NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
7 February 2006
Ross-Nazzal: Today is February 7th, 2006. This oral history with Norm
Chaffee is being conducted for the Johnson Space Center Oral History
Project in Houston, Texas. Jennifer Ross-Nazzal is the interviewer,
and she is assisted by Sandra Johnson.
Thanks again for joining us for this fourth session.
Chaffee: It’s my pleasure.
And I’d like to begin by talking about your work on Space Station.
How did you become involved in this program?
Okay. Well, I was Deputy Chief in the Propulsion [and] Power Division
in the early eighties. Shortly after we successfully launched STS-1,
and it was clear that the Shuttle program was entering its operational
phase, the activity got kicked up to start talking about what is our
next program going to be, because in the course of events, the engineering
staff has essentially done its job and turned the project over to
the operations people by the time the vehicles start flying. And although
we had plenty to do to monitor the flights and work problems, that
kind of stuff, the development guys needed something to work on, so
the push really came to start to—the push toward getting approval
from the government for something next, the intention being that it
be the Space Station Program. So very early in the eighties, late
’81, ’82, there was an awful lot of studies going on that
we were participating in, trying to define what the Space Station
was, that type of thing.
Along about—I can’t remember exactly—’82,
late ’82, early ’83, there was a tiger team formed to
write what they call the systems engineering and integration plan
for the Space Station Program. And we had realized that the vehicle
was going to be so large that you can’t launch it now in a single—you
can’t put it together in a single activity somewhere—you
can’t check out the whole thing in a single activity at Kennedy
Space Center [Florida], you can’t launch the entire vehicle
in one fell swoop like we had done in all our previous activities.
This was going to have to be built in pieces, assembled on orbit.
It was also clear that the scope of the program was going to be so
large we were going to have to spread it around amongst the NASA Centers
that were typically involved in the manned spaceflight and maybe even
some others. And, some of the other Centers were very actively politicking
and trying to establish themselves where they could get a piece of
the business, realizing that Space Station was going to be the big
dog in the kennel.
Anyway, this systems engineering [and] integration team was formed,
and each division had [to] supply a senior type and a couple of junior
types. And being the Deputy Division Chief—one of the rules
for being Deputy Division Chief is that your job includes everything
the Division Chief doesn’t want to do. So in that case, my Division
Chief was Henry [O.] Pohl, and there was no way he was going to go
off and work on some tiger team when he could do other interesting
things like working on the Shuttle flight problems and that kind of
stuff that came up every two or three months, when we flew another
So I went off to this tiger team, and they sequestered us over in
Building Seventeen, I believe it was. And we had a room, and we started
talking about the process and looking at the designs and everything.
That was the first time I really came to understand what a complex
and complicated job the Space Station was going to be, because in
previous programs, the interfaces between partners were very, very
simple. For instance, on Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, one contractor
basically and one Center was responsible for a big piece, you know,
the spacecraft side, and then Marshall Space Flight Center [Huntsville,
Alabama] and their contractor was responsible for the booster. And
relatively, technically speaking, the interface between those two
was very simple. You bolted it together; you connected some wires.
And that’s oversimplification, but you really weren’t
deeply into each other’s knickers in doing your work. You could
go off and work independently, do your job. If you met your specification,
you could meet at the Cape [Canaveral, Florida], bolt everything together,
make sure it was done right, and then you could have a pretty good
feeling that everything was going to be all right.
And for those areas you really needed to watch, you’d form a
little committee that would review interfaces and be sure that nobody
had a misunderstanding of how it was supposed to go together and this
type of thing.
Once we got into the SE&I work, systems engineering and integration
work for the Station, and started looking at some of the management
proposals that were coming up about how to divide the work, it was
clear that not only the technical job of putting together something
on orbit with forty-plus launches was going to be tough but that the
interfaces were so intricate and intertwined between the Centers that
might have to do the work in whatever management and political way
the work got divided up, that that was really going to complicate
the issue. And the problem of controlling interfaces between organizations,
between physical pieces and everything, was going to be an immense,
One of the things this team did was to prepare an overview of the
SE&I process and then write an SE&I plan, which included not
only the engineering and the suggested methodology for coordinating
all the activities, but it was all the nitty-gritty stuff about how
you select engineering standards, how you select the drawing system
that everybody’s going to use so you can exchange drawings,
what specifications are we going to jointly specify on the parts that
different Centers are going to procure, so that when everything comes
together, it’s all been made to a common set of requirements
and specifications, and what are the safety, reliability, and quality
assurance standards going to be, how are we going to control interfaces,
how do we document the requirements, how do we document changes, how
do we control and document costs, and all those kind of things.
So it was an immense job, and I ended up being one of the leaders
of pulling that thing together. It ended up being a couple-hundred-page
document, and even that just, you know, was kind of a broad-brush
approach as a top-level document that would indicate to interested
people what the complexity of this thing was going to [be]. Then there
was about a twenty, twenty-five page executive summary which a Senior
Manager could read and really get their arms around what the job was
going to be.
Well, I’ve always had a way with written words. I never had
a problem expressing myself either verbally, because I’m a ham
and like to get up and talk in front of people, but I’ve also
had a tradition of being able to write well. I think I inherited that
from my father, who was an outstanding writer. When we were living
in Tulsa [Oklahoma], he used to write occasional things for the newspaper.
And he had a weekly book review column that he wrote for the Tulsa
Tribune, and we always had lots of books in the house. Even occasionally,
when he got one that he didn’t want to read, like science fiction
or something, he’d give it to me, and I’d read it and
ghostwrite the book review for the paper type of thing. But I’ve
always prided myself on being able to organize my thoughts.
So I ended up designated as the chief author for this SE&I, Space
Station SE&I, report and did write it. That was the time when
I first realized, boy, what a challenge this is going to be and what
an interesting job this would be.
So we got all that done and turned in and went back to the Propulsion
[and] Power Division. Sometime after that, they did convince the administration,
President [Ronald W.] Reagan and his administration at the time, that
the Space Station was going to happen. And with some of the early
studies, which were very unrealistic, in my view, as far as scope
and content and were very optimistic relative to the lack of problems
we were going to have and this type of thing, they told the administration
we could go build a Space Station for $8 billion.
Everybody was scratching their head, saying, “Where did they
get that number?” I mean, “How did we get there?”
But there had been all these studies done pre-Phase A and Phase A
that the aerospace industry was involved in. So Lockheed had done
their studies, and McDonald-Douglas and Rockwell and Grumman and Northrop
and everybody who wanted to be a piece of the business was doing their
At the same time, all of the NASA Centers that had an even remote
chance of being a part of the activity were trying to position themselves,
not only within NASA but not too surreptitiously even outside, through
their elected representatives and that kind of stuff. So the senators
from Maryland were making speeches about how much the Goddard Space
Flight Center [Greenbelt, Maryland] had to offer the Space Station,
and the representatives and senators from Alabama were protecting
Marshall, and of course, our people were looking out for Johnson Space
And even the Lewis Research Center, which is now Glenn Research Center
[Cleveland, Ohio], you know, had some propulsion and power capability,
they were trying to stake out a position where they could get some
of that business, which at the time was a very direct threat to me,
because I was Deputy Chief of the Propulsion and Power business, and
I wasn’t about to acknowledge that any other Center ought to
pull off responsibility for the development and management of the
propulsion and power activity. So we were deeply involved in, you
know, trying to shut down that argument and punch holes in it and
say, these guys are R&D [Research and Development] guys, they
ought to go off and do R&D, and we’re the ones that have
the experience in building actual flight systems for manned spacecraft,
and it’s very clear that that’s where you go for that
hardware on the Space Station, is to the Johnson Space Center.
Anyway, that was going on at the time, and I was looking at it through
very jaundiced eyes from the standpoint of being Deputy Chief of the
Propulsion [and] Power Division. They did get the formal approval
for the program. They named two guys, one of which I knew very well,
Neil [B.] Hutchinson, as the first Program Manager. Neil came out
of Mission Operations. He’d been a Flight Director. He was very
well known. He and I had been to some advanced training together,
so I knew him to some degree.
His deputy was a guy named John [W.] Aaron, who had come out, again,
kind of on the operations side. He was more of a computer systems
guy from the background. He’d been Division Chief of the—I
can’t remember, it was something like Computer Systems Division
or something like that over there. He had a very good reputation.
He had been a flight controller back during the Apollo program and
had been one of the guys, I think, that when Apollo  was struck
by lightning, John Aaron made the call that we don’t have to
abort, that do this, that, and the other and we’ll recover the
data that they lost from the electrical surge. So he was very well
thought of as just an extraordinary technical guy who could really
think fast on his feet and this type of stuff. The thing is, nobody
knew what kind of managers either one of these guys were going to
They formed the new Program Office; they need staff. They had a call
go out for some of the key people to come over to fill the positions
to help them then flesh out the organization. And I expressed an interest
to the systems—and, the year, it’s 1983, I’ve been
in the Propulsion and Power Division twenty-one years. I’m Deputy
Division Chief. I think I’ve got my arms around this technology,
and that kind of stuff. While it’s interesting, I’m more
right now in a turn-the-crank mode than really feeling personally
challenged mode; I think I’m probably ready for something new.
I talked to Henry about that, and Henry said, “Well, you’re
a good asset. You’d be good in the Program Office if you can
find a spot that uses your talents.” And he said, “I’m
not going to hold you up if that’s what you want to do,”
and said, “Great. I’ll support you. Nobody’s not
replaceable. We can replace Norm over here.” So I let it be
known that I’d like to do that.
Well, Neil Hutchinson called me and asked me if I’d consider
coming over as his technical assistant, and I said yes, indeed, I
would, and we started the paperwork along that line. And before that
could even come to pass, he changed his mind because he’d recruited
another guy from Engineering who was Max [Maxime A.] Faget’s
Assistant Director of Engineering, a guy named Al [Allen J.] Louviere.
He recruited Al to be Manager of Systems Engineering and Integration.
Al had tapped a young guy called Mark [K.] Craig, who was an excellent,
excellent guy to come in and be Manager under him of Systems Engineering,
and he was looking [for] a guy to run Systems Integration. He knew
that I had been chief author of this earlier SE&I report, so he
had talked to Neil, and Neil said, “Well, I did want you to
come over and be my Technical Assistant, but I’d really like
you now to go down and be Chief of Systems Integration under Al Louviere
So I said, “Boy, that sounds interesting, because I know what
that job’s about. I just wrote this report in the last year
and a half or so, I know what a challenge it’s going to be.”
So that’s what I did. I went over and essentially became Chief
Engineer for Systems Integration under Al Louviere in the SE&I
This was at the Level II organization, which in NASA parlance means
it’s the organization in the field that has ultimate program-wide
responsibility, and it’s a detailed technical responsibility,
as opposed to a program office at [NASA] Headquarters [Washington,
D.C.], which is called Level I, where they had the kind of the political
and the overall responsibility but at a very high budgetary and political
policy level. So Level II was the highest program level at which you
had detailed technical responsibilities and that type of thing.
The next level down was called Level III, and those were called the
project offices, where we were called the program office. By that
time, they had made some pretty good decisions about how they were
going to divide the work up. And I didn’t realize how difficult
those decisions were going to make the program job, but they took
some of the major systems and gave [them] to the Johnson Space Center.
They gave some of the external structural work to the Marshall Space
Flight Center. They gave requirements for the research modules, some
of that, to the Goddard Space Flight Center, who had never done anything
like that before. And much to my dismay, they took the propulsion
and power work and gave it to Lewis Research Center.
Then later on, they did kind of pull that back, and Lewis ended up
with the power and Marshall ended up with the propulsion, which again,
I thought was unfortunate, because the type of propulsion involved
was not where Marshall’s expertise was. Their expertise was
in launch propulsion, very large devices that fired one or a few times
and were done, as opposed to the space operations of lower thrust
devices that had to operate many times over a long period of time.
They ended up in another bad decision, in my view, pulled out the
environmental and life support systems, which had been only done by
the Johnson Space Center for years and years, and gave that to the
Marshall Space Flight Center, which had absolutely no experience in
doing that but had started doing internal programs to position themselves
for that responsibility. I’m convinced, without any detailed
insight, that it was just a political give and take, that, well, any
Center can do anything, and so we’ve got to balance this out,
and what can we give to this Center, what can we give to that Center,
that type of stuff. So it ended up being that way.
As a result, the interfaces were very, very tough, because, as an
example, I think—I’m not sure, I think there’s about
forty-five launchable pieces now, or work packages now—I can’t
remember what the number was there, but the electrical system, electrical
distribution system, has to run through all of the forty-five pieces,
say, if that’s the number of total pieces. Well, if the Lewis
[Research] Center was responsible for the electrical distribution
system, then you’ve got to argue, well, does the Lewis contractor
install the wiring and the electrical buses and everything in every
piece, or do they write the requirements and tell the Houston guys,
“Here’s how you’ve got to do it,” and the
Marshall guys, “Here’s how you do yours,” and the
Goddard guys, “Here’s how you do yours,” and that
kind of stuff. Who actually does that? Who fills these things up?
The same thing with the environmental systems, with the guidance navigation
and control systems, which Houston had.
So all of these things exist mostly in all of the pieces, and then
the question about, okay, how do you get into the other guy’s
element that he’s responsible for to install your stuff? Do
you tell him to do it and send him the stuff? Do you let him do it
independently, or do you do it? I mean, how do you work all that?
It ended up being a nightmare.
Not only that, but the program control capability at the top of Level
II was not given enough authority and hammer, in my mind, to really
control and drive what the project offices were doing. So we ended
up with four main sets of activities called Work Packages. And I think
the Marshall Space Flight Center had Work Package One, and that was
a set of hardware and responsibilities, and Houston had Work Package
Two, and I believe Goddard had Work Package Three, and Cleveland,
Lewis, had Work Package Four.
Well, each of those had a strong Project Manager, and not only that,
they had a Center Director that stood behind them and was interested
in maintaining that Center’s control over things and maximizing
their domain within the program, and things of that nature. So it
became a political problem, where Neil Hutchinson, as the Program
Manager, would have difficulty forcing a technical decision because
the Project Managers would object and then the Center Directors would
get into it, and they’d be calling Washington, and then Washington
was calling Neil, wanting to know why did he want to make that dumb
decision and this kind of stuff.
All this is somewhat hearsay that I heard through Al Louviere and
Neil Hutchinson and that kind of thing. But I knew that the program
was very difficult.
But Mark Craig and I tried very hard to say okay, this is the cards
we’ve been dealt. Now we’ve got to figure out how to deal
with these things, and we tried to strike a balance between being
helpful and collegial with our Work Package counterparts but also
saying, this is a whole entity, it’s not a collection of four
independent parts. When it comes together, it’s got to function
as a whole.
The analogy I used to use when I was trying to explain to people the
complicated nature of the Systems Engineering and Integration activity
was that you have to realize that the program is made up of forty-five
different elements which are going to be added sequentially over a
period of time. The first element you launch has to successfully be
able to survive by itself in Earth orbit, so it has to have control
capability, life support capability, electrical power capability,
environmental control, all of those kind of things. It has to be successful
as an individual entity in itself.
When you bring up piece number two and hook it on, it’s got
to last, again, as a successful entity for at least three months until
piece number three. So it has to be designed as a successful stand-alone
spacecraft composed of part one and part two.
Same thing when part three goes up and gets hooked on and so on and
so forth. So at every intermediate stage from one to forty-five, where
everything is complete, the resulting configuration has to be able
to operate in orbit successfully in the context of every system that’s
Every time you go up, you add additional mass, so that affects the
mass and the centers of gravity and the moments of inertia, that type
of stuff. It affects the amount of electrical power you need. It affects
the amount of life support that you need. It affects the amount of
thermal heat that has to be controlled, either generated or rejected.
A piece goes up, you may cast a shadow that causes something to get
too cold. Or when the piece goes up, in order to control the center
of gravity, you may have to rotate the thing so that something that
hasn’t gotten a lot of Sun in the past now gets too much Sun.
You’ve got to think through all of these things. With the way
the antenna points, you know, you don’t want to bring up piece
number sixteen and suddenly the antenna is blocked and you can’t
have satisfactory transmission to the TDRS [Tracking and Data Relay]
Satellites or to the ground or something like that. So all this stuff
has got to be very, very carefully gone through, and that’s
just from a configuration standpoint.
So in effect, you have forty-five different spacecraft before you
get to the end result. So instead of doing a complete design for a
complete spacecraft one time, as we did for Mercury, Gemini, Apollo,
Skylab, [Apollo]-Soyuz, we have to do a complete design and analysis
forty-five times for the forty-five different spacecraft that are
going to be on orbit, always knowing that we never know how long we’re
going to have to dwell in orbit successfully between Stage n and Stage
n+1. And indeed, that’s happened. You know, after the problems
and things of that nature, right now we’re sitting up at an
intermediate stage on the Space Station with Valery Tokarev and Bill
[William S.] McArthur [Jr.] up there because we don’t have the
Shuttle capability to go ahead and bring up the subsequent pieces
and all that kind of stuff. So we always knew that the possibility
was there that we were going to have to do that and it had to be designed
to accommodate that.
That’s just configuration kinds of issues. The interface issues
and the commonality issues across the program were the tougher kind
of job. The configuration thing is a fairly straightforward engineering.
It’s complex and complicated, but you know what you’ve
got to do and you can go off and do it, and it’s subject to
rational analysis and this kind of thing.
The interface problems, sorting out how to do that and how we can
control who does what in what piece of the thing and make sure that
when we plug it together everything, in fact, works the way it’s
supposed to work and this type of thing, was a much tougher job. So
Mark Craig, Al Louviere, and I rewrote the System Engineering and
Integration Plan, and we tried our best to get input from the four
Work Packages underneath us, at Level III. We did get some, but for
the most part, they had an attitude that, well, we’re really
busy, and we’ll support that as we can, but when all is said
and done, we’re going to do what we want to do anyway. So we’re
not going to necessarily do what you want us to do. That may be a
little bit cynical, but that’s the way it appeared to us at
Level II, was some of the resistance and non-responsiveness we’d
get from the Level III work package.
Anyway, Mark and I had a big meeting scheduled where the Systems Engineering
and Integration managers and staff from the four Work Packages came
to Houston, and we were going to present our draft of the suggested
program-wide Systems Engineering and Integration Plan that would control
the whole program, so [we] at Level II, them at Level III, we came
in, and it was an absolute pandemonium.
I mean, one Work Package manager—they had had the document for
a week to look at it, and that kind of stuff, and they came in, and
we were going to go through it and get comments and try to come to
some common ground that were their issues, which we didn’t think
there would be many. It turned out there were thousands of issues.
All of them felt like we were encroaching on their domain and on their
options and their sets of responsibilities.
One guy, the Project Manager from Marshall, a guy named Luther Powell,
just physically took this loose-leaf notebook that we’d sent
to him, ripped the pages out, and threw the whole thing around the
room. I mean, he would do things like that for effect, or stomp out
of the room or something like that.
On top of that, Mark Craig, who was the Systems Engineering guy—I
was the Integration guy—that afternoon he had to leave early
to go on an international trip to Nordvik in the Netherlands to begin
some discussions with the international partners that we were talking
about, so it was total pandemonium and chaos by lunchtime. Then after
lunch, Mark had to leave, and I was stuck with trying to get all these
guys back in the room and do something positive. It ended up that
we didn’t have much positive. It was a real management eye-opener
to me to really appreciate what we were going to have to face and
that type of thing.
But gradually we did, over a couple of years get these guys to come
in, begin to wrap the bag around some of these things, even the problem
of figuring out what common electronic drawing system we were going
to use so that we could share drawings, because if the Lewis [Research]
Center is going to put electrical cabling in buses in the modules
that the Goddard Space Flight Center, Johnson, and Marshal are building,
you’ve got to have their drawings so you can see where you can
put this stuff and how it’s going to work and get access to
it for maintenance and all this kind of stuff.
Well, Johnson Space Center had one preferred system, Marshall had
another preferred system, Goddard had their preferred system. Lewis
didn’t have a preferred system, but they didn’t like any
of the other three. If they were going to pick one, they’d pick
something else. So every decision like that was just like pulling
teeth. It was just absolutely awful.
So that was some of the challenges of the technical nature. It gradually
did come together. We would write documents and finally get buyoff,
you know, amongst all the Centers, this is the way we’re going
to do it, and this is the procedures for this, and this is the procedure
for that, and just various things like SR&QA [Safety, Reliability,
and Quality Assurance] standards that we were going to apply and how
are we going to write an interface document that says what your half
is going to look like, what my half is going to look like, and what
are the controls with the signoffs that we’ve got to have to
be sure that when they put Piece A to Piece B that it’ll fit
and work and all that kind of stuff. All of those things were just
But we had some really good staff working with us. As the Integration
manager, I had some very fine people working with me to cause some
of that to happen, a guy named Harold [E.] Benson, who had, I think,
come down from Langley [Research Center, Hampton, Virginia] very early
on with the Space Task Group, really an outstanding guy, and several
others that I won’t name but really were important to us.
The other thing that was happening early on was we had to staff our
organizations. So there was a call went out to the Center saying these
new program and project offices were being formed. And of course,
at JSC, we were forming the Level II program office, but the Level
III Work Package guys under Clarke Covington were trying to form their
project office, which were going to do the individual hardware elements
assigned to the Johnson Space Center.
In the meantime, all of the other institutional organizations were
trying to protect their staff from being shanghaied or going over
to these new organizations that looked like they’d be a challenge
and fun and all that kind of stuff. So there was an awful lot of managerial
grunt work to be done writing position descriptions and coming up
with organizational charts and how much staffing do I need and this
kind of stuff. Then there came a rule down that the Level II organization
should not, by any means, be staffed just by people selected from
Johnson Space Center. It needed to be a United Nations of NASA Centers.
So therefore, we had to actively recruit at all other NASA Centers
to bring people down and this type of thing.
So between that, putting out the calls, writing the job descriptions,
getting the job certifications through HR [Human Resources], and getting
the positions graded—were these GS [General Schedule]-13, GS-14,
GS-15 jobs or 11s or 12s or what were they—because everybody
who came over wanted a promotion. At the Johnson Space Center anyway,
the agreement was that the giving organizations could, in some cases,
veto people going over, because you didn’t really want to decimate
all the talent in a division, someplace that had a lot of disciplinary
talent. You didn’t want to take it all, because you need those
people to support you from your standpoint during the program. So
it almost got to a point where, “You pick one, and we’ll
give you one. You pick one, and we’ll give you one.”
So we ended up—we did get staffed. It was a torturous process,
and we had a very mixed bag of people and skills, all of whom came
over eager to do the best job. Some just had a better set of tools
to match than the others. And we did get some jammed into us that
we would not have preferred to have, but that’s just the facts
But we were able to form and build an organization, and that was one
of the most interesting aspects of this thing, to take people who
came from a variety of organizations within the Johnson Space Center,
many of whom had been there where they were many, many years and came
with an ingrained culture from that organization. So I had already
learned that within the Engineering Directorate, my division had one
culture, this is the way we thought and operated and these were our
norms and myths and legends, you know, what was good and what was
bad and what you did and didn’t do. The other divisions all
had their own set. And although they were reasonably congruent, they
weren’t the same by any means.
But when you got over to SR&QA and Operations and Mission Analysis
and that kind of thing, all of those guys over the years under strong
leaders had built up completely different kinds of cultures, again
grounded in the fact that their job was different than Engineering’s,
that the way they had to operate was different, and all that kind
of stuff. Suddenly I’ve got sixty-five or seventy people within
the SE&I organization, all with different backgrounds, many from
other Centers, who came down here, and now you’re faced with
the job of building an organization that is us and not a collection
So Mark Craig and I and Al Louviere spent a lot of time talking about
that and working about that and trying to craft ways and take actions,
group dynamics, and setting expectations and talking to people individually
and in small groups that were in the organizations under us to try
to build this sense of, who is the SE&I organization and what
do we do and what are our norms and start developing some myths and
legends about the way we operate that are successful and, you know,
a list of, gee, we should really do it this way, and what’s
our view in dealing with the Level III Work Package people and all
that kind of stuff.
Very, very interesting challenge and not one that I had even had a
glimmer of thinking about. When I was thinking about moving over to
the Program Office, I was thinking only in terms of the technical
job and how fun and challenging it was going to be. I had no thought—even
though I’d had lots of management and behavioral science training
and that kind of stuff, it just somehow it occurred to me that everybody’s
going to come over there just as energized and committed and excited
as I am and it’s all just going to come together in this seamless
organization, we’re all going to agree about everything and
march off into the future, waving the Space Station flag.
It didn’t happen. We had people that just didn’t fit.
We had performance problems. We had people that came in, realized
they’d made a mistake, wanted to go back. We had people protesting
that they didn’t get picked. So it was a very interesting and
dynamic time to get focused.
At the same time, the new organization both below and above us was
trying to figure out what they were going to do and how they were
going to do it. One of the areas, and I can’t remember whether
I talked about this in the past or not, but it’s a cultural
impact—the Program Manager, Neil Hutchinson, is a very self-confident
man. He’s very capable, but in my view, his self-confidence
sometimes overran his real ability. And one of the things he had to
do and that our area had to do was set up a Program Control Board,
which made important decisions in the program that were going to be
binding on all of the work packages and on the Kennedy [Space Center]
and this type of stuff. And when there were issues, they would be
brought to this control board, and they would be decided at that level.
All of the Work Packages and Kennedy and everybody had representation
on the board for input, but the decision was the Program Manager[’s].
And he could be appealed to Washington, but that was the way it was
supposed to work.
So one of my jobs as Director of Integration was to kind of staff
and run the content of that board to the point where we would understand
what items needed to be on the agenda, would try to make sure that
the people who were bringing the item had done all of the coordination
work they could possibly do ahead of time, that they had worked with
the other Work Packages, if there were issues that they had with them,
that they had tried their best to sort them out and work them out
and all that kind of stuff. And then we would bring only the stuff
that couldn’t get worked out at a lower level, only those kind
of things, up to the program board or something where a major impact
would come up for final discussion and agreement and everyone would
raise their hand and say, yeah, verily we will abide by that, and
all that kind of stuff. Then it could be written down in the minutes
and put out as a program directive and all that kind of stuff.
So whereas the Level II program control guys staffed the board and
did the minutes and did the secretary and did the agendas and all
that kind of stuff, it was my responsibility for knowing what the
content of all the agenda items were, making sure that it had all
been worked technically, and we didn’t have any trivial or unnecessary
items coming up that could have been resolved at a lower level. So
I went and told Al Louviere and Neil Hutchinson, I said, “Okay.,
I want to get on your calendar for thirty minutes or an hour, the
day before every one of these program control board meetings, and
I will come up with the agenda, and I will give you just a snapshot
of what the issues are, what the points of contention are. If everybody
agrees, I’ll tell you that. If there are still some things to
be resolved that you’re going to need to make a decision on,
I will tell you what the arguments are, pro and con, who are the litigants
and advocates, pro and con, and give you our recommendation for things
for you to consider and a suggested decision for you to make.”
Neil said, “No.” He said, “I’ve had many years’
experience as a Flight Director. I’m used to absorbing huge
amounts of data just on the spot and making the right decision.”
He said, “That would be a waste of your time. I don’t
need that, and therefore I don’t want you to do that for me.”
I tried to tell him. I said, “Neil, some of these things are
complex, and I realize that you’ve got an amazing capability
to absorb and sort out and analyze data in real time, but,”
I said, “I think it would be a service to you and the program
if we went through this, so at least you could be thinking about stuff,
it’s not just an on-the-spot shoot-from-the-hip kind of thing.”
But he wouldn’t go for it, wouldn’t hear for it.
As a result, in many, many cases, you know, Neil was a very, very
capable, decisive guy, but the issues would be so complex and he couldn’t
beat up the Level III guys. We got to the point where those agenda
items, even for relatively simple stuff, would just drag on for way
too long, in some cases hours, discussing it and arguing it and Neil
unable to get it focused and come to a decision. They’d have
to say, “Well, I’m giving you an action item to go off
and work on these two or three things that we can’t seem to
decide and then come back.” As a result, these issues would
come back up, and they’d come back and come back and come back,
and it was very inefficient.
To try to keep that from happening, there was a lower level board
that was chaired by Al Louviere called the Engineering Control Board,
where the technical issues were supposed to come up for working and
you’d try to resolve as many of them as possible before they
moved up to Neil’s Program Control Board. The same thing would
happen there. On both of those boards, they’d start at seven
in the morning, and you’d still be sitting in that darn room
at nine o’clock at night trying to get through the agenda, and
maybe you’d only be halfway through or something like that.
I mean, it was just a killer.
On occasion, when Al was out of town or wasn’t able to do it,
Mark Craig was the chair of the thing. When they were both gone, I
was the chair of the meeting. It was interesting that I had a different
view of the meeting than—although Mark understood how to run
the meeting in the way it should be run, he tended to get sucked into
the technical discussions and that type of thing. I didn’t think
he controlled it as best that he could. But I’d go in; I’d
look at the agenda. I’d try to get spiffed up the night before
on what was coming up, what the issues were, talk to my staff, “What’s
going on here, and why doesn’t Lewis want to do this the way
everybody else wants,” and that kind of stuff. I’d go
in, and the agenda item would come up, and I’d say, “Okay,
has this been coordinated at the lower level?”
“Well, no. We weren’t able to get that.”
I said, “Okay. I’m deferring this. I’m not even
going to talk about it. I don’t want to have the argument going
on at this board, so you have the action to go back. Next item. Next
We’d start at nine o’clock, and sometimes I’d be
through by eleven, because I just wouldn’t countenance or tolerate
having the discussion at that level. “That’s the responsibility
of you guys to do that offline. You bring to me a suggested decision
that everybody can agree to. That’s what this board is all about.”
So I got several complaints about that from the Work Packages, that,
“Norm won’t let us air our positions,” but I also
got some nice compliments saying, “That’s good. I had
other stuff to do that day than sit in the room and listen to these
guys argue.” So those were some of the interesting aspects of
working in Space Station.
It was a challenging job. I got to the point where I was coming to
work at seven in the morning and going home at ten at night and working
half days Saturday, some days all day Saturday, go to church, come
in after church, and work Sunday afternoon and that type of thing.
That was like from ’83 to ’86 or so that that was going
on. Luckily, my kids were—my daughter was already gone to college,
and my son was on the verge of going to college, and he wasn’t
around anyway. He was in his car out running around, that kind of
I regret that I didn’t offer more support to my wife at the
time, because she was doing some significant things in her career
and I just wasn’t there to pat her on the back and tell her
how proud I was of her and that type of thing.
But, this went on in that mode. We were making gradual progress. The
first big program review meeting we had after everybody had gotten
together—this is early in the program, and Neil Hutchinson had
done the best job he could of estimating what the program was going
to cost—we went up and talked to the Administrator, whose name
escapes me. He was the—second time he’d been an Administrator
[James C.] Fletcher?
Fletcher, yeah. He was the guy from Utah. We went up and talked to
him, said, “Okay, here’s all the content of the program.
We’ve scrubbed it down the best we can, and the answer is like
Fletcher looked shocked, and he said, “We told the President
it was $8 billion. You’ve got the wrong answer. Go back and
So Neil said, “Well, this is really scrubbed. We were optimistic
we’d beat the Work Packages down as much as we can, everything.
Our only option would be to remove content. I mean, there’s
got to be something that we won’t do in order to get real costs
down.” He said, “Do you have recommendations about what
content removal would be acceptable?”
Fletcher basically said, “Don’t take anything out. Just
go and figure out how to do it for $8 billion.”
So we came back and scrubbed and scrubbed some more and made other
pretty wildly optimistic assumptions and took credit for figuring
out new ways of doing business. That was a real buzz word, that kind
of stuff. We went back up, and it was something like $15 or $16 billion.
Fletcher was really ticked. He said, “You guys are not listening.
I told you it was $8 billion. That’s the answer. Go away and
come back with an $8 billion program.”
So, that’s kind of what had to happen. You had to go back and
come forward with this thing that everybody knew we couldn’t
meet, but that’s what the politics of the situation was going
to be. That’s a greatly oversimplified view, but from the top
level and from my knothole view of what was going on, we were forced
down into that box, and it was either give up the program or change
the people or say, “Yes, we’ll do our best. Yes, we think
we can make it.” And then you go back and think, what am I going
to do now?
And then, as we went back, it kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
At one point, it had climbed some more, and John Aaron, who was the
Deputy Program Manager, told me to get all the Work Packages together
and figure out how to get the costs in the Systems Engineering and
Integration down. He said we needed to save several billion dollars.
So all of the Work Packages sent their representatives, and we sat
at JSC for three days and talked about options. The requirement was
everybody bring your suggestions for what can be done in your Work
Package and then bring suggestions for what you think the other guys
can do that they’re protecting. So we want, to some degree,
to attack one another, attack the other guy’s assumptions and
sacred ground and this type of thing.
So at the end of the three days, everybody was mad at each other.
There had been several episodes of people stomping out of the room
and then coming back, and we had achieved very, very little real reduction.
So I told John Aaron that evening, I said, “John, we’re
just not getting anywhere, and in my view there’s really not
much real that can be gained here.”
So he gave me a hard time and said, “You just don’t know
how to be a manager,” and that kind of stuff.
I said, “Well, boy, that may be, John. I could sure use some
So he said, “Okay. All the Project Managers are going to be
here tomorrow. I’ll get all of them together. You come up and
tell us where you are, and then I’ll take it from there with
the Project Managers.”
So I did. They all got in the room, and I came up and said, “Okay.
Here’s the issues we talked about, here’s the savings
we’ve got, here’s the things we talked about we weren’t
able to make any progress on,” and this kind of stuff.
So he and the Project Managers talked for about thirty minutes, and
suddenly they all jumped on John’s suggestions. He said, “Well,
we’ve got to find new ways of doing business that will save
All of them said, “Yes, yes. Yeah, verily. New ways of doing
business. We’ll save money.”
So John says, “How much do you think we can save?”
Well, they decided they could save $3 billion by finding new ways
of doing business.
“Good. All in favor, aye.”
“Put that in the minutes. We’re going to save $3 billion
by finding new ways of doing business.”
So, I’m sitting there just amazed at all this. He saved $3 billion,
but I don’t know how. [Laughs] So I just said, “What are
the new ways of doing business that we’re going to implement?”
“Well, I don’t know, Norm. That’s up to you. Go
find those out.”
So it was a management learning process for me. My experience in the
Space Station from that standpoint came to an end kind of with the
Challenger accident. I was running a Level II budget meeting. It was
in the second floor conference room—I can’t remember the
room number now—in Building One, and we were sitting there trying
to hammer out some budget stuff with the Level III Work Packages.
Somebody came running in and said, “The Shuttle just exploded.”
Everybody said, “No. Come on. We’ve got work to do. Don’t
pull cynical things like that.”
“No, no, no. It really did.”
So everybody went running out, and in the office right outside, they
had a television with NASA TV. So we just all stood there absolutely
speechless watching the pictures. The debris was still raining down.
You could still see the smoke up in the sky where the solids had gone
off at different angles and that kind of stuff, absolutely shocking.
So there was some activity after that to go back and re-look at everything
that the Shuttle had done, all the engineering and all that kind of
stuff. I wasn’t involved in any of that immediately, but I was
At the same time, we had decided in the Space Station Program that
we needed a Systems Engineering and Integration contractor. So that
was going to be a major contractor in addition to the work package
things. In [Level II’s] de facto work package, we were going
to have a major contract of somebody who was going to help us integrate
all of these work packages that was going to be our contractor. That
was going to be a major procurement, multi-billion-dollar, multi-year
kind of thing.
They wanted an experienced senior executive to lead that procurement
board, source selection official. They called it a source selection
board. They picked a guy who was the Deputy Director at Kennedy Space
Center, a guy named Andy [Andrew J.] Pickett. He had, I think, led
the board that had picked the integrated contractor that was going
to be the Shuttle support contractor, that ended up being a consortium,
I think, between Lockheed and Rockwell. They formed a company, USA
[United Space Alliance], that was going to manage all the Shuttle
launch operations at Kennedy. So he had been the leader of that source
selection board, as well as others prior to that, and was very, very
knowledgeable about that process.
I had been on many boards and had led many boards, not many boards,
but a couple of boards at a lower level of cost and complexity and
that kind of stuff, but I was very familiar with the NASA procurement
regulations and the source selection process. I knew the source selection
manual very well, had been through it a number of times back in the
technology days, when we were trying to develop hydrogen/oxygen technology
for the early Shuttle. So I got sent down to be on the source selection
One of the ground rules that Andy Pickett had made to the people who
asked him to do this, which was the Administrator, had said, “I
will only be the Chairman of the Board for this source selection board
if we can do it at Kennedy Space Center.” He said, “I
don’t want to leave home for a year and go off and do this.”
So they said, “Okay. Well, you can have it wherever you want.”
So I got shipped of to this to be the JSC Level II representative
on the source selection board, essentially got shipped off to Kennedy
for a year. Much to my wife’s chagrin and mine, but at the time
that was very exciting. I could see it was going to be a tough job
and that type of stuff.
I went down there, and basically it was early October. I can’t
remember what year, ’86 or’85, maybe. Maybe it was ’85.
Seems like it was before the Challenger, but I’m kind of losing—I
should have checked my records. I’m kind of losing track of
time. But we went down and formed the board, and I was named as chief
of the technical committee.
Any board has at least two committees. There’s a business evaluation
committee and a technical evaluation committee, and then there’s
some other groups that evaluate other factors and this kind of stuff.
But I was to lead the technical evaluation committee.
We prepared the request for proposal, and we prepared the total procurement
package. It’s a big thing about two inches thick that not only
lists all the technical requirements that you want the offerer to
give you but all the clauses and everything that apply to everything
they’re going to do and what meetings you want and what documentation
you want and legal things about what data the government owns and
what can be proprietary to the vendor, all this kind of stuff. So
it took many weeks and weeks to put that together and get that to
the point where everybody was satisfied with it.
Then you have to go through a process where you put out a preliminary
version of the thing to industry and get their comments back. So they
look at it and say, “Well, you’re asking for something
that doesn’t do, or we can’t do, or it doesn’t make
sense, or we wonder why you want it done this way when there’s
another way it can be done better, or, you’re asking for something
that’s proprietary to my competition, and I object to that because
you’re automatically excluding me from being able to respond
in this area,” and all that.
So you work all that out, get all those comments back in. We had a
conference at Kennedy where all the companies came in and listened
to our explanation of what we wanted and how we wanted it done. They
could ask questions and then send back in written questions that we
had to respond to, a big long process to make sure that it’s
above board, open, and fair to everybody.
Then the request for proposal in its final form does get issued. You
give them sixty days or some period of time—I think in our case
it was sixty days—to write their proposal and send it back in,
and then the evaluation starts.
Well, the evaluation now has to be staffed by a committee of people.
So whereas I was head of the technical evaluation committee and had
a couple other of the board members with me, I had to get evaluators
who were competent in all the areas that we wanted to be proposed
on, had to get evaluators to come in from the various Centers to be
technical evaluators. We had to work out well ahead of time all the
criteria, the evaluation criteria, how we were going to evaluate it,
what the factors were, what the points were for each factor, how you
put all this stuff together to come up to a final grade for evaluation.
All the people had to be trained in those procedures.
You don’t speculate about what the contractor is offering, you
only react to what he specifically says that you can understand. If
you read the proposal and you don’t understand exactly what
the offerer, or the vendor, is going to give, you need to write a
question that we send back to the vendor saying, “We’re
unsure about what your intentions are here. Would you clarify,”
and that kind of stuff, and do that without implying to them that
this is either a strength or a weakness in their proposal.
For instance, you wouldn’t send them a question saying, “We
don’t see anything that talks about how you’re going to
integrate the electrical system. What is your intention?” Well,
that would be a dead giveaway, see, and that’s a weakness that
they had omitted. They would get that question and say, “Oh,
my gosh, we forgot that.” So you try not to do that. If it’s
a clear omission, then it’s an omission and they get a reduction
in their grade for that. If it’s just ambiguous and you can’t
quite figure it out, then you can ask them to clarify so that you
can resolve the ambiguity.
Anyway, all of this takes months and months and months to get it together.
Then the people come in for interviews, and you ask them questions
in real time, and then you go back and do some more. Then you give
them a chance to submit what you call best and final offer. So all
of the companies end up submitting, “Well, we’ve scrubbed
it, and we’ve decided that we can cut out some hours here,”
and, “We’ve suddenly got a new computer program now, and
we can do this with less hours, and we can do this better, and so
our price is going to go down,” and all this kind of stuff.
And it’s really just kind of an auction kind of thing is what
it ends up to be and who can give the lowest price.
So we go through that, and by this time, almost a year has passed.
We got in, I believe, four proposals. We down-selected to two, one
of which was from Grumman and one of which was from TRW [Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge],
and then the final evaluation was between those two companies. We
did, as a result, select Grumman for this major contract and took
that recommendation with all their justification and everything up
clear to Washington with the Administrator being the source selection
official, the final person that says, “Okay. I’ve heard
what you said. I’ve probed you, I’ve asked questions,
and I now concur with your recommendation. We will select Grumman.”
So that all happened.
Then TRW protested the selection, saying, “Well, we don’t
understand that. We wrote such a good proposal and blah, blah, blah.”
I’m not sure whether it went to a—I don’t believe
it went to a formal protest-but they did come in for a debriefing
immediately to try to understand what was going to happen, why they
had lost, where they had fallen down, and this kind of stuff. It turned
out the corporate Vice President from TRW, who had been in charge
of this activity, was later to become the Administrator of NASA, Dan
[Daniel S.] Goldin, Dan Goldin?
Dan Goldin yes. Daniel Goldin. He came in. He came to the debriefing.
Andy Pickett did the top-level debriefing, and then I did the technical
debriefing, and another fellow did the business debriefing. And Goldin
came in, and he had his whole proposal team with him and made a very—it
was respectful, but it was strong and aggressive, that they had just
really worked hard on this thing and they felt like they had done
an outstanding job and they just were really looking forward to understanding
where they had fallen down. But it was clearly an implied challenge
that, you guys must have got this wrong.
Andy Pickett went through his briefing, I went through mine, the business
guy went through his, and at the end of the day, the TRW guys kind
of folded up their notebooks and said, “Well, thank you very
much,” and they left. There was not a formal, legal challenge
to the selection, as I remember.
That was quite an experience. I learned so much from Andy Pickett,
who was what I call the prototypical good old boy. He was a southern
rural Alabama character, talked in this slow drawl, and he’d
say, “Well, I opine that and this,” and his “druthers,”
and all this kind of stuff, but underneath that good-old-boy, maybe
not too smart looking guy was a mind like a steel trap. Not only that,
he had one of the best understandings of behavioral science as applied
to management of anybody that I know. He had made a real study of
this and had, himself, learned a lot during the previous big procurement,
when they’d picked United Space Alliance as the Kennedy contractor
for Shuttle, which he had done.
As part of that Kennedy thing, he had had some issues, and he’d
gone out and consulted with—I’m getting so bad on names.
You can tell I’m getting old. Kind of the father of management
and behavioral science, he’s written twenty, thirty, forty books,
and he was at Santa Clara University out in [Santa Clara] California.
[His name is Peter F. Drucker.] Pickett and his team went out to consult
this guy on some issues, and this guy was able just to—when
they described the issues they were dealing with in that earlier procurement,
he was just able to punch through and get right to the meat of the
thing. That had greatly impressed Andy Pickett, and so he had learned
a lot from that experience and brought that insight back to this procurement
that I was on.
I learned so much from Andy about ways to do it and what your personal
responsibility was and this type of stuff really served me in good
stead in my subsequent management career, because he made it real
clear to us that it’s our job as evaluators to understand and
evaluate what the contractor is offering to do for us, and if we couldn’t
understand it, we couldn’t just give him a bad grade. He said
it’s your responsibility to understand, and if you don’t
understand, as I was saying before, you have to ask a question to
clarify so that you do understand completely and therefore can give
a valid and fair evaluation grade to that area. But it’s not
fair to say, “Well, I just didn’t understand what they
were saying.” It’s your responsibility to understand.
So I learned a lot from him.
He lived in the Kennedy area, had a big house right on the Indian
River, and we used to go over to his house sometimes on the weekend
for barbecue, and he had a big pool table and all that kind of stuff.
He was a great guy. He had grapefruit trees in his yard that were
some of the original grapefruit trees from south Florida. They weren’t
the hybridized, no-seeds, sweet pink ones. These were hundreds of
seeds and sour like a lemon and that kind of stuff. But you put a
little sugar on them and they were really good. He’d bring in
a bag of grapefruit just about every day, and people would grab those
things and have them for lunch and take them home, this type of thing.
We were sequestered in a building over on the Air Force side [at KSC]
to do this procurement under very tight security, because all the
contractors were trying to find out what’s going on and find
any leaks that they could and this kind of thing, so it was very tight
security, and particularly toward the end, when it was down between
TRW and Grumman.
Anyway, when Andy wanted to have a meeting, he had a wooden [whistle]
thing that some craftsman up in Tennessee had carved. It’s a
big square thing, and you blow in it, and it sounds like a train whistle.
So he’d be sitting down in his office, and he’d decide
that he needed to get the board together or something like that. So
in this big, long, two-story building, you’d hear this “whoo.”
That meant drop whatever you were doing, come down to the conference
room, because Andy wants to have a meeting.
So he was quite a character. He and I developed a really good, strong
technical relationship, and when it was all over, he told me–and
this is one of the things that I’m most proud of in my career.
He said that he had been involved in many, many major procurements
and that, in his view, the technical board in operation that I ran
was the best that he had ever encountered. He put that in a formal
letter and sent it back to Aaron Cohen, who was the Center Director
at the time, and Aaron called me and told me how proud he was of me
and all that kind of thing.
Anyway, it turned out I was gone for almost a year. I rented a condo
[condominium] on the beach in Cocoa Beach [Florida], and I actually
was in Cape Canaveral city limits [Florida], beautiful place. I was
up on the ninth floor of a beachfront thing. I had a putting green
and a swimming pool and I was fifty yards from the beach and all that
kind of stuff. I worked from six in the morning till nine at night
and never got to use any of those kind of things, but I was very popular
with my relatives. My son and his wife came down and stayed there.
My wife came down, and my daughter came down and that kind of stuff.
I had a two-bedroom condo, so they’d come down and stay there.
Then occasionally, we’d have a break, and I would get to come
back for a few days or a week. In one case, during the time the companies
were writing their proposal, I got to come back for a significant
period of time. Bless the hearts of the people that were in the condo
just kept the place for me, didn’t charge me rent, just said,
“You can keep your stuff here, and when you get ready to come
back, you just move back in.” So that was good.
So when I got back, essentially we had selected the Grumman contractor
to be SE&I contractor. At that point it was a year after Challenger,
and the Headquarters had decided that they couldn’t run a big
program from the Centers, that the expertise just wasn’t there,
that they needed to move the operation back to Headquarters, where
the source of all wisdom and knowledge was located. So they told me,
“We want you to continue in the program. We need you to move
back to Washington and be part of the new program office that we’re
forming in Washington.”
I said, “No. I’ve been to Washington lots of times, and
I am not going to move back there and live there. I enjoy going there,
and I enjoy leaving and coming back to Houston, so I’ll find
something else to do.”
So I did wrap up the Systems Engineering and Integration. Our last
job was to catalog all the documentation we had prepared over the
years that I was there, from ’83 to ’87, catalog it all,
describe it in almost a librarian-type form, put it in boxes, and
send it up there, and send them a list of where all the documents
were and what all the content of each of these things was. Then I
did go up there from time to time to help them understand what was
what and where was where.
One of the major studies that I had done before I got sent off on
this Kennedy procurement was to develop a ground checkout plan for
the Space Station. How are we going to put all these pieces together
and check out that all the interfaces and things are really working?
Because, in effect, the final piece isn’t even going to be starting
manufacturing when the first few pieces are already in orbit. So we’d
come up with a concept that we were going to essentially build a second
Space Station on the ground in a big building at Kennedy, and we would
use that as the ground interface test bed, where you could bring in,
build it up. It would essentially look—it wouldn’t be
space qualified and might be heavier and all that kind of stuff, but
all the stuff would be in it that needed to be there to verify interfaces.
And we would build that thing up and be able to test it out. When
the new piece was ready to launch, we would bring it over, hook it
up, and make sure that it played satisfactorily, you know, the electrical
system, communication system, life support system, all that kind of
stuff, with the other pieces. Then you could go put it in the Shuttle
and launch it. So we had written a very detailed plan about how that
was going to go and costed it out and schedule wise how it was all
going to work. [I had wonderful help on this from a senior KSC manager,
named Ted Sasseen, who was detailed to JSC for a year.]
There was several, probably twelve or fifteen, boxes of documents
associated with all the studies we’d done to pull that together.
For a couple or three years after that, I’d get calls from guys
saying, “Well, did anybody ever study this ground integration
I say, “Yes, we did that in ’86, and here’s the
box number. A-232 and 233 and 234 is where this stuff is.”
They’d call, “We can’t find it. Can you come up
and tell us what you did, what you decided?”
So I’d go up there, and I did that two or three times. I went
up one time, and they told me, “Well, we want you to sit in
this room and try to recreate the logic that went into your overall
concept for this thing and put it down in just a few pages so we can
understand it.” Because all these guys that had been recruited
to go be the new leaders, they’d either been minor players previously
or hadn’t been players at all. They were new folks who didn’t
have the history with the program.
So I went up there, and I was trying to do this, and I ran into a
friend from Langley Research Center in the hall. I said, “Oh,
I didn’t know you were up here.”
“Yes. I came up to try to help them out on this ground checkout
I said, “Oh, yes?” I said, “That’s why I’m
here. What are you doing?”
He said, “Well, I’m supposed to be sitting in a room recreating
the logic of why we came up with what we did.”
I said, “That’s the same thing I’m doing.”
I said, “It doesn’t make any sense for both of us to do
that. At this point neither of us has an ax to grind.”
So I went in and told the guys, I said, “Well, so-and-so from
Langley is over here doing what you wanted me to do, and I don’t
see any point in doing it, so I’m going back to Houston. Goodbye.”
So I came back. They’d call me occasionally after that, but
the guys that took that over badly, in my view, mismanaged the set
of data that we came up with. It’s too bad, because it was a
tremendous impact to the program to suddenly terminate where we were
and try to transfer all the information to essentially a new group
of folks, who didn’t have the long history with the thing.
When the Level II organization disbanded here, we had a hell of a
party down at the Gilruth Center. It got quite raucous, and there
was lots of hugging and back-slapping, because we had all bonded and
all that kind of stuff. The engineering group, we went out, and we
bought a very nice, expensive bottle of wine for the program and took
it. John Aaron at that time was the Acting—I guess he was actually
the full Program Manager. Neil had moved on. We gave this bottle of
expensive wine to John Aaron and said, “Okay, you’re the
keeper of the wine. You need to designate a successor. And the last
person standing from the Level II Program Office gets to open the
bottle of wine and drink a toast to those of us that are not around
anymore.” So I check with John a couple of times a year, say,
“John, you still got that wine? You didn’t drink that
wine yet, did you?”
He said no, he’s still got it. He knows where it is, and it’s
got a note on it as to what’s supposed to happen to it in the
event of his demise and that type of thing. So I’m still in
the running for that bottle of wine. [Laughter]
You’ll have to let us know if you actually get it.
This actually would be a good place for us to stop for just a minute
All right. So we are back, and you were telling me that you returned
to the Power and Propulsion Division.
Right. When I left the Space Station, I guess in the end of ’86,
I had an opportunity to go back to the Propulsion and Power Division.
There had been an interesting organizational activity. At just about
that time, when Aaron Cohen became Center Director, he asked Henry
Pohl, who was Division Chief of the Propulsion and Power Division,
to move up to be Director of Engineering. So Henry did that, which
left open the job of Division Chief. The guy who had replaced me as
deputy to Henry when I left was Chester [A.] Vaughan, who had been
my first supervisor when I came to NASA, had been moved off to be
a Branch Chief, which had allowed my—as I talked about earlier
in this interview—allowed me to take his job as Supervisor.
Then Henry had moved me up to—when he became Division Chief—moved
me up to be his assistant and then his deputy. So in the first years
that I worked for Chester, when I became Deputy and Chester was a
Branch Chief, Chester worked for me. When I left, Chester came up
and took the Deputy Division Chief job, and then when Henry left to
be Director of Engineering, Chester and I both wanted to be Division
Chiefs. In my mind, I felt like Chester was the better choice. I felt
like he was a better human manager, probably, than I was. I felt like
we were probably technically equivalent, that type of thing, but I
went around to visit with him. Chester and I are good buddies, and
aside from the episode I told you about at Huntsville in Napoleon’s
Nook when we were drunk together, we’d been drunk together many,
many times and had lots of poker games and episodes together. We’re
just good buddies.
So I went around and talked to Chet, and I said, “Well, you’re
the Deputy now. Henry’s gone. You’re probably the heir
apparent. But,” I said, “I would like to have the job,
too, and I just wanted you to know that I’m going to apply for
it, and I don’t want you to take anything personally. So may
the best man win here.”
I said, “I’m particularly doing it because I would hate
to not apply and then, somewhere during the process, the Center decided
they needed Chester Vaughan [to] do something else or you get run
over by a truck or something happens to you where you can’t
accept the job and then I’m not a candidate because I didn’t
apply. So,” I said, “I just wanted you to know I’m
going to apply. I’m going to put in the best application I can,
and we’ll see what happens.”
So he was great with that and all that kind of stuff. I later talked
to Duane [L.] Ross about that. I went through the process and turned
in what I thought was a very strong application. Chester was selected,
and I kind of suspected that was going to happen, and in retrospect,
it was the right decision for both of us.
But I talked to Duane Ross later and said, “Well, I was a little
disappointed that I wasn’t selected,” and he said, “You
know, that was one of the toughest decisions that the Center had to
make.” He said, “Both of you guys were so well qualified
to successfully assume that job that it was tough.”
So I don’t know what the final rationale was or anything like
that, but I greatly benefited from going through that process of trying
to be selected and preparing that background. And I still use some
of that material that I wrote up at the time on the details of my
experience and that kind of stuff as a resource for myself to go back
and remember, you know, what did I do these years and what happened?
I kind of remember being involved in something or other, but what
was that, and this kind of thing.
Anyway, after Chester got it, he said, “But now I need a Deputy,
and you’re looking for a job. Would you come back and be my
I said, “Sure. I’d like to do that.” I figured,
okay, I’ll go back, and I’ll finish out my career right
here back in EP [Propulsion and Power Division Mail Code]. Chester
had been plucked out and sent someplace else and let me succeed him
before. I said, there’s a high probability that’ll happen
again. So there’s nothing I’d like better than being Chief
of the Propulsion and Power Division.
So I went back and was Deputy and was deeply involved then in the
continuing activity for the return to flight and evaluating all of
the Propulsion and Power Division systems and what they used to call
the boiler rooms, where we would get together with the Rockwell guys
and just go over all the drawings and the specifications and everything,
just line by line, and talk about, well, we made this decision back
in the seventies and now, from the standpoint of having flight experience,
what do we need to change, and this, that, and the other. So I was
involved in that quite a bit.
We were involved in some requalification of some hardware. One particular
item was the main propulsion system [gaseous] oxygen flow control
valve, which was a big chunk of metal that allowed gaseous oxygen
to let oxygen be vaporized in the engine and then go back in and pressurize
the oxygen in the tank to provide what we call autologous pressurization.
That thing had some problems of failing in a catastrophic event because
of the warm and high pressure oxygen [flowing] through this metal
[valve]. If there was any ignition source in there, either from friction
of rubbing services or a little piece of grit coming down at high
velocity and impacting the metal as it flowed through the valve and
causing enough localized energy from the impact, that it would start
reacting with that oxygen, and the valve would burn up.
We had been through a lot of work on that thing. I think it was a
piece of hardware that was going to be incorporated into the program,
although I’m a little hazy in my memory on that. It hadn’t
been yet; it wasn’t fully qualified, and we had changed materials
a number of times and gotten down to a material called Monel, which
is, I think, a nickel-based material, alloy. I forget what the other
components are. And we felt like we had it. We had finally changed
the internal design of the thing, the way it was built so all the
flow passages were smooth, there wasn’t really any good ways—if
a particle was entrained coming down and got past the filter somehow,
there wasn’t any good surface for a particle to just slam right
into. They were gently curving surfaces. And we hoped the flow would
carry these particles, if there were any, on through. We tried very
hard to filter upstream to make sure there were no particles and that
type of thing.
The guys who were in charge of that hardware had set up a formal qualification
program, where there was going to be like thirty or fifty tests or
something like that, and it had to successfully get through all of
these tests at various flow conditions with various pieces of hardware
to say, “Okay, we’ve done everything bad we can to this
thing, and it’s okay.” Well, these guys got down to the
last test, and then everything burned up. I mean, they were one test
away from declaring that the design and materials and everything are
all okay for incorporation into the Shuttle vehicle.
It’s hard for anyone who’s never seen oxygen react in
something like that. This thing is about twice the size of the coffee
cup here, probably weighs twelve or thirteen pounds of metal, and
you’re looking at it on TV and with movie cameras running. It’s
focusing on this thing in the test facility, which was out at White
Sands [Test Facility, Las Cruces, New Mexico], where we did this,
and they’re flowing warm, high-pressure oxygen through this
The function of the valve is to open and shut to allow oxygen as needed
to flow back into the tank to maintain the oxygen tank pressure during
launch. And you’re watching the TV, and all of a sudden, it’s
like a flashbulb goes off. The flash is that bright and that short
a duration. And suddenly now there’s just two pipes, and this
fifteen pounds of metal that was sitting there that was the valve
is no longer there. It’s just gone. So that was a big deal.
So that was one thing I got involved in. We had to put together a
big tiger team to go out and do the failure investigation at White
Sands and figure out what to do, that type of thing. I tapped a guy
who was the supervisor in the thermo-chemical test area named Brian
[G.] Morris to go out and do that, because I was involved in some
other things in Houston I couldn’t leave. As a matter of fact,
at that time, Chester was off on special assignment, and I was the
Acting Division Chief, so I couldn’t go, but it was something
that worried us greatly. But we did get that resolved. [Brian Morris
did a super job, as he always did on every assignment.]
At the same time, we began working on the Lunar/Mars activity. So
I was only back in Propulsion and Power Division for about, maybe
a little more than a year when they decided the Shuttle was mature,
the Space Station was coming along, and we needed to start early thinking
about going back to the Moon and going on to Mars. So they formed
the Lunar/Mars Exploration Program Office, and once again, we had
a tiger team, went over into Clear Lake City into the Nova Building
over here to write some initial plans and this kind of stuff for how
we would do that.
I was assigned from Propulsion and Power Division since I had done
a good job on writing the early plans for Space Station, they said,
“Norm, you go over and do that.” Besides, Chester didn’t
want to do it. So I went over and got deeply involved in that, working
with Mark Craig and a guy named Doug [Douglas R.] Cooke, who had come
over. All of these guys I had worked with on Space Station, and none
of them ended up wanting to go to Washington when the Space Station
activity moved up there. So they all stayed here, and they had moved
over as Managers of the Lunar and Mars Exploration Program Office.
So they got me over there, and we wrote an SE&I plan and a program
plan and did a bunch of studies and some pre-Phase A things and looking
at how we would do it and this kind of stuff. Once again, the structure
that was there was a Level II office under Mark Craig, and I was kind
of helping him out as an assignment from Propulsion and Power Division.
They were forming also, at the other Centers, the equivalent Level
III organizations just like we had in Space Station. Johnson was going
to work on some things, and Marshal was going to work on the launch
vehicle thing, and Houston was going to work on the lunar surface
habitat and the equipment you needed on the lunar surface. Marshal
was going to work on the launch vehicle and on the orbit transfer
vehicle, and Lewis was going to work on power. Once again, it was
going to be one of these horribly complex interface kind of deals.
I thought, well, maybe if I go back and help work on this, I can get
that corrected a little bit so that it doesn’t become so difficult
to manage as the Space Station. So I was over there working on all
that right after President Bush Number One [George H.W. Bush] was
inaugurated, and one of the things he wanted to do was go back to
the Moon and then go on to Mars. Really, he didn’t say go back
to the Moon. He said he wanted to go to Mars, and he asked NASA for
recommendation, and he had in mind landing on Mars by the fiftieth
anniversary of Apollo 11, which would have been in 2019.
So suddenly the requirement came rolling downhill from Washington
and from Headquarters that we need a ninety-day plan; we’ve
got ninety days to write a credible plan of how NASA is going to go
to Mars and what all the technical details are, what the schedules
and costs and everything are.
Mark Craig got tapped to pull that together. So he talked to the Center
Director, Aaron Cohen, and he said, “I need Norm to be assigned
to this tiger team.”
I said, “Okay. I’d be happy to work on that,” and
I took a couple of folks from Propulsion and Power to go over and
work the power and the propulsion issues from the JSC standpoint.
Went over and in a very, very intense ninety-day period, we put together
a credible plan that we thought was credible at the time. It turned
out, in retrospect, although we’d used the best technical concepts
and the best information we had at the time, it was way too long and
way too much money. So at the end of ninety days, we produced this
plan, which would have worked, but it had a price tag of around $430
billion and like a twenty-five-year timeframe or something like that.
It did achieve the 2019 landing, but it needed all this new hardware
and new, humongous launch vehicles, and all this kind of stuff.
Well, it got enough credibility that the President said, “Well,
let’s go ahead and keep working on this thing,” although
in Congress, in general, there was eyebrows up and people shaking
their heads about the money and the time and everything like that.
They made a decision to formalize this thing to continue the studies
and try to improve on this program and put flesh on the bones and
work the technology issues and all this kind of stuff, the Center
set Mark Craig and Doug Cooke up as the formal Program Manager and
Deputy Program Manager of the Lunar/Mars Exploration Program Office.
They sent Barney – what was Barney’s last name? He was
essentially the leader of the Level III JSC activity for the lunar
habitat and the lunar—Barney’s name will come to me at
some point. So I was back in a similar kind of situation with some
of the same guys that I’d been in in Space Station.
Mark Craig said, “I want you to be the Manager of Systems Engineering
So I said, “Yes, I’d be happy to do that, but,”
I said, “I need some good staff.” This was kind of going
to be a study organization, so the Center wasn’t all that interested
in staffing it too heavily, but we did have the same kind of opportunity
to select staff from the Center to come over there.
Well, we had contract people supporting us from Lockheed, and one
of the people that I’d come to know very, very well was a lady
named Joyce [E.] Carpenter, who was a Lockheed engineer who had transferred
up from Lockheed, Marietta, Georgia. She’d worked on aircraft,
but she was a specialist in systems engineering, really a smart, smart
lady and a good people person, good manager, no nonsense, this kind
So Aaron Cohen called me over after Mark Craig told him that he wanted
me to do the job. Aaron called me over and said, “Norm,”
he said, “I know you’ve done these other things we’ve
asked you to do, and now Mark wants you to come be his Manager of
Systems Engineering and Integration.” He says, “I know
it takes you out of a possible succession position in the Propulsion
and Power Division, but the Center needs you to do this, and I would
like very much for you to do this, and I would appreciate it. Certainly
you can be assured that I’ll look out for you,” and this
kind of thing.
So I said “Yes, sir.” And of course, when the Center Director
asks you to do something, you salute the flag and say, “Yes,
sir,” and this kind of thing. So I said, “But, you know,
I would like to ask for a couple of things that go with my accepting
what you’re asking me to do.” I said, “The first
one is, if the program appears that it’s not going anywhere,
I don’t want to complete my career just pushing paper and studying
pie-in-the-sky kind of things. If it appears that the momentum of
the Lunar/Mars Exploration Program Office is slowing or being diffused,
I’d like to be able to come to you and say, ‘Aaron, I
need to be relieved and go someplace where there’s more immediacy
to what I’m doing.’”
He said, “Okay.”
I said, “The second thing I need is, if I’m going to be
the Manager of Systems Engineering and Integration I need somebody
to help me do that job. And that person would be Joyce Carpenter.”
So he said, “I’ll see what I can do.”
Later on, it turned out, after we were into the thing, that both Mark
and Doug Cooke got pulled up to Headquarters, Mark to be an Assistant
to the AA, Associate Administrator, for Lunar and Mars, who interestingly
was Mike [Michael] Griffin, who’s our current Administrator,
and Doug Cooke got pulled up on a special tiger team having to do
with redesign of the Space Station that General Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford
was leading, leaving me on the spot there with no Program Manager,
no Deputy Program Manager.
Again, Aaron said, “I want you to assume the Program Managership,
[as Acting Program Manager].”
I said, “Okay. Now I really need Joyce Carpenter.”
So he said, “Okay. If Joyce is willing to come, I’ll work
it with Lockheed, and we’ll get that transition.”
So I mean it was an amazing effort. Human Resources procedures normally
take a long time, but in just a very short period of time we’d
worked a deal and she left Lockheed under favorable circumstances
and got hired at JSC, and she became the Manager of Systems Engineering
and Integration for me and did a super job. She’s still around,
working in the Exploration Program Office, which I think has recently
been dissolved and folded into this new Constellation Office, which
is the new “go to the-Moon, go to Mars” kind of thing.
She’s an amazing asset, really an amazing woman. Tells me she’s
going to retire in a year or so and go into teaching systems engineering
So I got into the Lunar/Mars Program Office, helped write the initial
formative plans for participation in the pre-Phase A and Phase A studies,
played a role in the ninety-day plan that we wrote for first President
Bush. When the formed the Program Office, I came in and worked as
Systems Engineering and Integration Manager for Mark Craig and Doug
Cooke. When they moved off to other assignments, I assumed the management
of the program. That meant I was now a member of the senior staff
and had to do stuff like go to the Director’s staff meetings
and all that kind of stuff.
I did that for about a year, and it became clear to me that we were
getting into the point where the Space Station was taking all of the
Center’s energies and this kind of stuff and the Lunar/Mars
thing was clearly going to be a back-pocket activity with a little
bit of money and that kind of stuff. I came to that conclusion when,
as Manager of Systems Engineering, I was given a budget for the last
year I was there, which I don’t remember if it was ’90
or ’89, of $12 million. So I had $1 million a month to go on.
So I structured my outlays and my work to spend my $1 million a month.
Halfway through, they said, “Well, Space Station needs money
and all that kind of stuff, so we’re cutting your budget to
I said, “You can’t do that, because I’ve been on
a $12 million annual budget, and my resource flow is $1 million a
month, and now I’m out of money. You can’t tell me now
So we negotiated something, but a greatly reduced thing where I had
to let contractors go and things, really power down the activity and
tell all the Centers that were supporting me, that got a little bit
of this money, that, “I’m not giving you your money,”
and all this kind of stuff. That was very disheartening.
So I could see the writing on the wall, that all this interesting
technology work and studies and stuff was just going to devolve into,
“do-loop,” and everybody would say, “Well, that
looks good. Go around again and see if you can scrub it and do a little
bit better,” and, “Now we’ve learned some new technology.
Factor that in.” So you do the same bunch of studies time and
time and time again, and you get better every time you do it, and
you think of new things, and new ideas come along, but that just wasn’t
what I wanted to do. So I did go back to see Mr. Cohen and say, “I
think the time has come, and could I be relieved?”
Something that had triggered that was, a couple of months before that,
a guy who was an acquaintance from Engineering, Walter [W.] Guy, had
called me and said that he had been asked to leave his very long-time
assignment as Chief of the Crew Systems Division—I think it
had gotten its name changed to Thermal and Crew Systems or something
like that—and had been asked to form a new Robotics Division,
because the Center Director, Aaron Cohen, had noted that, as he had
gone around after he’d become Center Director and visited with
each division to try to understand what they were doing, that there
was a whole bunch of organizations that said they were doing a little
bit of robotics work but nobody had enough concentration of resources
to do anything really very meaningful. He could see that robotics
was going to be an important technical discipline for human spaceflight
in the future, and he felt like it would be to the Center’s
advantage to establish a strong, disciplined center here within Engineering,
so they’d asked Walt Guy.
Henry Pohl had been given marching orders by Mr. Cohen, and he called
Walt and said, “I’d like you to take this on. I’d
like you to give up your comfortable, long-time assignment in the
Crew and Thermal Systems Division and go and start this new Robotics
Well, Walt called me and said, “Would you come be my Deputy?”
I said, “I can’t, Walt. It certainly sounds interesting,
but I’m the Acting Manager over here for Lunar/Mars, and the
other two guys have been sucked off to do other things, and I just
can’t responsibly walk away.” So I said, “I’m
sorry. I’d like to work with you, and it sure sounds like a
whole lot of fun and everything, but the timing is just not something
that I can do.”
Well, about four or five months later, the guy that he had selected
got another opportunity and left, and so Walt called me back, and
said, “Has anything changed?”
I said, “Let me work on it.”
So that’s when I went to see Aaron Cohen and said, “It
looks like the budget’s been cut. I can see that this is going
to be a shoestring operation of multiple repetitive studies and we’re
just going to tread water and do this kind of stuff over on the sidelines.
There’s not going to be any real program work for a long time,
and I know you’re interested in this robotics thing. Walt has
invited me to consider being his Deputy, and that’s something
I’d like to do. I wondered if we could work something out.”
So Aaron graciously said, “Yes, we’ll let that happen.”
So I was able to depart. I had some windup work to do to get to the
point where I could leave as Program Manager, and then I went over
to Walt Guy’s division as his Deputy about the end of ’90
or early ’91, a very, very interesting activity.
Walt had been an acquaintance. I’d never been what I’d
call friends with him. I’d worked with him on numerous special
projects, and back in the early eighties he’d gotten tagged
as being head of a tiger team to find product improvements for Shuttle
that would make it work better and more efficiently and less costly
and less maintenance between flights and all that kind of stuff. I
had been the representative from Propulsion and Power Division to
this activity of his, and we had worked together very well. He’d
later told me that he was very impressed with the products that I’d
brought from the Division, and the quality of the analysis and all
that kind of stuff. He’d always thought after that that if there
was ever a time where he and I could work together on a permanent
basis, that he’d like very much for me to be part of his organization,
so that’s why he had called me.
So I went over, and then, once again, it was somewhat similar to the
situation I had been on both in Space Station and in the Lunar/Mars
Program Office, so suddenly you’re in charge of this group of
people who had been pulled in from various other organizations with
different cultures, you don’t have a common sense of who we
are as this new organization, and you have to build that team and
that sense of “us” that every organization needs to get.
So Walt was still in the process at the time I joined him of working
out the deal, because when he accepted the Division Chief responsibility,
one of the jobs was to go around to all these organizations that Aaron
Cohen had seen little glimmers of robotics work, go around and find
out what they were doing and make plans to pull all of that work and
the people associated with that work into his new organization.
Well of course, that’s like pulling teeth, because the Structures
[and] Mechanics Division, who was working on robotic arms, they didn’t
want to give that up and specifically didn’t want to give the
people up, and in many cases, the people didn’t want to leave
where they’d been working. So there was about twelve or fourteen
different organizations that were doing robotic work that Walt had
to negotiate that, you know, this is the work that needs to come over
to this new division, these are the people associated with it that
need to come, this is how I’m going to organize it, this is
what our branches are going to be, this is the charters that we’re
going to be, this is what we’re going to do for the Program
Office, this is who are going to be our clients, and all this kind
So he was still in the process of trying to pull that together and
had a bunch of people from different organizations, different backgrounds.
We were trying to establish a client-provider relationship with the
Program Offices and with the organizations that funded technology
work and get our laboratories set up. You know, what laboratories
do we need? What technologies do we want to have in-house capability
for? So he was well down the road on that.
Just a sideline here, a word about Walt. I had known him because he
came here in ’62, about the same time I did. I had known him
for a long, long period of time. He was known as a very, very tough
manager. When viewed from the outside, he was a very, very strong
advocate of his organization, a very strong defender of domain, of
his people, of his resources, all that kind of stuff. And if you had
to have a conflict with Walt and his organization, you always kind
of shuddered a little bit, because you knew he was a tough cookie
to deal with.
So before I had accepted Walt’s invitation, I did a little research
on Walt, because I had worked with him a time or two and found him
to be good to work with. He was demanding, had high expectations.
He was fair and, I thought, a really good manager. But I called several
people that I thought were personal friends that worked for him and
said, “Look, my perspective from the outside is Walt can be
pretty ornery and pretty brutal and a tough cookie, and I’m
just—I think I’d like to work for him, but I want to be
sure I know what I’m getting into. I know sometimes people are
viewed differently within the organization and from without the organization.
Can you give me some insights?” And the people, to a man, said,
“Walter’s really good to work for. He’s really fair.
He is demanding, but he protects his people, he looks out for them,”
and this kind of stuff. As a result of that, I did agree to accept
the position and work the logistics of going over there to work for
him, became his Deputy.
It was a very, very good relationship. I learned an awful lot from
Walt. I think that probably the three or four best managers at the
Johnson Space Center, I had the opportunity to work for in my career.
First was Guy [Joseph G.] Thibodaux and Chester Vaughan, Henry Pohl,
and Walt Guy, and I learned so much from all of them. I think each
of them maybe learned a little bit from me, too.
In Walt’s case, I found him to be an exceptional technical manager
with lots of strategic insight and ways to get things done technically
and that kind of thing. Where I found Walt sometimes needed a little
bit of help was in his interpersonal relationships. He can be very
brusque and gruff. And he’s a large man physically. He can be
intimidating. He can be very aggressive if he’s arguing with
you, cut you off and beat you up verbally and all that kind of stuff,
and you had to learn to deal with Walt.
A few of our interactions early on, I was a little bit taken aback
and that kind of stuff and was wondering how to deal with that. Finally
I decided that, well, I’m just about as senior as him. He’s
a year older than I am and has got a year or two experience on me,
but so what? So, I’d push back and stand ground, and he’d
say something and we had to do it this way. And I’d argue with
him, and he’d get after me, and I’d tell him, “B.S..,
Walt, you’re full of it, and you don’t know what you’re
talking about. That’s not the way to do it, and here’s
So he gradually came to put some credence in—because he wouldn’t
think about, you know. There weren’t that many people who would
talk back to him and that kind of stuff, but I would. We ended up
having a very cordial relationship, not only business-wise but personally,
which continued long after I retired. We’d socialize, he and
his wife and me and my wife. We had season tickets together to the
Alley Theater [Houston, Texas], and did lots of other things together.
And I felt like that Walt and I were probably one of the best combinations
of Chief Deputy-Chief, because I always felt like, and I think the
experience bears out, that I was a good people-person and I could
work well with people. I’d learned that from Henry and Chet
Vaughan and my own father, who was a Human Resources Manager at the
Corps of Engineers. Because I’d say Walt was very technically
focused on getting the technical job done and didn’t mind running
over people or was oblivious to their feelings and aspirations and
stuff, sometimes, not always, but sometimes.
One of the things that I brought to Walt over the years was a better
appreciation of those kinds of things. Walt would be in his office,
and if he wanted to know about something, he’d call somebody
on the phone, and he’d just say, “This is Walt. Come down.”
You know, if you were a young engineer or something like that—I’d
caught them doing that, heading down the hall I mean just quaking
and shaking that, “The Division Chief wants to see me. What
have I done?” and this kind of stuff.
So Walt and I would talk, and one thing we did mutually agree on—I
said, “Let’s have lunch, a long lunch together once a
week when both of our schedules permit and talk about the organization,
and what we can do,” and I told him repeatedly, I said, “Walt,
you know it’s 100 feet down to their office down there. Get
up off your butt and walk down there if you’ve got a question.
Don’t call them up in this abrupt manner and say, come down.”
I said, “Stroll down there and just sit down and ask them how
things are going and then ask them what you want to know and then
Because that’s the way I would operate. I’d spend a lot
of time. When I needed something done, I would walk down and say,
“Hey, you know, I wonder if you’ve got a few minutes to
talk to me about this, that, or the other. I don’t understand
something. Can you help me out?” or something like that. I had
a different kind of approach.
Now, I often didn’t have the same good technical insights that
Walt did, but you put the two of us together, and I think we ran a
hell of an organization. I have amazing respect for Walt as a technical
manager, and I believe when I left there at the end of ’96,
I really believe that I had altered his behavior somewhat, because
people have told me that since, even at the time I was there, I could
see his behavioral characteristics changing and reacting to some of
the inputs I would give. And some of the other Branch Chiefs were
giving him the same stuff, too, and now he’s—although
I know we’ll never have the same insight, he’s still working
here. Why, I don’t know, because he’s got like forty-four
or forty-five years’ experience, and he’s not earning
any more annuity credits or anything like that, but I think he enjoys
what he’s doing. He’s still Chief of the Automation, Robotics,
and Simulation Division ten years after I left. But an amazing man,
probably the best technical manager that I ever worked for.
One of the things that he did that I helped him with was write a management
manual in the Division. He’d get the Branch Chiefs together,
and he had a list of probably fifty or sixty management principles
that guided him, and he would present one with the justification for
why he felt it was important and how it contributed to a manager’s
success and how it contributed to the success of the organization.
And we would get in and talk about that and mostly agree with Walt
but sometimes not completely, or say, “Your focus on why it’s
good omits this or that facet of this kind of thing.” As a result,
as a group we came up with a very good set of management principles
and doctrines that I think—I suggested at the time that, “Walt,
we ought to let Human Resources have this,” because what he
did was give the final version to all the Managers, and when a new
Manager would come into the Division, they’d give that and say,
“This is kind of our philosophy of how we manage and what we
think,” and this kind of thing. And I think since that time
he has actually used that in some sense as a training guide within
Engineering for other Division Chiefs. When somebody becomes a new
Division Chief, the Director of Engineering has said, “Go and
get Walt’s manual for how to be a senior manager,” and
this kind of stuff. So most of that work is Walt’s, but I did
have some impact into that and was proud of that. I’ve still
got my copy, although I don’t have the current copy, probably.
It’s been updated. But I think we had one of the best division
programs around. We had communications programs. Every morning at
seven-forty-five, we had a Division staff meeting. They were always
conducted very efficiently, all the Branch Chiefs and Assistants were
there. We’d go around the table, “What’s going on
today? What’s coming up we need to know about?” There
was no long discussion about it, just an awareness of what was going
to happen that day, and then Walt or I could say, if somebody was
going to be involved in something, we’d say, “Well, we
need this other person. Would you make sure you’re involved
in that or somebody to be sure we’ve covered all of the Division
aspects of that issue?” and that kind of thing.
And then every morning, at the tail end of that, we invited one of
the working-level people from the Division to come in and make a fifteen-minute
presentation of what they were working on. It not only gave them exposure
to us, it gave us exposure to them, where you could really evaluate
whether a person was doing good technical work and could present it
well, was doing good technical work or was a poor presenter, or any
combination of those. And we could ask them questions, and it kept
everybody at the management level in the Division up to date, because
over a period of two or three months, you’d just rotate most
of the working-level people in the Division through the morning briefing.
Walt was also very collegial in all the human resources and personnel
kinds of issues, so he had a very collegial process for evaluating
people for their yearly evaluations. He said, “I want you to
do the people in your Branches based on not only on your Branch input,
but then I want you to come down, and we’re going to interleave
these evaluations together.” He said, “When you do that
you’d better take off your Branch Chief hat and put on the Division
perspective hat, because it’s not always that the best guy from
Branch A is—and then there’s the best guy from Branch
B and the best lady from Branch C and the best person from Branch
D, and now we go to the second one and just interleave them that way.”
He said, “The top three people in the Division may all be in
one Branch, We’ve all had exposure to all these people, and
I want an honest assessment from this group as to how we really put
these people together.”
And that was tough, for a Branch Chief to say, “Well, I realize
that your best person is really better than my best person, and I’ll
acknowledge that,” and that kind of stuff, but it forced people
to take this higher view of things. So we did that kind of process,
not only for the annual performance appraisal but for awards and for
significant training, that kind of stuff. You know, so many other
organizations, the training book would come out, and they’d
just send it out and say, “Send in what your training requests
are,” and it would come in, and a lot of times, the training
request wouldn’t relate to anything that was necessarily needed
by a person or applicable to their work or something like that.
As a Manager, I’d always filtered that pretty well in my organization,
but Walt did the best job of anybody. We would come in, and we would
talk about the people individually and what training we felt like
they needed before we asked them to suggest what training they needed.
In many cases, we would come in and say, “Okay, here are our
training priorities, that so-and-so needs to be able to make better
presentations, so-and-so needs to be able to write better, so-and-so
needs various other kinds of presentation training,” or whatever,
including technical training. So our training was needs-driven as
defined by the Managers, who had a better understanding of the person.
Now, the person got to put down, “I want to go get trained in
this new computer program and blah, blah, blah,” that kind of
stuff, and we would certainly honor that in many cases, say, “Yes,
you need that, and we need to send you to that,” but there was
one NASA program where, I can’t remember the name of it, but
basically you’d send a person off for a year to go to graduate
school kind of thing, with the idea that they were going to get educated
in a new field. If they happened to get a degree along with that,
a masters or something, that was fine, but the real focus was to send
them off and get this new knowledge, not to just go get a degree.
There was competition for those kind of things, because NASA paid
your salary and sent you off to go to school for a year and this kind
What we would do as a group, the Managers would get together and say,
where are we deficient in some area, some technology, some new field
that’s moving up that’s important to us? We would define
those and then define people who were candidates to go and get that
knowledge and bring it back to the organization for us and who were
also good candidates for growth in the organization. Then we would
go down and tell them, “We would like you to go to Boston College
[Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts] and study under Professor Johannson
[phonetic] on this new way of analyzing robotic control theory,”
or something like that. And almost always the people would be agreeable
to doing that. So as opposed to somebody saying, “Well, I need
to go back to Northwestern [University, Evanston, Illinois] and finish
my masters,” and some Division Chief saying, “Oh, okay,
we can spare you, and we’ll nominate you,” our process
was so needs driven and so well documented that our candidate nearly
always was selected.
One of the things I pride myself on was I would always do the final
write up on those things, because once again, I thought I did a good
job of being able to very succinctly state the case, the requirement,
the reasons for selection, and the benefits that were going to be
accrued and all that kind of stuff. We were always very successful
in our Robotics Division in getting our people promoted, getting our
people sent off to these NASA educational programs, other special
training programs, awards, that type of thing.
We also had special group sessions, where we got together and talked
about people who were doing exceptional work and what kind of awards
could we put them in. And we have a ladder. You know, NASA has various
levels of personal recognition awards, and unless it was something
truly extraordinary, we would start a person on a ladder leading to—you
start out a person who was doing a really good job at a lower level
with that first NASA award, and then maybe later on, they get an Exceptional
Service award, and then later on, you get them something else. So
you work them up the ladder so that there’s still somewhere
to go in the progression of awards. You just don’t start them
off at the level at which you can’t ever get anything better
So Walt, as a Manager, for looking at all aspects of those kind of
things, training, awards, promotions, recognition, that type of thing,
was the best Manager from those kind of standpoints of looking at
the whole bailiwick of management techniques that builds an organization.
We had a lot of events where we all got together. We had monthly meetings
where we’d get together. Walt would talk about a topic. We would
recognize people that would get little in-house awards. We had ER
[Excellence Recognition] awards. ER was our mail code symbol and this,
so every month we’d get together, and he’d talk, and I’d
talk, and we’d bring people up and recognize them for something
that they had done well. And once again, those things every month
were selected by all of the Managers and the Branch Chiefs getting
together and saying who did good, who needs to be recognized. We would
also make sure that that got moved around so that it wasn’t
the same superstar every time and that type of thing.
So I have nothing but the greatest admiration for Walt and his management
capability. I learned a lot from him, and I think he learned a little
bit from me. He was very generous with me when we got together. He
said, “Look, I like to handle certain aspects of the Division,
and each of us needs our own domain that we’ll be responsible
for. So let’s talk about it.”
So we basically divided the work of the Division. I had primary responsibility
for 40 percent of the stuff, and he had primary responsibility for
60 percent of the stuff. Then we kept in close contact during the
day and in our weekly lunch meetings and that kind of stuff. I just
felt like it was a very useful, productive, effective relationship
with Walt and look back on that with a great deal of pleasure, because
we built an organization. We built a relationship with our clients.
We built up a good technology program. We had good funding. We had
good contractors that we had good relationships with. We established
like twelve new laboratories to support the technologies.
We put major facilities together. We built a new east end on Building
Nine, where the robotic training arms are, put those arms in place,
developed them and got them operational to support both Shuttle robotic
training and Space Station robotic training and really were doing
very, very advanced robotics kind of work that Walt primarily made
happen because of his philosophy and his strength of being able to
advocate for those kind of things. So I really consider Walt a good
friend, along with Chet, Henry, and Guy Thibodaux.
The last year I was working full time, ’96, I had just previously
been assigned by Leonard [S.] Nicholson, who was Director of Engineering,
to go work a special project because the Center had realized that
the Space and Life Sciences Directorate had a significant engineering
activity going on designing medical and crew systems kind of equipment.
The kinds of things they were doing was parallel to the stuff the
Engineering Directorate was doing. So the Center decided that maybe
there shouldn’t be two design engineering organizations, that
we needed to go and find out what the design engineering work in the
Space and Life Sciences Directorate was and look at considering how
could the Engineering Directorate do that instead and then pull those
tasks and some appropriate people out of Space and Life Sciences Directorate
into a new organization that would be under Engineering, that would
do those kind of things.
So Leonard Nicholson got me together to head up that activity, to
go and do an audit of all the stuff Space and Life Sciences was doing,
identify all their tasks and resources, and then see how they matched
the capabilities that Engineering already had and then see if there
were some techniques or organizational structures or methodologies
we could come up with that would create an effective transfer of that
work out of Space and Life Sciences into Engineering.
Kind of an interesting story. When Leonard called me up, Walt told
me, said, “Leonard wants to see you. He’s got something
special he wants you to do.”
I said, “Uh-oh.” So I went and talked to Leonard. By that
time, I was a fairly senior person, and I took very careful notes
of what Leonard wanted me to do. He explained it all, and I said,
“Okay. Well, let me have a couple of days, and I’ll go
back and put together a plan to get this done and bring it back and
run it by you to make sure that I’m on the right track.”
So I did. I went off and in a couple of days came back, and I had
this plan pulled together with something I thought was what Leonard
wanted. So I started in to explaining to him what it was, and he was
looking at me incredulously and saying, “What are you doing
this stuff for? Where did you get that assumption?” and all
that kind of stuff.
I said, “Leonard, that’s what you told me you wanted me
to do. That’s what you told me when we talked the other day.”
“No, no, no,” and he gave me a hard time.
So I went back, and Leonard hadn’t been the Director of Engineering
all that long at the time, I guess, a couple of years, and I’d
had limited personal relationship. Walt mostly related to him. I went
back and [Walt] said “Well, yes, a lot of us have that trouble.
We think we understood what Leonard asked us to do, and then we go
back with a plan and find out that somehow we misunderstood. Now whether
that’s because he changed his mind or we misunderstood or something.”
But anyway, it was a little bit of a hiccup. We finally got it sorted
out that he and I were on the same page about what he wanted to do.
So I went off for a couple of months and got that done, came back,
and made a presentation to the Engineering Directorate staff, which
then later went on up to the senior staff, and we had a credible plan
that identified all the Engineering tasks that were really not Space
and Life Science things, they were building medical equipment or building
crew equipment or something like that, and we felt like Engineering
could do a credible job of supplying that, and there would be an efficiency
of folding that into our already-existing organization.
The problem was, they had one set of support contractors, which was
Martin Marietta, and we had another, which was Lockheed, and during
this process, that problem got helped a little bit because Lockheed
and Martin joined together, merged, and became Lockheed Martin. So
it turned out that no company was losing the contract. We were going
to consolidate some of this stuff.
So we pulled together a plan, and they formed a new Engineering Office,
what they called—I can’t remember the name—Biomedical
Engineering Office or something like that. The lady who had been leading
a lot of that in Space and Life Sciences was a lady named Cathy [D.]
Kramer, and she was moved over as the new Division Chief, into Engineering,
and brought a bunch of people from Space and Life Sciences with her.
Then there were a few folks from other organizations that were doing
work that supported that, that got pulled over to that organization.
Then Leonard told Walt that he wanted me to go over there as essentially
as close to a full-time assignment and help Cathy as her Acting Deputy
for a period of several months to get that organization formed up,
because, I guess, Cathy was coming from a Space and Life Sciences
culture and didn’t understand the processes and the cultures
and stuff, necessarily, in Engineering. Leonard felt like, since I
had done this study that had helped lead to this action, that I would
be a good resource for her to help get her on board.
There was also a problem of we now needed to rewrite all the tasks
and change them from Space and Life Sciences tasks to Engineering
tasks and get the money that they had and transfer it to Engineering.
But the Requirements people were still over in Space and Life Sciences,
so we had to be sure that the tasks we were doing were what they wanted
done and all that kind of stuff. I worked with Cathy on getting all
That was, again, a very tough job. It was like pulling teeth. I was
answering to Jim [James R.] Jaax, who was the Deputy Director of Engineering
at the time, and he was getting frustrated with me, and I was getting
frustrated, because we couldn’t get the Space and Life Sciences
guy to be firm on what they wanted these tasks to do so that we could
go off and put together a proposal that said, okay, this takes this
many people and this many man-hours and this much resources, and this
kind of stuff. Then they’d change their minds and say, “Well,
no, no. We want to continue doing that. We don’t want you to
We’d have to say, “No, that ain’t the rules. You
know you’re supposed to give that up.” Then we’d
have to go fight about that some more and all that kind of stuff.
So that was a very interesting process, to make all that come together,
and it still had not jelled real quickly by August, when I reverted
back to the Robotics Division, because my plan had been to retire
at the end of September in 1996. So I wanted to go back and make sure
things were in order in the Robotics Division. So about the middle
of August, I went back to Robotics and wound things up over there
and did retire at the end of September in ’96.
It’s a thing that I had thought about over the years that had
never been real. I’d been counting off the years and then the
months and then the days, and suddenly it was on me, and I had this
nice office with a big desk and a conference table and everything.
And I worked late the last night I was there. I’d worked very
hard to transition all of my activities and status everything and
that type of thing.
The person that was going to succeed me was a lady named Kathy [Kathleen
E.] Jurica, who has since remarried. Her name is Kathy [Kathleen E.]
Symons now. She was head of our Intelligent Systems Branch. She was
going to move down and be the Deputy.
I got rid of all my files, took all the personal files. They’re
all sitting there in boxes, all my textbooks that I occasionally use
but not much, they were all there. All my personal artifacts and plaques
and pictures and everything were off the wall. I moved them out to
my car and came in and erased everything on the whiteboards and wrote,
“Good luck” on the whiteboard and walked out and closed
the door. I felt very strange about doing that at the time.
Luckily, we had had a—it wasn’t an early out, but it was
one of these things to encourage people to leave. And one of the provisions
at that time was, if you’re eligible for retirement, which I
was, I had thirty-four years of service, and I never used any sick
leave, so I had two years also of creditable sick leave. I was very
fortunate over the years never to be sick, so I had two years of additional
annuity credit that was going to be added for unused sick leave. I
had a whole wad of unused annual leave that I’d saved up.
But one of the provisos to get people like me to leave was that, we
will try to get you a job in education, and we’ll help you transition,
get some training so you can go be a teacher. We’ll try to place
you in a university position as a professor for a period of time.
Or, if you can find a deal on site here, we will hire you back as
a rehired annuitant for two years to work half time to do something
different than what you were doing. You can’t just stay in your
organization and go the half-time work and retire and still get paid.
Well at that time, I was doing so much freebie work with the Education
Office at JSC because the Robotics had interesting, interesting work
going on and particularly interesting laboratories that were always
on the tour, and they showed well to visitors, and the Education folks
would always call me and say, “We’ve got this group of
teachers,” or, “We’ve got this group of students
coming in. Can you take us on a tour of the Robotics Lab?” So
I ended up, I was arranging a lot of that or doing it personally and
really was enjoying what I was doing. And I’d always participated
in the Education Outreach Program. During Engineer’s Week, I’d
go out and talk to a couple of schools, and I’d always gone
to my children’s schools and all that kind of stuff. So I really
I had a nice relationship with Nancy [G.] Robertson, who was Head
of the Education Branch. So I went over and talked to Nancy, and I
said, “I’m thinking about taking this retirement thing,
and one of the options is coming back as a rehired annuitant for half
time, and I think there’s a pot of money [available] for that,
and the deal is that I wouldn’t count as one of your staff as
far as an official billet goes, and I think I’d enjoy coming
over and working half time with teachers and kids.”
So she said, “Oh, boy, we’d love to have you. With your
experience and breadth of knowledge in Propulsion and Power and Robotics
and Program Offices and Space Station and Mars and Moon and biomedical
and all that kind of stuff, that would be great.” So that was
the conditions under which I retired.
So I retired at the end of September in ’96. I actually took
a month off. My wife and I got in the van and went on a trip all over
the country to see all the children and grandchildren. Then I came
back, and November 1st I came back to work as a half-time Education
Outreach person for two years.
I really, really did enjoy that, developed a number of programs that
are still going on that they enjoyed. I did teacher workshops in the
summer for not only local area teachers but the Department of State
would bring in a group of thirty or thirty-five teachers who teach
in their Department of State embassy schools around the world and
did teacher workshops for them, each of them in a week or two weeks
at a time, and that type of thing. I really did enjoy that for two
At the end of two years, I went to see Human Resources and said, “Hey,
this is a lot of fun. Why don’t we do it for another two years?”
They said, “Sorry. The money’s run out, and this was a
special, one-time program.”
So I went and talked to Nancy, and she said, “Oh, well, maybe
we can work something out.” So she talked to the support contractor,
and the support contractor came and talked to me and said, “Nancy
still has a need for this service that you’re doing, and if
you’d consider coming to work as a support contractor.”
So I said, “Well, that’s great. I don’t want to
be an eight-to-five person. Let me just sign on with you as a consultant.”
And I said, “The rules are that you can suggest assignments
to me. I have veto right over assignments. I set my own working hours,
and if that’s okay with you, I’ll be responsible. I know
what needs to be done, and I’ll do it. But if you want me to
do something I consider to be trivial and I don’t want to do
it or I’m going to see my grandchildren, I’m going to
tell you no.”
They said, “That’s okay with us.”
So you know, I essentially wrote a consultant agreement with them,
and continued with them for another several years. This fiscal year,
2006, is the first one that I have been without a contract.
I did a number of things in education for them over the years, including
running an activity called the Space Settlement Design Competition,
where we bring, on a long weekend in the spring, 160 high school kids
on a Friday night, divide them up into four teams, and ask them to
design a lunar base or a Mars base or something like that. Then they
present the results to a team of judges on Sunday morning. We feed
them all weekend and take them on tours and all this kind of stuff.
They really get a good sense of what it is to work as a member of
a team in aerospace-oriented activity, trying to do a humongous job
under very pressing time constraints and with not enough information
in some areas and too much information in other areas and that kind
of stuff. The kids don’t sleep much. It’s a Spartan condition.
They sleep on the floor in the Gilruth Center, you know, the boys
downstairs, the girls upstairs, and they work all night on computers
putting together their presentations and figuring out what the results
of their studies are going to be, what they’re going to propose
for this base.
A typical one would set up a scenario for them, say, okay, the year
is 2071, and we’re going to build the second human base on Mars.
This is going to be at the south polar region of Mars so we can mine
water ice and carbon dioxide ice, and the size of this base is going
to be 12,000 humans with a capability to have 1,000 visiting at any
one time, so the thing needs community aspects. It’s not just
an eight-astronaut kind of thing. You need living-in health care and
community and schools and entertainment and all these other aspects
of a community, the infrastructure, utilities, and all that kind of
stuff. And the setting and the context for this is on Mars or on the
Moon, so you’ve got to resupply these kind of things and communicate
and all this kind of stuff. So it’s a real challenge for these
kids to think that far in advance, to extrapolate technology, what
is going to be the state of the technology in 2071 and that type of
thing. It’s something I’ve really enjoyed.
The Center last year—the last two years—we ended up, got
so popular we did two sessions of the competition in 2005 and 2004.
One of the drivers of that was the state of Iowa got so excited when
they learned about it, they said, “Could we bring down half
of the kids and you guys go to two competitions?”
So we said, yeah, we’d do that. So each of the two competitions,
which were two weeks apart, each of them being a Friday-night-to-Sunday
night activity. It consisted of eighty kids from Iowa and eighty kids
from Texas, and we’d blend them and mix them all up so that
you get this cultural blend, because the Iowa kids were from small
towns in western Iowa with a heavy rural, farm kind of background.
The Texas kids were from around the Houston area. They’re urban
kind of kids. A very interesting way to see them mix and get integrated
and that kind of thing.
The 2005 competition, the two competitions cost a total of $50,500,
not counting the money that NASA paid me, and I gave them a very good
rate on me. They didn’t pay me much. But it was $50,500 that
cost them for these two competitions. And I run out, and between fees
that I charged the state of Iowa, fees I charged kids to come, I make
it some nominal fee so that it’s serious for them to come, that
they actually show up and don’t decide at the last minute, I’m
not going. They’ve got fifty bucks in this thing, so Mama’s
going to say, “You’re going.” And I went around
to all my buddies that run all the aerospace companies around and
said, “Hey, I’m doing this thing. I’m trying to
raise money to support these kids who are going to be your future
employees. Can you give me a little money?” As a result of all
those sources, of the $50,500 cost in 2005, I raised $45,000. So it
only cost NASA $5,500 to put this thing on, which, when you divide
the 375 participants into that, there was 325 kids and forty-five
teachers or something like that that came from Texas and Iowa-works
out to be like $14.70 a person for a very intense weekend.
This year, NASA said, “Well, we’ve got budget problems.
We can’t afford to do that.” So I don’t have a task
this year, but I didn’t give up. I pulled an end run on them.
I called Iowa and said, “Look, NASA’s wimped out on me.
They’re not going to pay any money, but they might continue
to host the thing and support it with in-kind services, like let us
use computers and bring tables and chairs over and let us be in the
buildings and this kind of stuff.” I said, “Will you pay
Iowa said, “Oh, yeah, man. We’d love to pay for it. We
can raise the money for it up here.”
I said, “And the second question, if you’re paying for
it, you can bring most of the kids, but I want to bring some Texas
kids, because I think it’s important to have that blend of state
So we worked out a deal where they’re bringing 140 kids and
I’m bringing twenty-four kids from Texas. They’re going
to pay for it. I brokered a deal between Iowa and the Johnson Space
Center, got a formal, legal written agreement that they’re going
to allow me to go ahead and do it. I’ve now become an agent
of the state of Iowa to do this. But they let me have a desk and a
computer and a phone at JSC, and I’m putting the thing on just
like I always did here, except Iowa’s paying me about 5 percent
of what NASA paid me to do it. So we’re still doing it this
year, and I’m hoping that I can keep this thing going with that
same vein as I did before. So that’s where I am in my career.
I’d like to go back and interject one important thing that happened
to me right after I returned from Space Station to the Propulsion
and Power Division. The Marshall Space Flight Center, which is responsible
for the Shuttle solid rockets, as part of the Challenger investigation,
decided that they need a new solid rocket design, because the Challenger
[accident] was caused by a seal failure between segments in the solid
rocket. So they were going to put together the ASRM, the advanced
solid rocket motor design, and they formed a big procurement team
and were going to go out to the solid rocket community for a rebid
and complete redesign, a new design of the solid rocket that wouldn’t
have these problems that had caused the Challenger accident, even
though separately, the Challenger hardware was being fixed, so that
that wouldn’t happen again.
So they went out, and they wanted not only a new design but they wanted
a brand-new manufacturing and production facility for the new solid
rocket motors that were going to be done. Well, it turns out that,
as a short-term assignment, in previous years, they had had a failure
of a solid rocket motor at the Thiokol Test Facility out in Utah,
north of Salt Lake, the Great Salt Lake. And they had said we wanted
a failure investigation board, and they called Johnson and said, “We
need a representative.”
Well, I knew a little bit about solid rocket motors. I was the Deputy
Division Chief, and once again, it was one of these things that the
Center has got to send somebody at a fairly senior level that can
command resources and get things done, but obviously, the Division
Chief doesn’t want to go to Utah for three months or something
like that, so the Deputy Division Chief gets to go. So I got packed
off to Marshall and then to Utah to investigate the Thiokol solid
rocket motor failure. As a result, I got to know a whole heck of a
lot about the solid rocket motor and how it was built and this, that,
and the other.
I finished that up on the board, out there quite a bit over a four
or five-month period. I came back and was working back in Propulsion
and Power Division again when the requirement came that, after Challenger,
they wanted this new rocket thing. So then they wanted to form the
source selection committee. They wanted Johnson to put somebody on
the source selection committee. It came down they wanted somebody
that knew about propulsion, somebody that knew about solid rocket
motors, and somebody that was an experienced person in a big source
selection thing. Guess who was picked?
I’d just come back from Kennedy within the previous year or
so from being down there a year on a big source selection. I’d
been on this earlier failure investigation board on the solid rocket
motor, and I knew about propulsion and all that kind of stuff. So
Norm got named to be the JSC representative on the Marshall source
selection board. So I got shipped off to Marshall for eight months
to be part of that board and write the requirements and write the
procurement package and participate in all of the consultations with
the contractors and preliminary conferences so they understood what
we wanted, evaluating the proposals and being sequestered over in
some buildings where nobody can find out what’s going on and
what’s happening and all that kind of stuff. So that was another
When I got back from that, Aaron Cohen called me and said, “I
got good reports on your work over there and blah, blah, blah.”
He says, “You’ve done such a good job being at Kennedy,
being on this failure board, being on the Marshall board. You’ve
been out of town almost full time for two and a half years.”
I think for one year I was the JSC person that had the most travel
of anybody else in the Center. He said, “I want to really do
something nice for you.” He said, “I’m going to
send you to senior executive management training for two weeks up
in Denver [Colorado].”
I said, “You’re sending me out of town for two more weeks?”
He looked kind of funny, and he said, “Yeah, I guess that does
sound kind of funny, but,” he said, “but I want you to.”
So I went up to the Office of Personnel Management Training up in
Denver for a couple of weeks and that kind of thing. So being on the
Marshall board was interesting because they ran things a little bit
different than Andy Pickett at Kennedy had run. I learned a lot from
that, also. It was interesting. There was a security breach in some
of the evaluation. Some of the proposals got stolen, we realized,
during the process, and we had to do some funny things to make up
for that, and all that kind of thing. So that was another important
and significant piece.
Let me just mention a couple of other things. I have been blessed
over the years of my career with recognition from NASA. I have a number
of nice awards and got a number of nice grade increases and that kind
of thing over the years for the work I’ve done. I’ve gotten
two Exceptional Service medals, which I treasure. The last one I got
when I was with Walt and which is the nicest thing that the agency
could have done for me was I got NASA’s Outstanding Leadership
medal, and that means a great, great deal to me and did at the time
and that type of thing, and a number of awards and plaques and that
kind of thing.
The other aspect I’d like to mention was the importance in my
career of professional societies. I got inducted into the American
Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which is the AIAA, back
in the mid-sixties, after I’d been here for about three years.
My Division Chief, Guy Thibodaux, was the incoming Chairman of the
chapter here, and he came around and asked me if I’d be willing
to run as Secretary. I said, sure, I’d willing to do that if
it didn’t involve much work, because I was really busy.
He said, “No.” He said, “I’m Chairman, and
there won’t be anything to do. We just need somebody to be Secretary.”
So I said, “Okay. I’ll volunteer.” Well, that’s
one of those jobs that nobody really wants to do, so I think I was
the only candidate, and therefore, I got elected. Lo and behold, I
found out there was a lot to do. First of all, Guy, who was my Division
Chief, was also the Section Chairman, so I couldn’t do a bad
job that year.
Well, the next year, the Deputy Director of Engineering was going
to be the incoming Chairman. He called me and said, “I want
you to continue to be Secretary, because I noticed you did a good
job this year.” So that was up my food chain of command, so
I couldn’t turn that down. So I ended up being Secretary for
about three years.
But as a result of that, I came in contact with a large number of
the senior people at the Center who were also members of AIAA and
had a chance to interact with them, get to know them as individuals.
They got to know me as individuals, and not only that, in completing
my duties for AIAA, they got to know that they could rely on me and
trust me to do what I said I was going to do, and not only that, but
do a product quality job. That has served me in tremendous stead.
So I decided that AIAA was a valuable resource for me to be a member.
Not only did I learn stuff from it, it gave me some management experience
and training and let me network with people in other technical disciplines.
I’d always known that it was important to my technical career
to maintain a very broad overview of what was going on so that I knew
how my work was tied into what the other needs of the Center was and
what other people were doing and this kind of thing, so that was very
important to me. But I ended up being Section Chairman, Chapter Chairman,
after being Deputy Chair and the head of almost all of the committees.
I became Chairman of the Section in 1980 and ’81.
At the end of the year in my going-out activity, we put together a
black-tie event in the Teague Auditorium with a champagne fountain
and all that kind of stuff to celebrate the launch that spring, in
April, of the Shuttle STS-1 flight. As part of that, I had talked
to National Geographic and asked them to put together the program,
because the fellow I worked with, who was my Deputy Chairman, was
a guy named Jack Heberlig, who was a contractor [at the time]. He
had some contacts at National Geographic, and they’ve always
done marvelous space articles in their stuff, so we called them and
said, “Would you come on and put on a program for this event
using all of the coverage that you have put together on the manned
spacecraft program since the very earliest days when you started covering
So they did that. They put together a magnificent program, which then
toured the country, went to museums and other Centers and that type
of thing. So I’m still involved as a retiree in AIAA. I participate
with them in their annual technical symposium every year, and I act
as their interface with the Ninth Floor to get the Center to support
that with in-kind support.
The final thing I will say was the National Management Association
[NMA] chapter was started at JSC by Director Gerry [Gerald D.] Griffin
back in the mid-eighties, probably. I thought that was good deal,
also joined that as a charter member and was Chairman of that chapter
the year that they sucked me out and sent me to Marshall to be on
that source board over there. But I did get to serve long enough to
be Chairman of the JSC Chapter of the National Management Association,
have continued to be associated with that in a number of positions.
Last year, even as a retiree, I was the Chairman of the training and
education committee and this type of stuff. I found NMA to provide
another wonderful tool for me, because the people who belong to NMA
are not necessarily the technical people, they’re the logistics
people, the Legal Office, the Center Operations, the Transportation,
that kind of stuff, the kind of people that I didn’t have a
good relationship with. Now I know all of those folks well, and as
a result, by the time I retired there were very few people around
the Center that, if I needed to know something, needed help, needed
a favor, I couldn’t call up on a person-to-person basis and
say, help me, can you tell me this, do this for me, whatever.
So here it is, in February of 2006, I’m almost ten years into
retirement, I come into the office almost every day, and one of these
days I’ll have to think about hanging it up. But I’ve
had a wonderful time since 1962, and I’ve changed directions
a number of times and have gotten a great benefit and feel like I’ve
given back a lot.
So that’s the end of my story.
I do have two questions that we like to ask everyone.
What do you think is your most significant accomplishment if you had
to look back over your NASA career?
Most significant accomplishment. Gee, it’s hard to tell. There’s
one technical one. I think that the problem I discussed with you of
helping to resolve the pressure spike or explosion problem of the
Apollo service module and lunar module reaction control jets. That
explosive residue that was being formed due to the short pulsing and
that type of thing, I think that took some insight that I was particularly
well suited to bring, with my chemical engineering background and
although there were many, many people involved in that. I felt like
I played a key role in making all that happen.
At the management level, probably forming a new organization at the
Space Station Level II level and then at the Lunar/Mars Office. Those
were interesting jobs. Probably working with Walt Guy to finally put
together the really effective Automation, Robotics, and Simulation
Division and form a new culture that really had a sense of who we
were, as opposed to who we all used to be kind of thing. I think that
was my most interesting managerial achievement.
Professional development, I’m proud of having been Chair of
both the AIAA and the NMA and leading those organization. NMA did
give me their top award one year, the Silver Knight of Management
award locally. AIAA nationally gave me their top award one year. I
think that must have been about 1990, when I got AIAA’s top—that
wasn’t a local–top national award and was recognized at
their annual technical meeting in Washington, that type of thing.
So I’ve, like I said, contributed a lot and gotten back much
more than I’ve contributed, and I’ve had a wonderful time,
and I look forward to another few years of this, of contributing and
What do you think was your biggest challenge, if you had to look back
over your career?
You know, the technical challenges were always something that I could
deal with. I’d be taken aback, but I could come up with a way.
So my biggest challenge was probably trying to balance life, find
time for my church, for my family, for my job, for the pets, for other
kinds of things. I think I’ve sorted that out now, but I didn’t
do as good a job as I could have in the past.
I told you that there was one two-and-a-half or three-year period
when I was either working all the time or I was at the Kennedy Space
Center on a [source] board or at the Marshall Space Flight Center.
At that time, my wife got an opportunity to take a job in Boston [Massachusetts]
as a senior executive, and we talked about it, and she agreed to go
up there and do that. After a year, she got the opportunity to become
CEO [Chief Executive Office] of that organization in Boston. So for
a [few] years, we had a bi-coastal marriage, where we traveled back
and forth to see each other. But the end effect was that, for three
years I was gone, and then when I came home, she was gone for [three]
As a result of that, our marriage did fail. It was an amicable failure
at a time when the pets had died and the kids were gone and that kind
of stuff. So I do regret that. We were married for thirty-three years,
and that’s a long time. But a couple of years later, I found
another nice lady that I’ve been married to for eleven years,
and I still have a very amicable relationship with my first wife.
But probably my biggest challenge was, how do you balance your personal
life and your work life.
Well, we thank you for coming in today and sharing all your memories
with us. We sure enjoyed it.
Great. Well, we covered a long time.
Today is the 7th? As of five days from now, I will have been here
for forty-four years. That’s a long time.
That is a long time.