NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Carol Butler
Kirkland, Washington – 19 January 1999
Butler: Today is January 19, 1999. This is an oral history with Dan
Brandenstein for the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. The
interview is being conducted in the Kistler Aerospace Corporation
offices in Kirkland, Washington. Carol Butler is the interviewer,
assisted by Summer Chick Bergen.
Thank you for joining us today and taking time to talk with us.
It's my pleasure.
To begin with, what made you interested in becoming an astronaut?
Was there something when you were younger, interest in flight, science
Well, the history of how I got involved and interested, growing up
in high school and the like, there was no space program, so aviation
was probably my interest. Although I never did any flying, I was always
interested in airplanes. I built model airplanes and the like. And
basically it kind of narrowed down to my freshman year in college,
kind of had to chart a course through life. Up until that point, it
had been a little of this, a little of that. I guess, fortunately
for me, it was during the Mercury Program, so now a space program
had evolved that I was aware of. Since my interest in aviation was
quite strong, it looked like the space program was the ultimate form
So at that point I thought, well, you know, you might as well shoot
for the top of the heap, and I decided I'd consider, would like to
be an astronaut. I wasn't sure what it all entailed and what I thought
the requirements were. As I said, fortunately there were only seven
astronauts at that time. I basically got the biographies of the original
seven and just kind of took the common thread of those seven individuals.
Basically, they were all military pilots, they were all test pilots,
and they all had a degree in science or engineering or something like
So I was going to school at University of Wisconsin at River Falls,
and they didn't have an engineering program, but I pursued a double
major in math and physics, which was about as close to engineering
as you could get there, and it was things I was really interested
in. Through high school and throughout, math and physics were always
my favorite courses. I was most interested in those. It also happened
to be the path of least resistance through college for me. If I had
had a major in history or English, I'd have been dead. So that kind
of came together.
Then my senior year in college, I started looking at the various military
aviation programs. The Air Force sent their recruiters to the campus,
and they were good recruiters, but they weren't aviators. They were
enlisted professional-type recruiters. Whereas the Navy team that
came were actual pilots, and they sat down and they told you flying
stories and laid out what it was all about. They impressed upon you
that the Air Force lands on three miles of runway and the Navy lands
on 750 feet of pitching steel.
So, once again, looking at what looked to be most interesting and
most challenging, the naval aspect of aviation caught my fancy, and
I went and took the tests and the physicals, and got selected, and
right of out college then, went through aviation officer candidate
training down in Pensacola [Florida], and got my wings through the
Navy flight training program.
So I basically had one of my Xs in a box as I perceived it. Then my
Navy career took me into the A-6 community. I flew about two hundred
missions in Vietnam, made two cruises over there off of two different
aircraft carriers. The Navy requirement to get into test pilot school
was a minimum number of flight hours, so after my second cruise, I
had accrued enough hours for that, so I applied for the Navy test
pilot school, seeing to get the second X in the box.
The first selection I was selected as an alternate, so I was halfway
there, I guess. But part of the way the program worked, if you were
selected as an alternate, the next time they had a selection, you
automatically were reevaluated and then put back in the selection
process. And that time I got selected, so then I went to the test
pilot school, then continued on for about three and a half years of
flight test work. That wrapped up in the middle part of the seventies,
and the space program was more or less slowing down. Apollo had been
stopped. The Skylab was in progress, but that had a questionable future,
from what you read in the media.
At that point in time, we historically know now that the Shuttle Program
was being developed, but it wasn't obvious to me at that point, as
I recall. So I kind of thought, well, heck, my chances of being an
astronaut are probably kind of slim, because it looks like the program's
kind of winding down. So I went back to the fleet and continued my
naval career, which I enjoyed very much. It was something that I enjoyed
doing and felt a great deal of professional satisfaction doing it.
But then in '77, the call went out for selection for astronauts for
the Shuttle Program, so I quick did a little research and said, "Wow!
There is a chance." So the process worked that military folks
had to apply through their parent service, so I filled out all the
paperwork and sent it in to the Navy, and I passed their screening,
and then those names got passed on to NASA.
Then in—I think it was August of '77, I went to Houston, in
the heat, and went through the week of interviews and the like, and
then in January of '78, the word came from Mr. [George W. S.] Abbey,
the phone call. Actually, I was stationed right up here on Whidbey
Island [Washington]. In fact, it was early in the morning. It was
one of those things you kind of don't forget. I was in the shower
and the phone rang. My wife answered and got me, dripping wet, out
of the shower. George, in his typical fashion, started asking about
the weather and everything else, you know. I wanted an answer; I don't
want to talk about the weather. So ultimately he got around and wanted
to know if I was still interested in coming to Houston and being an
astronaut. The answer to that was pretty obvious. So then that was
the last X in the box, pretty much, at least to be an astronaut. I
still hadn't flown.
So then in the summer of '78, we moved down to Houston and started
our astronaut candidate training. Keep going?
To jump back just briefly, you mentioned the early program and the
Mercury astronauts. Now we're coming up on the anniversary of the
Apollo 11 moon landing. Just out of curiosity, do you remember where
you were when they landed on the moon?
Sure. I was between my cruises, and I was home visiting my folks.
I stayed up, I think, all night or most of the night on the living
room floor while everybody else was in bed, watching it on TV. I guess
this is maybe a vain attitude, but my initial impression, when Neil
[A. Armstrong] stepped on the moon, was that I was hacked off because
I wanted to be the first one on the moon. [Laughter] I got over it;
it wasn't a big deal. But that was kind of my initial impression.
But it was a tremendous achievement and it just reaffirmed my desire
to get involved in the space program.
Great. You mentioned coming down to Houston to join JSC with the first
group of astronauts elected in what had been almost ten years. What
was it like at that time? What was the atmosphere around NASA and
of your group?
Well, obviously our group was all very excited. It was kind of interesting.
See, we were the first group that had mission specialists in addition
to pilots. Earlier I kind of went through my long-range planning because
I'd been interested in it and looked at it since early on, and kind
of laid all these milestones that I figured I had to accomplish to
get there. But a number of the mission specialists, they weren't pilots
and they never had been pilots. I think Sally Ride is one that comes
to mind. I mean, she was saying how she was just walking through the
Student Union one day and saw a flyer that said NASA was looking for
astronauts, and that's really the first time she'd ever thought about
it. A number of the mission specialists, that was their attitude,
because they weren't military pilots. Like I say, up until that point
to the Shuttle Program, that was kind of the Xs you needed in the
boxes to be considered.
So the wide diversity of backgrounds that we had in that class was
unique to NASA, and I personally loved it, because I've always been
interested in a lot of things. I mean, I'm fascinated going into a
factory where they make bubble gum or you name it, just to see how
different machines and different things work. In my lifetime, I took
up skiing and I didn't take lessons; I learned to do it through the
school of hard knocks. I bought a sailboat and I made some sails because
I thought it would be kind of fun to make a sail. So I was always
interested in not just what I did, but kind of a wide variety of things.
So being now in a group with people that were doctors and scientists
and all this was really fascinating to me. There were a lot of neat
people there with very interesting backgrounds, that knew a lot about
things I didn't have a clue about, so you could learn a lot more.
And that was kind of the flavor of the training. The first year of
training, they try and give everybody some base line of knowledge
that they needed to operate in that office, so we had aerodynamics
courses which, for somebody who had been through a test pilot school,
was kind of a "ho-hum, been there, done that," but for a
medical doctor, I mean, that was something totally new and different.
But then the astronomy courses and the geology courses and the medical-type
courses we got, all that was focused on stuff we'd have to know to
operate in the office and at least understand and be reasonably cognizant
of some of the importance of the various experiments that we would
be doing on the various missions and stuff. So I found that real fascinating.
He's passed away now, but the astronomy course was Professor Smith
out of University of Texas, and he was kind of your almost stereotypical
crazy professor. I mean, he was just a cloud of chalk dust back and
forth across the blackboard as he went on, and we had twelve hours
of astronomy. He claimed that he gave us four years of undergraduate
and two years of graduate astronomy in twelve hours. And it gave you
a good appreciation of what it was all about. It didn't, by any stretch
of the imagination, make me an astronomer, but the intent of it was,
like I say, to give you an appreciation and give you an understanding,
and then also because of the very special instructors they brought
in, it gave you a point of contact. So if somewhere later in your
career you had a mission that needed that expertise, you had somebody
to go up to and get the level of detailed information you needed.
The other good thing about the classes, there weren't any written
tests. You absorbed as much as you could. There were people in the
class that were kind of the interim step. One of the guys I met there
in my class turned out to be a good friend to this day, is Steve [Steven
A.] Hawley. He was an astronomer. I flew A-6s in the Navy, which was
an attack airplane, so I don't know how it got around, but we ended
up calling him "the Attack Astronomer," because he'd never
flown. The mission specialists flew in the back seat of the T-38s.
He really took to flying and really enjoyed it, so somehow during
the evolution he got the nickname "the Attack Astronomer—A-squared."
So, you know, he learned about flying and that type of operation,
and I learned a little more about astronomy and the like.
There were a lot of those interchanges because you had such a diverse
group of people. We always joked—and it was that way. I mean,
like I explained how they taught you the astronomy, well, everything
was pretty much that way. It was just dump data on you faster than
you could imagine. A common joke was that training as an astronaut
candidate was kind of like drinking water out of a fire hose; it just
kept coming and kept coming and kept coming. Like I say, probably
the good point of it was you weren't given written tests, so they
could just heap as much on you, and you captured what you could. What
rolled off your back, you knew where to go recover it.
That was—I can't remember, I think it was almost eighteen months
that we were in that. I think the first AsCan [astronaut candidate]
class lasted that long. Ultimately it got streamlined and reduced
[to one year]. We had a lot of field trips. We went to all the NASA
centers. Basically, being an astronaut, it's not real narrow, highly
specialized; it's very diverse. Your missions carry a variety of experiments.
So as I came to find out later in my time at NASA, you really look
for people that are adaptable and have a more diverse background,
almost the better off you are, because the way you operate in the
office, you have assigned tasks for six months, nine months, a year,
and these are technical tasks that you do when you're not training
or flying a mission, and, you know, you get switched to another one,
and you try and develop a corps of astronauts that really have a very
broad base of experience and knowledge that covers the wide spectrum
of the space program.
That was part of the reason of going to all the centers, because you
got to learn what they did at all the other centers, so you got a
better understanding. You went to the contractors, where they were
building the Shuttle, and go to understand that a little bit more
and all that. So it gave you a really good, broad experience base.
That's, I think, from my perspective, what I liked about the job.
You weren't stuck in a small, narrow area. It kind of goes back to
my nature. The Navy is kind of that way, too. They move you around
in jobs every nine months or so, and that's what I always liked. I
liked new experiences and learning more, and having a more diverse-type
job as opposed to a very narrow focused-type job.
Great. Talking about the training, and you talked about how the Shuttle
was still being built, basically, when you were starting, and you
mentioned all the various course work you went through, did you do
any training while you were an AsCan, specifically on the Shuttle
itself? Did you go in any simulators?
Yes. You got a full set of briefs on each system on the Shuttle so
you knew how the electrical system worked and how the hydraulic system
worked and how the computer, and you got some time in simulators.
You didn't get time in the upscale simulators, the moving base or
the fixed base. They had what they called single-systems trainers
where you kind of go in and you just learn one system at a time. The
cockpit didn't move, but it had the basic displays and things. A lot
of the switches, in a single-system trainer, a lot of the switches
that weren't used in the level of classes you were getting were just
pictures of the switches that you needed to operate, to learn the
system you were working with, you actually operated.
So, yes, you got quite a bit of time doing that. Once again, it was
the first time through, and you got a pretty good understanding of
it, but it isn't until you really got further down the line in the
real mission training that you really get to understand a lot of the
subtleties of the Shuttle.
Were there differences between the training that you went through
as a pilot compared to the one that the scientists went through?
No, not really. The class—it was a big class, thirty-five, so
we were split up into two sections. We had the Red Team and the Blue
Team, and had our appropriately colored t-shirts and the like. Generally
you went to classroom half a day and then you did flying, got checked
out in the T-38 and did some of these other things on the other half,
you know, the morning class. One half of the class was doing something
in the morning and the other was doing it afternoon, and then they
switched, so made best use of the assets and the like.
So the pilots got checked out to fly the T-38, and the mission specialists,
a lot of them had no flying experience, so to be a crew person, that's
the reason they flew, was to learn to operate as a crew. So they had
to be trained on not being a pilot necessarily, but being a crew person,
what procedures you had to use to fly in the air ways around and,
once again, to learn the systems of the T-38 and the various skills
and functions of a crew person. And the T-38 had a stick in the back
so they obviously got to fly some. They weren't allowed to land because
they didn't get trained for that, and didn't want to break the airplanes,
but we could take it off and up and away and swap back and forth who
A lot of the flying was kind of travel, business-type travel, but
also there was an area just outside of Houston over the Gulf of Mexico,
we could kind of go out and do what we called "turn and burn,"
which is do aerobatics and just do loops and rolls and chase around
clouds and stuff like that. But all the time that's a way of maintaining
your piloting skills. Obviously for people who had never flown before,
that was—well, it's a kick for people that flew thousands of
hours, but for somebody who never had flown before or had very little
experience or just a little experience in a small light airplane,
it was a real kick, because you could go supersonic with those. You'd
pull 7 Gs and it all happened. It was all kind of new and different
to them. And they flew with guys like myself.
As I said, all the pilots had been test pilots before, so we'd go
out and kind of run them through the wringer, showing them the various
things you'd do if you're testing a new airplane. Most of us were
military pilots. I think most of us were, yes. All of us had been,
at least somewhere in our career. We'd go out and do simulated combat
and show them what it's like to have a dog fight and all those sorts
of things. So that was fascinating to them, as me sitting down with
an astronomer or a doctor and finding out about the types of things
And all that helped with the team experience, too.
Right. Exactly. Yes.
That's great. As you were training and going through and they were
completing the Shuttle, the first Shuttle mission, STS-1, launched
in 1981, so this is right as you were coming out of your training.
Yes. We'd completed our astronaut candidate training, and once you
complete your candidate training, then you basically get assigned
technical assignments. My first technical assignment was on the support
crew for STS-1. They don't even have those anymore. We had support
crews up through about the fourth or fifth mission, I think. Basically,
they also had prime and backup crews for the first couple of missions.
The crews were spending so much time training that what the support
crew did—and I think there were about four people on the support
crew, if I remember correctly—maybe five or six. I don't even
remember for sure. And basically our job, we were just kind of right-hand
people for the crew. Part of it was we got to be Capcom. For STS-1,
I started out as the backup capcom for ascent, and Rick [Frederick
H.] Hauck was backup capcom for entry. I think Sally [Ride] and Jim
[James F.] Buchli were backup capcoms for the on-orbit phase, as I
recall. I know Rick and I for sure. I'm not sure about the other two.
I think that's where they fit in.
In addition to that, all the procedures to fly the mission and stuff
were just being developed, so the crew would be over training and
we'd be helping with the engineers and whatnot, developing the procedures
that they would actually use to fly various parts of the mission.
Once again, the support crew job was very diverse. We were capcoms.
We were developing procedures. Early on, the Shuttle had a certain
number of significant technical challenges. The main engines were—they'd
blown up a number of those.
So one of the guys in the office was basically the office representative,
that he ought to be the smartest person in the office about the engines
and follow every event and detail that was happening with the engines.
The thermal protection system, the TPS, was another one; they were
having a lot of trouble with that. So I was assigned to be the TPS
expert in the office, so I spent a lot of time going around and talking
to the real experts, the engineers and stuff that were doing it, and
attending meetings as they were making decisions as to how to proceed
with the tile. The tests—they were breaking off. They worked
on how they were going to solve the problems so they wouldn't come
off. And all those sorts of things, because that was something that
was obvious on the Shuttle new and different.
I always told people that the Shuttle was really, other than a couple
of areas, was pretty basic design. I mean, the structure was basic
airplane structure, just like a 727 or something like that. But the
big three things were the computer system and the whole data management
system that was a step forward in the state of the art. The other
were the main engines, and the other was the thermal protection system.
So those were the things that, as you would expect, when you're taking
the biggest leap, you run into the most problems. So we had people
focusing on that. So I did a lot of traveling, a lot of work following
what was happening in the TPS world, and got to be reasonably knowledgeable
about that. As it turned out, the system is a pretty robust system,
although at that point in time people were worried a lot about it.
So those are all the types of things. In addition to that, they were
looking at in-flight maintenance, what could be repaired, so I worked
with some of the engineers and flight controllers, and we developed
a whole set of in-flight maintenance procedures: if this box failed,
how you could change it out with another box so you could have yourself
covered. So we were building a tool kit and a whole set of procedures
to do in-flight maintenance. So once again, it was a lot of diverse-type
work which I found to be really interesting.
You mentioned the thermal protection system. When the Shuttle—once
they got on orbit and opened the payload bay doors, they noticed that
some of the tiles had come off. What kind of discussions surrounded
that on the ground?
Well, the discussions were, well, they could see one off, were there
any others, you know. So there were a lot of questions as to, well,
were there any other tiles missing, and if so, where were they? They
did a lot of soul-searching as to which ones were missing, which weren't.
The ones that were missing, you know, you knew where they were, so
obviously you went back in and the thermal experts did some analysis
and determined that—well, first you tried to evaluate and they
didn't really totally come off. They kind of sheared, as I recall.
So you had some protection there. And they were in an area that wasn't
critical. So the ones you could see, you obviously analyzed, to be
comfortable that it wasn't going to be a problem, but the biggest
concern was, well, what is there that we can't see? Namely, we can't
see the bottom of the vehicle, and that's the most critical area.
So there was some serious tile missing there. It could be a bad day.
We had ways of finding out that there weren't any missing.
Good. Good. And they did come back safe and sound.
Looking at the tiles, and you mentioned the engines and just a lot
of changes in the way the American program was approaching space flight,
the Space Shuttle was the first manned craft to fly with man in it
the first time. Are you aware of any of the discussions surrounding
that, and what was the motivating factor in that?
Well, I think it was basically the nature of the vehicle. By the time
we were on board, that decision had already been made. And I don't
ever recall it coming up for discussion. Well, no, I don't think—there
was very little discussion. There may have been one or two trial balloons
floated to talk about flying it unmanned, but that took a lot of modification
and that wasn't in the cards.
There was also some talk about not flying a full mission, flying an
RTLS [return to launch site]; in other words, just going up, turning
around, and coming back. Once again, that balloon was floated and
it got kicked around a while, but the general consensus was—and
the reason for that was they thought you'd have somewhat less stressful
environment on the tile if you flew that. I don't know if you're familiar
with the RTLS maneuver, but overall that's a lot more stressful maneuver.
So I think after a bit of discussion, leveler heads prevailed and
that was not the option. I don't think anybody in the Astronaut Office
was very enamored with that idea.
But, you know, that's the way things worked at NASA. You throw everything
on the table and you don't have it out and discuss it and try and—the
recommendation to do it was very good, because people were concerned
about the tile. It, in certain areas, provided a more benign environment
for the tiles. It was a very legitimate type of suggestion, but really
when you shook the whole thing out, it solved a couple of problems,
but it created more worse ones, at least in some of our minds.
So after a fair amount of discussion, it was decided that wasn't the
way to do it, and I think—I don't know, I thought as we approached
the first flight, everybody had worked real hard on doing all the
verification and checking everything out, and I think most of us felt
quite confident that it would work fine. I guess my biggest worry
was, I looked at the pad and I saw the tight clearances there. The
first 100 feet is probably what worried me the most. I figured we
could pass the first 100 feet and we'd be all right.
I hadn't been associated with any other program, but I guess some
of the old hands that had been associated with the Apollo Program
and whatnot, they weren't concerned about it, but it just seemed to
me like it was an area that I worried about the most. So a couple
of seconds into the flight, I felt a lot better.
I was actually probably most excited being the Capcom—well,
what had happened is, in the process of getting ready for STS-1, Ed
[Edward G.] Gibson, who was the primary capcom for ascent, retired,
so then all the powers-that-be, I guess, put their heads together
and decided whether a new guy could be a Capcom on the first mission.
Neal Hutchinson was the flight director for the first mission, and
I think he had a lot of confidence in me and probably had a strong
So anyhow, when Ed Gibson retired, as opposed to pulling another experienced
astronaut in to be the ascent capcom, I inherited that position, and
Terry [J.] Hart moved up to be my backup. So that was kind of a thrill
for me. To this day I think I was more excited being Capcom on the
first mission than I was actually flying my own mission. I still look
back and think about it, listen to the tapes. I mean, I settled down,
but you make calls back and forth just to kind of check to make sure
everything was working all right, and the first couple, it's real
obvious that my calls, I was pretty excited. [Laughter]
It's a pretty exciting time. I mean, returning to space for the first
time in many years and you got to be a part of it right there.
Yes. I never saw a launch until STS-3, because I was Capcom also for
ascent on STS-2. I still remember a bunch of the wives went down to
the launch of STS-1, my wife being one of them, so all I saw of it
was on TV. When she came back about two days later after the launch,
it was two days later and she was still ricocheting off the ceiling.
In all the years we'd been married, I'd never seen my wife half that
excited. She was just something else. "You wouldn't believe it.
You just can't believe it. What you see on TV is nothing! You ought
to be there. You won't believe it."
But I had to wait till STS-3 before I got to see one in person. And
it is. I think it's significant that I think it's more exciting watching
one as a spectator than being on one. People always look at me like
I'm smoking something. But really, I always [have] explanations. I
call them pilot explanations for things. I can explain medical things
in pilot talk, and it's probably not right, but it at least is a way
of explaining it that satisfies me.
But when you're watching one, you have no real responsibility, and
it is noisy. You hear the popping and the cracking and the big long
flames shooting out and everything like that, and you have no responsibility.
I get a lump in my throat and chills up and down the spine and all
that. But when you're on board, you're responsible for that baby,
so you're checking instruments and you're making sure everything is
working all right. You're not there to take it in; you're there to
make it work. That's certainly a different perspective. I mean, don't
get me wrong, I would never turn down a launch, the opportunity to
go fly, to go watch one, but from a pure spectacle standpoint, the
spectator point of view is more thrilling than the flying point of
I can see where you're coming from with that, definitely. Well, moving
into the flying point of view, you were selected as pilot for STS-8.
When did you find out that you were going to be on the crew? What
were your thoughts at that time?
I think it was about nine months before the flight. I don't specifically
remember. It always started with, "There's a call over at Mr.
Abbey's office." The first six flights had been assigned, and
they were all experienced, people that had been around the office
a long time. Nobody from our class had flown that. But it was hoping
and guessing and rumblings like that, starting with 7, 8, and on,
that they'd be picking up some of the new class and stuff.
So I got called over one day and they said that I was going to be
Dick [Richard H.] Truly's pilot and was going to fly STS-8. That was
obviously great. I was excited about that. That's what you wanted
to do. One of the really neat things about it, that was going to be
a night launch and a night landing. What drove that was, we were launching
a satellite for India, and to get it in the proper place, you kind
of worked the problem backwards. Okay, they want the satellite up
here, so then you've got to back down all your orbital mechanics and
everything, and basically it meant we had to launch at night. The
fact we launched at night meant that we would end up landing at night.
Just, once again, the way the mission worked out.
So that's pretty early in the program to try something like that.
I mean, Dick Truly and I had both done night carrier landings, and
the way the Shuttle flies, approaches the end of the runway, and doing
that at night, we kind of looked at each other and said, "Oooh.
This is going to be interesting."
So we got very much involved in developing a lighting system to enable
us to safely land at night. We had other people, and once again it
was the job of a technical assignment of somebody in the office, kind
of like a support crew. We were out of the support crew business by
that time, but the crew didn't have enough time to focus just on that,
although we got very much involved because we were obviously the ones
doing it first. But [Karol J.] Bobko and then Loren [J.] Shriver and
then Mike [Michael J.] Smith were all involved in developing the night
lighting system, so we went through a rather long evolution of flood
lights and spotlights and flares and whatnot, trying to develop some
way to give us the visual cues we needed to make a successful night
To my knowledge, when I left in '92, the system had not changed. It
had a couple of tweaks, but it had not changed significantly from
the way we ended up on STS-8. So it's always neat to do something
first, for the first time. So, developing that was interesting and
a lot of fun, and it was fun being involved in that.
On STS-8, the program was still—we were still testing the vehicle
in a lot of ways. We had the INSAT, which was this Indian satellite,
it was a weather and a communications satellite, so we deployed that,
but then the lion's share of the mission was doing vehicle-type tests.
The main part of that was the mechanical arm, the RMS [Remote Manipulator
System]. Dale [A.] Gardner was the lead on that. He was one of the
mission specialists on that flight, so we had this big test article
that we carried in the payload bay, and he pulled it out and put it
in, and turned it around and put it in, and pulled it out, and did
all that sort of stuff.
We also had Bill [William E.] Thornton on, so he was doing—a
lot of people were getting sick going into space, so he was doing—he
and actually on the flight before Norm [Norman E.] Thagard got added
on a little bit late, because the crews had been announced. The earlier
flights, there had been quite a few people that had gotten sick, so
they put a medical doctor on each one, and the goal was to try and
get some data and better understand why people were getting sick and
what to do about it.
So, the medical tests were a big part of that mission, too. I'd never
been seasick, airsick, or anything a day in my life, and some of the
experiments they had you do on the ground, I mean, they were kind
of prepping you. I don't understand half those medical experiments.
It's kind of the lab rat comes to mind, and you're it. But they put
us in a spinning chair and put a blindfold on us. They spun the chair
and then they had you move your head down, up, right, left, down,
up, right, left. Like I say, I was convinced I could never get motion
sickness, and, man, in about thirty seconds, I was a sick puppy.
So at that point, all of a sudden I started saying, "Well, gee,
am I really going to get sick on orbit?" Because I was convinced
I wasn't going to get sick. I thought it was mind over matter. I always
thought these guys decided they were going to—everybody was
saying they were getting sick, so everybody launching thought they
were going to get sick, so they got sick, you know. And so I went
into this chair thinking, "Well, I'm not going to get sick,"
and, man, I got sick, so my "mind over matter" theory kind
of got shot out of the water.
Fortunately, when it came flight time, I'm one of the lucky ones that
I did a back flip out of my seat when I got on orbit and never looked
back, and never had a hiccup in any of my missions or anything. So
watching some of the people that did get sick, it's a lot more fun
not being sick. It certainly makes your mission more enjoyable if
you don't have to deal with that.
But at that point in time, they were trying to decide what made people
sick and how to prevent it, and it turned out, after a while they
quit trying, and there was no correlation. I mean, we did all this
weird stuff and none of it correlated. Some guys that could ride that
spinning chair on the ground till the motor burned up didn't get sick,
you know, and they got in orbit and ten minutes later they were sick
as could be. So basically, I guess, once again in my pilot explanation,
they couldn't find any correlation, so they just quit trying.
Ultimately, quite a bit later—in fact, I don't think we figured
it out or found the solution until after—I think it was after
the Challenger [STS 51-L], until we started flying again. But they
did find a medicine that if you give somebody a shot, from the time
they tried it until the time I left in '92, it worked on everybody
except one person. There was only one person that it didn't work on.
Usually in about fifteen minutes, you give them a shot of something
called phenegren. They found that apparently they use it in hospitals
with people that have had chemotherapy and get sick, and it helps
them. So somebody said, "Why don't we try this." I mean,
as soon as somebody would start getting a symptom of space sickness,
you'd give them a shot, and in about fifteen minutes they'd be as
good as new and were good as new the rest of the flight. So it was
really a great find and it made everybody’s that did get sick
missions a lot more enjoyable. As I say, there was only one person
that I know of that it didn't work on. I don't know why, but people
have different metabolisms or something.
So, anyhow, that was pretty much—then we came back. We originally,
early in the mission, they all landed on the lakebed, but we were
the first ones to land on the runway out at Edwards [Air Force Base,
California], and the reason we did that is because if we landed on
the lakebed with the lights that we had devised to do the night landing,
when you land on a lakebed, you kick up a cloud of dust which attenuated
the light, and we felt it was safer to take the approach to land on
the runway instead of the lakebed. So we landed on the runway using
the lighting system that we had devised, and worked great.
And I guess that was some preparation, too, for landing on the runway
out at Kennedy [Space Center, Florida], then.
Well, we still weren't planning on landing out there, because it was
too early in the program and the intent was to land on the lakebed.
Even the runway at Edwards had more margin. In other words, if you
had some problem and you ran off the side of the runway or something,
you weren't going into the moat. At Kennedy, it wasn't very far from
the runway to the moat that's around the runway. So that was always
the concern at going to Kennedy.
Early in the program, once again we were still testing the vehicle.
If you had a bad navigation error, you're pretty much limited in what
your options are at Kennedy, but at the lakebed you can land this
way or that way or just about any way at the lakebed. Now, in a night
situation, without having lights, it probably wouldn't have worked.
Actually I think we had two runways out there that we could have chose
from. We had a set of lights on the—I'm trying to remember.
I think we had a set of lights on the lakebed, even though we weren't
planning on using it, just as a backup in case we needed it and needed
to accept the dust problem. But the runway turned out to be the primary
one, and it worked out great.
Okay. Good. You mentioned the space sickness and you mentioned the
spinning chair. Did you also train on the KC-135 for that?
Oh, yes, we went on the KC-135. It never bothered me. That was great.
We went on through forty-four parabolas a couple of times, you know,
and it was fine once again. A lot of people have trouble with that,
but, like I said, I never had troubles with anything. That's why that
spinning chair kind of threw me for a loop, because I didn't figure
I'd have trouble with that either. I was wrong.
When you did first get up into space and back-vaulted out of your
chair, what were your thoughts once you were up there and once you
looked out and realized?
Well, the first impression is still probably the biggest. The ascent
is, you know, really pretty neat. You get a lot of shaking and stuff,
but, like I say, you're pretty focused on keeping track of the vehicle.
You peek out the window once or twice and you can kind of see the
sky go from blue to black and whatnot. But since we launch at night,
obviously it was black all the time.
There's a good story that goes with that. Don't let me forget to tell
you about the first launch.
But the first impression was, we launched at night, and then we were
crossing Africa when we had—I saw my first sunrise on orbit.
And to this day, that is the "Wow!" of my space flight career.
Sunrises and sunsets from orbit are just phenomenal, and obviously
the first one just knocked my socks off. It's just so different. Well,
it happens relatively quickly because you're going so fast, and you
just get this vivid spectrum forming at the horizon. When the sun
finally pops up, I mean, it's just so bright. It's not attenuated
by smog, clouds, or anything, you know. It's really quite something.
So that's obviously my first impression. It wasn't really—even
after you're on orbit, you're floating around and that's neat, and
you're getting to see the view and that's neat, but, still, after
you get up, you've got an awful lot to do in a very short time, getting
the vehicle prepared to operate on orbit. And there are checkpoints.
If you don't get things done or something doesn't work right, you
have to turn right around and come back, you know. So you're pretty
much focused for about the first four hours up there, of getting that
Once that was done, well, then you look out the window a little bit
more. I remember when the real work of the day was pretty much over
and it was time to go to sleep, which you didn't, you looked out the
window and stuff. Then you'd kind of sit back and replay the launch
in your mind and try and do it a little bit more from a spectator's
standpoint. You realize that was really pretty neat.
Anyhow, getting back to the story on ascent, obviously Dick Truly
and I were up front, watching the instruments and everything like
that, and we had Guy [Guion S.] Bluford [Jr.] and Dale Gardner behind,
the mission specialists. You have the overhead windows kind of like
a sun roof on the Shuttle, and those guys, Dale in particular, was
looking back over his head, and he could look out the window and he
could look back at the ground. At night he could see how it lit everything
During first stage it's really bright, because you have the solid
rocket boosters going. In fact, from the front cockpit looking out,
it looks like you're inside of a fire looking out, because you don't
really see the flame, but you saw the reflection and the light. But
we weren't very far into the launch, and Dale says, "Dan, how
do the engines look?" You know, the instrumentation on the engines,
are they running all right? I said, "Yes, look fine." Thirty
seconds later, he says, "Dan, how do the engines look?"
"Fine." A minute later, "Dan, how do the engines look?"
"Fine." I don't know how many times this happened. This
happened, going up, a whole bunch of times.
Once again, we didn't have a lot of time to chitchat about it, you
know, so finally after we kind of got all settled down on orbit, I
said, "What was going on?" He said, "I was looking
out the window," and when you watch a Shuttle launch, the flame
from the engine is real solid. It comes out of the nozzle and it just
sits there. It's got a shape and it just kind of goes. During all
these engine tests before the first flight, you'd have an engine running
on the test stand and the flame would be real solid, and then all
of a sudden the flame would kind of flutter and the engine would blow
up. And that was usually an indication that something was wrong, and
it shortly followed that the engine blew up.
Well, as you get higher in altitude and from the perspective he had,
the flames from the engines he saw were fluttering, so his connection
was, well, when the flames flutter, the engine blows up. So that was
his concern. You just have a different perspective as you get higher
in altitude. The air pressure goes way down and you get into a vacuum,
so basically what holds your flame real tight is the atmospheric pressure
factors in that. Well, you get outside atmosphere pressure, they expand
and they flutter a little bit more. Once again, from his perspective,
from the inside looking back out at it, the flames were fluttering
and he was concerned about that. [Laughter]
I could see that could cause some concern. [Laughter] Gracious. Well,
luckily you made it into orbit safely without anything blowing up.
You mentioned your crew members. How was it as a crew? Did you bond
Oh, yes. Yes. I mean, you spend so much time working together, and
that's part of the process of crew selections. You don't put oil and
water together. When I ran the office, I was responsible for crew
assignments for the years I did that, and you specifically look at—and
generally everybody in the office gets along quite well. I mean, when
you get 100 people, you're always going to have a few people that
don't have the same personalities or personalities don't match or
something. You don't try and cause problems, so you look for people
that are compatible. Once again, I can't speak for assignments that
were made on me before I was doing them, but it was pretty obvious
by even looking at it. I mean, you look for a mix. You look for people
that have specialties that mesh with the mission requirements and
all those sorts of things.
Yes, it was a good crew. Dick Truly had been around a long time and
was a good commander and taught us a lot. Everybody had their strengths
and their area of expertise, and you focused on those and shared your
experience and your wisdom with the other folks, and we got the job
Great. Moving on to your next mission, it was 51-G.
About when were you assigned for that one, do you remember? Or about
how long before?
I don't remember the whole sequence. It's probably about the same
time frame. Generally it was about nine months, is generally when
the crew assignments got done. Once again, I don't specifically remember.
And after the assignment, originally we were assigned and started
training. I'm trying to remember. Yes, that's the flight that we had
trained—they were doing a lot of shuffling at that point. We
had trained—originally the crew, the NASA astronauts, that's
the time we were flying payload specialists, and we had Charlie [Charles
D.] Walker and Greg [Gregory B.] Jarvis were originally the payload
specialists. We had our L-minus-30; in other words, we were thirty
days from launch. We had our L-minus-30 press conference in the morning,
and our mission was canceled that afternoon.
And, gosh, I don't remember what had caused that, but there were missions
getting reshuffled and scheduled, because that's when we were trying
to be a commercial launch service and were flying a lot of commercial
payloads, and with the commercial payloads generally came the payload
specialists and the like. Some missions changed or something, and
it was kind of a ripple effect.
So anyhow, our mission got canceled, and it wasn't very much later,
and the NASA crew, we all stayed together, but there was a shuffle
of payload specialists. Greg Jarvis got ultimately moved to the Challenger
[STS 51-L]. I think that's when [Senator E.] Jake Garn came in and
Bo Bobko's flight had some of their guys shuffled. There was a lot
of shuffling going on. I don't even come close to remembering all
what was happening, but I know there was a lot of—so anyhow,
we ended up on our mission with Prince Sultan Salman Al-Saud and Patrick
Then we got a different mission. We went from a similar mission, but
different. We ended up on that flight with four satellites. So the
core training still held, but we had to go back and do some of the
payload and mission-specific training, we had to focus on that. I
think we ended up getting shifted about three months, as I recall,
from when we originally were going to launch. Like I say, it was a
Bad news. I think we had—we had an IUS [Inertial Upper Stage]
TDRSS [Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System], I think is what
we were launching before we got canceled. Then we got canceled and
picked up these four satellites. We had one for Mexico, one for the
Arab Sat Consortium, one for AT&T, and then we had Spartan, which
was run out of Goddard. It was one that we deployed and then came
back and recovered two days later. So it was a lot of mission planning
changed and we had a couple new crew people that we had to integrate
into the crew and all that.
But there was a lot of that going on at that time. There was a lot
of scrambling around and missions for a variety of reasons, and the
program was still relatively new. That was early '85. We had only
been flying four years. The vehicle hadn't matured as you see it today.
So they were flying technical problems on a vehicle and they'd have
to pull one off the pad. That affected shuffling and payloads didn't
come along quite like they figured, and that affected shuffling. So
it was sort of a variety of things.
Anyhow, we got kind of wrapped up in that, but it was kind of ironic
that the morning you have a press conference, telling everybody what
you're going to be doing on your flight thirty days from now, in the
afternoon they announce, "Woops. By the way, that flight just
got canceled." Obviously, the big concern with the crew when
the flight gets canceled, "What happens to me?" And generally
they did a pretty good job of keeping the crews together and getting
them flown as soon as possible. But once again, it was kind of the
nature of the way the Shuttle was operating. Some people grouse about
it, but in reality you've just got to sit back and go with the flow
and accept it, because if that's what's happening, that's the way
So anyhow, yes, we got everybody pulled together and we went up and
launched all those satellites, and launched the Spartan and came back
two days later, and it had run out of gas. It wasn't pointing the
way it was supposed to, so John Fabian worked the mechanic arm. He
and I, we had to do a little bit of extra work, trying to successfully
capture it, because it was supposed to be easy to capture, turned
out to be hard to capture. But John was probably the premier arm operator
in the office at that point in time, and through his expertise and
the fact that I could—the Shuttle, on orbit when you're rendezvousing
with something, trying to fly formation on it, it flies so well that
You can move it inches this way and inches that way. So where we were
supposed to be able to grab it, he couldn't reach it from there, so
I just flew in closer and moved over a little bit, and he tried to
reach around to get it. You've got to move this way and do that, so
I moved a little bit and we kind of together worked around such that
he could reach the thing he had to grab to get a hold of the Spartan.
Little did I know that that was good experience that would come in
handy down the road. [Laughter]
That also shows the influence of having people on a mission, rather
than just unmanned missions.
Oh, yes. If that had been an autonomous—just programmed with
no capability of human interaction, we'd have never got it back. It's
as simple as that.
This was your first flight as commander.
Were you involved in the selection not of the payload specialists,
but of the mission specialists for the crew?
Not at all?
Commanders never were. The whole crew was assigned by—at that
point in time it was Mr. Abbey, and John [W.] Young was head of the
[astronaut] office. But I think everybody pretty much believed that
George was the ultimate assigner of crews, so he assigned the crews
and it went from there.
So this was quite unique. You mentioned that you had the Prince on
board and then a French payload specialist as well. So you had quite
an international flavor to the mission.
How did that make things different from your first mission?
Well, the very first thing we did when we heard they were assigned,
I mean, obviously he was from Saudi Arabia. I guess I didn't even
know for a fact, but assumed that his culture and his religion was
different. First thing we did was got together with—there was
a company down in Houston called ARAMCO, which dealt a lot with oil
companies. In fact, they had a big oil company over in Saudi Arabia.
We got—I don't remember, somebody from their Human Resource
Department. But basically brought them out because, you know, I wanted
to know, and I thought the crew should know, as much about the Saudi
culture, so we'd make the rest of our crew comfortable.
So we just had them out for a day, and basically got an education
on the culture. We didn't want to do anything that made him uncomfortable.
We had a better understanding—we'd been around Frenchmen before.
I figured we knew and understood that enough, but the other was a
total mystery to us. And Sultan had graduated from University of Denver
or Denver University or something like that, and he'd spent half his
life in the U.S. In fact, it was kind of funny, because he was more
attuned to—more Americanized or more attuned to the American
way than the Frenchman was. A lot of times we'd say something kind
of, you know, a subtle-type joke that the Frenchman didn't understand
and the Sultan would lean over and explain it to him.
So it turned out to be a neat crew. We still cross paths periodically.
Patrick, he was a payload specialist, although in France he'd been
a test pilot. After the flight he said—because this was my first
landing. As a pilot, you're just a co-pilot. So it was the first time
I landed the Shuttle—After the flight, he said, "It's the
first time I've ever flown on a plane for the first time with anybody
that was landing it for the first time, where I wasn't doing it."
I said, "Well, see, look at that. We were able to walk away from
it." It was a good flight.
Then after the flight, post-flight, we went to France and made a tour
through France, doing all the appropriate PR things. Then we went
to Saudi Arabia and did the same thing. So it was, once again, very
Definitely different than what you'd done the first time. [Laughter]
When you got up into orbit, did you notice any differences in your
body's reactions at all? I know you didn't get space sick, but—
No, not really. They told you about the fluid shift and you get a
puffy face and you have to go to the bathroom a lot at first. Floating
around in zero gravity, it takes a little training, because you can't
really train for that on Earth, because you get in the KC-135 or the
zero-g airplane, you get a couple of seconds, but it's not like operating
for days and days. So it took a little getting used to. I figure it
took about three hours the first time to adapt to really how you operate
and stuff the first time, about fifteen minutes the second time.
But, no, I mean, it was just floating around. You get a lot more room.
When you're in a simulator, you're in the same volume, but on Earth
in the simulator, you're stuck on the floor. With a crew of seven,
it gets pretty crowded, but in zero gravity you're not restrained
to the floor. So it opens up because you can use the whole volume
and not just the floor space. So even with seven people, it wasn't
particularly crowded except at dinnertime where everybody wanted to
come up on the flight deck and sit in front of the windows and eat.
Then with seven people it can get a little crowded. But, no, nothing
And how about on return? We didn't talk about that with your first
flight, but how did you adapt upon return to Earth?
Well, that's kind of interesting, because, once again, this is one
of my pilot talk explanations, but, you know, after spending five,
six, seven, whatever days on orbit, your brain reprograms itself to
operate in zero gravity. You just move around with a little push of
the finger, and so it basically reprograms. And you don't do big pushes.
You learn if you give a big push, you get clumsy. It makes you clumsy.
You have to be a little more patient and just go with small pushes
and float small, slow and controlled. So, basically, once again, my
explanation is your brain reprograms itself. It says, just send little
messages to the muscle, and so you operate and you get very comfortable
during the mission.
Well, we got back and landed. You land, you touch down, you're sitting
in the seat, and it takes about thirty minutes to basically reconfigure
the Shuttle after you land. And it was time to get out of the seat,
you know, and I went to get out of the seat, and nothing happened.
So, to get out of the seat, because now you weight 190 pounds again,
it takes a conscious thought process to say—you know, kind of
like when you pick something heavy up, you kind of, you'll grunt,
and it's the same thing. You have to take a conscious thought process
to just get up out of your chair, because your natural instinct was
of the brain to send just little signals to the muscles, but little
signals didn't do it once you're back on the ground.
So, for the first couple hours, a lot of things that used to come
naturally are now conscious thought process. Walking up steps was
one. Naturally, if you just kind of would amble up a step, you wouldn't
raise your foot high enough and you'd trip. So you'd almost stop and
look down to make sure your foot's a step high before you move forward
with it. And a few things like that. Your inner ear is a little bit
desensitized, and you kind of watch people and they kind of drift
a little bit. They don't take nice square corners and whatnot.
One of the interesting things, we were flying back from Edwards to
Houston, and I felt like I had a cap on, and I couldn't figure out
what in the world it was, and it was the weight of my hair, because
for five days—I think the first flight was five days—the
hair had been kind of floating up, and just the weight of the hair
felt like you were wearing a cap.
But it took about twenty-four hours after I got back from the first
flight to kind of get pretty much back on a total Earth unconscious
operating on Earth. You didn't have to consciously really concentrate
on anything anymore, but for a while there you have to be attentive
to what you're doing, or you get embarrassed, like falling off the
steps or something.
Or trying to leave a cup in mid-air or anything like that?
I never did that. I've heard people do that. That one didn't happen
to me, but I heard of people that you get used to hanging things in
space and it doesn't work down here.
After your second space flight, 51-G, you became Deputy Director of
Flight Crew Operations. What were your duties there and responsibilities?
George Abbey was head of Flight Crew Operations. Basically the flying
program out at Ellington [Field, Houston, Texas] was under Flight
Crew Operations and the astronaut was under Flight Crew Operations,
so you're doing a lot of work on budgets. It's an administrative-type
job—schedules for Shuttle training, aircraft, looking at purchasing
new Shuttle training aircraft [STA]. We were in the process, I think,
at that time of getting new Shuttle training aircraft. So, looking
at that. I'm trying to recall if—I think that came later, but
they were in the process of looking at getting another aircraft to
carry the Shuttle around, a Shuttle carrier aircraft [SCA] as opposed
to a Shuttle training aircraft. So, did a lot of work on that.
Just kind of assisted Mr. Abbey. He did the big-level stuff and then
you went and filled in behind and did those sorts of things. So it
was a little broader based, gave you some management experience and
the like. That's, I guess, it pretty much in a nutshell. Nothing particularly
earthshaking, but it was a different perspective, a little more of
this variety of opportunities.
I think the thing that came into play more was getting more involved
with the operations, the aircraft operations. John was still running
the office at that point in time. We'd work with the Engineering Directorate
and the Flight Controller Directorate. We'd work various issues. You
always had a crew or a flight operations input into all the major
decisions, so it meant going to a lot of program reviews and those
sorts of things, representing Mr. Abbey at those and the like. So
that involved engineering and operations at a little different level,
not so much from the actually crew training standpoint, but from the
crew input or crew overview standpoint and the like. So it was, once
again, a busy job and a lot of diversity to it.
How did you get selected for that position? Was it Mr. Abbey?
Yes. I'm not exactly sure. Actually, I got back from 51-G and I got
sent down to the Cape [Canaveral, Florida] to be a Cape Crusader for
a while. Then from there I was pulled back to Houston and pulled in
as his deputy. Bob [Robert L.] Crippen had been his deputy before
me, and as I recall, he got assigned to a flight. So he needed somebody
else, and that was me.
You mentioned Cape Crusader. Can you tell us what that was and what
There always was a team of from three to six astronauts assigned.
It was one of the technical assignments, and they were assigned for
support down at the Cape. They worked the same type of thing. They
worked crew-related issues as far as getting the vehicle processed,
getting experiments integrated, following the various payloads as
they were getting checked out. Once again, the crew couldn't be down
there all the time.
We kind of switched from having a support crew, supporting one crew.
I mean, it was kind of like a support crew for everybody in a particular
area, and it was down at the Cape. They're also the ones that help
strap the crew in when they launched, and during the countdown they
did all the switch positioning, the prepositioning the switches and
everything for the crew. So it was, once again, a real interesting
job, in that you got to work on the real hardware, and that's always
fun. You got to see a lot of Shuttles launched because you were always
down there for the launches and the like. So it was another one of
the interesting jobs.
While you were Deputy Director of Flight Crew Operations, the Challenger
accident occurred. What did you help do at the time to help bring
things back on line? What were you involved with?
I was in Mission Control when the accident happened and throughout
the initial response to the accident. I was George's deputy, so, once
again, whatever had to be done. One day you're working with the President's
Commission, that was investigating it. The next day you're helping
arrange for President [Ronald] Reagan to come down and have the memorial
service, and you're on a day-to-day basis, very much involved in the
recovery—actually, not the recovery effort. I wasn't on site,
but I mean it was kind of being run, or at least supervised and followed
by the Flight Crew Operations Directorate.
So you got very much involved in that, trying to lend as much support
as you could to the families. It was just a vast array from human-nature
stuff to highly technical stuff that you got involved in. So it was
kind of—I wouldn't say a chaotic time, but there was an awful
lot of things happening and going a lot of different directions, just
trying to get your arms around the whole thing, understand it. Obviously
everybody wanted to do what was right, but wanted to get back flying
also. We didn't want to see it bring the program down or anything
like that, you know.
And you run into, in my case, having flown in Vietnam and having been
in aviation, I lost a lot of close friends. It doesn't make it any
easier, but as opposed to people that had never been in that situation
before, you could understand it and deal with it better than a lot
of people. So you try and help those that have trouble dealing with
it and the like.
Like I say, one of the key things was, we wanted to be sure that we
found out what caused it, got involved a lot in the investigation
analysis and that. Wanted to find out what caused it and get it fixed,
and get back flying again. It caused a major reevaluation of all levels,
the systems and the like, and you were involved more directing people
that were closely tied to that, because there was an awful lot going
on. So we got involved in assigning people from the Astronaut Office
to follow this and follow that, and get feedback so you could kind
of stay on top of what was going on in all the various areas and stuff.
It was another busy time. Seems always to be busy.
Well, busy is good sometimes.
And you were able to find the cause and move on, and the Shuttle went
back to flight. You became chief of the Astronaut Office. How did
you move into that role and what were your responsibilities there?
Well, the analogy used is kind of like the squadron commander in the
Navy. I got assigned by Mr. Abbey. John Young got moved to support
the center director, and I got assigned to do that. Steve Hawley,
"the Attack Astronomer," was my deputy. Basically, you're
responsible for the office. You assign the crews. You ensure that
they're getting trained. You sign off that they're trained and ready
to fly when the time comes. You work all the issues.
Once again, the crew has input to a lot of the technical decisions
that have to be made, and you get involved in those. You have to develop
an office position. Trying to get 100 people to agree to a position—well,
you never do, but ultimately it's your job that you take the inputs
from the folks in the office and establish a position. Somebody's
got to make the, "Okay, this is the way we're going forward."
So you let everybody have their say, then you use your best judgment
and say, "Okay, this is the way we'll carry the office position
forward. This is what it's going to be and here's why." I made
the decision. Like I say, you'll never get everybody to agree, or
very seldom. Every once in a while you might find something that's
so outrageous that they'll all agree on it, but that rarely happens.
So that was it, and taking care of the care and feeding of 100, plus
or minus a few, astronauts and stuff. So that's another full-time
job. They're human like anybody else. They come in and they have problems
here, and this and that, and they go out and every once in a while
go out and do some dumb things, and you've got to try and keep them
on the straight and narrow. If you have to have a heart to heart with
them, every once in a while you have to do that. If they get blindsided
with something, you try and protect them from that. And there's a
lot of people tugging and pulling at folks in that position from a
lot of different directions. You try and let them go off and do their
job and not be tugged and pulled by extraneous sources. That's part
of your job to help with some of that. It was altogether a pretty
Sounds like it, definitely. From there you did go on to serve on two
other Shuttle crews, and the next one was STS-32, which was quite
a significant mission, with the recovery of the LDEF [Long Duration
Exposure Facility] satellite. What can you tell us about that mission?
Also at that point in time it was a long mission. We had really a
lot of medical experiments we were doing on that. We had kind of changed—Dr.
[Carolyn] Huntoon was the head of Space and Life Sciences, and John
Young was always violently opposed—or not violently, pretty
much opposed to astronauts doing medical experiments. I didn't feel
that way, although I felt I was very demanding on that the experiments
that they do have real merit and be well organized and have a test
plan, not a willy-nilly-type experiment. So I kind of convinced the
office that, in my mind, that was part of our job and that I would
never force anybody to do an experiment, but I thought it was part
of our job. If the Space and Life Sciences can show us a good test
plan and that it's a well thought out experiment, that we ought to
participate in it.
So, once again, you lead by example, so we signed up to do—and
several of the astronauts were involved and kind of instigated some
of the experiments. Sonny [Manley Lanier] Carter [Jr.] was a medical
doctor and he talked us into the granddaddy of all experiments, which
was a muscle biopsy. So we all volunteered to have a chunk of muscle
pulled out of our leg before the mission and after the mission.
Oh, fun! [Laughter]
But we got involved in a lot of those medical experiments. We did
strength tests before the flight and right after the flight. It was
a twelve-day, long duration type of mission, which was the longest
one at that point in time. So that was a big part of what we were
We launched the last of the SYNCOMs, which was a satellite that the
Navy was using, that was designed specifically to be launched in the
Shuttle. Then we went and retrieved the LDEF, and we retrieved it
in a manner—we did a rendezvous on it that had never been done
before, so we did a new type of rendezvous to get aligned with it.
It was standing vertically as it went around orbit. To get a better
grab on it, normally we did a rendezvous, you came up and joined [it
from the front], but to be able to grab is easier, instead of joining
it that way, which was called a V-bar, or velocity bar, rendezvous,
we flew up over the top of it, came down from above, and then we could
just rotate the Shuttle…to align properly, to grab it. Bonnie
[J.] Dunbar was the arm operator on that.
So, yes, we developed the technique for doing that. Plus we didn't
want to put contamination on the LDEF, because part of the reason
it was an experiment was to find out what space environment was like,
so we didn't want to contaminate it with exhaust from the plumes.
So the Shuttle had a mode where you can fly up to something but not
shoot plumes at it, but it had never been done before either. So we
tried. We agreed that we would try to rendezvous that way and make
that approach. If we weren't being successful, we would back out of
it and then we'd risk getting a little more contamination on it. But
once again, through training and the fact that the Shuttle flies very
well, we were able to make the rendezvous and fly right up to it and
get stopped, and she grabbed it using that mode.
It was pretty well beat up. Originally it was only supposed to be
up there for like ninety days or something. It ended up being up there
six years, I guess. I don't know what the exact numbers were. So it
was pretty well beat up. Some of the experiments were essentially
lost, but then they gained some other things that they hadn't planned
on getting because it had been up there so long. So, once again, that
one ended up working out all right.
We came back, and that one turned out to be a night landing, too.
We were supposed to come back a day earlier and it was foggy at Edwards,
so it got waved off. Then the next day we were coming back and we
had a computer problem, so we had to wave off [one orbit]. I always
told everybody, I said, you know, we delay the day and then we delay
the revolution, I said nobody in the crew wanted to go back and have
that second muscle biopsy. [Laughter]
Because what happened, right after we landed, they took another chunk
of meat out of your leg. It was pretty gross, the way we did it. In
fact, when we were in quarantine, we had it done. When we did it to
each other, we were all in the room, we were videoing it and whatnot.
So we had our spouses over for dinner that night, so before dinner
we ran the tape of the muscle biopsy, and they all lost their appetite,
so we got twice as much food.
[Laughter] You mentioned the medical experiments and that this one
was a longer flight. Was there any difference in your adaptation,
either in space or on return to Earth?
No, not really. Nothing I noticed. Really, the adaptation on the first
flight is long. It takes probably about three hours going up and about
twenty-four hours coming back. After you've been up there, that's
when the human mind is really wonderful, because after you've been
there once, it can be several years later you go back and about fifteen
minutes, the old brain and body think, "Hmm. I've been here before,"
and kind of thumbs through the file and says, "Ah, here it is."
Plugs in how to operate in zero gravity and there you are. And coming
back, it's the same way. Probably about three hours after I got back,
I was pretty much back to—felt like I was pretty much adapted
back and stuff. So it seems to remember all that and just helps you
out by getting there faster.
That's good. The human body is a pretty amazing thing.
Let me change the tape. [Tape interruption.]
Butler: We'll move on now to your last mission, and this was STS-49.
You mentioned earlier that you had gotten some good training that
would help you out a little bit, that you least expected. This was
also the first flight of Endeavour, and so you were testing out that
Shuttle as well. We'll start with that, about Endeavour. What differences
were there with Endeavour from the others?
The only one that really pops out was, it had a drag chute. In other
words, when you landed, you popped a parachute. That was one of the
steps to beefing up the landing braking system so you could regularly
land back at the Cape. Other than that, it was slightly lighter. They
found a way to cut some weight out of it. But you strive to keep the
vehicle as similar as possible. It makes the training easier and stuff.
So, off the top of my head, that's the only significant thing. The
basic systems were the same.
They built a beautiful vehicle, because it's based on all the other
things that diverted our attention on that flight. It was really nice
that the Endeavour performed like an old pro. We didn't have to divert
a lot of our attention to fixing this glitch or fixing that glitch.
That was very beneficial.
Very. On this mission, you retrieved the INTELSAT satellite, and it
was planned to be a pretty normal retrieval, from what I have read,
but it didn't turn out that way.
Not quite. Actually, one of my first concerns when we first got assigned
and started working with Hughes on the mission was if we try and grab
it, if we bump it, is it going to go out of whack and float away or
something like that. Part of the requirements from the customer were
that we didn't touch any sensitive area, which left you a very small
ring that was somewhat limited, had a limited accessibility, and that
was supposed to be the way we grabbed it.
They devised this bar that had latches on it, that you would click
on this structural ring, and then it was supposed to clink on it.
You had a big grip on this bar, and you'd hold on this bar, and then
the mechanical arm was supposed to come and grab the end of the bar
and then take the satellite and place it on the motor that we were
going to attach to it to take it up to the higher orbit.
From day one, my concern was that if we bump it and it doesn't latch,
is it going to be difficult or impossible to catch. There was a lot
of analysis done, and we were assured that because it was spinning
slightly and it had a lot of mass, we could bump it and it would stay
pretty much in place, and it wasn't going to be a problem.
Then they built a simulator and we trained to that. It was on an air-bearing
floor. Pierre [J.] Thout could grab it with his eyes closed, and Ricky
[Richard J. Heib]—who was also the other person spacewalking
on that team, and his back-up to capture it—he could do it with
his eyes closed. So we were getting a little more comfort that this
system was going to work and everything. But, you know, you're training
in 1 G, and there's some artificialities associated with that when
compared to what's really happening in zero gravity.
So we got up there and we got all in position and rendezvoused in
position. He was out there at the end of the arm, and Bruce [E.] Melnick
put him in position. We were all there. He was ready to make his first
attempt at it, and he did. The latches didn't latch and the satellite
started drifting a little bit.
So then I got in my chase-it mode, because I had to keep him aligned.
Well, we trained somewhat for this scenario, so I was able to basically
fly the Shuttle and keep aligned with the satellite. He tried again
and then he tried again. I think it was the third try—I've kind
of lost track, but I think it was after three tries, it was pretty
much obvious that the rates were too high on it, and I just burned
up a tremendous amount of fuel trying to keep lined up. The chances
of being successful were pretty slim.
So we flew formation on it as it was kind of flopping around a little
bit. "Flopping" is not really—it's just drifting,
but it's still at a rate that you can't effectively capture it. We
decided, through consultations with the ground, to get out of there
and try another day. That was a pretty low point, because when we
left, it had a pretty good rate on it, and it was kind of flat spinning
and stuff. We thought we'd lost this 150 million, 200 million-dollar
satellite, you know, and you don't like that to happen. And Pierre
was particularly depressed, because obviously he thought it was his
fault. So we got him back and Rick back inside and flew away and got
some distance on it.
About two hours later, the ground called up, and the Hughes people
at their control center had gotten it back under control, so that
gave us a sigh of relief that we knew at least we were going to have
another chance. Because of th[e] experience I had on the other three
missions of doing rendezvous, I was fairly proficient at doing a rendezvous
without using a lot of fuel, so we had more than enough fuel to try
So the next day we talked about what we thought went wrong, and came
up with another idea. Basically what we were going to do is, instead
of doing it at night, we were going to wait and do it in daylight.
One of the things that by training in one gravity you didn't have,
you had the Shuttle, which was trying to fly position on the satellite,
then you had the long arm that had some spring into it, and you had
a man on the end of the arm. Then you had the man holding this bar.
And you never had that whole chain. You could never train to that,
because you weren't in zero gravity in the training facility. There's
just no way you can do that on Earth.
So what we did before that day, we said, "Well, let's practice
a little bit." So we pretended the rail on the side of the Shuttle
payload bay was the satellite. So he took them over there and Pierre
did a few practice captures on that, just to kind of learn how to
deal with all these dynamics. Then we did it in daylight instead of
at night, and Pierre got up in position. We decided we weren't going
to even make an attempt until everything was just perfect. We waited
and got everything just perfect. Pierre went in, and the rotation
slowed way down. In fact, Rick started saying, "By jove, I think
you've got—" and then it was obvious he didn't need to,
because he actually thought—out there he was watching it real
close, he thought he had actually captured it. And he didn't.
So that day I think we made about six more tries on it, and, once
again, were flying, chasing it around and getting realigned. At the
end of however many tries it was, once again it was totally out of
control. Actually, we didn't feel as bad that day as we did the first
day, because we knew now that they could regain control of it. So
we backed off again and let it go about its way, and backed out and
got the crew back in.
Basically then I recommended to the ground that we take a day off.
Once again, because of the efficiency of the rendezvous, we actually
had enough gas to do another rendezvous. So that was something that
had never been done—three rendezvous in one mission. So, basically
recommended to the ground that we take a day off, and that I was convinced—the
crew was convinced, for that matter—that we had done, with the
tools we had and the procedure we had originally developed, that we
had done it as well as it could be done, and it still didn't work.
So, basically we said, "Let's take a day off. Let's put this
one on the shelf and let's come up with another idea."
So we kicked a few ideas around. Then about that time it was almost
bedtime, so we claimed we went to sleep. I remember Kevin [P.] Chilton
and I were looking out the back window, scratching our head, trying
to—and we'd send a couple of ideas to the ground, but basically
we were looking out the window in the payload bay and trying to figure
out what raw materials we had and what we could do.
So, a little bit later we were out, and we were supposed to be sleeping.
Kevin and I are looking out, and Bruce Melnick was looking out, and
we were kind of mumbling things. Then the rest of the crew sleeping
on the mid-deck, one by one they kind of popped up, you know. So we
started brainstorming and came up with some ideas.
The next morning, we gave them what we thought were ideas. Kevin had
sketched something out. We had no way of sending pictures down, but
he held it in front of the TV camera so the ground could see the picture
of what we'd sketched out. So they went about—it required three
people to do a space walk, which had never been done. They went about,
on the ground, trying to set up the geometry and make it work, and
they were going to send three people into the air lock. The big chokepoint
was, can you put three people in the air lock to get them outside.
The ground said, "Well, we'll send somebody over to the water
tank and see if we can get three people in on that day off."
My biggest worry was that they weren't going to come up with the right
answer, so I basically told the three crew people I was going to have
do it, I said, "Okay, you guys, we've got a day off here. You
guys suit up and you get in this air lock. I don't care what their
answer is downstairs. We're going to have our own answer."
Turned out that both answers came out the same, that, yes, it could
be done. Even before we suggested it, we had sorted through what we
considered all the safety concerns and felt comfortable with, and
a plan of attack for everything that we could conceivably think might
go wrong, and how to adapt to that. So we basically ended up agreeing
that we'd use this approach, and during the night they went and fine-tuned
how to set people up, and developing some of the procedures.
One of the things we had done in training is we had taken one of the
gloves, and the bottom edge of the satellite had what they called
a sun shield on it, which is a thin titanium shield. Everybody was
worried that you could cut a glove or something like that. For whatever
reasons, in training we had a piece of this sun shield and we had
an old glove. Pierre had taken it and had just hacked and thrashed
away on it. So we were confident that that really wasn't a problem,
so that was one of those safety things that we were worried about.
So, anyhow, the next day we sent three folks out and flew up and rendezvoused,
and once again now I had even more experience flying a Shuttle in
close proximity, so I didn't—and as I said earlier, you can
fly that Shuttle an inch this way, an inch that way, so the control
is there. It just all lined up. The satellite had a little bit of
wobble to it, so not only we had to get position, but we had to time
it right, because they all had to be able to grab it at the same time.
So we had to get it so the wobble—so it was flat, so they could
all grab it. I could fly the Shuttle so the satellite was right in
front of all their noses. Rick Heib was the ringleader out there,
and he said, "One, two, three, grab," and one, two, three,
and they all grabbed. It stopped and we had it.
Then basically it was a matter of picking up that arm that we had
originally, and we still had to use that, but now they had the satellite
stabilized and hanging on to it, they could take that and then they
could click it up and they could get it to snap into place and tighten
it down. Then they grabbed the mechanical arm, then the rest of the
procedure was pretty much normal, with one exception.
Then when we were all done and Kathy [Kathryn C.] Thornton was going
to deploy it, they had made a change in the wiring of the deploy system,
and the change never made it through the process, never got into the
checklist. So when she threw the switch to deploy it, it didn't go.
We just went, "Oh, geez," you know. Fortunately, somebody
in Mission Control apparently knew about it or guessed, I'm not sure
how, but they just quick called up a different switch sequence and
she did that sequence and it went. So we got it off. But it was one
of those missions from hell.
Not only that, but it was also Dan [Daniel S.] Goldin's first mission
as administrator, so apparently he got a real baptism in fire.
[Laughter] What a way to learn. What a way to learn. On this flight
also they tested some Space Station assembly methods. What sorts of
results came from those, and were they applied to the recent assembly?
Not exact—well, at the point in time the equipment was made
for that, the station was going to be assembled kind of Tinker Toy
type, so we had those types of tools or equipment on board. And they
went through the process. After that, obviously the design changed,
but the key thing going through that process, they learned a lot about
operating in that environment, trying to assemble things. They had
a fair amount of trouble flailing around and whatnot, and it kind
of came even with the INTELSAT some, but a lot of the training that
they were doing in the water was not good. Some of it was even counterproductive.
You were training in the water tank, which is the best you've got,
but some of the ways they were doing it were counterproductive.
So Kathy Thornton and Tom [Thomas D. Akers] came back and gave them
a very thorough debrief and really did [make] some significant differences
in the way they worked training in the tank. Because even in the tank,
even though you're weightless because you're weighted to a neutral
buoyancy, you still have the resistance of the water, so you can kind
of like kick your feet and swim. Well, in zero gravity—in fact,
we've got movies of Tom going to that instinct. You can see him kicking
his legs and nothing's happening. Also, if you move something in the
water, as soon as you stop moving it, the reason is the water stops
it. But in zero gravity, you start moving something and it just keeps
moving until you come back on it. So those are the types of things
that they learned. Like I say, they gave a very thorough debrief,
and they went to change. I think they made some significant changes
in the tank training procedures. So, from that perspective it helped.
From the actual hardware we were using, it was a different-type hardware.
At this flight, had you already decided that you were ready to retire
Yes, I think I had probably just casually given it a thought before,
but I hadn't really thought about it. But when I came back and I'd
flown four times, and I was reaching an age where if I was going to
start the third career, I'd better get on with it. I'd had four good
flights. My family had tolerated my sticking my neck out in the Navy
and at NASA and stuff. So I went through three times, I think, I went
through the whole pros and cons thought process. Am I really going
to retire or not?
I think the answer would have been, if I knew I could fly forever,
I'd have probably stuck around maybe, but you reach a point where
you've kind of been there, done that, and you know you can't do it
forever, so if you're going to kick off and so something else, you've
got to pick an opportune time. And that seemed like an opportune time.
So the answer all three times I went through the analysis came up
the same: if you're going to do it, now's probably the best time to
The other part of that is, as you do it, don't look back. Convince
yourself you're not going to look back and say, "Gee, I miss
this, and, gee, I miss that." So I went through all that and
made the decision that now was a good time to leave, so I told them
I was getting ready to move on, and I did.
Looking back over your career with NASA, what would you say was the
most significant thing for you?
I think just having the opportunity to work with such a great team.
That's one of the neat things about being an astronaut. Flying in
space is neat, but it kind of goes back to that diverse thing. You
get to know and work with the people building the vehicle, you get
to work with the various people that develop the experiments and the
payloads, and the flight controllers. Throughout NASA, many of the
guys that process it down at the Cape, and just being able to come
in contact with so many dedicated people, it's, in my mind, the best
part of being at NASA.
What would you say was the most challenging aspect?
Oh, I think from an event-type thing, it was that [STS-]49. I mean,
that was the most challenging, because we had a real time. That obviously
makes it very rewarding, because you've had a problem with something,
you sorted through it, and successfully accomplished what you'd originally
set out to do, even though you did it differently. But, once again,
that was not just the crew or just myself; that was the whole team
kicked in on that. That was, I'm sure, the most challenging, and makes
it probably the most rewarding, too.
Absolutely. I think we have just a couple more minutes. If you could
tell us a bit about what you're doing now and what Kistler [Aerospace
Corporation]'s goals are.
Kistler—we're building a launch vehicle to launch satellites.
It's not manned. To launch satellites into low Earth orbit. What's
unique about it, it's totally a commercial Endeavour, so we're going
it all with private financing and no government involvement. And it's
fully reusable. We're building five vehicles, and what we do is take
communication satellites to low Earth orbit. It doesn't have the carrying
capacity of something like the Shuttle or some of these bigger expendable
vehicles, but the economy comes in the fact you don't throw the rocket
away each time. You bring it back and use it again and again and again.
The advent of these low Earth orbit communication satellite constellations
make it economically feasible to do that. So, twenty years ago it
wouldn't have been a viable program, but with those satellites now
coming on line, it is. So we're off trying to develop the vehicle.
We're about probably three-quarters of the way there, and hopefully
by the end of this year, more likely early next year, we'll have our
first test flights.
We've got a bunch of names you've probably already talked to or will
talk to. Aaron Cohen is one of our advisors and was on the design
team. And Dr. [George E.] Mueller and Dick [Richard H.] Kohrs works
here with us. Henry [O.] Pohl and Dale [D.] Myers all are very much
involved with it. So we've got a pretty good think tank worth of experience
and knowledge that's being contributed to this.
Absolutely. It sounds like a great group of people.
We look forward to seeing the results of all this work. I want to
thank you for taking the time. We appreciate it.