NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Carol Butler
Houston, Texas – 8 November 2000
Butler: Today is November 8, 2000. This oral history with Paul Weitz
is being conducted for the Johnson Space Center [JSC] Oral History
Project at the JSC studio. Carol Butler is the interviewer.
Thank you for joining us today.
To begin with, in our previous oral history you did tell us a little
bit about your background in the military and how you got interested
in aviation, and you indicated it was while you were with the Navy
that you heard about the opportunity to get involved with NASA with
the space program.
Had you had a lot of interest in the space program beforehand? What
led you to want to follow that path?
Well, no, I didn't really, because I felt since I hadn't been to test
pilot school, I felt that I probably wasn't qualified. Then I think
as I told you in our previous interview, that then I got a message
from what was then called the Bureau of Personnel, with the Navy,
that said I met the Navy's criteria and would I want to apply. So,
no, the answer to your question is, no, I hadn't really thought about
it, for that reason.
What did your family think about the idea of you becoming an astronaut
or applying for the program?
Well, my wife was supportive. My children were too small to have any
comprehension of what it meant. Frankly, I didn't really have much
awareness or comprehension of what it meant either.
Did you have any expectations going into, once you did apply and were
accepted, any expectations of what the job would be like?
No, I really didn't.
Just kind of learned as it went along and fell into place.
Right. It sounded like an interesting, exciting thing to be involved
in. Of course, I was very thrilled and honored, frankly, to be selected
That is quite an honor. Very few people get to have that opportunity.
Yes. Especially then.
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. You came in during the Apollo Program,
as the missions were getting under way for Apollo and coming up to
speed. You served—you went through the initial period of training,
and actually, in our first interview you had talked about some of
the aspects of the training that you went through, which included
even geology training.
What did you think about all the different parts of—that were
going into this?
Well, it was kind of surprising to me, as far as the breadth of the
classroom work that we received, both in geology—of course,
we had a lot of field work associated with our geology course, too.
But as I mentioned before, orbital mechanics, for example, and spacecraft
systems and basic systems such as Apollo software that was being developed
at the time. So mainly the thing that was exciting was, we were getting
ready to go fly to the Moon, we thought at the time, and that was
the main incentive and the most—you know, the goal that we all
had that was out there.
During Apollo, you were assigned to the support crew for Apollo 12.
And this was your first assignment to a crew related other than the
You described a little bit about the duties of the support crew, but
what did you specifically do for part of Apollo 12? What were some
of the aspects of your involvement with that crew and their training?
You're asking me to go back a long way. The support crew, more than
the flight crews themselves, really weren't that structured as far
as what our duties and responsibilities were. Of course, a significant
portion of our time was spent both at the [North American Aviation,
Inc.] plant, at Downey [California], with the command and service
module [CSM], and also at the Cape [Canaveral, Florida], once the
command and service module was delivered to the Cape, for testing.
They said that the Cape kept time in imperial minutes. If they said
a test was ready to start in thirty minutes, well, there wasn't enough
time, at two o'clock in the morning, there wasn't enough time to go
back to crew quarters and try to get a nap, so you'd sit around. It
would turn out to be several hours instead of thirty minutes. Not
that that's a hit on our friends at the Cape, but that's the way things
went in those days.
So our primary function then was to serve as stand-ins for the crew,
for the flight crew, and we also reviewed some of the test procedures
beforehand, some of the in-flight procedures, but mainly the test
procedures. We'd review them before we passed them on to the flight
crew or the backup crew, depending on how it went with that particular
group, for their approval and awareness before we'd run a test. So
it was that, primary testing, a little bit of systems understanding,
some work in reviewing checklists, what we call desktop reviews, before
you get into a trainer or a simulator, to evaluate a procedure.
Then the support crew had the primary function as capcom [capsule
communicator], too, even though there were more capcoms than [the
] three [people in the] support crew, but, nevertheless, we were involved
typically in the most active phases of the mission.
That was not a five-word answer, but—
No, that's quite all right. That was a very good answer, good description
Prior to—you mentioned having served as a capcom for Apollo
12 then. Prior to that, and even after that, during missions, where
did you typically find yourself?
Well, we were all in the office, everyone, if you weren't assigned
to a crew. Everyone had a responsibility. For example, one time—and
don't ask me how it fit in with my—I think I probably was working
on ALSEP, which was the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package,
I think, but Apollo 11, the basic scientific equipment that Apollo
11 placed on the Moon surface. We had various technical and operational
responsibilities, and those changed, because that was considered by
Deke [Donald K. Slayton], who was the head of the FOD [Flight Operations
Division] at the time, FCOD [Flight Crew Operations Division], whatever
it was called, it was considered part of the broadening of our background
experience and understanding of what went on in the system.
But when you're assigned to a support crew, that was your total function.
You were working for the primary mission commander, and whatever he
decided to have you do, you went and did it to the best of your abilities.
Usually satisfied Deke, but not always.
Talking about the variety of missions and working on the different
technical aspects, and you had mentioned earlier that the goal was
getting to the Moon and everyone was working toward that, do you recall
where you were and what you were thinking when Apollo 11 actually
achieved the goal?
When Neil [A. Armstrong] stepped out?
Yes, I was in the viewing room at mission control. I remember that.
It must have been quite a moment for everyone.
It was, yes, especially because, as I'm sure you're aware, during
the LM [Lunar Module] descent they had those alarms come up. It was
Steve [Stephen G.] Bales, I think, that recognized what they were
and continued the mission to land, because it was very, very close
to landing when the mission was in jeopardy. And Pete [Charles Conrad,
Jr.] often said Apollo 12, getting ready for 12 before 11 even launched,
Pete figured that, in his estimation, he had as good a chance of being
the first person on the Moon as Neil did, which came very near to
being the case.
Yes. They were certainly doing something that had so many complexities
to it and something that had never been done before.
Always chances of something happening.
You know what John [H.] Glenn [Jr.] said. He was sitting on that thing
that's cracking and hissing and making all these strange noises, built
by the lowest bidder.
[Laughter] Yes, I'm sure that's a thought that has crossed many an
astronaut's mind, I'm sure.
You get confidence in it during the testing. The testing is very thorough.
The crew office, anyway, has input into the test procedures and what
tests are run also. So it's a little overstatement, but it sounds
good to the public.
Sure. Well, I'm sure even just embarking on such a new and different—I
mean, it's not something that's routine, it's not something that's
common, so even given all the testing and you could have very strong
faith that everything's going well because you did have such good
testing, that there's always that reminder that people don't do this
all the time.
Well, it's true. I don't remember if we talked about it before, but
Apollo 12 was struck by lightning during ascent. That was a very hairy
time. Fortunately, there were just enough of the basic systems, backup
systems, in the spacecraft that kept it going until the crew could
react and straighten things out again. You always try to be prepared
to cope with something unexpected.
Talking about unexpected, the next mission was Apollo 13. You had,
again, indicated in your earlier oral history that you worked a type
of support for Apollo 13.
It was very short-lived. The Astronaut Office had a function then
called “Stoney.” That was a KSC acronym. I forget what
it stood for, but Stoney was the person who sat on the console at
KSC [Kennedy Space Center, Florida] in the launch support room and
gave the final countdown to the crew. Basically that's all he did.
Plus, I guess, just to keep little fingers busy, he also controlled
the elevators in the launch, at the pad. Well, when the crew got off
the top and then the guys put them in, closed them up, then they come
in, then he positioned remotely some of the elevators for emergency
egress. So that was a big job prior to launch. Then, as I say, give
the crew the countdown.
That was a pretty important task.
It was okay. It was better than not doing it, I guess.
So where were you, then, during Apollo 13 when the accident did happen
and the crew had to then move into the lunar module?
When we first understood what was going on, when Jack [John L. Swigert,
Jr.] said, "Houston, we have a problem," I don't remember
where I was. I know that we assigned a team, Deke [Slayton] assigned
a team within the Astronaut Office and, of course, with the flight
controllers, too, to figure out what was going on.
My function, we directed, as I remember, all the resources of the
Astronaut Office except for possibly the [Apollo] 14 or 15 crew toward
working this problem, then trying to decide what to do. But to make
things like that work, you need to have one person in charge, and
I forget who that was, although Ken [Thomas K.] Mattingly [II] did
the most work and, I think, had a lot of input into the idea, for
example, of using the LM lithium hydroxide canisters in order to get
some of the carbon dioxide out of the air. But the rest of us were
primarily go-fers. We were just springloaded to go, either call a
contractor or anyone that we could, any company or organization that
might help. So it really was kind of a mishmash. We were all just
running around trying to get things under control.
And everything did come under control eventually, and everyone came
together very well to make it all—
We got the crew back.
Absolutely. And that must have been—must have been quite a moment
Yes. Of course, the main thing was when they jettisoned the LM prior
to reentry, and then the reentry started well. But everyone was still
hanging on until they came out of blackout.
As the Apollo Program came to a close, originally there had been more
Through Apollo 20.
Unfortunately, canceled. What were—what was the general thoughts
and the general feelings of NASA as that was coming to a close? Of
course, Skylab was already being planned and under way.
Were there any final thoughts on the Apollo missions and that it had
been too short or that it was enough or any general feeling like that?
Well, we had a parochial point of view. We'd have liked to have seen
more missions to the Moon. And at the time, Skylab, as a title and
a series of missions, had not been settled on. There was a concept
called the Apollo Applications Program [AAP], which included continuing
building Saturn Vs and sending both manned and unmanned missions to
the Moon, not necessarily to land on the Moon. The whole thing was
still conceptual. But there was a big thing to map the entire Moon
by putting a mapper in polar orbit around the Moon, so to get the
front side, the back side, the whole thing, in preparation for, at
the time, as I remember, building a lunar base to support a manned
exploration of Mars. That was basically open-ended.
Of course, the political environment at the time, canceling the Apollo
lunar landings 18, 19, and 20, and AAP, Apollo Applications Program
then shrunk down, and finally was called Skylab. So that's what was
left. I've been asked this before in an interview by one of NASA's
historians. I should have reread that before I came out here, because
I wouldn't want to lie or get mixed up or anything. [Butler laughs.]
But, gee, I don't remember when the transition occurred in there,
but it was very gradual.
That's all right. I'm sure we can refer back to that oral history
if we need to.
Moving into Skylab, you had mentioned in your first oral history about
the wet versus dry workshop, and the discussions on that, and some
of the tests that were done both at Huntsville and at Houston, using
the water tanks.
Can you tell us more about what those tests entailed and what they
were looking at?
Well, it was a combination. It was more procedures evaluation and
hardware evaluation, so that makes it a test, I guess, if you're evaluating
hardware, because when it was wet, of course, the workshop launched
on one Saturn I and the crew launched on another, and then you had
to do an EVA because the S-IVB stage had been a functional propulsive
stage. So the primary functions were to make sure that the—of
course, the crew didn't do that, they did it from the ground to make
sure that all the gases, the oxygen, was dumped out of the workshop.
But then primarily since they had feeds to the engine that came out
of the hydrogen tank, that went to feed the engines and there were
several large plumbing lines, as you could imagine, in the bottom
of the stage, so the primary EVA or the water tank testing those and
evaluation that was done was the method that we thought we would go
about plugging those things because they fed right to the engines
and you wouldn't want—and I think it's part of the shutdown
procedure, they left some valves open on the engine. So you had to
get those things plugged.
So that was the primary thrust of the water tank work that we did,
plus some of the initial activation. I think the configuration at
the time must have included multiple docking adapter on top, which
is where a lot of the scientific equipment was. So we also evaluated
the procedures for bringing that equipment, boxed equipment, down
into the workshop and installing it. So that went on for a couple
of years until we finally decided the system was contracted to produce
Saturn V, so now if you cancel three Apollo missions plus we always
had a spare—I think the spare is the one that's laying out here
[on the lawn at JSC]—so you had a Saturn V available, and that
made it appropriate and easy to do a dry workshop, which reduced the
crew's activation time from about a week down to a couple of days.
Did the Astronaut Office had a preference toward the dry over the
Oh, yes, you bet. You bet, for a couple of things. The less activity
you have, frankly, the less chance you have for something going wrong.
What we were always concerned about, because we didn't understand
at the time what it took in a large volume and weightlessness to handle
large heavy equipment boxes, well, we didn't need to do that much
with the dry workshop because they were almost all installed in the
S-IVB or the workshop at launch. Basically it cut the so-called activation
time down from, I don't remember, five or six days, probably, down
to a couple of days so we could get on with the business of evaluating
the usefulness of people in microgravity sooner.
Plus we had another untested thing, so the wet workshop, as I remember,
did not launch with the Apollo Telescope Mount on it. That was brought
up later. So then we had to develop a procedure and the wherewithal
to carry it up on the manned flight, the flight for the first crew,
and detach it, remotely fly it over, and dock it. So that was a significant
cost then that was avoided, and risk, you know.
Seemingly it ended up all right, although there were a few incidents
along the way. But before actually getting to the mission, once you
were appointed to the Skylab mission, what did your training entail
for that? What processes did you go through?
Well, it was the usual. Of course, we had to understand, first off,
the main thing was to get up there, so you had to make sure the crew
was properly trained in the ascent profile and all the procedures,
including your basic and your emergency procedures. Same thing on
docking and reentry. But the important thing was just to get up there
and get going. So it was every aspect of the mission, and we didn't
just focus on ascent for three weeks then and go do something else.
The whole thing was interweaved because what we didn't want to is,
you wanted to leave Houston to go to the Cape for launch day as current
as you could be as a crew, with everything that you're going to be
So the whole thing was kind of a melded, interwoven schedule of training,
and a lot of it, of course, the closer you get, the more it's a refresher.
It's really verification and in many cases some revisions, improvements,
we would like to think, but not always, in procedures, techniques,
and experiment operation. So it was every aspect of the mission, which
was launch and ascent, which had, of course, no EVA at the time, until
the end of the mission for ours, activation, which was getting into
the workshop, activating it, setting it up, because some of the equipment
that was stowed in a certain way for launch had to withstand a launch
environment, which, of course, it didn't on orbit, so we did have
to rearrange some of the equipment within the workshop.
Then basically we spent a lot of time just becoming familiar with
and making sure we understood the procedures for all the so-called
experiments we were going to be performing. Now, we did, since there
were more than we thought three people could devote training time
to, in many cases we had a prime and a backup on some of the experiments.
Of course, Joe [Joseph P.] Kerwin, being a physician, was prime on
all the medical stuff and I was his backup for some of it and Pete
[Conrad] was his backup for the others. Pete, of course, he was the
We had a thing called Earth Resources Experiments Package, EREP, on
there, and I was prime in that. So that meant I went to the Martin
[Marietta Corporation] plant outside of Denver, in Littleton [Colorado],
and followed the development and testing of those cameras. Jack [R.]
Lousma and I primarily were assigned responsibility of following development
of the airlock module, which started out—well, anyway, most
of the work was done at the McDonnell [Douglas Corporation] factory
in St. Louis. So it really was an interweaving, but like some of the
stuff, see, Joe Kerwin, for example, had nothing to do with EREP.
I was prime on it and Pete was the backup. I can't think of any other
specifics, but that was an example.
What did training for EREP package entail? Were you given specific
things—training on how to recognize certain features on Earth,
or were you just given certain time lines of when to take pictures
of certain things or—
See, it depended. One of the sensors was pointable, and what you really
wanted to do—and don't ask me what the sensor was, because I've
forgotten, but we had a telescope up in the MDA [Multiple Docking
Adaptor] and you would have to then—I think it had a different
magnification, fields of view on it, so the responsibility, when you're
operating that one, was to find the site. We called them targets at
first, but it was decided, the cold war was still going on, it was
a bad term. So we called them sites, which was more appropriate anyway.
To recognize the site, even though you had help from the ground. They
would say, "Pitch the telescope up to a certain angle on it and
watch, and at umpty-ump time, you should have your test site in view."
Then you were supposed to center it in the cross hairs and track it.
So that was active crew involvement in that, where we had another
bank of six Hasselblad cameras that had various wavelength-sensitive
films in it, six different film, and that was fixed. It just pointed
at the Earth, so all you did with that was start on your watch and
you started it, and when it was time, then you turned it off.
So there were really two extremes of involvement with it. Most of
it was really basically start and stop on a clock.
Were there times that if you saw something particularly interesting,
that you were allowed to just take pictures?
Heavens, no. Except with the handheld cameras. We had typically—we
flew 35-millimeter. I'm not sure if we ever flew the 35-millimeter
in Apollo or not, but we had some 35-millimeter cameras on Skylab,
and, of course, we had our usual 70-millimeter handheld, too. We had
motion picture cameras, but they were only for documentation of some
mobility, basically some human factors-type things that we did, moving
around in zero G, moving large and heavy volumes, equipment. So I
think we didn't take any 16-millimeter movies out the window, targets
of opportunity, but we had the usual, never enough film. No crew ever
has enough film available to use for targets—excuse me, sites
of opportunity. So we did take some of that.
I think that's pretty—
But other than that, with EREP, no, because resources were—most
of the data were recorded on tape in, I think, one-inch or inch and
a quarter, something like that, magnetic tape. And that limited how
much data we could take with it.
Now, with the Apollo Telescope Mount, looking at the sun, that was
primarily—some of that, well, it ran the same as EREP. Some
of it was, you just took data on the clock, and others, we had an
X-ray monitor, helium alpha, I think. We had a couple of displays
on there. You could then point one or more of the instruments at a
specific site on the sun to take data.
Did the experiments or the plans for when you should turn things on
and off, did any of that change during the mission as—
Are you kidding? I'm sure it did. I mean, those guys in mission control
are very busy. They come on for eight hours. They want to get something
done while they're there, rather than just sit around. So, yes. But
I overstated a little bit there. Yes, everyone had the accomplishment
of the mission primarily, and if they could evaluate, which for some
of the experiments you could, and also if the crew would call down
and say, "This didn't seem to work right," or, "We
think there's a better way even yet." I was primarily responsible
for the EREP procedures development, and I found out a lot of things
in orbit that I didn't like about that. So we could change some of
them. After we bounced it off the ground and they looked at it and
evaluated, either desktop or in a trainer, make changes or modifications,
you'd either go to procedures, a time line, or perhaps to a setting
on the equipment.
I think you mentioned in the earlier oral history that one of the
reasons you found things different is just the difference in working
in microgravity versus working on Earth.
Yes, in many cases that was so.
That's the way you do things. In Dr. Kerwin's oral history, he mentioned
that you were also responsible—you were the systems expert for
the flight as well. Is that correct?
In the workshop, yes.
What did those duties entail? I think you mentioned the docking adapter
that you were involved with a little bit, the airlock. What other
things fell into those areas of responsibilities?
Oh, gee whiz. I'd forgotten about the systems stuff, but, yes. And
of course, we had the environmental control system, the electrical
system, and not much hydraulics. But it was a relatively complicated
control panel, because we wanted as much flexibility and adaptability
as we could get into it. So I mentioned before Jack Lousma and I,
and that was part, even though it controlled systems in a workshop,
that was part of the airlock module, so we were involved in the layout,
for example, of the control panel and which functions were capable
of being crew-enabled or not, you know, crew-activated.
I imagine that some of those duties changed a bit after the launch
and when you had to then reevaluate how the whole activation was going
To a certain extent, yes. Yes, and also we had some trouble, problems
early on with our cooling system in the workshop. It tended to freeze
up. So, yes, because we didn't have the thermal shield, which is what
caused the problem, not by design nor implementation, but because
of the loss of the thermal shield. Even though we shaded the top side
from the sun, the other sides of the workshop were still colder than
they were intended to be by design. And I think we had problems throughout
the mission, although we learned to cope with them. Primarily the
good folks on the ground learned to cope with them and those problems
did diminish both in frequency of occurrence and also in significance.
But I think we had to cope with that throughout all three missions,
as I remember.
Well, it certainly was quite a change to things when the launch did
occur and when the shield was ripped off and when the solar panel
went and the other one was jammed. Obviously there was quite a time
there when everyone was trying to pull together again, almost like
Apollo 13, to save the mission and make it all still possible. Your
crew was pretty involved with that process, since you had to be the
first ones to go up and do some of the repairs. You did tell us about
that some in the first oral history, but I was wondering if you could
go over it again briefly for us here today.
Well, of course we watched the workshop launch and it went in the
clouds. Then we headed back to crew quarters in preparation for going
back to Houston, not that day, the next day, as I remember it. The
backup crew, our backup crew, which was—let's see. Who was on
that? I think it was Rusty Schweickart and Bruce McCandless and Story
Musgrave. As far as we were concerned at the time, it was a good launch.
And if it's a good launch, then backup crew has nothing more to do,
and they were free from quarantine, which we weren't.
They were free from quarantine, so some or all of them went into—there
was always a round of so-called parties. Some are more party than
others at KSC around the launch. So they all headed to town and proceeded
to live it up, but we went back to the crew quarters. Then we realized
what was going on. Oh, that's right. [Laughter] How soon you forget.
We had to stick around because we were supposed to launch the next
day. That's why. And we weren't yet aware of what was going on.
So, anyway, what was your question?
I was just wondering if you could walk us through how—just like
you are, talking about leading up to—
Right. The whole time line. I don't remember when we were notified
that there was a problem. I don't remember. It must have been in a
couple of hours, because the ground knew it right away, because the
electric guys started seeing output from one of the solar wings during
ascent, which you shouldn't see, because the thing is supposed to
be totally stowed. So it was a little mystifying. Things fell together
But as I remember, the solar array was made up by several panels,
I think five or six different panels of solar electricity machines.
They were developing a little more voltage or current or volt as they
got out closer to the end of the arm that held the solar array, the
wing, and it fit with what we found out to be the case, in that remaining
solar array was partially deployed because the arm had come loose
and was away from the side, so they were having some sunlight on it.
They saw that during ascent, so I'm sure that we were probably hardly
back at the crew quarters when we were informed that there was a problem.
Well, due to orbital mechanics and rendezvousing with the workshop
is our launch opportunities repeated on a five-day interval, so if
we didn't launch the next day, we had to wait five more days. So we
went back to Houston while things kind of settled out and activities
started on first trying to figure out what was wrong with it, then
what we understood of what the problem was, was coming up with fixes
for that. So we weren't really sure. As I told you before, you know,
we knew we were going to launch, even if it was just for a day or
two, to take some pictures, fly around, come back, and they'd tell
Congress and the public what went wrong. So there were two other crews
that were very, very nervous. Their opportunity to go fly a mission
may have gone away.
Then as we learned more about what the situation was and didn't have
a total grasp on what we were going to do to fix it yet, then they
slipped our launch another five days, so that we launched eleven days
after the workshop. By then things had come together enough that we
had what we considered to be a reasonable plan of attack for fixing
the situation that was the case.
The backup crew was then back in quarantine and they did a lot of
the developmental work in the water tank in Houston, as far as Huntsville,
the big water tank. We didn't have a big one then. Huntsville had
the big one, which is where we did most of our water tank training
for Skylab, by the way, at Marshall [Space Flight Center, Alabama].
So they did a lot of the stuff, and then once they developed the procedures,
as we understood the problem, then, of course, the people—and
I forget what our approach was now to EVA responsibilities, then we
would get in the water tank there and go through to make sure we understood
the procedure and that it sounded and looked okay to us.
We launched with three different applications for shading. We knew
by then that the thermal shield was gone, so we launched with—I'm
trying to remember if we took additional food. Anyway, there was a
lot of stuff tied down in the bottom of the lower equipment bay in
the command module with beta cloth line at launch, because we launched,
for example, with three different methods, approaches to shading the
solar side of the workshop.
And I think maybe we launched with some extra food. I don't really
remember, because there was a question—we knew how hot it was
in the workshop, 140-some degrees, as I remember, but we didn't know
what effect it would have on the food, for example. Did the freezer
still work? I think we launched with some extra food, but I'm not
sure about that.
We also then, due to the heat, there was a concern at one time that
there was perhaps some noxious or even toxic outgassing from the insulation
on the inside of the workshop, which is part of the normal S-IVB,
which was considered to be very good for insulation, but was never
intended to see those temperatures. So then we launched with an adapter
that plugged into—we had an equalization valve in the MDA, so
this adapter plugged into this equalization valve and it would then
sample the air in the MDA to make sure. It's like ones that used to
be used in propeller-driven airplanes to sample for carbon monoxide
in the cockpit. We had different sensors, tubes, as I remember. It
was a glass tube with some sensitive chemical in it, and if it would
change color, then it was bad.
But there were no noxious gases in any element of the cluster when
we got there, so then we basically opened up the MDA and spent the
night once we got through the standup EVA. Did you want to go over
Actually, even before we get there, if it had detected gases, would
that have ended the mission there?
Well, they had a capability, which the ground had done—see,
it had dumped the workshop and repressurized it a couple of times,
if there were any bad stuff in the workshop, that they would have
got rid of it. So we could have done that some more, but, of course,
then you're eating into your reserves and potentially mission lifetime.
So I don't remember, but I would guess that was probably going to
be a real-time call.
And we didn't expect it in the MDA anyway. It didn't overheat. It
had its own thermal control system. It was in the same configuration
it was designed for, so it was okay. As a matter of fact, in attempt
to keep the workshop cooler, as I remember, the temperature in the
MDA was about 55 degrees when we got there, so it was quite comfortable.
Great. Yes, if you could go into the—as you've been going along
here, into your standup EVA.
Okay. Well, we went up there and saw what the situation was as far
as configuration. The entire thermal shield was gone and so was one
solar array, except for a piece of the thermal shield that was trapped
under the partially deployed wing that remained and a piece of the
thermal shield had been wrapped up around and embedded in the top
of the wing, which was why it wouldn't deploy.
So we tried the standup EVA and we put our helmets and gloves on and
depressurized the command module, flew in, and we had this thing called
the shepherd's crook, which was what it was shaped like. The intent
was to pull out on the bottom of the wing and have it deploy. So,
of course, Pete had to drive the command module, and the hatch opened
out toward his window, so his field of view was significantly restricted
by the hatch.
So we opened the hatch and then I stood up in the hatch and Joe Kerwin
held onto my ankles, because the hoses in the command module weren't
really designed for EVA, so you didn't want to put tension on the
hoses for fear of something breaking. Well, that didn't work, and
it gave Pete fits because I'd haul on the shepherd's crook on the
bottom, and it would pull the command module and the workshop toward
each other, and then Pete's trying to keep this thing under control.
So he's hosing out a lot of gas.
Surprisingly, for something that weighed 100 tons, just by doing that,
we were actually moving the workshop also, because we could see—it
had cold gas thrusters at the base, and we could see those things
firing. So that was moving around, too. So we decided to forego that.
It wasn't working.
So we had to try Plan B, which was, we had flown a set of basically
what amounted to these instruments that tree trimmers use, one of
which was a cutter. But we didn't really try it from a different attitude,
but from our position at the end of the solar array beam, the angle
that you could get with the cutter on that piece of joint from the
thermal shield that was embedded in the top, I couldn't put enough
force, even with Joe helping, as I remember, on the lanyard to activate
the cutters to cut through it. So we had to give up on that.
Before then, we had soft-docked, which, in Apollo terminology, you
had capture latches and then you retracted the probe to pull you into
a hard dock. Well, we had soft-docked and just hung on the capture
latches while we ate lunch. It was a late lunch that day. We ate lunch,
so we went back then to make a hard dock with the workshop at the
end of the MDA. That's when then the capture latches would not function
properly. We couldn't get a soft dock.
That's when, as I think I said before, close into launch, we were
doing some training in Building 5, and one of the trainers came over
and he said, "You know, we've never used this procedure, but
you guys might want to know how to retract the probe if you had to
so it could be basically gotten out of the way for backup approach
to docking." So Pete and Joe went through that. I was doing something
else, and Pete and Joe went through that. And, sure enough, we had
to do that.
So that meant suit up again, depressurize the command module, get
out the procedure which was in there, and they had to cut some wires,
as I remember, manually retract the probe some way. I think we left
it in the tunnel just to keep it out of the way, because you didn't
want it floating around loose inside. That's when, as I say, old "Steamboat
Willy," Pete, he drove in and made a perfect—which is difficult,
you know. The probe-and-drogue system, you hook it up and then you
retract the probe, and basically that pulled you in and did your alignment
so you could then make the—they had twelve latches, called capture
latches, that joined the two parts of the tunnel between the two vehicles.
He drove in, made a practically perfect hookup, because when we got
the hatch out of the way, the command module hatch, and the probe
out of the way, then eleven of the twelve capture latches had been
made at contact. So all we had to do was manually engage the other
Then we tested the air in the MDA, went in, looked around. It had
been a long day by then, so we went in, looked around, and basically
then it was time to eat supper, which was Apollo-type food as opposed
to Skylab food was all down in the workshop, and sleep in the command
module. I think I'd have to go back and look at the as-flown flight
plan. I don't remember where I slept the first night. I slept in the
MDA a couple of nights because it was just nicer. The plan in the
command module was just stretch out a sleeping bag and you laid under
your couch, and that's just not a very neat way to sleep, in my mind.
So Joe and Pete stayed—I think they wound up sleeping on top
of their couches, and I moved my bag into the MDA and slept there.
Then the primary plan for shading the solar side of the workshop was
to—it had two scientific airlocks, one on the solar side, one
on the anti-solar side—was to extend a so-called parasol from
the equipment package, through the solar-side airlock, deploy it like
an extendable umbrella, but made up of several sections. First of
all, it had the center pole that extended, and then you had four other
poles that shaped the rectangular parasol as it went out.
So Pete and I went in and did that, and we had to make several trips
because you'd overheat in the workshop. We went in in our skivvies
first, or nearly to it, and that's when we discovered that the folks
who live in the African desert have the right idea, because we wound
up wearing trousers, jackets, gloves, the whole thing. We found we
could stay in that—it's like Phoenix, it's hot, but it's a dry
heat. But still we had to come out occasionally.
Then Joe monitored it. He could see, pretty much see the parasol being
deployed from the command module. So we extended it up until the four
arms were free, and it deployed into its deployed position, and then
we pulled it back down until it was so many inches off the side of
the workshop, then unscrewed part of the pole that stuck into the
workshop, and it was ready. It turned out later, one of the four arms
didn't deploy all the way, so it wasn't a rectangular shape and size
as originally planned.
The ground, as I remember, saw temperatures dropping within an hour
in the workshop. Then after a day or two, that's why we spent—because
it took a while for it to cool off, and that's why we spent a couple
of nights in the command module on the MDA.
After a while, after a couple or three days, whatever, we could tell
just by feeling the side of the workshop where it was shaded by the
parasol, there was a significant subjective difference in the temperature
of the inside wall. But we got things under control.
Of course, since we still were down—as I remember, the ATM,
the Apollo Telescope Mount, generated 55 percent by design of our
original electrical capability, so that's all we had. So we were basically
using a minimum amount of lighting. I think we didn't have any hot
water for a while. No, that couldn't be, because we ate regular meals
for the two weeks before we deployed it. But it basically was a conserve
of electrical energy. I'm sure that what happened was that the ground
reduced some of the experiment operations that were high power users.
As I say, lights drew a fair amount—we had a lot of lights—until
the EVA at the end of the second week. Pete and Joe were then successful
in deploying the solar wing, and then the arrays deployed, and now
we're back basically, with some curtailment, but back to near normal
What was—given the fact that your power levels were so low,
what was the motivation for waiting so long before doing that EVA
to extend the solar array?
Gee, I don't know. I think you're probably asking the wrong person.
I think the main thing was just development of—we shipped some
TV photos back, of mainly the flyaround, so the ground had to then
dress them up a little bit so they could really understand what was
going on. I think basically it just took that long for an appreciation
of what the situation was and for, again, the backup crew to get in
the water tank and develop procedure, given the tools we had on board,
and how do you do an EVA on the side. First off, the question is,
can we do an EVA? Okay. The answer is yes. Well, should we do an EVA?
And you go through that whole logic process.
Then they also shipped up the procedures, as they understand them,
a couple three days before they were planning on doing the EVA, and
we kind of walked through them in the workshop. We didn't actually
suit up, but as far as getting equipment out and talking about taking
it up into the airlock, making sure we could get those tree trimmer's
tools back outside through the airlock hatch this time and, I think,
the whole process until it was agreed by both mission control and
Pete that it was time to go do it.
Okay. So this second EVA, then, hadn't been tested on the ground before
you guys came up.
Well, that certainly would be a good reason to take time and make
sure it's all going to be safe and have a good chance of succeeding.
Absolutely. You had mentioned on your EVA, this was a chance that
hadn't been planned for in the initial schedule for the mission. You
weren't scheduled to do an EVA. Did you have a chance to enjoy the
opportunity, even though you were trying to save the station at the
Oh yes. And then also with Pete's—I whined to Pete, since the
original plan when we were planning this flight, was we did one EVA,
and that was at the end of the mission because some of the data from
the Apollo Telescope Mount were recorded on tape out at the ATM itself.
So there was a planned, scheduled EVA at the end of the mission to
retrieve those tapes and bring them back. Pete and Joe were scheduled
to do that. Then I went and whined to Pete, because Joe had already
had an EVA, and all I had was that crummy standup EVA. So how about
if I went out with him at the end of the mission? Because the second
guy just stayed close to the workshop and operated. We had those extendable
booms then to bring the large, bulky equipment back in film canisters,
primarily. So there wasn't much to it, really.
First I approached Joe, because I didn't want to cut him out of something,
and he said, "Okay, sniveler." And then I approached Pete,
and Pete said okay. Then the ground agreed. So I did get to do another
EVA, but that was a pretty busy one, too. I really didn't have time,
not at all on the first one, to enjoy the view. And on the second
one, I was watching Pete and he was doing a couple of things. That's
when he hit the charger battery regulator module as part of the electrical
system, used the old trick, it wasn't functioning properly, so he
hit it with a hammer and it worked again.
He also had made up a sample of the material of which the parasol
was made, and he attached that to a sunny side of what we call the
trusswork that supported the ATM, for either the second or third crew
to retrieve, just to see what the effects are of exposure to primarily
ultraviolet, but sunlight and vacuum did to it. I was watching him
and operating those extendable booms, so, as I say, I don't remember
having had much of a chance to stand back and enjoy it.
Your mission did go very successfully, and it kind of went in three
phases: your initial phase with getting everything activated and with
the low power, then there was the EVA in the middle to extend the
boom, and then there was the phase afterwards, where everything was
up to as full a power as you were going to be able to get.
Ops normal, basically.
What—and you've talked a lot about the activation stage of things.
Afterwards, how did, or did the day change much as to the way you
would go about things or—and could you walk us through how your
day would go? Not necessarily a typical day, but just from getting
up and then walk through some of the things you would do before turning
I don't remember significant changes. As I say, we had more power
available, so we operated more equipment, more experiments. We launched
with a schedule of things to accomplish. Then each night the folks,
the daily activities planners, would get together and during the night—we
had a teleprinter of sorts on board, and then they would send up the
detailed schedule for each of us the next day as to what we were supposed
That varied from day to day. Although, for example, there was a bicycle
ergometer run every day, because each of us subjects did it every
three days and we did one person a day. Other things weren't—I
think we did EREP passes on each—not each day, but perhaps every
second or third day. We did ATM work, solar telescope work, every
day. But, you know, I may or may not have been assigned a watch on
the ATM control panel on a given day or not. We kind of rotated that
Then we had chores we called housekeeping, which was basically check
the wastewater tank, how full was it, switch freshwater tanks if necessary,
clean up stuff, vacuum the screens, take the trash off the screens
on the recirculating system, because our environmental control system
recirculated most of the air in the workshop as opposed to running
it through the scrubbers and the chillers and the whole thing. So
we could clean up trash and check the wardroom, make sure you didn't
have any—liquid floats around in zero G, and sometimes a little
drop of gravy would get away from you. So we had Betadine wipes that
we could clean up the workshop with to keep it shipshape.
Some days we had our individual—we each had a drawer where we
kept our food, but there was a large locker in which all the food
was stored. So on a given day someone was assigned the task of moving
food for the next X days, whatever that was, from the stowage locker
down to our wardroom pantry. It basically was just—you know,
that combination, the ground had a score sheet of what they wanted
to accomplish for the different missions, and they interweaved that
with basically your day-to-day activities.
Does that answer your question?
I mean, you know, there wasn't any, except for the medical stuff,
the bicycle ergometer, there wasn't anything else I remember, and
the ATM, those are the only things that were done every day, as I
Sounds like you had enough variety to keep things always interesting.
Well, yes, but it's no different from here on Earth. I mean, you don't
do the same thing in your house every day. You do different things.
And you mentioned in the first oral history that you had plenty of
time in your free time to look out the window and enjoy the view.
After the EVA, primarily, because we got more accustomed—you
know, there was three or four days and we were getting ready to do
the EVA, and that was on day fourteen. Now, we'd spent two or three
days getting into the workshop and letting things cool down, assessing
the effects of the temperature. We had some hand cream on board, for
example. At 140 degrees, most of those tubes of hand cream had basically
exploded. Of course, they were in a container, fortunately, but they
had popped open because of the temperature.
What was your last question? I was visualizing.
You were building up to working—being able to look out the window.
Yes. Right. So there was a lot of unexpected stuff in the first two
weeks and then it became more routine. We learned how to do things
quicker and better. You moved around more rapidly. If you want to
get a good example of what it means, you can look at the videotapes
from the entry into Spacelab on STS-9. You can see the difference
between Owen [K.] Garriott, who did a stint on Skylab, and the folks
who hadn't been in weightlessness before, just by their actions and
the way they handled themselves when they went into the Spacelab.
So we got better and better, but Pete figured that we don't want to
overload the second crew as soon as they got up there, so we didn't
ask for any extra stuff from the ground. I mean, if we finished a
thirty-minute task in ten minutes, we didn't tell them that till later
in the day, if ever. I don't remember. Not that we were trying to
keep anything from them; it's just that we were trying, as I say,
trying to avoid a potential problem with the second crew, which did
come to bite us. That's because we were up there—we basically
had two weeks of the real mission.
The second crew went up for fifty-nine days. They had fifty-nine days
to go. They didn't want to be standing around, just killing time.
So Al [Alan L.] Bean asked for other things to do, and the ground
obligingly sent them up other things to do. But then with the third
crew, they forgot that there's a learning curve associated with it,
and people got with it and they overloaded the third crew for the
first week or two, whenever—what some people call the strike
by the crew, which they said, "We're going to take a day off,"
which at that time they needed. Then they had a conversation with
the flight director, and, as I remember, the center director, and
things got squared away and it went better from there.
So we did have more free time. I spent most, if not all, of my free
time looking out the window. I don't remember what Pete and Joe did.
I would typically go up—the best windows were in the MDA. Even
though they were small, you could always see some of the Earth out
one of the windows. So I spent most of my time up there, my free time,
which really wasn't a whole lot. You're talking about a cumulative
total of somewhere between one and two hours a day.
But we did make a point of always—we ate all our meals together
as a crew, all three meals, so we would always meet in the wardroom,
just to talk things over, see how things were going, because sometimes
the guy on the ATM perhaps didn't see the other two guys for three
or four hours, half a day, because they were doing something down
in the workshop itself and he was up busy at the ATM control panel.
You certainly need that human interaction.
Are there lessons learned from—well, you sort of mentioned one
here with the time, how you ended up having extra time at the end
and how the second crew asked for extra duties and then the third
crew kind of got overwhelmed. That's obviously one lesson learned.
But other things as well that might be applied from Skylab to the
International Space Station?
There were things that should have been applied, but haven't been
necessarily, just basically certainly the hiatus between ATSP [Apollo
Soyuz Test Project] and the beginning, the actual launch of the Shuttle
mission and everybody's focused on the first four flights. What did
they call those? They had a special name for the first four flights.
On the Shuttle?
Well, I mean for that phase of it. We tended to forget. As we went
into [Space Station] Freedom, post flight, during the flight
people were taking a lot of notes, recording a lot of information
and data, both anecdotal and hard data, and coming up with, I think
it was about a twenty-volume—by volume, I mean document that
thick, three-eighths of an inch or so, and it was entitled Skylab
Lessons Learned. I think there were twenty of those publications.
But you could go through them now and find out a lot of things that
we're probably going to find on Freedom that weren't applied, and
that's just because you get a new crew in. By "crew," I
mean everybody who's working on Shuttle and Freedom. Of course, Freedom
has been through so many different groups of people and managers and
configurations and what have you, it's easy to lose sight of those
old lessons. Frankly, everybody thinks they have a better way of doing
Would you have imagined that it would be so much time between Apollo
and Skylab and then on to Shuttle and Space Station?
There really wasn't that much time between Apollo 17 and Skylab; 17
launched in December of '71.
Was it '72? And then we launched the workshop in May of '73. So, see,
from Apollo to Skylab to ASTP wasn't that much. But then after ASTP,
when nobody really knew what we were going to do next, AAP was fading
at the time, Skylab was kind of hanging on like Space Station has
for the last lots of years, and that's when I remember Cocoa Beach
[Florida] really was almost a ghost town. I mean, there were businesses,
banks, and restaurants and condos that were boarded up, basically,
in the last seventies until we really started getting some hardware,
some equipment to test at the Cape.
So that was a long time. A lot of people left the Astronaut Office,
a lot of people left JSC, time to move on because they were just the
type of people who wanted to be associated with a program or an undertaking
that they thought was challenging. So a lot of people left. Lots of
people left the Astronaut Office.
Do you have any final thoughts on Skylab or anything you'd like to
say that we didn't cover last—
It was worth doing. It's unfortunate that they couldn't find a way,
a practical way, to keep it in orbit for longer, or that we used a
fully functional—didn't use—and I understand the budget
considerations, but from a personal point of view, it'd have been
nicer to have the backup workshop, which was ready for flight in all
respects, in orbit rather than at the Smithsonian. It gives people
an appreciation and understanding when they go through that display
at the Smithsonian of what that aspect of space flight—now with
Freedom in orbit, it gives them perhaps a little better appreciation
of what's going on. So, yes, those two things primarily.
If we could pause here for a minute and take a quick break.
Suits me. [Tape change.]
We were talking—we came to the end of Skylab and, as we talked
about, there was quite a break between Skylab and Shuttle—actually,
between ASTP and Shuttle and a lot of changeout of people leaving
NASA for various reasons, and a lot of changes just going on within
NASA trying to get geared up for Space Shuttle, which was such a different
program, such a different vehicle. What were some of your thoughts
on the Shuttle itself?
Are we ever going to get STS-1 off the ground, basically, because
we went through the same thing in Skylab. One time for Skylab we scheduled
a launch and we were losing time. I mean, because a month would go
by and we were more than a month behind schedule. Of course, it goes
up in peaks and it drops off. But it seemed to take half of forever
to get STS-1 ready to go. I don't remember now, you can't pin that
on any one thing. The new programs, new development, a lot of things
had to come together, the SRB [solid rocket boosters], the external
tank, the main engines, the Shuttle, the whole thing.
During this time you were working in the Astronaut Office.
You mentioned in your earlier oral history that part of the jobs there
were training for the astronauts, part of your duties. What did that
training entail, since this was such a different vehicle and since
there were things still being developed?
Well, it's some training, but also so much development, both developing
the moving base—we, JSC and NASA, were developing the moving-base
simulators that we had in Building 5. All the Apollo simulators were
fixed-based; they didn't move. So the crews were involved in that.
They were involved in the layout of the crew station, which was a
big job then. I remember [F.] Gordon Fullerton had these foam core—foam
core is the sandwiched styrofoam—because he had drawings of
instrument panels and then you'd put up with push-pins, you know,
to lay things out, label it. Just labeling switches can at times be
a significant chore, especially in an approach we had in Apollo, for
Let me give you an example. You could control—at the time, anyway,
I don't know if you still can—you could control the lights in
the mid-deck on the Shuttle from either the flight deck or down in
the mid-deck. So it's just like in your house, two switches. Well,
how do you label? Every switch has to be labeled, right? You can't
just put "on" and "off." At one time, as I remember,
they had switches labeled, one position was on/off and the other was
off/on. You get focused on some things a little too much sometimes.
But I really don't remember much about that. STS-1 launched in 19—
'81. So we went from '74 to '81, seven years, gradually phasing up
to that, and I don't remember, it was slow times, basically, and we
didn't have a lot of people in the Astronaut Office then, because
the first group of so-called Shuttle astronauts was '78, as I remember,
were selected then. So it was a few people doing a lot, with a lot
of help from mission operations and working together on how systems
You could still get an input into basically what should a given system
accomplish. For example, the thermal control, for example, what do
you want it to accomplish? Payload bay doors. That was a big thing,
because you can't make a successful reentry if they're open. So there
a lot of crew involvement went into the design of the actuation system
on the doors with the primary goal of closing the darn things.
At the time, the radiators deployed when you're on orbit. If you had
anything in the bay, if you closed the radiators, then you could puncture
a line in your freon system or whatever we used as a coolant. So it
was a lot of crew involvement with a relatively few people until about
'79, when the '78 group came on board, got through their first year,
then were starting to be assigned, given technical assignments. But
it really was a mishmash and nothing much comes to mind. It turned
out to be the first six crews were assigned somewhere along in there,
and I don't even remember when that was or whether we were assigned
all at one time or in a couple three installments or what. For whatever
reason, that's pretty cloudy in my memory.
There certainly was a lot going on at the time, getting everything
Yes, there was.
Were you involved with the ALT test, the [Shuttle] Approach and Landing
No, no, I had nothing to do with ALT. I had forgotten all about ALT,
as a matter of fact. Deke [Slayton] was in charge of that. Of course,
we had the—I guess there were just two crews that flew the ALT
missions. It was [Joe H.] Engle and [Richard H.] Truly and [Fred W.]
Haise and [Gordon] Fullerton, as I remember.
I believe that's correct.
That's right. That took up a lot of that time prior to the launch
It must have been good to see STS-1 finally come to fly.
And go pretty well.
Of course, there was—on the launch there was some question on
the tiles that had come off, that they noticed when they turned the
cameras on, but everything did go very well.
I guess we don't drop tiles on launch anymore.
It doesn't seem to. I think a variety of things still happen on launches
that aren't expected, but tiles seem to be pretty good now, but the
tiles, of course, had been one of the big issues leading in.
It was. It was. As a matter of fact—the center directors kind
of run together, too. I don't remember who it was, but JSC basically
had a team at the Cape "helping," in quotes, our friends
at the Cape get on with both the procedures and the materials before
attaching tiles. Kenny [Kenneth S.] Kleinknecht, from JSC, and FOD
[Flight Operations Directorate] or Flight Crew Operations [Directorate,
FCOD], whatever we were called, you know, we went through that period,
too, when mission operations and flight crew operations were combined
again, called flight operations. Anyway, from the Astronaut Office,
Bob [Robert F.] Overmeyer went to the Cape as Kenny's deputy, as I
remember, to work on the problem.
It certainly was a very different aspect, a completely different way
of doing things again for Shuttle.
During this time frame and as Shuttle was coming on board, somewhere
along the way the decision was made to have payload specialists as
part of the crew. Do you recall any of the discussions surrounding
that and how that came about?
Well, to a certain extent, but I don't remember the timing. Early
on, it was considered for a while you would basically have, we thought,
two people. Some people referred to them as "the dumb guys in
the front," whose only responsibility was to launch, keep the
Orbiter running, and fly it back to Earth. They would rotate fairly—perhaps
every six months they'd go fly, until they got some time off.
At the time it was felt that the best way to get the most bang for
the buck, as far as experiment—we call everything experiments,
you know, whether it's an evaluation or data-gathering or on-site
analysis, whatever—was to ideally—let's say you're going
to take up this new astronomical sensor, whatever. It's spectrographic
or radio emissions or what have you. And that some guy in Palo Alto
[California] had spent from the time he was a graduate student through
his ten-year tenure at the university, and he developed this detector.
The most reasonable thing to do was to take him up with it, him or
her, to take that person up with it, then let them operate it.
So that was kind of the basic approach to payload specialists as to
why we need them, and each time we flew that package or some version
of it, then that person would go fly again. But it wouldn't be a NASA
employee. We wouldn't have to keep him. All we did was train him to
not touch anything, any switch or any control in Orbiter, you know,
that kind of—simplistically that approach.
And that's still basically what payload specialists are, although
then we had mission specialists, and the concept for that was, well,
you have three of these people who have different requirements as
far as perhaps pointing or precision of pointing or how much time
they need in a given day to take, and you really need a so-called
scientific person to be what amounts to the mission commander as far
as payload operation is concerned. So that was felt that, for lack
of anything else, we called them mission specialists. Because in every
other airplane operation, the pilot sits in the left seat. Well, in
the Shuttle, the pilot sits in the right seat. Then the guy who's
really the pilot is called the commander. The guy who's really the
co-pilot is called the pilot. So there you have it.
Over time, a lot of that has evolved, where we really basically have
a three-person crew for ascent and entry. At least we did six years
ago when I left. And the third person, MS-1 [Mission Specialist 1],
sits behind but between the two seats and is basically a third set
of eyes and a third brain, to help you with any anomalies that may
occur during ascent and entry.
So that's kind of evolved into—I don't even know how many payload
specialists are flying anymore, because they fly a ton of people,
none of whom I've ever heard of before anymore. Well, a few I have.
We're still flying payload specialists? I guess we are.
A few, but not very many anymore. I think John [H.] Glenn [Jr.] was
the first one in a while.
He doesn't count.
I think they don't fly quite as many as in the early missions, but
they do still have them.
What did the—your core of astronauts that had come in from Apollo
and Skylab, what did you think of this transition into the more scientifically
oriented and bringing in people from a variety of different areas?
Was it a natural progression or was there some question there?
Let me back up and clarify my comment on John. John deserved a flight.
I didn't mean to put that down.
It's just that in the sense in which I described it, he wasn't really
a payload specialist.
But he wasn't a mission specialist either.
He certainly falls into a unique category, I think.
Right. Yes. So, no, I think it's evolved into a workable and appropriate
arrangement as to what we have. Perhaps the commander, the guy in
the left front seat, has from that basic approach that I described
to you, the commander has more involvement in the conduct of the mission
itself than was conceived with the mission specialist-commander approach.
So therefore we don't fly those people as often. We don't fly them
every three to six months. It's probably good from a certain point
of view. It's nice to have—let's just say you took that approach
and you only had six crews, front-seaters of commander, pilot, and
MS-1. Well, then you may have, for whatever reason, a new system,
a new method of operation, whatever, that you really want. Let's say
it pertains to one of the abort modes. Well, you need some experienced
folks to get involved in an evaluation of a proposed change to an
abort mode, whether it's hardware, software procedures, or what have
you. So it's nice to have extra crews around those guys.
Do you anticipate—and this is just conjecture or opinion on
your part, but as Space Station gets up and running and they are making
more regular trips with the specific idea of going to station, do
you think it might progress back to that, having the key flight crews
on a more rapid circulation like the three to six months, or do you
think it will stay kind of the way it's gone?
I don't know. That's totally up to the center, to JSC, as to what
approach they take to that. You really could do that if you know you're
going to do an EVA as part of a crew delivery or crew retrieval, crew
delivery/crew retrieval mission, and a commander really has to be
involved in that. I mean, you could do it if you wanted to, but I
don't know if the system will go that way. My guess is, it won't.
I guess it'll all be based on the process of learning and seeing what
fits and what's needed.
Well, because the way we're doing it now works, so why change it.
If it's not broke, don't fix it, right?
That's right, basically.
And it does seem to work pretty well now.
Moving into—toward your mission on Shuttle, you talked about
the first crews being assigned somewhere during the process of building
up to STS-1 launch. When—approximately at what time did you
start fully training as your crew for your mission and what did that
I don't remember. I don't remember the time frame. STS-1 launched
in '81, but it was originally scheduled around '78 or '79, so we were
probably assigned a crew without being anointed as a crew. We were
a group of people, myself and Bo [Karol J. Bobko] and Story [Musgrave]
and Don [Donald H. Peterson], that were put together [for STS-6] and
were told basically to start working together as a group, for whatever
Ask me the question again.
What did your training entail as you did get into it?
Well, of course, we were involved early on. For example, Story Musgrave,
who was MS-2 on STS-6, was assigned the primary responsibility from
the Astronaut Office to monitor the deployment and retraction mechanism
for the payload bay doors that I mentioned. So it really was a mix
of working as a crew and still having an office responsibility that
was outside what you would normally be doing as an assigned crew.
So we eased into that.
Then you'd always try to go scam some simulator time if you could,
or trainer, or whatever was available, to start working, on the off
chance we were going to be assigned as a crew to a mission and get
to fly it. But that was an evolutionary type of thing, and I couldn't
tell you, when we were announced as a crew to fly STS-6, where that
fit into the overall schedule. It turned out to be the first six crews
were first assigned as A through F, and we were crew F. Of course,
we then assumed the title of "F Troop," which became our
That's a good theme. A good theme.
How was your crew and the dynamic between all of you? Had you worked
very closely together before or did this bring you together more?
I had worked with Story more closely before, because he was Joe Kerwin's
backup for our Skylab mission, and, of course, we would get together
with the backup crew and compare notes and things like that. So, yes,
I was quite familiar with Story. I'd worked with him a lot. As far
as Bobko and Don Peterson, they had come from the MOL Program, the
Air Force. MOL stood for Manned Orbiting Laboratory, as I remember.
I don't remember when those guys came on board, frankly. It was sometime.
So I really wasn't that familiar with those people, with Bo and Don.
I think one thing is that Story was a little different, but he had
been in the military. Story had been an enlisted Marine, so he had
been in the military. And, of course, Bo and Don were former Air Force
pilots and were Air Force officers. That's one good thing about flying
with military people: they understand chain of command. I'm not saying
that everything I said was God, because those guys would go off and
we'd have crew discussions, and I think we used a reasonable approach
to accommodating different points of view on a certain aspect of getting
ready to go fly. But I was glad to have Bo and Don. I mean, they both
performed, in my mind, admirably.
Did you have any indication beforehand, since you were the commander,
did you have any input into your crew assignments or did it all just
come at once?
No, no, no. I mean, the four names were just, "There they are.
This is the F crew." It was Weitz, Bobko, Musgrave, and Peterson.
So, no. As opposed to in Apollo, I think—it's my understanding
that the commanders, once they flew, well, they had to fly before.
Typically they flew before being assigned as commander, and they had
strong input into crew makeup.
For example, Pete Conrad's first flight was with Gordo [L. Gordon]
Cooper. After that, Pete's crew was always all Navy. He obviously
had a strong input into the crew makeup. Because I wasn't a mission
commander; I was the head of this F crew, but if we did fly, then
the people were going to fly in these positions. I was going to get
to fly. I never did care that much, and I had confidence in the other
three guys. [Recording interruption]
We were just talking a little bit about your crew dynamic and how
everyone fit together, and talked a little bit about the training.
As you came closer to the time for your mission, if you could walk
us through the—kind of like you did with Skylab—up through
launch and through the mission, just some general thoughts on that.
Well, basically, you start out, we were F crew, so we had sixth priority
on any trainers or simulators. As you get a crew out of the way, as
STS-1 flew, then we all basically—you could get a little more
time. So the main thing was to get in the simulators or the trainers
and practice the things that you thought you would be going to do,
and until you're officially assigned to a mission, you don't really
know what your payload is going to be.
So the main thing was ascent. We spent the most time early on, on
ascent and primarily the abort modes, and we had a fixed-base trainer.
It was interactive, but it was still, by NASA definitions, a trainer
rather than a simulator. So we'd get in there, the three of us.
We basically flew uphill and did entry with a three-person primary
crew, so Story was off doing some other things, and I don't remember
when we were assigned our payload, which was TDRS-A, Tracking and
Data Relay Satellite, the first TDRS. I don't remember the gap between
5 and 6, but through STS-4 we were only two people and had ejection
seats in Columbia. Then STS-5 was the first four-person crew, and
they were to do the EVA in the cargo bay, nonspecific, but to evaluate
the new suits, because it was a totally new design on the pressure
suit that we had for Shuttle. Well, they had some suit problems and
they didn't do an EVA.
So then I was able—we had a five-day mission schedule and were
going to deploy the TDRS on the first day, and we had all this other
penny ante stuff, as I saw it, to fill up the four days. So when they
didn't do their EVA, then we were able to add suit evaluation EVA
to our mission, which Don Peterson and Story Musgrave did.
But, you know, it's kind of an evolutionary type of thing, much like
it was in Skylab, except I didn't have the early-on responsibilities
from the office for any—like EREP, I didn't have the equivalent
either an Orbiter system, and our Shuttle was designed to carry any
mix of payloads, so we didn't really—the so-called scientist
astronauts—and I say "so called" because they were
really more than that. They were involved in crew activities and uphill
and downhill stuff to a certain extent.
So really it was bagging more simulator and training time as early
crews flew, and then getting ready to go do your own mission, which
a lot of time was spent basically learning how to land the Orbiter.
Bo and I, Bo Bobko and I, spent a significant amount of time in the
Shuttle Training airplane that we flew, a modified Gulfstream 2, we
flew out at White Sands [Test Facility, New Mexico] out near El Paso
We also went out to the West Coast and flew T-38s and we flew our
entry ground track into Edwards [Air Force Base, California], and
a couple of abort ground tracks, too, just to see what they were like.
We flew STA [Shuttle Training Aircraft] flights into Edwards, too,
because that's where we were landed at the time.
How did the STA fly in later comparison to the Shuttle? Was it pretty—
It's an excellent simulator. It's an airborne simulator. It's much,
much better than the moving-based simulators we have in Building 5,
because you're moving. You're not trying to fake yourself out by emulating
or simulating accelerations by just moving the fixed base up and down
and around. So I think the STA training was invaluable.
Also on STS-6 we flew the first rudimentary HUD, Heads-Up Display,
which helped in the landing. Other than that, it was all out the window
and using your instruments, where with the head-up display you had
information depicted on the reflector in the HUD that was a great
aid, in my mind, of performing a landing.
When it came time for the launch and for the mission, if you could
walk us through a little bit of that and how things went and progressed.
Well, our launch was delayed because basically they had, at the time,
a requirement to do what we call the flight readiness firing, in which
they got the Orbiter out, tanked it up, and lit the main engines and
ran them for, I forget, some period of time until they stabilized
and the engine folks could look at the data. They had to do, as I
remember, two of those on our mission, so we were delayed three or
four months from the time—I think we were supposed to originally
launch in January, and we didn't go till April.
So you're getting ready to go, and then you're not until they change
out an engine or did different things. And then you argue about—there
was a big argument if you need or want a second FRF [Flight Readiness
Firing], because it's money. I mean, that's program costs. So, a lot
of discussion on that. Yes, you're just getting closer. I don't remember
when [STS-]5 flew. Then, of course, once 5 got out of the way, then
we were had first call on the simulators, whatever our training coordinator
scheduled for us, with our input, of course, but whatever he was able
I don't remember how soon we moved to the Cape. I don't remember before
the launch. Then we had a TCDT, Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test.
I'm not sure we do those anymore either, with crew involvement. I
just don't know. But basically you go down there, you suit up, you
go through the whole launch-day process, short of firing the engines.
You get into the vehicle, you get strapped in, they get out, they
close the hatches, and they leave the pad, the support folks. If the
test is a success, then you get out.
We had a daytime launch, nothing out of the ordinary on that. We had
a daytime entry and landing. Really, you know, it just doesn't—the
memories aren't as strong as they were for Skylab. It was more routine,
I guess. I had been involved in it from the beginning, watching the
evolution of the procedures and the process.
That's interesting that it would be—that it would seem more
routine and yet it was still a new program.
Yes, for whatever reason, that's the thought that's left with me.
That's certainly—you certainly had been very involved with it,
so it does make sense that it would be—it's just part of your
life and part of your career and your day.
The mission did go very well and did get to launch the TDRS. Of course,
it later had some problems.
Which weren't our doing, of course.
Right. Absolutely. Absolutely.
The ground did a tremendous job on getting that TDRS up into orbit.
They had a main propulsion system failure. But they worked it out.
Yes, we did the EVA and the EVA was successful. We learned some things
on that. Don and Story did a good job evaluating that. Then we had
daytime entry, so we didn't get to see all the sights, the ion wake
that folks were later able to see through their top window.
We landed on the concrete at Edwards because the lakebeds were wet.
Had a lot of rain in California that winter, so I'd almost liken it
to there was so much water in the lakebed that landing on the runway
was almost like a carrier landing because we were making the approach
and flying in over water.
Well, that certainly is slightly different than—
How did it all compare to your Skylab flight? Did you find yourself
at any points comparing things as you went along?
No, not really. I mean, they were different enough. I was in a different
position. It really was an evaluation flight, pretty much a test flight,
obviously not the first one, but, nevertheless, it still was, and
we flew the first flight on Challenger, so it was a vehicle shakedown
After your mission, you came back and worked again in the Astronaut
Office for a little while, but then moved up into the Center Director's
Office as deputy center director.
Yes. This was after the Challenger accident. I was John's [W. Young]
deputy chief of the Astronaut Office. Then there were significant
changes made in upper management, especially within Code M. I'm trying
to remember what the title was, Code M's title. Manned space flight
whatever. And at that time, then, I was offered the opportunity to
move into upper management, as I said, as Aaron Cohen's deputy. That
would have been '86, late '86.
At that point, did that give you some opportunities to be involved
in the recovery process from Challenger?
Oh yes. I hesitate to call it "an opportunity," but, yes,
I was involved in that, but again from an upper-management point of
view, the main thrust on that with engineering flight crew and the
missions operations folks. I was not involved directly—well,
several of us were called to testify before the Rogers Commission.
Bob [Robert L.] Crippen was. I remember John, of course, since he
was chief of the Astronaut Office, and I was his deputy, so that's
why I was called. There were a couple of other folks, too.
That certainly was a hard time for everyone, for NASA. You told us
a little bit about that in your earlier oral history.
And it did take time to bring everything back together. What were
some of the changes that—obviously some were made to the vehicle
itself, but some of the general changes either around the center or
in the way of doing things that you recall being involved with or—
I really don't remember. I mean, we were involved in so many different
aspects. Even after I returned to flight, we were involved. "We,"
management was involved. It was still a developmental kind of thing.
I mean, every flight we flew had some anomaly or anomalies you had
to deal with, and then we had the flight readiness reviews at the
Cape that I was actively involved in and so was Aaron. But again,
it was so broad a spectrum of topics and issues, that I don't remember
any single thing that stands out, except, of course, satisfying everyone
at JSC and at Marshall that SRBs were really ready and safe to fly
again, and a lot of changes made to the SRB assembly process and testing,
how you tested the O-rings and what the test criteria were. I mean,
everyone was involved in those discussions.
You had—in your earlier oral history, you had mentioned a little
bit about Apollo 1 and the recovery from that and the rebuilding and
comparing it with Challenger, obviously very different environments
at the time, different political situation, different things just
even going on within NASA as well as the world. Was there any specific
things that you can think of that made those two processes so different
Well, see, it was a time of change at headquarters. The person—what
was the title for Code M? Office of Space Flight is what it was then.
I don't know what it is now. It was Office of Space Flight. And the
person who was the director of that office had been tapped and slated
to come to JSC as the new center director, because Gerry [Gerald D.]
Griffin had decided he was leaving. He announced his retirement. So
there were personnel changes in the mill and made public at the time,
and then with those changes, I don't remember, but Congress got involved
NASA, frankly, as I told you before, NASA just didn't move fast enough.
That was the difference between Apollo 1. I mean, the agency immediately
appointed an investigative body and they moved out to Downey to look
at what occurred, to try to determine the reason for the fire occurring,
and basically there was no outside body necessary. And we convinced
Congress and our administrator convinced the President or Vice President
that it wasn't necessary, where that didn't happen with Challenger.
The agency, for a combination of reasons, just didn't start soon enough,
so Congress and/or the White House decided that something had to be
done in order to get on with it and basically to save the program.
So they appointed the Rogers Commission to look into it. So the ball
was taken out of NASA's court in that case, and we just had to report
to this group. It took longer, I think, because it became more political.
It must have been rewarding to an extent, if that's the right word
for it, when everything—in 1988, when everything did come back
together and the Shuttle got back on line again and flying, with the
successes now that have followed. Terrible to build off of such an
event, but good that they were able to recover and get back and running.
What after that—what did your—as you got back up and running,
before you retired, what were some of your duties then?
Well, Dan Goldin came in as Administrator, and from his previous experience,
he recognized that he needed some help at headquarters, so he called
up a couple of people, one of them being Aaron Cohen, director here,
and another one, Jerry Hlass, who was director at Stennis, basically
to work with him full time, to keep him pointed in the right direction,
to answer any questions he may have about the agency, how they operated.
So I was off and on, because Aaron would go to Washington and stay
there for weeks at a time, and basically was the acting center director
without really being anointed as such, and I still communicated with
Aaron a lot, because he was still the center director. So my days
were primarily taken in that position, unfortunately, dealing with
budgets, primarily, as opposed to technical matters, so it really
was seeing to the overall function of the center.
Eventually you did retire. You changed positions slightly during that
time frame, but then you did retire from NASA. Looking back over your
career with NASA, you worked with a variety of people who had varying
levels of impact probably on you and definitely on the space program.
You've mentioned a couple of times, actually, one I'd like to talk
about, is Pete Conrad, and hopefully everything's going to go well
with the tree-planting ceremony for him tomorrow. I'm wondering if
you could tell us a little bit about him as a colleague and a friend
and astronaut and—
Well, you know, I really don't know how to respond to that. People
always ask me for anecdotes regarding Joe or Pete or Bo, and I don't
remember a lot. I mean, we just got on. We got on well, I think again
because we were all military, we understood Pete was the commander,
he had the final say.
A thing I always liked about Pete was that if we had a difference
of opinion about something or we thought there was a better way to
do something, we'd have discussions with it, and some people in the
office would never let go of a topic. If it didn't go their way, they
kept ragging it, kind of like a terrier with a rat, I guess. But we'd
make our best shots through Pete, typically, and then we'd talk about
it and have good, frank discussions with people. Once it was decided,
even if it wasn't what the crew wanted to do, we accepted that because
that was Pete's way of doing business and we got on with it. So we
didn't spend a lot of time rehashing stuff, unless there was good
Pete was a good friend. He was sort of a happy-go-lucky character,
but that doesn't take anything away from his professionalism and his
devotion to duty. He was a very professional person. He didn't have
a closed mind on anything. I told you about whining to him about doing
an EVA, and also I whined to him about—on Skylab we flew up
the first of the manned maneuver units, developmental model, and we
were going to fly it around inside the workshop. That was assigned
to Pete. Well, even before launch, I whined to Pete about, you know,
"You guys are doing EVA and I don't get to do anything, so let
me fly, please, please, please let me fly the manned maneuver unit
around in the workshop." So without much thought, he said, "Okay.
Why not." Of course, they were afraid the batteries had been
damaged on the thing, so we didn't get to fly it on our mission anyway,
even though subsequent crews did. But that's the kind of person he
was. I mean, besides being professional, he didn't get locked into
a certain way of doing things and "That's it. It's never going
So, you know, other than that, what can I tell you? Not much.
Are there any other individuals that you worked with, that impacted
you personally or you think that made a valuable contribution to the
space program that you'd like to mention?
Well, a name that comes to mind, of course, is Gene Kranz. It evolved
I was a capcom and Gene was a flight director, and we didn't have
much personal interaction. We had more when I was the deputy chief
of the Astronaut Office, and we had more management-type dealings
with Gene. Then, of course, in the Shuttle system, and especially
when I was Aaron's deputy and Gene was the director of mission operations.
I came to have, and still do have, a great admiration for Gene.
I'm not putting down any of the other flight directors, because they
had a good group of flight directors for Skylab and for STS-6. Those
guys are as competent, qualified, and dedicated to their job as any
of the flight crews were. You couldn't get by without them. Sometimes
you might not hear as much from the ground, but Skylab—well,
we didn't have TDRS then, so STS-6 we had long periods of silence
when we couldn't talk to them and, of course, they couldn't talk to
Also Aaron Cohen. I have a great deal of respect for Aaron. He's a
very, very competent, dedicated individual.
We've been lucky enough to talk with both Aaron Cohen and Gene Kranz
for this project.
I'm sure you have, yes.
That was very nice.
Looking back over your career again, is there any point that you would
consider your greatest challenge, and then in respect also your most
No, nothing really comes to mind. The whole thing is so evolutionary.
I mean, there were no divine revelations or breakthroughs that I was
personally involved in. I think that's the way the human space flight
thing has gone; it's been an evolutionary type of process. I mean,
there are milestones. Al [Alan B.] Shepard's flight is one. Apollo
13 is one. STS-1 was another. Apollo 1 fire. Those were more blips.
But the whole thing was, in my mind, was more evolutionary and part
of a progression. It was pretty much orderly, not without those spikes
that I've mentioned. Those were anomalies. It was pretty much orderly,
and I like to think that I made some input to some things along the
way, but I don't have this thing that I have written down that says
"This was my day, my shining hour."
That's quite all right. It certainly was a very unique program to
be involved with, and, like you said, there were a lot of challenges
and accomplishments along the way for everyone. Would you ever have
imagined where your career would lead you, that it would take you
through all these—even though you hadn't originally thought
of being in the space program, but then when you got in, could you
see where you might end up?
No, because even once—I mean, anyone who says they're going
to do this or do that, you know, when they enter college, I mean,
look at your own career. Things just don't go—you can't plan
it, because things happen along the way. Once you realize that and
recognize it, then you just kind of do your best to do the job and
perhaps point towards something else you think you might want to do,
would like to do better, with conflicting emotions. You have "the
grass is greener" syndrome and you also have the—which
is why some people get killed in airplanes, because they don't eject
when they should, from military airplanes, because the cockpit is
a very comfortable place, despite all the red lights and problems
that you're having. It's not a fear, but a hesitance to enter an unknown
arena. So again, I think things just happened. I did the best I could
in the job I was assigned and let things happen.
Well, it seems to have happened and turned out pretty all right.
Yes, it did. Yes, I'm—sure. Like we mentioned before, I've been
privileged to participate in a great adventure that very, very few,
relatively speaking, people have had that privilege.
Well, I've been privileged that you shared with us your experiences.
Thank you very much.