NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Michelle Kelly
Ontario, Canada –
8 October 1997
Kelly: This interview of Michael Collins was conducted in Houston,
Texas, on October 8, 1997, by Michelle Kelly and assisted by Paul
Mr. Collins, the first question I'd like to ask you is how you became
involved in NASA and how you became interested in it.
Well, like most of the early astronauts, I was a test pilot, and it
was sort of a stair-step process. I went to the military academy,
I went to West Point primarily because it was a free and good education.
I emphasize "free." My parents were not wealthy. When I
graduated from the military academy, there was no Air Force Academy,
but we had a choice of going into the Army or the Air Force. The Air
Force seemed like a more interesting choice. Then the question was
to fly or not to fly. I decided to fly. To fly little planes or big
ones? I became a fighter pilot. To keep flying the same or new ones?
I became a test pilot. And so, you see I've stair-stepped up through
five or six increments then, and it was a simple, logical thing to
go on to the next increment, which was higher and faster, and become
an astronaut rather than a test pilot. So that's how it happened.
It was not that when I was a little kid I had aspirations of flying
to the moon or anything like that. Actually, I did have aspirations
of flying to Mars, but not the moon. But the path that led me to NASA
Houston was a stair-step, you know, one little increment at a time.
Can I ask you a little bit about your interest in Mars when you were
a young boy? What was your interest and where did it come from?
I don't know. I think primarily it came from the old Buck Rogers and
Flash Gordon, and when you were a kid in those days, when you went
to the movies on Saturday afternoon, there was always a little short
subject right before the movie, and usually they gave you a news clip,
five minutes of the latest weekly news, and then sometimes there was
a little science fiction blurb of Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. Those
are the names. I don't know that they went specifically to Mars. They
went everywhere. They went to the Caverns of Mongo. I remember that.
So, I'm not sure. Of all the possibilities, as I got older and learned
a little bit more about our solar system, then Mars seemed clearly
to be the most interesting place to go. So I would say some thin study
of planetary science with a heavy overlay of Flash Gordon and whoever
the other guy was.
Can I ask you a little bit about your astronaut selection process
and how you became involved in that?
Well, again, I was out at Edwards. I was assigned to the fighter test
section at Edwards, and we were very much aware of the NASA program
as it began, and we were very much aware of the fact that they were
looking for test pilots, and so we were up to speed on all the paperwork.
I mean, we knew when the next cycle was and so on and so forth. When
the second group of nine was picked, I had just—I've forgotten
whether I had not quite graduated from the test pilot—I think
I had just graduated and gone down to fighter ops, and so I applied
for that, and I didn't make that. I didn't have sufficient experience,
they said. So then when the third selection in 1963 occurred, I applied
again, and this time I was accepted.
Can I ask you a little bit about that process and what you did to
be able to be selected?
Well, it's kind of too late to do much of anything. By the time you've
put your name on the application, your flying background, your educational
background, they're pretty much set in concrete. You can do a little
bit. I lived close to a hillside, which was like a treadmill, in that
as it went up it got steeper and steeper, so I kind of prepared for
the treadmill. I thought that was a big deal, you know, to be in good
physical shape, so, by running up this hillside, which was like a
treadmill in that the further along you went, the steeper it got.
And I did try to do some studying. I did try to do a little bit of
studying on astronomy and space science. I think the most common thing
people did at that time was read Aviation Week and those publications
very carefully, because you wanted NASA to understand that you were
very interested in what they were doing and you were interested to
the extent that you had done whatever research was readily available.
You mentioned some of the physical aspects. For instance, you were
training on the treadmill. I understand that there were some other
physical tests that they performed and some of the astronaut candidates
at the time were not very happy with those. Can you explain a little
bit about those and what some of their purposes were?
I think that applied primarily to the Mercury people. I think the
emphasis shifted a little bit from the physical to the mental, if
that's a fair way of saying it. I mean, I think the unknowns of space
were such that when the first Mercury candidates were selected, people
were legitimately or otherwise concerned about their ability to withstand
vibration, high temperature, isolation, darkness, heat, and so they
tended to emphasize those. By the time it got to the second and the
third group, where I was involved with it, as I said previously, with
both those groups I don't remember anything that was too horrible
physically. What specifically did you have in mind, and maybe it will
spark my memory?
Kelly: For instance, I read in one of your books you were talking
about some of the Rorschach inkblot tests.
Oh, well, the psychological aspects of it. Well, I think that—I
don't know what I think. That's a complicated subject. I think psychiatry
is certainly a legitimate branch of medicine, and I would not want
to fly in space with a psychotic or a highly neurotic person. On the
other hand, I would not give too much credence to odd results, and
I thought that some of them were kind of amusing, like the blank piece
of paper, which I think I said I saw nineteen polar bears fornicating
in a snowbank. And the question then is, why nineteen? Just an odd
number. That kind of appealed to me somehow. Those are the kinds of
things you're driving at, yes.
I'd like to move on, then, to your astronaut training, once you were
selected. What types of things did you do for your training?
You mean once I got here to Houston?
Well, you know already that what they did was they regarded the spacecraft
or the body of space knowledge like a big apple pie, and they sliced
it up, and they gave each one of us in the astronaut office a slice,
and they said, "This is your slice." Mine happened to be
the extra-vehicular operations and spacesuits and that kind of stuff.
So in addition to having to learn a little bit about a lot of things,
you had to learn a lot about those specific things, if that's what
you're kind of driving at.
Obviously, to fly in space you have to have a certain knowledge of
all the various aspects. You have to know that you're talking to the
ground via Australia and Spain and Goldstone. You don't have to know
how those antennas work or what frequency they're on or how many volts
or watts or amperes or whatnots, but in general you have to have a
very wide background knowledge, I think, to do your job well. Then
in addition to that, we represented the astronaut office in our own
area of expertise, and that was more difficult, I think—at least
for me I felt it was more difficult—because you were going to
meetings and saying to the engineers, "Yes, this is what we're
going to do as a group of astronauts. This is what is going to be
reasonable to ask us to do."
I was trying to guess years in the future what thirty people, myself
plus the other twenty-nine in the office—I was making commitments
for that group of thirty people for actions we would or would not
take a couple of years in the future, and that's kind of a scary responsibility.
Did I answer that to your satisfaction or do you want to ask that
question again, or do you want to go on to something different?
Well, I want to know a little bit about what you did as far as your
work in the pressure suit area, as well as the extravehicular activities.
Well, the newer pressure suits—not in all cases, but in some
cases, they were tailored to my specifications. In other words, they
were fitted. They were custom-fitted to my dimensions and I was a
test subject for—I remember one competition between the David
Clark Company, who had made the Gemini suit, and the ILC, International
Latex, who ultimately made the Apollo suit, and then there was a third
contender; it escapes me right now who that was [Hamilton Standard].
But anyway, I was the test subject for these three competing designs,
and my input was certainly not the overriding one, but was an important
voice among that of the engineers in terms of fit and comfort and
mobility and the other qualities that go into picking a pressure suit.
Did you put these suits on and just make recommendations from how
it felt in doing various tests, or did you work closely with the engineers
in its development from the early stages?
Well, yes and yes. In the particular competition that I had in mind
was to pick the Apollo suit, and it was more of a formal process where,
you know, I wore each suit for so many different hours under identical
conditions and went through identical comparative tests, but then
once that suit was picked, and before that suit was picked back in
the Gemini program, yes, I did work with the suit development people,
and they tried out new ideas on me, and I gave them my feedback and
recommendations to try to get a pressure suit that was as functional
and comfortable as possible.
Pressure suits are weird things. I mean, they have to do so much.
They have to protect you from the temperature extremes, and they have
to protect you from micrometeorites. So they have to be heavy, insulated,
bulky, and then, even worse than that, they have to maintain, as their
name implies, a pressure with a vacuum outside, and you've got to
be pumped up like the tube in your car, and that makes them very rigid,
and then all kinds of ingenious engineering devices come into play
to take something which fundamentally wants to be immobile, wants
not to change shape, like the tire on your car, and force it to have
joints at the elbows and the wrists and the arms and the knees and
the heads and the whatevers, so that you can move around and do whatever
you have to do inside it while it still is maintaining this rigid
pressure. So to engineer a suit properly is an extremely complicated
task. You don't think so when you see some guy in a suit compared
to the complexities of a rocket, but in miniature, the engineering
that goes into a suit is quite complex.
Next, can I ask a little bit about the work you did on EVAs, or extra-vehicular
activities, as well?
I did generic work on EVAs, like what it was reasonable to expect
people to do and not do, but most of the EVA training was very specifically
done by the people on a particular flight. Going back, the first EVAs,
of course, were on the Gemini program: Gemini 4, Ed White [Edward
H. White II], and then Gemini 9, Gene [Eugene A.] Cernan. I was the
third one, Gemini 10.
Each of those was quite different, and different from the ones that
followed, and the training that was done for those was done primarily
by the guys involved specifically addressing the particular equipment
they had and the particular objectives of their EVA and what they
wanted to do. Ed White was just to get out and see what it was like.
He had a small handheld maneuvering device and then come back in.
With Cernan, I'm sure you know this from the records, but his thing
was to put on a backpack and go trundling off, and that didn't work
out too well.
With me, there actually were three EVAs, all quite short...The first
one was just to stand up in the open hatch and take some measurements
of stars, and then the second one was to use this handheld maneuvering
device similar to the Ed White device and use it to propel myself
over to an Agena, retrieve an experiment package from the Agena, and
then the third was just a hatch opening to dump all the extraneous
equipment that we no longer needed. So I did have the three EVAs,
and I think they're all pretty well documented, so rather than my
trying to just go through all that again, if you have very specific
questions about them, I'd be happy to try to answer them.
Kelly: I actually do have one about the first EVA that you conducted.
I believe you mentioned you stood outside of the hatch and took some
measurements of some stars and other bodies, but you mentioned in
one of your books that you got something in your eyes and your eyes
started watering. Did they ever find out what that was?
You know, they never did, and I tell you, the guy who would be the
best source for you on that would be John [W.] Young, because John's
still here, he's still immersed in the technical details. But the
method that we used on Gemini to purge the system, to absorb the exhaled
carbon dioxide from your body, were canisters of lithium hydroxide.
The stale air went through the lithium hydroxide and it came out purified.
Lithium hydroxide is kind of, I think, a granular sort of material,
and our best guess was that somehow lithium hydroxide had escaped
from some canister and had gotten into the nooks and crannies of the
system in the pipes and that there was some triggering mechanism having
to do with depressurizing the spacecraft that caused that lithium
hydroxide to start billowing up. It went through, and it can be an
irritant, and that's what it was.
But to the best of my knowledge, they never established that beyond
the shadow of a doubt. All I know is that I couldn't see and John
couldn't either, and it was frightening for a moment, because the
hatch on Gemini was not a very straightforward thing. In other words,
you just didn't go "clunk, latch." I mean it was—you
had to look up, and there were little levers and whichnots that had
to be fiddled with, and then you had to make sure that all your hoses
and stuff were not going to get in the way, and then you had to come
down in a certain way and you had to get your body underneath, your
knees underneath the instrument panel and kind of ratchet your body
down, and it was a tight fit. So it was the kind of stuff that, with
practice, you found it became easy to do, but it was visually dependent
and to try to do all that by feel rather than—it wasn't something
you ever had trained to do or thought you would have to be doing anything
by feel [alone].
So I could see well enough to do that after a couple of minutes, this
thing cleared up, but, you know, the idea of being out there blind
was, even though I was only half out, the problem was this goddamned
hatch was opened and, as I say, it needed some visual help to get
it closed again. So that's about all I can say about that.
Sounds like it would be frightening.
To the best of your knowledge, did anybody else have the same [unclear]?
No. To the best of my knowledge, that was an isolated incident. No
one every had eye problems, and they probably would have written it
off as the two of us were imagining it or maybe it was just sweat
in our eyes, except it happened to both of us simultaneously and slightly
different. I don't remember the—again, you should talk to John,
but the air I was breathing had gone through a process a little different
from the air he was breathing. I was getting mine through an umbilical
cord, he was not, and yet at the same time, this thing overtook both
of us. So it was kind of weird, and, as I say, the best guess as far
as I can recall, and it was never improved on, was that it was some
kind of lithium hydroxide that had escaped. Maybe it had escaped from
that particular canister that was installed at the time. Maybe it
had escaped months earlier at the factory and, as I say, somehow was
in the little crannies and crevices of the system and then somehow
had been activated by the depressurization. I don't know. But ask
John. He might know more about it than I do.
My next question concerns your second EVA that you mentioned. You
went out to the Agena to retrieve an experiment package. Can I ask
you primarily some of the challenges and problems that you encountered
while doing that imaging?
Well, the fundamental problem was, I guess, stupidity. We had not,
in our designs, really thought through what happens to objects that
bang together in weightlessness. Unfortunately, on this tape recorder
I can't—I have to go through some body manipulations to explain
what I mean, but maybe you can reconstruct. This chair is a one-dimensional
replica of space. If I push against this table, you can see what happens:
right away my body swivels. If I push this way, it swivels the other
way. That's no problem because I'm anchored to the floor, and I can
just swivel back and forth, it's very simple. But now, in space, where
there's no anchoring, you not only rotate this way and call that yaw,
you rotate in pitch, and you rotate in roll. So if I touch that table,
I go off in some totally three-dimensional random direction. So as
soon as I start doing that, I've got to stop, and so I grab, and then
I go swinging back the other way with greater force, and I need greater
force to stop that. Very soon you're just out of control.
I say "stupidity" because we had really not thought that
through as well as we should. By the time we got to Gemini Twelve
with Buzz [Edwin E.] Aldrin [Jr.], there were handholds and work stations.
On the Shuttle, you see it in space. I mean, they don't go out without
being anchored in two or three different ways. But we were stupid;
we hadn't thought of that. So, the point is, I was going over to this
Agena, propelling myself with this dorky little gun, which in itself
was a very difficult thing because, again, going back to the pitch,
roll, yaw, if you did not have a gun aligned absolutely through your
center of your body, if you were off a little bit, then when you squirted
the gun, instead of going that way, you would not only go that way,
but you would start twisting and turning. You see what I'm saying?
So anyhow, I was using this little gun to get over to something, to
grab something that had not been designed to be grabbed, and I'm in
this bulky suit that I described before, it doesn't want to bend too
well, I'm immobilized. I'm having a tough time as I'm going along,
pitch, rolling, and yawing, trying to keep this dorky little gun through
the center of mass of my body, and then I arrive at this goddamned
Agena, which is not meant to be grabbed, and I've got to grab it.
So, the first time I grabbed it, I went to the end of it, and it had
a docking collar. Docking collars are built to be nice and smooth
so that the probe that goes into them will be forced into them. They
have smooth lips and edges on them, and that's what I was grabbing.
Well, I grabbed the docking collar. It wasn't meant to be grabbed,
bulky glove, and my momentum is still carrying me along, so I just
slipped, and as I went by, then I went cartwheeling ass over teakettle,
up and around and about, until I came to the end of my tether, and
then it swung me in a great big arc. So, again, unfortunately, on
the tape recorder I can't wave my arms and show you where all these
objects were, but Gemini was down below to my left, the Agena was
up above to my right, and I'm off somewhere sashaying around between
the two, and then finally I got the gun out and got it under control
and came back.
I went back to the cockpit, and then John Young got a little bit closer
to the Agena the second time, and when I went over to it the second
time I was able to get my hand down inside a recess between the main
body of the Agena and the docking collar where there were some wires,
and grab some wires, and then I was able to get the experiment package
off and so on.
Sounds very difficult.
It was different. I mean, it was not clean analytical engineering.
I mean, it was more acrobatics and a guy on a trapeze and stuff that
you don't think about in the space program. But, as I say, the fundamental
thing was stupidity. It was that if we'd really given it more thought,
we would have said, "Well, when you get over there what are you
going to grab? And then what are you going to grab it with, which
hand? How are you going to stabilize it? Where are you going to put
your hand and your feet, and what's going to hold you in place? How
are you going to go about doing this?" And then maybe the answer
to that would have been, "Well, you can't. It's just not possible
to do it," which would not have been a good answer from my point
of view, because I wanted to go EVA. I wanted to do that thing. Or
maybe the answer would have been, "Hey, you get Lockheed to install
a couple of handholds on the front end of that Agena," and then
it would have been a relatively simple thing. But we didn't think
of it, or if we thought of it, maybe we thought that would cause the
whole [EVA] idea to be canceled. Maybe that's what was the deep psychological
root cause of our stupidity. I don't know.
I understand now they do a lot of EVA training in an underwater tank.
Yes. No, they started that during Gemini, but later on. For Gemini
10, there was no underwater training.
I was just going to ask you, then, what type of training did you have?
Well, we had the thing that I called the "slippery table."
It was a highly polished metal surface about the size of a boxing
ring, it was in one of these buildings around here, and then on it
was something that looked roughly like a floor waxer, and then you
stood on the floor waxer. The gimmick was that air was blown in so
that the friction between the floor waxer and the surface was as close
to zero as possible so that when you stood with your gun, your little
maneuvering unit, and squirted air out, you could move across the
So what you could do with that thing was you could move forward and
aft, left and right. That's two motions, or four motions, if you want
to call it that. Call it move forward, one, back is two, left is three,
right is four. So you've got those four things you can do. And then
as you went, you could swivel, you could rotate, you could yaw. So
you could yaw left, that would be five, and yaw right, that would
be six. So you had those six things that you could do, but you could
not pitch up or down, so you're missing seven and eight, and you couldn't
roll left or right, so you're missing nine and ten. Oh, you couldn't
go up or down, so you're missing eleven and twelve.
So, of the twelve things that you can do in space, and those are the
only twelve things you can really do, you've got six—they call
them "degrees of freedom," if you want to get technical.
So you've got the three translational degrees you can move forward,
backward, left, right, up and down, and then you've got the three
rotational. You can pitch, roll, and yaw, two ways. Of those twelve
options on the table, you could just practice six of them. So it wasn't
a great simulation, but that was the source of our training, that
was the best we could do.
Then we also did zero-G airplane, but it is not too helpful for tasks
like that, because, as you know, it can only generate periods of something
like twenty-eight seconds at a time, and you can't really learn too
much twenty-eight—as a matter of fact, the zero-G airplane was
probably trying to tell us something that we weren't smart enough
to understand, and that was inside the zero-G airplane for those twenty-eight
seconds of weightlessness, we were frantically trying to get all these
tasks done, and in the process we were banging around and moving rapidly
left, right, up, down, we were rotating, and it was kind of pandemonium,
and we thought that these little jigging motions were in part caused
by inaccuracies in the trajectory of the airplane, that the airplane
was maybe throwing us off a little bit left, right, up, down. So that
instead of being everything nice and smooth and calm inside for that
twenty-eight seconds, your training sessions tended to be twenty-eight
seconds of kind of spastic slashing around.
Well, it turns out that maybe that guy was flying that airplane perfectly
and that this spasticity, if you want to call it that, was caused
by what I was describing earlier, which was this reaction to every
little motion. To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
So what we were seeing, we should have paid maybe a little more attention
and said, "You know, we're going to be banging around up there
to the extent that we need some help in terms of tethers, lanyards,
handholds, footholds, stickum on the knees of our suit, I don't know
what." But those were the things that we didn't really think
That's interesting. And I'd like to go back to how you were selected
for a crew. I understand that you were selected as part of the back-up
crew for Gemini 7.
Can you tell me a little bit about the selection process?
Well, I really cannot. I mean, Deke [Donald K.] Slayton and his assistant,
probably, George Abbey, could tell you a lot more about that than
I can. But, you know, you were just picked. I suspected that the fact
that I knew Frank Borman, he and I were classmates at the test pilot
school, Ed White and I were classmates at West Point, so for Gemini
7, you had Borman the commander of the prime crew, and then I was
paired with Ed White on the back-up, you know, that might have had
something to do with it. But on the other hand, it could have had
absolutely nothing to do with it. I really don't know. I mean, all
I know is I was tapped. No one ever told me, "You were picked
because of A, B, or C." I really don't know.
I think there was probably—I hate to say this, but there might
have been a clique within a clique in the sense that I think that
people who were test pilots tended to maybe band together a little
bit more because at that point we were starting to get in non-test
pilot astronauts, and I think there might have been a little snobbishness,
you might say, or a clique within a clique, where the test pilots
tended to favor other test pilots. There could have been a clique
within a clique within a clique where the Air Force people tended
to favor Air Force and the Navy tended to favor Navy, but I don't
know those things. Those are just wild speculations, and all I know
is I never was given any inkling as to why I was ever picked for anything.
I was just picked.
Can I ask you, then, a little bit about your training for Gemini 7
and what types of things you did to prepare for that mission?
Gemini 7. Well, I did all the wonderful things you read about in all
the training manuals and all the stuff you've gotten in answers from
other people. Maybe you ought to ask that differently. What are you
driving at specifically?
I don't have any specifics. I do know that it was the longest mission
at the time.
Oh, you mean because of the—well, Gemini 7 was fourteen days,
and I think there were eleven different experiments or maybe eleven
different medical experiments alone. There were a lot of different
experiments in that. The doctors were very worried about the metabolism,
what would happen to the body under—and they wanted to measure
every ounce of food you ate before the flight, during the flight,
and so on. The protocols for the medical experiments were quite complicated,
and we felt sort of like guinea pigs rather than pilots. But we did
the things that crews always do. I mean, we went to the factory, and
we spent a lot of time up at McDonald-Douglas in St. Louis, and we
spent an awful lot of time in the simulator, as much time as we could.
We did the normal training stuff.
I understand that there is some sort of unwritten system where, if
you were assigned to a back-up crew for a particular mission, you
skipped a few [unclear].
Yes. I call it "the knit one, pearl two." So, in other words,
if you were back-up for Gemini 7, that was your knit one, you would
pearl 8 and 9, and then you would become prime on 10. There were exceptions
to that, but I think in general that's the way it worked on both Gemini
and Apollo, so that that is true, that from the day that I got assigned
to Gemini 7, I was really kind of looking forward to Gemini 10 and
trying to figure out what kind of a flight it would be and whether
it would be a space walk, and the duration of the flight and what
kind of rendezvous. Rendezvous was the biggest thing on Gemini, and
so forth and so on. Yes, that was true.
Interesting. Can I ask you if your training for Gemini 7 prepared
you a lot for the mission on Gemini 10? Were there similarities in
Of course, a Gemini spacecraft is a Gemini spacecraft is a Gemini
spacecraft. There were variations. There were tailored pieces of equipment
for each flight, but by learning the fundamental aspects of the Titan-II
booster and the Gemini spacecraft, by learning those on Gemini 7,
all that knowledge transferred over to Gemini 10. On the other hand,
there were very specific parts of Gemini 10 that were quite different
from Gemini 7, having to do with rendezvous, which was the most complicated
part of the flight, and the space walk, the EVA, which was the second.
Can we take a quick break? [Tape recorder turned off.]
Kelly: I think—this is just off the record—I'll just try
and talk about your rendezvous and docking and also on your missions,
on the training on Apollo, both on the [unclear] performance crew
and then also to Apollo 11, just your recommendations, what you consider
your accomplishments and maybe the challenges have been throughout
Oh, God, I don't have any idea about those things, but ask away.
As specific as you can get, and you probably, rather than—anyway,
Okay. Thank you very much. My next question for you is, I know that
on Gemini 10 you, along with John Young, performed one of the first
few rendezvous and docking missions. Can you tell me a little bit
about the complexities of it and what types of training and classes
you took to prepare you for that?
There were a couple of rendezvous on Gemini 10, and one of them was
a relatively straightforward rendezvous, in that the Agena—let
me back up. We rendezvoused with two different Agenas: our own Agena,
call it Agena 10, and then a dead, inert Agena that had been used
by the Gemini 8 flight, that had been up in the sky for a couple of
months just sitting there. These Agenas were different in two respects.
Agena 10 we could ask questions and it would answer. It had a transponder.
So we could ask it, "How far away are you?" and it would
tell us. The Gemini 8 Agena had dead batteries. Its transponder could
not reply. So when we asked it questions, it would not answer. This
meant that we could not find out how far away from the Agena we were.
We had to just deduce our range by the apparent size of the Agena
or the actual size. As it got bigger and bigger in our window, then
we knew we were getting closer, but that we had to measure or compute
our distance by optical rather than radar means, and this was the
first time this had been done, I think, and it made that second rendezvous
more difficult, and it involved a lot of measurements on my part with
So I would look through this instrument, and then I would, by seeing
how big it appeared, I would then look on a chart and say how far
away we were, and then by measuring how far away we were over a period
of time, I could then calculate our closing rate, which we then compared
with a closing rate chart to say, "Whoa, we're closing too fast,"
or, "Oh, we're not closing fast enough." So the fact that
this Gemini 8 Agena would not talk to us via transponder made our
life more complicated during the rendezvous.
Can I ask you, I think you were given a call name, so to speak, by
Mr. Young, and I think it was in connection with your rendezvous and
docking. May I ask you about what that was, and a little bit about
No, no. Tell me. What are you driving at?
I read in one of your books that you were called "Magellan"
because of your [unclear].
Oh, Magellan. I forgot about that. Yes. Oh, yes. Well, see, there's
so many aspects to this. The calculations which placed the Agena in
one part of the sky and us, the Gemini, in another part of the sky,
and the calculations that brought us closer and closer together, this
navigating, if you will, had heretofore been done by the big computers
on the ground, and the gimmick on Gemini 10 was that we were going
to prove that we could be autonomous, that we could, on board, make
all the calculations that the ground normally made to bring our little
part of the sky closer and closer to the Agenas.
Some of the people who were working in the Guidance and Control Division
at the time thought that that was a wonderful thing to demonstrate,
and they thought that the flight of Gemini 10 should be devoted exclusively
to demonstrating various new navigational techniques, and they wanted
to cancel space walks and anything extraneous to their navigational
interest. We, the crew, on the other hand thought that a lot of this
was baloney, that the things that they wanted us to investigate would
never be used on Apollo, would never be applicable, and were technological
dead ends that were perhaps useful for some engineer to give a paper
at a symposium, but that really wasn't contributing much at all. So
we kind of had a little tension between us.
These navigational engineers would say things like, "My God,
do you realize you're like Magellan, out of sight of land for the
first time in history! You're going to be up there all by yourself
doing your navigating! You'll be all by yourself!" I didn't get
it. I mean, I didn't buy it.
But anyway, somewhere along the line, John Young, who has a very wry
sense of humor, started referring to me as Magellan because of that.
I think that's an interesting story.
Moving on from Gemini, I'd like to work into Apollo and just ask you
a little bit about your transition from Gemini to Apollo—I know
that Apollo had started before Gemini was completed—and how
you found yourself within the transition.
Well, I found some things the Gemini people were doing just because
they were important to their own ego or amusement or professional
development, and I just gave you an example of some of the navigational
stuff that the Guidance and Control [Division], Gemini people, were
pursuing that wasn't really relevant to going to the moon and coming
back, but by and large, I think the—there was a tension between
Gemini and Apollo. I think the Apollo people I would fault a little
more than the Gemini people in the sense that a lot of the Apollo
engineers tended to think that they had more of the answers than they
really did, and they kind of looked upon Gemini as little guys playing
around with their toys over in the corner but that, "Hey, we
on Apollo know how it really should be done or is going to be done,"
that they kind of looked down their noses at some of the Geminis.
But I thought the Gemini program, as it was advertised to be, truly
was very useful in bridging the gap between Mercury and Apollo, that
it was a bridge and that we learned things about rendezvous and other
aspects, long-duration space walking, that were very helpful to Apollo.
The two programs did have to be developed in parallel. You couldn't
wait until Gemini was finished before you began work on Apollo, so
Apollo did have to go off on its own way in some regards. It couldn't
wait for Gemini answers. But the Gemini program was a little jewel,
I thought, and the people who worked on Gemini, particularly the workers
and the managers in St. Louis working for McDonnell, I thought, were
superb, and when you transitioned from St. Louis to Los Angeles and
you went from McDonnell to North American, I think the workers and
the managers out there suffered somewhat by comparison. I think there
was an arrogance initially in Los Angeles.
I think there was not the dedication to the extremely strong work
ethic. I think there was a—I hate to be prejudicial against
California, but I think there was kind of a "West Coast-ism"
out there. They outgrew it, they got a lot better, but initially I
think particularly the West Coast parts of Apollo could have paid
closer attention to Gemini and profited therefrom.
In what sorts of things do you think they could have profited from
Well, building a good spacecraft instead of worrying about whether
you're going to get your camper up into the High Sierras for the weekend.
And was that the type of attitude that was pervasive among the [unclear]?
I wouldn't say pervasive, but it was certainly there. It was certainly
there. There was a "we know better" kind of an arrogant
attitude on the part of some of the managers, and it was a laid back,
"Well, we'll get it done one way or the other sometime somehow"
attitude on the part of some of the workers…not compared, say,
to…the United Auto Workers or a production line of automobiles
or manufacturing radios or anything like that. I'm comparing it very
specifically to those McDonnell people who were extraordinarily dedicated
and very highly skilled.
Can I ask you, then, going back to the Gemini program and reflecting
upon it, what types of things do you think that the program itself
learned? You mentioned, for instance, rendezvous.
Well…Gemini [wa]s what the propaganda said. It was rendezvous,
long duration, and EVA, and those really were the things. I think,
of the three, the rendezvous was the most important because the Apollo
scheme, of course, was contingent upon getting the LEM back up from
the surface of the moon and rendezvousing with the command module.
So that was very much in the back of our mind. You've got these two
vehicles—I'm talking now in the mid-sixties when no one had
been anywhere near the moon, we had this image of, "Hey, a couple
of years from now a quarter of a million miles away, see, you're going
to have these two vehicles sixty miles from each other on the back
side of the moon where you can't talk to them, trying to get together."
And that was a scary idea, and it required an awful lot of thought
and testing and practice, and that was done primarily through Gemini.
Moving along and going back to what you mentioned about the Apollo
Program in its early stages, what types of things and problems occurred?
We know about what happened with the Apollo 204 fire, but were there
other events as well? Can you talk a little bit about that?
No. Have you got something in mind? Are you leading me in some specific
direction? Because I'm not sure that I know a good answer to that.
I mean, there are so many things. It's been so long and there were
so many things, it was such a large and complicated program, but the
wonder to me was—well, one wonder to me was that no Saturn V
rocket ever blew up. I mean, that just surprised the pee-Willie—I
don't know what to say about it, I can't put a nice word on it, but
it really surprised me. I thought certainly with the Saturn 1, the
1B, and the Saturn V, surely one of those suckers was going to blow
up, as it did in the Russian program, their moon rocket. They had
horrible problems with the Russian moon rocket, and I'm not that surprised.
When you have gigantic machines churning away at extraordinarily high
temperatures and pressures, it's a real tribute to the engineering
of [Wernher] von Braun's people, primarily.
I think you were assigned in the beginning of the Apollo program to
Frank Borman's crew.
I believe that was going to be the second Apollo mission. Is that
right? It seemed a little confusing.
I'm not sure. The sequence of events kind of got shifted around. When
I was first assigned to the Borman crew, I don't think we were going
to be the second manned Apollo. We were going to be an extremely high-altitude
flight, huge elliptical orbit way out thousands of miles from the
Earth, but in orbit around the Earth, and I think we were maybe the
third or the fourth manned flight. Then things got rejuggled and shifted,
and [James A.] McDivitt's crew with the LEM got transposed with Borman's
crew without the LEM. So Borman's crew ended up being the second,
but I think at the time we were maybe the fourth. I'm not sure if
that's what you were asking. Anyway, that's all in the records, that's
all in the documents. What did you want me to say about them?
I was going to then ask you what types of training did you perform
to get ready for the Apollo mission, since it was so different from
Well, again, more of the same, just everything that everyone is telling
you. I spent a lot of time at the factory. We started to become specialized.
I'm getting a little out of sequence. At some stage in the Apollo
Program, astronauts started becoming more specialized, and they became
command module specialists or lunar module specialists or what have
you, but on Apollo 8 we didn't have a lunar module, so we spent a
lot of time out in Downey with North American-Rockwell, we spent a
lot of time in the simulators, which were a problem in the early Apollo
missions, because the simulators were not working very well. In some
ways it's easier to build a spacecraft than it is to build a simulator
to imitate a spacecraft, and the development of the simulator has
lagged behind that of the space hardware, and that was a problem for
us training. We spent long hours, flew around like crazy from one
place to another, had our wives angry at us because we weren't home,
you know, that kind of stuff.
I think at that time you were diagnosed with a problem with your back.
Yes. I had a disc come loose between two cervical vertebrae, and I
had to have an operation where they take a little chunk of bone out
of your hip and fuse two discs together. That kicked me off the crew
and grounded me for a couple of months, and then when I returned to
the selection pool, I guess you would call it, I happened to come
along about the time for Apollo 11. So, let's see. The knit-one-pearl-two
theory would have said—I wasn't back-up. I would have been—I
don't know. Anyway, I ended up on 11.
Almost a fortunate turn of events.
…That's an interesting question, the historical importance of
Apollo 8 versus Apollo 11. To summarize that, I think Apollo 8 was
about leaving and Apollo 11 was about arriving, leaving Earth and
arriving at the moon. As you look back 100 years from now, which is
more important, the idea that people left their home planet or the
idea that people arrived at their nearby satellite? I'm not sure,
but I think probably you would say Apollo 8 was of more significance
than Apollo 11, even though today we regard Apollo 11 as being the
showpiece and the zenith of the Apollo Program, rightfully so, because
that was President [John F.] Kennedy's mandate, to, as he said, land
a man on the moon, not two or not a woman, but just a man on the moon.
So that was the focus, and when that was done by Apollo 11, then that
naturally put Apollo 11 up on a pedestal, but, as I say, 100 years
from now, historians may say Apollo 8 is more significant; it's more
significant to leave than it is to arrive. That's all.
Kelly: I think that's a very interesting way of describing it. I'd
like to go back a little bit to Apollo 8. I believe you served as
Capcom on that flight.
I guess it would be the first Capcom to have told the crew that they
were ready to go for TLI [Translunar Injection]?
Yes. I can remember at the time thinking, "Jeez, there's got
to be a better way of saying this," but we had our technical
jargon, and so I said, "Apollo 8, you're go for TLI." If,
again, 100 years from now you say you've got a situation where a guy
with a radio transmitter in his hand is going to tell the first three
human beings they can leave the gravitational field of Earth, what
is he going to say? He's going to say something like—he's going
to invoke Christopher Columbus or a primordial reptile coming up out
of the swamps onto dry land for the first time, or he's going to go
back through the sweep of history and say something very, very meaningful,
and instead he says, "What? Say what? You're go for TLI? Jesus!
I mean, there has to be a better way, don't you think, of saying that?"
[Laughter] Yet that was our technical jargon.
What was the feeling in Mission Control at the time when they were
able to do that, when you relayed that information to them?
Well, space flight is such that you're hardly ever—not until
the thing splashes on the water and the parachute collapse around
it, not until them are you allowed the luxury of relaxing. So the
fact that it had done this wonderful thing, that it had gotten going
to escape velocity, that it was leaving the Earth, you couldn't sit
back and pat yourself on the head and say, "Isn't that wonderful.
We've done that thing." I mean, this is just another little link
in the chain. So your whole attitude is looking forward, "Jesus,
what next?" I won't say that it added to the feeling of tension
or apprehension, but it certainly did not diminish it, the fact that
it was on its way. "Oh, my God, it's on its way. We can't just
bring it back. It's got to go do its thing." So I think how to
put that in perspective, it was just a feeling of a greater awareness
of the larger responsibility that this flight, the chunk that they
had bitten off, that we were actually leaving and going. You know,
it was venturing off into a new area. It was scary in that way.
It sounds quite significant as well. You were a very big part of history
in that respect.
I'd like to move on a little bit to Apollo 11. I have so many questions
I'd like to ask you, although I'm sure you've been asked everything
that can possibly be asked.
I think so, but you could still fool me. I'm here to be tricked. Go
ahead and try.
No, you're not here to be tricked.
No, I'm kidding. I'm kidding.
I apologize in advance if I'm too repetitive, but I'd like also to
use this as an opportunity for you to talk about some things that
maybe you feel haven't been talked about before and that maybe are
relevant to [unclear].
Collins: Sure. Go.
But my first question is, what was training like, knowing that you
perhaps were going to be the first crew to land on the moon?
I tend to compare Apollo 11 with Gemini 10 because those are the two
flights that I made, and I put Gemini 10 in the context of being certainly
an important event, but sort of like an important sporting event,
maybe, say like a championship middle-weight fight or something like
that. It was important, but there it was.
Apollo 11, on the other hand, was taken out of the sporting event
category and put in the category of not even a national event, whereas
Gemini may have been more national, Apollo could have international
implications, and it was obviously—it sounds trite and hackneyed,
but it was a historical milestone. It was of importance to the people
of the world, I think, whereas I don't think Gemini necessarily was,
not to all people in the world. I mean, certain people either didn't
know about it or didn't care about going to the moon, but it was of
some importance to people in virtually every little corner of the
globe, and I felt that very keenly, and I felt that in a negative
sense as well as a positive. The negative was, hey, don't screw it
up. I mean, I felt a tremendous feeling of, you know, I could make
some stupid little mistake and just make the whole program look ridiculous
in the eyes of the whole globe. So I felt a heightened feeling of
responsibility and worry because of the responsibility. I guess that's
how I felt about the training of Apollo 11.
It sounds like you also had a heck of a lot of simulator time. Did
you find that you spent most days in preparation in the simulator
or were you doing other activities?
Oh, all the above. You do the usual thing. You go to the Cape for
various reasons. You go to the factory for various reasons. You go
get your pressure suit done. There are simulators here in Houston
and at the Cape. At the Cape, you do a lot of testing inside the actual
spacecraft. Here in Houston, you go to a lot of meetings on your flight
and how you're going to accomplish this and how the flight plan is
going to be written up and so on. But then, as you point out, the
simulator is probably the backbone of your training, and there are
simulators in Houston, simulators in the Cape, and we spent as much
time as we possibly could in both places in the simulators, yes.
Did you feel that you were, in a sense, working very closely with
your crew and working as a team and tracking a little bit more than
you had in the past?
Yes and no. Actually, on Apollo 11, no, there was not the unified
training that there had been on previous flights involving only one
spacecraft, because Neil [A. Armstrong] and Buzz were in the LM for
extended periods of time while I was in the command module by myself
for extended periods of time. So our training was bifurcated, if you
will, and I spent hours and hours by myself doing my aspect of training.
They spent hours and hours by themselves. It was true, we came together
as a threesome, and there were certain aspects of our training, the
launch and the recovery and so on, that we did as a group of three,
but I had the feeling I spent more time away from them than with them
during the latter phases especially of Apollo training.
And can I ask you how you felt about that?
I feel fine about it. I don't have any little hidden agenda or hidden
feelings about Apollo 11. It's one of the questions I get asked a
million times, "God, you got so close to the moon and you didn't
land. Doesn't that really bug you?" It really does not. I honestly
felt really privileged to be on Apollo 11, to have one of those three
seats. I mean, there were guys in the astronaut office who would have
cut my throat ear to ear to have one of those three seats. I was very
pleased to have one of those three. Did I have the best of the three?
No. But was I pleased with the one I had? Yes! And I have no feelings
of frustration or rancor or whatever. I'm very, very happy about the
In fact, I did read in one of your books, you said that you felt such
a connection with the command module itself that you almost had a
feeling to write on it. Can you talk about how you felt in interacting
with this is your home around [unclear]?
Yes, my happy little home, Command Module 107. I know I said bad things
earlier about the workers and the people out in Downey, California,
who assembled it. Now I should say some good things about them, because
as time went on, those command modules got better and better and better,
and by the time they shipped 107, I mean, it was a wonderful machine
in really superb condition, and I thank them for it.
Did you find that you actually had an attachment to it in a certain
Yes. I think you do get attached to—pilots get attached to airplanes,
I know that. I have at home an oil painting of an F-86, Serial Number
525231, and that's my number. I mean, I flew that airplane for a couple
of years. I flew it from California through Greenland and Iceland,
to Europe, I was in a gunnery meet, won a gunnery trophy flying it.
I use that as my bank PIN number. Don't tell anybody that. [Laughter]
So I think it is very true that pilots do get attached to pieces of
machinery, and in that sense, I did get attached to Command Module
107. Maybe I'll use that for my PIN number.
Kelly: Can I ask you a little bit about events surrounding Apollo
11? I guess after your launch, I think you referred something to the
effect of the Russians putting something around the moon, and I think
it was eventually called Lunar 15, if I'm not mistaken. They mention
in some of the books that I've read something to the effect that Mission
Control was really worried about how it might interfere with your
No. I think that was baloney. I mean, the chances of one object hitting
another launched from two different parts of the Earth going in two
different, separate trajectories around the moon, different angles,
time phasing, one thing and another, the chances of those two machines
colliding are much less than the chances of one of the two of them
getting hit by an asteroid, for example, and I don't remember anybody
getting all in a swivet because we were going to get hit by an asteroid
or meteorite or whatever. So I think it was a public relations or
a political necessity, perhaps, to voice some concern about collisions.
I think they sent—didn't they send Borman to Russia or something
to work out details? You know, that was all pretty much, from a technical
point of view, eyewash.
I'd like to ask you a little bit about once you returned from Apollo
11, because I'd like to talk to you more about Apollo 11 itself. It
seems so well documented that [unclear].
Yes. Yes. Yes.
But I'd like to ask you about what happened during your—I guess
it would be your landing, recovery, once you got into your BIG garments,
the Biological Isolation Garments.
And into the mobile quarantine facility. What was it like to go through
Well, for one thing, I always felt like that BIG business and the
recovery business was a huge gap in the planning for Apollo. Now,
I don't know how you would do it any differently. I certainly couldn't
improve on it, but, on the one hand, you've got rooms full of scientists
saying, "We're not going to have one germ brought back from the
moon. We don't think there are any germs up there, but should there
be, we ain't gonna expose the population of the Earth to these germs."
So they have all these procedures.
But then look at it this way. Suppose there were germs on the moon.
There are germs on the moon, and they come back with Aldrin and Armstrong
on their clothing, in their lungs, whatever, all these germs get breathed
out. The command module is full of lunar germs. The command module
lands in the Pacific Ocean, and what do they do? They open the hatch—you've
got to open the hatch—and all the damned germs come out, right?
They contaminate the whole Pacific Ocean! Then you're got these three
guys in there. There's stuff on these suits, these BIGs. I mean, it
doesn't make any sense. It was a huge flaw in the planning.
But anyway, getting back to the BIGs, they had no ventilation system.
They are extremely hot. That was a hot day out there, and we were
warm anyway. So I can remember thinking—we got out of the command
module in the BIG, no problem. We got into the raft, had a little
trouble getting the door closed on the command module, and I went
back and closed the door. Then the helicopter picked us up, and then
we had to go back to the carrier, and all this time we're getting
hotter and hotter. I don't know about the other two guys, but I'm
getting hotter and hotter, and I can remember thinking, "I'm
giving these guys thirty seconds, I'm getting out of this goddamned
suit. I don't care how many bugs there are coming with me," you
know. And that was about it. I was getting to the end of my tolerance,
thermal tolerance. My visor was all sweated up. I couldn't see where
I was going. We got out of the helicopter, could se[nse] hordes of
people. I'm waving and stumbling along. I don't know where I'm going,
can't see, hot, tired. I wasn't ticked off; I was very pleased.
But anyway, then they got us inside the house trailer, the MQF…and
they closed the door, and then we got all our germs out inside it,
then it was okay from then on.
I heard you mention something about keeping the mice healthy.
Well, the whole thing with the LRL, Lunar Receiving Laboratory, they
had a colony of I don't know how many white mice, and they exposed
them to the moon rocks and to us. Had there been some strange malady,
maybe these mice's grandparents had some genetic defect or something,
I don't know, but had the mice all sickened, jeez, I hate to thing
about it. We'd be in that building today. [Laughter]
Can I ask what it was like in the MQF, Mobile Quarantine Facility,
once you were transferred?
It was fine. I mean, it was a happy little home. These people are
there. There were three of us plus two. We had the doctor and the
engineer, John [Hirasaki]...Anyway, Bill Carpentier was the physician
and John [Hirasaki]…Anyway, we were there, five people happy
as clams to be in a confined space. It's not that confined. It's like
living in a trailer for—we were in it for, I don't know, a day?
That's about all. So it was no problem. We had gin on board, had steaks.
There you go. [Laughter]
What the hell? I could have stayed in there a lot longer. That was
fine. And a hot shower. That was the main thing, really, because I
love hot showers, and, of course, there's not one on the command module.
I was grubby and glad to be back. Hot shower, gin, and steak. Wow!
That's all a man can ask for.
Now, if someone had said to me, "You can have either a hot shower
or a gin martini or a steak," it would have been easy to say,
"I don't want the steak." But the choice between the gin
martini and the hot shower, I don't know what I would have done. It
would have been close, very close.
Then I think you proceeded on to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory here
Can I ask how long did you stay there and what types of things -
I believe the rule was—we had to be in isolation, I believe,
twenty-one days from the time we left the moon. So if you subtract
the transit time back and the MQF time—I just don't remember
anymore, but it seems like my numbers must be wrong, because I have
the feeling we spent eight or nine days in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory.
It must have been longer than that, or maybe I don't remember the
quarantine period, but I want to say there was a twenty- or twenty-one
day quarantine, but it doesn't seem—I don't know. I've forgotten.
From what I've read, they said twenty-one days from the time of the
That sounds like what I just said, but somehow—because then
from that you subtract four days and another five. So that would have
been sixteen days in the LRL. It doesn't seem like it was that long.
Maybe it was. But again, it was fine. No problem. We had comfortable
rooms, good food. We had to write post-flight reports anyway, so it
wasn't as if some horrible injustice had been done to us or anything
like that. It was fine.
It seems that after that, I'm sure you were swamped with press conferences
and photo opportunities and a trip around the world to meet various
All those things.
What was that like, and how did that impact your work as well as your
outlook on what you had done?
I don't know. That's an interesting question, but I don't know the
answer. Well, let me see. In the first place, everything worked on
Apollo 11 so extraordinarily well that we didn't really have any embarrassments
or anything to conceal from public scrutiny or anything to worry about,
so it was very easy in terms of press conferences or talking to people.
How did it go? Well, fine. Everything was great. So that part of it,
it was very easy that way.
On the other hand, it does get tiresome. I get very tired, not so
much anymore because—well, for a whole variety of reasons, but
in those days I got tired of being asked the same things over and
over and over and over and over and over and over again. And that's
hard to explain, because you can see it in people's faces. They meet
this guy who just came back from the moon, just came back last week
or last year or last decade, and it doesn't matter too much. They've
never met anybody that's gone to the moon before, and they say, "What
was it like?" you know, all excited, and the guy says, "Oh,
God. It was great, terrific." You can tell that the guy is bored
out of his skull, and that person must think—you can see it
in their eyes, "What kind of a person is this person? He's just
come back from the moon. He's not even excited about it?" It
isn't the fact that he's not excited about it, it's the fact that
he's been asked that same question ten million times and he can't
stand it anymore. It's hard to explain to people.
I understand it.
Yes. But the trip around the world was very, very interesting. I think
all of us felt—I certainly did—very honored and fortunate
that they put a whole big airplane at our disposal, the back-up Air
Force One, a big Boeing 707 that had a whole crew. There were three
of us and our three wives, some people from NASA Headquarters, Julian
Scheer, the public affairs guy, and some others. It was a small and
friendly and compatible group. We got to go places and do things that
normal people are not privileged to do, and it was a privilege.
It was very tiring. I don't know, there's something about being on
edge and having to go through receiving lines and remember people's
names, and meeting kings and queens, and making speeches, and flying
all night and then doing it again the next day, there's something
very tiring about that. I mean, I was physically ground down by the
end of—I think it was twenty-eight cities in thirty-three days,
or thirty-three cities in twenty-eight days, or something like that,
but by the end of it I was very tired. But on the other hand, I couldn't
criticize five minutes of it. It was a wonderful opportunity.
It seems that after that people wanted to name so many things after
you, and you had your signatures just written out by a machine, I
think, through a NASA office, even. One question comes to mind, going
back to Apollo 11. Right at the time of the launch, they came up with
the idea of having a plaque put on the LM with everybody's name on
it. I heard that you didn't know about that, that your name had been
signed to it. Is that true?
You know, the machine you're talking about, called the Autopen, and
the astronaut office certainly had them, and if you check the signatures
on that plaque, "We came in peace for all mankind," you'll
find that the three of ours—I don't know about Richard Nixon's,
but the three of ours are autopenned. What we knew about it and didn't
know about it, my recollection's not too crisp about it. I recall
that we knew something, there was going to be some kind of plaque,
and they were kicking around what it should say. Now, I remember that
after the landing, I can remember talking to Julian Scheer about it.
Julian's a wonderful guy. Are you going to talk to him? Is he on your
list of people to talk to?
I'd like to add him to it.
You should. You should. He's a wonderful guy. He has a wonderful sense
of humor, and he was in the middle of this from a PR point of view.
I can remember Julian was one of the guys who worked out the wording,
"Here men from Planet Earth landed and when we came, blah, blah,
blah, July of 1969 A.D., we came in peace for all mankind." I
think Julian wrote that, or one of his people did, and then he had
to clear it with the White House. He was over there talking to somebody
on the Nixon staff, and they said, "Well, I don't see anything
in there about God. You know the President's big on God." [Laughter]
So you ought to ask Julian about that.
But before the flight, see, we were so beset with technical details,
that if someone had said, "Hey, we're going to put a plaque on
the LM," we'd have said, "Fine."
"It's going to have your name on it."
"It's going to say this."
"Fine. I don't give a damn. Give me something important."
So even though it may seem important from a historical or public affairs
point of view, it did not loom large. [Its wording couldn't kill us.]
One of my questions for you is going to be to ask you if you have
any ideas of other people that we can interview and people that you
think are important to the history of the—
Well, I'd sure put Julian on the list. Off the top of my head, he's
the only one I can think of. You would know better than I, I think.
I don't have any—no.
I think he might be a good addition [unclear].
He's a good fellow. You ought to talk to him.
My next two questions concern mostly what you think about your career,
both at NASA and otherwise. I'll just ask you, first of all, what
you think your accomplishments were and especially what your greatest
I have no idea. Accomplishments. Well, Moltke the Elder…One
of the Moltkes, who said, "Luck, in the long run, favors only
the able." And that's kind of what I believe. I believe a lot
in luck. I think there's a tremendous amount of just being the right
age. Look, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were all born in 1930, okay?
That's a question of being in the right time. Now, being in the right
place has to do with their backgrounds and how they became pilots
or whatever, but there's an awful lot of luck, and I feel that I've
been very, very lucky in my life to be in the right place at the right
On the other hand, I'd have to say, as Moltke did, in the long run,
if you seem to be very lucky, maybe you're doing something right also.
So I think to be successful is a combination of luck and skill, and
that's what I feel in my life. I mean, I don't feel I'm any bloody
genius or have any extraordinary ability, but I'm a stable person
and I don't have a lot of weaknesses. In other words, if I go to school,
I do about as well in math as I do in English. I'm diversified, if
you want to put it that way, and I think that's been a help in the
jobs that I have had. I'm not explaining this very well.
But what are my accomplishments? I don't know. I've been in the right
place at the right time, and I've been able to do a good job when
those opportunities were presented to me. Now, someone else can maybe
do a hell of a lot better job. I'm not claiming that they couldn't.
But what I'm saying about myself is, I'm stable and I'm diversified
and I'm not narrowly focused. I'm not extraordinarily good in one
area and extraordinarily bad in the other. I'm kind of even, even
I think that's very modest.
I'd like to ask you, then, what you think the biggest challenges you
encountered in your career were.
I don't know the answer to that either. The biggest challenge. I don't
know. Again, going back to this being even or—that's not the
word I'm searching for, but coming from a broad base, I felt that
I was not as technically sharp as perhaps some of the other astronauts
were, and I think one of the challenges for me was to make sure that
I learned and retained and remembered and learned and relearned and
pounded in my dull skull all the technical odds and ends and bits
and pieces that I needed. So I thought one challenge was mastering
this gigantic pile of machinery that is the Gemini spacecraft, the
Apollo command module, or whatever. That was a big challenge to me,
and I felt I probably was not natively as well equipped as some of
the other people were for doing that. So that was one challenge.
Then later on, in other jobs, the challenge, of course, is less technical
detail than it is being an astronaut. It's more people; I mean getting
along with people. So I think my biggest challenge, as for almost
everyone, is trying to evaluate people and hire good people, fire
bad people, get along with people, managing people, all those things.
And I tend to do okay on that. I've made some big blunders people-wise,
but I tend to do okay on that. As I say, I'm a balanced person. I'm
not extraordinarily strong and extraordinarily weak in one area or
the other, but I'm balanced, and that's about all I know.
I appreciate that. I'm going to have one final question for you, and
I will try to make this short. I'm just wondering what your thoughts
on the future of the space program are and where you think NASA should
Well, I'm not—boy, and I just made a big speech about how balanced
I am, and now I'm going to contradict it and say I'm unbalanced, because
I'm Mars, Mars, Mars, and Mars. I've always been Mars. Before I went
to the moon, I was Mars. After I came back from the moon, I hoped
that we would be Mars. [Vice President] Spiro Agnew, God bless him,
tried to push a Mars program. Tom Paine liked Mars. [President] George
Bush wanted to go back to the moon and on to Mars. I think the really
interesting thing in the future is Mars.
If you need an International Space Station as a stepping stone to
Mars, okay. Frankly, the International Space Station kind of bores
me, like it does the American public. I'm not sure that you really
need it, but it looks like we're going to have it, so I'm certainly
not going to resurrect that argument. Going back to the moon? I'm
not in favor of that because I think it's a gigantic sinkhole of money,
time, and talent, and that going back to the moon will create as many
problems as it solves and will delay and delay and delay Mars. I'm
pro-Mars. That's all I can say.
Thank you, and I want to thank [unclear] I just want to tell you I
appreciate the fact that you've written such well—