NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
22 October 2003
Ross-Nazzal: Today is October 22nd, 2003. This oral history
with Floyd Bennett is being conducted for the Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project in Houston, Texas. Jennifer Ross-Nazzal is the
interviewer, and she is assisted by Sandra Johnson and Rebecca Wright.
Thank you for joining us this morning. We really appreciate it.
Bennett: You’re welcome.
Ross-Nazzal: I’d like to begin by asking you what your
interest was in engineering as you were growing up.
Bennett: Well, when I was growing up, I didn’t know
what an engineer was. I had uncle that drove a train, but I had no
idea of going to college when I was in high school. But when I got
out, I said, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
And I loved math, but in those days you didn’t have computers
and mathematician [jobs were primarily in the teaching profession.
I didn’t think I would be a very good teacher.]
anyway, I grew up in World War II as a kid, and rockets came along,
and I was convinced that man was going to go to the Moon in my lifetime,
and I figured it would take pilots. So I went down to join the—I
don’t know if it was the Army Air Corps at that time or the
regular Air Force, but they said, “Young man, you need two years
of college to be a pilot.”
I said, “Why’s that? I have a high school degree. I’m
sure I know all there is to know at this point in my life.”
anyway, some friend of mine said, “Come take engineering with
that’s when I said, “What does an engineer do?”
And I said, “Does it have any math in it?”
“Yeah, we think so.” So anyway, I flunked Introduction
to Engineering. But after that, I made very good grades. And I wasn’t
prepared for it in the end of my high school. I didn’t have
the right—although I loved math, I didn’t have solid geometry
and that sort of thing. But I took it over and passed it very well.
I never told any of the astronauts that I flunked Introduction to
Engineering, I don’t believe.
anyway, I wound up getting married in college, and I never did join
the Air Force and become a pilot, but I did enjoy my engineering and
went to work at the NACA [National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics]
in Langley [Aeronautical Laboratory, Hampton, Virginia], taking aeronautical
Ross-Nazzal: When did you officially join NACA?
Bennett: It was 1954, and I stayed there in research in the
Dynamic Loads Division of Langley. And we did a lot of the first analysis
to study an airplane of a flexible body going through gusts and turbulence,
and our research helped redesign some of the fixes on the Lockheed
Electra, for example, because it was designed as a rigid body and
it really wasn’t. And we started work on the flexible-wing airplane,
the swept-wing airplanes like the B-47, and that thing really did
flex a lot, quite a few feet, and it was very interesting.
then I worked on the—they started the Echo. When satellites
came along, they started the Echo Project. It was a balloon where
we bounced [communication] signals off of it, and I worked on that
and studied how many satellites [would be needed to have continuous
communications between two points on Earth]. We couldn’t put
them up in geo sync [geosynchronous orbit] in those days, and so you
put them at low altitude and in randomly spaced [orbits]. So I did
a probability analysis on how many it would take to maintain communication
between Europe and the United States. So it was very interesting work.
then they announced the lunar program, and I said, “That’s
what I always wanted to work on, so I’m going with that.”
And didn’t know where we were going, Florida, Massachusetts,
or Texas, or what, but we came here.
Ross-Nazzal: And when did you become affiliated with the
Space Task Group?
Bennett: That was in ’61, and we worked about six months
there before we came down here in February of 1962. I wasn’t
one of the original members of the task group. They were already under
way, and when I joined them, we had just started working on the lunar
rendezvous concept for Apollo, where you orbit the Moon and come back
and rendezvous. And I worked on that from the beginning with the task
group and then for the next ten years.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you take a look-and-see trip out to Houston?
Bennett: No, I did not. Some other people did, and they brought
movies back and showed us the ravages of Hurricane Carla and we said,
“What are we doing?” [Laughs]
Ross-Nazzal: But you decided to move out here anyway.
Bennett: Yes, yes. My wife [Carolyn] didn’t want to
come at first, but she learned to love it after a while. We came as
a group, and so it was—everybody was family, so to speak. They
said they had the Husband of the Week because we traveled so much.
Whosever husband was home was in charge of repairs.
Ross-Nazzal: What did you initially think of Houston when
Bennett: Hot and humid. But when I was thinking about coming
down here, some Virginians told me that, “You don’t want
to go there. It’s too hot and too humid.” I said, “It
may be hotter than here, but it can’t be more humid.”
I was wrong. But thank goodness for air-conditioning.
Ross-Nazzal: We’ve heard that from a number of people,
actually. How did your job change when you moved from Virginia down
here to Houston?
Bennett: Well, in Virginia, it was more of a research atmosphere
and time wasn’t critical until I started working for the task
group. And then, like I say, we started traveling a lot, and we had
to go get ourselves educated more on orbital mechanics and other aspects
of space operations. And with all the various contractors around the
country, we had to go to Rockwell [formerly North American Aviation
Corporation], to Grumman [Aircraft Engineering Corporation] in New
York, and that sort of thing. And you had to do your homework, and
we worked awful long hours. You didn’t get paid the extra hours,
but we lived and breathed it. It was a dream to work on something
like that, and I think everybody was totally dedicated to it.
Ross-Nazzal: You mentioned just a few minutes ago that you
worked on the lunar rendezvous concept. Can you talk to us about a
paper that you wrote on a study of Earth orbit simulation of lunar
Bennett: That was a long time ago. I’d almost forgotten
that one. But what we did, we looked at—rendezvous was checked
out during the Gemini Program around Earth. And to make the lunar
landing a successful mission, we had to rendezvous the LM [Lunar Module]
back to the command module after the landing. And so we were very
nervous about that, and although we checked it out here, what happens
if he can’t come back, if something happened to propulsion?
we looked at a concept of what we call an equal period [or equi-period]
transfer. If you’re in one orbit and you fire at a certain angle,
you can change the orbit to come down to a lower altitude or come
up to higher altitude, and the period around will be the same so it
will come back and intercept with that orbit [in one revolution at
the same point that you left]. But it turned out to be too expensive
from a propulsion standpoint to do that, so we opted for what they
call the Hohmann Transfer. That was named after a fellow by the name
of [Walter] Hohmann, and he—you fire parallel to the velocity
vector or against the velocity vector and just reduce your altitude.
And it changes the period of the orbit, so you wind up going faster,
but it was the cheapest way to do it. So that’s why we wound
up doing that.
Ross-Nazzal: How were you able to create this simulation
when the lunar module and the command and service module weren’t
actually finished at this point?
Bennett: We didn’t have many simulations. As far as
the rendezvous, it was mostly mathematical, and then they did the
simulators. They had visuals of everything, and you had the cockpit
layouts and you had the same plans of the lunar module and the command
module, so you worked it from that standpoint with computers.
Ross-Nazzal: You were also heavily involved in the trajectory
analysis planning for the lunar landings themselves.
Bennett: Yes. Right.
Ross-Nazzal: Can we talk about that a little bit?
Bennett: Yes. Right.
Ross-Nazzal: Can you talk about your role in planning the
mission trajectories for the Apollo Program?
Bennett: Yes. And I don’t know if you’ve got
this report or not. [Bennett hands Ross-Nazzal a report.] This is
one that we wrote right after Apollo 11, and it goes into details
on the planning of it. But basically, like I said, we did a Hohmann
Transfer to come out of an orbit, but I think we finally wound up
at 50 miles or 60 miles and would come down to 50,000 feet, I think
it was. And then you started a power descent maneuver.
It probably doesn’t seem as complicated today in what we do,
but in those days it was very complicated to us that you had to plan
the trajectory with the limitations of the rocket that’s on
the descent engine. You had a landing radar there to measure how far
you were above the surface and how fast you were going, to update
the guidance system. You had to have the guidance equations to command
what thrust level you wanted out of the engine and what attitude you
wanted to be at to fire it.
started out with what we called a fuel optimum descent. Based on the
mathematics of that, you had an optimization equation and basically
would fire against the velocity vector just to slow down the velocity.
So it didn’t have much respect for the lunar surface in those
equations, and the most optimum way was to get gravity to aid you.
And we’d come down and fly through the surface and come back
to the site. Well, that was not quite acceptable. So at about fifteen,
ten or fifteen thousand feet, we stopped the fuel optimum guidance
and went to a constant attitude and pitched the vehicle up so the
crew could look out the window and see where they were going, because
otherwise, [in the fuel optimum phase], they were just looking back
along the [velocity] vector there. [Actually perpendicular to velocity
then as you got down to about 600 feet, you wanted to pitch up further
and allow the conditions to be such that the crew could take over
the automatic system, because none of the crew wanted to land with
an automatic system. And then you had a vertical descent option there.
So you had all the constraints of—you didn’t have a whole
lot of excess fuel, so you had to be very efficient with it. And on
Apollo 11, I think we all heard the call out of thirty seconds, we
were just about out of fuel.
then in what we call the approach phase, where you had a fixed attitude
and would look out the window, you had a grid on the window itself
called the landing point designator. It was the inner and outer markings
on the window, and Apollo [commander] could line up. It was like a
range finder. He could line his eye up with that, and the computer
would tell him what angle to look at to see where he was going, to
see the landing site. And if he didn’t like where he was going,
he could take his stick and change it left, right, or forward. It
couldn’t go backwards very easily, but you could go forward.
You could come back a little bit, but it was very inefficient to do
on Apollo 11, we wound up five miles off target because of the navigation
errors coming around the Moon, and we didn’t mathematically
model the Moon all that well. And there was some—we’ve
assumed it to be homogenous gravity, and it wasn’t. It had what
they call mass concentration, or mass cons. So that caused us to be
off when we started in the descent, and subsequently we were; we were
off at the landing.
I think there’s a little picture in there. I don’t know
if it will show up all that well, [flips through report] but—it’s
not going to show up that well. But we had a 3-[sigma dispersion ellipse
for landing accuracy]. We called it [3-sigma] landing dispersions.
With all of our uncertainties, we figured we’d be like this.
[Points to a picture of an ellipse.] Well, he was all the way down
at the end of that [forward end of dispersion ellipse], and he wound
up over a boulder field. We’d picked the landing site to be
as smooth an area as possible, no unusual features and all. But he
was over a boulder field, and that’s why he almost ran out of
fuel, because he kept going down, down range and trying to get a place
this is a picture here of his angle of pitch, and he was going, and
he was [continually changing attitude and altitude rates—speeding
up and slowing down]. At the experimental test pilots’ meeting
in Los Angeles after they came back, I asked him about that, and he
said, “Well, I was just absolutely adamant about my God-given
right to be wishy-washy about where I was going to land.” Now,
I was allowed to put that in this AIAA [American Institute of Aeronautics
and Astronautics] paper, but when I did a NASA paper on it, they wouldn’t
let me. They said that wasn’t technical enough.
said, “Well, that’s what he felt.” [Laughs]
then after that, we went to Apollo 12, and I mentioned we had a navigational
error. And we had a technique that the navigation folks said, “We
can give you a better vector of the position after we get into the
power descent based on the burn and everything if you can update your
guidance system to do that.” So we had to do various simulations
to see how much, if it was five miles, could we do that much without
disrupting the guidance too much and everything like that. So we were
able to do that.
we picked a landing site that a Surveyor spacecraft had landed at
before. In here, the Apollo 12 site had a crater pattern like this
[shows image], and it looked like a snowman. So we called it the snowman.
This was the belly of the snowman and the head. And in the belly of
the snowman, the Surveyor landing craft was right there. So he had
been practicing to try to land in here and actually moved in here.
And you can see where he changed his landing site with the landing
point designator. And this picture here shows how close he landed.
[Bennett shows a different image.] This is after they landed, and
he’s over at the Surveyor, and the lunar module was up here.
we did get a lot of dust kicked up because he was on the edge of that
crater, but even before Apollo 11, a lot of scientists had told us
that we were going to land in 100 feet of dust. How they came up with
that number, I don’t know. But anyway, we said the Surveyor
didn’t do that, [get buried]. So anyway, they had their theories,
and then we had some concerns. The thing about Apollo 11, there was
just so many unknowns—you couldn’t really simulate these
type of maneuvers [with total realism. However, the “flying
bedstead” was close—an experimental hovercraft with simulation
1/6 gravity field.]
they did Apollo 10 and they sent the lunar module down to a lower
altitude and came back, I asked Chris [Christopher C.] Kraft, I said,
“Why don’t we do an unmanned landing, because we can check
out all these interactions of everything like that.”
his answer was, “No, we don’t want to do that, Floyd,
because some of the politicians will then say we’ve got to do
an unmanned landing before we can do a manned landing,” and
he was probably right. But it would have been a good test flight.
So we did[n’t do it]. We were able to land on target with that
one, [Apollo 12].
scientists then wanted us to go to more interesting places, and Apollo
13 was supposed to go into a science area where the terrain wasn’t
too bad. Apollo 14 did land near what they called, I think it was
the Cone Crater they wanted to go investigate. [Alan B.] Shepard and
them never did find the Cone Crater, though. The vision was limited
on the surface there. You couldn’t see over the hill, [lip of
crater], but we had a camera in the lunar module during the descent,
and it showed Cone Crater. And so I said, “Well, see, you went
right by it.” But they came close to it. They just couldn’t
get up to the top [edge] to see it.
on Apollo 15, the scientists found this particular site here [shows
image], and these are some of the highest mountains on the Moon, 12,000
feet, the Hadley-Appenines. And they’d previously wanted to
land further down here, and I said, “No, we’ve got to
come over these mountains, and we can’t get down that close.”
This is a wider area [further distance from mountains to landing site]
here where the radar would get adjusted and everything, so we actually
flew—we moved the landing site up here, and you flew over these
12,000-foot mountains [in front of landing sites]. And this was a
gorge about 1,200 foot deep [in front of the landing site]. That’s
pretty deep. And there was a crater here. There’s pictures of
them on the side here and walking over here, and had the Lunar Rover
on that flight and go back a ways.
had a real rudimentary computer program in those days to draw—I
told you about the picture out the window, and that you could see
out the window. And we simulated drawings of that and modeled this
terrain in there so that would give him an idea of what he was going
to be able to see coming down.
mountain here, which is about 4,000 feet high, it’s about ten
miles from the landing site. And when they came in like this, when
you pitched up, it was right dead center of where you were going,
so it gave them a good clue of if they were off track left or right.
Dave [David R.] Scott got them to model that on the simulator down
at the Cape [Canaveral, Florida] and named it Bennett Hill, so I was
very pleased with that. It’s not official astronomically; it’s
just a NASA landmark.
it was a very challenging mission, and we had to change our trajectories
again to go over these mountains, and we steepened up the approach
quite a bit. But it turned out they liked that approach better. We
had been at a lower approach before. It was probably a little more
fuel-efficient, but the pilots, in the landing approach phase, we
modeled [the lower approach] pretty much after the way they came in
with airplane [landing approaches]. And, in fact, early on, they said
they wanted to fly 360 degrees around the landing site.
they said, “Well, we always do that when coming into an unknown
field to see what’s what.”
I said, “Well, that’s nice, but you don’t have the
fuel to do it.” So they had to learn it was a one-shot thing.
again, you had to model the trajectories. Again, another constraint
I didn’t mention was you had the ascent stage there that if
the descent engine quit, the ascent stage would fire and separate
the descent stage and lift you off. And so you had to keep the altitude
rates above the capability for the engine to take you up, otherwise
you would hit the surface before you take off. So that was another
constraint that they had.
Ross-Nazzal: Let me go back and ask you a few questions.
You’ve brought in these wonderful pictures that have been signed.
What sort of contact did you have with the astronauts or the flight
Bennett: Basically, the commanders and the lunar landing
pilots, I didn’t have much work with the command module pilots,
but with Neil [A. Armstrong] and [Edwin E.] Buzz [Aldrin] and Pete
[Charles] Conrad and—Shepard didn’t pay much attention
to [us], and he found a glitch in the guidance logic, too. It wasn’t
a major thing, but he did in his simulation and everything. But he
was quite a guy. And John [W.] Young, I worked with him, and with
Apollo 17, [Eugene A.] Cernan, yes. [And I worked quite a lot with
Dave Scott on landing site selection for Apollo 15 and the steep approach
would give them briefings before the mission, then go down and monitor
their training down there [at Kennedy Space Center, Florida], so we
were the background teachers, I guess, for them to understand why
we did what we did. And, “We’d like to do so-and-so,”
and we’d have to say, “Okay, that’s good to do,”
or, “No, we can’t do that.” So we had a very good
Ross-Nazzal: And how long did these briefings last?
Bennett: Oh, they were usually a couple hours when we’d
go down for training sessions and all, and we were always in various
meetings together proposing changes and everything. So we worked on
and off with them throughout their training.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you participate in any of the lunar landing
Bennett: I got in the simulator and rode it down on automatic.
They said, “That’s not flying.” I said, “I’ve
got to see if my system works,” and it did. I said, “No,
I don’t have the confidence to go take this thing over manually.
That would waste everybody’s time.” But it was very interesting.
They did a good job with those simulations, too. The video was very
good the way they had the view out the window.
Ross-Nazzal: What about Grumman? Did you have any contact
Bennett: Yes, we were planning the concept before the lunar
module was ever built. In fact, we worked on the team to evaluate
the lunar module contractors, and which Grumman won. They had a very
good concept. So we had to have tradeoffs between their system design
capabilities and what we were doing in the trajectory. One of the
first things was that the descent engine was supposed to be able to
throttle from maximum thrust for the initial braking phase where you
needed all that thrust, to down to 10 percent of that when the guy
was just hovering around over the surface. [This throttle range] was
beyond the state of the art. They can give us the maximum thrust,
but they couldn’t throttle it from maximum thrust down to about
60 percent, [but] then they could throttle it continuously from 60
percent down to 10 percent. So that meant we had to change our trajectory
a little bit.
And the guidance, it was commanding a throttle position to go to,
so what we had to wind up doing was command the throttle above what
it could give us and just control with attitude. So you didn’t
have complete—what’s the word—you weren’t
getting what you really wanted. The guidance equation wasn’t
getting what it wanted, but it would eventually command less and less
thrust and get down to that 60 percent level, and then we’d
switch targets and go to the approach phase where he could throttle
the rest of the way down. The landing radar, we had influences on
that, too. They had to locate its beams on two separate orientations,
one when he’s back on his back coming in, and then later on
when he [is] pitched up. So there was give and take on the system
design as well, which we’d call systems integration today, [that’s]
what you would call it.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you spend much time out in New York?
Bennett: Yes, we went there a few times on critical design
reviews and that sort of thing. Ken [Kenneth J.] Cox and I were driving
from the airport there, going out to Bethpage on Long Island. It was
about dusk. And we were trying to decide whether we wanted to go into
the city before we went out to the island that night or go out and
check in and come back. We thought we’d take in the Playboy
Club. So, anyway, we decided to go to the hotel first, and as it gets
a little bit dark, the lights don’t come on. And I said, “Boy,
they roll the sidewalks up early around here.” The traffic lights
[were]n’t working, and I heard on the radio it was a blackout.
That was the first blackout in the sixties, somewhere in the sixties,
’65 or ‘6, somewhere like that.
So I’m glad we went to Bethpage first. We got there, it was
candle lights and that was it, because a lot of people were in the
dark there [in the city], trapped in buildings and everything.
Ross-Nazzal: What was your relationship like with Grumman?
Bennett: Fine. We got along very well. They respected us
and we respect[ed] them, and no problems. Like I say, everybody was
dedicated to doing that. It was really great. They had some very,
very smart people.
Ross-Nazzal: You mentioned that some changes had to be made
to the trajectories as a result of changes to the LM. Can you talk
to us about how the maneuvers changed over time as a result of mission
requirements or different changes that NASA would require?
Bennett: Yes. The major change was when we went to—well,
there were more subtle changes, I guess, like the thing that the engine
wouldn’t throttle from 100 percent down. That changed things.
But it was mostly in the fuel-efficient phase, so you really never
saw much difference there. It just meant you had to maybe thrust a
little bit longer in that phase.
biggest one was when we went to the landing sites over in the mountainous
terrains and everything where you got the steep-[approach] trajectories,
and it gave them [a better view of the landing site]. Before,
we were on a more shallow approach, and at 10,000 feet when you pitched
up, you were much further away from the landing site so you couldn’t
see it as well. This one, you were closer in, and, like I say, they
liked that better because they could see the landing site better.
then that let us on Apollo 17—that was a very mountainous [area
around the] landing site, too. It had mountains to the left, to the
right, and up range; it was the only thing [open] was out in front
of you. So without the change in accuracy of navigation and without
the change in the trajectory, we wouldn’t have been able to
land in those sites. They even had us looking at landing in the crater
Tycho one time, and I said, “Hey, get real.” [Laughs]
Ross-Nazzal: Speaking of landing sites, I understand that
you also chose some of the landing locations on the Moon. Can we talk
Bennett: Yes, that’s what we did on Apollo 15. That’s
when we worked with the scientists to find the site that they wanted
to be along here somewhere. And, like I say, they had one further
down. And we went to [NASA] Headquarters [Washington, D.C.] and Dr.
[Rocco A.] Petrone was chairing the meeting there, and he said he
would not lock the doors, but nobody was leaving the room till we
got a landing site.
were so many different disciplines, and I think scientists tend to
work more on their own than engineers. Engineers need to work [as]
a team more. And I’m not being negative to the scientists; I’m
just saying that’s the way they’re trained. But bless
their hearts, I’m in this discipline and he’s in that
discipline, and I want to land at this place because it’s got
the best for me, and they want to land over there. And I told them
one day, I said, “You guys remind me of a kid in a candy store
and you’ve got a quarter. And there’s ten pieces of candy
and they all cost a quarter and you [still] want one of each.”
And [Dr.] Noel [W.] Hinners was there, the head fellow of the scientists’
group, and he did a terrific job of pulling those egos together. He
Ross-Nazzal: What were some of the primary characteristics
that you looked for in terms of the landing site, from your perspective?
Bennett: From our perspective, it was to be as free of any
mountains or anything like that as possible. And, like I say, on Apollo
11 and even 12, although we landed near craters, there were flat areas,
no high mountains around, or anything like that. We had to model the
terrain into guidance logic when we went to like to this site [points
to picture of Apollo 15], because when he flies over a 12,000-foot
mountain and the radar says it thought that was the landing site height
and said, “Hey, you’re only at 4,000-feet elevation,”
so that would throw the guidance all crazy. So you had to model it
in and say, “No, it’s 12,000 feet above the landing site,”
and so that worked out good.
Ross-Nazzal: What sort of interaction did you have with people
from USGS [U.S. Geological Survey] or Bellcom [Inc.]?
Bennett: USGS was some of the scientist groups and everything
and, like I said, they had their strong opinions about where they
wanted to go and everything. But you were saying what, from my standpoint,
like I say, we could tolerate—once we’d got the accuracy
down, we could tolerate these things if we modeled the terrain in
and all like that and you didn’t have a big cliff to go over,
a big mountain to go over, on your way up or anything.
Bellcom folks were sort of like a check and balance, and they would
look over our shoulder and they offered other concepts and everything
else, too, and I got along very well with them. I think some people
worried about that, [looking over our shoulder], and I said, “Hey,
if they’ve got to look at this and they find something, that’s
great, because it’s got to be done right.”
night before we were landing on the Moon, my wife said to me, says,
“What if they die?”
I said, “Honey, we’ve done the best we can do,”
and that’s all you can say, and we had.
today, I don’t think we—our risk [on Apollo] would be
much greater than what we’re willing to fly with today, but
it’s a risky business, and it was a dream for them to go.
did climb up on top of the Saturn one time. I didn’t climb up
it; we went up, in other words, in the VAB [Vehicle Assembly Building].
And we got up there and looked down, and people looked like little
ants. And I said, “This is like the Humble Building in downtown
Houston, and you’re going to light the fire on this thing? I’ll
go to the Moon on paper.” [Laughs] And so they were gutsy people
and brave people.
Ross-Nazzal: They certainly were. Were there any sites that
the scientists picked that from an engineering perspective you thought
were too dangerous to get to?
Bennett: Yes, like the Tycho crater. It was too unforgiving.
I mean, it was a large crater and everything, but we could probably
have done it later, but it was considered too risky. And other things
like that when they—I said, “You look like you want us
to land between a rock and a hard place here, and that’s not
good.” So, yes. So they had to compromise on the sites they
got, and they got good sites out of Apollo 15, [at] the place we did
Ross-Nazzal: Once a landing site was decided upon, how long
did it take you to come up with the trajectory analysis?
Bennett: We already had the trajectories, but we would have
candidate landing sites, and five or six and that sort of thing. So
we’d see what kind of trajectories we needed to go into each
one, and sometimes it wasn’t any difference. So we had to do
that before the sites were selected and take that information to the
meetings if there was any reason [for not going to that site].
I told Dr. Petrone that we were looking at four or five different
sites for Apollo 17, and so I compared this one and this one and this
one, and I said, “We can do all of these,” I said, “But
this is like a piece of cake compared to going to Tycho.” And
he said, “Floyd, there’s no lunar landing that’s
a piece of cake.” So I used the wrong phrase. I said, “Well.”
He said, “I know what you mean.”
Ross-Nazzal: How many individuals did you work with on designing
Bennett: We had about—oh, well, let’s see, one
other picture here. This is the names of the people that were in our
Landing Analysis Branch. [Bennett shows another image.] I adopted
this cartoon for our branch logo. [A cowboy going over a steep cliff
on his horse.] And the guy was saying, “Whoa, you SOB! Whoa!”
And I took the “SOB” out, but I told the astronauts—and
Neil Armstrong signed this—I said, “This is the fuel optimum
descent, guys.” [Laughs]
you can see there was about twenty of us in there, but that was just
in our branch. You had to work with the navigation branches. They
got very conservative on me when we picked Apollo 17 with, like I
said, they had the mountains all around.
they gave me their dispersion equation, ellipse, and I looked at it
and I said, “This is bigger than anything they’ve ever
given me.” And I said, “You guys, your conservatism is
going to cost us in other areas here. You’ve got to get real.”
so I went down to their branch and took their sign down and put up
“Lost In Space Branch.” They got a little ticked at me,
but anyway, I said, “I can’t hit the Moon with this set
of dispersions, much less the landing site.”
So then they took out some of their fudge factors, and we were able
to do it. But that’s something in the lessons learned that we
said, not just them, but any designer of the propulsion system or
anything else, if they get overly conservative in theirs and make
somebody else absorb their uncertainties, the system won’t work.
So you’ve got to be honest and say it like it is, and you’ve
got to stand behind what you come up with. Got to do the best you
can, as they say.
Ross-Nazzal: I also understand that you actually worked in
some of the staff support rooms during the missions.
Bennett: Yes, we had three or four of our fellows on the
console, Willis [M.] Bolt, Dan [Joe D.] Payne, and Jim [James V.]
West and [I’ve left someone out], Jim [James H.] Alphin. And
they were in communication with the FIDO, Flight Dynamics Officer,
for what’s going on and everything. And the guidance guys were
also in that room, MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge,
Massachusetts] and Jack [John R.] Garman’s group. And they were
the ones that called that—I don’t know if you recall.
They had an error display, an error out of the guidance system during
the landing. They had actually simulated that in one of the simulations,
and that’s what made them aware that this thing could happen.
computer, I think it was like 64,000 words, which is you’ve
got more in your pocket calculator now. But if you started getting
updates from the landing radar or something else, and your computer
has this duty cycle of going and doing things.And,
I think, in this case, the rendezvous radar signal, I believe it was,
somehow got into the flow there and started things getting real busy,
and so it created an alarm. It says, “Hey, I’m not doing
all these other functions. I’m just going to do the guidance
so they were able to say, “Hey, it’s still okay to go.”
And so we were in there.
yes, I was more there as advising and monitoring our guys, and they
all did a good job. We were in Building 30 getting ready to go over
to the control center from our administrative wing, and Jim Alphin
and I got in the elevator. And he had all his books and everything
I said, “Are you ready?”
said, “Yes.” I said, “Well, you’ve got to
punch the button, or we ain’t going anywhere.” So it was
just a little nervous time, because he hadn’t even punched the
button to go down.
Ross-Nazzal: Can you tell us a little bit about the organization
of the support rooms themselves, from what you remember?
Bennett: You had various displays. Somebody was watching
trajectory parameters. Somebody was watching the attitude and the
guidance parameters, like if they were looking for various alarms
and everything. So you just the TV monitors there and you could call
up other displays.
most disturbing thing to me was, not being a flight controller, everybody
talking on those loops together. They could recognize each other’s
voice and not have to say, “Okay, who was that?” But,
yes, [that] was a very good system.
Gene [Eugene F.] Kranz came by and said, “Is everybody all right
in here?” before we went down there.
said, “Yes, just another sim [simulation],” but this one’s
going to be nominal, because some of the simulations you had put in
a lot of errors and things, like you put in a low thrust. In fact,
Jay [F.] Honeycutt was SimSup [Simulation Supervisor] in those days,
and I was concerned about—I mentioned to you we couldn’t
throttle the engine up in the first phase of the flight where it’s
efficient. And so if the thrust was getting low, if the engine wasn’t
putting out as much thrust as it needed to put out, if it was beyond
its three-sigma dispersions, the guidance equation would keep saying,
“I need more thrust and I’m not getting it,” and
it would start pitching the vehicle [and] it would go into a loop
and you would crash.
mentioned that to Bill [Howard W.] Tindall. He was our [Deputy] Division
Chief there. And so I talked to Honeycutt, and we put a simulation
in where that happened, [very low thrust], and it did exactly that.
That got Bill’s attention and everybody else’s attention
that that was a damned good display to have.
had to insist on that display earlier before we did that, because
when I came down here, [to Flight Operations Directorate (FOD)] I
was in the Engineering Directorate, and there was some, like—what’s
the right word—some competition, if you want to, between the
designers and the flight operations people. And so “You designers
don’t know how to operate,” and, “You guys operating
it don’t know [how] to design,” that sort of thing. But
eventually everybody got the message and worked together, but there
was some competition there.
came over from Engineering Directorate, and we’ve got to decide
on what displays you want to have in the MOCR [Mission Operations
Control Room]. So we said the normal thing, you need the attitude
and this sort of thing and what the thrust is. And I said, “I
also need the thrust command that the guidance system’s asking
for,” because of this problem I was telling you about.
“No, we want to have—.” You were limited in what
you could have, so they wanted what we called V\Gamma, velocity and
flight path angle.
I said, “Well, wait a minute. That’s good for orbital
parameters. You’ve got to know your velocity and your flight
path angle to know what kind of orbit you’re on, but you’ve
already fired the engine and you’re already suborbital. You’re
going to hit the Moon at this point, so why do you still need V\Gamma?”
so they couldn’t come up with anything else, so they said, “It’s
said, “Okay, I’m not going to argue with tradition, and
you do need it for ascent, I agree with that, but I want this other
one, too.” So we were able to both get what we wanted. So that
was very interesting.
Ross-Nazzal: When you were working in the staff support room,
what were you thinking about the Apollo 11 landing?
Bennett: Well, everything was fine. All systems were—everything
was nominal and all like that. And then when it got down and took
over and we kept watching his forward velocity and his altitude rate
and, like I said, he was going around like this [gestures], but his
forward velocity was still going forty feet per second forward or
something, and you can’t land at those speeds. And I said, “What
is he doing?” We didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t
have time to tell us it was a rock field out there.
call came up to thirty seconds to go on fuel, and I thought he was
going to have to abort, I really did. And all of a sudden, he stopped
and he found what he was looking for and he went down, so he was cognizant
of it, too. But there again, the systems guys had put a little more
pad in there. They had a little more fuel than they would say they
would have. Now, you can be conserving a little bit. You don’t
want to have a hard line there. But the guy’s got to know what
he’s got to work with. Yes, it was touch-and-go there at the
Ross-Nazzal: When Pete Conrad finally made that pinpoint
landing on Apollo 12, what was your reaction?
Bennett: Oh, that was great. That was great. I had to go
over to the other [Lunar Surface Scientist’s] staff support
room and tell them where he was. When we did the simulations, like
I was telling you, the snowman crater pattern, that big crater is
what you could see, mostly. And he would plan to land just upstream
of that in what we called Conrad’s Parking Lot. And it turned
out he was little further along, and so he moved around and he landed
up near the head crater.
so we were aware of that during all the simulations we did for the
landings, but the scientists didn’t sit in on those simulations.
They started their simulations after he was on the surface and that
sort of thing. And so, “What’s the parking lot?”
And so I went down and showed them a map where he was, and then they
put up a sign on their door that unauthorized personnel shouldn’t
be in there. They were a little embarrassed. But anyway, it all ended
Ross-Nazzal: Did you receive any commendation for the Apollo
12 pinpoint landing?
Bennett: Yes, I got the Exceptional Service Medal for that.
That was neat. John [W.] Aaron and I flew up to Washington with the
crew in the NASA plane to get our medals from Dr. [George M.] Low.
That was very rewarding, yes.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you have any involvement with the Apollo
Bennett: No. I went out there [to the control center] for
a little bit. I’d gone home, was taking a shower or something,
I think, and it came on the TV. And I came out to see if I could help
with anything about using the LM systems, but I wasn’t a LM
systems expert, so the best thing I could do was get out of their
way. They did quite a job on that. They really did.
Ross-Nazzal: You mentioned that the Apollo 15 landing was
pretty complicated. What were you thinking as they were landing?
Bennett: Oh, I was glad that we had modeled that terrain
and heard them say, “There’s Bennett Hill.” [Laughs]
Yes, that was great. We were sweating that one a little bit from going
over those mountains and all, but we kept thinking positive.
Ross-Nazzal: I understand in ’72 you became the Manager
of the Apollo Program Office within the MPAD [Mission Planning and
Bennett: Yes, their mission office, yes, and that’s
when I was doing the site selection on 17.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you have any other duties or responsibilities?
Bennett: Well, we were coordinating all of the trajectory
planning at that time, and instead of just looking at the descent
part, I worked with all the other branches for the navigation and
the abort logic for translunar [trajectories] and that sort of thing.
So I pulled together some of those, coordinated the effort there to
get all those briefing packages together, and we did those for upper
management and also did them for the press. That’s when I met
Jim Hartz with NBC. He wound up on The Today Show later on. I guess
it was after Apollo 13 when I met [him].
12 got very little news coverage, and then Apollo 13 woke up the press,
“Oh, there can be problems,” and this sort of thing. So
they came out by the bunches for the next mission. They wanted to
know what’s going on and all this, so we started briefing them
on all of this. I wasn’t familiar with some of the other aspects
of it as I would have been if I was working on them, so I would get
the right technical expert in that field to brief them. And we were
typical engineers using our jargon, and I said, “Hey, you’ve
got to talk English here.” And I said, “When you say this,
do you mean so-and-so?”
“Well, no, I mean this.”
said, “Okay.” So we kept going that way, and I said, “Wait
a minute. Let me ask you this.”So
we got through, and I turned to Jim Hartz and I said, “You got
said, “No, do you? You’re doing great.” [Laughter]
we’ve got to speak English when we talk to people, because it’s
very important for them to know what’s going on.
Jules Bergman, you couldn’t be as—what? Jules had his
own agenda, and he was kind of difficult to work with sometimes. They
gave him—“they,” the news media—they had what
they called—they called themselves aerospace scribes. AeroSpace
Scribes, ASS. So they gave him the [“Big ASS”] award for
looking for the story behind the story and missing the story, and
he wasn’t too happy with that. But anyway, he was always wanting
to get in the simulators and all like this, and I think later on they
did allow him to get in. But Jules did his homework, he sure did.
He just was kind of hard to get along with sometimes. I’m sorry
about—I think he died with a brain tumor, actually, so maybe
he was having some difficult times.
Ross-Nazzal: How much time did you spend working with PAO
[Public Affairs Office] on this material that you gave to the press?
Bennett: That’s what we did there and then went with
those guys. We’d set up briefings with PAO, through PAO, and
every mission we would do that. And then we were on call if they had
technical questions from the news media. They would say, “I
know you’re busy, but do you mind doing this?” And no,
we didn’t, because we wanted them to know as much—well,
I hope they didn’t know as much as we did, but I wanted them
to know as much as they needed to know, so they could do the right
story. It’s very important that the press do that.
thought Miles O’Brien did a good job on the [Columbia] accident
[earlier this] year, and he came on like that and he had done his
homework and he knew what was going on. So it’s very important
that we talk to the press so everybody’s on the same sheet of
Ross-Nazzal: What type of questions did the press generally
Bennett: Well, sometimes we chided them about the questions
they asked. They didn’t always ask the pertinent questions,
I guess, but sometimes they did. And that was the thing you’d
have to say is, “Okay, I don’t really know the answer
to that one, but it’s not important because of this, this, and
this. If you really want to know the answer, we’ll try to get
it for you,” and try to keep them back on track of what the
right questions should be.
many times they asked intelligent questions, too, but you can’t
just go and answer every question out there, or you’d be there
forever if it’s not a pertinent question. So that’s what
we were trying to do.
Ross-Nazzal: I also understand that you were Chief of the
Mission Integration Branch.
Bennett: Right. That was when we were doing Apollo-Soyuz
[Test Project] and Skylab. And there we combined our office with their
office, and there weren’t the long trajectory burns on those,
but it was similar work to what the folks had been doing there. And
they were trying to show—get the right constraints for all their
science that they were doing and that sort of thing on orbit.
Ross-Nazzal: What were your basic duties as chief?
Bennett: Just coordinate all the guys together and be sure
we had the right people on the right jobs there. I wasn’t the
technical expert in those.
Ross-Nazzal: Is there anything else you think we should know
about your involvement with the Apollo Program or Skylab Program,
that we haven’t covered?
Bennett: I don’t think so at the moment.
Ross-Nazzal: Okay. I’d like to move on to the Shuttle
Program, if you don’t mind.
Bennett: All right.
Ross-Nazzal: I understand that you were working in the Systems
Integration Office for the Space Shuttle Program Office.
Bennett: Yes, I went over to System Integration Office with
Dick [Richard H.] Kohrs and Owen [G.] Morris. He was the chief of
it then. I guess the Shuttle Program had already started by the time
I transferred over, and, in fact, I think they had already let the
contract for the main engines and all. But we were trying to get a
handle on the performance of the launch, and you had millions of pounds
of weight there. And how did we know that we had weight control on
we had to write an appendix to our requirements to say, “External
tank, you’re limited to this type of weight.” I forget
what their weight was then. And the main engines, the solid rocket
boosters, and the Orbiter. And if you start exceeding that weight,
then you’ve got to come forward to the program. You have your
actual weight and here’s your control weight, and you’ve
got to report what margin you’ve got, and you’ve got to
come report any changes like this so the program office can know if
you change your weight, you may be affecting somebody else, affecting
the thrust capability.
so we did what we call a weight and control and performance control
and established all the requirements for that, and worked the interfaces
between all the elements like when you mate, you’ve got to have
a certain structural attachment and certain loads and that sort of
thing. So we managed those requirements, too, and, “If you can’t
meet it, you’ve got to let us know. That’s why we have
the Program [Requirements] Change Control Board so that if you can’t
make it, we’ve got to see if it’s affecting the other
person, or you’ve got to stop and go fix it, one way or the
other.” So there was that type of work.
got a bigger picture of the program, but at the same time, I had been
used to being a designer in Engineering, and then in operations over
in Flight Ops [Operations], and now I was in Integration, which I
was trying to teach everybody to play in perfect harmony, I guess,
as the song goes. But you weren’t designing anything, you weren’t
operating, but you have to make everybody play together. So it was
an interesting job. In fact, I’m still doing some of that with
USA [United Space Alliance] today in Systems Integration.
Ross-Nazzal: Can you talk to us about your work with the
various contractors during the Shuttle Program, during the early Shuttle
Bennett: Well, it wasn’t so much the contractors as
it was the project offices of the NASA people there. One fellow over
at Marshall [Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama]—Marshall
and JSC engineers were highly competitive, too. I’d never dealt
with Marshall before when I worked on the lunar module. I didn’t
need to. But there was one fellow there when I needed to know what
their weight was for the external tank. And we were going to a meeting
and there was a change coming up, and I said, “I’ve got
to have something here.”
he said, “Well, I’ve got to get this approved by my top
said, “Fine, but we need them by so-and-so.” And he couldn’t
get it approved, and I said, “Well, stamp it preliminary and
give it to me, it’s better than me having to make up something.”
okay, so he did, and I presented it. It was preliminary, and everybody
got the message and it was fine. So he called me after the meeting
and he says, “I’m not giving you anything else.”
said, “What are you talking about?”
said, “You used it.”
said, “Well, that was the idea. I told them it was preliminary.”
But he got very nervous about it. So it depends on who your managers
are, maybe, but overall, I think we worked quite well with them.
Ross-Nazzal: Were there any other difficulties that you encountered
while working in this position?
Bennett: It was kind of hard to get information out of Orbiter
for some reason, because the Orbiter Project was reporting to JSC
Center Director as well as the Program Manager, and so they wanted
everything, maybe like the fellow from Marshall, cleared and everything
like that before they would talk to us about some of the things. But
it all worked out. But you had to treat them a little differently,
I guess, is the word.
Ross-Nazzal: I also understand that you worked on computer
systems integration for the Space Shuttle.
Bennett: Well, that was in Systems Integration, and what
we were doing was, it wasn’t any flight computers or anything
like that; it was pulling together a bunch of databases for all the
measurements you had onboard the Shuttle. You had a lot of development
flight instrumentation on the first few flights, and [by the way]
we’re going back to putting more [instrumentation] on now [for
return to flight next year]. And so it was a massive amount of data
in each project.
each project had their own database for their sets of instrumentation,
and you had to pull them together into one database so that everybody
could work with it. And that was our job, and that was a little difficult,
because there again, some of them were already in existence and the
people didn’t want to change and everything like that. Rockwell
[International Corporation] had built the Orbiter data[base] and they
were also the integration contractor, so we wound up using their system,
but it was kind of difficult there for a while to do that. And unfortunately,
I didn’t have any budget to control them with, so anyway, but
we finally got it together. It could have been run a lot more efficiently,
Ross-Nazzal: I understand you were the Chairman of the Computer
Systems Hardware and Software Integration.
Bennett: Yes, that was that same role, right.
Ross-Nazzal: The same thing, okay.
sort of interaction did you have with IBM [International Business
Bennett: Well, I went to San Jose [California] and took one
of their management courses out there in [computer] systems, and that
helped me an awful lot. They were involved in developing these databases
as well. Very good, very good people.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you have any contact with Rockwell?
Bennett: Yes. In those days, too, yes, Rockwell wound up
building [the] database.
Ross-Nazzal: What are your memories of STS-1?
Bennett: I guess I remember seeing the bird fly over here,
[JSC], with all that tile missing before it ever flew and everything.
The tile was really a nervous—well, I guess it was a very hard
design and everything, and people really worked hard at doing that.
And they came up with a good material and everything, but it was a
worry, even on STS-1. I’m sure we had some missing pieces when
we got back.
I guess the main thing was the launch. The launch and entry are your
most difficult dynamic phases of flight, and if something goes wrong,
you’ve got [very] little time to react. I think even today we’re
all still nervous about aborts during the ascent to return to flight,
because that’s a very difficult maneuver, and you can only simulate
it. We all think it’ll work, but you never know. Things have
got to go so quickly and just right.
you sweat out the launch and then you sweat out the entry, and when
you’re on orbit, everything is sort of in standby and you’ve
got time to do something usually there. I had worked with John Young
on Apollo 16 before, so I knew him quite well. And Bob [Robert L.]
Crippen, I met him during my Computer System days. We used to go to
[flight] software meetings out at Rockwell all the time. Everybody
was saying, “Who are they going to pick to fly? We know John’s
going to fly.”
so when I heard Crippen [was selected], I said, “Well, John
wanted somebody who had that [on-board] computer background,”
and he did. “Crip” did a good job in learning all that
Ross-Nazzal: Can you tell us a little bit about those software
meetings that you went to?
Bennett: Oh, they were long, very long. Arnie [Arnold D.]
Aldrich chaired those, and it was a lot of various subjects to cover
from one system to the other. Bob [Robert A.] Minor, Bob Minor was
a software engineer out there at Rockwell in those days before he
came here to Houston. He came in with a briefing one day and was about
a couple inches thick. I said, “Bob, by definition, a briefing
is supposed to be brief.” So anyway, he did a good job, and
I told him afterwards, I said, “You know, that was really a
good job you did, and if you’d have been selling tickets on
the Titanic, I still think I would have bought one even knowing the
ship was going to go down.” I don’t know if he took it
as a compliment or not, but I meant it that way.
Ross-Nazzal: Once the first flight had flown, what were your
Bennett: I wasn’t in operations then. I was planning
for the next mission, I guess you’d say, but I had no real-time
responsibilities during Shuttle.
Ross-Nazzal: Can you talk to us about planning for the next
few missions? What was your involvement?
Bennett: Well, again, it was to be sure that the performance,
the weight and performance and all, was adequate and we had the right
margins. One time Bob [Robert F.] Thompson was the Shuttle Program
Manager and I said, “You’re overweight in this particular
he says, “No, we’re not overweight. We have negative margin.
We’ll work it out.” [Laughs] So that’s when I learned
the term negative margin.
Ross-Nazzal: I understand that you retired from NASA in 1982.
Ross-Nazzal: Can you tell us why you decided to retire at
Bennett: Well, I was fifty years old then, and I said, well,
the Shuttle Program didn’t leave me [any design or operational
options]. I wasn’t operating anything or designing anything,
like I said, and so I said, “I think I want to go look around,
and I’ll be more marketable at age fifty than I will at fifty-five
or a normal retirement age.” So I went over to Personnel, and
I said, “Is the early-out option still available?” Because
they were getting ready to make me an inline manager, and prior to
that I’d been an Assistant to [the manager].
they said, “Yeah.”
I said, “For how long?”
said, “Oh, about another week.”
said, “Well, thanks for letting me know.” So anyway, I
decided I didn’t want to be locked in, and so I retired.
there wasn’t much going on in the aerospace business in ’82
around here, and I wound up seeing an ad. Oh, that reminds me of another—Ed
[Edward I.] Fendell. I’ve got to give you an Ed Fendell story
in a little bit. Everybody knows Ed. But anyway, he found this ad.
He was from Connecticut originally, and Perkin-Elmer [Corporation
in Connecticut] was advertising for a mission manager to manage a
telescope that was going to fly on the Shuttle. It was a sun optical
telescope. Perkin-Elmer was already building the Hubble [Space] Telescope
at that time, and so they were looking for a mission manager to do
that. And I wound up going up there with them for five years.
after I got to Perkin-Elmer, I said, “Well, how’s things
going on the Hubble?”
they said, “Well, now that you’re one of us, we’re
over budget and behind schedule,” and I think with all the problems
they had with that program, the government never did [give] them the
solar optical telescope, so I wound up coming back here to Houston
with Rockwell [in 1987].
the people at Perkin-Elmer were very extremely intelligent people
and [made] a good product. It was a shame the Hubble had the [initial]
problem, because they had evidence that there was a problem with it,
but they couldn’t believe they had made that kind of mistake.
They did and were able to correct it and everything.
would always—I mean, you had a set of minimum requirements,
but they never [design] to the minimum requirements. They’d
maximize. They would give you more than what you wanted, and sometimes
that cost you more money. You can’t buy a Cadillac for the price
of a Ford, with the requirements of a Ford.
I mentioned Ed Fendell, and this was also on Apollo 15, if you don’t
mind me going back a minute.
Ross-Nazzal: Of course not.
Bennett: That was the first flight where we had the Rover,
and they had the TV camera there to take the picture of the ascent.
Ed was controlling this camera on the Rover from the control center,
and so he wanted us to calculate what angle and rate he had to go
to track this thing as it went up, so we ran the trajectory and where
he was parked and that sort of thing, and gave him the data. “Oh,
it can’t go that fast.” I said, “Ed, the result
is done by the same folks that did the lunar descent trajectories
and everything, and I have great confidence in them that they know
what they’re doing.” I said, “If you don’t
want to use it, don’t use it.” I mean, it wasn’t
affecting my ascent. So he didn’t. So he cut the rates in about
half, and this sequence of pictures taken off the camera [shows image]
shows before the engine started, six-tenths of a second—two
seconds. I lost this one. Anyway, at less than 3.7 seconds the ascent
stage is gone, and he’s still looking at the descent stage.
So on Apollo 16, he came around and wanted to know if we’d calculate
it for him again, and I said, “Yeah, Ed. Are you going to use
it?” [Laughter] And he did, and [he] tracked it beautifully.
Ross-Nazzal: He’s a character.
Bennett: Yes, he is.
Ross-Nazzal: You mentioned that you returned back to Houston
and started working for Rockwell.
Ross-Nazzal: What did you start doing for them?
Bennett: It was systems integration work again on the Shuttle,
but this time I worked with the Shuttle main engine, concentrating
on that, and learned an awful lot about that machinery. That is a
fantastic engine, the Shuttle main—Rocketdyne’s [Propulsion
and Power of the Boeing Company] engine. And there’s no one
person that seems to have designed it; it just evolved. “We’ve
got to change this. We’ve got to change that,” and it
really is something else. And that was a very interesting system to
learn about. We tracked the requirements on them. If they changed
the weight or if they had some kind of a problem that would interface,
would cause the Orbiter a problem, because the fuel system had to
come from the tank through the Orbiter to the engine, so you had to
worry about all those interfaces and work with them to keep track
of those and say, “Yeah, you can do this. You can’t do
that. Or if you want to do that, you’ve got to come forward
to the board and see who else you’re affecting.” So it’s
an interesting job, systems integration, really is.
the last few years I’ve been doing that, but I’ve also
done work on what we call interface control documents. These, again,
are the interfaces, electrical, mechanical, whatever environments,
between the various systems. Whenever somebody builds something new
or you go to an upgrade, do I have to change this and that? And one
of the biggest problems, I guess—I don’t know if you’d
call it a real problem, but, well, it’s caused us to have a
lot of waivers, is the platforms down at the Cape.
are] massive platforms where the workers get on to work on the Shuttle,
and you don’t want a large gap there [or] the guy could fall
or something or he’d have to wear a safety harness and everything.
So we have a general requirement of you can’t be any closer
than six inches because you could damage the vehicle. In fact, we’ve
pulled the vehicle out and hit a door sometimes and that sort of thing.
And we’ve had a lot of waiver conditions where there’s
so many platforms and everything that the guys [say], “We’re
at three inches. We can’t get six inches. We can’t cut
this thing back any more.” And so we’d have to get a waiver
for that while they go study it to see what else they can do or come
back and say, “Okay, if you do these extra procedures, you can
continue on that way.”
we then have to send it to the loads analysis people because the vehicle
again is flexible. It moves, and particularly out on the pad, you’ve
got wind loads and everything. So can you tolerate three inches at
this point without hitting it? So you have to do those kind of analyses.
But again, it’s very complicated down there [at KSC], and they
want to get their job done and not hold things up, but I think they
were down to a quarter of an inch of the engine bell one time, and
I said, “That’s not a clearance. You’re just touching
at that point.” So it’s something you have to stay on
top of, and they’re working hard to change all the platforms
and all to get the right stuff. But that’s what I’m doing
Ross-Nazzal: Great. Good to hear you’re still doing
it. I just have a couple more questions for you today.
Ross-Nazzal: What do you think has been your most challenging
milestone in your career with NASA?
Bennett: Oh, it’s definitely the lunar Apollo Program,
yes. Like I say, with so many unknowns, and it’s something mankind
had dreamed about all their lives and even us as kids, and we’re
able to do that, yes, to be a part of that team was really great.
Ross-Nazzal: I’m sure it must have been exciting for
you, having that interest.
Ross-Nazzal: What do you think was your most significant
Bennett: Again, it would be the designing of the descent
trajectory, because I was in a unique position of working on it when
it was a future mission and then working in the design and development
of the hardware that went on it to make my trajectories work right,
and then to go over and to be in a part of operations and see it operating
right. And I think I contributed that way. because the operations
people had been doing rendezvous in Gemini and this sort of thing,
and they didn’t have a lot of expertise at that time in the
powered flight maneuvers. They learned quickly, I’ll say that,
but I felt like I was sort of a tutor to them as well as the astronauts.
Ross-Nazzal: Before we close out today, I’d like to
ask Sandra and Rebecca if they have any questions for you, if that’s
Bennett: Okay, great.
I had one for you. When you were talking about your Landing Analysis
Branch and you showed us your picture, you had twenty of you working
together. Can you share with us a few more details—how twenty
of you worked together, so many missions were going on at the same
time, and planning, and how that was all coordinated and everyone
had their own duties?
Bennett: Well, yes, you had some people that were going to
be in the backup rooms and others doing dispersion analysis, some
doing the guidance logic, and—let’s see. What else was
in there? They also combined us with the Entry Branch. Jon [C.] Harpold
and Claude [A.] Graves. Claude Graves was my Assistant Branch Chief,
and Jon was [section chief] over that. So you had a lot of them working
the entry part of it, which I didn’t. I did a hands-off on that.
They were the experts on that, but there was probably about ten of
us on the other side of it. We just worked the various disciplines,
and I had some people doing only ascent trajectories. Like I said,
we would have to have changes, and somebody wanted to change something.
And I said, “Well, Jim, run the trajectory on that with this
[change] in it.”
“That’s not going to make any difference,” [he said].
Well, I still had my slide rule in those days, and I was able—I
said, “No, it should change by a little bit.” I said,
“I know I’m not [as] accurate,” but as the computers
were coming along and they were getting stuff out to ten decimal places,
and sometimes we got wrapped up in believing it. I said, “Your
input is not that good.”
And that’s what Chris Kraft said to them, “I don’t
care what that ‘GD’ computer says. You tell me what it’s
supposed to do.”
So we had to do that one time, and so he ran it off on the computer
and came back, and, [said] “See? It didn’t make any difference
at all.” I said, “Come on. It had to make some difference.
Show me what you did.”
So he says, “Oh.”
I said, “What?”
He said, “I didn’t change the input.” So you can’t
always trust the computer, but the computer can get you a lot more
than we can think through, but you’ve got to have the right
input to it and be able to analyze the answer that comes out of it.
You mentioned that you had, of course, all those years where you were
planning for those landing sites and the twenty of you that worked.
Did you have a lot of turnover with all of the long hours and so much
work to do in such a short amount of time?
Bennett: No. And in the early days, it wasn’t the twenty
of us. I was in E&D, Engineering [and Development], GN&C,
Guidance, Navigation, and Control, and so you had navigation people
and guidance people, and I had to interface with them to be sure that
we could handle all the constraint that they had in their trajectories.
But, no, we didn’t have much turnover. In fact, we didn’t
do a lot of hiring either until I guess I got some new guys in in
’66 when I went over to MPAD.
One of them, Gil [Gilbert L.] Carman, he’s the one that developed
that little rudimentary computer program for the window view, and
he called me a few years back and said he had twenty-five years of
service. And I said, “Man, I hired you.” And now I think
he’s retired. I don’t know if he’s retired or not,
but he’s got about thirty years out there now.
But, no, there wasn’t a lot of turnover. We did have our first
RIF in those days, a reduction in force. This is just a little side
story. I didn’t know the fellow [engineer]. But anyway, they
had difficulty; some people could bump somebody else and this sort
of thing. And this one fellow, he got RIF’d and he hadn’t
been one of the stars of the program, I guess. So he took the test
as a secretary and got a job as a secretary, and he made a damned
good secretary. He was filing great and everything else. They couldn’t
believe that—maybe found a better job for him. But that was
about the only time we lost people, was a reduction of force.
I was just wondering, in 1962 when you came here, obviously the area
has changed quite a bit since that time.
Bennett: Oh yes.
I was wondering about the neighborhood that you moved into with your
family, if you’re still in that neighborhood, how it has changed
over time, and how you think that NASA has affected the communities
around this area.
Bennett: Yes, we got here in ’62. Well, this area wasn’t
developed much at all. I’d lived in the country in Virginia,
and I was enamored with the big city of Houston, so I wanted to get
a little closer to town. We wound up, some new houses being built
up by [William P.] Hobby Airport [Houston, Texas], and a large contingent
of us moved in there. It was a very nice neighborhood, new homes and
everything like that. I think they were about $20,000 or something
in those days, and a very nice neighborhood. It’s still a fairly
nice neighborhood, but, unfortunately, it’s surrounded and people
have to go to burglar bars and that sort of thing.
But I lived there until ’77, I think it was, and then moved
to Sagemont Townhouses on Sabo. I liked that, and I was there when
I retired from NASA.
When I came back [from Connecticut], well, my wife had started working.
With kids gone and everything, she went back to work [before we went
to Connecticut]. I don’t know if I told you I got married in
college. She put me through my last year of college. … [In Houston],
she wound up as an office manager for a company in software, and they
were five minutes away up near Gulfgate at the time, but then they
gradually moved across town, out eventually to Dairy Ashford and I-10.
That was a long hard drive for her, so when we came back from Connecticut,
I said, “Do you want to go back to work?” She wound up
working at Perkin-Elmer also, because the winters were so cold up
there and [you could] get cabin fever up there in the wintertime.
She said, no, she was going to quit working.
I said, “Because if we are, I’m going to move halfway
over to where you are, otherwise I’m going to move out to [the
NASA] area.” And we did and moved into El Lago [Texas] for a
while, and that was nice. And now I’m still here in this area,
[Clear Lake City, Texas].
But it has changed quite a bit. When we came back from Connecticut,
having been gone only five years, I couldn’t believe the growth
and everything. The freeways were never empty. It used to be they
were only full during the rush hours and everything.
But, yes, NASA was the only game in town out here for a long time.
I don’t think it is anymore. I think it would hurt if it left,
but I think it’s had a very positive effect on the area and
the school systems.
Ross-Nazzal: We thank you so much for coming out here today
and sharing these lovely photographs and your stories with us. We’ve
very much enjoyed them.
Bennett: You’ve helped me bring back things. And if
you all want this to give to the place over there—[hands Ross-Nazzal
Ross-Nazzal: Yes, that would be fantastic. Thank you. Thank
you so much.
Bennett: All right. Thank you all.