NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Carol Butler
24 June 2000
Butler: Today is June 24, 2000. This oral history with Jerry Bostick
is being conducted in the offices of the Signal Corporation for the
Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. Carol Butler is the interviewer
and is assisted by Summer Bergen and Sandra Johnson. Thank you for
joining us again today.
Thank you. It’s my pleasure.
Last time we talked about your early career, up through the Apollo
Program. About at the end of the Apollo Program, you then moved up
to NASA Headquarters in Washington. Can you talk about how that came
about and what role you moved into there?
That was, as you said, at the end of Apollo, and we were quite disappointed
that it had to end at 17. We were just getting into Skylab. Skylab,
although an interesting program, for me especially, I think, and most
of the flight controllers, was not that exciting. It was pretty boring.
In fact, that's what we were doing, was boring holes in the sky, just
going around and around in Earth orbit. So it made me think about
what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
[Gerald D.] Gerry Griffin, who was a good friend of mine, lived just
down the street, had been first a guidance, navigation, and control
[GNC] officer and then a flight director during Apollo, had just been
appointed Assistant Administrator of NASA for Legislative Affairs
and had moved to Washington [D.C.]. So I gave Gerry a call and said,
“What’s going on in Washington?” because I had spent
some time there. In fact, I was a page and then a doorman in Congress
and went to high school in Washington, to Capitol Page School. So
I’d spent about two and a half years on Capitol Hill, and I
thought, you know, legislative affairs and all that, that might be
an interesting thing. So I called Gerry, and he said, “Sure.
If nothing else, you can come to work for me. But let me talk to George
[M.] Low,” who was the Deputy Administrator at the time, “and
see what he thinks or see if there’s something else.”
That ended up, I went up for an interview.
George Low wanted me to come up to the Administrator’s office
and be, I think they called it at that time Assistant Executive [Secretary],
was the official title. But we really called it “horse-holder,”
because there were three principals in the Administrator’s office:
the Administrator, who was [James C.] Jim Fletcher, George Low, who
was the Deputy Administrator, and Willis Shapley, who was the Associate
So for each of the three principals they had an executive secretary.
[Henry E.] Pete Clements was the Executive Secretary, and Frank Hoban
and I were titled Assistant Executive Secretaries. Usually Pete would
hold Dr. Fletcher’s horse, and Frank Hoban would take care of
George Low, and I was to take care of Shapley. "Take care of"
meant that we attended all of their meetings and screened their mail.
It was kind of an interface between them and the other people at Headquarters,
the Associate and Assistant Administrators.
They had really divided up the office such that George Low kind of
managed internally. He managed the NASA centers. Willis Shapley took
care of Washington. He worried about interfaces with Congress and
the White House and the budget and all of that other stuff. Of course,
Jim Fletcher was the boss. But because I had the most recent experience
anyway in flight operations and we were, as I said earlier, then flying
Skylab, I spent probably more time with Jim Fletcher than I did with
Shapley, because he wanted a daily briefing on what was going on in
the missions. Pete Clements, who was really his principal horse-holder,
also didn’t like to travel, so anytime that Fletcher traveled,
I got to travel with him. So that’s how all that came about.
It was a horse-holder’s job. That’s good description for
Certainly it sounded like it was something that was useful, though,
After you had been up there for a while, around about a year, you
then moved over into the Office of Energy Programs. Is that correct?
Yes, that’s right. That was in ‘73, at the beginning of
the then current energy crisis. All of the government agencies were
trying to figure out what they could do to help out. So that was a
question Administrator Fletcher had then is, what can we do?
The decision was to bring Jack [Harrison H.] Schmitt, a geologist
astronaut who had flown on Apollo 17, up to Headquarters for ninety
days to study that question: what can NASA do to help out with the
energy crisis? Because I knew Jack, I was assigned to work with him
on that question, in addition to my other horse-holder duties. So
he and I spent the ninety days deciding if and what NASA could do
to help energy. The conclusion was that, yes, NASA could probably
have some things going that would help out. So we put together this
final presentation to take to the Administrator to say, "Yes,
we should form an office. We can do something. Here’s how the
office ought to be structured," etc.
I knew, because I worked with Fletcher every day also, that if that
was going to be the conclusion, that he was going to ask Jack to stay
and head up the office. So literally as we were walking down the hall
to give the presentation, I said, “Jack, I want to warn you.
He may ask you, if he buys our conclusion that an Office of Energy
Program should be formed, he probably is going to ask you to head
it up. So you need to be prepared for an answer.”
He said, “No, I don’t want to do that. I want to go back
to Houston and continue being an astronaut. No way would I do that.”
We walked on for a little while, and before we got to the office,
he turned to me and said, “Well, how about you? Would you like
to do that?”
I said, “No. No, I came up here to be a horse-holder, and I
too want to go back to Houston.”
In the middle of the presentation, after Jack had said, “We
should form an office,” Fletcher popped the question to him,
and he said, “Okay.”
And I thought, “Schmitt! You copped out. You said you weren’t
going to do that, but here you’ve agreed to do it.” Then
about five minutes later in the presentation, actually when I was
up to give them part of the presentation, Jack raised his hand, and
he said, “Dr. Fletcher, I may have spoken in haste earlier when
I agreed that I would head up the office.”
And I thought, “Okay. Now his backbone’s coming out, and
he’s going to tell him, no, he’s not going to do that.”
He said, “I will only do that if you’ll allow Jerry to
work with me in the office.”
So Fletcher then turned to me and said, “Well, Jerry, what do
I said, “Fine with me.” [Laughter] So that’s how
that transition happened.
We did that for about another year, and as the government tried to
get their act together with all of the various agencies trying to
come up with solutions or ways that they could help out with the energy
crisis. That’s when we had long gas lines and high gasoline
prices, not as high as they are today, but pretty high. But then the
conclusion of the government overall was that they would form a Department
of Energy and could consolidate everything into one department and
one agency. So that’s when Jack decided he would go off and
run for the Senate in New Mexico, and I decided I would come back
While NASA was having their own separate office for the energy situation,
what sorts of ideas were you looking at at that point?
First of all, we looked at the stuff that NASA was already engaged
in, such things as solar energy, because obviously we had satellites
that were powered with solar energy through solar cells. We also had
several of the centers who had been looking at solar panels where
you run water through panels and it is heated by the sun. Primarily
at the Lewis Research Center in Cleveland they had been doing some
work on windmills, because they had been an aeronautics research center
and knew all about propellers and stuff. They said, "Well, a
propeller is just another type of windmill, so maybe we could help
out with that."
And we had some other research going on in things like Brayton cycles
and ways that you could not only generate power for orbiting spacecraft,
but if we went back to the Moon or Mars or somewhere, there were ways
that you could generate energy or electricity. So it was those types
of things that we were primarily engaged in.
NASA also, in fact, at the Johnson Space Center primarily, was engaged
in what they call modular integrated utility systems, which the concept
was if we do do long-duration missions, we’re going to have
to utilize everything we have on board as much as we can—waste
materials, for example, to either generate water or electricity or
to grow plants. It was that kind of a concept. Had a program that
had been quite successful at JSC in demonstrating a few of those concepts.
So we looked at that, and it was a viable concept, but at that time
it was still very expensive. But we did, in fact, build a prototype
modular integrated utility system house at Langley.
JSC didn’t want to do that at the time. Chris Kraft was the
center director, and in retrospect, I think rightly so, was not very
interested in what we were doing in energy programs. He kept saying,
“Our mission is manned spaceflight, and it is a distraction
to take the stuff that we are doing research and that would benefit
manned spaceflight and try to apply that to terrestrial uses. It’s
a good thing to do, but someone else should do that. We should concentrate
on manned spaceflight.”
So that was a kind of a problem for me and Jack in the energy office,
because we had five million dollars, I think it was, to start out
with, to divide up among the centers to do research projects. JSC,
by and large, didn’t really want to be a part of it at all,
whereas Marshall, for example, would take anything. If you say, "We’d
like for you to do research on how you can turn chicken manure into
power," their first question was, "How much money are you
going to give us?" and they’d take it. But Kraft at the
time, although it frustrated me, I think rightly so, said, "No,
I don’t that’s an appropriate thing for the Johnson Space
Center to be involved in. If it’s not going to benefit manned
spaceflight, then someone else should do it."
A lot of those projects were then taken over by the Department of
Energy once it was formed, or at least the terrestrial application
part of the projects, so then NASA got out of the terrestrial energy
business, and rightly so, I think.
It’s interesting, in the light of mentioning the higher gas
prices at the time, that all of this came about, and here we have
been lately trying to figure out exactly why we’re having prices
as high as they are.
Once again, yes. But it’s also interesting to note that this
was about, what, twenty-seven years ago now? And there were some predictions
at that time that we would totally run out of petroleum resources
within twenty years. Jack, being a geologist, was one of the people
who clearly didn’t believe those studies. He said, “There’s
more petroleum in the ground than we know about. We just haven’t
found it. It may be hard to find and it may not be very economical
to recover, but there’s a lot there." But it doesn’t
mean that we should rely on that. If we can come up with things like
wind power. And we even looked at tides for a while, because that’s
a real interesting concept, that tides are free just like the wind.
You can generate electricity with tides, but it’s an expensive
process. It’s still not economical to do. It was an interesting
sidelight, away from pure space business, I guess.
It’s certainly something that has a lot of applications to the
Earth as a whole.
And we're going to need a lot of that when we go to Mars. We’re
going to have to generate our own electricity there.
Absolutely, and hopefully, with recent progress and discoveries being
made there, maybe that’ll happen a little sooner.
Yes, if there really is water there, that sheds a whole new light.
I’m very encouraged by that. I hope it’s true, and I hope
it inspires some people to be a little more aggressive about the possibility
of sending people there.
Certainly is exciting news. That would, I would hope, help spur things.
We should go find out.
That’s right. You say that then after you had worked here for
a while and as they were forming the Department of Energy, about that
time was when you came back down to Houston.
You had mentioned that earlier when you were first proposing the idea
for the Office of Energy, that both you and Jack Schmitt had been
interested in coming back down here at some point anyway. How then
did that come about? Was it again contacting somebody and saying,
"Okay, I’m ready for another move"?
That’s kind of interesting, I guess, because part of my agreement
with George Low, who was the Deputy Administrator at the time, when
I went to Headquarters, was that I most likely would not come back
to Houston. That was a part of his career path thing, that, first
of all, everybody should spend a little time at Headquarters, but
then people should move around from center to center.
So when Jack Schmitt decided that he wanted to run for the Senate
and I decided that I wanted to leave Headquarters after I’d
been there for a couple of years, I went to see George Low. He said,
"Okay, well, then I’ll set you up with interviews at all
the other NASA centers."
I said, “I really think I want to go back to Houston.”
He said, “Well, I know, but that was a part of our deal.”
So I had to go through interviews at Langley [Research Center, Hampton,
Virginia] and Lewis [Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio] and Huntsville
[Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama] and Kennedy [Space Center,
Florida] and all these places that I really didn’t want to go
to. I wanted to come back to Houston.
Finally, Chris Kraft, who was the center director, got involved and
told George Low, "I’d like to have him back in Houston."
He said, “Well, okay, but you have to get specific. What kind
of jobs are you going to offer to him? The bad thing is people come
up here, they usually go back to their home center, and they go back
to their old job.”
Kraft said, “He can have any job he wants. I’ll put him
on my staff.” So that’s how it ended up.
Low finally said, “Okay. I guess you want to go back to Houston.
Kraft acts like he wants you to come back, so I’m not going
to interfere.” So I got to come back home.
And it worked out well.
Yes, I think so. The job that Chris had in mind was as chief of the
Technical Planning Office. [Joseph P.] Joe Loftus, who was the chief,
was going off to school for a year, and it was known that he was going
to come back and most likely would want to come back to the same job.
So I knew it was just kind of a babysitting job for a year, but it
was an interesting job that involved allocation of research and technology
money that came into the center, and technology transfer and advance
mission planning, or advance program planning primarily. At that time
advance planning was, should we do a space station, or should we do
the Shuttle, or should we go to Mars. There was no lack of concepts
that people were coming up with for what NASA should do in the future,
so that’s what the staff job was at the time.
And so you were in that for about a year.
Yes, almost exactly a year, as I recall.
And during that time, you worked on something called the Space Transportation
System User Charge Policy?
Oh, yes. The Shuttle was coming about then. The obvious question came
up, how much do we charge people to fly a payload on the Shuttle?
How much is it going to cost? Because that was a part of the job of
selling the Shuttle to the Congress and the administration at the
time. It was really being sold as a—that it would pay for itself,
that we could fly enough missions and charge enough, either for NASA
programs or other federal agencies and Department of Defense and people
like that, that it would really pay for itself. So we did.
That came under the category in the Technical Planning Office of advance
program planning. So we did all kinds of studies about how many flights
a year could you really fly. We came up with some pretty astronomical
numbers. And I had worked a little bit on this when I was horse-holder
for Fletcher in Washington. NASA had contracted with a guy named Klaus
Heiss, who was an economist. He had done a number of studies about
how many flights you’d have to fly per year in order for the
Shuttle to pay for itself.
So we updated those studies and went into more depth. I recall we
would go to Washington to brief Jim Fletcher at the time and say,
“We’re now to seventy-five flights a year and this is
how much it’s going to cost.” Then he’d say, “Well,
divide by a larger number. We have to fly more flights a year.”
So we got up to some pretty astronomical flights per year just to
make it economical.
To answer your question, the User Charge Policy Group that we put
together and I headed, involved people from all of the manned spaceflight
centers. Our challenge was really to try to come up with a realistic
cost for the whole payload. How much is it going to cost? Then how
do you divide it up? In most cases, customers would not want to utilize
the entire payload bay. So one of the first questions was, do you
charge people by weight or volume? Because they’re both constraints.
We kind of came up with a compromise between the two, but based primarily
on volume. We divided the payload bay up into essentially quarters,
and said if you take up a quarter of the bay, it’s going to
cost you this much and these are the services that you’re going
to get for that, because it wouldn’t have been reasonable—some
payloads would fill up the whole bay and really not weigh that much,
but you still had to provide a lot of services and you couldn’t
fly anything else with them. So it was more reasonable to base it
on how much space they can consume rather than only based on weight.
Of course, you had to consider the weight also.
So the group basically came up with that policy that says if you want
to fly on the Shuttle, depending on your size and weight and the services
that you need, and we defined standard services, [this is how much
it will cost]. That was the main thing that we did, which says that
if you buy a quarter of the payload bay, you get X amount of power
and you get so much telemetry, and you’d get hold-down provisions
to tie you into the bay and all that, and this is what you get for
Seems like a complicated process to have to—since you hadn’t
had really in the previous programs anything that had to take those
things into consideration.
It was somewhat complicated, but we tried to simplify it as much as
we could. It had other constraints, that one payload had to be compatible
with other payloads. They couldn’t have emissions. A safety
consideration. All of the payloads combined that were going on a flight
had to be compatible. We tried to make it as simple as possible, because,
as you would probably expect, everybody complained that it was too
complicated, and I guess they still are. [Laughter]
It seems to be working, or at least it seems to work pretty well.
And it’s been simplified somewhat over the years. But there
are some basic requirements. If we had not standardized services,
then you would have to have custom accommodations for every payload
that came along, and the cost would have been prohibitive. Although
we were acting somewhat bureaucratic, I guess, in establishing the
standards, we tried to make it as easy as possible, but as I said,
everybody still complained that we were being too bureaucratic and
we were establishing unreasonable requirements.
Having come back to Houston now, and this was more of an administrative
managerial-type role and similar to some extent to what you had been
doing at Headquarters, but very different from what you’d been
doing early on in the control center, can you talk a little bit about
that transition from Houston to Washington the first time and then
back to Houston, what were some of the differences and challenges?
First of all, going to Washington was a real eye-opener. I realized
for the first time in my career, I guess, the importance of Headquarters,
because in the past, you know, the people out in the field have not
a lot of regard for Headquarters. They’re seen as an impediment
rather than a help.
But I realized very quickly when I got up there—well, I was
shocked to find out the frequency and the intensity, I guess, of the
communication between NASA and the Congress, and NASA and the White
House, for example. The congressional interface between the Administrator’s
office or some high-level office at NASA was an hourly thing. I mean,
some congressmen called and wanted to know this or that, and some
high NASA official had to go up on the Hill two or three times a day
on an average, probably. The Administrator was probably up there a
couple of times a week. There was quite a bit of interface with the
White House also. I never realized all that stuff was going on. And
the budget process turned out to be a lot more complicated than I
had ever imagined.
Here I was in Houston, where NASA is king, you know. Everybody in
Houston thought that NASA was number one and great. You go to Washington,
and in the federal bureaucracy, NASA’s like number 186 on the
totem pole. For example, sometimes when the Administrator traveled,
we used a Department of Defense [DoD] plane. So he would say, "I
want to go to Boston on this weekend," and I would call up DoD
and say, "We need an airplane."
They would say, "Oh, yeah, NASA. Well, we’ve got ahead
of you, you know, all of these other agencies, Department of Transportation,
everybody else." And it really shocked me—that was another
shock I had—is how in the Washington environment, how low NASA
was on the totem pole and what a competition for resources, including
the budget, you know, that funded the agency, what a competition there
So I developed a higher appreciation for Headquarters, but also concluded
that that wasn’t the environment that I wanted to live in. That
was best left to bureaucrats, and I didn’t want to become a
bureaucrat. I wanted to come back to Houston.
Although the job that I came back to was quite different than what
I had been doing in flight control, it still had some operational
aspects to it, like, how do we charge people for the Shuttle and how
are we going to fly the Shuttle. So I think that my background helped
somewhat that, and it was still, it was a pressing question and it’s
something that had to be solved. That’s very much like the job
that we had in flight operations. It’s something that has to
be done, so you just go do it. So even though it was, you’re
right, it was somewhat different, it was still the same kind of challenge.
I enjoyed it a lot.
Two very different worlds between the political bureaucratic arena
and the operational field center.
Yes, and I guess it made me believe in George Low’s principle
that before you get too high in a field center, that you should spend
a little time at Headquarters. I know that’s still probably
a very unpopular thing, but I think you have to develop an understanding
of what really goes on at Headquarters. You don’t have to like
it; you just have to know that it’s there and necessary. And
I think it would be beneficial for anybody in upper management to
spend at least a year at Headquarters.
Certainly we’ve seen that a lot with people we’ve talked
to on this project, that they have gone up there. Several of them
have expressed similar viewpoints.
Well, it was an eye-opener. Educational. As long as you learn something,
you know it’s not a lost cause.
Absolutely. You should always be able to learn something or get something
out of what you’re doing.
After you spent a year in the Technical Planning Office, then did
Joe Loftus come back at that point and then you moved on into the
Payload Deployment and Retrieval Systems Office?
Right. Joe was about to come back, I think probably within a month.
And that was an interesting transition once again. Late one afternoon
after normal working hours—my office was just across the lobby
from Dr. Kraft, who was the center director at the time, about five-thirty,
six o’clock or something, he strolled into my office and he
said, “Do you know what RMS stands for?”
And I said, “Root-mean-squared?” [Laughter]
And he said, “Okay, you’re the guy for the job.”
And I said, “What job?”
He said, “Well, Jerry [P.] Carr just left my office, screaming
and hollering about how terrible the RMS, the remote manipulator system,
the mechanical arm that’s going to fly on the Shuttle, how terrible
it is. It’ll never work, it’s going to be like a wet noodle,
he called it. It’s unsafe. Even though the Canadians are building
it and they’re going to give it to us, we shouldn’t accept
it, or we ought to go spend a lot of money and fix it, because it's
terrible. Won’t work. Useless.”
So he said, “Tomorrow morning, I want you to talk to Aaron Cohen,”
who was the Orbiter project manager, and RMS came under Orbiter because
it was a part of the Orbiter. “I want you to go talk to Aaron
and see if you can’t fix it.”
"Okay. Yes, sir." So I went down to see Aaron and we established
the Office of Payload Deployment and Retrieval Systems, which, of
course, the primary piece of hardware was the RMS. But we had to have
other things like attachment fittings and visual aids, but the overall
question was how do you deploy payloads from the Shuttle and how do
you retrieve them and put them back in? So that’s how that came
about. Another one of those challenges from Dr. Kraft.
Butler: He’s good at giving those out.
Yes, he is.
And he’s good at giving them to the right people, it seems.
Well, the arm has certainly been very successful.
Yes, I take a lot of pride in that, because there were a lot of people,
it turned out, who shared Jerry Carr’s opinion. In fact, one
of them was Glynn [S.] Lunney, who was in SPIDO, in the Shuttle Payload
Integration and Development Office. Glynn was one of my heros. I had
worked with him just about all of my NASA career. I really looked
up to Glynn. In fact, I went to see him pretty soon after I talked
to Aaron Cohen about, "What do you think about the RMS?"
He said, “It’s a piece of junk. Get rid of it. It won’t
ever work. We’re working on some other ways to deploy payloads,
rotating arms. This thing with a cherry-picker sticking out of the
back of the cockpit, every time you fire the jets on the Orbiter,
it’s going to vibrate. It’s probably going to break off.
Just forget it. Career-wise, this is a dead-end. Don’t go do
that, because you’re going to fail.” [Laughter] But it
worked out very well.
It was very interesting in working with the Canadians. We didn’t
have a lot of money. In fact, almost every time, the past five or
six years, every time I run into Aaron Cohen, one of his questions
is, "I still haven’t figured out how you guys did that,
because I didn’t give you any money."
I’d say, "No, sir, you didn’t give us any money.
We had to scrounge to get it done."
But it worked out very well. We were very fortunate to get some real
good people to work in the office. Milt Windler was one. In fact,
it’s interesting that when I started looking at people around
the center that I could try to steal to come and help me solve that
problem, I looked at primarily the engineering directorate and flight
operations. My conclusion, unbiased as I am, even though I came from
flight operations, was that the flight ops people understood engineering
integration a lot better than the engineering people, because most
of the engineers say, "Well, this is my system and I am an expert,"
and they are or were. They know that system better than anybody in
the world. You say, "But how does it interface with this system
They say, "Oh, I don’t know. That’s his system."
"How about the one over here?"
"Well, that’s not mine either."
Integration is the job of how do all of these things work together.
Even though we didn’t know it at the time, people in flight
ops have to address questions like that, because you’re flying
them. You have to be concerned about how everything works together.
So I [found] most of the people, like Milt Windler, who had been in
flight ops, a flight director on Apollo, he came over and was a great
We got some good assignments from the Astronaut Office also. We had
[William B.] Bill Lenoir and [Norman E.] Norm Thagard, Sally [K.]
Ride, [Judith A.] Judy Resnick for a while, and they were very good,
very objective. They took the attitude that there’s a job to
be done here, and, yes, the Astronaut Office is against the RMS, they
don’t like it or are afraid of it or whatever, but they kept
an open mind and were very, extremely helpful in deriving reasonable
requirements, and working with the Canadians and the Orbiter people
on how we were going to integrate this whole thing together. So, yes,
I take a lot of pride in seeing that it works. In fact, the first
time we flew the RMS on the Shuttle, I have to admit I went to Glynn
Lunney and said, “Never work, huh?” [Laughter]
I think that’s justified.
Of course, it’s used for everything. We had to develop not only
the hardware, integration included operational techniques, because
when you’re going to retrieve a payload, you have to rendezvous
with the arm already extended. So you’re firing the thrusters
on the Orbiter, and it does put a stress on the arm. So we had to
come up with techniques that only used certain thrusters and different
approaches and all of that. And it works. I'm very proud of that.
But when they were doing Hubble Space Telescope, the repair, and the
astronauts were out there on the end and they were able just to move
a few feet this way or a few feet that way, that way, very precise
control, then I thought, "All right. It does work."
Absolutely. It’s become a critical part of the Shuttle system.
You’ve mentioned some of the concerns that Jerry Carr had come
in talking to Chris Kraft about. Were there a lot of actual engineering
challenges that had to be overcome for the arm, or was it more just
figuring how to use it with everything else?
It was primarily an integration problem. There were some engineering
problems or questions, like the stiffness of the arm. As I mentioned
a number of times, the Canadian government had agreed to build the
arm and to "give" it to the United States for use on the
Shuttle. Of course, we were going to buy some more. So the immediate
question was how you attach it to the Orbiter. There was a lot of
argument about, "That’s your side," "No, that’s
your side," and who’s responsible for this and that. But
we finally worked all of that out. The stiffness was an engineering
The control of the end effector itself, whether there’s an astronaut
on the end or you’re just grappling a payload, was also a big
question, because the arm has joints, like it has a shoulder and an
elbow and a wrist and it has all those movements. You’ve seen
cherry pickers out on construction jobs, for example. Most of them
are limited to movement of one joint only at a time, so you move one
joint, then you have to move the other. When you do that, you get
some strange movements, like sometimes you think you’re going
to go up, and when you rotate this joint up, the end actually goes
So that was one of the first questions, and it took a lot of software
to do that, to say, "I’m here. I don’t care where
the joints are." We don’t want to hit anything, but the
primary concern is, "The end effector is here and I want it to
move that way. So don’t make me move." And that was the
input from the people that I mentioned from the Astronaut Office,
is, "Let’s develop the capability through software. I want
to tell it I want to go plus X, two feet, or as long as I have my
hand on the control and it’ll do that."
Of course, the Canadians didn’t want to do that. They said,
"That’s an operations thing, and if you do that, you have
to pay for that, because we can get you to the same point, we just
have to move each joint separately." So that was an engineering
Attaching it to the longeron on the Orbiter was another engineering
challenge, because the longeron, or the side beam, on the payload
bay is already built. That’s the Orbiter. So it has a certain
strength, and it also had a limited volume, because when you close
the payload bay doors, it has to fit in this little space. So that
was an engineering challenge, to build the base or the shoulder of
the arm there strong enough and small enough that it would fit.
They were individual engineering challenges, but the big job overall
was integrating all of that together: the Orbiter, the arm, the operation,
the visual cues that your astronauts use. Because if you’re
standing up in the aft cockpit, looking out the back windows and it’s
way down here, it’s really hard to judge what you’re doing.
So you had to develop even mirrors and targets and things to use as
visual cues, and, as I mentioned, operational procedures for how you
rendezvous with the arm out and how quickly you release payloads,
and when you can grapple a free-flying payload, because if it’s
out there tumbling or spinning, you can’t just go up and grab
it, because you’ll put enough torque on it to either break the
arm or break it loose from the Orbiter. So a lot of operational procedures
that had to be developed.
Must have been a little bit of a challenge, too, to even design a
simulator for it on Earth, because the arm itself can’t be used
That’s right. The Canadians came up with a very good concept
for how you could test the actual arm in a 1-G environment, because,
as you said, it’s just not strong enough to support its own
weight in 1-G. It would break. You can’t operate it. So they
laid it down sideways on an air-bearing floor, on a very smooth, perfectly
smooth floor, with little air jet pads to hold it up. So rather than
being up like this, it’s laying on its side, but then you could
actually control the arm in a 1-G environment, you know, move it around.
Of course, we had computer-based simulations also that were eventually
developed that [would simulate] that.
We started out with a model over in Building 9—9A, I guess it
is—where we used helium-filled balloons that would simulate
the payloads. That’s pretty good, but it’s not obviously
an accurate representation of zero-G, but it’s about as close
to the real thing. If you wanted to actually get into the real cockpit
and use an arm, which in this case doesn’t even look like the
arm that flies on the Shuttle because it had to be beefed up a lot
to do that, you could give the crews some simulation experience on
retrieving and deploying payloads, which [helped with] primarily the
visual cues. We spent a lot of time in building that and developing
targets for the end effector, and visual cues and mirrors and cameras
in the payload bay and cameras on the arm. We had to decide where
do you put cameras on the arm that would give the operator the best
view of what’s going on.
Well, certainly it sounds like an interesting job.
It was. It was a fun project. I enjoyed that. I think I enjoyed it
somewhat just because people said it was impossible.
So that’s the most fun, making the impossible possible. And
here you had originally not even known what RMS was.
I knew there was some mechanical arm, but that’s about all I
Came up to speed pretty quickly on that.
But that’s typical again of Chris Kraft, to find somebody who’s
not prejudiced about something and say, "Go fix it."
Certainly a good type of person to pick, because they can go in open-minded
and say, "Okay, what can we do with this?"
Chris has a knack for that.
From there, you moved on and you were involved with the Shuttle Program
as a whole, the space transportation program, and getting into manifests.
You were Deputy Manager of the Operations program there for a while.
Did that all kind of come logically from your involvement with the
arm and then previously with the policies and such?
I guess it was logical. It’s another one of those funny things.
Glynn Lunney showed up in the office one day and said, "I’ve
been offered a job in Headquarters as Deputy Assistant Administrator
for Space Flight, and I’m really considering it. You spent a
couple of years in Washington. Tell me about Headquarters and about
living there. Where did you live?" and all of that. So we talked
for probably a couple of hours about all of that. He said, “Well,
I’m kind of inclined to take this job, and, oh, by the way,
I’ve already talked to Chris, and if I take this, then you’re
going to come up and take over my job while I’m gone.”
I said, “Well, thanks for telling me that.” [Laughter]
So he went to Washington, and while he was gone, I guess I was originally
Acting Manager of SPIDO, Shuttle Payload Integration and Development
Office. Then sometime, I think before Glynn came back, we changed
the name to STS Operations, which was Space Transportation System
Operations, which was probably more descriptive of what we were doing,
because we were involved in things other than just the payload integration
at that time—how do you actually operate the Shuttle. So, yes,
that’s another one of those stories.
You always seem to be in the right place at the right time for these
Or the wrong place.
You said you were more involved in operations as a whole, for the
whole Shuttle then at that point. This was before the Shuttle actually
Right. We still had the Shuttle Program Office at that time. Bob Thompson
was the program manager. Of course, they were developing the Shuttle,
and that’s what they [should] do. But it was about time to think,
okay, they’re going to deliver this thing here pretty soon.
So how are we going to fly it? Of course, those questions had been
asked, but it was time to decide really within the parameters that
had been discussed, things like, how do you land it? What kind of
cross range? Do you just come for a direct, or do you fly around the
heading alignment circle? What kind of crosswinds can you withstand?
Again, these questions had been addressed, had to be addressed when
the Shuttle was designed and then built, but it was time then to look
at the real capability, because it was being built and had been tested.
You say, okay, these are the physical limitations of the Shuttle,
and here are more details about the limitations of the ground facilities,
the network. How do you tie it in with all of that? We were involved
in establishing those ground rules for how are you really going to
operate this vehicle. Abort modes. Where do [we] have to have continuously
abort landing sites? What kind of crosswinds or winds can we tolerate
to launch and still come back and land at the Cape? And those sorts
of things. It was becoming more an operations question than just what
kind of payloads can you integrate into it and fly.
Pinning down all the specific details to make it all really happen.
Right. And of course, the flight operations people, whose primary
responsibility it is, had been working on all of that for a while,
but any capabilities that you need have to be paid for. So the program
office had to address those, look at what’s been developed,
what the ops people want, try to decide somewhere in the middle, that,
yes, this is what we can afford, and so that these are the ground
rules for how we’re going to proceed.
You mentioned setting up the abort sites, and these were around the
world. That must have been somewhat of a unique challenge because
before, in the early programs, you hadn’t really had to worry
about that in particular since you’re landing in the oceans,
and now you have to take into account all the diplomatic relations
and international details.
That was a little different than it had been before. In the past,
and I wasn’t directly involved in Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo
in that, but basically what we had said is, primarily we’re
going to land in the water, and we told people where we were going
to land, and especially the surrounding countries to make sure they
were okay. But there was a kind of a general rule that we may have
to come down anywhere.
So the State Department, I guess, advised people that we were going
to be flying over their countries and there was a very remote possibility
that we might have to have a contingency landing, but, of course,
it never happened. And I don’t know how seriously they took
that stuff. But, as you said, here we come with the Shuttle, and we
had one of the abort modes near the end of the launch phase would
be to land somewhere on the African or European continent, depending
on the launch azimuth. So we had to work through the State Department
and go and make real provisions to do that and, in fact, spend a lot
of money to develop runways and radars and landing aids and all that
sort of stuff. So it was more involved, but primarily the State Department
took care of the diplomatic part of that. There was always problems,
things that had to be worked out, but it wasn’t that bad.
One question that comes to mind [in relation to] all that is when
the Shuttle does land, especially out at Edwards [or] White Sands,
it takes quite a bit of effort and time to actually get the Shuttle
onto the plane and ship it back to the Cape. How would all that happen?
Would that all be possible if the Shuttle were to land on one of the
European or African sites, or would that just be a very involved process?
It would be possible, but, yes, it would be very involved. That’s
why, even until today, you really want to land at Kennedy, because
that’s where you have to process it. We landed once at White
Sands. Boy, what a mess. I think they’re probably still getting
sand out of the vehicle. But, yes, it would be a real challenge to
get it back home, but obviously possible or it wouldn’t be planned
that way. The Shuttle carrier aircraft, in fact, at least once has
flown to Europe. It went to the Paris Air Show one year. It’s
possible, but it’s not something that you would really like
But certainly if it is an abort situation, you want to get them down.
Oh yes. But the price you would have to pay to get it back is worth
it if you save the vehicle and the crew. That’s something you
have to plan for that you hope you never have to do.
But you plan for it.
As you were working through all of this and still being involved somewhat
with what the Shuttle was going to be carrying, as well as the operations
of it, and this was again so different from everything that had been
done before, and you were [involved with] working with a lot of different
agencies and so forth, did all of this come together without a lot
of—obviously there was a lot of challenges and a lot of difficulties
going into it and in even early testing on the Shuttle, but were there
a lot of changes along the way, I guess, is what I’m asking,
by the time that you came into it? Or were things pretty well settling
down into the way—
Operational aspects were settling down fairly well. We still had the
challenge of integrating all the payloads onto the Shuttle, because
to justify the Shuttle, we had counted on having a lot of different
types of customers, other government agencies, including the Department
of Defense and, of course, that had all been approved at the highest
level, but all of these other agencies and especially the Department
of Defense weren’t too happy about that. They didn’t,
in some cases, have a lot to fly on the Shuttle, and a lot of stuff
that they were going to putting into orbit, they really didn’t
want to fly on the Shuttle, especially the DoD. So that was the real
challenge in the early years of operating the Shuttle.
Even internal to NASA, there were some departments in NASA that were
a lot easier to work with than others in integrating their payloads.
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say most of the customers
came in and said, "Here, here’s my payload, here’s
my requirements. Now you satisfy all that and fly it," and that’s
it. We said, "Wait a minute. It’s our vehicle. It’s
a national resource, but we control it, and we have these standards,
these policies, and you have to meet those. If you’re going
to fly with us, these are the rules." So a lot of the initial
meetings didn’t go too well with those customers, even, as I
said, internally with some of the NASA customers. A few went extremely
well, but unfortunately that was kind of the exception.
The DoD, they came in kicking and screaming. They had their own unmanned
launch vehicles. They’d been flying [then] for years. They were
totally independent. They operated under a veil of secrecy. They weren’t
really happy about coming out from under, revealing their secrets
to anybody else, which they had to do in some cases to fly on the
So, by and large, we were not very popular with the Department of
Defense. It created a lot of problems. In addition just to flying,
they had to spend a lot of money here in Houston, primarily in the
control center and then around the network, when we were flying their
payloads, to protect all of their data. They thought that was a totally
unnecessary expense, or one that they could avoid if they just continued
to fly on their unmanned vehicles. Some cases, they even had to make
modifications to their spacecraft to fit in the payload bay. At a
minimum, they had to make structural changes to adapt to mounting
their payload, attaching it physically to the Shuttle. In some cases,
they had to add a structural ring at a certain location to put the
longeron fittings in the right place so you can attach it to the Shuttle.
They obviously weren’t too happy about that.
It’s always been a challenge, even from the early [Dwight D.]
Eisenhower days, with the first satellites as to how to balance the
national security and military Department of Defense needs against
a civilian space program.
Of course, a lot of the security aspects of flying the DoD payloads
was new to us, but we had worked under constraints before, because
we started out with what had been military launch vehicles, for example.
It still had some classified data associated with it. So we had some
experience with that, and we certainly tried to be reasonable about
all of the DoD payload security requirements, and I think we were.
In fact, I think in a lot of cases we thought that the DoD was going
overboard, going to extremes in order to protect information. But
we acknowledged, in the end, "That’s your responsibility.
We’ll abide by your rules for security. It’s your money.
You’re having to pay to make all of these modifications."
I think we spent probably 35 million dollars on the control center
to make it DoD-secure, and probably the only part that you can see
are the entrance doors. All the rest of it’s in the walls. But
they felt it was necessary, and we felt it was their call, and if
they paid for it, we’d do it. But they weren’t happy campers,
I have to admit that, by and large.
Ultimately it did work out, so that NASA and DoD were able—
Oh, yes, we flew quite a few payloads. Yes, it worked out, but I don’t
think that the majority of the DoD people were still too happy about
it. It’s something that they had reluctantly agreed to. Those
were the rules, so they’d abide by the rules, but they didn’t
have to like them.
I think now they actually have separated again, is that correct?
Yes. After Challenger, there were a lot of decisions made about what
types of payload. I think the Department of Defense, once again, seized
upon that opportunity to say, "Hey, just let us take care of
our own," and I can understand that. If I had been on their side,
I probably would have argued the same way. "We know what we’re
doing. We’ve been doing it for years."
But, of course, that was part of the justification for the Space Shuttle
in the beginning. It was going to be a national resource, and it was
and is. We were and still are, I think, spending a lot too much money
on the expendable launch vehicles for other agencies. But it’s
hard to get everybody to agree to use one vehicle, and in the process
of doing that, they have to be somewhat subservient to a sister agency,
and they don’t like that. It’s unfortunate, but I can
understand it, though.
Probably a process that continues to evolve.
Oh, yes, as long as there’s any question about—there’s
been a lot of discussion over the years about if we really are going
to have a space transportation system [we'll] take it away from NASA
and give it to the Transportation Department or somebody. Of course,
it wouldn’t help the other agencies, like NOAA [National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration], for example. They wouldn’t
like that any better than NASA probably. And even though there’s
probably some good arguments that that would be a good thing to do,
even people within NASA are reluctant to give it up. But if it’s
just pure transportation, I guess I would have to agree that that’s
not NASA’s business. Somebody else can operate the Shuttle just
as well as we can. It kind of hurts to say that, but it’s true.
NASA’s job should be exploration and research that leads to
that. I’m afraid we’ve gotten kind of bogged down with
boring holes in the sky with the Shuttle.
We have been doing that for quite a few years now. Maybe as Space
Station begins to actually move along—
—that’ll help spur things and continuing discoveries on
flights like Mars and such things maybe.
Certainly hope so.
You stayed involved with the Shuttle for quite a while and moved into
a couple of different roles, eventually moving up to Deputy Manager
of the Space Shuttle Program. Was this change in the name of—where
you still involved in the same types of work?
It was more or less the same thing. It came time after the development
flights of the Shuttle that the Shuttle—see, we still had the
Shuttle Program Office headed by Bob Thompson, and the Space Transportation
System Operations Office headed by Glynn Lunney. But after the development
flights of the Shuttle, the first four flights, it was time to consolidate
all of that into one, because then it was the job of continuing some
development on the Shuttle to build more and to make a few changes,
but really to operate it. So it was not a big change at the time.
I continued doing more or less what I’d been doing. The title
changed. Deputy Manager for Operations, [Arnold D.] Arnie Aldrich,
came over and was—I’ve forgotten exactly what his title
was, but it was Deputy Manager, Technical. He was more concerned with
hardware, the development of the Orbiter and external tanks and the
SRBs, and all of the hardware. Glynn Lunney was the overall manager.
As far as I was concerned, it was more or less a continuation of the
same thing that we’d been doing for the last couple of years.
Did you have a chance during any of this time to go down and see any
of the launches?
Yes. Not a lot, but enough. I never saw a night launch, which I really
would—I wish I had.
There’s still time.
Oh, yes. I have to do that. Yes, and it was kind of fun to go back.
I didn’t witness any Apollo launches, because I was in the control
center here, and I really missed being in the control center at the
Cape when we first started out with Mercury, because you could hear
it and you could feel it. The building even would shake. So I kind
of missed that all during Apollo. I never, unfortunately, got to see
an Apollo launch.
I saw one Skylab launch. I went down with Dr. Fletcher when I was
working with him. We rode the vehicle out from the vertical assembly
building out to the pad. Well, actually we only went about half way
because it…takes a long time, but that was interesting, and
then we saw the launch.
I saw a couple of early Shuttle launches. It was more reminiscent
of the Gemini-Titan launches because of the solid rocket boosters.
They make a very distinctive sound. It’s like the whole air
is cracking. It’s a very sharp, distinctive cracking sound.
That brought back a lot of memories.
But Shuttle launches still, even today, I remember the STS-1…launch.
I had worked in the trajectory world most of my life designing launch
profiles, and I obviously had worked on the Shuttle and I knew exactly
what was going to happen, but when it’s unsymmetrical, when
it lifts off and this unsymmetrical thing starts rotating around,
it still looks kind of strange to me. Still haven’t gotten over
That’s understandable, I think. Must have been rewarding to
see it all come together.
But I would like to go see a night launch. Have do that sometime,
I’m sure there are still a few contacts that you can make the
Hopefully so. Hopefully so.
Certainly an interesting sight to see. Then you moved in to be Director
of Mission Support. Obviously this is for Shuttle missions, but what
was that? What were your duties there?
Gerry Griffin was the center director at that time, and he decided
that it would be better if he didn’t have as many people reporting
directly to him. So he kind of reorganized the center and grouped
several directorates or divisions up together and formed this thing
called mission support, that included five divisions: mission planning,
flight simulation, flight software, flight support, which was the
control center, and data systems, which had responsibility for operating
all the computers around the center.
But the job was to provide the facilities for both training and execution
of the Shuttle flights. That was primarily the Shuttle mission simulator
and the control center. But then, in addition, to do the flight software
and the mission planning for the Shuttle flights. Probably one of
the best jobs I ever had. I really enjoyed that job. That was good.
Certainly sounds like it would be interesting.
Were there any particular incidents or challenges during that time
that really stick out for you?
The continual struggle, of course, was the budget. We were under a
lot of pressure to reduce the cost of operations. Hans Mark was the
Deputy Administrator at this time, and he was really putting a lot
of pressure on us to cut down on the cost of operations. We were making
a real serious effort to do that.
I can’t remember one single incident, but I do recall John Young
walking into my office a number of times. This is back when he was
still flying, and said, “I understand you’ve decided not
to put this capability into the SMS because it’s going to cost
too much money. I don’t think the government wants to operate
like that. I’m not sure I want to fly if I can’t try that
out on the ground before I get in the vehicle.” So there was
a lot of pressure, especially from the astronauts, that they have
as much capability in the Shuttle mission simulator as they could.
I understand that, and I think we were able to provide most of that.
In some cases, there had to be some compromises.
The budget and the pressures from not only the astronauts, but my
old buddies, the operators in the control center who obviously want
to always have more capability, but you had a stack of money this
high, and that’s all you had. So you had to be very judicious
in how you utilized that money. That was a daily challenge, I guess.
But it was still fun because it was operational, and I obviously like
Did you ever get a chance to go down and help out in any simulations
or participate in—?
I did fly the SMS [Shuttle Mission Simulator] [because I'm the kind
of] manager, I guess, that I think I can better appreciate what people
are doing and what challenges they have if you go and find out. I
did a lot of what people now, I found out later they called it management
by walking around. In fact, at that time I had people in a number
of divisions who said, “Gosh, I’ve been here for twenty
years, and you’re the first director that’s ever been
in my office.” But I had a policy that if I needed to talk to
a division chief or a branch chief or something, I didn’t call
them and tell them to come to my office. I would say, "Can I
come to your office?" And we would go and talk about it. Because
I think that’s how you really find out what’s going on,
is you go to their territory. Yes, I flew the SMS, and I am not a
pilot. I had never flown an airplane or anything, but in the first
attempt, the first time I got in the SMS, was a landing simulation,
and I did land it.
I won’t say how many tires blew out, but it was successful,
which surprised the hell out of me, frankly, that I was able to land
it. Tried it a couple of more times and was not successful, to be
honest about it. But I got a better appreciation for both what the
developers of the facility were going through and the people who support
the simulations and the crew themselves, what they had to contend
with, and why they were arguing about they needed certain capabilities
and all that.
Also rode in it a couple of times for a launch simulation, but it’s
kind of hard to screw that up. You just kind of sit back and watch
it go. Of course, they were kind to me. They didn’t give me
a lot of faults that I had to do. Yes, that was fun. I enjoyed that.
I tried to do the same in the other facilities, like the control center.
I would show up at two o’clock in the morning sometimes when
they were doing the network validation tests or something, just to
see what’s going on, to try to have a better understanding for
what the problems are that the people keep telling me about. That’s
one of the reasons I liked that job so well, also, because I had a
lot of opportunity to do a lot of hands-on stuff that I enjoyed.
Certainly good to be able to be involved and to see that you’re
having an impact on things.
I’d also go over sometimes when the crews were simulating the
payload aspects— because of past experience I did know a little
bit about the payloads and especially the RMS operations. So I would
show up over there sometimes at night and watch the crews. That was
fun and beneficial to do that. It was a fun job. I really enjoyed
that job a lot.
Must have been interesting comparison when you had been back in the
control center, you, of course, ran simulations for those missions,
and it must be interesting to look at how the technology had changed,
how the procedures for the simulation changed, and the whole process.
Yes, it was, and how things had advanced and improved. Unfortunately,
one of the big challenges that we had was that the software in the
Shuttle mission simulator hadn’t really advanced all that much,
even some of the hardware, the computers that drove them. In fact,
we were way behind in the technology that was available, and that’s
one of the things that a lot of the astronauts kept coming and telling
me about it. Like, “Hey, you ought to go up to DFW [Dallas-Ft.
Worth airport] and see the American Airlines simulation facilities
and see what they have,” and I did because of that. And they
were right. As far as visual displays and things, they were a lot
more advanced than we were, but again it was a budget problem, with
money. That helped me to raise some of the priorities, to see that
we were a little behind in the technology, you could do better with
that. It’s a lot better now than it was twenty years ago, but
they’re still probably behind.
That’s always a problem in the space program, because the Shuttle
itself is 1970s' technology, by and large. They’ve done a lot
of upgrades with the heads-up displays and the glass cockpits and
all of that, but just because if you have to be concerned about reliability,
by the time that any hardware really gets on the Shuttle, it’s
probably at least ten years old. It takes a while, and that’s
hard for people on the street to understand, why that is that way.
The flight computers on the Shuttle now, by any standard, are antiquated,
even with all of the updates that they’ve had.
It certainly is interesting to a lot of people. A lot of people do
think of NASA as state of the art and cutting edge. Yet you really
wouldn’t want to use, at least with software, state of the art,
something right off the shelf, because there could be all these bugs
and testing problems as such.
It’s a little hard to fix a virus when you’re in the middle
of a launch phase or something.
That would be very bad. It’ll be interesting to see how it continues
to grow and change with the times. We’ll probably be using the
Shuttle for a while yet.
Yes, I expect that we are, and there are a lot of upgrades that really
need to be done that I think would be cost-effective. But it’s
hard to convince the Congress at this point that that much more money
should be spent. So those poor guys over there now that are fighting
the daily budget battles, it’s much worse than it was when I
was there. I had to admit that. Maybe that’ll get better. I
We can hope.
We can hope.
Eventually even though this was one of the most fun jobs that you
had had, you did decide to move on from NASA.
How did you come to that decision?
Very awkwardly. [While] in that job, I had had the opportunity—I
was asked directly to be considered for a couple of other jobs within
NASA. One was Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Flight, to
go back to Washington, and I really didn’t want to go back to
Washington. One was to be Deputy Director at KSC. And these weren’t
direct job offers. They would say, "Can we put your name in the
hopper? We’re going to consider four or five people for these
jobs." I said no in both cases, and that bothered me. It bothered
me a lot that here I’m saying I’ve gone as far as I want
to go, and I’m turning down opportunities. I had a continual
debate with myself.
I mentioned [this] to a good friend of mine, Bob Sheets, who at the
time worked for Grumman [Aerospace Corporation]. I didn’t talk
to him as a Grumman employee. He was a close personal friend. Our
families had a lot of ties and all that. We were neighbors. He came
back a week later or so and said—and I’d said, “This
bothers me that I’m turning down opportunities, because I love
my job so much, but it still bothers me that I’m satisfied with
where I am.”
And he said, “If you really decide you want to consider other
things, you should consider going outside of NASA. One of those opportunities
would be with Grumman.”
I said, “Oh, really?”
He said, “Yeah.”
I said, “There’s nothing I could do at Grumman that they
would want me to do.”
He said, “I don’t think so.” So he came back within
a couple of weeks and said, “They’re ready to make you
By then I had kind of decided that even though I loved my job as much
or better than anything I’d done in a long time, or ever, maybe,
that I really should not be complacent, that I shouldn’t be
satisfied with where I was.
So I had decided that I would consider other opportunities, and Grumman
convinced me that they were really interested in civilian space and
were going to be heavily involved in Space Station. They were already
building the wings for the Shuttle and were working on a lot of other
payload-handling devices and stuff that I was familiar with. So I
The first thing I really did for them was to assist on the STOC proposal,
the space transportation operations contract. At that time NASA was
going to consolidate a lot of the operations activities and turn it
over to a contractor. So we bid—"we," Grumman—bid
on that and lost. Rockwell was the winner on that. But that was part
of the agreement that I had with Grumman that if we did not win that
contract, then what I’d do then. So they put me in charge of
all their civil space activities. Grumman had a Space Systems Division
that had both military and civil space activities. So they divided
that up between the two, and I was Vice President of Civil Space Operations.
I oversaw such projects as the orbital maneuvering vehicle [OMV],
which Grumman was a sub to TRW on that. We had quite a bit of the
activity. We had all of the front-end activities on the OMV, little
mechanical arms, more small RMSs and stuff that you could go up and
service payloads. We still had the Shuttle wing. Some in Space Station,
we were bidding on a number of different aspects of the Space Station
Program. Even though most of the stuff was based in New York, they
allowed me to stay in Houston, which was part of the deal also, because
I didn’t want to move to New York. So, yes, I did that for a
number of years.
It was interesting to deal back with the people I had known at NASA,
but from a contractor’s standpoint, and it was one of the things
that convinced me that I really did want to leave NASA at the time,
because I’d worked for the government all my life, and I really
wanted to see the other side of the fence. I wanted to learn what’s
different, and I learned quite a bit on the outside, that I’m
thankful for. It was a different experience.
At this point, if we could go ahead and take a quick break and we
can change out our tape. [Tape turned off.]
We were talking about the transition over to Grumman, and you were
saying that you wanted to experience how it was different on the outside,
from the other side. What were some of those differences that you
One of them is economics, money, budgets. The companies obviously
are in business to make a profit. You can come up with all kinds of
nifty things you [want] to do and [good] ideas. Even on the government
side there are screens that you have to go through to get approval
for projects. But I found that on the industry side, there are more
screens and they’re finer screens. The bottom line is, are we
going to make money off of this project? So any proposals that you
would come up with are heavily scrutinized, and that’s one difference.
Of course, the big difference is that in my case, where we had civil
space projects, that you had a federal agency that was your boss,
that would tell you how to do things. Even though the contract said
you have freedom to go do this this way, they still like to tell you
how to do things. So that was quite different to have to not only
answer to the company bosses about, "Why are you doing this,
and why aren’t you making more money?" and all of that,
that you had people on the government side that were also continually
telling you what to do. That took a little while to get used to that.
But the big difference in management, I certainly don’t mean
to imply that I didn’t worry a lot about budgets and money at
NASA because we did and I did, but there’s more pressure in
In the government, it was more a tradeoff of dollars and risk. I like
that approach. "Here is how much it’s going to cost to
do this project. If you spend that much money, here’s the risk
you’re taking." If you could spend a little bit more, you
could reduce the risk. But that’s what really what budget exercises
in the government, I think, boiled down to, is trading dollars against
On the industry side, yes, you have to worry about risk, but it’s
still the bottom line. When you get up to the president and the chairman
of the board, they say, "How much money am I going to make off
of this?" They don’t worry a lot about the details of what
you’re doing and all that. It’s return on investment.
That was interesting. I knew that, but I hadn’t personally experienced
it and gone through it. So that was the big difference, that and still
having the government bosses on the other side. But it was educational.
You stayed with Grumman for a number of years then.
About eleven years. Right.
And you had mentioned some of the things that you were involved with,
Which got canceled.
—which got canceled, unfortunately, and the Shuttle wing obviously,
and then some work on Space Station. What else?
We were successful on at least two aspects of the Space Station that
we were bidding on. We won a contract as a sub to Boeing out of the
Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the crew
accommodations, the crew quarters in the habitat module. We also then
won the overall systems integration contract for the Space Station.
That, of course, was headed by Fred [W.] Haise [Jr.], and they were
headquartered up in Reston, Virginia, where the NASA program manager
for Space Station was at the time. Because NASA had gone through this
big thing about, we aren’t going to go with lead centers anymore,
we need to pull the management back to Headquarters. They ended up
at Headquarters, but not physically. They were across the border in
Virginia, in Reston, just right outside the District.
I ended up going there because they ran into some problems. They got
some low grades from the government. The whole program was under a
lot of scrutiny and pressure from Congress. So Grumman, I think at
NASA’s insistence, decided they would kind of regroup the management
of that contract, and I ended up going up there for about two and
a half years, I guess. After they had reorganized it, they brought
in [Thomas J.] Tom Kelly, as the head of the Grumman part of the operation,
and [Robert E.] Ed Smylie, actually from the outside. He was ex-NASA,
and I had, in fact, gone to college with him and worked at JSC with
him. He was head of crew systems at JSC, responsible for space suits
and other crew accommodations. I had worked for Tom Kelly also before
So the two of them asked me to come to Reston, and I did that for
a couple of years before NASA decided that they wanted to do away
with the work packages, the individual contractors that were building
Space Stations—our contract was an integration [contract] over
that—and consolidate all that into one. So that’s how
that terminated then, is when NASA decided that the idea of not having
a lead center and consolidating the program management near Headquarters,
they decided [that was not a good idea] after all, go back to the
way that things were done [in the past] and move it back to a lead
center and, of course, it came back to JSC and Boeing became the lead
Space Station certainly has gone through a lot of changes.
It has. I reflect back and I have to admit my own prejudice, because
I was with Grumman at the time and doing the integration job and that
job was terminated. I think about it frequently. One of the things
that Mr. [Daniel] Goldin, the Administrator, used to convince Congress
that the program was out of control and Grumman was out of control
is because we had allowed the budget to go up to 18 billion dollars
and a number of assembly flight up to 24. So that was proof that we
were just totally out of control. Now the budget’s over 100,
and the assembly flights are over 100, or they were the last time
I looked. So it’s a very difficult task.
Space Station somewhat, I think, due to NASA’s own actions,
is a complicated program because of all the international partners
and the way it was originally divided up between the centers, which
I didn’t think was a good idea at the time, and in retrospect
I think that’s been proven correct. You just get all the centers
arguing about who’s in charge. You have to have a lead center.
Somebody has to take charge and be responsible.
One of the most difficult things about Space Station, though, is the
international aspect. The good part of that is other countries are
paying. The bad part is that really again nobody is in charge. The
U.S. on paper is in charge, but if all these other countries are spending
all of that money, you have to listen to them and you have to make
accommodations for them. So it’s not easy. I don’t envy
the people that are struggling with that today. It’s a very
difficult task, and it’s taken more dollars and more time than
any of us hoped, but hopefully we’re getting close to having
something. I think it’s important that we do that.
It's got a lot of potential to it once we can get it going.
Yes, sure, it does. Again, I would hate to see NASA just be satisfied
with Space Station, though, because that’s research and it’s
Earth orbit and it’s boring holes in the sky again, you know,
going around and around. But it’s important to start, and I
do think it is right for NASA to do that. That’s a very legitimate
part of its charter, I think. But I would certainly hate to see the
agency do that at the expense of giving up exploration, because I
think it’s not only important to the agency, it’s important
to the country, that if we give up the concept of looking at what’s
over the hill, especially now that there’s a good possibility
that there might be some water on Mars, we ought to go find out. That’s,
I think, NASA’s real charter, to not be satisfied with just
doing research and transportation and stuff. We've got to get back
That's certainly something the human race has been doing all along,
is moving forward, exploring, and facing new challenges.
Yes. Yes, and it would really be sad if we stopped that. I don’t
think any of us—back in 1972, we were very disappointed that
the Apollo Program was going to be ended at flight 17. We thought,
"Okay, well, this is just kind of a temporary setback. We’ll
go back [to the Moon] and/or we’ll go to Mars. And it may take
twenty years." But, you know, well, here we are almost thirty
years later and we aren’t doing that yet. I really feel bad
about that. I think it is a mistake.
You look back at the marvelous thing that happened: America landed
men on the Moon. You try to explain that to somebody, and you take
a historical perspective and look back at that. That occurred over
a three-year time period, 1969 to 1972, and you say, how could a country
achieve that much over that short a time period? Or if you want to
look from the beginning to the end of the lunar program, it’s
about a real ten-year span. In the overall view of things, from historians
looking back over as long as America’s been here, 250 years
or so, or when we get to 300 and look back, you say, jeez, why in
[such] a short period of time did we achieve so much and then stopped
doing it? That’s hard to explain. That’s embarrassing,
People are still interested in it, much to my surprise and happiness
that they are. Occasionally I have the opportunity to talk to school
kids, and they know more about Apollo than I would ever expect them
to, because obviously they were born a long time after it happened.
But they still have a very inquisitive minds and have a desire to
go explore. Boy, it’s a shame that we aren’t really taking
advantage of that, I think.
It certainly is. Hopefully we can help keep the kids interested, and
they can then move into jobs and careers—
Yes, but it’s a challenge, because their question is, "Why
aren’t we doing that anymore?" And that’s hard to
explain. I need help. Somebody needs to explain to me why we aren’t
doing that. You know, there are a lot of good reasons, but you stand
back from all of the reasons. You look back, and some of that really
doesn’t hold water. The other answer is, I’m afraid that
we just aren’t bold enough. We aren’t being as aggressive
enough. No, it’s not an easy thing to do, and there’s
a lot of competition to do other things on the Earth. But it’s
never been easy to do hard things, and it won’t ever be. So
you might as well bite the bullet and go do it.
Who knows what we’ll find on Mars? Maybe nothing. I don’t
believe that. Just going to the Moon, we found out a lot about ourselves
and how the Earth was formed, and are still learning, I guess, on
that. One of these days this planet’s going to get full, and
it would have been nice to have another place to go.
Absolutely, and there’s always more out there to learn about.
It’s better than the alternative.
Absolutely. Even though ours is a history project, hopefully by doing
this history, it does help to inspire those people that read about
it and hear it in your words.
I think it’s good to record the history as it happened, and
hopefully it’ll make people ask questions about, why aren’t
we still doing that? Why did we stop? Why don’t we start again?
One of the ways people get inspired is through science fiction and
movies and Hollywood in particular. I wanted to ask you about your
involvement with Apollo 13.
I know that your son was involved with Ron Howard. If you could tell
us kind of how that came about and [some of] your experiences on it.
I had spoken by telephone with [James A.] Jim Lovell [Jr.] probably
a couple of times while he was writing the book, and with Jeffrey
Kluger, his co-writer, a number of times. They were asking questions
about specifics from Apollo 13. Then one day out of the blue, I got
a call from my son Michael, who worked for Ron Howard at Imagine Films,
and he said, “Dad, I just came across a synopsis for a book
that Jim Lovell is writing about Apollo 13, and I want to talk to
you about it. [I think it would] make a good movie.”
I said, “Yes, is this the book that he’s writing with
Mike said, “Yes. How’d you know that? How’d you
know about Jeffrey?”
I said, “Well, I’ve talked to both of them in writing
He said, “I think it’d make a wonderful movie. We only
have an eight-page—I think it was—synopsis of the book."
The book wasn’t completed at the time. "But I think we
should buy it and get the movie rights to make a movie. What do you
I said, “I think it would be a very boring movie. What are you
going to do? Are you going to do a documentary? People are tired of
“No, we’re going to make a movie-movie out of it.”
I said, “That means you’re going to screw it up. You’re
going to embellish it.”
“No, we’re going to stick to the facts. It’s an
exciting story if you just stick to the facts.”
I said, "I’m not so sure about that.”
Anyway, he fortunately didn’t listen to me, and that day they
bought the rights. After he talked to me, he went to Ron Howard and
convinced him that they should spend the money to buy the rights to
the book. They did, and then I was asked to be a technical advisor
on the movie. I had a lot of trepidation about that, because I didn’t
know what a technical advisor did, but I could imagine. [I was told,]
you first help with the script, because the script is going to be
based on the book, but you’ve got to have a script. They had
hired Al Reinert and [William] Bill Broyles [Jr.] to write the script.
That was okay, but I was afraid they wouldn’t take my inputs
or wouldn’t take them all, anyway.
Then the other aspect, they said, is to come during the [filming]
and make technical inputs and say, "This is wrong." But
if you say that’s wrong and the director says, "I’m
sorry, but we’re going to do it this way anyway," then
you shut up and go back to your corner. So I wasn’t really looking
forward to doing that.
But it turned out great, because it turns out that Ron Howard wanted
to be as accurate—I mean, he was a nut for accuracy. He wanted
everything to be as accurate as it could possibly be, so he was very
receptive to inputs. It also helped that Tom Hanks was also the same
way. He’s an absolute space nut. He can tell you the name of
the crew of each manned spaceflight from early Mercury through the
first twenty-five Shuttle flights, or at least that’s what he
could do while we were making the movie. He’d probably go beyond
that now, and I can’t do that and I was there. But not only
could he tell you the date of the launch and who was on the crew,
but where he was when the launch occurred, which was usually playing
hooky from school. Anyway, he wanted to make it accurate also. So
it turned out to be a very good experience.
I was a little nervous about it because at the time I worked for Grumman
and I was taking leave without pay to go help with the movie, but
my immediate boss at Grumman at the time was Fred Haise, who had turned
down the opportunity to co-write the book with Jim Lovell because
he had the attitude that—in fact, he said, "That’s
in the past. I don’t want to dwell on that. I’m moving
on. I’ve got other things to do. I don’t want to waste
time on that." So I knew that was his attitude. In fact, when
I talked to him about, "Can I take off time to go work on this
movie?" he said, “Well, it’s your own life. Do what
you want. I think it’s a waste of time.” [Laughter]
But also it involved people like Tom Kelly, who had been my boss at
Grumman at one time, but he was "the father of the lunar module,"
so he was portrayed in the movie. And Ed Smylie, who was a lifelong
friend and, of course, the astronauts. I was a little nervous about
how they would react to it, but it turned out much better than I had
thought. Most people, even the people like Fred Haise, who were portrayed,
and obviously Jim Lovell, but other astronauts like [Eugene A.] Gene
Cernan, have come to me and said, “Hey, that was really good.
You guys did a good job.” And I said, “Whew."
At the premiere there we had here in town, I sat between Gene Kranz
and Fred Haise, so I was like sweating BBs the whole time. Of course,
I figured Gene would like it because his role was somewhat embellished.
That was one thing that I had worried about in making the movie and
had made inputs, but there’re so many characters, so many people
involved, that you can’t have each portrayed individually. So
the Gene Kranz role in the movie, as well of a lot of others, were
a combination of all of the flight directors. You have to do that,
and I understood that. So I figured Gene would like it because it
really kind of embellished his role, and he did, of course.
But Fred didn’t say anything after the movie. We got on the
bus to ride back to where we had parked our cars after the movie.
I was sitting behind him again on the bus, and he didn’t say
a word. So I wasn’t going to say, "How did you like it?"
Finally about halfway back to the parking lot, he turned around and
he said, “I didn’t chew gum.” And I said, “Oh.
I’m sorry. Well, Bill Paxton, who played you in the movie, liked
to chew gum.” So then he said, “I never chewed gum.”
[Laughter] So that was his big thing, and I thought, "Okay, if
that’s your biggest complaint."
But, yes, again, it was a good experience, even though I really didn’t
think it would be possible to make a commercially successful movie
out of that mission, I guess because I was too close to it. It was
a personally rewarding mission from the standpoint that us flight
controllers got to prove that we were worthwhile, that we actually
did something and it worked out all right. But I was really surprised
that it was commercially successful and pleased that I had had a very
small part in the movie.
It was a real good experience, but it spoiled me for movie-making
because of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks and the whole crew, because it
was—of course, it was the first time I’d ever been involved
in a movie, and people kept telling me on the set, the actors, "I’ve
never seen anything like this in my life, how well everybody gets
along, how cooperative everything is." One of the examples of
how interested they were, Gerry Griffin was also a technical advisor.
So before they started filming, Ron Howard said, “Bostick and
Griffin, when you come out before we start shooting, we want you to
spend a couple of hours talking to all of the actors and telling them
two things, what flight controllers are and what they do and what
they did on the mission, and then really what happened during the
mission from your perspective and how the astronauts and the flight
controllers reacted to all that.”
Gerry and I thought about that for a while and talked to each other
and agreed how we would divide it up. The both of us said, "This
is going to be tough, because they don’t want to hear all of
this. They’re going to sit there and say, 'Hey, look, I’m
an actor. I know my lines, I know how to act, so who’s this
NASA nerd up here telling me all this?'" Well, we couldn’t
have been more wrong. Two hours went into a day and a half, and they
wouldn’t stop asking questions.
Finally Ron Howard said, “I’m sorry. We have to call this
to an end. We can’t spend any more time in doing this.”
But that’s how interested they were. They wanted to know everything
that happened. So that was a good start. I thought, oh boy, these
guys really—as I said, I had never been involved in anything
like that. I expected the actors to show up and do their lines and
go home and that’s it.
Tom Hanks, for example, all his scenes were in the cockpit in the
spacecraft obviously, but he showed up every day when we were in the
control center. We were filming all of the control center stuff, and
usually how they make movies like that is if there is dialogue between
the spacecraft and the control center, somebody off set reads the
line from the spacecraft and that cues the people and they react and
then they put all that in. Then they film the spacecraft stuff and
they put all that together. Well, Tom Hanks showed up every day and
he personally read his lines just to cue the people in the control
center. All the actors and even Ron Howard said, "I’ve
never seen anything like this." Of course, he was getting paid
to do the movie, but he wasn’t getting paid to do that. He got
paid the same way whether he showed up every day or not. But that’s
how interested he was in making it come out right.
I think the Apollo 13 movie was kind of like the Apollo Program itself,
that that’ll never happen again. As John Aaron once said, all
of those dominoes won’t line up again like that. I’ve
worked as a technical advisor on a couple of other movies since then,
and I learned that, no, you can’t repeat that. It’ll never
happen again probably, unfortunately.
It's nice it was able to come together so well.
Yes, it was. I think it did a lot for NASA. I’m still amazed
at how many kids have seen it and continue to do it. I go to an elementary
school in Austin once a year to talk to a sci-tech class. I keep thinking
every year that they’re going to get tired of this. But I swear,
each year seems like they know more about it and are more interested.
So they still like to see the old guys. But I’ll keep doing
it as long as they’re interested, and they really are. I’m
happy to say I think the movie had a lot to do with that.
In fact, Congressman [F. James] Sensenbrenner [Jr.], I think, I’m
not sure, but at least a couple of congressman commented at the time
that the Apollo 13 movie was the best thing that happened that year
to the NASA budget, that it helped them get the NASA budget through
Congress a lot easier than it had in many years. They attributed that
to the movie. So you say, "Hmm. That wasn’t so bad after
I can see that would happen.
It was good P.R. for the agency.
Because it showed a successful point for NASA. Even though the mission
had so many problems, they were able to come through it so well, and
showing all that teamwork.
Yes. And I didn’t realize, I guess, to the extent that Lovell
and Haise had thought that the mission was really a failure. I guess
they felt like they were treated that way by NASA. If you look at
their mission objective, of course, they didn’t accomplish it.
But they obviously felt a big letdown, but they both kind of felt
like they had failed. Hopefully, the experience with Lovell of writing
the book and then doing the movie and all, it’s more accurate,
I think, that the original mission objectives were not met, but the
mission was not a failure.
Missions fail when they go wrong and you don’t know what happened
and you lose the spacecraft or you lose the crew or whatever and you
have no reason or no data to tell you why. It was a horrible thing
and the mission objectives weren’t met, but I think it taught
NASA a lot about a lot of things, how to prepare better for risk and
then how to deal with risk. It was kind of an eye-opener that, hey,
we shouldn’t get too complacent. I’m not saying that we
were, but it was a reminder that, don’t. Things can still come
up and bite you when you least expect them. So it was not a failure.
And it was even a success all these years later when it was able to
help in the NASA budget process and get people interested in it again.
Yes. And hopefully that makes Lovell and Haise feel better about it,
I think it did. I’m sure it did.
You mentioned at the time you were involved in the movie, you were
still at Grumman, and now you’ve retired.
Did you go onto anything else after that?
Well, I had some relatives and some friends who, unfortunately, passed
away well before their time, and I vowed that, if possible, I was
not going to allow that to happen, that hopefully I would get to a
point where I could retire and enjoy life. So in ‘96, I guess
it was, I decided to do that.
Glynn Lunney, though, kind of spoiled that for a while. He was at
the United Space Alliance at the time and he called me a number of
times and said, "Why don’t you come over and help me out."
I really had no desire to go back to work, but I did because of Glynn
purely, because he’d been a lifelong friend. I’d worked
with him. I’d been his deputy probably three or four times in
my career. I thought, "If he wants me to come and help, I'll
go and see what I [can] do." So I did that for about a year and
a half at U.S.A., United Space Alliance.
Then Glynn decided that he was going to finally retire. He told me
that ahead of time. He said, "I’ve decided I’m going
to hang it up." I said, "Okay, I’ll leave the same
day you do, because you’re the only reason I’m here."
So I did. I did that in ‘98. I’ve been totally retired
for a couple of years, and I really enjoy it. Occasionally I get a
call from somebody that says, "Would you be interested in consulting?"
I say the only consulting I do is I wake up in the morning and I consult
my wife on what I should do today. [Laughter]
That’s a good kind of consulting to do. Well, you certainly
have been involved with a number of interesting things over your career.
I think you’ve earned the chance to sit back and do whatever
you want to do.
Also, I try to enjoy whatever I’m doing, and right now I enjoy
Good. Looking back over your career with NASA, was there any point
that to you was the biggest challenge? And then in retrospect to that,
what would you consider your most significant contribution or accomplishment?
That’s a good question. I’ve always enjoyed challenges.
It would be hard not to put just the manned space, Apollo Programs,
specifically landing on the Moon was a challenge.
As far as a challenge that also had some resistance, or some people
saying, "We don’t want to do this. You’re wasting
your time," probably the biggest challenger was the remote manipulator
system, because it was a technical challenge, it was a management
challenge, it was a budget challenge. As I mentioned earlier, there
were a lot of people that thought we were wasting our time and money
and shouldn’t do it. So that’s my quick answer, I guess.
If I thought about others—I think my whole career was a challenge,
but that was some of the most challenging times, and therefore it’s
one of the things I’m the proudest of, probably. Of course,
I’m most proud of Apollo. That’s obviously something that
you never forget, and that has to be way above anything else on the
pride list. I’m just proud I was there, and any part that I
played to help hopefully, but just to being there was very rewarding.
Certainly must have been.
That’s the good news, and there’s always bad news. It’s
hard to say, well, then what after that? Because I think for a lot
of us, after Apollo it was kind of a "Is that all there is?"
[Laughter] It’s hard to follow something like that. I don’t
recall ever having any conversations with anybody about that at the
time, but over the years I’ve talked with a lot of the flight
controllers that I worked with and a lot of the astronauts and, boy,
they went through the same thing. You can imagine some of the astronauts,
especially the guys that went to the Moon. You say, "Okay, now
what do I do now? What else? What can top that?" I mean, I thought
I was having a struggle, but nothing compared to those guys. That’s
a tough act to follow.
Certainly a lot of people did go through tough times with that.
But that has to be the high point. That’s the thing I want to
tell my grandkids the most about, I guess.
Absolutely, and well you should want to. Hopefully they can share
some of that through your oral history.
I hope they’ll always be interested. The ones that are old enough
now are. Space program and basketball. [Laughter]
Well, okay. Basketball involves some trajectory work.
Looking back, you had mentioned, we talked about it in your first
oral history, how you even got involved in the first place. You had
already had a job lined up and weren’t going to be doing anything
with the space program. They pulled you in to fill in for an interview.
Would you ever have imagined—
No. There’s no way I could have designed it any better. No,
I never imagined. In fact, I was obviously excited about the manned
space program when I was in college, but because I hadn’t chosen
that as a career path, I never thought I would be a part of that.
I was just excited about that it was going on and I was a U.S. citizen
and the U.S. was involved, but I never thought I would be a part of
It’s just a real uncanny chain of events, I guess, that I was
lucky, happened to be in the right places at the right time. Couldn’t
have designed it any better if I had tried, and I never did. That’s
one reason probably that I lucked out. Because I was never one of
those people who thought, "Well, here I am on my career ladder.
What am I going to do next?" type of thing. I probably should
have paid more attention to that, but I just tried to enjoy what I
was doing at the time and doing it as well as I could. Yes, as you
think back about how I ended up at NASA and then how I ended at JSC
and how I ended up being associated with people like Kraft and Lunney,
it’s a pure lucky chain of events. I have no complaints about
it. I feel very fortunate.
We feel very fortunate you’ve shared so much of that history
Well, thanks for letting me bore you.
Not at all. It’s very interesting. Is there anything that you
can think of that we have missed or haven’t touched on?
No, not really. I’m impressed with the research that you and
your office have done just in coming up with the questions. You remembered
some stuff that I had forgotten about, and I know that has to be a
challenge. I admire you for doing what you’re doing and encourage
you to keep doing it. Hopefully one of these days it’ll be something
the historians can—a real resource that they can use.
We certainly hope so, and we try, as you said, to do the best we can
and certainly enjoy our jobs.
Well, I think it shows.
Thank you. I was going to ask Summer and Sandra real quick if they
had any questions.
I have a couple. You talked about the RMS and all the resistance that
you had. Was there some point at which you finally convinced all those
who had opposed it, or did they have see it in action before they
were convinced of its—?
In most cases we had to prove it. The people were like from Missouri:
"Show me that it works." One of the best things that we
did was getting the right astronauts involved because the primary
resistance was from the Astronaut Office. That’s where it really
started, with Jerry Carr going to Kraft and telling him it was a piece
of crap and forget it.
But, yes, we were, I think, extremely fortunate in having the right
people across the center, but especially the Astronaut Office, because
if we had had somebody with that attitude that had come to help, they
wouldn’t have helped a lot, especially Bill Lenoir and Sally
Ride who, as I recall, were the first ones involved, came in with
an attitude of, "Okay, this is an assignment. I have an open
mind, and we’ll look at it, and we’ll try to fix it."
Because first thing I told them, "Hey, this is going to happen
whether you like it or not. The Canadians were spending millions of
dollars, and they’re building a good product. They have a lot
of pride in what they do, and it’s going to be a good product.
[It] may have some problems, but we can fix it." And that’s
the attitude that they took.
But in most cases, yes, we couldn’t convince people with viewgraphs
that it was going to work. We had to produce hardware and do some
ground tests and stuff and really show them, and even get some of
the nay-sayers in the simulator and show them, yes, this is going
There wasn’t really any economical viable alternatives, also.
You could come up with other ways to deploy payloads that arguably
would be as or more effective, like springs. That sounds simple, but
you start designing the springs and how you release the latches, and
it’s certainly possible to do, but it’s more involved
than you would think. Or you do rotating arms, which was one of the
concepts they had, but how do you retrieve them? If there’s
a satellite up there that you have to go and either put in a bay and
bring home or service it while you’re there, then you’ve
got to have some way to get into the proximity and to dock with it,
attach to it, and send people out and work on it. Over the years,
nobody’s ever come up with anything better than the RMS. Fortunately,
we did finally show them.
Something to be proud of. I have one other question. You touched on
it briefly talking about [other] things. I was wondering what your
perspective was on what was the greatest challenge in the transition
from Apollo to Shuttle for NASA as a whole?
Gosh, that’s a real good question. A lot of technical challenges
that are obvious, I guess. The Space Shuttle was probably arguably
the most sophisticated vehicle of any type, especially flying vehicle,
that was ever put together. To launch something as a rocket and then
to land it as an airplane with no air-breathing engines, it just comes
in like a glider, as you well know, and lands. To do all the things
it does in orbit, there are a lot of technical challenges and a lot
of operational challenges.
I think that a big challenge to NASA, though, was kind of, what path
should we take in the future? There were people who wanted obviously
to continue the Apollo Program. There was a lot of argument in the
early seventies about, okay, what should we do next if we are'nt going
to continue to go to the Moon? Should we build a space station or
should we build a reusable spacecraft like the Space Shuttle? It was
a big debate then, and, of course, it was finally concluded, well,
a space station’s not going to do you a lot of good unless you
can get people back and forth to go to it. So let’s build a
space shuttle, and then we’ll build a space station hopefully
a few years later. We’ll use that.
There was also talk then about, people would say things like, "Well,
we’ve been doing exploration of space and now we have to do
exploitation of space. Let’s do useful things." They’re
logical things and they make sense, but as I look back on it, it was
probably a bad decision that NASA made. Let me explain that. The decision,
I think, was made when I was at Headquarters and saw some of the arguments
in the Administrator’s Office back and forth. Probably the biggest
mistake decision-wise that was made was to try to justify it on an
economical basis, in other words, this thing will pay for itself.
It was the right thing to do at the time probably, because it was
a tough fight in Congress and even with the administration to get
any funding or to get approval to undertake any new program. I’m
sure that the NASA people involved at the time realized that it was
really the only way they were going to get it approved.
But, boy, we are still struggling with that decision, that the Shuttle
has to pay for itself, as opposed to being a national resource that
we used to gain knowledge and one of the ways it pays for itself is
through knowledge and not through dollars. Yes, it costs money, but
it’s worth it. As I said, we’re still struggling with
it, the agency is still struggling with that, because it’s an
expensive vehicle to operate. But it’s unfortunate that we ever
even get to that argument, because I think some things are worthwhile
doing in space regardless of how much they cost. That’s obviously
a debatable statement, but we still should be exploring and not just
It was a big difference in Apollo and Shuttle, management decision-wise.
Obviously there wasn’t the national mandate that we had, and
we didn’t have a President standing up and saying, "As
a country we’re going to do this," and we weren’t
in competition directly with the Russians like we had been before,
although we really still were, but the public wasn’t as aware
of that. Ironically, the Russians had decided to build a space shuttle
also, and did build the Buran [shuttle], which, I don’t know
if you’ve ever seen it or seen pictures but you wonder where
they got the plans. [Laughter] It even flies around on the back of
The end of Apollo was kind of a crossroads for NASA, I think, and
the beginning of the era where we have to prove that everything we
do is going to pay for itself, and it still carries over into Space
Station. You can’t just tell people that you’re going
do all this medical research or any kind of technology, crystal growth
or that type of stuff. They say, "Well, how’s it going
to pay for itself?"
That’s one of the real challenges I think the agency has now,
is to convince people that there is inherent benefit in basic research
and there’s some that can only be done in zero gravity, so we
need to go do it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of claiming
we’re going to make ball bearings or something and it’s
going to pay for itself, or we’re going to discover a cure for
cancer. And maybe we will, but we shouldn’t promise that ahead
of time, I don’t think, because we don’t know if we are
or not. Because usually most discoveries come from things that you
don’t expect. Nobody set out to invent penicillin. We should
try that, too. It’s a trap, I’m afraid, to get into that
we shouldn’t have a space program unless it pays for itself.
It really can’t and it shouldn’t, because it should be
a national endeavor that continues to pursue the unknown.
Thank you. Those are all the questions I had.
Thank you again so much.
Thank you. I enjoyed it.
I did, too. And hopefully you’ll be able to enjoy reminiscing
with some of your—