number for the Apollo
life support system.
The dash number that we flew on Apollo 9 was -5. The dash number we
flew on Apollo 11 was -6. The dash number that we flew on Apollo 15
was -7 when we put those improvements in. The basic design is the
same, but there are particular improvements that are made. So like
as I said -4, all the switches were in the back. The -5 had the switches
Wright: Big difference.
Sanzone: Yeah. Big difference. Then
when we went to the Moon in the J mission series, Apollo 15, 16, 17,
it went to a seven-hour system from the four-hour system. To differentiate
one system from another, although they had the same basic part number,
the dash number changes. That lets you know okay, if it says -7, the
-7 has the extended duration time for the Moon. Configuration control,
not just in our systems, but in all systems, is really really important,
so you know that if you’ve had a failed part and it’s
some design flaw and the design is changed, you want to make sure
you never fly that particular part again. So they have all these configuration
records. The quality assurance people will verify that a particular
piece of hardware meets all these configurations so that you don’t
unintentionally fly something that you don’t want to be flying.
Wright: Good thing to know. One of the
other memories you were going to share with me has to do with Apollo
9 and steak and eggs.
Sanzone: Oh yeah. Apollo 9 was the first
time we ever did a spacewalk in Apollo. We did not do one on 7. We
did not do one on 8. Obviously we were getting ready to do the ultimate
moonwalk on Apollo 11.
But Apollo 9 was intended to demonstrate a couple things. One was
it was the first time a Lunar Module was ever flown. The Lunar Module
used in space was very light, not strong enough to be flown in the
air around here, so they had a separate training thing that they used.
But on Apollo 9 we also did a spacewalk from the Lunar Module to show
that the space suit and life support system would work properly during
a spacewalk, prior to the time we stepped on the Moon.
[Russell L.] Rusty Schweickart was the astronaut that did that first
[Apollo] spacewalk. I don’t think any of us knew much about
space sickness, but I think he had some space sickness the day the
EVA was planned or the day before. I remember some of our guys being
a little perturbed with him because this was our day to be in the
sunshine on the stage with the spotlight. There was a lot of pride
and we would get to show off.
The EVA was relatively short. I don’t remember how short, but
it was way shorter than we had planned. Anyway we were happy that
everything went well. As I remember it was like 6:00 in the morning
or something when the EVA ended, so we decided to all go out to breakfast
together. I think we went to some hotel or something locally. There
may have been ten of us, something like that. I think my boss [Fred
Keune] was the guy that may have started it, when the waitress came
and said, “What would you like?” He was in a celebratory
mood and said, “I’m going to have steak and eggs.”
Very few of us eat steak and eggs for breakfast, but he said steak
and eggs. Everybody else said, “I’m going to have steak
and eggs too.” For a long time and I couldn’t tell you
when it stopped, but for a long time thereafter following the final
EVA of a mission we would all go out and have steak and eggs. We did
that into Shuttle.
As I said, I don’t remember when it actually stopped, but I
can remember on at least one occasion at Hamilton Sundstrand in Connecticut
at our headquarters where they had a [Silver] Snoopy ceremony in the
older days. Not the surprise celebration, and not exactly the way
it’s done now. What they did was they had a reception like a
luncheon in the executive dining room for the Snoopy recipients, their
families, and obviously some of the company executives, and the astronaut
who would be giving out the pins. That luncheon would be steak and
eggs, so it’s a great tradition. I don’t really remember
when it stopped. I’m not even sure there’s anybody around
other than me who even remembers the steak and eggs. But that was
the tradition of steak and eggs.
Wright: That’s so nice, I’m
glad you shared that. You were telling me too you almost had it the
Sanzone: Well, my wife and I went in
to be with our friends to watch the [Space Shuttle] Atlantis landing,
for the last landing. I just heard today that there were between 2,000
and 3,000 people that went in [Johnson Space Center] at 4:00 in the
morning to watch the landing which occurred about 4:57. There were
a lot of people, so afterwards I didn’t feel like going home
or whatever, so I said to my wife, “Let’s go out to breakfast
someplace.” So we ended up picking Jimmy’s [Egg] on Bay
Area and Space Center [Boulevard]. When we got there there were a
lot of other NASA people that had had the same idea. We were able
to get a table. I didn’t know what I wanted. I ended up ordering
something and I was just flipping through the menu while we were waiting.
I came across that they had steak and eggs. I regret that I didn’t
order it. I definitely would have ordered it had I seen it before,
because it would have been the ultimate, the last flight of Shuttle.
But anyway it brought back great memories of steak and eggs.
Wright: Well, I am going to release
you for this afternoon. I appreciate all the time you gave us. When
we meet again we’ll talk about Shuttle. Thank you.
Sanzone: Okay, I look forward to it.