NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Sandra Johnson
Houston, Texas – 15 January 2004
Today is January 15th, 2004. This oral history interview is being
conducted with Charles Bolden in Houston, Texas, for the NASA Johnson
Space Center Oral History Project. The interviewer is Sandra Johnson,
assisted by Rebecca Wright and Jennifer Ross-Nazzal.
During our last interview, we talked about your first two missions
and all of your activities around that time period. Today I’d
like to begin by talking about your next assignment in August of 1990
when Administrator Richard [H.] Truly appointed you to lead an agencywide
review of the policies and the process for honor awards.
Oh, I forgot about that. You guys are smart.
If you don’t mind sharing some details about that.
I can. As a matter of fact, Admiral Truly was concerned that there
was not an equitable distribution of recognition throughout the agency,
that some centers got more awards than others, that there was not
an award that was available for recognition for people who weren’t
engineers but who did just as valiant an effort at supporting the
agency. And if I’m not mistaken, what he had in mind was trying
to build a system that would have two equivalent awards, or closely
equivalent awards, like we have in the military, which are, in the
Navy and Marine Corps it’s the Navy-Marine Corps Achievement
Medal and a Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal, with very minor
distinction between the qualifications for the two. What the committee
was charged to do was try to evaluate all of the NASA awards, but
specifically look for something that would be able to recognize people
in nontechnical fields.
Long story short, after weeks of deliberation what we came up with
was something that I think the final name of it was the NASA Exceptional
Achievement Award, as opposed to the NASA Exceptional Service Award.
When we talk about culture again, we had to advise the people in the
chain of command, the NASA managers, that this was a new medal in
the NASA awards system and that it was intended for this group of
people; however, anybody who met who the prerequisites could receive
it. But it was now their vehicle through which they could recognize
people in the administrative field.
To my knowledge, as I remember, we may have tweaked the words on the
prerequisites for some of the other awards, but we validated those
that were in the NASA system. We decided that there would be no hierarchy.
That was one of the things we discussed, whether there ought to be
a ranking of awards just as there are in the military, so that you
wear them in some ascending or descending order. And we said, no,
you don’t really want to do that; that’s not necessary.
But we did come up with an additional award, a brand-new award. And
I hope I got the name right. Did that come close?
It sounded good to me.
I’ll have to go back and look. I have my notes somewhere.
How long were you there?
I completely forget that. We met off and on. Boy, I want to say it
took us about six months to finish all the deliberations. And it wasn’t
an ongoing—you know, we didn’t meet every day for three
weeks or something like that. We met and went back and thought about
it and polled people, went back to the centers to try to find out
what the level of reception would be. Interestingly, there were some
people who were opposed to it, for a variety of reasons. You could
not get people to understand that these were going to be two co-equal
awards; it was just that the criteria for receiving one as opposed
to the other was technical versus nontechnical. There was nothing
for the nontechnical people up until that time. Although anybody could
receive an Exceptional Service Award, it was always considered to
be something for technical achievement.
At what point did you learn that you were assigned to your next flight?
Oh, my goodness. I really don’t remember, because my next one,
it was my first command, and that was being the commander of STS-45
ATLAS [Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science]. And I
actually think, if I remember correctly, much the same as I had learned
that I was going to be on STS-31, the Hubble Space Telescope mission,
it was in the latter phases of preparation for that flight that I
was advised that two years hence I was going to get an opportunity
to command my first mission.
As you mention, this is your first as a commander. What were the differences
for training and getting ready for this mission?
Oh, huge. The biggest difference in being a commander and a pilot
is that the commander has—we talked about this a little bit
the last time—but the commander has overall responsibility for
the organization of the crew, overall responsibility for conduct of
the mission on orbit, and depending on how the commander views his
or her duties, I viewed it as I had responsibility for organization
of the training, including the training plan and the training flow,
and then the exercise of the flight itself, once we actually got finished
with the training and went on orbit.
I had no responsibility for the selection of the crew. I learned that,
“Here’s your crew. You got any objections?” So I
did have an opportunity to identify if there was anybody that I thought
I would have a difficult time working with. I did not, and so the
crew stayed intact up until about six months prior to the actual conduct
of the mission, at which time we lost one of crew members, and that
was Dr. [Michael Logan] Mike Lampton. Mike was one of the two payload
specialists we had. We had Mike Lampton and, if I remember correctly,
Byron [K.] Lichtenberg, as our payload specialists.
ATLAS was scheduled to be a nine-day mission and it was going to be
NASA’s first space laboratory mission dedicated to the study
of Earth. It was the first in a series of flights called Missions
to Planet Earth. ATLAS was the acronym for the flight, and it was
Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science. It contained
thirteen specific scientific payloads, ten of them were dedicated
to Earth’s atmosphere, and three of them were solar studies
At the time, it was an international mission because the bulk of the
experiments were international experiments. They were non-NASA. At
the time that Mike Lampton, who had been complaining of back problems,
was diagnosed with having abdominal cancer, then he was removed from
the flight by his doctor.
The payload community went out and elected Dirk [D.] Frimout, who
was a Belgian engineer who had been responsible for the design and
development of one of the critical experiments that we had on board
that was a—boy, I’m getting way over my head here, but
it was an atmospheric experiment that measured—I can’t
remember the name of it, but it actually measured aerosol content
in what we call the mesosphere. We called it the “ignorosphere,”
the part of the atmosphere that’s ignored my most scientists
and about which we knew very little.
In fact, it turned out the focus of the flight, really, other than
the three solar experiments, was principally to help us understand
the middle part of Earth’s atmosphere, the mesosphere, because
that’s where everything gets mixed. We understand Earth relatively
well, we understand space relatively well. What we didn’t understand—I
think we have a significantly better understanding today, but what
we didn’t understand at all back then was the middle atmosphere.
And that’s where a lot of the weather is made, a lot of pollution
comes about, and we just wanted to understand exactly what’s
going on there. How does God do this thing in what we call the middle
atmosphere? Ozone layer overlying it, a lot of other things.
So Dirk had gained the respect and admiration, actually, of the payload
community. It was an opportunity for them to involve a real-live foreign
payload specialist, and so although he was not a payload specialist,
per se, he was elected from the payload community. He came on board
about six months prior to the flight, came up to speed very quickly,
and ended up flying as our second payload specialist and our seventh
You ran twenty-four-hour shifts on that flight.
Was this the first time that that was done?
No. As a general rule, the space laboratory missions were twenty-four-hour
ops [operations] because you had a laboratory there and you really
wanted to optimize the scientific return on the mission, and the best
way to do it was to operate around the clock.
Ours, being an atmospheric studies mission, we wanted to be able to
take all the opportunities that we had to measure Earth’s atmosphere,
and so the advantage of working around the clock for us was that we
had an opportunity to look at daylight and darkness in both hemispheres,
and daylight and darkness in both parts of the world, north and south,
and, well, east and west, even. So by having two separate crews that
were up all the time, you got daylight in one part of the world that
you wouldn’t have been able to get had you gone to bed when
it was daylight in your normal launch time.
And we had what—we called it Red and Blue Crew. I was blessed
to have had just an outstanding crew of people, and so the way that
I elected to do it was I made Brian Duffy, who was my pilot, my co-pilot,
I gave him primary responsibility, on-orbit responsibility, for one
crew, and then [David C.] Dave Leestma, who was our mission specialist
number two, but was a Navy F-14 RIO, Radar Intercept Officer, I gave
him on-orbit responsibility for running the second crew, which meant
that he flew the vehicle, which was great for him. I felt perfectly
confident in his capabilities and ability to do it, and he was superb,
as I had expected.
[Kathryn D.] Kathy Sullivan was the—I used another position
that sometimes we use and sometimes we don’t, and I made her
my payload commander. So she had primary responsibility for the organization
and the conduct of the payload operations on board. I worked with
the flight controllers in overall oversight of everything, but she
had primary oversight of the payload side of the flight. So when there
was a question about this experiment time that was going to be allocated
to it, assignment of who was going to be the prime and the backup
for each of the experiments, that was Kathy’s responsibility
and she just advised me of it, and unless I had some heartburn about
it, then that’s the way we did it. And it worked very well,
Did you have any involvement in the experiments?
Everybody did, and this is the way that NASA crews always do it. Everybody
on the crew, you can’t afford the luxury of having somebody
not be involved, so everybody has some experiments for which they
have primary responsibility, and some for which they are the backup.
As a pilot, my involvement was really as a backup on the real hard
science, and then we had a number of student experiments, so they
were low-enough-level science that I could handle those as primes,
so I did the prime responsibility there.
Did you have any involvement with the SAREX [Shuttle Amateur Radio
SAREX was my primary responsibility, although I hated it, to be quite
honest, initially. I was not a ham radio operator and did not want
to be a licensed ham radio operator, but the counsel was that the
commander really needed to be a ham radio operator to encourage the
rest of the crew members to do it, and also because they would use
my call sign on orbit for the crew.
So I went through the training and certification, became a licensed
ham operator, and actually kind of fell in love with it. The big reason
was because it gave us an opportunity to interface with students,
just the ordinary man and woman on the street, and it gave you a way
to just relax and enjoy yourself in the free moments you had, and
also to turn working time into enjoyment. Because we had a set schedule
of SAREX opportunities, or communications, that we were supposed to
make with school groups, individuals on the various continents of
the world, and I think it was Dave Leestma and Kathy actually established
communications with somebody from every single continent in the world,
so they became unique in the fact that they had accomplished that
in one flight. And I’m not sure whether that had been done before.
Owen [K.] Garriott was a very ardent ham operator, and so he always
did it on his flights. But we ended up, everybody tried to add more
SAREX opportunities as we went through the flight. Turned out to be
a lot of fun.
Were there any challenges during that mission that you’d like
to talk about?
I think the biggest challenge was organizing and integrating a diverse
crew of very strong personalities and the like. And I did something
that was probably considered strange at the time; I went to the NASA
psychiatrist and I actually brought a psychiatrist in to do the—I
forget what they call this thing where you get classified psychologically,
but to spend time with us. And we actually did a written psychological
typing test, and he sat and worked with us and our spouses on what
our psychological profile was, what kind of things would set us off,
what kinds of things would cause us to be not at our peak under stress,
and the like. And then we spent time, crew and spouses, getting to
understand what characteristic each of us had so that if we got into
a stressful situation, whether it was the spouses on the ground or
us on board, that we’d have some idea of where to turn or what
to do to try to alleviate the problem or whatever it was that the
other crew member was having.
For us, at least for me as a commander, I found it invaluable because
it helped me to understand little quirks that you saw in the crewmembers,
both in training and on orbit, and I thought it was good. Although
I didn’t go to that extent on my next flight, we did spend time
at least talking about psychological factors of flying.
It’s something the Russians—and I’d heard about
it—either something that the Russians put a lot of stock in—they
do a lot of psychological profiling, because their whole program is
geared toward long-duration space flight. They had a couple of bad
instances where, at least reportedly, they actually had to terminate
a mission early because of just psychological conflict among two crew
members. Now, whether that’s true or not, I don’t know,
but that was good enough for me. And although nine days is not a long
time, I had learned from my first two flights that things do happen
to crews once they get on orbit, and I wanted to optimize our chances
of being very successful and not having any problems. So for me it
was invaluable to have done that.
And the rest of the crew?
The rest of the crew said they were happy having done it, the spouses
were happy having done it, and I think the other thing was it really
made everybody—again, I’m probably saying this because
I thought it was great, but I think, at least my perception was, it
really did make everybody feel like they were a family a little bit
more than you ordinarily get when you’re training together as
I think every crew comes together in a lot of different ways. If you
look at the STS-107 crew, while I did not know many of them intimately,
the one thing that struck me in getting to know them through their
friends and their families and everything was how close they had become
in comparison with other NASA crews, other flight crews. I think Rick
[D.] Husband is credited by everybody that I’ve ever talked
to concerning that particular crew with having been a master at molding
a team and getting them all to feel like they were family, to include
the spouses and kids and all that. And I think that’s one of
the reasons that their loss was so traumatic to the agency, was because
everybody recognized how close they were as a crew, but also that
because of how close they were, they had pulled the training team
in, the flight control team, people in the community, and that really
makes a difference.
Is there anything else about that flight that you’d like to
It was fun. It was a tremendous amount of fun. It gave us an opportunity—I
will share one other thing, and that’s post-flight. As a general
rule, on every flight you go somewhere that you get to share your
story and your experiences with people who helped you get there. My
first two flights we didn’t do a lot of international travel,
but after ATLAS, one of the most enjoyable trips we did was a ten-day
trip to Belgium because Dirk Frimout had become Belgium’s first
astronaut. He was the Alan [B.] Shepard [Jr.] of Belgium. The Belgium
government invited us to ESA [European Space Agency], and the Belgium
government invited us to come over. We operated mostly out of Brussels,
but we got a chance to travel around and visit the country and everything.
I think the highlight of the trip was actually being a guest of the
King and Queen of Belgium. The King was actually a scientist/engineer,
amateur astronomer, and everything. Unlike a lot of monarchies, Belgium’s
government is such that while it is a democratically run government
with the structure of a cabinet and all that kind of stuff, the monarch,
the King, actually has some input into what the government does. While
we were there, in addition to the brief that we did for him personally,
we went into the royal viewing room, if you will, like a small theater,
and we actually did our post-flight presentation for the Cabinet,
for the Belgium Cabinet, and Ministers, and everybody.
The King intended for us to provide food for thought for those people
in the Belgium government who were going to make decisions about how
their budget was going to go for the next year, and it was interesting
to see him interact with them and put demands on them for having some
vision and thinking about where the country should be going with reference
to science and technology. I was impressed. And it was also kind of
a big deal to be there in the presence of the King and having some
influence on what a country’s going to do.
Certainly an opportunity.
I had not seen that on either of my first two flights. When you come
back, you go to the White House, you go to the Congress and you brief
Congress, but it’s form more than substance. If you find somebody
like a, back then, Senator Al [Albert] Gore [Jr.], who was very, very
keenly interested in the environment as, I think, he is still now,
when we went back and briefed Congress after this flight, he had worked
with Franklin before, with Franklin [R.] Chang-Diaz, and so he had
personal interface with astronauts, so he had a very keen interest
in what we had found over the course of our flight. Of course, being
flight crewmembers and not the researchers, we couldn’t give
him any hard data, but we at least knew what the scientists had told
us about the findings from the mission. So there you felt like you
were giving somebody some useful input.
Your next opportunity after that involved NASA Headquarters [Washington,
Unfortunately, it did. I’ll say that with all sincerity. Another
one of the unpopular decisions that I made as the commander was I
agreed with the medical community. We had done, as do most crews,
we had done a lot of space and life sciences, human medical research,
and for that the life sciences folk really preferred that we not go
through a significant amount of re-adaptation to the gravity environment
when we came back. The way that they wanted us to ensure that we would
not re-adapt was to get on a gurney as soon as we got out of our seats,
be wheeled off the vehicle, and go in for the initial post-flight
medical exams without any significant gravitational re-adaptation.
So I talked it over with the crew; they didn’t really care.
There were some thoughts that, “Well, but we’re not going
to get a chance to walk around the vehicle and kick the tires?”
And I said, “No, we’re not going to get a chance to walk
around the vehicle and kick the tires,” because it’s symbolic
more than anything else. So I agreed that we would be wheeled off
on the gurneys and go in and let them do whatever they wanted to do.
As a result, as I was waiting for my time to come off, I was laying
there with my eyes closed, relaxing, and all of a sudden I hear this
voice that I didn’t recognize, and I look up and it’s
this guy I’d never seen before. And it was a gentleman by the
name of [Daniel S.] Dan Goldin, who on that day had become the new
NASA Administrator. So this was his first official act was to come
to the Cape [Canaveral, Florida] and greet the crew of STS-45 as they
came back. And so I’m sitting there, and he says, “I want
you to come to Washington [D.C.] and work, and I’d like to talk
to you about it.”
And I said, “But I don’t have any interest in coming to
Washington to work. I’ve avoided it all this time, and I don’t
want to do that.”
He said, “Think about it and then come talk to me.”
So I went, and we went through our post-flight and everything, and
then Mr. [George W. S.] Abbey, who at the time was now up in Washington
as a Special Assistant to the Administrator, he said, “You know,
you really ought to come up and talk to him, at least, and see what
he’s got to offer.”
And so I did that, and went up. And I was impressed by him, to be
quite honest. He was, I thought, a visionary; I still think a visionary,
and had some great ideas, things that he felt the agency should be
doing and places we should be going to help the nation go in the right
direction in terms of space exploration. So I agreed to go and work
for him for, I said, a year. And what he really wanted me to do was
assume the duties of the Assistant Deputy Administrator, working,
actually, for Dr. Aaron Cohen, then, because Aaron had left JSC as
the Center Director and had gone up to Washington to be the Acting
Deputy Administrator with Mr. Goldin.
So I went up, and my primary task was to lead the effort to reorganize
NASA, to figure out how we were going to get our budget in order and
how we were going to decide what should be our major thrust, both
in, well, whether we should continue to have any interest in human
space flight, what we should do with all the different areas of scientific
and technological research and expertise that NASA had.
The two big things I did was establish and organize what NASA then
called the Red and Blue Teams. We kind of patterned it after the way
that the military does things. They put—and I will get it wrong—but
one of the colors, I think the Red Team, is actually a grouping of
outside people, outside experts, who take a look at you from the outside
in, kind of look at your plans and evaluate them and say, “Yeah,
we think that’s okay. That’s not okay.” And then
the Blue Team was internal organizations, internal teams of people
from within NASA. And we got—I can’t remember exactly
how many we did, a significant number, but we looked at every primary
area of the agency, whether it was robotic exploration, planetary
exploration, space and life sciences, human space flight, aeronautics,
and the like. I think we organized ourselves along the same lines
as the principal codes at NASA Headquarters. So [Code] R, D, S, T,
whatever we had back then.
The Blue Teams—if I remember correctly, we allowed whoever happened
to be that Deputy Associate Administrator select the head for that
Blue Team so that there was at least some representation from the
hierarchy of the organization. But we got people from across the board;
the makeup of the team was primarily not from that area. They looked
at major projects that were under way, opportunities for new projects,
opportunities for budget cuts, opportunities to do away with projects
that were costing NASA money and getting no return because we had
to shrink the budget.
I think that was the [George H. W.] Bush-[J. Danforth “Dan”]
Quayle early years, Bush-41, and that was our charter, was to find
ways to—we were under the mantra, “Faster, Better, Cheaper.”
Mr. Goldin had decided that NASA would be the trailblazer for government,
that we would set the example for all other organizations in government
in demonstrating that you can do bigger and better things for less
money, and you can do them quicker. So that was our undertaking. So
I organized the Red and Blue Teams, kind of oversaw how they went.
And then the other major thing we did was six town hall meetings around
the country. I think the sites we selected were Tampa, Florida; Pasadena,
California, for southern California; Portland, Oregon; Washington,
D.C.; somewhere else in the South, I don’t know, so as to get
the geographic regions as well as the centers of expertise. And they
were open fora for anybody. Anybody in the American public who wanted
to come to a town hall meeting came out. We had, preferably, all the
codes, their Associate Administrators, not a representative of them,
but the people, the NASA leadership. And they each gave a very quick
pitch, I forgot what it was, like fifteen—these were half-day
events. They gave a quick rundown on what was going on in their particular
code, what they envisioned in the future, and then the floor opened
up for questions and comments. And people from all around America
came in. It was all televised over NASA Select [Television], so people
could e-mail in comments and questions, they could come up to the
mic [microphone] and do comments and questions.
We amassed all this information from the town hall meetings and presented
it to the Administrator and said, “Okay, these are some programs
we think we need to get rid of. These are some new directions we think
the agency needs to go in, and here’s how much money we think
it’s going to take to do this.” And then I left. So I
think what he did with it was took it to the White House and to Congress
and to the Office of Management and Budget.
But anyway, between the Red and Blue Teams and the town hall meetings,
that formed the basis on which the first Dan Goldin NASA budget and
the first Bush-Quayle NASA budget was formulated to turn the agency
around. It looked like it was working for a while, but I think something
went awry somewhere.
The overarching organization that oversaw NASA at that time was the
National Space Council, and it appears that although it started—to
my knowledge, the first National Space Council came under a Democratic
administration. I know when [John F.] Kennedy was President, there
was a very strong National Space Council. And then after that it seemed
like every Democratic administration that came in did away with the
National Space Council. A Republican administration came in and they
stood it up again. And it gave the Vice President of the United States
something that he could hang his hat on and for which he was responsible.
The interesting thing about the National Space Council under Quayle
was, since you started seeing talk about him becoming a presidential
candidate should President Bush not choose to run again or something
like that, I got an opportunity to see the infighting between candidates,
and the likely candidates coming to the fore were the Vice President
and the Secretary of State, who was Mr. [James A.] Baker [III], Secretary
Baker. So we had the Vice President and the National Space Council
pushing one agenda, and the State Department, through whom everything
has to go when you’re talking about international negotiations
and the like. If it was the Vice President’s idea, they kind
of said, “No, we don’t think that’s a good idea.
We’re not going to let that go,” and then other things
rising from the Baker part of the House. So that was interesting during
that, it seemed like a year. It seemed like a long time that I was
up there. It was only eight months, to be quite honest.
I spent most of my time back and forth to the Hill. In addition to
doing those things, I was one of NASA’s principal lobbyists
on the Hill for support for the International Space Station. That
was the big thing we were trying to push. And it was interesting because
I never got the feeling that the Administrator at the time, Mr. Goldin,
was a big Space Station fan. And much as happens every time any Administrator
comes in, there’s always rumors as to, okay, this is their mission.
And the rumor at the time was that his mission was to kill the International
Space Station, any concept of it. And yet here was the Assistant Deputy
Administrator heading to the Hill every day, lobbying Congress to
fund the International Space Station. It was interesting watching
how it ebbed and flowed, and how we added money to the cost of it
over the—just over the eight months I was there, I think we
were doing our fourth or fifth revision of the International Space
Station Program, and it was really frustrating.
Back then we had Code X, I think it was called, that was Mike—former
Air Force guy who has been in the paper here lately talking about
the [George W.] Bush-43’s initiatives to the Moon and Mars.
But Code X was going to be our planetary exploration code. They were
looking at the kinds of stuff that the President mentioned in his
speech Wednesday. Was that yesterday?
How we lose track of time. So back then we were talking about Moon
and Mars. We were beginning to increase our—although our ties
to DoD [Department of Defense] had waned after the [Space Shuttle]
Challenger accident and the pronouncement from the [Ronald W.] Reagan
administration that we would not launch anything on Shuttle unless
it absolutely required human interaction, so the synergy between DoD
and NASA went away in the Reagan administration after the Challenger
Under Bush-41 and Dan Goldin, I saw a resurgence of, an attempt, anyway,
to put NASA and DoD back together again. It didn’t work very
well, but you see it again now under Administrator [Sean] O’Keefe.
Because of his former relationship both with the Department of the
Navy, his time in the Office of Management and Budget, and then maybe
some of his aspirations, you see NASA and DoD, especially under the
umbrella of the President’s vision, you see them potentially
coming back together again, for whatever that’s worth.
So that’s my time in Washington. I tell people, in thirty-four
and a half years wearing the uniform of a United States marine, it
was the only time that I didn’t like, that eight months. It
just wasn’t me. Either you like Washington or you don’t.
It’s for power people, so if you go there and you like being
with the power people and at least pretending that you’re wielding
a lot of power, it’s a good place to be. If you’re not
a power person, you don’t like it. I didn’t like it.
Did you already know about your next assignment while you were there?
No, I did not. As a matter of fact, I learned about my next assignment
about halfway through my time there, which gave me some hope. In fact,
that was what I used as my reason for having to leave when I did,
because Mr. Goldin was beginning to feel like—I think he was
beginning to feel like I was making some contribution and so he wanted
me to stay longer. And I said, “No, I’ve got to get back
because I’ve been told that I’m going to command STS-60,
and I really need to get back to my crew.”
Ironically, it was a flight that I did not want. I think I mentioned
this when we talked earlier. I think everybody has something in their
mind that they would really like to do. Because I had participated
in STS-31 where we deployed Hubble, and we had subsequently found
that Hubble wasn’t whole, I kind of harbored some desire to
have an opportunity to command the first revisit and take part in
that, and that wasn’t to be. I ended up getting offered the
opportunity to command STS-60, which was going to be the first joint
Russian-American Shuttle mission and the first flight where we worked
cooperatively with the Russians since Apollo-Soyuz. My initial reaction
was, “No way.” And it was just my upbringing as a marine;
I did not have any desire to work with the Russians. Period. And again,
Mr. Abbey said, “Well, why don’t you just at least meet
the guys and take an opportunity to meet the two prospective crew
And so I said, “What the heck.” And so when it was announced
that we were going to fly a Russian as a mission specialist, not a
payload specialist, was going to actually fly for the first time as
a mission specialist, Sergei [Konstantinovich] Krikalev and Vladimir
[Georgievich] Titov came through Washington on their way down to Houston,
and I had an opportunity to meet them and have dinner with them and
talk a little bit with them, and I was very impressed by both.
Vladimir was a MiG-21 pilot, Colonel in the Russian Air Force, had
actually flown once prior to that, had had two missions. The first
one was aborted on the launch pad when the vehicle caught fire and
he was ejected, in their escape capsule and everything. So a very
short flight. But then he came back and flew 366 days aboard Mir [Space
Station], which, at the time, he was a co-world-recordholder for long-duration
And then Sergei Krikalev had flown twice before, had actually flown
a five-month mission on Mir, and then shortly after the wall fell
[collapse of the Soviet Union], he had flown a ten-month mission on
Mir. I’d actually had an opportunity to communicate with him
in space. When I was flying ATLAS, he was in Mir, and we talked via
the ham radio, so we had never seen each other, but we had at least
communicated. He spoke fluent English, Sergei did. Vladimir spoke
none. Zero. Nada.
So I kind of took a hankering to both these guys right away, and I
said, “Okay, I’ll do it,” and we got started in
trying to figure out how we were going to integrate them into the
crew, but more importantly, integrate them and their families into
the American way of life. And it turned out—when people ask
you what was your most rewarding or most interesting or most memorable
experience, they mean on orbit, what was the most interesting thing
you saw or did. And I always tell them the thing that I remember the
most was not a flight, but it was the preparation and post-flight
activities involved with STS-60. And it was the opportunity to bring
people from a really foreign culture to the United States and introduce
them to our way of life and help them adjust and adapt, and getting
to know them as true friends and establishing a lifelong bond with
them that exists today. And then, after the flight, having an opportunity
to visit their country and for a very brief period of time see how
they lived and have an opportunity to interface with them in their
You mentioned that Vladimir Titov didn’t speak any English at
And later, once Shuttle-Mir got going, the astronauts did learn Russian.
Did you or your crew study any Russian?
We were really bad. Because this was the beginning, this was the leading
edge of this movement, this was the first flight in what became phase
one of the Shuttle-Mir Program leading up to the International Space
Station. We hadn’t thought it through well enough, and so there
was not felt that there was a need for us to learn Russian. English
was the official language, was going to be the official language of
the International Space Station, everybody had already determined
that. We had, anyway; I’m not sure the Russians had agreed to
it. But that was what we had determined in our own inimitable way,
and so there was not a feeling that we needed to be able to converse
As we started going thorough the training and thinking of things that
we wanted to do on orbit, it became very clear to us very quickly
that while we didn’t need it for flight, it would be really
a nice gesture if we could at least communicate some simple things
in Russian from on orbit. And the fact that almost all of us on the
crew really liked kids and liked schools and liked visiting schools
and the like, we wanted to be able to interface in some way with Russian
youth, and we felt the best way to do that would be able to converse
in their language, if only briefly.
So we went to NASA and told them that we really wanted to learn Russian.
We realized that we wouldn’t have an opportunity to become fluent
in it, but we would like to learn at least enough conversational Russian
to be able to say hello to kids from orbit and maybe do something
cute. And so the “cute” became sing a song. It was easier
said than done, we found, but actually we ended up, we were put with
an independent contractor, and it turned out to be company with whom
I work now, TechTrans International [Inc.], was just starting in 1993,
they were just getting founded. And so TechTrans found us a Russian
teacher who came down from Houston and met with the crew a couple
of times a week for about an hour, which was not anywhere close to
sufficient time, but he taught us rudimentary Russian terms and taught
us a Russian song that was actually a traditional Russian lullaby
that was sung every night in Russia at eight o’clock, and it
was the official “Go to bed now” thing on Russian TV,
on state television, for Russian children.
So we learned that song, [Tired Toys are Asleep], or something like
that. My pronunciation is horrible. But we were told that every Russian
child would recognize the song, and if we did it right, we could sing
it at eight o’clock Russian time and they would be impressed.
So we learned the song; we cheated and had notes, since most of us
didn’t learn it very well and most of us couldn’t sing.
But, anyway, so we sang “Spyat Ustalye Igrushki” to the
children of Russia, and learned a couple of other terms that we could
say to them when we did our space-to-ground press conference.
You mentioned that you felt that it was part of your responsibility
to bring the families and get the families involved, and you also
mentioned the [STS] 107 crew and how close they were. What ways did
you do that? What methods did you use to get everyone involved?
The first thing we did was when the families came they were initially
put in an apartment complex right here on the corner of NASA Road
1 and El Camino [Real]. We took one look at that, and—in fact,
what I did was in the division of labor, since I knew that I wouldn’t
be able to adequately have oversight of the Russians and the oversight
of the crew, [Kenneth S.] Ken Reightler [Jr.], who was my pilot, my
co-pilot, I made him responsible for the Russian interface. So he
really took both of them under his wing and saw to it that everything
that they needed was taken care of.
Ken came to me after the first couple of days and said, “We’ve
got to get them out of those apartments.” Not that there was
anything wrong with it, but they really weren’t going to get
a good feel—they were going to get a good feel for American
life, but not the feel that we wanted them to have. So we wanted them
to be in individual family homes, so we went back to NASA and said,
“Hey, it’s going to cost some more money,” because
we were paying the bill, “but we really think we ought to put
them into local communities and let them get a taste of Houston, real
And so Sergei and his family were moved into—I’m not sure
which subdivision it is now, but it was an area in Clear Lake City
[Texas], maybe Middlebrook or something like that. And then we moved
Vladimir and his family to Friendswood [Texas]. We kind of took them
around and put them with a realtor and let them pick the place where
they wanted to live, and the two families selected the areas that
Sergei and his wife, [Elena], were both very technical people. She
was a controller in Moscow in the Mission Control Center, and they
had a four-year-old daughter, and so they didn’t really see
a need to be in a community that there would be a lot interface for
kids. Whereas Vladimir, his wife was a nontechnical person, she was
very astute socially and everything. They had spent time in, I think,
three years in Paris where he was the air attaché to Paris,
to France, from Russia. So she was very cosmopolitan, wanted to be
able to get out and interface with people, whereas the Krikalevs were
relatively quiet. They had an eight-year-old son who we enrolled in
public school in Friendswood; had an eighteen-year-old daughter, she
spoke fluent English, so she enrolled herself in San Jac [San Jacinto
College] in a pre-business curriculum and all that. So it worked for
both families. The Titovs, their son began to speak fluent English
after about six months, became a cowboy. And the daughter is still
here, worked for Enron [Corporation, Houston, Texas] for a period
of time, and is now still working in business; that’s her area
of expertise and interest. But it worked real well.
In getting them into the communities, getting them to do the kinds
of things we did, happy hour, church if they wanted to, but those
kinds of things, we just kind of took them by the hand and let them
see and do as much as they wanted to. And we had social functions
as frequently as we could, generally tried to have at least something
once a week where we got the families together and that kind of thing,
and their kids met our kids, and began to feel that they were a part
of the overall STS-60 family.
We had a tremendous training team. The training team, as always happens,
they become very close to the crew because they live with them, eat
with them, sleep with them. You’re just with them all the time.
So they became very close.
Because of the obvious Russian presence on this flight, and the day
of the launch NASA announced that [Norman E.] Norm Thagard and Bonnie
[J.] Dunbar would be training for a mission to Mir. What type of media
coverage did the crew have to deal with? Was there a lot at that time?
There was a lot of interest from the Russia media pre-flight, when
we did our pre-flight press conference. As I remember, a tremendous
turnout of Russian media for the pre-flight press conference to hear
Sergei’s take on what he was going to do. I think Vladimir did
participate in a pre-flight press conference with us as the backup.
Because the Russians decided which of the two was going to fly, and
I think we knew prior to the pre-flight press conference that it was
going to be Sergei, but we still, as I remember, had Vladimir participate
in the pre-flight press conference. So it gave the Russian media an
opportunity to ask them about training differences and the way we
do things, their impressions of life in America and all that kind
of stuff. So there was a significant amount of interest from the Russian
The American media, quite obviously because Bonnie and Norm were getting
ready to move to Russia, they had an interest in how we had treated
the Russian crew, so they would have something to compare it with
when Bonnie and Norm went over.
How did the training differ, as far as you’re aware of, between
the way the Russians were used to training and then the way they trained
for this flight?
Because their thrust is long duration, they are much less—we
are very regimented. I mean, our flight schedule, for example, in
Shuttle, was what we call the Crew Activity Plan, the CAP; the flight
plan for every day was laid out in fifteen-minute segments. There
was very little margin for going away from the schedule, because every
experiment was given x amount of time, and when that period of time
was over, you were supposed to move on to the next thing.
That’s not the way the Russians train. The Russians give their
crews a number of tasks for each day, or maybe a number of tasks for
a week and then leave them alone. It comes out of necessity. Back
before we got involved with them, the Russians, because of the communications
system that they had in place, their infrastructure, they could only
talk to the crew for a limited amount of time each day. They had a
number of very short communications opportunities on each pass, and
so they didn’t do a lot of just talking.
In the United States, we use the tracking and data relay satellite
system, so it was only for a very few minutes each hour, very few
minutes each day, that we couldn’t talk to the ground. So we
talk all the time. You know, in fact, you frequently just say, “Give
me a break. Just be quiet so we can go work.” And you got a
lot of help from home. The ground was constantly looking over your
shoulder. If you were trying to work an experiment and the ground
wasn’t sure where you were, they didn’t hesitate to come
up from the payload community. They’d say, “Okay, how
are you doing on this experiment?” or that experiment. “Have
you done so-and-so?” And you say, “Yeah, it’s in
progress. We’ll let you know when it’s done.” But
frequently they weren’t happy with that.
That was something that bothered Sergei, as a matter of fact, not
only during the training, but one incident that occurred on Flight
Day One. When Franklin Chang-Diaz and [N.] Jan Davis went back through
the tunnel to open the hatch for the space habitation module—we
actually had our own laboratory. We had a half-module, which was called
a space habitation module, built by SPACEHAB [Inc.]. They went back
and opened the hatch so as to activate the SPACEHAB [module]. When
they did that, they noticed that there was a hose about the size of
a hose going into your dryer, coming out of the back of your dryer,
very similar in form and substance. Its purpose was just to allow
air to flow from the air system on the Shuttle into the module so
we could live back there. Franklin and Jan noticed that the hose was
crimped. It wasn’t shut off, but it was significantly crimped
that they were just concerned that there would be some constriction
or restriction in the airflow into the module.
So we called the ground’s attention to it. They said, “Okay,
we’ll work it and get back to you.” Days passed while
they worked it to get back to us, but we didn’t say anything,
so they didn’t seem to worry about it. And Sergei, as soon as
he found out what had happened, he said, “Why don’t we
And I said, “Well, because that’s not the way we do it.
We’ve advised the ground, we’ll give them an opportunity
to come back and tell us what they think, and then we’ll go
around to it.”
He said, “This stuff you guys do doesn’t make any sense
to me.” He said, “On station, on Mir, I wouldn’t
even have called them. I’d have just fixed it and then I’d
let them know what we had done.”
And I said, “Well, we just don’t do it that way.”
And, fortunately, it didn’t cause any problem.
But Franklin, several days into the mission, was conducting a tour,
a video tour, of the Orbiter in Spanish for Costa Rican television.
And as he went through with the camera and everything, he paused at
the entrance to the SPACEHAB module and put the videocamera down on
this crimped air line, and said, “This is a line that’s
crimped, and we’re working on this and waiting for the ground
to give us some stuff.”
Mission Control Center saw it and went, “Holy jeez.” So
they called up and they said, “Hey, you guys didn’t tell
us it was that bad.”
So we said, “Well, it’s not a big deal. If it had been
that bad, we would have either fixed it or told you.” So they
stepped up their efforts to find a solution and they came back within
a few hours, and we looked at what they had proposed, and right away
it just was a nonstarter because they wanted us to cut some—it
was just flexible rubber, like rubber from an inner-tube, almost,
and kind of put it around this thing to fill in the area where the
crimp had been. And we took one look at that and said, “Not
going to work. All it’s going to do is just collapse on itself,
and then we are going to shut the line off.”
Fortunately, as things would happen, while we were evaluating what
they had sent up, we lost com [communications] with the ground. We
had one of these rare blackouts because the satellite wasn’t
in position and everything. So we had about ten minutes, and Sergei
said, “Look. I told you. My recommendation, days ago, was we
should have fixed this thing.” And we had a plan to fix it.
The ATLAS in the Shuttle is about this big and, about roughly fourteen
inches across by twelve or fourteen inches that way. So if you took
just the plastic cover on the ATLAS and rolled it up and stuck it
inside the hose, then it expands; it wants to go back to being flat.
So it expands and makes the hose stand out. And so that was the solution
we would have proposed to them if they had asked us, but they didn’t.
So we took a look at their solution, we didn’t like it, and
so I said, “Okay, what the hell.” So we took the hose
off, stuck the little plastic in there and it stood everything out
and we put the hose back on. And when we talked to the ground again,
we said, “Hey, we just want to tell you what we did and show
it to you.” And so we took the videocamera back in the back,
showed it to them, and said, “Hey, this is what we did.”
And they said, “Okay, we’ll get back to you.” And
they evaluated it, and we never heard anything. And then post-flight
they said, “Well, we wish you hadn’t done it that way,
that you hadn’t just gone ahead and done it. We wouldn’t
have disagreed with it if you’d told us that’s what you
were planning to do.”
We said, “Well, we told you the first day that we needed to
do something and we had a plan, and you all chose not to listen.”
And so that was a real-life example of the difference in the way the
Russians work and we work.
We’re seeing it every day as our experiences on the International
Space Station evolve. We saw it with the initial experiences on Mir.
We saw it with Bonnie and Norm as they went to Russia. Accommodations,
you know. They were initially unsat [unsatisfactory] for an American
crew. We didn’t want to live the way the Russians live, because
we didn’t have access to a washer and a dryer, and we didn’t
have access to this and that, all these amenities that of course an
astronaut crew should have. So we put demands on the Russians they
couldn’t deliver, so we spent a slight fortune to go and build
things and make them look Western for us. So, just some differences
that we had.
During this flight, you had communication again with the Mir.
Yes. In fact, Sergei, he talked back and forth quite a bit with his
friend there. And I can’t remember whether it was a former crewmember
of his, I don’t think so, but it was a very good friend, and
they talked back and forth about things.
One of those conversations was on television. Good Morning, America
telecast it live.
Yes, I’ve got to remember if it worked. Ideally what we were
going to do was that we were going to do split screen, or tri-screen.
And I think it was [Charles] Charlie Gibson, but I can’t remember.
I think it may have been Charlie Gibson was going to do the interview,
and we were going to have us on [Space Shuttle] Discovery, and the
Russian cosmonauts on Mir, and Charlie Gibson on this tri-screen thing.
And we did have the conversation go on. I’m not sure that we
were able to get Mir simultaneously with us, other than voice. But
it went pretty well, and they talked back and forth and among each
other and compared notes and all that, as best I can remember. You
have the advantage of the transcript.
You also received a phone call from the [Russian] Prime Minister.
Oh, that’s right. That is right.
Do you have any memories of that phone call?
I do, because we knew it was coming and so we set it up such that
Sergei would be able to talk to him because he was the only one that
spoke Russian. As I remember, it went very well, and that was the
time that the invitation was extended that we come to Russia, the
invitation on the part of the Russian government from Prime Minister
[Boris] Yeltsin. I think it was Yeltsin.
No, Chernomyrdin was the Deputy Prime Minister. And Chernomyrdin I
knew because he had come to Houston during our training and I had
had the opportunity to demonstrate the Remote Manipulator System to
him over in Building 9. We had him in a simulator. Pretty sharp guy,
as a matter of fact.
So they extended an invitation to go to Russia for post-flight?
Which we took. We accepted, and we went to Russia post-flight. That
was another one of the highlights of that particular flight and my
time down here, because it gave us an opportunity—it was the
first time I’d ever been to Russia. And for Ken Reightler and
me, I think more so than anybody else on the crew, because, as I remember,
we had Ken and me, [Ron Sega], Sergei, Franklin.
And Jan Davis?
And Jan Davis. So Ken and I were the only [active duty] military guys,
and when we went to Moscow, one of the first things we did was tour
the Kremlin. And there we were standing on the wall of the Kremlin,
looking down on Red Square, and we both looked at each other and kind
of went, “Pinch me. This can’t be real.” Never in
our lives did we, as military guys, did we ever envision that we would
be standing on the Kremlin wall looking down on Red Square peacefully,
as a partner, so to speak. For the two of us it was pretty spectacular.
The whole episode of coming together as a crew, bringing the Russians
here, training, flying together, and then going to Russia and having
exposure and an opportunity to go into the things that formerly had
been verboten was pretty impressive to us, to the two of us.
Quite an experience.
Stayed in the old KGB [Russian Committee for State Security, Komitet
Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti] Headquarters, which had been converted
to a hotel; very ornate hotel, by the way; hardwood floors, lots of
marble all over the place, chandeliers hanging and everything. We
had been told that even though the wall had come down and things were
different now, that you still should expect that there would be some
remnants of the old Soviet Union. And sure enough, my wife and I were
in our room and I said, “Let’s try this.” And so
I said, “Boy, it sure would be good to get a Coke.” And
about five minutes later, a knock on the door, and it was the bellhop,
and he said, “Would you like Coke, water, something else?”
And he had it there. “Oh, thank you very much.” So we
knew that there was still some semblance of the old Soviet Union left
over and everything.
But the Headquarters probably had bugs all over it. It was about the
same time that we were discovering that the new American Embassy in
Moscow was completely bugged. We had hired a Russian contractor to
do the construction, and every inch of it was covered with listening
devices and all kinds of stuff. We were naïve enough to think
that we could have them build an embassy and it would not have any
It’s amazing. Is there anything about that flight or any of
the experiments that you took part in?
Oh yes. The best part about it—and Franklin and I both hated
it. The flight itself was principally medical. It was a medical research
flight, for all intents and purposes. It was an opportunity for the
Institute of Biomedical Research in Moscow and NASA’s Space
and Life Sciences Directorate, along with places like the Medical
Center and everything, so a lot of the principal investigators for
this flight were medical people. We divided ourselves into two components
on the crew. One portion of the crew, in fact, I think it was Sergei
and Jan, if I remember correctly, did most of the neural sensory experiments;
balance, effects of the lack of gravity on vision and your eyes and
all that kind of stuff.
Franklin and I had principal responsibility for the human body parts,
just the normal human body functioning parts of it. I’m just
having a brain fart right now; I can’t remember what it’s
called. But there is a medical term for it. Neurovestibular was one
side, and we did metabolic studies, that’s what it was called.
So Franklin and I were the guinea pigs. The blood draws were done
on us, the urine samples, saliva samples. We drank liquids that contained
isotopes to measure how fast stuff went through your body and all
that. We were looking at things like renal functions, the functions
of the kidney; is there a difference between the way your kidneys
function here on earth and the way they function in a microgravity
Franklin and I underwent a year of training to become certified as
phlebotomists. A phlebotomist is the person that draws blood when
you go to the lab or go to the doctor. Although we were going to do
it on each other, we still had to be certified. And so for a year,
a couple of times a week we’d go over and the docs would bring
in volunteers, just, there’d be a line of people outside the
door who’d come walking in and sit down and we’d put a
doggone tourniquet on and stick them, or try to stick them, and we
got trained on how to draw blood and do all that stuff. Both of us
hated it because we hated sticking people. And you do anywhere from,
jeez, a half a dozen to a dozen people a day just until you got it
down and understood how to do it properly and all that.
Then on orbit what we would do would be, when I was the subject, he
would take my blood, and when he was the subject, I’d take his
blood. We have some video to prove it. But it was pretty interesting
doing it on orbit because you got an opportunity to see all this stuff
and everything. So that was fun, really, when we look back on it.
Ken Reightler, being the person that wasn’t involved in either
experiment sequence, became the person that ran our centrifuge. So
for all the metabolic studies, he took our urine samples, made sure
they got in the freezer, he took our blood samples, spun them down
in the centrifuge and then got them in the freezer. Same thing for
saliva samples. So he was the datataker, the repository for all of
the samples and everything, and then he oversaw the collection of
data for Jan and Sergei as they put themselves in spinning things
and blindfolds and all this kind of stuff. So he was the recordkeeper.
We actually had a furnace on board and Franklin was the principal
investigator for it. I think Sergei was his backup. There was another
experiment that we did that was looking at microgravity effects on
something that Sergei was the principal and Franklin was his backup.
Franklin and I were each other’s principal, prime and backup,
on the metabolic study stuff, and then Jan and Sergei backed each
other up on the neurovestibular studies and the like.
As with all flights, a lot of photographic documentation, Earth observation
stuff. Sergei was really good at that. He was good at everything because
of the long period of time that he had spent in space. So he became
sort of a mentor to all of us. Although he didn’t have as many
flights as I had, he had vastly more experience than I did. So we
relied pretty heavily on him for the expertise about living in space.
What else happened up there? Something.
The Wake Shield Facility.
Wake Shield Facility. Ron [Ronald M. Sega]. I forgot all about Ron.
How could I forget Ron Sega? Ron was a co-principal investigator on
the Wake Shield Facility. This was about a twelve-foot-diameter satellite
that was manufactured in a storefront right up across from Ellington
Field [Houston, Texas]. The company that did it at the time was Space
Services Incorporated, and it was a company owned by [Joseph P.] Joe
Allen [IV], who was a former Apollo-era astronaut, had flown on Shuttle
and everything. Dr. Joe Allen was my first officemate that I talked
Joe had gone into business with a couple of friends, and his company
actually built, manufactured, the satellite to the specifications
of Ron Sega. The co-principal investigator was a guy by the name of
Dr. Alex Ignatiev, from the Center for Epitaxy Research [Space Vacuum
Epitaxy Center] at the University of Houston. Basically the principle
behind the satellite was, as its name implied, Wake Shield, it was
in the form of a shield and it created its own wake as it went around
Earth, flying like a flying saucer on end. Theoretically what would
happen, even in space, although it’s a vacuum, there are still
a significant number of measurable particles out there. And as these
particles go around the shield, they create a hyper-vacuum on the
backside of it. So whereas space in itself is a vacuum, you get an
even purer vacuum back right behind the shield because all those little
particles are pushed away from that area right behind the shield itself.
So there there’s nothing and it’s truly a vacuum.
So the theory was that we could produce extremely pure semiconductor
materials. The material that we were trying to produce was gallium
arsenide. We were trying to produce gallium arsenide wafers that could
then be used in semiconductor research and development. Again, the
theory was we would lift this satellite out of the payload bay with
a remote manipulator system, make sure everything was working, and
then turn it loose and let it fly itself as an independent satellite
for a couple of days and then we would re-rendezvous with it and pick
it up, bring it back in the payload bay and keep all of the samples.
A side benefit of it was that we would get the first batch of data,
real live impact data, for use in the design of the International
Space Station. As the Shuttle flies toward or away from anything,
every time you fire one of its small jets, it sends out a wave from
out of the jet. Every time it comes out, the thruster puts out stuff
and it generates a force on anything that it hits. We had concern
that the force, the thrusters from the Shuttle, if they were strong
enough, might cause damage to the solar arrays or to some other component
of the International Space Station.
We had built models to tell us whether it was going to be okay, but
we didn’t have any in-flight data. So what we were going to
do was take advantage of the Wake Shield. It had some very, very,
very sensitive accelerometers on it, and as we approached the Wake
Shield Facility, we were going to put the Shuttle in different attitudes
and fire different rockets at it so as to measure the amount of force
that the Shuttle imparted on the Wake Shield Facility in order for
us to help the designers of the International Space Station make it
The unfortunate thing was, in the “faster, better, cheaper”
mode, when they designed and built the Wake Shield Facility—like
I told you, we built it in a storefront across from Ellington Field—it
was a $12 million facility, the Wake Shield itself, compared to several
hundred-million-dollar satellites for other programs. One of the ways
that they saved money was limiting the amount of pre-flight testing
that they did. One of the crucial tests that they did not do was something
called an EMI test, an electromagnetic interference test, whereby
you put the satellite together in its flight configuration and turn
it up and see if there is interference among different components
What they satisfied themselves with pre-flight was that if we ran
this test, if we powered it up when it was down on the floor of the
integration room down at the Cape and everything seemed okay, then
we’d go with it. And it did. It worked superbly in the test
site down at the Kennedy Space Center [Florida]. But when they bundled
up all these feet of electrical cable, what we were reminded of post-flight
in analyzing what the problem was, was that you get a current generated
around an electrical cable. Even the things here going to your camera
generate a current around it, and that generates a magnetic field
which, if it comes in contact with another electrical cable, it generates
a current inside that cable.
Well, when we powered up the Wake Shield Facility on orbit and tried
to turn on the attitude control system, there was a 5 Hz signal that
was generated by the power cables inside the electrical components
to the Wake Shield that shut down the attitude control system and
it wouldn’t let it run. So every time we tried to power it up,
it would start spinning and cut itself off. We didn’t have any
clue what was going on, we just knew we could not reliably release
the Wake Shield. We didn’t know what would happen to it. If
it got out of control, we may not have any way to control it, and
so the option was to just put it out on the end of the arm and take
as much data as we could, which we did. And we got some pretty good
data; not at all what you wanted, but what we missed was the approach
to the Wake Shield that would be used to gather data for Space Station.
The good thing was Wake Shield lived on because it flew again a year
later on a flight very similar to ours with Vladimir Titov. So Vladimir
flew a year after Sergei, and the flight was essentially the same.
It was the Wake Shield Facility 2. The profiles that they flew and
everything were the ones that we had designed and tested, and they
did get an opportunity to measure the forces from the thrusters on
the Shuttle and it went into the design of the Space Station. So we
finally got it, it just took a year extra to get it.
That was a disappointment to us, mainly because I had not flown a
rendezvous mission and I was really excited about being able to rendezvous
with something since I wasn’t going to be around for the International
Space Station. I knew I wasn’t going to be around because my
wife and I had talked, my family and I had talked, about my future
in the space program. And sort of a combination of things; the fact
that we were starting to get more astronauts in the office, it was
starting to take people a little bit longer to fly, and the backlog
of astronauts flown was increasing. The other thing was the fact that
we had been here for fourteen years. I had been offered an opportunity
to go back to the operating forces of the Marine Corps, actually go
back to the [United States] Naval Academy [Annapolis, Maryland] first,
as the Deputy Commandant of Midshipmen there.
The fact that after I came back from my experience in Washington I
was never the same, to be quite honest. As the Assistant Deputy Administrator,
whether you can or can’t, people think you have some effect
on things and that you have some influence and that you can make things
better. I think I did do some positive things for the agency, but
when you come back to Houston and you’re in the Astronaut Office,
you’re just another astronaut. I think there’s a biblical
verse that says something about a prophet is never more despised than
in his own home town or something like that, so you come back to Houston,
just as another astronaut, you can’t do anything. And it was
very frustrating being here and having people who would confide in
you and give you ideas and expect that you could make a difference,
and you couldn’t.
And then the combination of the fact that I was growing more and more
out of sync with the NASA leadership at the time. My wife and I talked
about it a lot, and I have been one who always believes that if you’re
in an organization and you can’t support what’s being
done, you can’t be a spokesperson for it, then you really ought
to pack your bags and go somewhere else. You shouldn’t expect
the organization to change. You just ought to leave. And so a combination
of all those things, we decided, approaching my last flight, that
it would be my last flight. A very difficult decision, but we made
I can’t remember how soon before the flight, but at some point
several months before the flight I felt an obligation to let the crew
know. That was hard. That was really hard. It kind of felt like you
were walking out on people. But we got through it.
So the flight became extremely special because I knew it was my last.
But hard. The fact that it became special and all that didn’t
make it any easier. But we did the best we could do and had a great
time and then left. We left the agency after that flight. In fact,
we left NASA a week after my daughter graduated from high school here.
We flew in February, came back and did all of our post-flight stuff,
we went to Costa Rica with Franklin, and I think I told you about
that, and then we went to Russia, and finished up everything I had
to finish up, I thought, and left. Went to the Naval Academy. But
that was very difficult.
I can imagine it would have been a difficult decision.
Well, it was good preparation, however, because nine years later we
determined that—my wife and I had always said that if you’re
not enjoying something, if we’re not having fun, we’re
going to quit. And we said that about everything. And so I had spent
thirty-five years, almost thirty-five years, in the Marine Corps.
Even while I was here, I was still an active-duty Marine. We were
never not Marines, she and I.
I eventually became the Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Aircraft
Wing out at Miramar in California, and that became the most rewarding
thing I’d ever done in my life. But, again, it took its toll
on your family and stuff like that. My wife asked me one day, she
said, “You know, I thought you told me when it quit being fun
we weren’t going to do anymore.” And I was still having
fun, but she wasn’t. So I said, “Yeah, you’re right.
You know, we did say that.”
So we had orders to leave that duty and go to another position, another
command, as a matter of fact, on the East Coast. The day before the
movers were supposed to come, we talked about it as hard as we could,
and it was sort of reminiscent to talking about leaving NASA. And
we made the decision that the right thing for us to do was, again,
because I didn’t think I was fully in sync with the hierarchy
in the Department of Defense at the time, and, really, if you’re
going to tell young men and women that you want them to put their
life on the line, then you really need to believe in the people that
you work for. And I had gotten to the point that I wasn’t comfortable
with that, so we decided that we had given the Marine Corps the best
we could give. And so told people we were leaving. That was hard.
I can imagine.
But I had had the preparation because we had been through that once.
So that was it.
As one of the astronauts that flew before and after Challenger, can
you share with us some of the significant differences between the
suits, the launch?
A big difference, huge difference, that’s visible to everybody
is what you wear. When we went into orbit my first flight on [Space
Shuttle] Columbia, we wore a plain old flight suit. The only difference
between my flight suit and the one that I wore as a marine was color
and I think it was a little bit more expensive. They were made on
some Indian reservation in New Mexico or something like that, so they
were tailormade with a gazillion measurements, whereas my flight suit,
you go over and say, “I wear a thirty-eight short,” so
you got a Nomax flight suit. But these were Nomax flight suits, but
tailormade. You put on a helmet to protect your head if you bumped
it or something like that, and also it had a visor that came down
so if something happened in the cockpit and the atmosphere got bad,
you had breathing oxygen for an emergency or something. That was the
way we went to orbit on STS-61C.
As I mentioned, ten days later, after I came back, we lost Challenger.
And then in hindsight, some people decided that had the crew had some
other form of protection, what became the launch and entry suit, that
they conceivably could have survived. I never bought into that, I
don’t believe it now, but that was the decision that was made.
And it was, I think, as much to placate the American public. We decided
we’d stick this eighty-five-pound suit on everybody. And so
that was the way I flew my second and subsequent flights.
Boy, the oversight, the safety oversight. I felt, while I didn’t
think it was bad prior to Challenger, I think, some of our earlier
conversation, when I got into the safety organization there were some
modifications we made trying to get some operational input into the
safety oversight itself. I thought it was improved when I went back
and flew the second time. Did it make it any safer? I don’t
know. Space flight is risky business.
We had made some definite material improvements on the system itself.
The O-rings were different. The way we oversaw the construction and
assembly of the Shuttle and the system, that was a little bit different,
but I didn’t feel unsafe the first time I flew, so I didn’t
feel any safer the second time. We had done a lot, but I didn’t
fool myself that maybe there was some modicum of improvement in the
safety, but contrary to what people will tell you, that the Shuttle
is not safe and it’s already been proven to be not—I heard
a lady on television, on radio, this morning talking about the President’s
plan, the fact that, well, it’s been proven that the Shuttle’s
not safe. Not true. The Shuttle is very safe, relatively speaking.
The level of safety on the Shuttle, it’s 99.99999 percent assured
that you’re going to return. After Challenger, it became 99.99—maybe
we added one more nine out there somewhere, but it still wasn’t
100 percent. Nor will any other vehicle that we build. Human beings
cannot put anything together that’s 100 percent safe. The only
way to be 100 percent assured that you’re not going to lose
somebody in space flight, in exploration, is don’t go. And I
don’t think we want to go there.
So there were some things that we did that I—while I could live
with them, I just thought it was a waste of time and money. If you
look at what we’re doing now, people that demand that we have
a crew escape mechanism, we did that. We put the pole on the Orbiter,
we designed this mechanism, it was good. I felt a little bit better
about it. But when it’s your day, it’s your day and you
can have all that stuff. It would not have helped this crew; it didn’t
help this crew because if you don’t know that you’re about
to lose the vehicle, you don’t have time to activate the crew
escape system and go jump out. So life is like that.
There’s always going to be something that you didn’t expect
that’s going to bite you. And the way that we do things in the
NASA culture is you put a team together that what-ifs. And we do it
in the military, and I think you do it in industry. And you what-if
and you Red Team and you Blue Team and you Pink Team and once you’ve
satisfied yourself that, “Okay, we’ve thought of every
bad thing that can happen, it’s okay to go turn the valve now,”
and you go turn the valve, and six days a week it works. Six days
and twenty three hours and fifty-nine minutes it works, but one day
you go and turn a valve and something you never expected goes wrong.
And if you’re lucky, somebody gets hurt. If you’re not
lucky, somebody gets killed. And that’s the way space flight
is and is always going to be. So, for somebody to think that we’re
going to build a new vehicle that’s going to be significantly
safer than Shuttle, they’re smoking dope, to be quite honest.
Now, we do need a replacement for the Shuttle, but not because of
safety. I think we need a replacement for the Shuttle because we need
a vehicle in which we can go to the Moon and to Mars and on to other
places the way that we envisioned it when the concept of a space transportation
system was briefed to President [Richard M.] Nixon. I don’t
think there was anything wrong with that. And I think you could still
fly that system, but add the third component, the orbital maneuvering
vehicle that we didn’t have enough money to build, and don’t
have enough money to build now, and you could have been flying Shuttle
for the next thousand years to an International Space Station and
the orbital maneuvering vehicle, or orbital transfer vehicle as it
used to be called, from Station to the lunar surface, or from the
lunar surface to Mars, or wherever you want to go.
That’s essentially what we’re going to do, but what we’re
going to do now is we’re not going to have a Shuttle. We’re
not going to have a vehicle, a reusable vehicle, that we can use for
routine access to space. So we’ll make the same tradeoffs that
we made back when we decided to go with Shuttle as the first of the
three components to the space transportation system. We’ll now
have a space transportation system that doesn’t give us reusable
routine access to space. And that’s okay. I’m not sure
we saved any money with Shuttle, anyway. I don’t know.
I think we’re going to stop and take a break real quick, and
then I just have a couple more questions after that.
When we stopped, we were talking about the uncertainties of space
flight. And, of course in light of what happened to the Columbia,
on your last flight there was a problem with the Thermal Protection
System [TPS]. Were there any concerns about reentry?
Boy, I’ve got to remember this. See, I always remember the good
stuff. Refresh my memory.
The TPS blankets around the forward RCS [Reaction Control System]
thruster began to peel back.
Oh, I think I do remember that vaguely. Yes. Okay. What was your question?
Just if there was any concern with that as far as reentry was involved.
No, no. Just as I think—and I can’t speak for anybody
else, and no one will ever know—but my suspicion is the crew
of 107 didn’t have any concern about their safety because they
depended on the team and figured that people had looked and done the
best job they could. I know hindsight is always 20/20, but I didn’t
have any concern, not during our reentry.
We talked about the launches and we talked about the flights. Let’s
talk for a moment about landing.
As a commander on the last two flights, what was that experience like?
Landing’s awesome. It’s awesome, period, no matter where
you are on the vehicle. I can’t speak for a mission specialist
sitting in the mid-deck, but I would imagine that even for that person
who can’t see anything, just the physical changes have got to
be pretty doggone awesome.
But when you’re sitting on the flight deck looking out the front
window, the most spectacular period of time during the reentry, especially
if it’s night, is the initial reentry heating when you come
into the atmosphere and the vehicle just—it heats up and it
glows. The way I describe it to schoolkids, it’s like being
inside a lightbulb and you’re the filament in the lightbulb.
You’re just glowing and you can’t see outside the window.
You see this dull, sort of a dull red glow start at the base of the
windshield and then what we call St. Elmo’s fire. You see that
in a normal airplane, where you get static discharges going up the
window, kind of eerie-looking stuff. And then before you know it,
it gets orangeish and then pinkish and then the whole windscreens
in the front are obscured, like you’re in a cloud, or like you’re
inside a lightbulb. You can’t see out of them because of the
bright light that’s coming off the tile.
If you look out the overhead window, it’s a different world.
Up there you see the plasma going just [demonstrates]. It’s
charging and discharging and it’s like there’s this monster
up there, and this thing forms and then collapses. And it’s
an absolutely fascinating light show. So you’ve got that going
on up there, and then you can’t even see out the front window.
And it lasts about ten or fifteen minutes, and then as you get deeper
into the atmosphere, the temperatures stabilize and the vehicle, the
tiles begin to cool down again. They’ve been able to dissipate
all the heat, and then you can see out the front window.
The range over which you can see is unbelievable. My last flight we
did, I guess it’s an ascending entry. We came up over from the
southern hemisphere into the northern hemisphere and then I say turn
south—you don’t really turn south, because the way Earth
is tilted, it appears that you’re coming like this and then
going south to the Cape. But we came down from Canada. And we had
been waved off at least once for weather. They had a storm system
off the coast of Cape Canaveral, and the weather guys judged that
if we had come in on our first opportunity it probably would have
been right in the middle of a thunderstorm. They were pretty right.
Those guys had gotten really good, and so what they saw was two waves,
one that they figured if we didn’t come in on the first opportunity,
we’d be able to sneak in between these two waves. And they were
absolutely right, because everybody said it rained cats and dogs on
the orbit opportunity we were supposed to land, people who were down
When we came in, because it was the middle of winter in the northern
hemisphere, there was snow, all kinds of stuff all over Canada, huge
weather system all the way over the U.S. from northern Florida all
the way up into Canada. So you couldn’t see the ground, but
you could look from over northern Canada up around St. John’s
and all that kind of stuff, and you could see Florida, you could see
the Florida peninsula, and you went, “Oh, that is really impressive.”
You’re a hundred-and-some-odd-thousand feet, but looking at
the Florida peninsula sticking out from under all these clouds and
you say, “Oh, those guys are pretty good.” But you could
see the other storm system coming from off the Atlantic, but you figured,
okay, we’re going to make it. And so we came back.
The entry and landing is unlike almost anything you ever experience
in any other kind of aerospace machine because it’s relatively
gentle in exact terms. In terms of G-forces [gravitational forces]
and stuff like that, it’s very docile. Unless you do something
wrong, you don’t even get up to 2 Gs during the reentry, the
entire time of the reentry. When you bank to land, you come overhead
the landing site, and then you bank the vehicle and you just come
down like a corkscrew. As a general rule, you don’t even make
one complete rotation; you go 180 degrees or something like that.
But you’re just falling out of the sky. And it’s about
1.2, 1.4 Gs or something like that, which you feel that in a car.
But, it feels like you got gorillas sitting on your shoulder because
you’ve been weightless for x number of days. And so it’s
just a really different feeling. You have to hold your head up because
you’ve got this big old heavy helmet on and it probably weighs
ten pounds, I’m not sure what, but it feels like it weights
a hundred. So, you know, you learn to keep your head straight and
all this kind of stuff.
It takes a little bit of energy to get your hands up off the console,
because once you start feeling gravity again, your hands just kind
of go down and they want to stay there; everything does. So the two
pilots onboard are doing a lot of isometric exercises all the way
down, and I think I mentioned to you once before, I tried to do very
gentle head movements to get my head oriented and get my gyros caged
again without having something go wacky on me that I couldn’t
recover from. So you do a lot of just trying to get your body physically
adapted to being back in a gravity, kind of hurtling your body at
the ground until you get to 2,000 feet to pull the nose up is different,
but it’s like you’ve done it all your life because you
have. You’ve done it thousands of time by now in the Shuttle
training aircraft for real, and you’ve done it probably tens
of thousands of times in the simulator. So it doesn’t look abnormal
at all; it’s just something that you’re accustomed to.
And you’re constantly talking to the crew, those on the flight
deck. One of the things that I always said was you really want to
try keep the guys on the mid-deck informed, because they don’t
have the luxury or the privilege of seeing what you’re seeing.
So we tried to paint a word-picture for them as to what we were seeing,
how things looked. So, a lot of conversation, surprisingly, on the
flight deck that gets onto the OPS [operational] recorder. But the
ground doesn’t hear it because the ICOM, the intercom, is open
loop; it just gets on the recorder, but people on the ground don’t
hear any of it. But you’re talking all the time, just chattering
away and oohing and aahing and all that kind of stuff. But it’s
And then when you touch down, if you do it right, again, you hardly
know you touched down. As big as the Orbiter is, the way that we land
it is we just get it into an extremely shallow approach to the landing,
and so it just kind of rolls out on the runway, and if you do it right,
you all of a sudden you notice that things are starting to slow down
real quick and you’re hearing this rumble because the vehicle’s
rolling down the runway on this grooved runway. So you know you’re
down, put the nose down and step on the brakes and stop. That’s
it. And then you go, “Holy G. I wish it hadn’t been over
so quick.” It doesn’t matter—I don’t think
it makes no difference how long or how short you’ve been there,
it’s over too quick. You’re ready to come home, but once
you get back, you say, “Boy, I wish I had had a few more days,”
or something like that. And for me, my last two, being the commander
and actually being the guy that had the opportunity to fly it to touchdown,
In my particular case, I think the rules at the time said that only
the commander was supposed to fly, but that didn’t make any
sense to me. So the way we trained and the way I did it was I always
let the pilot take the controls first and fly the first part of the
entry, the last little bit, so that he got an opportunity to see what
the vehicle felt like and all that, and then I flew the last part
and the landing itself. And so it’s pretty good, for whatever
I imagine it was a different experience for Sergei Krikalev, too.
Oh, coming back that way? Yes. Much gentler. Did you all interview
No, we haven’t.
I hope so.
It would be interesting to see what he says. But I know, just asking
him about differences, very gentle compared to Soyuz, and again, he
said there’s no question when you land in Soyuz because you’re
fearing for life. He said the hard part is after you land, because
if the winds are high on the desert, you get dragged around by the
parachute until it gets released, and they have guys get injured post-landing,
just getting thrown around inside the capsule. Ours is real nice.
As you mentioned before we took a break, you left NASA and returned
to the Marine Corps. In 2002, you were nominated for a position as
Oh, we’re going to talk about that?
Only if you want to.
Yes, it’s okay. I don’t have any secrets. Somebody knows
Okay. If you could tell us about the circumstances around that nomination.
I can tell you what I know, okay? Actually, when it was finally decided
that Mr. Goldin was going to leave as the Administrator, NASA started
looking around and I had an opportunity to go—well, I was asked
to go to the White House and talk to the people in the Personnel Office
there. I interviewed eventually with Clay Johnson [III], who’s
the President’s personnel manager; I don’t know what he’s
called [Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management
and Budget]. He was with “W” [George W. Bush] here in
Texas when he was the Governor and everything. But he’s supposedly
the guru for people. And so I went and talked to him and they were
in the market for somebody to be the NASA Administrator, and I made
it very clear to them that I was not interested in being that person.
And he made it very clear to me that I wasn’t there to interview
for that position, but they just wanted ideas, just wanted to hear
what I thought NASA should be doing, where they should be going, what
would I do if I were the Administrator, what would be some of the
first things I’d do. And I shared my thoughts on that with them,
and then I went away, after the second time.
And then Sean O’Keefe was named to be the Administrator and
I was real happy. And then he called. Actually, he didn’t call,
but the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who is a friend of his, because
I think they had both been legislative people, General [James L.]
Jones having been the Congressional Liaison from the Marine Corps
while Sean was working for Senator [Ted] Stevens or somebody. And
so the Commandant said, “I want you to go and talk to Sean about
being the Deputy Administrator.”
I said, “Well, I’m not interested.” We’d been
through this once.
And he said, “Well, I’d really like for you to do this.
It would be good for the Marine Corps, good for you, good for NASA
So I said, “Okay, I’ll go talk to him, but I’m going
to tell him I’m not interested.” And so I went back and
I talked to Mr. O’Keefe, and we talked for a long time and I
explained to him that I really didn’t have any interest in coming
back, I really liked what I was doing and I wanted to stay there.
At the time, I was actually in my first year as the Commanding General
of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing out in California and loving what
I was doing, flying all the time, having fun. And so he said he was
very disappointed that I felt that way and that he had really hoped
that he could talk me into coming to be the Deputy Administrator because
he felt I could make a contribution. I said, “I appreciate it,
I’m honored,” and all that kind of stuff, “but I
don’t think so.”
And so I went back and thought I had gotten away, and I got a phone
call from the guy that was my friend, who was the general responsible
for personnel in the Marine Corps. And he says, “Oh, I’ve
got a message from the Commandant. He said it’s not over ‘til
the fat lady sings.” And I went, “Oh, jeez.”
So I guess he and Mr. O’Keefe talked a little bit more and so
then he said, “Okay, I want you to go back and talk to him one
more time, and I want you to keep an open mind, because we need for
you to do this.”
And I said, “Okay, I’ll go do that.” And I went
back and I talked to Sean, and we talked about how long, and I explained
to him that I was not ready to leave the Marine Corps, that I enjoyed
what I was doing and that I would be willing to come if I could just
finish my tour. And he said, “Well, I don't think that’s
possible, but we can guarantee that you won’t have to get out
of the Marine Corps. You can stay on active duty, and there’ll
be a promotion,” and this kind of stuff.
And so I said, “Okay, what the heck. I’ll try it.”
And so we started the proceedings for the nomination, and I got word.
In fact, the Commandant announced it this time of year, back then.
In a forum of all the general officers in the Marine Corps, he brought
my wife and me up and announced that I was being nominated by the
President to be the Deputy NASA Administrator and I was going to be
a lieutenant general and stay on active duty and all this kind of
stuff. Shocked me, but I said, “Okay.”
We started doing all the paperwork and all that stuff that’s
required, and I had an appointment for my confirmation hearing, and
I think it was a Wednesday, and I can’t remember the specifics
because I purged it from my mind, for the most part, but Sean and
the folk back at NASA Headquarters asked me if I could come back a
few days early because they wanted me to go over to the Hill; I needed
to meet all the different committees and speak to Senator [John] McCain,
and the Chair and the ranking members on all of the committees that
had to do with NASA, and go through some stuff and get their blessing
so that the hearings would not be painful.
Ironically, everything in NASA is handled through the Senate Commerce
Committee, so it was Senator [Fritz] Hollings was the ranking member,
he was the Democrat, and Senator John McCain was the committee chairman
for the Commerce Committee. So that was the committee to approve me,
confirm me, to be the Deputy Administrator.
So I went through all my briefings, all my meetings; I had spent a
lot of time at NASA Headquarters getting briefed by everybody so I’d
be ready, and went in for my last meeting on the Hill. I had seen
Senator McCain’s staff that morning, and then that afternoon
I went in to see Senator Hollings. He’s my home senator from
South Carolina and we’ve known each other for a long, long time,
and he’s a very good friend of my family and everything. So
we talked mostly personal stuff, asked about the family and all that.
It was through Senator Hollings that I learned that there was about
to be a hiccup. He said, “I wouldn’t worry about the questions
being asked by the Armed Services Committee. We’re going to
take care of that.”
And I kind of went, “Sir, you’ve got me. I have no idea
what you’re talking about.”
So he shared with me a letter that had been sent to the Office of
the General Counsel in the White House, from Senator [Carl] Levin,
who was the ranking member, the Democratic ranking member, and Senator
[John] Warner, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
It had, I think, three or four questions for the President, through
the General Counsel, and they were essentially, “You’re
going to take a guy that’s an active duty military person at
a time like this, when we’re engaged in the war on terrorism,
and you’re going to make him the Deputy Administrator at NASA.
Do you really want to do that?”
Question number two. “We don’t have anything against this
guy, but why him? Why do you particularly want him? Do we want to
set the precedent of taking a high-ranking military official and making
him the Deputy at a civilian organization?” We’ve got
some things in the past, Admiral Truly did it, but he retired and
stayed on as the NASA Administrator once he became the NASA Administrator,
and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I forget what question number
three was. It was something again like “Why him?” or something,
I don’t know.
So Senator Hollings said, “I wouldn’t worry about it.
We’ve got it. I’ve already talked to John McCain, I’ve
already talked to Levin and Warner and everybody, and we’re
happy. So we’ll see you tomorrow.” I went back over to
NASA Headquarters and I was actually meeting with [William F.] Bill
Readdy, and he and [Frederick D.] Fred Gregory were giving me my—because
Fred had Code Q [Office of Safety and Mission Assurance] and Bill
Readdy was, I think, was not the principal at Code M [Office of Space
Flight] yet, I don’t think, but, anyway, so we were talking
about ticklish issues that might come up in the hearing when I got
word that Sean wanted to see me.
So I went down to Mr. O’Keefe’s office, and he said, “Hey,
this is gotten to be too difficult. We’ve talked with the White
House and everybody else, and we think the best thing to do is withdraw
I said, “Sounds good to me.”
And he said, “You know, I could fight it, but I don’t
think it would do you any good if you want to stay in the Marine Corps.
I could go talk to [Donald H.] Rumsfeld, but I don’t think it’s
good for any of us. So we’re just going to back off.”
To this day, I have no idea what really happened. I don’t know
whether the White House just didn’t want to answer the questions
that came from the Armed Services Committee, whether Secretary Rumsfeld
said, “No way,” or what. All I know is that the word was
that he wasn’t aware that I had been nominated, which I found
flabbergasting that the Secretary of Defense would not be aware that
the President had nominated one of his general officers. But I believe
what people tell me; I take them at their word.
So I ran from NASA Headquarters back to the hotel and packed my bags
and jumped on the Metro and went to Ronald Reagan National Airport
and asked Continental [Airlines] if they could get me on, told them
I was scheduled to go the next day, but could they get me on a flight
back to Houston, and I got back here before anybody could change their
mind. And that was it. Never heard anything else about it.
So that was my moment in the sun and my almost being the Deputy Administrator.
I went back to my job in the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and served out
that tour. I think I served my Marines well. And then we decided to
leave the Marine Corps.
And you came back here, obviously.
I did. I came back here originally to think about what we were going
to do and where we were going to go, thinking that we would go back
out to San Diego [California], because I really love it out there.
But my wife came back knowing that she wanted to live here, because
our kids had grown up here and she has tons of friends here.
So we came back here, and I had several months before my official
retirement, so I had a lot of time to think and do stuff like that,
and I think, as some of you may know, my first civilian job was actually
going back to work with Mr. Abbey. We had the water company, which
for me didn’t work out. Had nothing to do with him, it was just
a lot of different reasons it didn’t work out. I stayed with
the water company for about four months, and then opted to take a
job with TechTrans International, the company I’m with now,
which is tremendous.
We were talking about things that people always ask you what do you
remember, and the Marine Corps and NASA are very similar. They’re
both relatively small organizations that work on a shoestring, and
they are both organizations that are as great as they are because
of their people. The funny thing about NASA is NASA is more than just
NASA employees, and you all understand this because you’re a
part of the family. I learned, anyway, over the time that I worked,
that the organization was as successful as it was because of all the
diverse and divergent ideas that were able to bubble up, contrary
to what anybody says, and people’s stick-to-it-iveness and persistence
and their dedication to what they do.
Just like in the Marine Corps, where nobody ever looked at their watch,
that I can remember, in my fourteen years here at NASA I don’t
ever remember anybody looking at their watch. They worked until they
were either tired or until what they were supposed to do was done
that day, then they went home. And that’s something that I cherish.
People ask you if you miss NASA, I say, “Not on your life.”
And they ask you if you miss the Marine Corps. I say, “Not on
your life.” And do you miss flying? “Not really.”
“Shucks, you must miss something.” I say, “I miss
the people.” That’s it.
You’ve mentioned before your favorite memories or the things
that you found the most enjoyable. Is there any one thing, looking
back over your career, that you found the most challenging?
My NASA career, or my entire career?
Your NASA career.
Oh, without a doubt the most challenging in my fourteen years with
NASA was getting on the airplane and going back to Washington. And
it got harder and harder every time when I’d come home; going
back to Washington for that job. Seriously, that was my undoing. I
have never hated a job. I hated that job. I just could not convince
myself that I belonged there, for one thing. I never got a feeling
that I was making a difference, the other thing. And I always had
the feeling that I was swimming upstream, and it just wasn’t
pleasant. So while I enjoyed the people, it got harder and harder.
And my wife and my daughter will tell you—my son doesn’t
know because he was gone; he was a marine by that time—but my
daughter was here in high school, and they would literally have to
push me out of the house either to go to Ellington [Field] to get
on an airplane and fly back, or take me to the airport and get me
out of the car to fly back to Washington. I dreaded that. And it got
worse and worse every time I went back. I wish I didn’t have
to say that, but there is no question what was the most difficult
thing for me.
And second most difficult was the decision to leave. And third most
difficult was telling my crew and my training team. In that order.
Then in the Marine Corps the most difficult thing was—boy, that’s
easy, too. Sending people in harm’s way.
If you don’t mind, I’m going to ask Rebecca and Jennifer
if they have any questions for you.
I have one for you. When you were talking about preparing for STS-60,
negotiations and plans and meetings were being held in parallel to
start the Shuttle-Mir Program. Were you aware of that, or what were
you aware of what was going on at the time?
We were quite aware of what was going on because a lot of times it
affected what we were able to do with the Russians. We were aware
of some of the stumbling blocks that were arising, and there one of
the things that made you feel good was that while I didn’t have
any direct input into Shuttle-Mir and what was going on between us
and the Russians, because of our contact with Sergei and Vladimir
and the fact that they were consulted constantly by the Russians,
by their side, and they had input—at least we were led to believe
they had input—we were able to talk to them a lot and try to
instill some reason in the discussion that was going on. So, undoubtedly
we didn’t know everything that was going on, but we were aware
of how difficult it was going.
I was curious because it was announced as a one-time, and then before
you launched it became the beginning of several years.
Yes, you’re right. When we were first assigned, I don’t
think there was any such thing as Phase 1. We were not the initial
flight in Phase 1. And that didn’t come until almost before
we flew, that we were identified as a part of the Shuttle-Mir Program,
as the first flight in Phase 1. I think that came real late, as I
can remember, if it did, before we flew, to be quite honest.
I had a couple of questions for you. We talked to Dave Leestma. He
talked about how your class called themselves the “Needless
Nineteen.” Do you remember anything about that?
[Laughs] Jeez. We had so many things we did. I don’t. I don’t
remember why, to be quite honest, and it may very well—I can
only guess—it may have been because we had nothing—we
had no responsibility. We were entrusted with nothing. You were just
kind of existing, jeez, until after we got STS-1 gone. Because until
that time, everybody was focused on STS-1, getting it safely into
space and back, and then we turned to STS-2, because that was the
groundbreaking flight because everybody knew we could get the Shuttle
into space and back safely, or at least we were relatively confident
we could. I’m not sure we were convinced we could turn it around
and get it back into space again.
We got a scare when we had the water problem. We had the problem with
hydrogen bubbles in the water on STS-2 and brought it home early.
So I think there may have been some people—although as minor
as it was, I think it caused a lot of people a lot of consternation
thinking that, “Holy jeez, we’re not going to be able
to do this. We’ve got these guys up there, and now we’ve
got to get them home, and the water’s not right, and we don’t
know where this hydrogen’s coming from,” and all this
kind of stuff. We made things difficult on ourselves.
But that’s probably what he was talking about, the fact that
we may as well have been nonexistent. For what we did, we didn’t
really need the title astronaut or astronaut candidate or whatever
it was. We were gofers. And that was okay. Everybody who comes here
is. I think the most difficult part of being an astronaut until you
fly is being a gofer. And you really are, especially now, I think.
The Astronaut Office—and this is my opinion; I don’t know
whether anybody agrees or not—it’s too big. It’s
too big for the vision, it’s too big for the assets we have,
it’s too big for the flight schedule, even before Columbia was
lost. And so you put people, very, very talented people, in a position
where they have to make very difficult decisions about their lives.
And in many cases, they put their lives on hold, and in many cases
they turn their lives around from great things that they could achieve,
just because in their mind—and I know, because I’ve been
there—in your mind, there is nothing greater than going to space.
It’s a dream that everybody probably has. And so you think it
doesn’t make any difference what you have to do, it’s
worth it. I’ve served with a lot of people who would have made
tremendous contributions to the country and to the world had they
not become astronauts, but they became one of the needless however
many there are. So that’s probably what he was talking about.
I don’t whether he described it that way or not.
Yes, he gave us a sense of the fact that there had been thirty-five
people there and the Apollo astronauts.
When the thirty-five came in, that just exploded the size of the office.
I’m not sure where they were. I think when the first group of
Shuttle astronauts came in, I know the size of the office more than
doubled. And then when they brought us in, that put it off the page.
There was no question that you could go home and nobody would miss
you, especially here in Houston. So that’s why a lot of people
like to go places. If you went to [NASA] Marshall [Space Flight Center,
Huntsville, Alabama], or you went over to the Cape or somewhere else,
you became a rock star. But around Houston, shucks, you’re Amy’s
mom or dad or whatever it was. Oh, another astronaut.
I just had one other question.
I was wondering if you could give us a sense of how you think the
position of astronaut changed from when you became an astronaut until
you left the office.
The biggest thing, and I think it’s an evolving thing, it’s
when I came, at least, the number of astronauts was such that somebody
who really was a space junkie could remember the names. So it was
hard to go somewhere and be introduced as an astronaut and not have
everybody there at least recognize your name. The more people we started
bringing in, we put people in the position where now they’re
almost anonymous. And that’s hard to take, to be quite honest,
for somebody with a big ego. And a lot of us have big egos. Not many
of them have the kind of ego that makes it unbearable, but I’d
be lying to you if I didn’t say there’s some people that
go through the office—and some of you probably know some or
have run into some. That’s really traumatic for somebody who
has been king of the hill up until now and they come down here to
be where they think they’re really going to be king of the hill,
and nobody even knows who they are, doesn’t even recognize their
name. That’s probably the most significant change that I sense.
The other thing that I think has happened in the agency has been—some
people take it the right way, some people take it the wrong way—the
misuse of astronauts in using them to plug management positions because
somebody thinks that that will make something happen good all of a
sudden, or it’ll take the heat off, or whatever reason they
use. So we now have astronauts up and down the management chain, some
of whom really shouldn’t be there, to be quite honest. Because,
one, they don’t have the training nor the expertise. When I
stop and think about it, when I came here, I was a captain; I was
selected for promotion to major. The things that I was entrusted to
do when I finally was assigned as a crew member, and especially when
I became a commander, were unbelievable in terms of magnitude as to
what I would be doing if I were out in the operating forces of the
Marine Corps. And there the ultimate, the big differences as a marine—I
can speak for the Marine Corps—as a very junior marine, you’re
entrusted with the lives of your marines and sailors. So that is a
But in terms of making decisions that have big monetary impact or
things like that, you don’t. Nobody asks your opinion, nor does
anybody care. In the Astronaut Office, you do. The assumption that
because somebody’s flown four times, that’s why I kind
of chuckled at—I was honored, to be quite honest, and I don’t
mean to make light of it at all, but the fact that being considered
to be the Deputy Administrator or the Administrator of NASA because
you’ve flown in space four times.
Am I qualified to be an SES [Senior Executive Service]? To be quite
honest, when I look at Jan Davis—I don’t think I mentioned
this previously. The person I admire, and I won’t say the most,
but one of the people that I admire unbelievably is Jan Davis, because
Jan recognized early in her astronaut career that she didn’t
want to do that for a living, that she really did like being a worker
bee, and she really wanted to be a manager. She wanted to stay in
NASA, but she wanted to get into the SES hierarchy, and that she felt
the way to do it was the legitimate way to do it, and that is you
go to school, you go to seminars, you go through all the testing and
everything else. And she did that for years on her own and finally
qualified to be an SES, and then waited her turn to get appointed
to an SES position, which is what she fills up at Marshall right now.
And she is tremendous in it. She earned the respect of everybody with
whom she associates because they know that nobody put her there because
she was an astronaut. She’s there because she is fully qualified.
And I’ve always respected her for recognizing where she wanted
to go in life and then doing the things necessary to get her there,
not depending on a title or something else to get you there.
I don’t intend that to take anything away from anybody who is
serving in a management position, but there are some of us who don’t
belong there, to be quite honest, because we haven’t paid our
dues. And I don’t think flying in space is paying your dues.
That’s fun. There are other people who would kill to do that.
I don’t know if that answers your question.
Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you’d
like to mention?
I think we’ve talked about lots of stuff, everything. The thing
that I would re-emphasize is the key role that people play in the
organization and in the concept of an organization whose responsibility
it is to explore, not only for the nation, but for the world now.
We’ve grown beyond it. That is my biggest concern with NASA
right now, is that contrary to what I think a lot of us think, I think
we’re turning inward. And I think even with the President’s
announcement of going back to the Moon and on to Mars, I think there
is a very good chance that we’ll do it all wrong and we will
make it a U.S. effort. And we should have learned by now that that’s
not the way of the world. We know that in the military. You can ask
any military person from PFC Benoit to General Schmuck, and they will
tell you that you don’t do anything by yourself anymore. As
much as every service would like to believe that they’re the
best—and we in the Marine Corps think we’re the best—but
even in the Marine Corps we recognize that you don’t go to war
by yourself anymore, ever again. And if you ever try it, then you’re
going to have hell to pay, because that’s just not the way the
So what I hope is that we won’t try to venture back to the Moon
and on to Mars or anywhere else alone, as the United States. My fear,
from listening, is that we’ll decide that we’re going
to do it all by ourselves and screw everybody else, they can go play
with the Space Station, you know. For what it’s worth.
I appreciate you coming back and talking with us again today, and
thanks so much for participating.
Thanks a lot, I enjoyed it.