NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Sandra Johnson
Houston, TX – 21 July 2015
Johnson: Today is July 21, 2015. This oral history session is being
conducted with John Charles in Houston, Texas, as part of the Johnson
Space Center Oral History Project. Interviewer is Sandra Johnson,
assisted by Rebecca Wright.
Dr. Charles is the Associate Manager for International Science of
NASA’s Human Research Program and leads space life science planning
for the joint US-Russian one-year mission on ISS [International Space
Station] currently. Today I want to talk to you about your background,
as far as when you were younger and you first went to school, and
when you first started getting interested in working for NASA and
how that came about.
I am one of those dyed-in-the-wool born space nerds. I was born in
1955, which was just before the space age began, and I have, as far
as I know, always been interested in spaceflight, and NASA specifically.
One of my earlier recollections in that context is, in the early 1960s,
’61 and ’62, the playground outside of Rockdale Elementary
School in Rockdale, Texas, had a little culvert through the middle
of it, and the culvert had a little cement walkway across it, and
the cement walkway had some steel pipe handrails to keep elementary
school kids from falling off the side. And I would lay on the cement
walkway with my legs up over the handrails pretending I was John [H.]
Glenn on the launch pad. I really did. And teachers would come out
and say, “Did you fall? Are you okay?” And I’d say,
“No, I’m just being John Glenn,” and they’d
walk away and say, “Oh, okay.”
That was 1962, I was 7 years old, and by the time I was 10, I was
committed to becoming an astronaut or, failing that, because I was
always above the height limit—no matter what the height limit
was at that time, I was always taller than the height limit—failing
that, I was going to become involved in the space business. Early
on, I was fascinated by physics, and I wanted to be a physicist. Then
I started out as a physics major in college and realized that’s
got an awful lot of really hard math in it, and I was not good at
the math, and I said, “Well, what else is there in the space
business?” Well, obviously life sciences, and I was always interested
in the life sciences as well, so that’s where I was able to
redirect my fairly hard science early years into the life sciences,
and was able to get a degree in biophysics from Ohio State [University,
Columbus], and then physiology and biophysics as my Ph.D. work from
the University of Kentucky [Lexington].
So when I became interested in spaceflight, the question is, when
did the clock start? I don’t know when that was. It was forever.
My wife says when I met her and we started talking about getting married
in the late ’90s, we talked about life after NASA and I said,
“No, there is no such thing as life after NASA.” Now in
my—I just turned 60 this year—I understand that there
is the possibility of life after NASA, but there will not be life
after spaceflight. When it comes time for me to leave NASA, I will
still be working in the space area, either consulting or explaining.
That’s why I’m so interested in the oral history project,
and in history in general, because it’s important to explain
to the broader public what it is we have done and what we can do.
And after that Ph.D., that’s when you came to NASA, as a postdoc.
Came as a postdoctoral fellow in 1983, partly inspired and partly
guided by Story Musgrave, a scientist-astronaut, who was a faculty
member at the University of Kentucky. That was before his first Shuttle
flight, but he had been hired as an astronaut in ’67. I think
I met him in early ’77, when I’d actually been accepted
to the University of Kentucky, and I made a trip from Ohio State down
the road to University of Kentucky for essentially one day because
he was lecturing the medical students, and I sat in on the lecture
and then had a few minutes with him afterwards, and then drove back
Then my time at the University of Kentucky was in the department of
physiology and biophysics, and my major advisor was Dan [Daniel R.]
Richardson, and Dave [David C.] Randall was on my committee; they
were both the cardiovascular guys. Richardson was more the peripheral,
the blood vessels guy, and Randall was more the heart kind of guy.
Cardiovascular discipline in a graduate school or a department always
has the heart guy and the plumbing guy; there’s always two of
them. And they were both on my committee.
My major work was next door from the medical center in a building
that is now demolished that was called the Wenner-Gren Research Lab.
That was a building run by the department of biomedical engineering,
and it had a large animal centrifuge, a 25-foot-radius centrifuge
that they were spinning dogs on, under Air Force contracts to understand
the effects of G-loading [force of gravity] with different onset and
offset rates, that would help inform protections for fighter pilots
doing aerial combat maneuvers.
This seemed like an obvious place for me to go, and my advisors immediately
understood that that was my major interest, was to work in the Wenner-Gren
lab doing cardiovascular work on the centrifuge. So that was always
understood to be my focus. When I got there, I was one of the first,
at that time, I think they were saying interdisciplinary students.
I was in the physiology department, but working with biomedical engineers.
So Charlie [Charles F.] Knapp, who was the director of that research
project, was sort of my de facto advisor. He was the guy whose research
lab I was working in. I thought that was a good preparation for coming
to NASA, because it gave me experience in something that was obviously
space-y, spaceflight-ish, and that would be the centrifuge, the G-loading.
It also gave me experience in large projects, because it was a large
piece of hardware with a large group of people often required for
the feeding and maintenance of it. Also gave me insight into the surgical
aspects, because we implanted probes inside of our dogs. I actually
assisted in the surgeries, I never did any of the surgeries. We had
an excellent surgical tech who was the second-best surgeon on campus,
the only better surgeon being his boss, who was a thoracic surgeon,
I think, at the medical center.
I had lots of experience, lots of exposure to every aspect of the
investigation on the implementation side, from selecting the animals
and implanting them, then I was responsible for their recovery post-op,
and then their exercise and conditioning, it was my job as well. Also,
planning the investigation from proposal all the way through final
product, collecting data, punching the data, analyzing the data, and
interpreting the data, and overseeing, or helping to oversee this
fairly large research group gave me a little bit of experience in
group management, which is important for an organization like NASA.
So, it was pretty much an ideal setting for me to get the experience
I thought would make me more attractive to NASA.
When I got my degree, I already had a postdoc lined up through the
National Research Council, NRC. It was an NRC-NASA postdoc, because
at that time NRC did postdocs with NASA. Came here and convinced Mike
[Michael M.] Bungo to let me work in his lab, in the cardiovascular
lab. So that was how I got my foot in the door.
Carolyn Leach Huntoon was instrumental in finding me. I was at one
of the Aerospace Medical Association meetings, I think, in 1980, and
it was in Houston, and I went to the registration desk, and I asked
if a certain NASA scientist had registered. They said no, he didn’t
register, he’s not coming. And he was the guy I was hoping to
talk to about coming here to JSC. But in a little clump of people
standing right next to that was Carolyn Huntoon, and she overheard
me. She said, “Well, he’s not coming, but maybe I can
help you.” And it turned out she was one of my protectors and
facilitators here at JSC for the rest of my career, and I still stay
in touch with her offline now, after she’s retired. We both
have property in Louisiana, so occasionally we talk about meeting
That’s pretty amazing, just from that one conversation.
It has always impressed me how many things happened in my life, and
I assume everybody else’s life, through accidents and spontaneous
interactions, which also makes me think that if everything seems to
happen that way, it’s really not that uncommon. I don’t
want to sound fatalistic or predeterministic, but it sounds like it’s
going to happen. If you don’t fall in love with that girl, well,
there’s probably another girl that’s just about the same,
and pretty nice, and you’d probably have a good life with her
as well. If you don’t make a comment that Carolyn overhears,
maybe somebody else will overhear it. The threads all seem to come
together in the same way, I think. It’s an interesting perspective
now that I’ve reached that point in my life where I have a chance
to look back over my own history and see what has happened and what
the odds might have been. It’s kind of interesting to see how
things always sort of come together.
It is. We talked before a little bit, briefly, the last time, about
those first years when you came here as a postdoc. Are there some
things that come to mind during that period between ’83 and
’85, of things you were working on, or any incidents, or any
anecdotes that you can think of that we haven’t talked about
Many. Many. The question is how many of them need to be immortalized
in black and white. You have to have a project when you come as a
postdoc, or at least at that time. And my project was to do a very
thorough assessment of cardiovascular reflex control in spaceflight,
in the presence of the changes that occur in weightlessness. The changes
that occur in weightlessness are due to the headward redistribution
of body fluids, I may have mentioned before, and we’re not on
video, but I always do this hand motion showing the fluid distribution
from the lower body to the upper part of the body. Then how those
changes are reflected in changes in the way the cardiovascular system
controls itself in that new environment.
I was especially interested in a fairly poorly understood set of reflexes
that changed how the veins—the large flimsy collection vessels
in the body, not the arteries, which are high-pressure and shunt the
blood from the heart into the periphery, but the veins—which
are sort of the rain spouts, the gutters that bring the fluid back
up to the heart. Turns out they were not just the flimsy polyethylene-like
bags that we always thought they were; they actually had muscles in
them, smooth muscle, and that smooth muscle was enervated, and there
was some reflex responsiveness in those, such that when they got distended
they would reflexly contract, and it was under some neural control.
Coming from the University of Kentucky under the partial tutelage
of Dave Randall, I was interested in neural control of the cardiovascular
system. And Dan Richardson was also interested in peripheral circulatory
control mediated by the nervous system. So it was an area that I was
as good at as anything I was doing at that time. So I wrote a proposal,
said I’d like to do lower body negative pressure on astronauts
and measure forearm blood flow, which was a nice vascular area, and
in fact it was not just the veins, but it was also the arteries. You
could actually measure the reflex response of the arteries, controlled
by the brain, in response to the shifting of fluid that occurs. And
wouldn’t it be cool to understand the stepwise de-adaptation
of the cardiovascular system in spaceflight and weightlessness by
reimposing this pretend gravity load of lower body negative pressure
and watching arterial response.
I’m putting my hand around my forearm, because that’s
where we used to put the strain gauge, a mercury in silastic tube
resistance gauge that would tell us how big the arm was or how small
the arm was. We’d also put a cuff above that, and by inflating
the cuff to a pressure just below blood pressure, you could get blood
flow into the arm but no blood flow out of the arm. Then by watching
the arm swell with the strain gauge, you could see how much flow was
coming into the arm, into the vascular bed, and that would tell you
what the blood flow is through those muscles, and that was an important
number. You get blood flow through these muscles, and these muscles,
and these muscles, and that’s where the blood goes when it comes
out of the heart. It’s interesting to see how much is going
through here, and then how the reflex changes over time are manifesting
I had this idea, and I used to draw cartoons of it, of a dude in an
LBNP [lower body negative pressure] device with a strain gauge around
his arm and the cuff on his forearm. That was my goal. I showed up
at NASA as a postdoc with Mike Bungo. Mike Bungo had joined NASA,
I think in 1980, three years before I did, and he was a big-time internal
medicine specialist, especially in cardiovascular problems. They had
brought him down here because they were trying to rejuvenate the cardiovascular
function. After Skylab, a lot of the expertise sort of drifted away,
because things didn’t seem to be happening for a few years.
So, the cardiovascular lab, which was fairly dynamic, really dynamic
in the Skylab era, got dissolved, and the floor space got apportioned
out to other laboratories.
They brought Bungo back to rejuvenate the cardiovascular function,
and I seemed to show up at the right time to be part of this growing
cardiovascular lab. Then the funny thing was, Bungo was specializing
in echocardiography, which was brand-new at that time. Portable, commercially
available ultrasound devices for imaging the heart were fairly new
in the early ’80s. Bungo arrived and bought an echo, and I arrived,
and we had, as I recall, two nurses and the cardiovascular lab was
wherever the echo was.
If we were doing preflight measurements on an astronaut, sometimes
we used the conference room; sometimes we had them lie on the conference
table for the recumbent part and then stand up and lean against the
wall. So we pioneered the development of what we called the orthostatic
stand test, just because there was no hardware required. You could
have somebody recumbent on a couch or recumbent on a cot or recumbent
on the floor or on a conference table and make some resting measurements,
then ask them to stand up and lean against the wall in a certain way
and get standing measurements, and that would be our standardized
test of astronauts or bed-rest subjects or anybody. Resting and then
standing was the difference, and that tells you how the cardiovascular
system responds to a standard G-load, a gravity load of 1-G, because
gravity’s the same all around the Earth, so you test astronauts
before they fly and then you test them after they fly, and you can
see by the difference how their cardiovascular system has decided
to modify its behavior, its function, in spaceflight.
That was a standard clinical test, heart rate and blood pressure;
blood pressure by a cuff, heart rate by ECG [electrocardiogram]. Bungo
wanted to add his echocardiography, because heart rate and blood pressure
just tell you that, yes, something has changed, and with the echocardiography
you can say, “And here’s what it is, the heart has changed
its function in this way and that way.”
I came along being more interested in the periphery than the central
circulation and said, “You know, if you just do blood pressures
during the ultrasound measurements, you get blood pressure, and by
looking at the heart you can calculate how much blood the heart is
pumping out each time, not just whether the walls are thicker and
whether the walls are moving correctly, but also how much stroke volume
we’re getting.” By multiplying that stroke volume by the
heart rate you can get cardiac output, and by the ratio of cardiac
output to blood pressure you can get peripheral resistance, the vascular
resistance of all the blood vessels in the body. So Bungo was a cardiac
guy and I was a peripheral guy, just like any good department of cardiovascular
That was the substantial effort for the first several years, from
’83 to ’85, was getting the ultrasound device—he
had identified the ultrasound device, we started doing pre- and post-flight
data collection, and then also Bungo was interested in flying it on
the Space Shuttle and getting in-flight data, and that’s where
a biomedical engineer named David [A.] Wolf showed up. Dave Wolf was
recruited about the same time I was, in sort of the run-up to becoming
an astronaut. He was a biomedical engineer, first with Wyle, which
at that time was called Tech Inc., and then later as a civil servant.
He was the engineer on the flight echo [echocardiogram] project; that
was our project.
So, for a while Bungo and Wolf and Charles were the cardiovascular
guys at the JSC cardiovascular lab, as we developed this echocardiography
capability. That echo flew in 1985, [M.] Rhea Seddon flew it the first
time on [STS-]51D, and it flew again on STS-32, and it flew on SLS-1
[Spacelab Life Sciences, STS-40] and -2 [STS-58] as the backup device
for the large echocardiograph. In fact it was used because the large
echocardiograph, I think, failed on SLS-2 and Dave Wolf was able to
use his brainchild in flight as the mission specialist on SLS-2 to
do the measurements that were needed for that mission. I’m not
sure where it is now; I hope it’s in the Smithsonian [Institution]
That was the early project, ’85 or so, when we got several flights
done. And in the mid-’80s, after the first few Shuttle flights
with a surprising incidence of motion sickness on some of those early
flights that actually led to changes in mission plans, the Space and
Life Sciences Directorate created the Space Biomedical Research Institute.
That was at the instigation of General [James A.] Abrahamson, who
at that time was the AA [Associate Administrator] for Space Flight
at [NASA] Headquarters [Washington, DC].
The goal was to solve the motion sickness problems, because they had
lots of hard work planned on these very short Shuttle flights, and
you couldn’t have half the crew being laid up for motion sickness
if there was important work to be done. They created the Space Biomedical
Research Institute, which focused all of the vestibular and neurosensory
work into an institute, which started out to be separate from the
Medical Sciences Division, but became the same thing after a few months
as being a separate entity, meaning that we had two parallel entities
within the same larger organization focused on medical research for
That quickly became untenable, and so the Space Biomedical Research
Institute got moved back inside the Medical Sciences Division as a
branch, and it was SD-5, that was the branch mail code. Eventually,
within a few months, Bungo was named Branch Chief for that institute,
and it just became a regular branch again. The point is, we had a
lot of attention on the medical aspects of Space Shuttle flights early
in the Space Shuttle era because of concerns that astronauts were
not going to be able to function effectively on these—especially
the DoD [Department of Defense] short-turnaround, high-workload missions.
So Bungo went off to be the Branch Chief, I inherited the cardiovascular
lab from him, and for the next eight or nine years, that was my domain.
We did pre- and post-flight testing of astronauts with the stand test.
We also developed what we call the cardiovascular lab in a pouch,
which was a blood pressure device which could record blood pressure
and electrocardiogram in a tape recorder that could record the data,
and a set of accelerometers that could sense G-load and posture. And
when [Space Shuttle] Challenger [STS-51L] happened and after the Challenger
accident, people started wearing spacesuits, my first concern was
how am I going to get my data onto this recorder from people wearing
a spacesuit, if my recorder is outside the spacesuit? And they won’t
let me put it inside the spacesuit, because the spacesuit’s
a pure oxygen environment; who wants to have a spark source inside
of a pure oxygen environment?
Several of us investigators made enough noise that NASA actually modified
the suit with something that we called the “hole in the suit.”
It was a little fitting on the right thigh that was inside of a pocket
that had a watertight seal, a watertight removable plug in it, and
you could pull that plug out, modify that plug, and run your hardware,
electronics, and pneumatics through that. You could have body-worn
instrumentation inside the suit on the astronaut, and then bring the
signals out and send them to a recorder in a pocket on the outside
of the suit.
In the post-Challenger era, that enabled a lot of our research, including
a DSO, a detailed supplementary objective, that I was responsible
for that was looking at the cardiovascular responses to the first
episode of orthostasis, of standing upright after spaceflight. Astronauts
landed in chairs upright, just like we do on airplanes now, and Sonny
[Manley L.] Carter had made the point earlier on that the hardest
thing he had to do on his first Shuttle mission was to stand up after
landing, because after even three or four days of weightlessness,
you become accustomed to being weightless, and standing up is hard
That was important because everything in the Shuttle Program had to
be operationally oriented, and we decided that, as far as the cardiovascular
and neuromuscular and neurosensory concerns were focused, it was an
issue of post-flight emergency egress. When the Shuttle lands, it
may land at KSC [NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida] with helpful
ground staff just waiting to get you out, or it may land in a prepared
strip someplace in Africa or Asia or in the Pacific, in which case
you may not have people standing by that know how to get you out.
If there’s a problem that made you land at a different landing
site than you expected, you’ve probably got problems with the
vehicle, and if there’s problems with the vehicle, you probably
want to get away from the vehicle as quickly as possible. How quickly,
then, could deconditioned astronauts be expected to unbuckle themselves,
stand up for the first time after three days or two weeks of weightlessness,
ambulate to the side hatch, climb out the side hatch, and run upwind
200 yards from a potentially burning, exploding Space Shuttle?
That became the focus of our research. All the work in our Biomedical
Research Branch was focused on emergency egress, and that gave us
permission to study just about everything we wanted to study anyhow,
because it all focused down to what happens, what is the condition
of the astronaut at landing, and how did that astronaut get into that
condition from whatever the baseline state was before flight. So we
did a lot of work, like I say, on this reentry monitoring using the
instrumentation that we brought out through this hole in the suit
to measure the cardiovascular changes immediately after landing, as
well as the responses to the environment during reentry and landing.
We also did work on fluid loading countermeasures; it was a continuation
of the work that Mike Bungo and Phil [Philip] Johnson had done early
in the Shuttle era. That was to replenish some of the lost fluid volume
with just a simple expedient of salt tablets and water, to show that
we could restore some of the cardiovascular function immediately after
landing by just fluid loading before reentry. I also was able to do
some lower body negative pressure work in space.
It turned out that Phil Johnson had proposed a test of the lower body
negative pressure countermeasure, that is LBNP, lower body negative
pressure, plus fluid loading, as a demonstration of a countermeasure
that would restore astronauts’ cardiovascular function to some
degree immediately post-flight. The fluid loading countermeasure we
did was the fluid loading part of that without the LBNP part, because
the LBNP part was too cumbersome to do on routine missions, and we
could get an early start with a fluid load. So, we did the fluid load
starting on STS-4, I think, was the first flight. It ran for another
year or so as an experimental project, and then became operational.
The second part of that was the addition of the lower body negative
pressure, and the idea there is to restore the fluid volume distribution
in the body using this lower body negative pressure. And I haven’t
described LBNP, I think, yet. LBNP is a technique whereby one forms
an airtight seal at about the top of the hipbone and decompresses
by only about 1 PSI, 1 pound per square inch, in an enclosed chamber
that encloses the lower body. Now, 1 PSI—if we have sea-level
atmosphere, we have 14.7 PSI, so you’re just taking off one-fifteenth
of the atmospheric pressure.
People say you pull a vacuum in this chamber. No, you don’t
come anywhere near a vacuum, you just pull a little bit of delta pressure,
and that’s enough for the pressure around the upper body to
squeeze the fluid into the lower body, as if the body was standing
upright at 1-G. So by having 1 pound per square inch pressure difference,
we can have a fluid redistribution that approximates that in a person
who goes from recumbent to standing upright. So again, the 1-G stand
test. We’d been doing the 1-G stand test for operational purposes,
and now we had a chance to do it actually in zero-G to assess the
Phil Johnson’s investigation was to demonstrate the usefulness
of this countermeasure by doing it in flight; that is, the fluid loading
during lower body negative pressure to try and restore the fluid volume,
and doing it in flight, and then potentially delivering an operational
countermeasure to the Shuttle Program for use on the Shuttle or on
the Space Station, if people wanted to use it. I think he died in
1987, and I inherited that investigation. I became the PI [Principal
Investigator] for that, and that was my major flight investigation
for the remainder of my scientific career.
We were able to fly at LBNP with that countermeasure on several Shuttle
missions, starting with STS-32 in 1990, and going all the way up through
STS-73, USML-2 [U.S. Microgravity Laboratory], the last one that flew
it. It was actually flown only as ballast on that flight, because
by that time Headquarters had rethought an approach, and even though
we got the hardware on that mission—the last of, I think, a
dozen missions—had the hardware on that mission, had the crew
trained, had baseline data collection, then our friends at Headquarters
decided we weren’t going to do that investigation on that flight.
I was sort of uninvited from that flight, and the hardware flew as
ballast, like I like to say; it was in a locker, but nobody took it
out. That was one of the last flights of the lower body negative pressure
The last flight we actually did it on was IML-2 [International Microgravity
Laboratory 2], that was Rick [Richard J.] Hieb and Chiaki Mukai. That
was ironic, because Chiaki Mukai had worked in the cardiovascular
lab. After she was selected as a Japanese astronaut, but before they
started flying Japanese astronauts, she was in my laboratory, and
so she was involved in testing and using LBNP, and I thought it was
a very nice little capability for her to be using, being the test
subject for LBNP on the STS-65, which was IML-2, the second of the
International Microgravity Laboratory missions. And then, like I say,
we had one more flight after that that it actually didn’t get
turned on during.
At that time I was doing cardiovascular studies, understanding the
effects of spaceflight and the spaceflight environment on the cardiovascular
system. We were also gearing up for the [International Space Station]
Phase One Program [Shuttle-Mir] that I think I discussed with you
previously, that is the Norm [Norman E.] Thagard flight on the Mir
[space] station. And as these always happen, the decision was made
to fly for medical purposes, without actually spelling out what those
medical purposes were. The agreement was made at high level to fly
an American astronaut on the Mir station to acquire data, and then
once that agreement was signed, the managers turned to the rest of
us and said, “Great. What data are we going to collect on this
important life sciences mission?”
All we had were the investigations we were routinely doing on the
Space Shuttle. Mine included reentry monitoring and lower body negative
pressure, and both of those got added to the manifest for Norm Thagard’s
flight. The last time I actually was involved with any LBNP in the
1990s was Thagard’s flight using the Chibis device, the Russian
lower body negative pressure device called Chibis, on the Mir station,
and then my own device in the Spacelab module of the Space Shuttle
that docked with the Mir station to bring the crew members home. We
had a week of post-Mir data collection while the Shuttle was docked,
and we used the facilities of the American Spacelab module to acquire
ground truth, validated data to compare with the Mir data, and also
to compare with previous Space Shuttle data. Then Thagard and the
other two, I think, wore the reentry monitoring hardware during reentry
and landing of the Shuttle, so that was a dataset we acquired then
At that point, I was promoted to management. The reason I was promoted
to management was because I had written a proposal for continuation
of my lower body negative pressure work, and it was not reviewed well
by the peer review panel, so I did not pass peer review. I’m
not saying it was a wonderful proposal, but I am saying that Headquarters,
Life Sciences, had told the peer review panel to look for new things
to be doing in space and not the same old thing. So, I came in with
a proposal that talked about all the previous flights that we had
done, all the data we acquired, and all the work I wanted to continue
doing, and it was not very hard for the peer review panel to say,
“This looks like the same old thing. Let’s not select
it, let’s select something new.” There’s a whole
other interview we can do sometime with the guidance that Headquarters
or Life Sciences managers like me, now, give peer review panels about
what to select and what not to select.
I will tell you that during the stand-up of the Human Research Program,
we spent a lot of time deciding what kind of guidance we were going
to give the peer review panels, which really depended on what kind
of program we wanted to have. Did we want to build on existing infrastructures
and make progress? Or were we looking for the next new thing, disparagingly
you might say the next shiny object, the next new topic, that would
perhaps give new insights but not really lead to any near-term products.
There’s a whole different interview we can schedule for the
On that lower body negative pressure unit, just out of my curiosity,
I know I’ve heard of it, other people have talked about it,
but when they’re in space and they put that on, how long does
it take to actually pull that fluid back? And then how long does that
effect last? Obviously, when they take it off, they’re going
to go back to the fluid shifts, so how effective was it, or by you
not getting to go further with those studies, what do you think you
haven’t found out about it?
Well, actually, I don’t feel too bad about it. I’m not
happy with the way it ended, but I think the project itself demonstrated
the value of lower body negative pressure in that context. And how
long it lasts, I can tell you how long the effect of the treatment,
that is the combined fluid loading during LBNP, lasted. It lasted
about 24 hours. My goal was 48 hours, because, as you recall, the
Shuttle was really good at not landing on time, so if you had the
entire crew lined up to do this four-hour treatment—it’s
a four-hour treatment—seven people on board, only one LBNP means—it’s
easy to do the math—that’s 28 hours of treatment sequentially.
If you put two LBNPs on board, it’s still 14 hours of crew time
taken up, so it’s a huge, huge overhead, and you can’t
do it on the day of landing. You can’t do it right up until
reentry. You have to do it the day before landing, so right away there’s
a 24-hour dead space there that the effect starts going away. If it’s
not good for at least 24 hours, it’s not good. Because the Shuttle,
like I say, was real good at not landing on time, it had to be good
for probably 48 hours, because we routinely waived off for at least
24 hours. It is inconceivable that any manager would say, “Now
we’re going to waive off for 24 hours, break the LBNP out again,
and we’ll run everybody else through it again in the last 24
hours before we really try to land again.” So, it really needed
to be good for 48 hours. We showed it’s good for 24, and we
showed it’s not good for 48; the effect goes away.
Now, we got a lot of benefit from doing this, I mean a lot of insights
into the cardiovascular system, we got a lot of data on early changes
in the cardiovascular system, and we also showed that this is not
a useful, an effective countermeasure for that problem, for the problem
of orthostatic intolerance. It’s not effective in a couple of
regards. Number one, unless you land exactly on time, the effect is
sort of dissipated. Number two, the problem’s not that big.
Orthostatic intolerance post-flight turns out to be more of a nuisance
than a catastrophe. If you land in your Space Shuttle sitting upright,
or if you land in your Apollo capsule lying on your back, or your
Soyuz capsule lying on your back, you’re already protected from
orthostatic intolerance. The only time you have orthostatic intolerance
problems is when you stand up.
The way that we made astronauts orthostatically intolerant is to ask
them to stand quietly for 10 minutes and see how long it took them
before they fainted. You will never stand quietly for 10 minutes unless
some physiologist is asking you to stand quietly for 10 minutes. As
soon as you stand up, you’re moving; your legs are pumping,
your muscles are pumping, your veins are being squeezed, you’re
moving around. That is also a good thing to do if you’re feeling
lightheaded. Some people, a small number of astronauts, fainted even
despite that, but the vast majority only fainted when we made them
stand still so they could faint.
Like I say, it was a problem that was a nuisance more than a catastrophe.
The overhead was tremendous. The astronauts said, essentially, we’d
rather have the disease than the cure. And I said of course, I understand.
The Russians, incidentally, do the same kind of treatment on their
astronauts, even now on the Space Station, before reentry and landing.
They do about a four-hour block of treatment in their Chibis device,
which is a lower body negative pressure device. They also do fluid
loading. They also do a little bit of exercise in it. But they don’t
do four hours the day before landing; they chop it up to about a month’s
worth of time that adds up to four hours, as sort of a gradual reconditioning
in preparation for reentry and landing. The Americans do not do that
on the Space Station. I poisoned the well for LBNP so much that the
flight surgeons and the astronauts said not only no, but hell no,
we’re not going to do the LBNP thing that the Russians are doing.
In fact we have 15 years of a very nice controlled experiment of the
Americans not doing it and the Russians doing it, and there’s
not that much difference, as far as I know. I haven’t really
looked at the numbers, but my qualitative informal sense is that the
treatment they’re doing is really not making that big a difference.
What about for long duration, if you’re going to be up there
like they are now, six months or a year? Is there any benefit of doing
it periodically while you’re there? Or is having that fluid
shift for six months at a time or a year at a time—I know that’s
part of what you’re studying, everyone’s trying to figure
out how is that going to affect them, and we talked about some of
those risks and things before for long duration. Is that LBNP useful,
or the Russian version of it useful for just moving things back where
they’re supposed to be for a while on the long duration?
My guess is the answer to that is no, for the reason you say. As soon
as you turn it off, the fluid goes back where it was. So unless you’re
wearing the LBNP device, and the Russian device is like a pair of
pants, like in the Wallace and Gromit movie, “The Wrong Trousers,”
it looks just like that. They built them originally in the 1970s to
be worn continuously, and they built them with legs so you could walk
on the treadmill while you were wearing them. The idea was to restore
cardiovascular function, exercise, and fluid distribution. Of course
they are so cumbersome that you can’t walk on a treadmill, but
they do do squats and knee bends while they’re wearing them.
But I think the important answer is that the effect is fairly transient.
As soon as you turn the LBNP off, the fluid goes back to where it
was before. Even if you do it for an hour a day, every single day,
that’s 23 hours a day that you’re not doing it. If you
only do it at the end of the mission, well, that’s six months
that you didn’t do it, and then you do it for four hours at
the end of the mission. That’s really probably not going to
be enough to make a structural change in the cardiovascular system.
I think I told you last time, we are using the Chibis device, the
Russian lower body negative pressure device, to acutely, briefly reverse
the fluid shift and make measurements of the eyeballs, the ocular
changes, because the headward fluid shift, which is every day, all
day, 24 hours a day for six months, may be the cause, or at least
implicated, in this ocular manifestation that we see, these ocular
changes that occur in astronauts. Everybody assumes it’s fluid
shift. Here’s this technique for reversing the fluid shift.
Wouldn’t it be a good idea to see if the fluid shift really
is implicated in this change? So, we’re acquiring data on Scott
[J.] Kelly and Mikhail Korniyenko on this [one-year] mission, right
now, to test that hypothesis. The first data take was in the first
week in June. I haven’t seen the data yet, but I’m hopeful
we’ll get an answer from that. It may be that LBNP or the Chibis
device, or some variant of lower body negative pressure, at least
demonstrates whether the fluid shift is implicated in this clinical
syndrome or is not implicated in it.
Now, there are other ways to shift fluids, though, and the obvious
one is artificial gravity. Build a rotating spaceship, spin it, and
that way the acceleration, the pseudo-gravity, causes the fluid to
go back in the lower part of the body and may reverse or prevent these
changes from occurring. All you’ve got to do is build a large
centrifuge on a spacecraft, that’s all. It turns out that’s
really hard to do, but it’s not as hard as we’ve been
told it is to do. It may be that, in fact, the Human Research Program
right now has an effort to understand the actual implications of building
a rotating spacecraft or a large centrifuge on future spacecraft,
so we can actually decide whether it’s a good idea to have artificial
gravity for not just the fluid shift and the ocular manifestations,
but for muscular conditioning and for activities of daily living,
and all the things that are better in gravity than in the absence
of gravity. So, that’s a possibility.
I also fantasize about LBNP as a transition to artificial gravity.
If we could build LBNP devices that included exercise devices inside
of them, we could get some of the benefits of occasional lower body
negative pressure during exercise. I also think, it turns out that
LBNP is a better restraint system, just functionally as a restraint
system, than putting shoulder harnesses on somebody and cinching them
down onto a treadmill. When you cinch somebody down with bungee cords
and a football player shoulder pad-like device, you’re putting
all of the force on their shoulders. When you stand up, the force
that’s holding you on the ground is distributed over your entire
body, not on two square inches on top of your shoulders, or if you
put a hip harness on and you distribute the weight between the two
shoulders and the two hips. Either way, astronauts have a tough time
loading themselves at more than 70 percent of their body weight onto
If we run on the ground at 1-G, but you’re running on a treadmill
in weightlessness at 0.7 G, and you’re not doing anything else
under any kind of G in spaceflight, you can’t expect the treadmill
to be an effective treatment, as effective as whatever effect is you
get on the ground. But with something like a lower body negative pressure
device, you put a reasonably tight waist seal on, and that means that
the person is being loaded onto the treadmill by the entire upper
body surface area. That force is not focused shoulders and hips, it’s
distributed over the entire surface area, and you can actually get
over 1-G of loading onto a treadmill. It’s been shown in laboratory
studies. Alan [R.] Hargens out in California has done that work under
a NASA grant, and we know that’s possible.
It’s very complex, it’s not a matter of floating into
the module, putting the bungees on, and starting running on the treadmill.
You’ve got to put on this LBNP waist seal, make sure it seals
around the exercise device, turn the pump on so you can decompress
that chamber by one pound per square inch. It’s a very complex,
tedious piece of equipment, but it’s a whole lot more simple
than building a rotating spacecraft. But, it’s a whole lot more
complex than not building a rotating spacecraft and just using an
exercise device with a bungee cord.
We are in the midst of having that debate. How much do we need artificial
gravity? Do we need it enough to build a rotating spacecraft? Do we
need it not at all, because the treadmill and the other devices we
have are adequate? Or, do we need it a little bit, and is that little
bit enough to justify this piece of hardware that’s more complex
than a regular treadmill but less complex than a rotating spacecraft?
We’re in the midst of that debate; there’s no answer yet.
So, stay tuned. That’ll be my fifth or sixth interview.
I was reading, too, about someone who was working on a gravity chair
Same idea, I think. It’s a short-radius centrifuge that’s
inside of a module, and you put somebody in it on a bicycle or on
a chair or something and spin them, perhaps at 2-Gs, perhaps for an
hour a day. And there are those that say 2-Gs for an hour a day is
like 1-G for 24 hours a day, or something.
I should also say, for the record, that there are no data one way
or the other on that point. There’s no answer right now to the
question of how much G is enough. When people say half a G is half
as good as 1-G, the answer may be no, or it may be it’s better
than 1-G. Nobody knows, because we have data at zero-G and we have
data at 1-G, but we don’t have any data in between. As soon
as I say zero-G and-1-G, a scientist is going to say, “Yeah,
and what’s the curve like that connects those two points?”
And the answer is, it’s whatever you want it to be, because
right now there are no data that tell you what that curve looks like.
So it may be that 0.1-G, through some miracle of nature, is as effective
at whatever you’re looking for as 1-G, and all you’ve
got to do is build a short centrifuge and generate one-tenth of a
G. Or it may be that Mother Nature is perverse and says you have to
be at 0.9-G before you have the effect of 1-G. Or it may be that 0.5-G
really is half as good as 1-G. Nobody knows. It can be any curve you
want it to be, because right now nobody knows.
That’s one of the purposes of the work that we’re talking
about doing, and that others are actually doing on the Space Station
right now, with short centrifuges that fit inside of a rack and that
can accommodate cells or plants or mice, so we can start getting some
data, any data on fractional G levels to understand the fractional
benefits of gravity, of an acceleration like gravity, on the changes
that occur in spaceflight. So, stay tuned. Nobody knows. Nobody, literally
nobody knows yet. Anybody that says they know today is kidding, because
But it’s exciting.
It’s very exciting. And don’t forget the first module
descoped from the Space Station was for artificial gravity, the Centrifuge
Accommodation Module. That would’ve answered this question.
It was descoped to save money and to save the cost of the Shuttle
launch that would’ve launched that module. We could’ve
had the answer by now, but we don’t.
Another problem of spaceflight is space adaptation sickness, where
they have nausea. One of the things you worked on after Shuttle-Mir,
since we’ve talked about Shuttle-Mir quite a bit, you became
the chief scientist for STS-95 and John [H.] Glenn’s flight.
I know in those early flights the idea was that most of these astronauts
didn’t have that problem as much because they didn’t move
around as much. That was one of the things that, with John Glenn flying
again, was going to be interesting to find out, if he had the same
problem that a lot of other astronauts did—and some astronauts
get it and some don’t, in those studies. If you would, talk
about that flight and when you first were assigned to it, and what
you were looking for and what your duties were as far as being the
Yes. As I said earlier, I was inspired to get into the space business
by John Glenn, or at least that’s how I recall it, and that
was the first orbital flight. Of course in the ’60s, I was still
in elementary school, and we would go to school in the morning and
come back in the afternoon. Usually, in those days, the flights took
place during the time I was at school, so I really didn’t get
a chance to follow, and I don’t recall us having enlightened
school administrations that let us get out of class and listen on
transistor radios to the launches. So, I didn’t really know
much about it, but I read about it as much as I could after the fact
in magazines and newspapers. John Glenn obviously was an inspiration
for people of my generation, and I was very excited to see him come
to fly again.
I will tell you that my recollection is, when it was bandied about
as a possibility I thought, well, that’s a stunt, and clearly
it is a stunt. He apparently was removed from the flight rotation
for probably very good reasons after his Mercury flight; he was a
national figure and nobody wanted to risk him again. Besides, their
flights were already booked, there wasn’t any empty seats for
him to fill. Then he injured himself in ’64 in a bathroom fall,
when he hit his head on the sink in the bathroom and actually injured
his organs of balance. He probably was not flight qualified after
that, then he moved on to the other sphere of business and then politics.
Over the ensuing 30 years, the standards for spaceflight were relaxed
enough that we could entertain flying people like him. I personally
thought it was a stunt to fly him; I also personally thought it was
a good thing to do. I thought the man deserves a victory lap, he’s
done a lot for us, he’s done a lot to inspire us, and if we’re
flying schoolteachers on the Space Shuttle, why not fly him?
He thought so too. He thought it was a good idea to fly him, and apparently
he lobbied every [NASA] Administrator from Jim [James E.] Webb on
forward on flying him again. I remember in 1972, reading a quote in
Newsweek or someplace that said he was looking for a way to fly on
an Apollo mission, and of course that was not going to happen. There
were no extra seats on the Apollo missions. Dan [Daniel S.] Goldin
finally succumbed to him, for whatever reason, and Dan Goldin, I think,
is on record as saying that John Glenn is the most persistent man
he’s ever met. He finally brought Goldin a proposal that justified
flying, oh, let’s say some septuagenarian astronaut on the Space
Shuttle as a way of testing the hypothesis that the changes that occur
in normal aging are the same as the changes that occur acutely in
spaceflight, briefly in spaceflight, between launch and the first
few days in weightlessness. The hypothesis being that somebody who’s
already successfully aged probably wouldn’t go through those
changes, because he will already have changed.
I think it’s good that Glenn came up with a hypothesis that
makes it sound scientific, but once again, as I said before, the decision
was made. Dan Goldin actually was on record as saying that he had
the idea peer reviewed, so it wasn’t just his whim and it wasn’t
just Glenn’s fantasy: there’s actually scientific justification
to it. But, I’m not sure what that means in Goldin’s mind.
I haven’t tracked down what that peer review is, and that was
my job for a while, to understand how these things are peer reviewed.
I think he went to probably, appropriately, an august body of senior
researchers and said, “What do you think about this?”
And they said, “Yeah, it probably has some value to it.”
And Goldin said, “Great, peer review. Done.”
As I said, once again, the political decision was made and then the
managers turned around to the scientists and said, “This guy’s
going to fly on the Shuttle. What should we do with him?”
And of course we had our set of investigations that we were doing
on routine Shuttle missions, and so the answer was, “Well, if
we want to compare him to younger people that are flying on the Shuttle,
we should do the same tests on him as we’re doing to the younger
people that are flying on the Shuttle.” And that’s a full
manifest of investigations.
So, he did volunteer, enthusiastically, for everything that we threw
at him, literally. John Glenn is, to my knowledge, the only spaceflight
crew member who has ever complained bitterly when investigations were
removed from his manifest instead of added to his manifest, because
he wanted to make sure that there was no hint of this being a junket
or a victory lap or a joy ride. He wanted a full schedule of things
to do. I’m just not recalling now all the details, but I don’t
think he was any more motion sick than anybody else. I think the bottom
line was that he was as “successful” in adapting to spaceflight
as anybody else had been, which means there was nothing intrinsic
in being 70-plus years old that would disqualify you from flying in
space, if the purpose was to fly in space and adapt as well as anybody
else and be able to do whatever else anybody else did in space.
In that sense it was a success, it was what we call an n=1 scientific
study, which isn’t widely regarded as rigorous, but you can
write case reports of small sample studies, and this is an example
of that. At that time, we were able to put together a set of investigations
that demonstrated this, and he flew and successfully did them, and
I think he got his victory lap. The story I heard after that is, Annie
Glenn told him, “Never again. This is your second and final
spaceflight.” And I think he was happy with that.
What was it like meeting him after you had fantasized about being
John Glenn when you were six and seven years old?
He is probably one of the nicest men in America. Very, very nice,
and I have a few specific—obviously I talked with him during
training. I was not, at that time, doing the science, I was more facilitating
the science, so I was a fly on the wall, I was sitting behind, and
I was making introductions. But, he got to know me, and it was a real
rush, a real thrill to be called to the phone because John Glenn wanted
to talk to me. I recall at one point in the post-flight period, when
he came back to the cardiovascular lab and was being debriefed on
his results, he kept saying, “I’ve got to go, I’ve
got to go. Anybody else need an autograph?” We did group pictures
and autographs for everybody, and he’d say, “Oh, I’ve
got someplace else to be. Anybody else need an autograph?”
He was just that connected, that in touch, and you know he’d
been—at that time, that was the late ’90s, 1998, and he
flew first in ’62, so there’s 36 years in between there.
Every single day, people wanted a piece of him. People wanted his
autograph, his picture, they wanted to tell him their great investment
idea, everything. I’m not sure what he was like in the early
years, but by the time I finally met up with him, he was the most
congenial, involved, interested guy I can imagine in that situation.
I would have thrown my hands up decades before he did, but he was
very engaged with making sure people got what they needed from him
and had a good experience. That’s my positive recollection of
I think most people’s recollections are very positive.
Was there a lot of media during that that you had to deal with? Because
there was a lot of media about him flying again. As the mission scientist,
since that was the whole purpose of him flying, did you have to deal
with a lot of media?
I don’t recall it as well as I recall the Mir stuff, and the
[STS-]107 [Columbia accident] stuff, but yes, there was a lot of media
attention at that time. I don’t recall if we did daily news
briefings or just periodic ones; the mission was a week long. There
was a lot of run-up to the beginning, and then there was a post-flight
session afterwards when we actually all convened at the National Institutes
of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and went through all the results
publicly with all the scientists from NIH [National Institutes of
Health] and John and Annie Glenn, just for fun.
Getting back to John and Annie, I was just engaged at that time to
my current wife, and I said, “Would you like to go to this big
event we’re having in Bethesda and meet John Glenn and be part
And she said, “Yes, I would.” So we flew in to DC and
we went to Headquarters, and we rode the van with Dave [Dafydd R.]
Williams, and I’ve forgotten now who the division chief was
at that time, but we were driving from Headquarters up to Bethesda
in a NASA van. Somebody was driving, and it was snowing, because this
was November. This must have been November of ’99. My wife and
I were not yet married, so we were only fiancées at that time,
and we walked into the auditorium, the program was already in progress,
and I think John Glenn was on the stage, and there were some empty
seats in the front row they had saved for the big shots and me and
my wife. They were scattered in the first few rows, so I told my wife
to sit in the front row and I would sit in the second row, and I sat
next to Annie Glenn, who is the sweetest, most wonderful person.
I said, “Hi, Annie, you don’t remember me, I’m John.
I worked with your husband.”
And she says, “Oh yes, I know.”
And there came a break as they were changing something, sort of an
intermission, and I said, “Annie, I’d like you to meet
my fiancée, Kathy, who’s sitting in the row in front
Annie said, “Oh, oh, we should change seats. I’m sure
you want to sit next to her.”
Kathy said, “Annie, believe me, he’d rather sit next to
you than he would to me.” That was a nice little bonding moment.
I have not spoken to Annie since then. That was 1999. But, I will
always feel that sort of connection. I will always imagine that she
feels that connection to me, although I’m sure in the last almost
20 years she’s met other people and felt nice about them too.
That’s a nice memory to have. Let’s talk about what you
did after that. Were you assigned to the 107 flight, or were you working
on that relatively quickly after that?
It was pretty close after that. I think there was some interest in
doing—let’s see, that was STS-95, and that was in the
’98 time frame.
But, 107 was scheduled for 2000, and there was a lot of delays with
I think right about then we started gearing up for 107. It was supposed
to be a placeholder because the Space Station was not as fast coming
online as we had hoped, and the research on the Station that was going
to justify the Station’s existence had not started appearing.
There was the interest in doing some, we called them gap-filler Shuttle
missions, and 107 was really the only one of the type. There were
several planned. I think we decided that that was R-1, Research-1,
which I retroactively specified John Glenn’s mission as being
R-0, and nobody else really liked that idea too much. But, there was
actually talk of another post-Columbia kind of mission using the SPACELAB
modules; that would’ve been R-2. For a while we were planning
R-1 and R-2.
That started gearing up at about that same time, and because I didn’t
have anything else I was doing full time, I was the liaison between
Life Sciences and the Mars planning people, but my primary work was
as a mission scientist for the Shuttle missions. I got involved with
the group that was starting to make those plans. There was a commitment
to make the mission fly, and that commitment was based on the fact
that we had a set of investigations that would have justified flying
it. It was not just life sciences work, there was a lot of backlog
of Space Station work in flame physics and crystal growth and actually
Earth sciences related to packing of materials in weightlessness,
as well as biological research. So, we had a full complement of investigations
we could do on this mission.
I was asked, and I’m not sure how the decision was made, because
I was obviously a life sciences guy, but I was asked to be the chief
scientist for all the NASA investigations on 107.
In a previous interview, you said you were Code U mission scientist.
I was the Code U mission scientist.
What did you mean by that?
Code U was a mail code at Headquarters. That was the office of whatever
it was called, [Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications].
Joan Vernikos had been the [director]. Code U was our mail code at
Headquarters, and it’s one of those wonderfully obscure mail
codes. We all talk in mail codes; everybody on the inside knows what
we mean. But, strictly speaking, I was the NASA mission scientist.
I say that because up to 20 percent of the payload was commercial,
was non-NASA. SPACEHAB, the company, now defunct, built the SPACEHAB
modules to fit in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle. It actually
originally designed them to be tourist modules, but after Challenger,
it was obvious there was not going to be any tourists on the Space
Shuttle. So, they came to NASA and offered them as an alternative
to the Spacelab modules.
These SPACEHAB modules were available for logistics, and this was
the first research mission using the Research Double Module, the RDM
configuration. The back end was a standard SPACEHAB module used for
general purposes like logistics, but the front end of the module was
a two-module connection that was outfitted for science, in the sense
of it had more outlets, more data connections, more fixtures for putting
racks in place and things like that. This was the first of the research
missions that was going to keep the scientific community engaged while
we were preparing the Space Station.
The plan was then for me to be the code U mission scientist, the NASA
mission scientist on SPACEHAB, and in exchange for delivery of this
module, got the right to sell access to this module commercially,
to the fullest extent they could, to make their money back, essentially.
To try and kick start commercial activity in spaceflight, commercial
research and activities.
Was that the first time that it happened?
That was one of the first times. I don’t want to say it’s
the first time, but it was the first time it was a big effort, as
I recall. Obviously SPACEHAB was assigned a responsibility for managing
the research mission because it was their module, and they got priority
in populating, that is, manifesting that mission, because that was
the deal, to make money at it. It was understood that NASA would also
have access. SPACEHAB was able to sell lockers up to about 20 percent,
as I recall, of the module’s capacity. And I like to say that
we had lower priority in crew time and in resources and things like
that, because we were not this high-priority commercial stuff. We
were the bottom 80 percent.
This mission was largely NASA-funded, because SPACEHAB, as I understood
it, couldn’t really fill the module. Maybe that was the plan
all along, but we were really second-tier citizens on this mission.
Anything we needed had to be weighed against the commercial priorities,
and we sort of along the way became the de facto mission scientists,
because SPACEHAB was really good at building hardware, they were moderately
good at selling lockers. They had no inclination whatsoever for mission
management, except for “here’s the day the thing’s
going to launch, here’s the things that are going to be on board,”
and whatever happens after that was really not important to them.
Of course that’s the part that’s the most important to
us in the life sciences and the research business. I became the de
facto mission scientist, we became the de facto mission management
organization, and at that time it’s very clear that NASA was
contracting with SPACEHAB to manage the mission. We also stood up
a shadow mission management organization to actually manage the mission,
because SPACEHAB was up and out, and we were down and in.
After a while, the commercial guys, the commercial payloads, would
look around and say, “Who’s the science manager? Oh, John
is.” They would call me up and say, “Look, I’m having
problems with crew time,” or whatever. “Can you help me
I’d say, “I don’t really work with you, but yeah,
let me see what I can do.” It was a de facto kind of thing.
I learned an awful lot about mission management watching LeLe Newkirk,
Kathryn [E.] Newkirk, who was the mission manager for that, and also
watching how this commercial entity manifested its missions and worked
My take-away lesson learned from that was that SPACEHAB was interested
in filling lockers, but not really with facilitating the research
on the mission. There could have been two very similar investigations
in two adjacent lockers, and SPACEHAB did not really think it was
important to tell them about each other. There might have been a synergy
possible; maybe this one was measuring something that this one would
be interested in, and vice versa. If they found out about it, SPACEHAB
would not have been mad, but SPACEHAB was not configured to tell them
about each other. They didn’t have working group meetings. It
was like, you’re a passenger in an airplane, you put your luggage
in that compartment; I’m a passenger, I put my luggage in that
compartment, and that’s all there is, we’re putting things
inside of lockers.
My job became really one of synergizing, of facilitating connections
between corresponding payloads. If any were identified on the SPACEHAB
side that were synergistic with any on the NASA side, I tried to make
those connections. I tried to make connections between the NASA payloads
that I was responsible for. I give great credit to all the NASA scientists
and the NASA project managers and project engineers on the NASA side
who didn’t know me from Adam and didn’t know why a life
scientist was in charge of representing all of these physical sciences
I tried very hard to be conciliatory and supportive, and learn about
their investigations. I also asked all the NASA organizations—who
were used to managing their own missions, but in this case were assigned
to be part of my big group—I asked them how they wanted to be
interfaced with. I was used to a fairly traditional management structure
where there’s a “program,” which would be like,
in this case, the Life Sciences Program, represented by the mission
management team, and then below that there are “projects,”
and there’s a project manager, and then below that were the
investigations, each with a Principal Investigator—and LeLe
was the mission manager and I was the mission scientist.
We grouped the investigations in disciplines. In the life sciences
we had, say, the metabolic discipline and the other disciplines that
included investigations, that is, specific experiments. I turned around
and went to the physical sciences guys and said, “Here’s
how we’re organized, and I would like to do the same with you.
How would you like to organize yourself?”
And they said, “Well, no, we’re all projects. We’re
all standalone projects.” In my mind, a standalone project included
several investigations, but as far as they were concerned, this investigation
was its own project, equal to our project of many investigations.
There were several of those standalone projects, because [NASA] Glenn
Research Center [Cleveland, Ohio], at that time it was still Lewis
[Research Center], had a couple, flammability and the packing of the
granular materials, and [NASA] Ames [Research Center, Moffett Field,
California] had the biological investigations, and they all thought
they were projects. I had to figure out ways to tread lightly on delicate
sensibilities and people that were used to being at the project level,
which I considered experiment level.
I kept asking them, “No, really, who’s your project manager?”
They’d say, “Me.”
I’d say, “No. There’s got to be somebody above you
who coordinates all of your investigations.”
They said, “No, me.” I learned a lot about project management
and experiment management on spaceflights from that experience.
Also, I give them big credit for letting this life scientist guy represent
them, and I made sure that when it came time for public affairs, I
invited them to come and talk about their experiments, I did not talk
about them. I did not represent them publicly. I introduced them and
said, “And now so-and-so is going to tell you about the flammability
study,” instead of me being the guy taking all the credit, supposedly,
or limping through very poor descriptions of what it is that we’re
doing in flight.
That was an example. I don’t know if that was the origin, but
that was an example of my current modus operandi, which is, as quickly
as possible, delegate to somebody else. My management laughs at me,
because as soon as I get a task, I start figuring out who should be
doing that task instead of me. Barbara [J.] Corbin, who is one of
my bosses right now, says, “I knew you were going to say that.
As soon as we tell you to do something, you start saying, ‘Well,
I guess I can get so-and-so to do that.’” I want to make
sure that the people that know what the topic is do the talking about
it and do the planning for it, and I’m the gatekeeper and the
facilitator, so I try to help.
Well, you have to build your team so that everybody knows what they’re
I’ve never had any meaningful management training. I’ve
had a little bit of management training. The last serious management
training I had was in 1994, and that was called the MIP training,
the managing the influence process, because NASA finds itself not
only with line managers, but with people that are not line managers,
people that are influence managers, like me. I’ve never done
a performance review of anybody in my life. If I’m lucky, I
won’t before I retire. I’ve never had a line organization
answering to me, so I’ve never been able to direct people, to
say, “You, go do this thing.” I’ve always had to
rely on my charm and persuasion to convince people that it’s
really their idea to go do this and that thing.
I think maybe that’s one of the reasons they asked me to do
the mission science job for 107; also the fact that I was the only
mission scientist they had at that time, so it was an obvious fit.
But, it reinforced my idea that I don’t need to be pretending
I’m the expert when I’m not. I just need to be finding
the experts and letting them do their thing, and try to keep them
on the rails while the world changes around them, and help them get
their products and trust them to tell me when they’ve got what
I read that there was a little bit of concern in Congress, before
107 came about, and the science community that science missions were
being put on the back burner because of the technology in building
the ISS, and science was like the stepchild, life science. Were you
concerned during that period? The Glenn mission, there was a lot of
science, but there was that gap before 107 finally flew. During that
time period, did you see that happening? You said you were the only
mission scientist available at that time. Was science getting left
behind at that time?
Most definitely. The science budget was being robbed to pay for Space
Station overruns, and I can’t tell you all the episodes of that,
I just know I was not high enough at that point in the organization
to know the details. I know I was just always hearing that, oh well,
our budget was robbed again to pay for this and that Space Station
problem. I did track the projected launch dates, and if you wish,
I will find that chart and send it to you, because it’s a very
nice saw tooth curve of calendar date across the bottom and the time
until launch along the vertical axis. You make progress as the calendar
moves along, you get closer and closer to launch date, and then it
resets as the mission gets slipped further in the queue, and then
it resets when the launch is delayed, and then it decreases as the
launch date approaches, and then it resets again. I’ve got a
very enlightening little chart that shows several years of how the
107 mission just kept getting pushed further and further back in the
queue because it was not important.
There were higher-priority things to be doing, like building a Space
Station, obviously a very high priority. And the other operational
things the Shuttle was supposed to be doing, delivering payloads or
doing other tasks in space. I get it. There’s no doubt that
this research mission was the lowest priority, and those poor astronauts
that were assigned to it had to stand by and watch other people fly
multiple times before they got their first flight. Even though they
were assigned fairly early in the flow, they were shunted aside while
other people got a chance to fly multiple times in the interim.
There was no doubt it was that way, and I don’t think it was
avoidable. I’m not sure how one would do it differently under
the circumstances now, except perhaps not to bow to congressional
pressure and not to put a research mission in there in the first place,
if you realistically can’t fly it. In fact it may be that we
don’t do anything different, because this helped keep the scientific
community engaged even when there were not flights, because they were
planning for a flight. So, that was some benefit.
In the planning, when it was first proposed, I know part of it was
Al [Albert A.] Gore’s Triana satellite, which was interesting
when I was reading about how he came up with that idea. But things
shifted, and five years went by before a science flight, and it was
going to be the last one for a long time because of the Station. Was
there a lot of competition on getting different studies on that flight?
And if so, you were talking about peer reviews, you said that sometimes
the managers advised those peer reviews to get the science that they
wanted get done.
I don’t recall there being a lot of competition. I think we
populated the mission fairly early in the flow, and then we had to
keep those investigators happy while they weren’t flying. They
may have gotten opportunities on other missions to fly other experiments,
or other aspects of other experiments, but I don’t recall any
ongoing competition. It seems like we lost Triana fairly early in
the planning process. After that it sort of settled down. I mean,
after that there was really no motivation to fly. At least with Triana
on board, it was the vice president’s pet project, and that
would help to keep us in the flight queue, but after that went away,
then it was the redheaded stepchild, nobody really had any particular
interest in this one except for the scientists that were on board
and the senators that those scientists liked to call up and complain
about their poor treatment by NASA.
Triana just launched recently, and it’s now on Station and sending
pictures back. It’s now called DSCOVR [Deep Space Climate Observatory].
I saw a picture from it the other day. I hope Al Gore feels vindicated.
What I read is that he dreamed about it, or it came to him in a dream,
I don’t know if it was a dream or in the shower, but it was
one of those moments. I think we all get inspiration at times like
Yes, we do. As far as the peer reviews, did you have any involvement
in picking those?
I don’t recall any involvement in that peer review activity.
Those investigations that came to us were peer reviewed by the sponsoring
organizations, however they prefer to do it, and I treated them all
as full-fledged investigations.
One of the quotes I read in an article was that you said the 107 mission
would be doing simulated Space Station science, and that was the purpose
that you wanted to see happen as far as that flight. Can you talk
about that? Maybe some of the things that they were doing as far as
Well, life sciences and the other kinds of investigations—let
me digress for a second and say a few words about dedicated missions.
The Shuttle had several dedicated space life sciences missions, SLS-1
and SLS-2, and then Neurolab, and one of the lessons learned, not
actually from the implementation of those missions but from the planning
for those missions is that you don’t want dedicated life sciences
missions because the investigations step on each other. It may be
that you have a mission that is dedicated to life sciences, let’s
say human research, but there’s only so many hours of the day
that you can ask the astronauts to be test subjects, through ethical
guidelines, and there’s only so many times you can stick a needle
in somebody’s vein or put them on a bicycle or something like
After a while, after you’ve done enough of those things, you’re
not measuring the effect of spaceflight on an individual, you’re
measuring the effect of spaceflight plus repetitive exercise bouts
plus repetitive venipunctures plus repetitive sticking your head inside
a rotating dome, all those kinds of things. Each investigator is hopefully
aware of the context, that that is not the only thing the astronaut’s
The investigator community themselves realized early in the planning
for SLS-1, which at that time was called Spacelab-4, that they were
interfering with each other. They couldn’t do all the things
they wanted to do just because somebody else’s final state,
after the astronaut’s finished doing that investigation, becomes
the next guy’s initial condition. That initial condition doesn’t
mimic what happens in regular spaceflight, it mimics what happens
when your astronaut has just finished drinking a gallon of some sort
of metabolic tracer fluid or something. Well, that’s not baseline.
How am I going to understand the effect of spaceflight after whatever
the astronaut’s done?
We learned, I think, early on that dedicated missions are probably
not the most conducive to meaningful results if they focus specifically
on astronauts. It’s better to have a diversity of activities
so that the astronauts do a cardiovascular study and then go off and
do a flammability study and then go off and take pictures out the
window, then come back and do a vestibular study. It sort of fills
up the time with meaningful work without actually having all the investigations
stepping on each other’s toes.
We did SLS-1 and SLS-2, and we did Neurolab, and even a mission like
STS-78, LMS, the Life and Microgravity Sciences mission. It was the
follow-on to the SLS missions, and it was half microgravity sciences,
which is the physics, and half life sciences. Even in that case, there
was some discussion of the fact that there were so many exercise-based
investigations that the astronauts were not really allowed to decondition
as other astronauts had. They were exercising so frequently in flight
for this and that investigation that all the investigators were measuring
was the effect of exercise and not the effect of spaceflight as reflected
One of the reasons that 107 was an attractive design was the fact
that it had a diversity of investigations on board, not just life
sciences, but the microgravity sciences and the other kinds of things
as well, which really gave us a well-rounded payload and really gave
us an example of the kind of work that would be done routinely on
the Space Station. We’re not going to have dedicated life sciences
increments on the Space Station, we’re going to have a full
array of investigations that all have to be done according to some
schedule on the Space Station. So, we were demonstrating how that
I will say that I don’t think the Space Station has reached
the level of productivity and throughput that we had in 107, just
because 107 was a short mission, a 14-day mission. It was short in
that sense, and it had some focused objectives that needed to be done
every day, or every few days in spaceflight, whereas corresponding
investigations on the Space Station—and I’m thinking of
this fluid shift study, which uses lower body negative pressure and
another suite of hardware—is done three times on a one-year
mission. If it had been a Space Shuttle mission, we’d do it
three times in two weeks. And then the question might be, are you
measuring the effect of spaceflight or are you measuring the effect
of having done the same thing a few days ago?
I think in terms of the pace of the work and the workload that was
assigned, we showed what the Space Station could do inside of a module.
People would come inside this module and do their tasks and have a
fairly tight schedule of activities that would be done in this work
space, as I imagined at that time, and I think now, would be a model
for the Space Station work. I think it is the model for the Space
Station work, except I think that, again, the Space Station probably
has a slightly more moderated pace because people are there for the
long haul and not for the short term. There are rest periods and a
diversity of activities, like public affairs activities and things
like that, to break up the duty day, that we really didn’t have
that much of on 107. Does that address the question?
Yes, I think it does. I was reading some of the reports that were
coming out during the flight, and the investigators were predicting
100 percent success rate, as far as all their investigations. They
were all very excited about the science that was coming out of it
and they anticipated, of course, the bulk of it that they would get
after landing. You mentioned that part of it was that the scheduling
of this work during the flight made it successful, so that you weren’t
overtaxing the astronauts and breaking it up a little bit. Talk about,
if you would, the relationship between the crew and the investigators.
They had a lot of time because of all the delays to build those relationships
and to work together. Do you think that had a lot to do with that
I think so. I think the astronauts were motivated to be successful
because they did have enough time to bond with the investigators,
and we certainly had enough face time with the investigations and
the projects and the astronauts, so that they got to know what the
purpose was, they got to know what the motivation was, what the end
goal was for the set of investigations. I think we were lucky in that
we had a good crew, a group of astronauts who cared about the research.
They may not have preferred to have been on this research mission.
In fact, one of the things that we did, I think I may have told you
about this before, is that we essentially down-selected astronauts.
I didn’t get a chance to pick which astronauts would be on the
mission, but I got a chance to pre-brief large groups of astronauts
who might end up on the mission, and to tell them what we were about.
On previous flights, especially Spacelab-J [STS-47], back in the early
’90s, I heard stories that the astronauts were assigned to the
mission, and as they were going to Huntsville [NASA Marshall Space
Flight Center, Alabama] in the airplane for the first briefings, they
got a book of information on the mission and what it was about. There
were some very invasive investigations planned for that mission, including
my lower body negative pressure study. We had many invasive, complex
investigations planned for 107, and I petitioned the astronaut management
repeatedly, please don’t give me astronauts who don’t
like life sciences work, because that’s a major part of what
we’re doing. We had other managers who would also make the point
up and out as well to astronaut office management.
The purpose for saying this was that I was given the opportunity on
one, or maybe two occasions, I think one occasion specifically, where
I was able to pre-brief a cadre of potential 107 mission specialists
about the investigations we were planning and say, “Look, if
you don’t like venipunctures, this is not the mission for you.
If you don’t like ultrasound, if you don’t like slime,
if you don’t like dealing with animals, please find another
mission. There’s lots of other missions you can fly, seriously.
This will not jeopardize your career by not being on this mission,
it might actually enhance your career.” So, we got a cadre of
astronauts who were assigned, and apparently were assigned fully informed,
is what I should say, that were interested in doing the work on the
We had Mike [Michael P.] Anderson and Laurel [B.] Clark and Dave [David
M.] Brown and K.C. [Kalpana] Chawla, and they were wonderful. Dave
Brown was an MD test pilot; he could have any mission, and he seemed
to like the one we were on. Laurel Clark I think was an obvious fit.
Mike Anderson was there as the payload commander, he had experience
in organizing this kind of stuff. And everybody loved K.C. It was
a good crew. Rick [D.] Husband as the commander was very supportive,
very conciliatory, understood the value of the mission. He was a test
pilot, fighter pilot type, but he didn’t strike me as being
the hard-charging, gritted teeth into the wind kind of guy. He was
the kind of guy that would take the task and do a good job at it,
and make sure people had a good time while they were doing it.
I thought the cadre of astronauts that we ended up with were the right
ones for the investigations. They did bond with the investigators,
they did appreciate the investigations, they cared about the investigations,
and they did what they could to make it work. I don’t recall
specifics, but there may actually have been a little bit of insight
on their part, so when we seemed to be running out of time, they understood
that certain things needed to be done whether time permitted or not,
and they saw to it that things got done that needed to be done.
There was one or two slip-ups, I recall. One of the astronauts, I
forget now what the details were, but the cells were not preserved
correctly or something, and they felt really bad about that, because
they thought they had done it correctly but they followed the wrong
set of procedures or something. There was just those kind of inevitable
little slip-ups. But, overall I think everybody was very happy with
the crew and the crew’s activities that we had on that mission.
Following the accident and during your interview that we did for Columbia
[July 15, 2003], you mentioned that about 30 percent of the science
was going to be recovered or useful at that time, that’s what
everyone was thinking those few months right after the accident. Some
of the investigators were getting a chance to look at the recovered
items to see if there was anything recoverable. Since that time, did
that percentage increase any, or was that an accurate estimate.
I have not revisited those numbers, and those are the numbers I recall.
I can’t imagine how it got any better after that. There was
the occasional bit of recovered science. There was one investigator
who was pretty sure he could have recovered his science if NASA had
just let him have the hardware. He saw news photos of his hardware
laying in a parking lot in east Texas and was saying, “Just
let me have the hardware, and I’ll pull the specimens out, and
you can have the hardware back. I just want to get the specimens out
and see what the effects of spaceflight were in this particular setting.”
NASA’s accident investigation mentality was, “No, nobody
touches anything, because that little experiment may have been instrumental
to the loss of the vehicle.” Once a disaster happens, there
is a formula that you have to follow, and modifications to that formula
are extremely difficult, meaning impossible. Even though, in retrospect,
and even from a different perspective, it was obvious that this or
that item were not involved, this or that item are sequestered.
Don’t forget, as I told you before what had happened, they came
in and sequestered all of my notebooks on experiment progress in Mission
Control. Now, rationally there is no purpose to sequestering the scientist
notebooks about investigations that had nothing to do with thermal
protection systems. But they don’t know that. It’s like
CSI [Crime Scene Investigation], everything is suspected until it’s
The yellow tape is all the way around.
The yellow tape goes around, and everything inside that yellow tape
is part of the investigation. We had flown a stack of our program
patches, I had actually designed some patches for the Code U payloads
on this, and apparently they had been packed as a stack, like potato
chips in a can, they’d been shrink-wrapped together. They were
showing me pictures of the patches that had been recovered post-flight.
I said, “Great, can I get them?” And they said, “No,
you can’t get them. They’re not yours anymore. They belong
to the investigation.” Obviously the patches were not implicated
in the disaster, but they were part of the debris, and so that debris
is wherever it is now.
They kept everything. Do you know of any significant setbacks or anything
in any of these investigations that happened because of the loss of
No, I don’t—I answered “no” quickly, but even
on thinking about it, I cannot think of anything that was not recovered
eventually, not repeated or worked around eventually.
I know because of the relationship that these investigators had built,
I imagine that the people that you worked with day in and day out
here, there was a lot of effects on the science community and the
people that had worked and the trainers for the science experiments.
Did you try to make sure that your group and the people that you worked
with regularly took advantage of everything that was available to
them after that?
That’s interesting you mention that. The first thing that happened
here locally, on site, was the Employee Assistance Program immediately
reached out to everybody and said, “We’ve got counseling
available, feel free to talk to each other, and we all have emotions.”
I and others reached out to the investigator communities who were
not part of JSC and said, “Does your organization, your university,
have the same kind of assistance in case you need it? Because we all
feel the loss.” And as I recall, all of them said, “Yes,
we’ve been already contacted by our university.” It was
reassuring in the sense that those at least that I followed up with
had been offered that kind of emotional and psychological support
We also had a follow-up Investigator Working Group [IWG] meeting.
When you have these consolidated payloads, you have Investigator Working
Group meetings where you plan how all the investigations are going
to be dovetailed with each other. You do that over the period of several
years before the flight, and you do it every six months or so, and
people report progress on their experiments and problems they’re
having. The Shuttle Program would come and tell us what the newest
restrictions were on the flight and which attitudes you’re going
to be in and all that kind of stuff.
We had a follow-up IWG that was, at least initially, dedicated to
discussing, not reviewing results, because people didn’t have
results, but just giving everybody a chance to talk about what the
mission meant and what the mission loss meant. I gave a little two-minute
introduction, a little speech of mine, a reflection; I think I still
have it on my hard drive someplace, and allowed everybody else to
just stand up and say what they thought, what they were feeling about
We may have, I don’t recall now the agenda, but we may have
gotten to scientific results later in the day or the next day. The
first several hours were strictly anybody can say anything they want
to, if it makes them feel better. So, there was that kind of stuff,
both formally and informally.
It helps, as a community, to be able to share those feelings. Why
don’t we just stop now? Is there anything else you want to talk
about 107? I know we skipped the whole in between, but we have that
on the other interview, most of it.
I can’t think of anything else 107-related, but I will be thinking
back on this. If something else comes up, I’ll tell you about
Okay, that’d be great.
Because we’ll have another opportunity.
Yes we will. Thank you.
[End of interview]