NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
9 December 2004
The questions in this transcript were asked during an oral history
session with Harold D. Beck. Beck has amended the answers for clarification
purposes. As a result, this transcript does not exactly match the
Today is December 9th, 2004. This oral history is being conducted
with [Harold D.] Hal Beck in Houston, Texas, for the NASA for the
Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. The interviewer is Rebecca
Wright, assisted by Sandra Johnson.
We thank you for coming by this afternoon to visit with us for this
You’re welcome. It will be fun.
It will be fun. We’d like for you to begin by telling us how
you became employed with [NASA] Langley Research Center [Hampton,
Virginia] in 1959.
My interest in aeronautics started years earlier. As a kid I was very
interested in aeronautics and did a lot of model airplane building
and flying. Then when I got out of high school, I went into the Air
Force and was in the Air Force for four years, out of high school.
While in the Air Force I decided that I would take some correspondence
courses in aeronautical engineering; so that’s when I got my
appetite for aerospace.
I got out of the Air Force and went to North Carolina State [University,
Raleigh, North Carolina] for four years. That was about 1955. They
were one of the first universities at that time that had an aerospace-type
option along with aeronautical engineering. They had a few aero-type
courses, and I was very enthused about college at that time, because
I had spent so much time in the Air Force and realized that I really
needed a good education.
Then Sputnik [satellite] came along. That was an incentive or a validation
that aerospace was something of the future. That’s the first
hint that I got, real public recognition, that there was something
in the space business, and so I got very interested and enthused about
the aerospace-type courses with NC State. So we had quite a few good
aerodynamic courses, but the aerospace courses were fairly limited.
That was my first introduction to computers. That was probably in
1958. We had a short course in computer technology, and so we had
access to one of the earlier computers. In this course we did our
programming in machine language, and so we had several projects to
program in machine language and put on the computer and execute. So
that was most interesting.
Then in the last semester at NC State in the aerospace world, we had
a team project, and we designed a rocket system and a small payload
and for the whole semester we did the research and put together a
top level system design. That was my first exposure to orbital mechanics
and rocket science. So that was challenging.
When I graduated we had several people in our class that eventually
went up to Langley. I’m sure you’ve interviewed quite
a few of them. I had a cousin that worked there. He was in the research
side. He invited me to come up to visit. [Edgar C.] Ed Lineberry [Jr.]
and I were classmates in college; in fact, we were from the same hometown.
So Ed and I went up, and we interviewed and got a job over on the
research side of Langley Research Center. That was in probably June
I started out working in aerodynamics with wind tunnel data. I worked
for a guy named Bill Aiken. He was in Henry Pearson’s department.
I did a lot of aerodynamic analysis using the Friden calculator, which
was our means of calculation in those days. I looked back in some
of your interviews, and you had interviewed [James] Kirby Hinson,
and he mentioned the Friden calculator when he was at Langley. The
Friden was a large mechanical machine, which did only addition, subtraction,
multiplication, and division, and you had to use log tables and square
root tables for your calculations. So to do matrix operations on a
Friden calculator would take weeks to do.
It was very interesting. You had a large group of computation aides.
It was like a typing pool, and you had thirty or forty of those people
in a room operating Friden calculators, and all day long, all they
would do is punch in numbers and do mathematical calculations. That’s
the way we did all our computations.
I soon started working with [John M.] Jack Eggleston who was later
here at JSC [Johnson Space Center]. Jack was working on a rendezvous
analysis project, and he had a real clever analytic technique. He
was analyzing the approach trajectories of what we called ferry vehicles
to a Space Station. I was his aide at that time, and so we did pretty
extensive analysis on approach trajectories to a Space Station by
a ferry vehicle, and we published that in a TN [technical note] format.
It was called a Langley Research Center Technical Note. To get one
of those published in those days you went through very laborious weeks
of editorial committees and review cycles. The Langley way was very
methodical and precise.
So we finally got the document published, and I don’t know for
a fact, but I would imagine that was one of the first rendezvous applications
that was published in this country. I don’t know about Russian
rendezvous analysis and documentation. That was my last assignment
while I was at Langley Research Center, and then I transferred over
to the Space Task Group in 1960, I believe.
I worked for John [P.] Mayer in the Mission Analysis Branch. That
branch was already established and had been for some time. [Catherine
T.] Cathy Osgood was one of the people there and Ted [H.] Skopinski
and Carl [R.] Huss, and a number of people who eventually came to
Houston. That group was doing extensive analysis on low Earth orbit
flight mechanics. We did a lot of ground track type analysis. There
we started developing programs to compute trajectories and ground
tracks for the orbital flights and were supporting the early Mercury
planning and also the unmanned, like the Enos [chimpanzee, Mercury-Atlas
5] mission and Sam [Rhesus monkey, Little Joe 2].
So we did our computations then on one of the—oh, to go back,
when I was at Langley Research Center—I remember that was probably
in late ’59—they announced that they had gotten a
computer, an actual electronic computer. So everybody was invited
to go to the building and look through the glass windows and see this
big box sitting in the middle of the floor with the blinking lights.
So all the Friden people pooh-poohed that like, “Oh, that is
too complicated. It will never replace the Friden calculators.”
So we went by there and oohed and aahed about the wonders of flashing
lights and how fast it could add two numbers and subtract two numbers,
etc. That was our first introduction to a big computer.
Then when we got over to the Space Task Group, in that branch we had
an IBM [International Business Machines] 1620, and that was a small—well,
it was a large, physically large, computer, but it was low capacity,
a fairly slow type machine, and it operated on paper tapes. You would
type your program in a programming language. I imagine it was a form
of Fortran, but I remember how enthused I was with the programming
You would punch the program on a paper tape that was about a half
inch wide (this was before the card readers). Then you would feed
that program into the computer and then execute the program, and it
would go through computations. In those days, you didn’t have
data displays. You went through a series of computations, and at the
bottom, you stored your parameters, and then printed them out. Then
you’d go through the computation cycle repeatedly.
Then you would have a printout of the results, and you went to a group
that were called—we called them math aides. It was a group of
people that went through the documentation and picked off the parameters
that you were interested in and wrote them down, and then they plotted
the parameters in a graph format. They plotted the data in a presentation-type
format for publication. So that’s the way we did the displays
of all the parameters. Because the memory in the machine was very,
very limited, we couldn’t devote computer space to developing
The days at Langley went by pretty rapidly. We were in an old building
over on the Air Force side and had a pretty good office space. We
had this one little computer room with an IBM 1620 in it, and Shirley
Hunt Hinson, was the mother and owner of the 1620, and she ruled the
1620 like a kingdom. She was very good at that.
So, let’s see; anything more at Langley. One of the functions
of that group was to analyze the trajectories and do the planning
for the short orbital flights. They also did a great deal of postflight
analysis. That organization was responsible for the early development
of the basic computer programs that we would use for all of our planning
and analysis type work. We were taking the orbital mechanics functions
and programming those into computers and checking results against
actual flight data to verify the computations, like the Earth models,
vehicle maneuvers, etc. So really the fundamental work that was done
there contributed or laid the base work for our lunar planning and
analysis capability for Apollo.
Were your calculations close the first time, or how much trial and
error did you go through?
Oh, it was a lot of trial and error. One of the first things that
we did, we started out programming the basic orbital elements, and
we didn’t take into account the atmospheric drag properly; we
took it into account, but it wasn’t really simulated accurately.
There was a lot of trial and error. In the early, early days, we started
with using a spherical Earth, just a plain Earth point mass computation,
and we could use that fairly accurately for things like parametric
analysis, but it wasn’t good in terms of a simulation. So we
actually went through the process of refining all of that and developing
higher fidelity simulations.
Back in the Langley Research days, they also had another computer
facility that was extremely useful, especially for the analysis of
spacecraft control systems, and that was an analog computer system.
That was managed by a very well known Langley engineer. I think his
name was Sam Phillips.
Anyway, Ed Lineberry worked with him quite a bit and analyzed control
system characteristics. That was something that could be done with
an analog computer that couldn’t be done easily with a digital.
Analog computers in those days were really the old, old analog computers
with the vacuum tubes. It was really an old system but very accurate
and very easy to simulate control systems. That’s how Ed Lineberry
got started with the control system analysis. He also transferred
over to Space Task Group.
How did you learn that you could join the Space Task Group? Did they
approach you, or did you notice that you would like to join them?
Yes, they actually approached us, and I don’t know in what form,
whether that was informal or not. I’m not really sure whether
I initiated that move. I know that it was known that they were trying
to build up capability. But anyway, we got the offer through the proper
channels eventually, but I’m not sure exactly how that was initiated.
I really don’t remember. But quite a few people at that time
were moving over.
I was fairly late going into the Space Task Group. I think my badge
number was 202, if I remember right. So they had already had a pretty
good complement over there. They were really in two buildings. [Eugene
F.] Kranz’s group was over in one building, and our group was
in another. [Christopher C.] Kraft, [Jr.], of course, was already
over there, and John Mayer and Carl Huss and [Howard W.] Bill Tindall
[Jr.]. Then we had a contingent come down from Canada. That was [Rodney
G.] Rod Rose and Morris [V.] Jenkins and a fairly large group of very
Then in early 1962, we moved down to the Houston area. We came down
in February just to see the place, and it was not too much of a shock,
mainly because it was at that time of year, and Langley is not the
prettiest place in the world in February, either. It’s drizzly
and gray. But we came here and landed at [William P.] Hobby [Airport]
and drove down to—and I’m sure you’ve heard this
story from everybody you’ve interviewed—drove down I-45
and took this dirt road over to the site. It was a gloomy, dreary,
ugly day, and all you could see around you were—nothing; shrubs,
and no pretty trees, no anything. And, of course, Virginia is just
gorgeous. So I thought, “Well, this is going to be something
While I was visiting here in Houston, we had a terrible storm in Virginia,
and it was really an off-season storm, almost like a hurricane. I
had a beach house right out on Windmill Point [Virginia], which looked
over Chesapeake Bay.
When I got back—well, I had an Austin-Healey [automobile], and
it was completely covered with sand. The only thing that was sticking
out of the sand was the radio antenna, and the whole area was completely
flooded, and there was like three feet of sand in my driveway. But
the people that were watching out for the house, they did a good job,
because they tied a rope around the bumper of the Austin-Healey, ran
it through the window, and tied it around the washing machine so it
wouldn’t float away. So anyway, that worked, evidently, because
it didn’t go anywhere.
The car was a disaster, and I tried to get the insurance company to
total it, and they wouldn’t. So they took it to the Austin-Healey
place, and they replaced just about everything on it. It must have
cost them a fortune, but anyway, that was in February, and I was transferred
down here in April, so the Healey wasn’t finished.
That’s when Cathy Osgood volunteered to drive it down, and so
she probably regretted it, because by the time she came down, it was
summer and it was really hot. The Austin-Healey, of course, didn’t
have any air-conditioning, and I remember the floorboard was so hot
that she had to wear a thick, heavy sock on the accelerator foot to
keep from burning her foot. She said it was really, really hot. Anyway,
that was the story of the Austin-Healey that Cathy mentioned to you.
When we got to Houston we were assigned to the HPC [Houston Petroleum
Center] Building on the Gulf Freeway, and that was a nice place to
work. Good office space, and it was a nice, new building at the time,
and it was in a nice area, too.
We were there, and the IBM 1620 came with us, but in addition, we
had contracted with the [Houston] Medical Center to use their computers.
I would imagine they were IBM 704s. Later, we contracted with the
University of Houston and used their computers. When I came here I
worked for Morris Jenkins in the Mission Analysis Branch. That was
under John Mayer. Morris had formed a Lunar Trajectory Section, and
so I was assigned to that section. In fact, I was head of the Lunar
Trajectory Section under Morris. At that point, I started working
on the development of capability for the Apollo Program. Even though
Mercury and Gemini were going on, I had gotten into a look-ahead-type
program, and we started developing the capability to go to the Moon.
That was in the summer of ’62.
I think I have a picture of the HPC group. I’ve
got a good photograph of that group that you could get copied, if
Okay. I’d like to do that.
It’s taken there at the HPC Building. There was a little pond
out in the middle, and it’s taken over a bridge of the pond,
and most of the members that were there in the Mission Analysis Branch
were in that picture. I think Glynn [S.] Lunney is in there and John
Mayer and Carl Huss and Bill Tindall and Cathy and Mary Shep Burton.
I guess you’ve had people mention Mary Shep Burton.
I think so, yes.
Remind me, I’ll come back to her, because she really had a very,
very significant role in the whole program. At that time, we had started
developing the capability to go to the Moon, and of course, that was
a brand-new activity. How do you simulate the Earth-Moon system with
a computer? Especially when you look at the computers in those days.
It’s hard to imagine, but we did most of our work—a lot
of the work was done with a 32K machine memory, and a lot of it was
done with 64K, and that’s almost no memory compared with even
a small hand calculator.
But again, the only way that was accomplished was that when you would
do long computations, you would take a time step and go through the
computation and compute all the parameters and you would enter those
parameters in a print block and just print them. You didn’t
display them or you didn’t plot them or anything on the computer.
Then you would repeat the computation for the next time step.
Well, as a result, when you computed a lunar trajectory, you’d
have a stack of paper like a foot thick. You’d take this stack
of printout in to the math aide group, and they would go through page
by page, and each parameter that you were interested in, they would
write it down. After tabulating all of the required parameters they
would plot it and then type up headings, scales, etc. That’s
the way we did our formal documentation. All of the trajectory work
was done that way.
So Mary Shep Burton headed up the math aide group—I imagine
at one time there were probably twenty-five or thirty people in that
group, and extremely dedicated, very, very hardworking people. They
were a real stickler for accuracy, and they sort of watched over the
engineers, so if the engineers brought them anything that they considered
out-of-bounds, well, they would send it back and say, “Hey,
take it back. You’d better do this over.” Mary Shep still
lives here in Houston, and she comes to our MPAD [Mission Planning
and Analysis Division] luncheons occasionally. We have a luncheon
about every three months.
She played a very significant role in the early history. She and her
group were greatly appreciated. All the information that was sent
to the upper management for review and for decision-making processes
had to be prepared from very fundamental raw data. Today all you’d
do on a computer is run the program and take the parameter of interest
and put it through some software and get a nice plot out in color
and do it in thirty seconds.
Mary Shep’s group would often work all night to meet publication
deadlines for imported internal notes (INs). In the early days, when
you made fifty copies of a document you made fifty copies of each
sheet, and you had to hand collate them and staple them. I remember
when we got our first collating machine; it was like getting the first
computer. It improved efficiency tremendously.
While we were busy in the lunar trajectory section, other elements
of the organization were doing their thing with Mercury and Gemini.
Mission Planning and Analysis Division soon developed into a very
specialized analysis group, and they had all the fundamentals of flight
design. They had navigation; they had robotics; they had trajectory;
they had control systems; propulsion. They had the launch/ascent analysis
responsibility, so they simulated all of the ascent vehicles, and,
of course, the entry.
Within MPAD we had specialty groups (called discipline specialists).
They developed specific software applications for their discipline
such as launch or entry, etc. In the mission planning process the
Launch Group would simulate the ascent trajectory and then the end
conditions or the primary parameters for orbit insertion, and they
would pass those conditions to someone in another group, like the
on-orbit trajectory section, and they would generate an Earth parking
Then after we would determine the position for translunar injection,
we would take the conditions out of that Earth parking orbit, and
give that to the translunar injection people, and they would simulate
the burn for translunar injection, and they would take those cutoff
conditions and pass them to the next group, like translunar midcourse
correction type people, and they would—and so what I’m
getting at is that at that point, we didn’t have an integrated
program that worked your mission from end to end.
We began to develop what we called the Apollo Reference Mission Program
(ARMP). It was a simulation of all phases of the lunar landing mission
from lift-off through reentry. It was used for mission planning and
for the generation of the operational reference missions for all of
the lunar missions.
We developed what we called reference missions, which were published
in the form of an internal note. For Apollo 8, for instance, we generated
an end-to-end reference mission for the nominal launch conditions
and nominal lunar orbit, translunar injection point, etc.
From that mission, we spawned all kinds of alternate mission and contingency
profiles, including abort trajectories. Probably the vast majority
of the work that was done in MPAD was with contingency planning, as
opposed to the nominal.
Also, in addition to the nominal profile, we had a launch window capability.
If you had a hold on the pad at some point, and you picked up the
count again, well, you would have not the original launch azimuth
to go on, but you would have another launch azimuth. So your launch
conditions changed as you slipped into the window. As the launch slipped,
then everything downstream changes; there were some of the basic functions
of the organization.
That organization, for years, was headed up very ably by John Mayer,
Carl Huss, and Bill Tindall. They were absolutely incredibly devoted
to the space program. They were highly respected by the people who
worked for them and by co-workers around the Center and throughout
Bill Tindall was one of the most remarkable people in the space program,
to me. He was very, very enthusiastic and an absolute genius. He had
a remarkable capacity for bringing diverse groups together. As a team
lead, he would bring representatives from a number of groups together
and address a common problem, and he could sort through the rubble
and really come out with the important points of a discussion or an
argument; mostly arguments.
He ran a group called the Flight Techniques. That was across the center.
It usually had representatives from the flight crew, the Engineering
Directorate, the Mission Operations Directorate, Mission Planning,
and Flight Software. The interface between Mission Planning and Flight
Software was a very complex type interface, and he was very instrumental
in keeping that interface working efficiently.
Within MPAD we had a Mathematics and Physics Branch that was eventually
headed by Emil [R.] Schiesser. He was a space navigation guru and
still is, as a matter of fact. His group was responsible fro the navigation
computations and for the perfection of the math models used in simulating
the Earth-Moon system. They were especially key in the definition
of the lunar potential models.
Apollo 8 was of course the prime test of our Earth-Moon system simulations.
To me, one of the most interesting experiences during the Apollo [Program]
was Apollo 8, when the spacecraft went behind the Moon just exactly
when the model said that it would, then after an endless wait it came
out from behind the Moon after lunar orbit insertion just as predicted.
Wright: That must have been rewarding to know that your calculations
were right when they needed to be.
Yes, and especially, I think, for the navigation people. The lunar
orbit for Apollo 8, I guess, will always be remembered by many.
Since you’re talking about it, I was going to ask you a question.
Apollo 8 actually got moved up in its rotation of where it was supposed
to be in the schedule. How did that affect your job to get the calculations
right? Did you know it was going to be moved up, or was that announcement
to you as well?
We didn’t know very much earlier that it was going to be moved,
but of course, scheduled products were always a challenge. Organizations
around the Agency depended upon the timely release of MPAD planning
products. Everybody just worked around the clock. It was incredible
the work that people were doing.
I told Kranz this when he was writing his book, that we used to have
a real challenge running lunar trajectories because machine time was
so precious and lunar trajectory iterations were so consuming. We’d
go over to the University of Houston [Houston, Texas] on the midnight
shift to get our computer runs done.
I was working with [James R.] Jim Elk using the lunar iterator program
to calculate the target parameters for translunar injection. These
calculations required long computer runs. We decided on a strategy
to get the computer runs done. The computer operators at the University
of Houston really loved Budweiser [beer], and so I always loaded up
the trunk of my car with a cooler with Budweiser and gave all the
computer operators a key to my trunk. So in the mornings I’d
have to go to work real, real early, because I’d have to sneak
my printout into the building, because I didn’t want people
to see how much printout I had managed to get. We got good turnaround
The development of translunar injection targeting capability was a
key capability in lunar mission planning. It was necessary to iterate
on translunar injection parameters in Earth parking orbit to obtain
injection burn cutoff conditions which would give you the correct
arrival conditions at the Moon.
In the Apollo Reference Mission Program, we had what we called a translunar
iterator, called the forward iterator. The iteration technique was
formulated by two mathematicians, [Samuel] Sam Pines and Henry Wolfe.
They had a company called Analytic Associates, Incorporated. They
were a contractor to NASA, and they developed the iteration capability
that could iterate on the proper parameters at SIV-B cutoff to achieve
the proper translunar trajectory.
That was a bear of a program, because you had to iterate, and then
you had to integrate the trajectory all the way to the Moon to fine-tune
the injection parameters. In the early days, we had to target a free-return
circumlunar trajectory, i.e., the spacecraft would go around the Moon
and back to Earth without any major maneuvers.
So this iterator did that kind of work. In part of that iteration,
we developed what was called a patch conic technique, such that you
would use conic trajectories and not have to integrate the whole trajectory
for your special targeting. Then you would switch from the patch conic
trajectory, to the integrated for precision. But all that patch conic
meant was you would use a conic trajectory outgoing from the Earth,
and then you would have another conic trajectory, patch conic, that
was in the vicinity of the Moon. So you basically used two two-body
systems and didn’t integrate; you just did conic-type analysis.
It was a sort of a shortcut for computation capability.
A big part of the lunar trajectory and mission planning capability
had to do with the interface between JSC and Marshall Space Center,
because Marshall had the responsibility for the launch vehicle and
also for the performance of the SIV-B for translunar injection. MSC
assumed the responsibility for overall mission design. We went through
extensive negotiations. Some of us spent more time on the airplane
to Marshall than we did at the office. The mission planning interface
was worked out through the jointly chaired Flight Mechanics Panel.
You want to take a little break?
Sure, be glad to.
So many times today people send e-mails or faxes, and of course, you
didn’t have that capability back then. How were you able to
maintain a good system of communication, even within in the center
of your own group, with so much coordination of passing on information?
Our old method wouldn’t work today, because it was one of the
most rudimentary type things. We were on such a schedule crunch; we
didn’t always have the freedom to write formal memos. Between
organizations within MPAD important interface parameters were transferred
via informal handwritten “memos.” This was well before
PCs [personal computers]. Today those parameters would be approved
by management and transmitted electronically.
I think it’s remarkable that the system worked as well as it
did, but like you say, without e-mails or even electronic (correcting)
typewriters. In those days, you typed on a plain old typewriter, and
what you put in was what you got, and the only way you could correct
it was take Snopaque and Snopaque it out and retype it. Important
formal memos that went out of the Division had to be letter-perfect,
and the excellent secretaries were responsible for that. When electronic
typewriters came out they greatly improved efficiency.
Even toward the latter years when the computers came out, John Mayer
was sort of old-fashioned about it, and he early-on resented engineers
sitting down at a computer and doing their own charts. He said, “You
engineers ought to be doing engineering work, and you let the secretaries
and the math aides do that work.” But things really changed
with the advent of the computer.
What changed after Apollo 8? So many years you had been working on
the calculations moving toward the Moon, and now that you actually
took a mission that got that far, were there changes that you made
in how you did work to prepare for the lunar landing missions?
No, things were so fast, and while Apollo 8 was going on, of course,
we were turning out the planning products for other Apollo missions,
the follow-on missions. After Apollo 8, we were concentrating on additional
things like the lunar rendezvous capability.
Were you able to use some of the first work that you worked on?
No. The early rendezvous work was only of historical interest. That
document was sort of recognized by a few of the rendezvous people,
but that was like, “Oh, that was done way back when, you know,
so that’s trivia.” It was of interest though in that all
of the computations were done on the Friden—prior to computers.
Just a few years, but yet. [Laughter]
A lot had happened in those years, hadn’t it?
And, of course, the work done at Langley was Earth orbit trajectory
analysis, and it was very simplistic, in terms of accuracy of computation,
because there was no atmospheric model or anything like that. It was
really conceptual and had to do with the later phase of rendezvous
trajectories to a Space Station. But I looked at that TN not too long
ago, and it was sort of interesting to read in the context of the
1960 publication date.
How much information were you able to use from the Mercury and Gemini
flights to apply to what you were going to do for Apollo?
A tremendous amount of technology was transferred from the early programs
into the Apollo mission planning tools. Earth models, atmosphere models,
rendezvous planning and analysis tools, etc., were fed directly into
the Apollo planning tools. And of course there was a direct transfer
of knowledge and experience into the lunar trajectory section.
Something that was very complex, even complex today is to represent
the upper atmosphere density, and how that influences the orbit of
a spacecraft in low Earth orbit. Ed Lineberry and Sam Wilson (and
others) developed analytic models to represent the atmospheric density
in a simplistic model to avoid extensive integration.
The Gemini rendezvous techniques were used and the orbital/flight
data from the actual vehicles were used to test our modeling (e.g.,
the Earth’s oblateness). We used things like radiation profiles
to get the Van Allen [Radiation] Belt better represented, and of course,
the atmospheric density. Then up around the Moon, we took the flight
data and improved the math model of the Moon to get things like what
they called MassCons, which were mass concentrations that perturbed
the lunar orbit. But postflight analysis was always done to perfect
the mathematical models.
Well, tell us about those fast days, that were really years, between
Apollo 8 and Apollo 11, and how you and your group took that data
and applied it to prepare for Apollo 11.
Well, like I say, it was really applying flight data. Emil Schiesser
and his group were taking navigation data and preparing it and beating
that against the models to improve fidelity. But we basically had
by that time, I guess, validated the Earth-Moon system in our models
and the perturbations and so forth, so that we knew that we had good
representation. And of course, all of these things overlapped because
of the long lead-time required to plan each mission.
A big job for the lunar trajectory group was supporting the lunar
landing site selection activity. You can imagine, in the selection
of lunar landing sites you had a lot of special interest groups that
were interested in pushing their approach.
Let me get back to one other thing for a second. One thing that we
had in those days which was very valuable, and it’s a luxury
that—we probably hated it at the time, but it was a real luxury.
We had an organization at [NASA] Headquarters [Washington, D.C.] called
Bellcom [Inc.]. I don’t know whether anybody else had mentioned
that name or not, but anyway, it was an organization of very capable
people, and they had analytic capability that replicated what we did
in MPAD to some extent.
One of our important contacts with Bellcom was a guy named Vern Mummert.
He used to come down all the time and he would look at some of our
analysis and maybe question it or challenge it. “This is not
what we got up at Bellcom.”
A lot of us resented that, and a lot of us recognized that it had
tremendous value, because again, with the schedule pressure that you
had, it was very important to catch an error, any fundamental error,
very early, so that you didn’t waste a lot of effort going down
the wrong path. So if you had somebody looking over your shoulder
that’s saying, “Hey, this looks screwed up,” or,
“This looks iffy,” well, it’s really a very complementary
type thing, as opposed to being something that you ought to challenge.
In those days, you were looking at mathematical concepts and mathematical
simulations, and developing those out of intelligent analysis and
not based on eons of experience from other groups or other software
So it was a new frontier and you always scrutinized your own work.
And knowing that if it’s not right, you’re in deep trouble,
and the program is in deep trouble. Because a lot of people were relying
on the information that you were generating. So validation was just
extremely, extremely important, and everybody along the line seemed
to really realize it.
Let’s see. Where was I going before I got off on that tangent?
The lunar landing selection sites.
Oh yes, lunar landing selection site. Yes, that whole process was
really laced with a lot of special interest type groups. Before the
landing, there was just tremendous controversy. This was years before,
but tremendous controversy as to what the surface was really like,
even though we had some experimental spacecraft that had gone, but
nothing the weight of the LM, and some scientists were saying, “Hey,
you get up there, and it’s going to be dust six feet deep, and
that thing’s just going to sink.”
Other people would say, “It’s going to be so rocky and
so rough terrain that it’s going to tip,” and so forth
and so on. So you had just a lot of controversy.
Oh, I know. You were asking about what you did between Apollo 8 and
these other missions. Well, as you went through this site selection
process, we were the people that provided the analytic data for that
selection, okay, and by analytic data, what I mean is the scientists
would specify the lighting conditions that they wanted when you arrived,
within a certain number of degrees, like the incidence of the sun
on the landing so they’d have good visibility, and they, of
course—the geographical areas, or the lunargraphical areas,
that they were interested in.
We would try to fly trajectories there that were within the performance
capability of the vehicle. That’s why all the landing sites
are within a fairly narrow band of the equator, because that’s
where your basic orbit was, and so you couldn’t get up to higher
latitudes. So they would provide candidate landing sites, and we would
evaluate those for the time of year, the day of the month, and look
at the lighting, and then look at the end of the mission reserves
to see if all the mission reserves were well within the capability
of the vehicle. So that was sort of our function.
So after Apollo 8 and during Apollo 8, we were busily generating all
kinds of parametric data for the selection of the different sites
for the follow-on type missions. [Harrison H.] Jack Schmitt supported
us a lot. He was a geologist, and he supported our group in helping
with the landing site selection and sending proposals forward.
We would generate supporting data. It would go up to the next levels
of management, and they would look it over, and the various interest
groups would be there including the geologists and other scientists,
and they would battle it out as to the merit of that particular landing
site. If they wanted to go somewhere different, well, we sometimes
would have to generate data that would say, hey, you can’t get
there within our performance capability, and that’s sort of
how the process went.
After the site was selected we would generate a reference profile
to go to that site, and it would be evaluated by the Flight Ops [Operations]
people and the flight crew. So that site would get approved.
Then, we would go into full-fledged operational planning phase and
generate the operational data, including things like the target parameters
for lunar orbit insertion, etc. So that’s about the way that
Were you asked at some point to compute what it would take to go to
the back side of the Moon?
Oh, that’s what I was going to get to, yes. Jack Schmitt was
something of a maverick, and he had this little group that he’d
pulled together and we met at the Lunar [and Planetary] Institute
[Houston, Texas]. He had gotten the rumors already that after Apollo
17, there wasn’t going to be any more Apollo. So he thought
it would be just a very valuable thing to go to the back side, and
so he wanted some of our expertise to help assess the feasibility.
So we met for a while, but then I think management got wind of it,
and it was severed. [Laughs]
Tell us about your personal experiences watching the landing on Apollo
11, your calculations being so precise that they were able to get
where they needed to go.
Well, of course, it was infinitely gratifying, but from a collective
perspective. In other words, it wasn’t as much a matter of personal
accomplishment as it was an Agency accomplishment. It was just extremely
gratifying that the whole thing came off, and of course, a great deal
But looking back on it, certainly for me it is hard to even think
in terms of personal accomplishment, because it was such a group activity,
and you had such phenomenal leadership. Now, somebody like Glynn Lunney
and Chris Kraft and [Sigurd A.] Sig Sjoberg and Bill Tindall and John
Mayer, if he were here, and Carl Huss, well, I think they could look
back on it and almost say, “This was partly because of me.”
But somebody at my level, even though I had unique expertise, I am
sure that had I not been there, somebody else would have done it.
It was that sort of thing. But, I have other friends my age that have
had other careers, and there’s probably nothing comparable with
the early days of the space program, in terms of a real opportunity
to do something interesting and unique and pioneering. It really was
a tremendously gratifying experience.
A different type of reward for the agency and your family, other than
the Apollo landing, was, of course, the recovery of Apollo 13 and
bringing that crew—
Could you share with us what your involvement was with that rescue?
Yes, we can do that. Can we take a break?
—Apollo 13. Were you ready to move on to there, or was there
anything that you want to talk about?
I think, one thing, we do have to go all the way back to Langley after
We hadn’t talked about the MPAD parties yet.
All right. We’ve got to talk about that. I’ll make myself
Apollo 13, the entire Agency was of course involved in that. As soon
as there was an indication there was a problem, the back room activity
got very, very intense. All of the “what if” type considerations
and concerns required analysts to do trajectory computations including
when should you do a midcourse correction, what type midcourse correction,
and what systems would be utilized for it and all that sort of thing.
Obviously the center of gravity for that activity was in the Control
Center. That’s where the decisions were made, and that’s
where our management basically was. But the back room activity was
intense—that’s where the “what-if” computations
were done. That information was fed to the managers who were asking
the questions, “What if you did such and such at such and such
Generally that would require a lot of activity and a lot of computation
to answer those questions, so that was an intense time and a very
active time for everybody involved, because there were analysts all
over the country. Especially the systems people, the hardware people
themselves were working to see, well, what system had failed and exactly
how did it fail and how did that jeopardize an adjacent system.
Were you constantly being asked for inputs, or was there a certain
time in the recovery activities that your group became more vital
to bringing the crew back home?
Early on like as soon as the incident, well, then, we started running
trajectories, return trajectories, to see exactly what kind of profile
you could use and what midcourse corrections were you able to do,
etc. Then at a certain point the attention was really in the Control
Center, because they were evaluating systems and potential system
failures downstream, and so you’d almost done all that you could
do about a trajectory. In other words, it was on its way home, and
the state of the vehicle was the question mark, and so that had to
do with the systems people and the flight operations people.
Did you have any thoughts that after Apollo 13 that the Apollo missions
might be put on hold for a while?
I think that I at that time, maybe naively, thought that the success
of the other missions, and even the success of the return, you would
not jeopardize the other landing missions, because there was so much,
so much inertia there. Things were going very rapidly, and I just
couldn’t imagine that they would—I didn’t even think
they would cut them off after Apollo 17.
Neither did Jack Schmitt, which sort of leads to another subject,
too, with Jack, is that Jack and I were good friends. I lived over
at the Bay House Apartments at the time, and he was a neighbor. So
he and I used to have these long philosophical discussions about the
space program and so forth. We both had the same pet peeve, that we
couldn’t believe that NASA, that the agency, and that the administration,
could be so shortsighted as to not have a long-range space plan. By
long-range, I mean like a thirty- or forty-year plan, and really have
careful building blocks as to what you wanted to achieve.
So Jack was terribly disheartened at the cutting off of the Apollo
missions, and I think that was part of the reason that he ran for
Senate, because he thought that he could go to Washington [D.C.] and
make an impact in terms of getting a long-range space program established,
with a long-range budgeting process rather than this shotgun-type
stuff that we’re still doing today.
How did the environment and the dynamics change after Apollo 13 and
as you moved through the other lunar landing missions? Then, of course,
when you heard that the program would be canceled, how did it affect
Well, of course, it was just about devastating. There was a quietus
there, a little bit like today, as a matter of fact. Things were just
terribly uncertain, and it was the beginning of the political problems
that NASA has faced all this time. There was some work going on relative
to a Space Station. There was no rhyme or reason to it. There was
no long-range planning. There was nothing laid out properly.
But after Apollo, we got involved with the concept of the Shuttle,
and a lot of conceptual planning was going on there. I started working
on what was called utilization planning for the Shuttle. I was not
involved with ASTP [Apollo-Soyuz Test Project] and Skylab. I didn’t
have anything to do with either of those programs, or very little
to do with them.
So I started addressing the concept for utilization planning, and
what that really means is how does the agency really utilize its resources
to accommodate what needs to be done with the Space Shuttle. The Agency
decided that they were going to sell the Shuttle based on economic
return, and they talked about a hundred Shuttle flights a year. So
our group—when you start thinking about that, number one, just
the average person which has good common sense would say, “That’s
stupid” and that’s what it was.
Well, our group—oh, Gene Kranz and company, they were saddled
with the responsibility that said something like, “How would
you accommodate flying that many flights? Like that’s two flights
a week.” Of course, if you even trim that down and say one flight
every two weeks, see, that’s ridiculous. You could just do a
back-of-the-envelope calculation and show how much liquid oxygen that
would be required to go down to the Cape; you’d have to have
a train continuously running for the launch vehicles, not to say anything
about all the payloads that you’d need to develop.
So anyway, we formed a group, and we coined the phrase, “utilization
planning,” and what that meant was the accommodation of the
heavy flight rate; how do you do that? And that included flight design
type work, the payload planning, payload development, launch facility
preparation, all the logistics work, etc. Like how do you make everything
flow together, okay?
So I started working on a planning concept, which related all the
activities between JSC and Marshall and the Cape and the payload community
and—well, those are the primary ones; there were some others,
but they’re the primary ones. How those organizations and those
major groups would interface and what they would have to do in order
to accommodate a high flight rate. That had to do with data transfer,
like who sent what information to whom, etc.
So this utilization plan, it was an extensive effort, almost like
a logistics plan is what it really amounts to. So we’d have
to go Washington every two weeks or something like that and report
to management up there how you were going to do this. Well, it was
an awkward position for me to be in.
“This is totally unrealistic,” I said, “If nothing
else, let’s say that you’re talking about fifty flights
a year. Look at the payloads. Where are you going to get fifty Shuttle
payload bays full of payloads?” Just on the back of the envelope,
I’d say, “At so many dollars a pound for payload, that’s—.”
And at that time, it was sixty thousand pounds in the payload bay.
I’d say, “You’re talking about this many pounds
of payload per year at this much money.” I said, “It would
Their response up there was, “Hey, this group is not addressing
the cost of the payload. We’re just addressing flight utilization,
how you utilize the Shuttle.”
“Okay.” So we went on and on and on and on.
Eventually, this evolved into a serious utilization plan, but it really
amounts to the fact that if the Shuttle were successful and you flew
ten flights a year, well, here’s all of the interactive work
that had to go on across the Agency to support ten flights a year.
So this was how do you do integrated planning.
We developed these long wall charts of how all this information would
have to flow, who would have to do what at what period in time prior
to launch, etc. We worked with the DoD [Department of Defense], which
was involved in a similar activity out on the West Coast. That was
a career that took up several years. There were several good things
that came out of it, and there was a lot of garbage that came out
But one of the good things was that within MPAD, it really pointed
out the need for an integrated planning system and good data management
and good data configuration control. After all, we were into the computer
age (almost). That was when we developed the concept of what initially
we called the Mission Planning System, and then I think later on it
was called an Ops Planning System. But anyway, what it did, it included
all the disciplines within MPAD, plus crew activity planning. It included
flight dynamics, consumables, crew activity planning, robotics, etc.
All of the discipline specialists would use the same integrated planning
system operating form a central database.
You were asking a while ago how you transferred planning information.
Well, the solution to that in the days of the computer was to do it
with an integrated system, and everybody operated from the same database
so that you transferred vectors and all other data automatically.
You had configuration management over this, and operated from a relational
database. You would also have configuration management over all the
software tools that you were using.
In the old days we were just lucky that everybody worked so hard and
they were so conscientious, because we had no configuration management
of the software. “Joe Blow” took a piece of software home
at night and worked on it and formulated something that he needed,
and he validated it; he checked it; he wrote it; he used it; and he
transferred the information to another organization, and nobody was
in position to question whether or not it was properly computed. Okay?
And that was a successful process in those days because of the mindset
of the people doing it. Today it would, of course, never work.
We developed this concept of the Mission Planning System, and we started
integrating the different pieces into a single unit, into a single
database, and that went on through the early Shuttle days and then
up to the end of MPAD in 1990. Then that system was transferred over
to Ford Aerospace [and Communications Corporation], and when MPAD
was dissolved, I decided, “Well, this is a good time for me
to quit NASA.” I wanted to follow the Mission Planning System,
which had been transferred over to Ford Aerospace for development.
Pete Frank was then working for Ford. I went by Pete’s office
one morning, and he started showing me some things. So they had already
transferred the work of the Mission Planning System over there, and
so I was talking with Pete, and he encouraged me to come to work there.
So I had taken the Mission Planning System and I transferred to Ford.
The prime customer for the development of the system was Gene Kranz
in the Operations Directorate because MPAD had dissolved. So we had
changed the name to the IPS, Integrated Planning System, and so that
to this day is still being developed and is being used for the Shuttle
So then Ford got changed over to Loral [Corporation], and then Loral
into Lockheed Martin [Corporation]. I finally retired from Lockheed
How well did it work with NASA with that system going to a contractor?
For so long you had been part of the government.
I think the contractor did a very good job. For me it took some “getting
used to”—working for a contractor rather than NASA. But
it worked well.
Have you been involved in what they refer to as the Space Transportation
Could you share with us your experiences with that?
That was one of the encouraging periods in that era following Apollo.
The STAS activity was by presidential directive, and what it really
said was that NASA and DoD need to get together and come up with a
plan that would give this country assured access to space, and that
should be economical and reliable. The system should satisfy the space
transportation needs of both NASA and DoD.
That started out as a two-year, $27 million study. There were four
contractors involved, and it was managed by both NASA and the DoD.
Head of the committee on the DoD side was the Secretary of the Air
Force. On the NASA side was a manager from Langley. JSC, Marshall,
[NASA] KSC [Kennedy Space Center, Florida] and NASA Headquarters were
all involved. It was called a “racehorse” contract.
Four contractors were selected. They were Martin [Marietta Corporation],
Boeing [Airplane Company], General Dynamics [Corporation] and Rockwell
International [Corporation]. The study was initiated in 1985. The
contractors were all given the same objectives for the study. The
study included an overall plan plus operations and launch capability,
logistics, vehicle design, technology development, etc.
So they were all given the same goals and the same schedule. The NASA/DoD
committee would periodically review interim progress. That would involve
periodic round robin trips to review progress at each controller site.
Many hours were spent flying and reviewing tons of data.
But it was really a significant comprehensive effort. It was the first
step that I’d ever seen for coming up with a long-range plan
for what we ought to be doing in this country for a space program.
But what was very strange about it was that after two years, the study
was terminated. The study was almost complete when we had the Challenger
accident. And it was rumored that there was some high level disagreement
between NASA and DoD.
In the study, the contractors had evaluated all of the different types
of vehicles, including flyback boosters, expendables, etc., with a
whole stable of launch vehicles, all the way from a low-lift capability
to the full-fledged heavy lift for putting a total Space Station in
orbit in one fell swoop. Had we been able to use a heavy lift vehicle
for the Space Station we could have put the thing up in four or five
flights and assembled it in orbit.
What type of experiences, firsthand experiences, did you have working
with the Department of Defense? Were you involved in any of the—
Oh yes. Very interesting.
What can you tell us about that?
While I was doing some of the utilization planning in the time period
after Apollo, the DoD was active in the utilization of the Shuttle.
They had a number of payloads that they wanted to use the Shuttle
for launching. We had interactive team meetings with the DoD, and
they would send representatives from their different programs here
to talk about Shuttle utilization and how we did the paperwork and
the NASA/DoD agreements. We would develop a joint mission plan for
a particular activity, and we’d show the interface between the
payload and the Shuttle, and what had to be provided by the Shuttle
to accommodate the payload, and what constraints there were on the
payload operation, etc.
So we would have technical interface meetings with all the technical
disciplines. It looked like for a long time that the Shuttle was really
going to be utilized, and then there was a political decision, I guess,
later on, that said that it wouldn’t be. So now there’s
almost no DoD activity here at JSC.
But besides the regular Shuttle support activity, there were several
higher level DoD payloads that came in that wanted to use the Shuttle,
and so a handful of us were put on those teams to review the requirements
of the payloads. It was interesting to see the difference between
the way the DoD operated and the way NASA operates, in terms of their
management structure, etc. We had a lot of interesting and sometimes
heated discussions with the DoD, because with some of them, you got
the idea that they weren’t that enthused about utilizing the
Shuttle. Then at other times you thought that they, different groups,
were sometimes very agreeable and very anxious to use it. They were
always concerned with the security aspects of it.
What type of measures did you have to take to be part of that specific
For some of the select payloads, the security measures were very constraining.
All the local meetings were held in a little vault room that was specially
shielded and equipped over in Building 1. You went in behind a secure
lock, and you couldn’t take any notes, or you could take notes,
but they had to be left in the room. You couldn’t take any information
out, and of course, you couldn’t discuss it with anybody. That
created some awkward situations with our relationship with our managers.
During those days you spent planning, did you get involved at all
in the early days of the station planning?
Only with the development of the integrated planning system, but not
in the launch planning, or the assembly. I did do some assembly sequence
evaluation but never really got into nominal mission planning. But
I was following all the planning activity to see what the requirements
imposed on the Integrated Planning System, the software that was being
Was that prior to launch?
Have you worked on anything regarding the station since it’s
launched or been a part of any of that?
Not to any extent.
You have mentioned off and on during the session about the computers
and how they changed. At what point did NASA start to have enough
computer power to do the work that they needed, where you weren’t
having to go down to the University of Houston or the Medical Center,
to stop using theirs?
I don’t think that we got computer capability, at least our
group didn’t, until we came to MSC [Manned Spacecraft Center]
on NASA Road 1, when they built the new building, and that was probably
’64. Perhaps the engineering group had a computer prior
to the move to MSC. But we really didn’t get the computer capability
that we needed until we came down here. I believe that we had the
1620 up at HPC, but all of our work, and especially in the lunar area,
HPC was not nearly adequate to do that.
How was your area impacted by the change of technology, especially
in the computer world, over those next years?
It was impacted tremendously. It’s still amazing to me. I remember
when they got to 128 kilobytes, that we thought that was a lot of
memory, and that was probably adequate. And it’s still amazing
to me that we could have put a lunar landing program on a 128-kilobyte
machine. Of course bigger and faster computers simplified the generation
and documentation of planning products tremendously.
I remember when—and I don’t know what year that was—the
IBM 360 came out, and that was a real big machine. I always thought
that a tremendously interesting story would be the history of the
computer within NASA, and how we went from one capability to the next
and what the impact had on efficiency.
What other duties were you assigned during your career with NASA that
were a bit unique? I believe one that we learned about was that you
did some reporting to the International Aéronautique Federation.
The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Yes,
that was a fun project. It was quite interesting. This organization
is, of course, headquartered in Paris [France]. It’s an old,
old organization. They started keeping balloon/aircraft flight records
way back when; I guess in the 1800s. So any long-duration record,
they would validate and document. I don’t remember what year
now, but probably in the sixties, I would guess, they decided to include
a section on space flight, though their prime interest was aircraft.
There were delegates from a number of countries. There was Germany,
and of course France, Great Britain, Spain, Russia, the United States,
and maybe some others. They met every April for a couple hours and
representatives from the different countries brought documentation
records of their space accomplishments for the past year. Starting
out in the early days in ’60, Carl Huss was the representative
from the United States. Carl quit, and he elected or appointed Rod
Rose, and Rod was the representative for some time. Then when Rod
quit, Rod appointed me.
The first time, I went over there with Rod Rose, and I met all the
delegates. The Secretary of the organization was French. He and his
wife and been federation members for many years. His wife was a fascinating
lady. She was very active in the French underground during the Second
World War, and she was a pilot herself. So just a fascinating lady.
The meetings were held in the Federation Headquarters building in
The Federation offered three levels of awards, and the delegates would
vote to decide which accomplishments would get which award. Usually
it was for a crew member, for some outstanding achievement. During
my term the United States was in an excellent competitive position
because of the outstanding achievements during Apollo. We, of course,
secured a number of awards.
How many years did you do that?
I think probably six or seven, something like that. Quite a few.
Did you have any other unique assignments that stand out?
I don’t believe. Not really.
You mentioned earlier you wanted to go back, all the way back to Langley,
and we understand your reputation for hosting some parties.
Oh yes, the parties. [Laughs] Yes.
Well, I don’t know how the tradition got started, but up at
Langley I had a house out on Chesapeake Bay on Windmill Point, and
it was a perfect party house. Several months before the Space Task
Group moved to Houston we had a big party for the mission planning
organization. They all came and we had a real party. That’s
how the “tradition” got started, and we continued it through
the life of MPAD. We got together several times a year for a good
MPAD was always a very socially active group. In fact, that was probably
the outstanding characteristic of the Mission Planning and Analysis
Division; it was so much like a family. It still is today. It was
dissolved in 1990, but members of the group still get together for
MPAD luncheons every two or three months. We usually have about sixty
people show up, and that’s pretty good since it has been about
fifteen years since the organization was dissolved. Most organizations
don’t have that many show up for social events while they’re
But it seemed that once someone joined the group they seldom left.
That was probably true all over NASA. They just stayed and stayed
and stayed, so everybody got to know everybody very well, and they
got to be like family. Really, a congenial group. That was one thing
that made the work interesting. It was always a close team effort.
Did you have many of your group go back to Virginia after you moved
to Houston, some that just didn’t want to work here?
Perhaps, but I don’t know of many who did. But in the early
years employment in the Space Program was such a wonderful opportunity
that I doubt many would have given it up unless there were other circumstances.
Before we close today, we’d like to ask you just share with
us some of your most memorable times. Maybe when you think back on
the times that you spent with your NASA family, what are some of your
most favorite experiences or memories that you have that you’d
share with us?
There were of course many. One of the most memorable experiences was
Apollo 8. I am not sure exactly why—maybe it was just the circumstances
of the day. Of course, for everyone, the first lunar landing was truly
incredible. But also the early sub-orbital and orbital flights were
exciting too. The unknowns were so overwhelming.
Of course the tragedy of the fire was very memorable. That was a horrible
thing. It was a reminder of just how vulnerable we really were, and
how we could make mistakes. The spacecraft was filled with errors
and design flaws. The tragedy was a red flag emphasizing the importance
of proper procedures and thorough testing. As bad as it was, it definitely
contributed to the success of the Program downstream. Then the Challenger
accident was indescribable. That was at such a rough time, anyway.
I knew the crew personally. That was just so incredibly shocking.
Where were you working or what area were you working with the Challenger,
for the Challenger accident?
I was involved with the STAS activity and was working Shuttle Utilization
Did the results of that investigation or the Rogers Commission [Presidential
Commission to investigate the Challenger accident], did that affect
any of the work or the studies that you were working on at all?
Only indirectly. It was really so hardware oriented that—of
course, it emphasized the fact that everything needed to be checked
more carefully, but by that time I think the spirit that was there
during Apollo had somehow eroded. There was a totally different environment
within NASA. But there was still the NASA family view and feeling.
It was such a terrible tragic accident. It was totally devastating
to most people that I knew.
What would you consider to be the most challenging time that you had?
I guess probably the most challenging time for our group was in developing
the lunar capability. The translunar injection iteration tool that
we were developing was a very difficult thing to get operable and
to get reliable. It was so terribly sensitive. It was a massive iteration
technique that had to be developed from scratch. To tune that software
and get it to function was a very frustrating job and took a lot of
midnight hours, and a great deal of precious computer time. Until
the final phase of development it was never evident that it would
work. We were always faced with the possibility that it may not work.
And if not, how can we generate a lunar trajectory? That was challenging.
Another challenge was with the technology development associated with
the STAS activity. It had to do with the NASA mindset at that time.
What was very prevalent, and is still prevalent in the agency, is
competition between Centers. I thought that some of the things that
needed to be done were so logical and why that wasn’t acceptable
to the different centers and the different organizations and to management,
I never did understand.
During STAS we had made a lot of progress in trying to get rid of
“shotgun technology.” Initially, we just had little groups
all over NASA. Whatever they thought was a good idea, they would develop
it, and they would get funding to develop it. What we tried to do
across the agency with STAS was develop a coherent plan, such that
we would lace all of this technology together and not shotgun it to
death and not replicate efforts across different Centers.
We were making a lot of progress, and then all of a sudden it just
blew up, and it had to do with the NASA mindset. You would have people
from a center say, “Hey, this is not your business. Stay out
of it.” And that still goes on today, and it will probably always
Then the other frustrating thing is, of course, the growth, the rapid
growth of bureaucracy. Today, the decision process is very sluggish.
We were making decisions back in the sixties and early seventies at
the section head level that now are taken all the way up the chain.
You were talking about how you communicated. Well, you did it very
informally, and decisions were made quickly and authoritatively with
good judgment by good leaders, like John Mayer and Carl Huss and Bill
Tindall and Chris Kraft and Glynn Lunney and Leonard [S.] Nicholson,
Gene Kranz, [Maxime A.] Max Faget and Sig Sjoberg (and of course others).
And they didn’t have anybody to answer to, because of their
capacity themselves. The bureaucracy just didn’t exist, because
we didn’t have time and it wasn’t tolerated.
But today, it’s just like the space program has no thread of
reason or rationale, and when you talk about challenges, that’s
the challenge. I don’t know how you get around that with today’s
But I firmly believe that if you really want technological excellence
in this country, you need a focal point for it. A long-term space
plan provides that focal point. The space program is a natural. It’s
not what you get out of the space program, but it’s the fact
that you have a focal point for the people and for young people coming
up and people that are getting an education and growing in engineering,
to say, “This is something that I’d like to be a part
of.” They don’t have to be mainstream; they can be peripheral,
with companies or whatever.
It is frustrating not to see a logical step-by-step, long-term space
plan in place. It is frustrating to hear about the emphasis on going
to the Moon and Mars and not see a working plan in place to assure
us reliable access to low Earth orbit. We should have been working
on a Shuttle replacement years ago as a stepping stone to future activities.
Are there any stories or experiences or anything else you’d
like to share on other people? We’ve had quite a few people
talk about things that they’ve done with you. I just didn’t
know if you would have anything else you’d like to share.
We talked a bit about the family environment within MPAD. It was all
really a hardworking group, but they sure played hard as well. We
had our share of good times at the local bars and, of course, the
happy hours and the postflight parties, etc. They were all phenomenal,
and there were many, many stories related to those, that’s for
And so many of you stayed and watched that dirt road that you came
down first change into quite a big area, didn’t it?
That, of course, was an amazing experience, to see this area grow
the way it did.
Well, we thank you for coming in and talking with us today.
You are certainly welcome. It was fun to reminisce. You certainly
have an ambitious project. Good luck!