NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Roy Neal
27 January 1999
Neal: First of all let’s place this. We’re in Vail, Colorado,
at the home of Malcolm Scott Carpenter, to give it due formality.
Thank you for having us here.
Hate that first name.
The date is January the 27th in the year of 1999, and we are ready
to roll. Are you ready to go, Scott?
Let’s go, Roy.
All right. Let’s do. You know, you were born here in Colorado.
Anything in that background that leant to your becoming an astronaut?
Not that I can think of, except they’re both high country orbit
and Colorado mountains.
Well, from there you went down to low country, meaning the Navy. Right
down at sea level. Why Navy?
Well, I was a naval aviator. But how in the world I got an affection
for the deep blue ocean, having grown up in the high country of Colorado,
I don’t know. I’ve pondered that question a lot and can’t
answer it for you.
There is an evolution there, none the less, though. Because I see
in your background: test pilot school, intelligence schools, all of
these that led up to your being selected as an astronaut. Can you
describe that training and how you think it might have played off
into that eventual choice?
Curiosity is a thread that goes through all of my activity. I’ve
been curious. I’ve also been frightened by the deep ocean. I
wanted, number one, to learn about it; but, number two, I wanted to
get rid of what I felt was an unreasoned fear of the deep water. I
was also inspired by what [Jacques] Cousteau had done. I saw a use
for NASA technology in ocean technology, and first proposed to Cousteau
that I come and share technology with his program. He said, “Well,
we could use your experience, but you don’t speak the right
language and we can’t pay you very much. But,” he said,
“if you want to share technology with the ocean, do it with
your own United States Navy.” And that’s how it happened.
Well that’s, of course, what happened after you had been an
astronaut. So let’s come back to that, if we may, Scott. And
right now, let’s go back to the origins and relate, if we can,
that naval background and the deep sea—the ocean, if you will—into
the oceans of space.
Okay. I can do that by recounting one episode that revealed to me
an unreasoned fear of the ocean. I flew big airplanes with a large
crew out of Hawaii early in my Navy career. We were doing a survival
exercise in which we had to manage ourselves in two life rafts on
deep, dark, blue water. We lost overboard from the raft I was in a
corner reflector, which is the most important piece of equipment you’ve
got on a raft in a real survival situation. It is the thing the radar
will pick up and guide rescue [in] your direction. It went overboard,
and I thought of trying to get it. But I was afraid of the sharks
and the critters in that water, and I didn’t do it. But my gunner’s
mate, without a second thought, jumped overboard, was gone for a long
time, but he swam down and got that corner reflector and brought it
back up. And I thought, “There is a brave man,” and it
made me ashamed of myself. That was the genesis of my need to conquer
my fear of the deep ocean. It’s an important thing. Conquering
of fear is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and it can be done
a lot of different places.
And so you made application for that other ocean, space; and eventually
you were named to the Space Task Group. It must’ve been quite
a thrill to be named to that elite group. Or was it?
Sure. The greatest thrill of my life. Getting to be a part of the
crew that would do this unheard of thing, and a thing that would banish
so many unknowns. It’s food for curiosity.
Well, you were with a rather distinguished group. Could we take them
one-by-one and kind of look at them through your eyes? Let’s
say, just for the sake of discussion, John [H.] Glenn [Jr.].
He and I bonded immediately. Who can describe the reasons for bonding?
I just have a great deal of respect for him. We had a lot of interests
in common. There were three Air Force fellows in the group. We used
to kid each other about not caring much for one another, but we all
recognized that we were on the same side. This isn’t Cold War
time. They were, all of them, highly qualified professionals, and
I have the highest respect for every one of them. I was just more
bonded with John than any of the others because of common interests.
How about Gus [Virgil I.] Grissom?
A true professional. Didn’t have a lot to say, but when he said
something it was always worth listening to.
Wally [Walter M.] Schirra [Jr.]?
The joker. He doesn’t like to be called “the joker,”
but he is a great high-jinks fellow, you know? And he added a lot
of levity to everything we did, and that was very valuable.
How about Deke [Donald K.] Slayton?
Deke [was] probably the most dedicated, single-minded professional
test pilot of the group. He was more dedicated to airplanes in general
and how they work, I think, than any other fellow in the group.
Alan [B.] Shepard [Jr.]?
Born leader. Came to the program with a lot of experience and a lot
of talent. And it showed up in his choice as the first spaceman in
How about Scott Carpenter? How would you see him fitting into that
I leave that to others.
Very good. You had early assignments in Mercury. Do you remember what
Communications and navigation, and that’s as a result of my
experience at Patuxent [River, Maryland, Naval Air Station], the Naval
Air Test Center, with equipment and techniques that had to do with
Earth observation and photography and communications.
Did those specialties pay off for you a little later in the program?
Well, those sciences, if you will, were the ones that I was directed
to follow. So I had a background that was helpful in the tasks that
were assigned to me by NASA.
Well, what were some of your early assignments in Mercury?
Making sure that the communications equipment worked well and the
navigation techniques were adequate to the task. These were just the
small tasks that I was given to monitor solo, and each of us had certain
tasks for which they were responsible. We all had a lot of tasks to
Not the least of which was the assignment of being Capcoms round the
world during those early Mercury flights, when it was astronauts could
only talk to astronauts. Where were you, for example, during John’s
[pause]. Well, let’s start at the beginning with Alan Shepard
and then with John Glenn and Gus Grissom, where were you?
For Alan’s flight, Wally Schirra and I, in keeping with an old
Air Force—Edwards, as a matter of fact—practice of chasing
every experimental flight with airplanes. Walt [Walter C.] Williams
from Edwards [Air Force Base, California], highly placed in the Administration
in those days, thought we should chase Al Shepard’s flight just
because it was always done. So Wally Schirra and I were given some
Air Force airplanes (F-102s) to chase Al’s flight. We orbited
and we couldn’t stay close to the pad, because there were a
lot of unknowns and dangers in those days that we didn’t quite
know how to cope with. But Wally and I were circling the pad, listening
to the count, but at some distance, maybe 3 miles away. And Al took
off, going straight up, and Wally and I never saw a thing! You can’t
chase a Redstone going straight up in a 102, so all we did is fly
circles. And we came down and sort of said to each other, “What
It’s pretty well known, by now, but let’s go back over
the background of where you were for John Glenn’s flight and
what you did. It kind of made a little history.
Yeah, well I was John’s backup; and part of that job was to
be in the blockhouse during the count, and that’s where I was.
And I was taking care of all of the communications from the launch
people and the launch complex to John. And I was, so I was told, the
only one who would be able to communicate with John in that period
from T-minus 18 seconds to liftoff. That’s when it occurred
to me that this fellow named John Glenn, in order to have a successful
flight, was going to have to put under his belt more speed than we
had ever given a human before. Speed was the essence. If he could
get the speed and if it were in the right direction, he had orbital
flight licked. You know, “Godspeed” is something you hear
all the time; but speed was very, very important to John. And it just
came to me, “Godspeed, John Glenn;” and I think the fact
that his name is two short syllables made it ring a little better.
But anyway, somewhere in the count between 10 and zero I said, “Godspeed,
John Glenn.” And it was a salute to him, but there was a feeling,
I think, in me at the time that it could be viewed as a plea to whatever
Higher Power to, you know, make this flight a success. And I would
suggest that nobody can tell me that that plea didn’t work,
because the flight did.
It worked not once but twice, because NASA made special arrangements
for you when John flew the second time [on STS-95]. Can you tell us
Yes. Well, yeah, but I will also tell you that both of these pleas,
“Godspeed, John Glenn,” he didn’t hear—and
I just recently learned this—until after the launch. I thought
he heard them both when I said them, but that wasn’t the way
it happened. I couldn’t say the same thing on the Shuttle flight
because it’s not a solo flight. So I thought it appropriate
to add, “Good luck to the commander and crew of the Shuttle
and, once again, Godspeed, John Glenn.” That statement has had
endurance that surprises me.
Perhaps with good reason. Well, let’s go back now to your flight.
How did you get to fly MA [Mercury Atlas]-7, Aurora , instead of
How did you get into that flight?
It was Deke, first of all.
Oh, Deke first. That’s right.
Deke was assigned to that flight.
Let’s go through that sequence, shall we?
How did you get to fly MA-7? Let’s rephrase the question.
Well, okay. The flight after John’s, which was MA-6, was MA-7;
and Deke Slayton was assigned that flight. On the centrifuge during
the training period for that flight Deke had an anomaly in his heart
which in conventional medical wisdom of that time was considered disqualifying.
We recognize now that it was no more serious than a hiccup, but Deke
was scratched and he wouldn’t fly again for a long time, until
Apollo-Soyuz [Test Project]. It was a destructive thing for Deke.
Wally was his backup and by rights should have gotten the flight.
But Walt Williams again, I think (I don’t know who made the
decision), but it was a NASA decision that since I had had such an
intimate relationship with the MA-6, getting John ready to go, that
I was better prepared to take the next flight than Wally was, the
standby. That was very destructive to Wally, too, and we’ve
survived that; but he was angry, and with reason. Anyway, I got the
flight. And Wally became not only backup as he had been for Deke,
but my backup; and he got the flight following.
And you called the flight, or called the spacecraft, Aurora. What’s
in a name? Where’d you get a name like that?
Well, there’s some popular disagreement about that. I named
it Aurora because I saw it as a celestial event, and the Aurora borealis
is a celestial event. I liked the sound of it and the celestial significance.
First of all, let’s go into 7. Al Shepard started that with
Freedom 7, and the Press caught that and said, “Isn’t
that nice of Al to name his capsule Something 7 in honor of the seven
astronauts, his buddies?” And everybody believed that. The fact
of that matter is that he named it “7” because it was
capsule number 7 off the line. But the people didn’t know that!
But since everybody wanted to match Al’s largesse, Gus had Liberty
Bell 7 and John had Friendship 7, so I had to do something with “7,”
and it was Aurora 7. But the people back home in Boulder, down on
the front range, thought, “Wasn’t that nice of Scott to
name his capsule Aurora 7 for the fact that he was born and raised
in a house in Boulder on the corner of Aurora and Seven Street?”
So I give you the real reason behind Aurora, but people from Boulder
don’t believe it.
Did you run into any problems in flight? Or was it a nominal flight
up till the bitter end?
Oh boy, sure! There were problems in all of those flights. I had one
that’s most famous for overshooting by 250 miles. I had the
record for overshooting the target for a long time until some cosmonauts
came along some years later and missed theirs by 1500 miles. But there
was an overshoot that caused a lot of dismay in the Control Center,
and it was, if you talk to Chris [Christopher C.] Kraft about that,
failure of the man. If you talk to me about it, it’s a failure
of the machine. Where the truth is, I don’t know. But [interrupted].
You’ll never have a better opportunity to express your point
of view than right now, Scott. Why don’t you grab it and run
with it? [telephone rings] Right after that phone call.
Oh yeah, okay.
Okay. [telephone rings]
It’s probably [interrupted].
The machine upstairs will get it in one more ring, I think.
Yeah. This should— The other machine just picked it up. Okay.
Are we still rolling?
Voice off camera: We’re still rolling.
All right. We’re at a good spot.
Voice off camera: Get it all down, okay? And go ahead and go again.
Am I still slouching?
Oh no, you’re sitting up just fine. We’re ready to pick
it up again, and we had just reached that point where you said “Chris
Kraft and some of his controllers were not happy” and I had
said “Scott, you’ll never have a better time than right
now to tell your side of that story.”
Yeah, well, part of that difficulty came from mismanagement of my
fuel system, which caused a great concern on the ground because I
was ahead of my fuel consumption line. That was not good, and I didn’t
like that any better than anybody else. However, there were other
failures that exacerbated the effect of low fuel; and when you get
right down to the other problem with the flight, which directly caused
the overshoot, there were three failures that were all additive.
First of all, the retrorockets were slightly under thrust. That may
be a minimal influence on the overshoot. They were late because of
an attitude instrument failure which really had not been discovered.
I didn’t—there was no yaw check in the flight plan. Maybe
there should’ve been, but we didn’t expect that; and,
remember, we’re learning. Anyway, the yaw indicator was bad.
I think all the attitude instruments were faulty, but intermittently.
So when it came time for retrofire, I had to cage those gyros and
fly manually, out the window, attitudes that I thought were right.
Pitch is no problem. You can see that easily on the horizon. Roll
doesn’t enter into it. But yaw is very difficult to see without
spending a lot of time tracking your progress, and I didn’t
I probably would have done that had I not been so fascinated by the
discovery that John Glenn’s were not fireflies but pieces of
frost. That fascinated me. A major discovery, I thought. In any event,
all of these things added to an overshoot. The retrorockets were not
pointed in the right direction because I was not pointed in the right
direction. I attribute that to instrument failure, and there is some
disagreement about that.
Let me go back over one element of that, that you mentioned; that
is, the fireflies from John’s flight, because we should explain
more precisely what you mean. John saw something out the window. Would
you explain that?
Yeah. It’s hard to realize that we didn’t know for sure
at that time whether or not there were living critters out there at
150 miles’ altitude because John said, “There are fireflies.”
He called them that, and we really didn’t know whether something
like that existed. That’s a good indicator of the state of our
ignorance in many things at that time in the space program. It turned
out—as I was stowing equipment, banging the hatch on the side
of the capsule just before retrofire—the “fireflies”
started flying past the window; and I could make more fly by, by banging
the hatch. And it was little pieces of frost in the—illuminated
by the Sun, behind me at this time at sunrise; and they were just
little ice crystals; and I figured, “Hooray! We know the answer
to that question.” It was a moving time for me.
In retrospect, what do you think now as you think back on zero g and
spaceflight in general as you experienced it?
You have to realize that my experience with zero g, although transcending
and more fun than I can tell you about, was in the light of current
spaceflight accomplishments very brief. But it’s the nicest
thing that ever happened to me, and I can’t believe that I wouldn’t
enjoy it just as much for a more prolonged period. The zero-g sensation
and the visual sensation of spaceflight are transcending experiences,
and I wish everybody could have them.
You could certainly understand why John wanted to go back up there
for the longer flight, can’t you? Would you have taken the same
Oh sure. But it was not offered me. That is the fact of the matter.
I, as a matter of fact, am questioned frequently about this: Would
you do it? And one of the answers is tongue in cheek but it is also
partly true: I’m not old enough.
You had plenty of time after landing, when you were down in the ocean.
You had plenty of time to think about the mission. And I wonder, what
were your thoughts during that period of time when you were waiting
to be picked up after your flight?
I had uninterrupted time. When I say “uninterrupted time,”
most everybody else who’d gotten back was subjected immediately
to pressing questions and a large debriefing team; and they don’t
have much time, as much as I did, for introspection and reflection
on the events of the past 5 hours. I treasured that. The only living
critter I had around for a long time was a gold-colored fish that
had taken up residence under my life raft in the shade of the life
raft. And I remember contemplating the marvelous experience and enjoying
time to reflect on it.
You know, in space, as you’ve just described it, you were quite
concerned with the effects of being there and figuring out what was
really going on. Do you think you were really effective at that time
in explaining those effects? And of course in more recent years, I’m
looking at the fact that, as the spaceflight continued, television
became an aide and people now can share the flights, ad nauseum almost.
But back then, it was all in your hands. We couldn’t see; we
couldn’t hear. You were our eyes and ears. Do you think you
were effective in explaining what was going on in space around you?
All I can tell you is that I hope so, but that’s another question
that must be asked others. I tried to do that; but it is difficult,
I think, to describe all of the sensations of spaceflight. It was
a new concept then. Never before done. People understand it better
now because they’ve lived with it all these years. But not then.
You were also the first to propose a neutral buoyancy tank. I can
certainly understand that in view of your Navy background; using water
to simulate, if you will, zero g. When first you came up with that
suggestion, how did NASA receive that idea at first?
Well, I don’t think there was any objection. The idea bore fruit
in many, many different ways. It required the expenditure of a lot
of money to build a neutral buoyancy simulator, but it has paid off
handsomely in training people for EVA [extravehicular activity] and
it’s, you know, irreplaceable.
And thoroughly one of the tools of NASA today. Have you had a chance
to operate within that neutral buoyancy tank at all in recent years?
No. I was at the tank in Houston, but I didn’t get in the water.
But I’ve had experience doing that in the open ocean with Sealab.
I think that kind of brings us right back to where we started some
time back. You had described, if you will, your acquaintance and the
working relationship with Cousteau. So right now you moved out of
the realm of astronaut. Let’s move the transition, first of
all, what you did after your flight. It became fairly common knowledge,
and I think you were privy to the fact, that you probably would not
fly again. Is that right?
Well, you know, not at the time of my choice. I got really fascinated
with this idea that I discussed with Cousteau and then with George
Bond of transferring technology to the ocean. And I did that, or I
tried to do that, with Sealab 1; and then I broke my arm and couldn’t
make that dive, but went back to polish that idea off in Sealab 2.
And that was another transcending experience for me.
Well, you had several considerations before you left NASA, didn’t
you? You had other jobs in the interim there before you left NASA?
Oh yeah, sure, and part of it was in the development of that neutral
buoyancy simulator. But I really, by that time, became enamored of
the people and the idea involved in living underwater. And that was
my new love.
And do you see a relationship between the things that you discovered
underwater and the things that you discovered in the ocean of space?
There are many, many similarities in the training and in the environment
[of], quote, “isolation and confinement.” And the people—the
people are similar, although Navy and civilian deep-sea divers are
not as highly educated by and large as the heroic spacemen are, they
are the greatest bunch of unsung heroes I’ve ever known. And
the other thing that gives me an affection for the whole idea, and
the people and the science, is the fact that these Navy and civilian
divers put their lives on the line for the benefit of new science
and for, at that time, national security just as surely as the heroic
spacemen do; but nobody cares a whit about these divers. Nobody even
notices what they do.
Well, perhaps the Navy should do oral histories as NASA’s doing
with spaceflight. Since we are dealing with spaceflight, though, let’s
deal with other astronauts after the Mercury Seven group. Did you
have a working relationship with the crews that came after that? And,
if so, [telephone rings] once the telephone stops ringing, we’ll
pick up again.
Is it ringing again?
It just rang. I think you have to wait until your answering machine
off camera: No, it wasn’t [interrupted].
Was that somebody’s cell phone?
off camera: That’s what it sounds like.
It sounded like it. It’s off. All right. Are we clear to go
ahead? Are we rolling? We’re at speed? All right, I was asking
let’s get back on a space track, because this is primarily obviously
for NASA at Johnson Space Center, oral histories there. And I was
asking if you had met—working acquaintance with any of the other
astronauts after the Mercury Seven.
Sure; and they’re a highly respectable group, all of them. I
was—you know, I really feel privileged to know these fellows
as well as I did. I had a particular affection for Ed [Edward H.]
White [II], and I hated to see what happened. He was the prince of
the new guys. Dave [David R.] Scott was a favorite of mine. But they’re
all highly accomplished, dedicated fellows that I was honored to know.
Let’s take a look at some of the other people of that era and
ask for your recollections. Pad leader Guenter Wendt. What do you
Yeah, Guenter Wendt. He’s a great, great fellow. He was probably
more closely associated with every flight than any other fellow on
the ground—except for Joe [Joseph W.] Schmitt, who was the suit
man. Two dedicated, fine fellows that I remember with great fondness.
When you got buttoned in, those were the fellows that used to see
you as they buttoned you in, weren’t they? The last human beings.
How about others like, oh, [Manned Spacecraft] Center Director Bob
[Robert R.] Gilruth?
Yeah, he was, in his own words, he was “the maestro.”
I don’t know that he used “maestro,” but he did
say that his job at NASA was like conducting an orchestra; and that’s
what he did. He was a bright, dedicated man for whom I also have great
Speaking of conducting an orchestra, there was [NASA Administrator]
Jim [James E.] Webb.
Yeah. Instrumental in the early days, he was very effective at his
position in Washington.
As the Administrator. [doorbell rings] There’s somebody at the
That is probably David [interrupted].
off camera: Recording.
We’re asking for your recollections of people, and we had just
gotten to Jim Webb, the Administrator of NASA during that key period
in time. What do you remember?
I remember a very effective representative for NASA in Washington.
He did everything required, and then some.
And how about Chris Kraft?
Chris was effective as Mission Director, and he was Control Center
boss for a long time. And he was dedicated and served NASA for a long
time in the Control Center; and he even became Director of Manned
Spacecraft Center for a while, I think, later.
Another of the guiding lights at that time was Chuck [Charles W.]
Mathews. Do you remember Chuck?
Not as well as Chris [interrupted].
He moved into the Gemini Program.
And some of these other fellows you’ve mentioned.
He was aboard at the time of Mercury, but basically he became Mr.
Gemini. All right. Let’s move on. What are some of your favorite
anecdotes? Things that you might remember during the years that you
spent in the space program? Strangest, funniest, that kind of thing.
They’re all unmentionable.
Every one? There must be one that you can dredge out of your memory
that can be retold.
No, not seriously. Well, there was one episode when John and I were
racing in his convertible for Friendship Airport. We were late for
the airplane going, I think, to St. Louis; and we were going just
barely to have time to race through the airport and catch an airplane.
And I was getting the tickets out, ready to turn them in, and it occurred
to me that I could surprise John a little bit by making him think
that the tickets flew out of the car in the slipstream. So I let the
envelopes go by. He was driving furiously down the road, trying to
make the airplane; and I told him, “The tickets had just blown
away.” On that freeway, there’s no way to turn around,
so we had lost the airplane. And he took it very well. He laughed
about it, and [said] we’d take another airplane. But then I
told him, “It was just the envelopes that I lost” and
that we could proceed to the airport, and he continued to laugh. But
I remember that his laugh had a different note when he knew we were
still able to make the airplane. We were always playing jokes on each
other. They would go—I could go on forever with that.
Well, we don’t have forever, but if you’d like to try
one more we’d be delighted to hear it.
Wally and I were driving from Oceania back to Langley [Research Center,
Hampton, Virginia] in his little MG, I think it was. The top was down,
and I think the top wouldn’t work. And we encountered a thunderstorm,
and we got so much water inside that car that if you opened the doors
the water would run out. And Al Shepard passed us going home and saw
us water-soaked in this car, and somehow or other a cartoon was drawn
of that episode. I think Wally has it. Two bedraggled passengers—driver
and passenger—in a car filled with water. It’s a good
cartoon. We should—I should ask Wally about that.
A lot of these anecdotes showed up in Tom Wolfe’s book called
The Right Stuff. You were in that book. You played a prominent role.
And in the movie that followed. There’s been a lot of discussion
about it, pro and con. I wondered, what are your impressions of The
Right Stuff, the book and the movie?
Well, I think the book is good and I think the movie is good. My affection
for both is colored some by my great affection for Tom. He is a bright,
bright, fine man; and I think the film is a great film. I’m
asked about it frequently, and people say, “Does it tell the
truth?” And I say what I believe: that the book and the movie,
for that matter, are truthful. They made—they take—both
of them take some literary license with facts, but only nonessential
facts. The important details portrayed by both the book and the film
are presented accurately.
Finally came that day after your Mercury flight when you were involved
with moving astronaut training and your residence in Florida to Houston.
Now what were your feelings about the decision to locate MSC [Manned
Spacecraft Center] near Houston, first of all?
I really didn’t feel strongly about that decision. It was an
exciting move. Houston seemed like a good place to be, better than
Newport News [Virginia]. And, you know, since the decision was made
without any input from me, I went along with it, happily, just like
I think everybody else did.
What was it like, once you’d made the move? What was it like
living in the Clear Lake community? Now, that’s both from the
personal and a professional point of view.
Yeah well, it turned out to be a very good decision. The Houston community
was—they welcomed us with open arms. We developed a great affection
for the country and for the people. I didn’t care for the flat
land too much. I didn’t care for the temperature and the humidity.
I remember making fun of that territory when I would take my family—bring
them here to Vale, as a matter of fact—to ski in those days.
It was a 2-day car trip. One and three-quarters of those days was
all in Texas. It’s all flat land. It gets boring, but that’s
okay. Houston is a long, long way away from everyplace else; but it’s
got—it’s a fascinating place that I still like.
And, of course, the story of the Manned Spacecraft Center goes without
saying. It’s had a tremendous history, and probably has a tremendous
future, wouldn’t you think?
That is up to the people of this country. We need, I think, a goal
other than the International Space Station. We need to get cracking
on a manned flight to Mars, because that is going to capture the interest
and the support and the imagination of the people of this country
who pay for spaceflight. Without that, Houston can dissolve. We need
to go to Mars.
You don’t think the International Space Station is a good interim
I think it is, but I think it is only interim. We need something bigger
Well, let’s qualify that. How do you really see the International
Space Station right now?
As a valuable, current pursuit; but it needs to be followed by things
that demonstrate more vision.
Is the technology ready to tackle Mars as a goal?
Why do you say that?
Because it’s a fact. We know how to do that. We just don’t
know how to get the money. We don’t know how to get the support
that will provide the money. The technical problems, if we haven’t
solved them already, they’re easily solved in the near future.
Well, I think that answers my last question, which is where you’d
like to see the nation go in space. Unless there’s something
else beyond that, that I’m not seeing.
Oh sure. Mars is interim. But for now, that’s a goal that NASA
and the country and the planet can live with enthusiastically.
Well you know, Scott, we covered just about all the basic questions
that I had. But it occurs to me that I ought to give you the chance
to say anything that you really want to say. Is there anything that
you’d like to bring into this discussion, realizing that you’re
writing oral history for the historians and for Public Affairs both.
Realizing that, is there anything that you’d like to bring in
this discussion that I haven’t given you the chance to talk
Only that I feel I have been a very, very, fortunate man to have lived
at the time when so many unknowns can be made knowns; and that’s
happened in this century. And that pleases me probably more than anything
else, because I think it is fair to say that I have been (and remain)
a very curious person. And I’ve had a lot of satisfied curiosity
in my time.
You’ve had the chance, really, to live out your curiosity, haven’t
you? To find out at least a few of the answers you were looking for.
Yep. And satisfying curiosity ranks number two in my book behind conquering
Would you recommend the profession of astronauts to young people?
Oh, of course. But so would I recommend learning to be a concert pianist.
There are thousands of challenges, and it’s got to be to each
his own. Every—every child has got to seek his own destiny.
All I can say is that I have had a great time seeking my own.
Debbie, I’ve finished with my list of questions. Do you have
anything you think we should add to this? Have we covered the bases
from your point of view?
off camera: Very, very thorough. I don’t know if you’ve
really mentioned anything, though, about the future of NASA, you know,
and all the underwater—
The underwater things? Well, let’s give that a shot, shall we?
You’re talking now NASA’s future under water or the Navy’s?
Which? Are we talking Navy—? Well, let’s just cover the
broad field of where the country may be going undersea. That’s
a much broader question; it allows you the leeway to maneuver any
direction that you see fit.
During Sealab 2 when we, for the first time, put men in residence
on the ocean floor at 200 ft (never been done before), it was a great
technical triumph; a physiologic triumph as well. And in the film
that the Navy made, the documentary of that episode, it was stated,
“Who knows, perhaps in a few years we will be living and working
at 20,000 ft.” We thought that would be possible at that time.
It turns out now that physiologically, and maybe technologically,
[it] is no longer possible. We have come to a brick wall at around
2,000 ft for putting men down and allowing them to stay and work and
swim there at ambient pressure. There is a physiologic limit—and
it’s called High-Pressure Nervous Syndrome (HPNS)—that
makes men at that high pressure unable to do meaningful work. So it
is not any longer an open-end project. I think for that reason that
until we conquer that limit, the nation is not going to have much
interesting work to do in the very deep ocean. I don’t see it
as a place where people will live. Maybe work. There may be industrial
communities of some sort at that pressure in the deep ocean, but I
think not residential communities. We’re sort of confined to
the surface of the land and the ocean for a long time, except the
surface of other worlds.
So you then see actually a double-headed program with basic emphasis,
perhaps, on space and secondary emphasis on the sea as the future?
Yeah, I hope that the ocean hangs in there because it harbors a lot
of wealth and information and riches that we need to pay attention
to. And we are not doing that with the vigor that I would like to
see. It will happen, but you have to realize it is just not the glorious
endeavor that spaceflight is. It never will be.
All right, Debbie. I’m happy with what we have.
off camera: I’ve got one more.
Go right ahead.
off camera: I’m just curious.
No, that’s all right. Don’t be sorry. For heaven’s
sake. We’re asking for anything you want to add.
off camera: In fact, I’m not sure if it’s going
to pick up on audio, but—
I’ll repeat your question.
Voice off camera: Something I picked up on when you were talking about
the Mars as just an interim step. You didn’t really go into
a lot of detail of where you thought we were headed after Mars, some
of your ideas of where you thought we should be headed.
All right. She’s going to pin you down. I was not going to,
but I will now. You say Mars might just be an interim step. Take us
from there, Scotty. Beam us up.
Okay. Sure. Again, I’m inspired by my curiosity. I want to know
what Mars feels like, looks like, what riches are there, what we can
do there. And although flight there is an interim measure, in the
long range there is a lot to be done on Mars. And I firmly believe
that we will, I hope, within two decades (but I’d like to see
it even sooner), have not only a manned flight to Mars but the development
of an outpost on Mars and then a colony. And I expect that the people
who talk about terraforming Mars, this will take generations. But
it is within our technical know-how to make Mars habitable to un-space-suited
humans. We can have permanent residents on Mars composed of Earthlings.
And once we learn how to do that, we can go other places in the solar
system. That’s within the reach of our current tech¬nology.
To get outside the solar system [will] take some development that’s
very hazy at this very moment, but it is going to be possible.
You do see some things within our solar system, such as a few moons
on some of the far out planets?
Let’s talk about that. The goals beyond Mars: where would you
To the moons of Jupiter maybe. But first, I think, is Mars. Then and
when we learn how to do that, then we will know more about how we
can go elsewhere, and where elsewhere might be.
off camera: Excellent.
I think that covers—you noticed, he dodged your question.