NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
26 May 2006
Wright: Today is May 26th, 2006. This oral history interview is being
conducted with Robert Crippen for the NASA Johnson Space Center Oral
History Project in Houston, Texas, at the NASA Johnson Space Center.
The interviewer is Rebecca Wright.
Thank you so much for coming in today and visiting with us and giving
us time for this project. We know you were here just a few weeks ago
to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the inaugural flight
of the Space Shuttle Program. You served as pilot for that first mission.
Tell us how you were selected.
Beats the heck out of me. I had anticipated that I would get to fly
on one of the Shuttle flights early on, because there weren’t
that many of us in the Astronaut Office during that period of time.
I was working like everybody else was working in the office, and there
were lots of qualified people. But one day we had the [Space Shuttle]
Enterprise coming through on the back of the [Boeing] 747. It landed
out at Ellington [Field, Houston, Texas], and I forget now where it
But I happened to go out there with George [W. S.] Abbey, who at that
time was the Director of Flight Crew Operations. As we were strolling
around the vehicle, looking at the Enterprise up there on the 747,
George said something to the effect of, “Crip, would you like
to fly the first one?”
About that time I think I started doing handsprings on the tarmac
out there. I couldn’t believe it. It blew my mind that he’d
let me go fly the first one with John [W.] Young, who was the most
experienced guy we had in the office, obviously, and the Chief of
the Astronaut Office. So it was a thrill. It was one of the high points
of my life.
Tell us how your previous assignments and even your military experiences
helped prepare you for this first flight.
Well, I guess most of my adult life I’d sort of worked in that
direction. When I was a freshman at the University of Houston [Houston,
Texas], I remember writing a paper on rockets and doing some research
to do that. I spent my sophomore year up at Huntsville, Texas, at
Sam Houston [State University], and it was [at] that time that the
Russians put up the Sputnik [satellite]. So it was very obvious to
me that before long people were going to be going into space, and
I’d always wanted to fly, and I guess flying higher and faster
is the objective of most pilot types. So I wanted to continue working
in that direction.
I ended up going to the University of Texas [Austin, Texas], where
I got a degree in aerospace engineering. Planned on joining the Navy
to go fly and work my way [to] test pilot school. I managed to make
those objectives. Ended up at the Air Force Test Pilot School [Edwards
Air Force Base, California], which at that time was called Aerospace
Research Pilot School; they changed the name because they were trying
to get spacey, I believe.
The opportunity came to apply both to NASA and the military, because
the military was doing a man in space program called the Manned Orbiting
Laboratory [MOL]. I applied for both. At some point in the process
I had to decide one way or the other and ended up picking MOL, because
I thought NASA had more astronauts than they knew what to do with,
and the [Apollo] program, even though it hadn’t started, it
was already starting to have some of the flights canceled. Ended up
being selected for MOL, and sure enough, after a couple of years on
that program, it got canceled. Was lucky enough to get transferred
over to NASA, along with six of my cohorts that were crew members
Started working on things like Skylab, and after Skylab I had an opportunity
to work on the Shuttle, which was in the development [phase] at the
time. Then I guess all that sort of added up, building on my experience.
Working on the Shuttle, I did primarily the software stuff, computers,
which I enjoyed doing. And I think all that, stacked up together,
kind of opened up the doors for me to fly, whether it was on the first
one, and I’m not sure whose decision that was, whether it was
John Young’s, George Abbey’s, or who knows, but I’m
sure glad they picked me.
During those years of training with the MOL and also out at the Air
Force Pilot School, you did some computer programming as well. In
fact, I understand you took the first class at the University of Texas
in computer programming.
Wow, it’s interesting that you should know that. I did. It was
my senior year. Computers were just starting to—shows you how
old I am—to be widely used, I guess is probably the best answer.
Not PCs [personal computers] or anything like that, but big mainframe
kind of things, and Texas offered a course, and I decided I was interested
in that and I would try it. It was fun. That was back when we were
doing punch cards and all that kind of stuff.
When I got selected for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, there was
an opportunity to work on the computers with that vehicle. I elected
to do that, along with my friend Dick [Richard H.] Truly. So because
of that interest, when I got transferred over to NASA, when I was
assigned to work on Skylab, I said I’d like to work on the computers
for that, which they had a computer very similar to what we were using
on the Manned Orbiting Laboratory. So I did that, and so it was kind
of natural, when we finished up Skylab and I started working on the
Space Shuttle, to say, “Hey, I’d like to work on the computers.”
T. K. [Thomas Kenneth] Mattingly [II] was running all the Shuttle
operations in the Astronaut Office at that time. Didn’t have
that many people that wanted to work on computers, so he said, “Go
It was one of the nice things in the Shuttle and in lots of vehicles;
the computer sort of interfaced with everything, so it gives you an
opportunity to learn the entire vehicle.
You really got on the ground floor, I guess, of that. How involved
were you with the Approach and Landing Test?
I was assigned as a chase pilot for the Approach and Landing Test,
flying in a T-38 [training aircraft] alongside the vehicles as they
popped off the 747. But my first assignment on the very first drop,
which Fred [W.] Haise [Jr.] and [Charles] Gordon [“Gordo”]
Fullerton were doing, was family escort. On all missions it’s
been tradition that, with the spouses, that we have an astronaut there,
primarily to keep them informed of what’s going on, but also
in case some contingency arises, you can help them with that. So I
was out there with all the wives, not only for Fred and Gordo, but
also the wives of the crews on the 747, and it was fun to get to watch
Come back home again.
Yes. But then I did do flight chase on several of the Approach and
Did you continue your work on software issues? I also understand you
did the cockpit displays. You started working on some of those.
I was continuing to work on the software at the time, and that naturally
led, because the displays that we had on the cathode ray tubes are
software generated, that was sort of a natural extension to work some
of those displays. Not so much the flight profile displays, but the
ones dealing with systems. Then Dick Truly and Gordon Fullerton and
I also worked on the cockpit switches and displays—we sort of
did it all together. It wasn’t just me; it was all of us working
on it. But it was an interesting time and a very busy one. As I mentioned
earlier, we didn’t have too many people in the office back in
that period, so there was plenty of work to go around.
There was the time, of course, that the nation wasn’t flying,
because we were preparing for Shuttle, and that kept the date moot.
At what point in time did you feel that—and this is before Mr.
Abbey told you that you would be flying—that you would feel
like you would be able to move into that? Because during this time
period that you were working on the computers, the Astronaut Office
included thirty-five new guys that came in. So did you feel at some
point that you would be able to fly, or were you going to have to
wait a little bit longer?
Well, if I recall correctly, we had about twenty-five people in the
office before the thirty-five new guys were selected in 1978, and
that actually pretty much coincided with me being told that I was
going to fly the first flight. So when they came on board, I was already
aware of that, and I think we pretty much knew that we were going
to take advantage of the experience we had in the office and try to
bring on the new people as fast as we could.
One of the things that I should mention in the software, we put together
a—I guess we called it the Tiger Team at the time, made up of
Mission Ops [Operations] people and myself representing the Astronaut
Office. It was being led by Phil [Philip C.] Shaffer, who was one
of the Flight Directors. We were working the software as a unit for
the operations, as far as requirements were concerned.
Unfortunately, Phil became ill and had to leave, and so they put me
in charge of the Tiger Team. I really had an opportunity to work closely
with the Mission Ops folks, MOD [Mission Operations Directorate] at
that time, and help develop the software in a wider perspective, I
guess, than just what the crew was seeing, because we were working
it also for what the ground was going to see. That was really helpful.
I had worked as a capcom [capsule communicator] extensively and for
all of the Skylab programs and all the Skylab flights, and also for
the Apollo-Soyuz [Program], so I still think that today I have a close
association with the folks from Mission Ops and Flight Control. They’re
what keeps you safe when you’re flying. You’ve got lots
of eyeballs looking at you. So working that Tiger Team was really
important to me personally for the first flight.
What type of insight did you get for the operations side when you
worked in Skylab and also in the times that you worked in the ASTP
[Apollo-Soyuz Test Project]?
Skylab was a unique time. I guess it’s similar to what we’re
doing now with the International Space Station. It, in fact, was a
Space Station, and we flew—our first mission was like twenty-eight
days and then fifty-six and then up to, I believe, eighty-four. You
don’t sit at a console with those folks working long hours without
getting to know them well and know how they operate and knowing their
insight to what’s going on. So that was extremely helpful to
I might mention that leading up to Skylab, I got volunteered for a
unique mission, the Skylab Medical Experiments Altitude Test [SMEAT],
where Bill [William E.] Thornton and “Bo” [Karol Joseph]
Bobko and I spent fifty-six days locked up in a vacuum chamber.
Small; a small vacuum chamber. [Laughter]
A small vacuum chamber over in Building 7. It was primarily to get
what I would call the ground truth for the [medical] experiments.
Everything was the same, including the atmosphere, except we weren’t
in microgravity. That was probably the start of where I really got
to know the folks in MOD well, because I worked with them to help
set up what we were going to be doing during the test.
It was fifty-six days, I believe, but you spent more, almost a year
or so, between the prep [preparation] time and the time you were in
the chamber and the follow-up time. What specialties did you have
to learn? We understand from Bo Bobko that he was almost—I believe
his expression was if he had pulled one more tooth, he’d have
been a dentist. [Crippen laughs.] Did you have any special medical
The plan was, and I guess we were the leaders, to make sure that the
crews, since they were going to be in orbit for a long time, could
deal with what I would call minor medical emergencies, and part of
that was to send us off to dentistry school. We ended up San Antonio
[Texas] at the Air Force hospital there. In fact, Bo Bobko and I did
extract several teeth. I recall this one young man came in. We’d
done it several times with the real dentist overseeing what we were
doing, and this one young man came in and his teeth were in terrible
shape. He had a couple that needed to be extracted, and we asked the
dentist, “Well, are you going to come in?”
He said, “No, you guys can do it.”
So Bo and I managed to—the kid was probably about late teens
or twenty years old, and he was a little bit nervous, but I did the
novocaine with the needle and all that stuff, and Bo flipped the tooth
out, because it wasn’t in very firmly. I remember the kid, when
he got up, he says, “You guys are the best dentists I’ve
ever been to.” We didn’t let him know the real truth.
I wonder if he knows that his dentists flew in space.
We had to learn CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] and had this dummy
that people still use today called “Resuscitation Annie.”
At that time in CPR, they always had you beat on the chest before
you did the compressions. So everybody had been talking about it.
It was my turn to go down and try, and I whopped the dummy on the
chest several times. Hand kind of smarted a little bit. Went through
it, and it’s okay. About that time my hand just started to swell
up, and I had broken the fifth metacarpal, and everybody concluded
they didn’t want to have a heart attack with me around.
[Laughs] Oh, gosh. Well, I can’t imagine being fifty-six days
and giving you that feeling of a Space Station environment. And working
so closely with Life Science, that was, I guess, another unique experience
where you became very closely involved with all of the experiences
Since we had all the medical experiments on board that [were] going
to be flying, and the medical aspect of it was a primary objective,
we did work very closely with Life Sciences and did all of the bad
things that we could think of to do to your body to make sure you
were still healthy.
What type of input did you give them as far as from the astronaut
perspective about what would work, what’s not going to work?
Well, the urine collection system on board was very vital to Skylab,
because they needed to sample the urine and freeze it, and bring it
back and those kind of things. It was sized too small and one burst
in the chamber, which was not fun. But as a result of that, the system
You also had input on communication systems and timelines and those
types of things that are long-duration elements.
Primarily, it was, I guess, more like the psychological thing [to
stay busy]. On Skylab they had a lot more [to do]. They were doing
Earth observations. They were doing solar observations and those kinds
of things, and we didn’t have them. So we went through trying
to add things just to keep us occupied, and I think that was carried
over, that you want people to be busy, but you also want them to have
time to relax. We did some of that; probably should have done it better,
because we ended up overworking a couple of the Skylab [crews] somehow.
Were these some of the aspects and elements that you thought you’d
be doing as part of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory when you were part
of the Air Force? [Crippen laughs.] Or can you share with us what
you were supposed to do?
Well, if I told you what we were doing on MOL, I’d have to shoot
you. It’s still classified. But essentially, it was a laboratory
that was going to go up for thirty days and do military experiments.
So we had all the problems of living in orbit for long durations and
working up there with two-man crews, because we were using the Gemini
vehicle as our vehicle up and down. But many of the things, just with
the living aspects of being in orbit for a long period of times were
directly associated with Skylab, and that was one of the reasons I
think most of us were assigned to work on Skylab.
I understand, too, that you had a different qualification for being
pulled in as part of the astronaut corps. All of you were very qualified,
but the astronaut corps couldn’t take everybody, so you were
split in half.
Well, I remember Bo—we were having all these pilot meetings
after the program got canceled, and we had, I believe, fourteen crew
members at the time. We were all bemoaning as to what we were going
to go do next. That was probably one of the lows in my life, when
we have a program that was going great, and one morning I got a call,
“Hey, it’s canceled.” So we were down in the dumps,
to say the least.
One morning at the pilots’ meeting, Bo said, “Why don’t
we call NASA and see if they could use us?”
We all pooh-poohed the idea, “Hey, NASA’s got more astronauts
than they know what to do with,” because the program got canceled
on June the tenth of 1969, just before Neil [A. Armstrong] and Buzz’s
[Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr.] and Mike’s [Michael
Collins] flight on Apollo 11. But one thing led to another, and we
did formally ask whether they could use us, and it ended up all of
us came down and talked to NASA. In fact, we were here during the
Apollo 11 Moon landing.
I remember “Deke” [Donald K.] Slayton, who at that time
was head of Flight Crew Operations, saying, “Hey, guys, I got
more astronauts than I know what to do with. I really don’t
But his boss, at that time the Associate Administrator for the Office
of Space Flight, George [E.] Mueller, said, “Take some of them.”
So Deke said that, “Well, okay. I’ll split the group in
half and take everybody that’s thirty-five and younger,”
and it was about that arbitrary. Then Deke said, when we came on board,
he said, “Hey, guys. I’ve got lots of work for you to
do, but there aren’t going to be any flights until the Space
Shuttle flies, and that’s probably going to be like 1980.”
At that time, the Shuttle wasn’t actually even an approved program.
But it sounded good to all of us, and all of us came.
One of the other assignments you had before STS-1 is that you worked
as part of the backup crew for the ASTP mission and was able to travel
to Russia. Could you share with us how that was, especially since
you had spent so much of your career thinking about Russia; it was
during the Cold War.
It was during the Cold War, right. Well, actually, I was part of the
support crew. I wasn’t backup crew. Let’s see, Al [Alan
L.] Bean, Ron [Ronald E.] Evans, and I can’t remember right
now who the third backup crew was; maybe it’s Jack [John R.]
Lousma. We had Dick Truly, Bob [Robert F.] Overmyer, myself, and I
believe Bo Bobko ended up being the support crew for Apollo-Soyuz.
Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford asked us if we would do that. We’d
been working on Shuttle up until that time, but it seemed like an
interesting thing to do. You’re right; since I’d spent
most of my military career getting ready to go to war with the Soviets,
to go over and interact with them like this was a little bit different,
but it was really interesting.
We were the first group to ever go to Baikonur [Kazakhstan], what
we called at that time Tyuratam, and see all of their launch operations
and their training operations at Star City, and then ended up being
a capcom for the mission. But it was interesting. It was great working
with the Russians. I found out that the cosmonauts—a pilot’s
a pilot the world over. We got along very well. Still [have] some
friends that we interact with there.
All those experiences you took with you on this trip to STS-1. You
had so much training for all the things that you had done prior to
that, but, of course, then you began training for the Shuttle, and
you were learning along with the trainers, because no one had done
this before. Share with us how you all came together and learned and
applied that knowledge and shared that knowledge so that your crew
and all the crews following you could be prepared for this new spacecraft.
Well, it was an interesting time, because we were trying to get the
simulators to work. That didn’t happen the first time out. So
then we were trying to validate that the simulators were as accurate
as we needed from a system standpoint and from Flight Control. So
we were developing procedures as we went.
I also was the crewman assigned to work what we called Flight Techniques
at the time. I remember Neil [B.] Hutchinson, who was the Flight Director,
was leading the Flight Techniques for ascent, and we worked out all
of them, the calls that we would make. Today when they lift off, they
get “Roll program; go with throttle up.” And “SRB
[Solid Rocket Booster] sep [separation] and up,” all of those
things we worked out prior to that first flight, and they use pretty
much all of them still today.
So we were all sort of learning together. Unfortunately, they gave
us more time to learn than we wanted, because the mission kept slipping.
We were named in ’78, and at the time we thought we might fly
in late ’79 or even ’80. Of course, it ended up being
’81. But we took advantage of the time. Unfortunately, or maybe
fortunately, we wrote procedures for every emergency that we could
conceive of that we could do something about. I think the crews are
still training for those today, even though we’ve pretty much
proven that they’re not realistic in many cases.
Talk about those first simulators and how they evolved through those
years. How did you change them? Again, you were trying to train for
something that was the unknown, so what are some of the lessons learned,
or what was some of the information that trainers and experienced
astronauts were bringing to the table to apply to the Shuttle simulators?
Well, prior to doing the first flight, all we had to go on was the
engineering data that we had, and we used that to make sure of what
we could do, as far as you could reach something or you couldn’t
reach something during ascent or entry. So, there are certain switches
that weren’t accessible during those periods of time, so we
had to make sure that the procedures would match what our capabilities
After the first flight we actually came back and did some modifications
to the simulator, mostly in the motion, as to how it felt in our motion-based
simulator, and tried to make it a little bit more accurate. I know
on the first flight we learned that the reaction control jets, which
are used to maneuver the vehicle while you’re on orbit, really
are loud. It sounds like a Howitzer [gun] going off outside the window,
and of course, no sound is transmitted through space; you’re
getting it back through the structure of the spacecraft. But it was
a good thing to at least try to simulate that a little bit better
in the simulator so that people weren’t really surprised by
And that’s, of course, something you didn’t know till
you got there. [Laughs]
Well, I knew they’d be loud, but it was louder than I expected.
In the history of the Spacecraft Center and Mission Control, the Sim
Sups [Simulation Supervisors] have always such a reputation of being
tough on their crews. Did you encounter that as well?
Oh, absolutely. I don’t guess they could be Sim Sups if they
weren’t tough. What they were primarily trying to do is to make
sure that the procedures we had in place would work and that we knew
how to use them. That was for both us in the cockpit and for the Mission
Control folks, because we all had to work together. They would run
you through the wringer, which is what we wanted them to do. If there
was something that could fail, we wanted to make sure we could deal
It was kind of funny that my middle daughter is one of those simulator
instructors today. [Laughs] And I hear she’s pretty tough.
She might need to use you as a student. I understand that maybe one
of the rules that you can’t drink coffee during training simulations
is your doing. [Crippen laughs.] Want to explain to us how that rule
Oh yes. Early on we were getting ready for one of our first big integrated
sims [simulations] with Mission Control, and John and I used to—we
would climb up in the cockpit with our cups of coffee and sit down
in our seats and proceed to work. [Then] one day with this simulation
going on, we climbed in and put our coffee down, and we set them on
some checklists, books that we had sitting there on the console.
Somehow during the process of getting ready—this was before
the sim started—my cup of coffee ended up spilling over, all
over the center console between the pilot and the commander, which
was full of electrical apparatus. Sure enough, lights started to light
up everywhere in the cockpit and on the simulator’s console.
So we had to fess up that, hey, it was probably not going to work
that day, and we had to come down.
I’m curious as to whether people carry coffee into the cockpit
anymore. I doubt it. [Laughs]
I don’t think so. One of the other tools that you used to train
for the mission was the STA [Shuttle Training Aircraft].
Talk about the Shuttle Training Aircraft and how that helped you.
Well, the Shuttle Training Aircraft, which is a modified G-2 that
has a computer in it, that essentially tries to model the way the
Shuttle is supposed to fly, and so when the pilot moves the control
stick, it goes to the computer. The computer goes through and tries
to move the aerial surfaces on the airplane to simulate the Shuttle.
It also has the thrust reversers, which are normally used in airplanes
to slow you down after you land, were modified so they could be applied
during flight so you could simulate the drag that you get on the Shuttle.
The folks did a marvelous job coming up with that vehicle. The ground-based
simulators give you some idea of what it’s like to fly, but
it’s not like the real thing, and the STA does an excellent
job of that. We did extensive approaches, primarily using the runway
out in White Sands [Test Facility], New Mexico, but we also flew at
Edwards [Air Force Base, Edwards, California], and we flew it at the
runway at the Kennedy Space Center [KSC, Florida].
I think John and I had on the order of fifteen hundred approaches
each before we flew that first flight, and even today all the crews
that fly get lots of practice in it. I think that’s why they’ve
made all the landings look as easy as they have, because they do have
that practice. It is different than flying an airplane, especially
in the final touchdown phases. It’s similar, but without that
simulator I think it would have been very tough to do as great a job
as John did on the first flight and the rest of the crews have after
Do you feel like it’s as close to being the real thing as doing
the real thing?
It is as close as I know how you could do it. The thing that’s
different primarily is if you’re in turbulence. Because of the
wing loading on the Shuttle Training Airplane, it bounces around more
than the actual Orbiters do when they come in. They’re so big,
and the wings are such that you can pretty much plow through most
of the turbulence without bouncing or feeling it.
To get you prepared for this mission, you also did some simulations
involving actually repairs of tiles. You prepared by learning to do
EVAs [Extravehicular Activities]. Could you share with us about what
you didn’t have to do on that first mission?
Well, the tiles were a big concern. Initially, when they put the tiles
on, they weren’t adhering to the vehicle like they should. In
fact, [Space Shuttle] Columbia, when they brought it from Edwards
to the Kennedy Space Center the first time, it didn’t arrive
with as many tiles as it left California with. People started working
very diligently to try to correct that problem, but at the same time
people said, “Well, if we’ve got a tile missing off the
bottom of the spacecraft that’s critical to being able to come
back in, we ought to have a way to repair it.”
So we started looking at various techniques, and I remember we took
advantage of a simulator that Martin [Marietta Corporation] had out
in Denver [Colorado], where you could actually get some of the effect
of crawling around on the bottom of the vehicle and what it would
be like in zero-G [gravity]. I rapidly came to the conclusion I was
going to tear up more tile than I could repair, and that the only
realistic answer was for us to make sure the tiles stayed on.
Now I know today after the loss of Columbia that people are looking
at similar kinds of things again. They’ve got more capability,
especially when you’re docked to the International Space Station,
to access some of these places than what John and I would have had
on the first flight. But it was something I concluded, that at that
time we couldn’t have realistically repaired anything.
What about the EVA training? How did that evolve from this time when
you were being prepared for that?
Well, we only had two of us on board, and we concluded it was not
realistic for both of us to go outside, that somebody needed to be
inside to handle the systems if we had a person outside. The big thing
that we worried about from an EVA standpoint was the payload bay doors.
They were absolutely critical. As far as reentry was concerned, they
had to be closed. They’re kind of big items with lots of latches
that are somewhat complicated, and so we started trying to come up
with ways that if they didn’t close normally, that I could go
outside and get them closed. We devised winches with ropes and whatever,
pulleys to pull them down, and then latches that we could go apply
when the real latches didn’t work. So we did quite a bit of
simulation of that, and I felt fairly confident that if we ran into
a problem, that perhaps I could correct it. But it was not something
I was looking forward to.
I do recall in one of those simulations in one of our small water
tanks—at that time we didn’t have the big WETF [Weightless
Environment Training Facility] that they’ve got today—I
was in the tank working, and in a suit, a space suit, and the leg
on my suit, my left leg, I believe, blew off, which you would not
want to happen in space. I’m not sure whether somebody just
didn’t put it together right, but we ended beefing up the suits
after that, because they were absolutely critical. But that got my
attention. In fact, I was happy that I happened to be sort of in an
upright position when it happened, because if I’d been inverted,
which I was climbing around a lot of ways, all the water would have
come down into my suit and into my helmet. But luckily enough, that
That was quite an experience. You mentioned earlier about how the
date was slipping, and, of course, you had the tile issues. And I
know that at some point you had main engine issues that you were working
through. You were involved with all those aspects. How did you and
John Young remain focused on training and trying to get these objectives
down when you had all the attention of this first flight, plus all
the press coverage, and then the delays?
Well, we mentioned earlier that we had the class of ’78, the
thirty-five new guys, come on board. I think they made it possible,
because we essentially assigned each of those individuals to some
aspect of preparation for the flight. So they would go out and go
to the Flight Techniques meetings. They would go run what we’d
call the SAIL, our Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory. They were
looking at the hardware at the Cape [Canaveral, Florida]. So we had
a multitude of people that were focusing on making sure that John
and I could focus on the flight. But it did keep us busy.
Well, the day did finally get there. Well, first you had one day.
April the tenth came and it was the original date for launch, but
the flight was delayed due to a computer issue. What were your thoughts
about that, since you—did you get to help resolve that issue?
[Laughs] You know, the vehicle is so complicated, I fully anticipated
that we would go through many, many countdowns before we ever got
off. When it came down to this particular computer problem, though,
I was really surprised, because that was the area I was supposed to
know, and I had never seen this happen; never heard of it happening.
It was where the backup computer couldn’t hear what the primary
computers were saying. There were four primary computers and one backup
computer, and we considered the backup absolutely essential to have,
but they weren’t communicating properly.
I know John and I spent an extra three hours out on the pad strapped
in on our backs, for a total of six hours strapped in, before we finally
gave up. In fact, that six hours is still used as the max [maximum]
to put people through, because it does get pretty uncomfortable strapped
in on your back for that long a period of time.
But we climbed out, and I said, “Well, this is liable to take
months to get corrected,” because I didn’t know what it
was. I’d never seen it. It was so unusual, and the software
so critical to us.
But we had, again, a number of people that were working very diligently
on it. In fact, they used the SAIL again, and they proved what the
problem was, which was an initialization thing. We just happened to
catch a minute window when we started up the backup computer that
caused the problem to occur. So it was rapidly concluded that, “Hey,
if you go do it again, the odds are it’s not going to happen.”
So we scrubbed on the tenth, pretty much figured out the problem on
the eleventh, and elected to go again on the twelfth. But when we
went out there, I didn’t think we were going to go again. I
thought, “Hey, we’ll go out. Something else will go wrong.
So we’re going to get lots of exercises at climbing in and out.”
But I was wrong again.
Well, as part of ASTP, you helped strap the crew in.
Now this role was reversed, and someone was strapping you in. Were
some of the same procedures and some of the processes that were done
during the Apollo time, were those transitioned over, or was it a
completely different way of doing business with the Shuttle?
It was similar. It’s a different vehicle. You still have a closeout
crew; still have somebody running the closeout crew. Günther
[F.] Wendt, who’s infamous and famous at the Cape, has been
the pad führer since the Mercury days, and he was the pad leader
on Apollo-Soyuz when I was the crewman assigned to go in and help
with the closeout. We still use that today, and we did for STS-1,
put an astronaut in with the closeout crew that is there to help the
crew strap in and make sure the vehicle is configured properly for
flight. So those things have carried on and are still being carried
Well, you were ready to go, and Launch Director George [F.] Page put
a hold on. Will you share with us your thoughts about where you were
at that point, and then, of course, what you felt as Shuttle did lift
off for the first time.
Well, George Page, a great friend, one of the best Launch Directors
Kennedy Space Center has ever had, really ran a tight Control Room.
He didn’t allow a bunch of talking going on. He wanted people
to focus on their job. In talking prior to going out there, George
told John and I, he says, “Hey, I want to make sure everybody’s
really doing the right thing and focused going into flight. So I may
end up putting a hold in that is not required, but just to get everybody
calmed down and making sure that they’re focused.”
It turned out that he did that. I believe it was at the launch-minus-nine-minute
point, and it was for a few minutes, to get relaxed. I was sitting
back and, you know something’s going to—it’s after
you pass that point that things really start to come up in the vehicle,
and you are looking at more systems, and I said, “Hey, we’re
going to find something that’s going to cause us to scrub again.”
So I wasn’t very confident that we were going to go.
But we hadn’t run into any problem up to that point, and when
we did come out of the nine-minute hold, five minutes, I started up
the APUs, the auxiliary power units. Everything was going good. The
weather was looking good. About one minute to go, I turned to John.
I said, “I think we might really do it,” and about that
time, my heart rate started to go up. I think they said it was—because
we were being recorded, and it was up to about 130. John’s was
down about 90. He said he was just too old for his to go any faster.
And sure enough, the count came on down, and the main engines started.
The solid rockets went off, and away we went.
Just as planned.
Just as planned. Pleasantly surprised.
You had, going into the mission, approximately 140 mission objectives
on this two-day flight. Share with us how you two were able to accomplish
so much that you did and to get the systems checked out for the next
Well, of course, on those initial flights, including the first one,
we only had two people on board, and there was a lot to do. We didn’t
have any payloads, except for instrumentation to look at all of the
vehicle. So we were primarily going through what I would call nominal
things for a flight, but they were being done for the first time,
which is the way a test flight would be done.
First you want to make sure that the solids would do their thing,
that the main engines would run, and that the tank would come off
properly, and that you could light off the orbital maneuvering engines
as planned; that the payload bay doors would function properly; that
you could align the inertial measuring units; the star trackers would
work; the environmental control system, the Freon loops, would all
function. So John and I, we were pretty busy. The old “one-armed
paper hanger” thing is appropriate, in this case.
But we did find a little time to look out the windows, too.
You had been a pilot with the Navy and then served at the Air Force
school. You’d flown many types of aircraft, with hundreds of
hours flying in planes. How did being a pilot in the Shuttle differ
from being a pilot in the airplanes?
First, we use the terms commander and pilot to confuse everybody,
and it’s really because none of us red-hot test pilots want
to be called a copilot. In reality, the commander is the pilot, and
the pilot is a copilot, kind of like a first officer if you’re
flying on a commercial airliner. So my job on this particular mission
was primarily systems oriented, working the computers, working the
electrical systems, working the auxiliary power units, doing the payload
However, I was also trained to fly the vehicle if that should be necessary.
So usually when you’re flying an airplane, you don’t have
as many systems to worry about, or they’re much simpler, and
you’re also doing the piloting. Most of my career was spent
in single-piloted airplanes. I didn’t fly with copilots, so
it was different from that aspect. But the vehicle is such that you
need two people, or more, if you can get them.
You had ejection seats in this first mission. What were your thoughts
about if you had to use them and what type of training and information
was given to you in the event that you would have to utilize these?
Well, because there was a test flight and people felt like we needed
some way to get out if something went wrong, in truth, if you had
to use them while the solids were there, I don’t believe you’d—if
you popped out and then went down through the fire trail that’s
behind the solids, that you would have ever survived, or if you did,
you wouldn’t have a parachute, because it would have been burned
up in the process. But by the time the solids had burned out, you
were up to too high an altitude to use it.
On entry, if you were coming in short of the runway because something
had happened, either you didn’t have enough energy or whatever,
you could have ejected. However, the scenario that would put you there
is pretty unrealistic.
So I personally didn’t feel that the ejection seats were really
going to help us out if we really ran into a contingency. I don’t
believe they would have done much for you, other than maybe give somebody
a feeling that, hey, well, at least they had a possibility of getting
out. So I was never very confident in them.
One of the tasks was to make sure the payload doors worked the way
they were supposed to. Tell us about, when you opened them, what you
Well, first, it was my first flight. We knew people had a potential
for space sickness, because that had occurred earlier, and the docs
[doctors] made me take some medication before liftoff just in case.
I was very sensitive when we got on orbit as to how I would move around.
I didn’t want to move my head too fast. I didn’t want
to get flipped upside down in the cockpit. So I was moving, I guess,
very slowly, and when it came time to open up the doors, I eased back
into the rear cockpit and—I only go through that because I was
standing there, starting to operate the doors, and I turned to John.
I said, “You know, this feels like every time I’ve done
it in the simulator, except my feet aren’t on the floor.”
I was there floating above the thing. But it was that kind of thing,
because the simulations were very good. So I went ahead and did the
procedure on the doors. Unlatched the latches; that worked great.
Opened up the first door, and at that time I saw, back on the orbital
maneuvering system’s [OMS] pods that hold those engines, that
there were some squares back there where obviously the tiles were
gone. They were dark instead of being white.
So I went ahead and completed opening the doors, and when we got ground
contact—because we didn’t have ground contact but, oh,
less than 25 percent of the time at that time, because we didn’t
have the satellites in orbit. We had to depend on ground stations.
We told the ground, “Hey, there’s some tile missing back
there,” and we gave them some TV [television] views of the tiles
that were missing.
Personally, that didn’t cause me any great concern, because
I knew that all the critical tiles, the ones primarily on the bottom,
we’d gone through and done a pull test with a little device
to make sure that they were snugly adhered to the vehicle. Some of
them we hadn’t done, and that included the ones back on the
OMS pods, and we didn’t do them because those were primarily
there for reusability, and the worst that would probably happen was
we’d get a little heat damage back there from it.
But, of course, the big question on the ground was, well, if some
of those are missing, are there some on the bottom missing. So I know
there was a lot of consternation going on on the ground about, hey,
are the tiles really there. But there wasn’t much that we could
do about it if they were gone, so I personally didn’t worry
about it, and I don’t think John worried about it very much.
But it was one of the items in the flight that got a lot of publicity
here on the ground, I know.
Others that you’d like to share that kind of was a nice reality
for you to experience there, something you hadn’t done in a
simulator and then you saw that it worked well, or some other experiences
on that first flight that you’d like to share?
Well, it was all fantastic. People ask me sometimes, “What was
the best part of the flight?”
I use John Young’s answer, which is, “The part between
takeoff and landing.” It was all great. Getting to look out
at the Earth and see it, and going around it once every hour and a
half, is phenomenal. It really is a unique experience. I would have
liked to have spent more times looking out the window. Now, I discovered
that the commander gets to look out the window more than the PLT [pilot]
does, so on my subsequent flights I took advantage of that.
But I will remark that I was worried about potentially being sick,
and it came time after we did the doors, to go get out of our launch
escape suits, the big garments we were wearing for launch. I went
first and went down to the middeck of the vehicle and started to unzip
and climb out of it, and I was tumbling every which way and slipped
out of my suit, and concluded, “Hey, if I just went and tumbled
this way and tumbled that way, and my tummy still felt good, then
I didn’t have to worry about getting sick, thank goodness.”
So I was probably not one that was afflicted with that.
But the other part that came there was that this vehicle was big enough,
not like the Command Modules of the Gemini or Mercury, that you could
move around quite a bit. Not as big as Skylab, but you could take
advantage of being weightless, and it was delightful. It was a truly
unique experience, learning to move around. I found out that it’s
always good to take your boots off, which I had taken mine off when
I came out of the seat, because people, when they get out and then
being weightless for the first time, they tend to flail their feet
a little bit like they were trying to swim or something, I’m
not sure. So I made sure on all my crews after that, they know that
no boots, no kicking.
One of the problems that really bugged the heck out of me on the flight
was, I mentioned earlier, we had a lot of development flight instrumentation.
We had some recorders for that, and one of them was not working. We
really wanted it to work for entry, because it was vital to getting
some data. So the ground asked me if I would go change it out with
another recorder. We’d practiced a number of in-flight maintenance
procedures—not this one—so, “Sure, we’ll go
give it a try.”
When I tried to take the panel off that it was behind—it had
some screwlike devices there—I tried screwdrivers. I tried power
wrenches. Couldn’t get them off. Called John down and asked
him if he’d try. He tried. He couldn’t. We couldn’t
get any of them to move, and we finally called down to the ground
and said, after we’d worked on it for a couple of hours, that,
hey, it was useless. It turns out after we got back down on the ground
that we’d discovered that the ground tech [technician] who put
that on decided he wanted to make sure it stayed on, so he used some
material called Loctite to make sure. You’d have to drill out
the screws to get it off. So it was an exercise in frustration, which
we made sure we didn’t use that on subsequent flights.
We had lots of—the potty didn’t work very well that first
flight. In fact, we went through several flights before we finally
got it to where it was functioning. That wasn’t pleasant. But
the food was great on board, those kinds of things. So all in all,
it was a delightful experience that will stick in my brain for a long
Now, was this the same food that you had to help test for Skylab during
that time, or had it improved some?
Well, it was derivatives of the Skylab food. But there was a lady
named Rita [M.] Rapp that handled all the food for Skylab, handled
the food for me for SMEAT, and she was handling it for Space Shuttle.
She was a great lady. We even had steak. It was irradiated so that
you could set it on the shelf for a couple of years, open it up, and
it was just like it had come off the grill. It was great. So we had
great food, from my perspective.
Sounds like it. Hated to come home, huh? [Laughter] But you did. You
had to bring it back home, and you landed back at Edwards, where you
had spent so much time, and although you weren’t the commander,
you still had quite a bit to do for that landing and reentry. Tell
us about that, coming home.
Well, that was also one of these test objectives, to make sure that
we could deorbit properly and how it would work on entry interface.
We did our deorbit burn on the dark side of the Earth and started
falling into the Earth’s atmosphere. It was still dark when
we started to pick up outside the window; it turned this pretty color
of pink. It wasn’t a big fiery kind of a thing like they had—with
the Command Modules and those kinds of things, they used the ablative
heat shield. It was just a bunch of little angry ions out there that
were proving that it was kind of warm outside, on the order of 3,000
degrees out the front window. But it was pretty. I’ve often
likened it—it was kind of like you were flying down a neon tube,
about that color of pink that you might see in a neon tube.
But things were working well. The autopilot was on. It was going through
the S-turns. John was somewhat concerned on that first flight that
when we got down deeper into the atmosphere, whether those S-turns
were going to work right. He ended up taking over control at around
Mach 7, and it was during this time, we didn’t have communication
with the ground, from, I think, I guess, Hawaii; it was before Hawaii.
But we had a good period there where we couldn’t talk to the
ground because there were no ground stations. I’m not sure it
was so much a blackout like you used to get in the Command Modules,
but it was just there was nobody to talk to because there was nobody
So I think the ground was pretty happy the first time we reported
in to them that we were still there, coming down. I deployed the air
data probes around Mach 5, and we started to pick up air data. We
started to pick up TACANS [Tactical Air Control and Navigation System]
to use to update our navigation system. And we could see the coast
of California. We came in over the San Joaquin Valley, which I’d
flown over many times, and I could see Tehachapi, which is the little
pass between San Joaquin and the Mojave Desert. You could see Edwards,
and you could look out and see Three Sisters, which are three dry
lakebeds out there. It was just like I was coming home. I’d
been there lots of times. I did remark over the radio that, “What
a way to come to California,” because it was a bit different
than all of my previous trips there.
John went in and out of autopilot, somewhere from Mach 7 down to around
Mach 1, and then he took it over manually at that time and started
our big turn around what we call our heading alignment circle. We
came over Edwards at around 40,000 feet and set up to land on the
lakebed out there. Lakebed 22 was the runway. As we were turning,
I could see all these cars out there on the lakebed. I thought it
was a big crowd out there. Anyway, but we were primarily focused on
making sure that the thing was doing what it was supposed to do.
My primary job was to get the landing gear down, which I did, and
John did a beautiful job of touching down. The vehicle had more lift
or less drag than we had predicted, so we floated for a longer period
than what we’d expected, which was one of the reasons we were
using the lakebed. But John greased it on.
Jon [A.] McBride was our chase pilot in the T-38. I remember him saying,
“Welcome home, Skipper,” talking to John. After we touched
down, John was—you know, he was feeling good. Joe [Joseph P.]
Allen was the capcom at the time, and John said, “Want me to
take it up into the hangar, Joe?” Because it was rolling nice.
He wasn’t using the brakes very much. Then we got stopped, and
John—now, you hardly ever see John excited. He has such a calm
demeanor. But he was excited in the cockpit.
We had a number of tasks that we needed to do, shutting down the APUs,
etc., in the cockpit, and we’re supposed to stay in there and
make sure everything was right—we were still working with the
Mission Control—until we got the support crew on board. There
were some astronauts that were coming on board to take over those
But John unstrapped; climbed down the ladder to the middeck; climbed
back up again; climbed back down again. He couldn’t sit still,
and I thought he was going to open up the hatch before the ground
did, and of course, they wanted to go around and sniff the vehicle
and make sure that there weren’t any bad fumes around there
so you wouldn’t inhale them. But they finally opened up the
hatch, and John popped out. Meanwhile I’m still up there, doing
my job, but I will never forget how excited John was. I completed
my task and went out and joined him a while later, but he was that
excited all the way home on the flight from Houston, too.
And you got to spend a few minutes with the Columbia all by yourself,
sitting in it. It’s a chance to do that.
Oh yes. Yes.
So you were talking about John Young. I’d like to ask you, you
were a rookie. You trained with him for many years, especially those
last three years before going in. What did you learn from him that
you took to share with your upcoming crews?
Well, when you’re a rookie going on a test flight like this,
you want to go with an old pro, and John was our old pro. He had four
previous flights, including going to the Moon, and John is not only
an excellent pilot, he’s an excellent engineer. I learned early
on that if John was worried about something, I should be worried about
it as well. This was primarily applying to things that we were looking
into preflight. So I guess it’s important for the commander
to sort of set the tone for the rest of the crew as to what you ought
to focus on, what you ought to worry about, and what you shouldn’t
worry about. I think that’s the main thing I got out of John.
But one thing I do regret is, in all those years, John—John
is about the funniest man I know. He’s got a dry wit that a
lot of people don’t appreciate fully at first, but he has got
so many one-liners. If I had just kept a log of all of John’s
one-liners during those three years of training, I could have published
a book, and he and I could have retired a long time ago. He really
is a great guy.
You also did, I guess, some traveling together, in the fact that there
were so many public appearances before and after, and then including
some with the White House, and I know on the flight you got a phone
call from the Vice President. Talk about that aspect of being an astronaut,
and, as a pilot, you are so attuned to doing the engineering and the
flying phase, and now you’re going out and doing all this other.
So tell us about all those experiences.
Well, that sort of comes with the territory. I don’t think most
of the astronauts sign up for the fame aspect of it. I might mention,
just to put it in perspective, that President [Ronald W.] Reagan was
shot two weeks prior to our flight. So that was why the Vice President
called, as opposed to the President. The Vice President—at that
time Vice President [George H. W.] Bush—had also come to visit
us at the Cape. It was sometime prior to flight, but we had him up
in the cockpit of Columbia and looked around; went out jogging a few
miles with him. So we felt like we had a personal rapport with him,
and so when we got a call from the Vice President, it was like talking
to an old friend.
The PR [Public Relations] that followed the flight I think was somewhat
overwhelming, at least for me. John was maybe used to some of it,
since he had been through the previous flights. But, we went everywhere.
We did everything.
Right after the flight we did this appearance out in Los Angeles [California]
that ABC was holding a big conference, I guess, of all their TV stations
at a big hotel in Los [Angeles], and somehow they’d conned us
into coming. They went through all this, and then they, all of a sudden,
they did this grandiose announcement, and you would have thought that
a couple of big heroes or something were walking out. They were showing
all this stuff, and they introduced John. We walk out, and there’s
two thousand people out there, and they’re all standing up and
applauding. It was overwhelming.
But we got to go see a lot of places around the world. Did Europe.
Got to go to Australia; neat place. In fact, I had sort of cheated
on that. I kept a tape of “Waltzing Matilda” and played
it as we were coming over one of the Australian ground stations, just
hoping that maybe somebody would give us an invite to go to Australia,
since I’d never been there. But that was fun.
And that worked, huh?
It worked. [Laughter]
How soon after your return from STS-1 did you learn that you’d
be commanding your own flight?
Well, it seemed like those postflight appearances went on almost a
year, but maybe not that long, but it seemed that way. I think it
was about a year prior to the next flight. It was sometime in ’82
that, again, Abbey asked me how I’d like to command [STS-]7,
and 7 was going to be the first that—up through STS-6 were going
to be commanded by people that had been there previously. Every one
of them—except Joe [Joseph H.] Engle had flown before; Joe commanded
the second flight. But we had Jack Lousma, Ken [Thomas K.] Mattingly,
then Vance [D.] Brand and then Paul [J.] Weitz that had command of
the [sixth] flight. So 7 was the first one that [us new guys] got
an opportunity to start commanding.
The appearances afterwards certainly brought you into all this attention,
but it also must have impressed on you the importance of the Shuttle
Program to not just the United States, but to the world. Can you share
with us, as you were meeting all these people and hearing all this
information—because now you were past that inaugural flight,
and you were going to get ready to do your own flight—what you
took in from that and what you would hope to share with your crew
about how important this next flight was?
Before we did STS-1, there had been some, I guess, things going on
in the States that—the morale of the United States, I don’t
think, was very high. We’d essentially lost the Vietnam War.
We had the hostages held in Iran. The President had just been shot.
I think people were wondering whether we could do anything right.
It was truly a morale booster for the United States, and I was pleasantly
surprised to find that it was welcomed by what I would call our allies
abroad. So it was obvious that it was a big deal. It was a big deal
to the military in the United States, because we planned to use the
vehicle to fly military payloads. So it was something that was important.
I feel, still feel, that the Space Shuttle is important. I don’t
know that I had to impress that on any of my crews. I think they saw
it for themselves, that what they were doing was important work that
needed to be done.
Well, your first command also drew a lot of attention because it was
the first time the United States was going to fly a female. How much
influence did you have on the selection of that crew?
Well, I essentially helped pick the crew, with John and George, so
I would say I had a great deal of influence. And yes, the crew was
“Sally [K.] Ride and the others,” which was just right
for us. [Laughter]
It’s appropriate we talk about her today; it’s her birthday.
Well, share with us, if you can, some of the discussions that you
had, why this was the mission to begin this new tradition in space
flight for the United States.
Well, when we selected the thirty-five folks in ’78, we did
have—what was it—six females, I guess, that were selected
in that. This flight, STS-7, was going to be the first one that would
be crewed by those thirty-five new guys, besides myself. I know John
felt that way, and I know George felt that way, that it was time that
we ought to have a woman on board. I was certainly for it, and they
were, so it wasn’t a hard sell. I think NASA management on up
the chain just felt like it was time; it was the right thing to do.
Any reasons that Sally was the first of the six that you picked?
Well, they were all good, and any of them could have been the first
one. I thought Sally was the right person for that flight for a number
of reasons. She was one of our experts on the Remote Manipulator System
[RMS], which was critical to what we were doing on this mission. I
liked her demeanor, the way she behaved. She fit right in with everybody,
as all of them did, but we just got along well, and I thought that’s
really important when you’ve got a crew, because you’ve
got to work together. I knew that she would integrate well with the
other crew members that we were going to have on board, which initially
was just going to be “Rick” [Frederick H.] Hauck and John
[M.] Fabian and myself. We later added Norm [Norman E.] Thagard to
that flight as well. But she was just the right person to do it at
You did have four that trained together, and then you added Thagard.
How did that impact what you had already done, and how did the roles
and responsibilities have to become a little bit more flexible? Share
with us how all that came about.
Yes. Actually, we were very—NASA was concerned about this space
adaptation syndrome or upchucking in space, and we wanted to learn
more about it. We had some physicians in this thirty-five group, and
we figured, “Well, we’ve only got four of us on board.
There’s room for more. Why don’t we pick a doc [medical
doctor], and let that individual go through and see if they can figure
out this problem a little bit more?”
We concluded that Norm would be the right guy to do that, and Norm
and the docs put together a series of experiments that were looking
at what caused space adaptation syndrome. So he was primarily focused
on that. The only thing was that he was wanting some of us to participate
in the experiments, so the only thing it impacted the rest of what
we were doing was that it would—when some of [them] weren’t
really occupied with things, then we planned on going down there and
seeing whether Norm could make us sick or not, which he worked very
hard at. [Laughs] So it wasn’t a big impact on the flight at
In fact, Norm was also a very sharp guy, and I almost got in a little
bit of trouble when I concluded that the easiest way to train people
to use things on orbit was while they were on orbit, as opposed to
on the ground. So we had an opportunity that we needed to capture
this satellite that we were flying, after we’d already done
it several times. So we had Norm come up with the remote manipulator
and work it and capture the satellite. He hadn’t been trained
for that, but we were watching what he was doing. He wasn’t
going to get into any problems with it. But some of the folks on the
ground weren’t exactly happy that we had somebody that hadn’t
been certified do the capture.
Let’s talk about the real capture. It was the first mission,
the flight test, the ability to do last stages of the rendezvous and
fly the Shuttle very close to another object when both are going 17,000
miles an hour. So talk to us about the experiences and what your part
was with this proximity operation for this flight.
Well, the proximity operations, as we call it, were working with another
orbiting body close to the Shuttle. It was my primary function up
on STS-7 to worry about doing all the flying and going through the
simulations that we thought how it would behave. So it was a big focus.
What we did was we had a satellite that we had in the cargo bay. It
was picked up with the remote manipulator, taken out, released, and
then we would recapture it. We backed off from it about a thousand
feet, flew around it, came back in and did a capture again like we
had been rendezvousing with it.
While we were headed out, a guy by the name of Bill [William B.] Green
that works up at [NASA] Headquarters [Washington, D.C.] had come up
with the idea of putting a camera on board this Shuttle Pallet Satellite
is what SPAS stands for. So we actually remotely took pictures of
the Shuttle from the satellite when it was about a thousand feet away,
which gave us some unique shots when we returned back. But it was
a big deal, and we wanted to make sure that we could rendezvous with
satellites; could come back up in and grab them; when we did so, that
we didn’t impact them with our reaction control jets.
It turned out that it all went extremely well. It was a little bit
different, in that what we called the digital autopilot, or the DAP—which
is the way the computer fires the various jets—when we got in
close to the satellite, I found that when you tried to slow down sometimes,
the attitude control thrusters would also start going, and it kept
walking you in when you didn’t want to go in. So we ended up
learning a few things about how the autopilot worked that we corrected
subsequently and makes it very nice for rendezvous today, which is
extremely important on things like working with the Station. But it
all really worked very well.
I let Rick Hauck fly one of those as well, to give him the experience
of doing it so he could use it on subsequent flights. Both John Fabian
and Sally had gone through—both of them were experts on the
arm, and they had grabbed the satellite and whatever. So that was
when we threw Norm into the equation there to get him off the middeck,
working with those medical experiments. He ought to come see a little
bit of what was going on outside. But we were very pleased with it,
and it sort of gave us an initial building block for subsequent things
we did with flying with satellites.
This mission also produced the first full photo of the Orbiter in
space. Quite an accomplishment. Was this something that was planned
for the mission planning, or was this something that you surprised
the control room with?
No, no, no. It was planned. I mentioned already that Bill Green, who
is a gentleman that works in Headquarters, had come up with the idea
to put a camera on the satellite. So it was all planned and part of
The only thing that wasn’t part of the script was we were STS-7,
and on our mission patch, we had had the Orbiter with the arm up in
the shape of a 7. So we concluded that, hey, we might as well do that.
So we had practiced this on the ground by ourselves, and so I think
it was Sally put the arm in that configuration, so when we took the
picture, it almost looked like the patch. However, Mission Control
had not seen the arm go into this particular position before, and
they were worried that we were getting it into some limits that it
shouldn’t be in. It wasn’t, but it did cause some consternation
on the ground, I think.
How different was it for you for training for this mission, compared
to the first one?
Well, first, I was the commander now, so I was going to get to look
out the window more. [Laughter] I had all these other folks to do
all this work. But my primary focus, again, that was different was
this prox [proximity] ops operation, flying in the vicinity of the
satellite, being able to get the Orbiter in close enough to do the
rendezvous or to do a capture. So I spent a good portion of my training
looking at that.
Of course, I was sitting in a different seat, and I wanted to make
sure my crew knew what their jobs were. So part of being commander
is to make sure everybody is focused on what they need to be focused
on. So it was a little bit of an organization thing, but you didn’t
need to organize this group. They were as sharp as they come, so I
could sit back and let them do it without really worrying about it.
Any special words of wisdom that you gave to them before you left,
as you were on your way to launch, or while you were up in space?
Enjoy it. Enjoy it. You never know whether you’re going to get
a second flight or whatever, so take advantage of when you go up,
to really savor it. I had ended up with four flights, and I still
remember them today, and every bit of it was enjoyable. The only times—I’ve
found that on subsequent flights when I had people EVA, that used
to give me a headache, because I was so worried about them. But other
than that, it was all great fun.
Your flight got extended a day because the landing sites got changed.
Tell us your thoughts about here you are, you’re on your first
landing, and the first thing that happens is you’re not landing
where you thought.
Well, I knew getting into Kennedy Space Center, their runway, the
first time was also going to be a challenge. My friend John Young
believed that we ought to be landing out there on the lakebed, where
you’ve got lots of opportunity to correct for problems because
you’ve got so many places that you can land. So I didn’t
think that landing at KSC was going to be that easy.
John was the weather checker in our Shuttle Training Airplane at Kennedy,
and he saw some weather, which it can develop very rapidly, which
he and I both know. So he properly waved us off on that first time,
and we elected to wait another day and try it. And sure enough, that
didn’t work out, either, and we ended up coming into Edwards.
But truthfully, that extra day we got on orbit was a free day. There
wasn’t any real work to be done, so all of us had an opportunity
to sit back and enjoy, and maybe play a little bit while we were on
I understand you had some organized events. Want to talk to us about
the first round of Space Olympics?
[Laughs] It was hard to keep this crew under control sometimes. But
you can end up with a loop going from the flight deck down through
one hatch into the middeck, back up through another hatch into the
flight deck, and we did have what we called a Space Flight Olympics,
of seeing who could get around the fastest.
I understand awards were given. What award did you take home?
There were awards. I think I took the “Most Dangerous.”
I bumped my side against something, a ladder or something I shouldn’t
It’s a good thing you all had a good time. Well, how different
was the landing for you this time?
Well, I had hold of the stick this time. [Laughs] We, again, landed
on a lakebed out at Edwards, I believe on 18. It was pretty much like
I’d practiced in the Shuttle Training Airplane. I felt like
I had done it before, so it’s like John taught me, that practice,
practice, practice makes perfect, and that’s the way it was.
So we landed out there. Didn’t have a big crowd this time, because
people had been planning on us going the other way, but it was good,
and we enjoyed it.
How did you feel after this mission, compared to your first one? This
one was longer. It was six days, compared to just two. Physically,
emotionally, how did you take it?
From a physical standpoint, I couldn’t tell the difference.
I felt good after the first one. Felt good after this one. Back in
that period of my life, I ran a lot for exercise, and the day after
I landed on each of them I did about three or four miles. So physically
I couldn’t see that it took anything away from me.
Emotionally, anytime you work hard to do something and it comes out
well, you can’t help but feel good, and that’s the way
I felt with this. I felt my crew had done a superb job. We had accomplished
all the mission objectives. We’d made the proximity operations
look good. We had deployed a couple of communication satellites, and
everything worked. So that gives you a nice high. We got to do the
postflight things this time, only [with] Sally being the star, which
was good. I think primarily our job was to make sure that Sally didn’t
get overwhelmed with all of the stuff that was going on with her.
But she was a big hero as we went around, and everybody wanted to
Did you have to run any interference for her prior to the mission,
when you were training? Did you find that?
Yes. There were so many people trying to get after her or get to her,
for whatever reason, that part of the commander’s job was to
make sure that she was protected from that, without being overprotective;
just whatever she wanted to make sure that she didn’t get overwhelmed
There had been five other flights between your first flight and this
flight. Did you know of any other new changes that had been made to
the spacecraft or anything to the hardware or software that you had
to adjust to, compared to the first time?
Well, the second flight was on the [Space Shuttle] Challenger. First
flight was on the Columbia. The vehicles [are] essentially look the
same, except the Challenger doesn’t have as large a structure
back in the rear end as the Columbia did, because the Columbia was
built before we had done a lot of the structural tests. So it felt
a little bit different on ascent, in the way it shook and whatever,
but just a little bit. But other than that, they were very similar.
Now, on the first flight, John and I, to communicate, had to wear
headsets with a wire connected to the console, and it felt like you
were in a pit of snakes or something. There were wires going everywhere,
even with just the two of us, and they were very cumbersome to get
around with. Thank goodness we’d finally gotten wireless mikes
that you didn’t have to stay plugged in, so it was a lot easier
to get around the cockpit, especially having five on board, that made
it a lot easier. But other than that, the vehicle is very similar.
It didn’t have many changes that I can recall right now that
we didn’t have on Columbia.
And the ejection seats were now gone.
Oh, yes, the ejection seats were gone, so we had a lot more room up
on the flight deck.
Well, within a year you were scheduled to do another one, go to [STS]
41-C. You were going to leave in April 1984, and now you had another
mission and a longer mission, again back on Challenger. Were you told
prior to the STS-7 flight that you would have another command so quick?
No, but I was told shortly after I landed that I was going to get
one. I think what they were trying to do was to build on the experience
that I had from doing the proximity operations. The next, 41-C, was
going to do our first rendezvous. We had a satellite that was disabled
that they needed repaired, so it was similar to what I’d done
before, only an extension of it. So maybe that’s why I got picked
to fly it. Of course, I mentioned it was 41-C that originally it was
STS-13, and my friend Jim [James M.] Beggs, who was the Administrator
of NASA, had triskaidekaphobia, and he said, “There’s
not going to be [another] Apollo 13 or a Shuttle 13, so come up with
a new numbering system.” So we did come up with this complex
system for numbering the Shuttles during that period of time. So that
was different as well.
This was also a time where crew members that were assigned to flights
didn’t get attached to their Orbiter for very long because there
was a lot of movement and flexibility. How did this affect the commanders,
to know as you’re approaching your mission that at some point
things might get a little rearranged due to slippage or payload changes
or Orbiter changes?
I didn’t see that that much during that phase. Our mission was
so specialized that when we were going up to get Solar Max [satellite]
on 41-C, that it was not reasonable that we could change it. We were
also deploying a Large Duration Exposure Facility, or LDEF, which
is like a bus in the [payload bay], and it would have been very difficult
to take that flight, I think, and put it on another Orbiter; but not
impossible, but a bit more difficult. So from my perspective, at least
my recollections, I don’t recall that we were worried about
shifting payloads and that kind of thing at the time.
You had a very interesting crew that included [Francis R.] Scobee,
one of the best pilots of the class, and Terry [J.] Hart, one of the
best RMS operators, and George [D.] Nelson and James [D. A.] van Hoften,
two of the best EVA astronauts. So you had a very unique, great group.
A great group. I got to help pick that one, too.
Well, talk to us about the fact that you were called the “Ace
Satellite Repair Company” and how that came about, and then,
of course, about doing the satellite repair.
Well, the mission was to go repair the satellite, and the “Ace”
thing had come along earlier, actually prior to the Shuttle flying.
We lost one of our pilots out at Flight Ops, not one of the astronauts.
Good friend. Not too long after that his wife needed to move, so we
formed the Ace Moving Company, and our motto was “We move single
women anywhere and husbands out.” [Laughs] It was mostly a social
thing, but we started that and then sort of built on it. Prior to
our flight—I believe it was STS-5—they also used the Ace
Moving Company sign, because they were deploying satellites on that
[mission]. So it was sort of an extension of those earlier days to
call ourselves the Ace Satellite Repair, because that was our job
to go up and repair the satellite.
I want to talk more about that, but you mentioned about helping to
pick this crew. What did you look for in a crew member?
Again, people that were compatible, that could work together well,
and people that had the talents that I thought were necessary to go
do this particular task, which was going to be a challenging one,
especially the EVA part of it. “Ox,” or Jim van Hoften,
and George, or “Pinky,” Nelson were both great guys and
hardworking folks, and they needed to be to do this job.
When you were told that you were going to have this command, when
George Abbey explained it to you, were all these components already
there? How did your command come about? Was the command connected
with these operations, or did you get this command of the next Shuttle
mission and then this information was attached to it later?
Well, when I was picked to command the flight, the fact that we were
going to do a satellite repair was known. So we started talking then
about, okay, who are the right people to put together to go execute
It was a complicated mission, because you had not only just your work
with your crew, but you had to work with the ground crews at Houston
and at [NASA] Goddard [Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland].
Tell us how all that worked together and how it worked together so
Well, the Goddard folks were the ones that had put together the concept
of doing a repair for Solar Max, and when Solar Max had launched initially,
they had attached a grapple fixture so that the RMS could grab it.
So it had been launched aboard an expendable booster, but the people
had thought about the Shuttle coming so that it could potentially
service it. The main problem was the rate gyros on board, most of
them had been lost, so it was hard to stabilize the satellite, which
was designed to study the sun.
So they were going through all of [this] trying to come up with what
could be done, what couldn’t be done, and Ox and Pinky essentially
picked that up. They were the ones that went up there and worked with
the people to figure out what they could do EVA and what they couldn’t
do. To my surprise, they ended up electing that they could go undo
some small electrical connectors, which are very difficult to handle
with big EVA gloves, to change out a couple of boxes. So I would say
that Ox and Pinky kind of took care of what was going on at Goddard.
The other big deal was the LDEF. [NASA] Langley [Research Center,
Hampton, Virginia], I believe, had put that together. The big deal
on it, it was a big, dumb satellite, because it didn’t actively
do anything. It was primarily covered with material that would detect
how it erodes or corrodes or deteriorates while it’s on orbit.
But it was so big, it was a real critical fit inside the Shuttle bay.
So deploying it to make sure that you didn’t bang something
was extremely important. Terry Hart, or “T. J.,” was the
guy that primarily worked that, and I worked closely with him on it.
The other aspect was this was going to be a flight using maneuvering
units. That had been done once before without a real task, and this
one we wanted to have Pinky go out and actually capture this satellite.
So he spent a lot of time working with the maneuvering units, which
came from Martin out at Denver at the time. So we were doing quite
a bit of flying around various parts of the country to make sure that
we were bringing the mission together right. And we had a year to
do that, so we did it [right].
The training went well, but you had a couple of snafus when you went
out to capture it.
Right. Well, as I said, Pinky was to go out in a maneuvering unit.
He had a device that would be in front of him that was designed to
grab hold of a sort of a post that was sticking out of the Solar Max.
It wasn’t put there thinking about this; it was just there,
so they were trying to take advantage of it. So he was going to fly
up to it, hook onto that, and stop the satellite from moving so that
we could then get the Orbiter to come in so that Terry could grab
hold of it.
We had also practiced, in case something went wrong with that, having
Terry grab it while it was still rotating, which was a little bit
of a challenge, but we had practiced it and thought we potentially
could do that.
Turned out when Pinky flew out about three hundred feet away from
the Orbiter, and he came up and did his task perfectly to grab this
little fixture, it didn’t capture. He sort of bounced off. He
tried again and bounced off. I think he hit it in all about three
times. About that time the satellite—it was rotating prior to
this around its long axis, but then it started to tumble.
So we backed Pinky off, and I was worried that, hey, we’d spent
all this time training for this, and we were just about to lose it.
So we went up closer, mainly first to get Pinky, make sure he was
back connected to the Orbiter, and then I thought, “Well, we’ll
try a rotating capture and have Terry see if he can grab it.”
But we hadn’t planned on a tumble, and the tumble made it a
lot worse, me trying to keep the position so that the satellite didn’t
hit the Orbiter, and Terry trying to get the arm in there so he didn’t
get the arm hit by part of the satellite.
We flailed around in there for a while, using up lots of gas, and
then finally the ground told us, well, they thought maybe they could
stabilize it again with a slow rotation, so they asked us to back
away. We did so, and ended up backing away entirely so that we’d
have to do a re-rendezvous with it. Truthfully, at that time I thought
we’d lost it. I could see myself spending the next six months
in Washington [D.C.] explaining why we didn’t grab that satellite.
But the ground had a trick up their sleeve that we weren’t aware
of, the folks at Goddard did, and they were able to stabilize the
satellite so that it had a slow rotation around its long axis. So
the next day we came in for another rendezvous, came up to the satellite,
and it was just like we’d trained in the simulator. We went
up, and Terry did a neat job of grabbing hold of it, so we captured
it. Our fuel had gotten, especially up on the forward RCS [reaction
control system], had gotten pretty low. It turned out that we had
a red line that we were working toward, but it turned out that we
had 13 percent remaining, and I said, “It’s STS-13 now.”
[Laughs] But we had it.
So then Ox and Pinky went out and did their thing of repairing the
satellite; worked like champs. They did a couple of EVAs, and sure
enough, every time they’d—the first day when they came
back in and took their gloves off, all the tips of their fingers were
bloody from having to go in and do that fine work. But I guess they
ended up doing—we had like three EVAs on that. On the last one,
when they’d finished up all the work, we let Ox take one of
the maneuvering units and do a little free flight in [the] payload
bay. So it was a fun mission, after we captured the satellite.
How would you explain how the Shuttle reacted to your manual controls
of having to manipulate, because you had—did you have a concern,
the fact that you had an astronaut out there between you and this
satellite, and how you were going to be able to keep him safe and
keep the Shuttle safe?
That’s where I got the headache. [Laughter] Well, we knew that
we had the digital autopilot set up [to clear an] area up above the
payload bay. We weren’t going to impinge a jet on the satellite
or anybody else that was in between there, so that really wasn’t
that much of a problem. But anytime you’ve got somebody out
there free-flying, you don’t want to lose them. So the first
thing I wanted to do when we decided we couldn’t do it with
the tumbling thing was to get Pinky back.
Oh, I might mention one thing. I came up with another dumb idea there
why it was tumbling. It has solar arrays on it, and so I asked Pinky
if he thought if he could grab hold of one of the solar arrays with
his hands, whether he could stabilize it or not. Turned out he couldn’t.
He tried, but it didn’t work, and probably shouldn’t even
have bothered with that, since I didn’t know physically what
was on those solar arrays, whether that would have hurt his glove
or not or something of that nature.
You also had an opportunity to work with IMAX—
—the IMAX camera systems, and took some great shots that was
used in The Dream Is Alive [movie], including one of the sunrises.
T. J. Hart says that it was your idea to try to capture that. Do you
remember that moment of finding that perfect picture to share with
Well, Solar Max, I thought it was great that somebody came over to
IMAX, which is a camera that uses a seventy-millimeter format. I was
somewhat worried about taking pictures with it, because it was so
big. It is something like that. [Gestures] I didn’t want to
lose focus. Our job was to get the satellite.
So I gave Scobee the task of primarily dealing with the camera and
making sure that it didn’t interfere with what we were doing.
So it was a little bit difficult working some of those things out,
but it was a great camera. I’d seen scenes from what it could
do, and sunrises and sunsets are one of the most awe-inspiring things
that you can see in orbit. So it seemed to me like we ought to at
least try to capture one, and it came out better than I actually had
anticipated. “Scobe” did a super job of working the IMAX
and got some great, great film. As you mentioned, it’s used
in The Dream Is Alive, and it’s also some of the film used in
the subsequent IMAX movie, too.
Well, we thank you for that. This was also the first time that direct
ascent trajectory for the Shuttle had been used. Tell us how that
was different from what you had experienced before.
Yes, what we’d used previously and what we’d set up for
STS-1 and the subsequent missions was two maneuvers of the OMS engines
to establish our orbit. That meant that we’d cut off the main
engines so that we were somewhat short of the apogee or the high point
of the orbit that we wanted. Then we did—shortly after the engines
[cut off] and we shut down the APUs—we did a burn of the orbital
maneuvering engines to get the apogee up at the right altitude. Then
we flew around to the apogee and fired the engines again to get the
People looking at flight design came up with, “Hey, we can do
that by just using the main engines to get the apogee at the right
point so that you don’t need that first burn.” It’s
a much easier task from a crew standpoint, because you’re pretty
busy there right after main engine cutoff, and this took away some
work, so it was a neat thing to try. We were going up pretty high
on that one, too, so it worked out good from my perspective.
So was it your recommendation to continue?
Oh yes, after that I said, “Hey, this is a nice way to fly,”
and I believe it’s still being used today, to the best of my
You had trained for an EVA and never used it. Did you get to train
for an MMU [Manned Maneuvering Unit] and didn’t get to use that,
[Laughs] No. No, we talked about an MMU also on that first flight
to repair tiles. We looked at that. I had worked on the predecessor
to the MMU back in the Skylab days, which they used to fly around
inside the Skylab vehicle, so I got a chance to do a lot of simulations
with it, but no, I didn’t have any chance to use it. So one
of the bad [things] about being commander, you don’t get to
go outside and do a space walk.
But you get to look out the window a lot.
You get to look out the window a lot.
Well, you brought another one home to Edwards, another Shuttle you
Got waved off again. [Laughs] Seemed like I was having a hard time
getting back into the Kennedy Space Center. But again we came out
and landed out at Edwards, and that worked great. Another weather
problem, which is quite common at KSC.
While you were preparing for 41-C, you were also assigned as commander
of [STS] 41-G. How did you handle the training for back-to-back missions,
and how did the situation impact the crew and you?
That was somewhat unusual. It was when I was training for this, George
[Abbey] asked me if I could do this other mission.
I said, “Well, it’s kind of soon.” I said, “Why
are we—,” because we had some other people ready to fly,
He said, well, he wanted to see how fast we could actually turn people
So who am I to turn down a space flight? So I said, “Sure, but,
you know, I’m not going to get to spend as much time training
with the crew, so I’d like to make sure I’ve got somebody
there, especially for the ascent portion, that knows how I like to
fly the missions.” On STS-7 Sally Ride had been what I called
the Flight Engineer position, which sits just aft of the commander
and the pilot, and is looking at all the same displays and has got
the checklist in her hand, helping us deal with malfunctions. I said,
“If Sally can fly that position, and she can be training with
the crews while I’m not available, then I think it would work
out.” So that’s what we ended up doing.
Also a unique aspect of this mission was, during the training, Henry
S. F. Cooper [Jr.] was allowed to be a shadow to a lot of what was
going on, as he was writing a book called Before Lift-off. When did
you learn about this, and what was your reaction, and how did you
feel about the whole precedent of allowing someone into the training
Well, I was a little bit negative initially when it was suggested,
mainly because it’s a distraction, as you indicate. But I sat
down and talked to Henry, and I told him, if we could establish some
ground rules about what he could and couldn’t do, and that he
couldn’t interfere in any way, but he could observe, that I
could get comfortable with that. So we ended up agreeing to it, and
he did it, I thought, and he did a reasonable job in the book. I haven’t
read that in a long time. I might need to go back and read it again.
Remind you of some things? Your first command had the first female,
and now this command had two women, and one was going to be doing
an EVA. Compare and contrast the media attention, not just because
of the two women, but because of where the flight was. Now this was
another flight. Was the attention for the flights and the missions
starting to wane in the American public? Were people starting to think
this was routine and so forth? So just kind of give us an idea of
what the time period was and how people were starting to feel about
It certainly didn’t have the media attention that STS-7 did.
Judy [Judith A.] Resnik had also flown prior to that time, so we’d
had a couple of women go fly. So I think the media is easily bored
if it’s not something that’s brand-new. The new thing
on this was there was going to be a woman do a space walk. What was
unusual is as soon as we named her to do it, the Russians put up a
woman and had her do a space walk just so she could beat Kathy [Kathryn
D.] Sullivan, who was going to do ours. But, in recollection, I don’t
recall having to deal with anything like what we had seen on STS-7
or STS-1. STS 41-C, we didn’t see much, either, at least from
Also, it was the first time that, for you, you were going to have
a crew with payload specialists. This was a different concept. First
you were having to deal with mission specialists that weren’t
pilots, and now you were dealing with payload specialists that weren’t
astronauts. Tell us how you worked with them and how that affected
the crew, with these people coming in later than how they had trained.
Yes, we ended up bringing the payload specialists in like three months
prior to flight, somewhere on that order. Marc Garneau was a Canadian.
Marc was Canadian Navy and military, so I had no problem with Marc
coming on board. He had his own set of experiments. I told him, “Hey,
stay on the middeck till I tell you it’s okay to come on the
flight deck, and do your thing,” and all of his experiments
could be accomplished down there.
Then we added Paul [D.] Scully-Power, an Australian that worked for
the United States Navy. We’d worked with Paul a lot before on
doing Earth observations, or ocean observations, and so I knew Paul,
or “P. S. P.” we called him. He was a little bit of a
loose cannon, and I knew that about him. But again, I sat down and
explained to him, “Hey, we’d love to have you up there.”
Now, his mission, he needed to be on the flight deck, looking out
the windows. So we had to pick out periods of time where that was
going to be acceptable, and it ended up working out just fine.
I still think you can take payload specialists if it’s recognized
that flying a Shuttle, again, is a dangerous business, and there are
certain rules that they’ll go by. Then you can fly people. It
doesn’t take that long to—if they don’t have to
operate the vehicle itself—to train them how to use the potty,
how to make food, etc., etc.
Well, this was a complex mission, too. This wasn’t a simple
Yes, that’s right.
You had these proximity operations to do, and I believe one of the
lines in Mr. Cooper’s book is that it was cited to “have
more anomalies, glitches, nits, and malfs [malfunctions] than almost
any previous mission. It was reminiscent of a long film.” Is
that your recollection as well?
[Laughs] I think we used that phrase ourselves. We had lots of problems,
nothing earthshaking or dangerous from that standpoint. But we had
a big synthetic aperture radar, which is a large antenna that opens
up in the payload bay. Fantastic things that it can do, looking at
the Earth, but it’s covered by this fabric, and when we got
ready to close it, it wouldn’t close properly. The fabric had
inflated. So we ended up pushing it down with the RMS to get it closed.
We got a big Ku-band antenna that we used for communications and television,
and when we got it deployed, which is outside the payload bay envelope,
it wouldn’t retract. So we ended up having to cut some wires
inside and rewire things and have Kathy do some work out in the payload
bay to get it back in and stowed. And there were several other malfunctions
now that—I’m not sure I can remember all of them—that
occurred that certainly kept us busy.
But I felt like, even though none of the malfunctions that we ended
up dealing with were things specifically we had trained for, we had
trained for doing a numerous set of in-flight maintenance kinds of
things that prepared us to deal with what we actually encountered.
One of the neat experiments that we did was people were looking at
being able to refuel satellites with the Shuttle, and that was the
EVA that Dave [David C.] Leestma and Kathy Sullivan went out and actually
moved some hoses, connected them, and transferred hydrazine from one
tank to another just to see whether that was feasible. I worried about
that one a little bit, because the last thing I wanted was a hydrazine
leak in the payload bay with getting that on the crew’s suits.
You can’t have them come in the cockpit with that hydrazine
on them, so having to deal with all that and make sure they didn’t
get anything was somewhat of a concern to me. But it ended up working
Yes, I can understand why you said you get headaches with the EVAs.
Maybe we can come back and talk just a few more minutes about 41-G,
but we’re going to stop and let them change the tape out so
we don’t miss anything.
Okay. Sounds good.
Give you a break, too.
We’d like to switch gears on this second half of the interview
and before we go back and talk some more about missions and other
assignments that you had with the Space Center, I’d like to
ask you a couple of questions that are kind of general in nature,
but certainly fit all the career aspects that you did, and lend us
some of your insight.
For instance, we all know that STS-1 set the foundation for a whole
new era of exploration and exceeded expectations, and it returned
the nation to space after the close of the Apollo Program. You and
John Young were obviously associated with the success of the mission,
but you’ve also stated in many interviews that the credit for
success belongs to the thousands and thousands of people who work
behind the operation. Would you share with us what your thoughts are
about how valuable these contributions of these workers are?
Sure. I mentioned earlier that the Space Shuttle is a pretty complicated
vehicle, and certainly it was breaking some new frontiers, which,
John and I being test pilots, it was a great mission for us. But when
you have something that complicated that it takes—literally,
hundreds of thousands of people made STS-1 possible. You have to be
depending on those folks doing their job right, because you can’t
check everything yourself.
John and I spent a lot of time going to the various contractors and
subcontractors, if nothing else, to try to put a human face on the
mission; that we were flying it, and we appreciated all the work that
they were doing. Everywhere we went, the people really felt in their
heart that they were doing something important for the nation, and
that’s what John and I wanted them to feel, because that’s
what they were doing. It doesn’t take but one person to do something
wrong that can cost you a mission and cost lives. We try to put checks
and balances into the system so that there’s always two sets
of eyeballs and so forth. But it’s always subject to human error,
and especially a vehicle that’s as complicated as the Shuttle.
So when John and I climbed aboard the vehicle to go fly, we had been
eyeball to eyeball with, I would say, thousands—maybe not all
hundred thousand, but we had been eyeball to eyeball with thousands
of folks. We knew the vehicle pretty good. We knew its risks, but
we also knew that it had a great deal to offer if it was successful.
So when we climbed aboard, I think both of us felt very confident
that the vehicle would fly and fly well. We didn’t know that
we wouldn’t run into some contingency where we were necessary
on board to do whatever malfunction procedure was required. And we
did run into a few problems, but nothing serious.
So when I say that we literally rode on the shoulders of hundreds
of thousands of people, that’s what we did, and I felt good
about it. That was, besides trying to make them understand how important
this was and how important the job was, I think there was positive
feedback from our perspective of having an opportunity to see them,
see what they’re doing, and grow more confident in their abilities.
You continued with missions as commander for three more missions,
and along with you came these workers. If you had had an opportunity
to meet more of them, what could you have told them that—this
is someone who had such a simple task, but it was such an important
task for you—how could you have conveyed to them how important
that task really is?
Well, I did have the opportunity after the first mission to go around
again and thank a lot of the people that made the mission a success.
Signed lots of autographs; signed a lot, and did those kinds of things,
to hopefully make them feel good about the work they had done. That
continues today with the program of Space Flight Awareness, because
it’s important that they get feedback about how important their
work is. We still give out [Silver] Snoopy [Award] pins. We still
bring selected people to the Cape to watch launches, all of which
I feel good about. I’m not sure I can convey anything to them
except we’re proud of what they’re doing, and what they’re
doing is something great for the nation, and not only the nation,
for the world, in my perspective.
When people travel and they have a NASA shirt on, and they’re
in the midst of a crowd of people that aren’t NASA-related,
that emblem reflects such a pride that we’ve even noticed that
people will ask questions. Do you have that same feeling, or did you
have that same feeling when you would go places? People might not
recognize you as Bob Crippen, the astronaut, but yet they might see
a NASA shirt, or that you would be associated with these other people.
Do you feel like NASA carries that reflected pride wherever you go?
A great many of the people in the United States still believe in the
space program. Some think it’s too expensive. Perspective-wise,
it’s not that expensive, but I believe that most of the people
that have come in contact with the space program come away with a
very positive feeling. Sometimes if they have only seen it on TV,
maybe they don’t really understand it, and there are some negative
vibes out there from some individuals, but most people, certainly
the majority, I think, think that we’re doing something right,
and it’s something that we should be doing, something that’s
for the future, something that’s for the future of the United
States and mankind.
As part of the nation’s new Vision for [Space] Exploration,
the Orbiters are scheduled to be retired in 2010. Collectively, they’ve
flown over 114 flights and collected a tremendous number of accomplishments.
Overall what do you view as the Shuttle’s legacy, and what should
be remembered as the best from this program?
Well, the Shuttle has done a lot in the missions that it’s flown.
We’ve had two tragedies, but a lot of positives. Early on we
put up communication satellites, and we could have continued to do
that, but it was decreed from on high that we wouldn’t do that
after we lost the Challenger. Also, military satellites. We put a
large number of military satellites, and again after Challenger it
was decided that they would find another vehicle for that. Personally,
I believe that the Shuttle has contributed to us winning the Cold
War. It’s all classified, so we can’t talk about it, again,
but it made a very positive contribution, and I was extremely disappointed
to see that aspect of the program go away.
But then if you look at the other things we’ve done, Ulysses,
that flew around the poles of the sun, we put up. Magellan, that we
sent to Venus; that was the first time that—actually, we had
a more accurate surface map of Venus than we did of the Earth for
a while because of that satellite. Galileo, that’s gone to Jupiter
and explored all the moons there and has got people very excited about
the potential life on Europa under all the ice, and looking at all
the volcanic activities on Io. They continue on and on, and then we
move into the great telescopes, from Hubble [Space Telescope], Compton
[Gamma-Ray Observatory], Chandra [X-Ray Observatory], that has revolutionized
what we know about astronomy. All that was made possible by the Shuttle,
but more important, it was made possible by the people that built
and continue to sustain the Shuttle. So it’s a great legacy.
I’ve got mixed emotions about the 2010 retirement. Certainly
I feel we need to complete the International Space Station, and we
couldn’t have done what we’ve done on Station without
the Shuttle. Another vehicle, unless it was something extremely different
from what I’ve heard of, it would be impossible to construct
something like the International Space Station we’ve put together,
and we need the Shuttle to complete that construction. So I’m
not sure—I know 2010 is the date that’s been laid out,
but I certainly hope we continue with the Shuttle however long it
is that’s necessary to complete the Station.
The Shuttle is a complicated vehicle. I’ve said that earlier.
It’s one that requires a lot of TLC, or tender, loving care.
It’s not very forgiving of mistakes. We’ve proven that,
like I said, twice. So it does require people to be very diligent
when they’re flying it, but I personally think, given the correct
scrutiny, that we can continue to fly safely. Not without risk; risk
is going to be with us in human space flight for as far out into the
future as I can see. And I really want us to go back to the Moon and
on to Mars, and that’s going to be risky as well. We can’t
be a risk-averse nation and be a great nation.
So we need to continue to press frontiers. The Shuttle was a monumental
step in that, and I think it will be long remembered. I truly, even
after [it’s] retired, expect to see in the future something
that has similar capabilities, where we can come back and land on
a runway. It’s not going to be the CEV [Crew Exploration Vehicle]
that we’re talking about, but we still need a way to get to
Earth orbit and return a lot easier than what we have forecast right
now. So I’m proud of the Shuttle. I’m proud to have been
a part of it since almost its inception. Had a chance to work [on]
it in several capacities in management after I left the Astronaut
Office, and I think all the people that have been part of it ought
to be proud of the job they’ve done.
At a very early point in your career, you chose aerospace engineering
as your major. What do you personally feel the importance of exploration
Well, I think it’s an innate thing within all humans, that we
need to continue to look over the next hill and see what’s there.
I think that truly is what has made America a great country, why we
continued to spread from the East Coast to the West Coast, because
we were always wanting to see strike out and see what was over that
next hill. That’s what going into space is about. My friend
John Young says, “One-planet species do not survive,”
and I think that he’s right. That’s what all the history
that we know about says. So I would like to see our species survive,
so we need to be able to get off this planet and learn to live and
work in other areas.
Well, it’s been a great adventure for you to be able to take
your passion for exploration and your desire for engineering and combine
that into your career. We were talking earlier about doing training
and simulations and your computer contributions that you did. It made
us think earlier about asking you to give us a little bit more of
a defined experience about your STS, the first moments of the mission,
of the launch, how it actually did reflect what your simulations were
like. And if you could, when you’re talking about that, I know
that you mentioned a couple of things about what you’ve brought
back to that launch environment for the simulations. If you could,
just tell us what it was like, how close was it, and did it meet your
Well, of course, again, I had a chance to train with John for three
years, and he told me about riding on the Gemini and riding on the
Command Module—which he’d done two of each of those—and
gave me some sense of what ascent was going to be like, what main
engine cutoff was going to be like. But the Shuttle is different than
those vehicles. I know when the main engines lit off, it was obvious
that they had in the cockpit, not only from the instruments, but you
could hear and essentially feel the vehicle start to shake a little
bit. When the solids light, there was no doubt we were headed someplace;
we were just hoping it was in the right direction.
It’s a nice kick in the pants; not violent. The thing that I
have likened it to being a naval aviator, is it’s similar to
a catapult shot coming off an aircraft carrier. You really get up
and scoot, coming off the pad. The roll program, which we all knew
was there and it was in the simulation, I know—I think it excited
some of the spectators because they didn’t know that we were
going to roll, and truthfully, all of the previous launch vehicles
had rolled, too. It’s just that it’s not very obvious
when you don’t have wings sticking out there like the Shuttle
does. All that was very comfortable.
As we started to accelerate, there was a little vibration in the cockpit;
not so violent that you couldn’t read your checklist. About
the time we were approaching going supersonic, I’ve likened
it to driving my pickup down an old country washboard road. It was
that kind of shaking, but nothing too dramatic, and it didn’t
sound to me, or it didn’t feel, as significant as what I’d
heard John talk about out [on] the Saturn V.
When we got to two minutes into flight when the SRBs came off, that
was enlightening, in that the big separation motors that push the
solids away, the ones up forward actually you could see the fire come
over the forward windows. I didn’t know that I was going to
see that, but it was there, and it actually put a thin coat across
the windows that sort of obscured the view a little bit, but not bad.
But the main thing when they came off, it had been noisy. We had been
experiencing three Gs, or three times the weight of gravity, and all
of a sudden it was almost like there was no acceleration, and it got
very quiet. It was about as quiet as it is in this room, and there
was no shaking. It’s about like us sitting here in this chair.
I thought for sure all the engines had quit. Rapidly checked my instruments,
and they said no, we were still going. It was a big, dramatic thing,
for me, at least. I didn’t expect that much. The G-level dropped
off to like half a G, because the three main engines at that point
are putting out about a million and a half pounds of thrust, but you’re
still pretty heavy. All the noise, I guess, that had been coming back
through the solids, was gone. You’re up above most of the atmosphere,
and it was just a very dramatic thing for me. It will always stick
out [in my memory].
Also, during ascent we had a display on one of the cathode ray tubes
that was sort of tracking what our trajectory should be as we went
uphill, to give us some sense as to whether we were flying nominally
or not, and we were flying above it, significantly above it. So it
was obvious that something was different than what our training had
said, but it was better to be above it than be below it, so we were
on the right side. It was no concern, but again, it turned out the
vehicle had more lift than what we had predicted.
We also later learned that at liftoff from the solids, we had broken
a strut up in the nose of the vehicle that held the reaction control
jet fuel tanks. That was caused by the shock wave of the solids against
the Mobile Launch Platform ricocheting back up and hitting the vehicle.
John and I, I don’t think, realized that at the time; in fact,
I know we didn’t. But it was something we had to solve with
some water trough that we put in there to make sure it didn’t
happen on subsequent flights.
So that first stage had some surprises, somewhat, going up. Then we
continued on, and it was pretty much nominal. The flash evaporators
started to work cooling as they were supposed to, and you accelerated
on up again to three Gs. The engines throttled like they were supposed
to, and then [at] eight and a half minutes, we had engine cutoff.
In the Saturn, I guess they really had a sense of being pitched forward.
So, John having told me that, both of us were sitting there with our
hands on the windscreen in front of us, holding onto it so we didn’t
feel that pitch. I never felt it. I don’t think John did, either.
So it didn’t seem as pronounced, I guess, as it had in the Saturn
We were strapped tightly into the seats, so you didn’t really
feel the zero-G aspect immediately, but the checklists started to
float around, and debris that was in the cockpit started to float
around. Even though the ground crews had worked very hard to get it
clean, on that first flight there was lots of extraneous material
in the cockpit that needed to be dealt with. But it was a ride. You
know, eight and a half minutes from sitting on the pad, to be going
17,500 miles an hour is a ride like no other. It was a great experience.
I was going to go back to the simulations. So we did change the motion-based,
which can’t really simulate what the flight is like, but to
make it seem like a little bit more of a kick when you lifted off.
We did make the separation boosters coming over the windscreen; we
put that in the visual so that was there. We changed the shaking on
that first stage somewhat so that it was at least more true to what
the real flight was like. Then I mentioned earlier that after we got
the main engine cutoff and the reaction control jets started firing,
we changed that noise to make sure it got everybody’s attention
so that they wouldn’t be surprised by that. So those are some
of the things that we looked at and modified on the simulator when
we came back.
Let me ask you, we talked a little bit about being a commander and
the difference of being a commander and a pilot. We talked about what
you look for in a crew member. How important to the success of the
mission is the crew’s relationship with each other?
Oh, extremely. The missions the Shuttle flies in general are on the
order of a week, so probably anybody can put up with anybody for a
week. However, you have to put up with everybody for a year, training
for that, which is probably even more stressful. Now with the International
Space Station, where they’re up there for much longer, hopefully
when we’ll have people on the Moon and maybe eventually when
they’re going to Mars, they’re going to be together a
lot longer, so compatibility is something that is extremely important.
The Navy pays attention to it in things like submarines and other
vehicles where you’ve got a close confinement.
In general, the people that get selected in the Astronaut Office are—even
though I don’t know that we do a test for it; in fact, I know
we don’t do a test for it—you get a sense, sitting down
with people, to see how people oriented they are, how well they interface
with other folks, so most of the people that we bring into the office
are of that nature. But even with that mixture you find some people
work better together than others. So when you’re selecting a
crew, it’s important to at least pay attention to that aspect
of it, because it is important in my mind as much as their technical
How well do they adapt to you as the commander? How much is that important?
As we were looking for some information about the missions, we found
that there were some strong opinions about you and your leadership
skills. For one, Sally Ride had made the remark that she admired the
way that you think through problems and you make decisions and you
interact so well with people.
One of the trainer’s in Cooper’s book made the comment
that you were a strong believer that the entire crew should take meals
together, steer away from any kind of activity at mealtime. An hour
before bedtime should be time off. You had some pretty specific ways
of wanting things done. What brought that knowledge and wisdom to
you that you knew this is how you wanted your crew to be?
Not sure. I guess all the experience that we’d talked about
earlier of working with many different types of individuals; having
had good bosses and bad bosses. Taking things from all of that probably
is built into my style. Everybody’s got a little bit different
style, and the things that I knew that—I talked about the compatibility
issue—is such that you ought to have some social time together.
So that was the idea of taking the meals together.
I think it’s important that everybody know what’s expected
of them. I also think that you ought to pat people on the back periodically,
and if you’ve got to use the stick approach, it ought to be
done in private as opposed to public. Luckily enough, I never had
that problem with any of my crews.
I always felt, from my experience in Skylab, that as I was a capcom
for all that time and working with the guys that were on orbit, they
needed time to themselves where the ground wasn’t bothering
them, that they could just relax and enjoy themselves, as opposed
to being frenzied, doing work all the time.
All of those probably went into it. The other aspect that I know I
was probably a little bit tough on was given the opportunity, everybody
would probably spend their sleep period looking out the windows and
not resting. Rest is extremely important, especially the longer the
mission is. People are biased to do what they want to do, and to look
out the window is probably one of them. In fact, I know it’s
one of them. But I always insisted, nope, that when it comes bedtime,
we’re going to sleep. Some people had a hard time sleeping,
and others don’t, but in general, I think that most people complied
with that. Maybe I was wrong to insist on it, but I personally believe
it was the right thing to do.
You mentioned about a commander, the number one rule is that you got
to look out the window more.
But when it came sleep time, I went to sleep. [Laughter]
But you also had such a great amount of responsibilities. While, in
fact, we were taking the break, we were talking about 41-G when Leestma
was about to do the EVA and having to deal with hydrazine. You started
to talk about your concern, but you even had concerns on the ground
about doing this part of the mission, wanting to make sure it was
safe. Tell us about some of the directives, some of the insistences
that you said, “This has to be done,” so that you knew
that he would be safe and that your crew would be safe.
Well, we did have one significant issue. We ended up working—I
talked earlier about how you build procedures and contingencies and
that sort of thing. We had some excellent displays on board to tell
us what was happening with the hydrazine transfer. The ground also
had some of the capabilities, of course, to monitor what was going
on. We ran into an issue with what happens if we lose our displays.
How much of it can we continue on with? There was a strong push from
some of the people on the ground that we ought to be able to continue
on, because they can monitor it for us. At that time we had pretty
much total coverage through the TDRSS [Tracking and Data Relay Satellite
I didn’t feel good about doing it if we couldn’t monitor
it on board as to what was happening. We ended up working out some
compromises between us as to what we could and could not do, but,
to me, the gain to be had from that particular experiment was not
worth us putting the crew or the mission at a significant risk. So
I took what I thought was probably the conservative viewpoint, and
we ended up flying pretty close to what I wanted to do. Luckily enough,
we never lost the display on flight, so it was a mental exercise on
We mentioned earlier about this was kind of a long sim for a mission,
and one of the issues that you had to deal with was high temperatures
in the cabin, because ice had formed in a vent. Did, at any point
in time, you thought you were going to have to cut your mission short
because of this issue?
I didn’t on board. Actually, that ice that formed was due to
the flash evaporator, and it was due to a problem that I made happen,
because the flash evaporator, when you turned it on, it’s supposed
to kick off and start flashing water to cool the vehicle down. In
the simulator it quite often wouldn’t work, and you’d
have to cycle it. And I ended up cycling it several times without
consulting with the ground. I followed the procedure, but the procedure
didn’t say what happened if it didn’t work the first or
second time you did it.
But the result of all those cyclings put the water coming out of where
the flash evaporator, and put an ice cone out there that we ended
up having to deal with, to get rid of. In the end everything worked
out okay, and it wasn’t that hot in the cabin. It was kind of
warm, but we were down to T-shirts and shorts.
It’s good you trained in Houston. [Laughter]
Right. We’re used to it.
Well, you got to bring this Shuttle home to Kennedy.
Finally got into KSC.
Tell us about the difference in landing there.
Well, it was similar in a lot of ways, but this was a high-inclination
orbit. We were at fifty-[seven] degrees, if I recall correctly. All
the previous entries, because we were landing at Edwards, of course,
came in pretty much over the Pacific [Ocean]. So you weren’t
flying over land that much of the reentry.
This one, we started up in Canada, and pretty much came across the
center of the United States, headed for the peninsula of Florida,
and it was a nice, clear day across all the states, and you could
see everything. One effect you get, as you come lower, you actually
notice the speed a lot more than you do while you’re on orbit.
I’m not really sure why that is, but it seems like you’re
going faster, when actually you really are slowing down.
I can remember I could see Jacksonville, Florida, when we were over
probably in Kansas-Missouri area. I could see the whole peninsula
of Florida, and shortly after I picked up Jacksonville, I could see
the Cape, because it’s very pronounced where it sticks out there
where the Kennedy Space Center is. Then there’s the Shuttle
landing facility. So visually I think I picked up everything necessary
to fly an entry much earlier than I did while we were coming into
Even though we were flying on the autopilot and doing very well, if
there had been something wrong with the navigation, I felt like I
had the capability to fly it on in and land. Thank goodness I didn’t
have to, but it worked out very well. We came in over KSC about 40,000
feet and did our big turn around the heading alignment circle and
landed on the runway there. We had done it in that Shuttle Training
Airplane hundreds of times, and it seemed pretty much like one of
I often joke that they’ve got a fifteen-thousand-foot runway,
but they built this moat around it and filled if full of alligators
to give you an incentive to stay on the runway. But it worked out
well. The landing was fine. I had a habit, because of landing on lakebeds,
of getting in and dragging it in a little low. So I think after that
we changed to where people are flying the approach lights to make
sure they stay up a little bit higher on that final glide slope than
what I was doing, because my wheel height as I came over the threshold
of the runway was probably much lower than what it should have been.
But it was comfortable for me because it’s the way I’d
been practicing landings.
Well, right after that mission concluded, you were appointed as Deputy
Director of Flight Crew Operations, kind of a management job. It was
a newly created position under George Abbey, so what were some of
your duties or responsibilities, and what were your expectations?
George’s management had told him that he needed to get a Deputy
because they never could get hold of him when they wanted him. [Laughter]
So one night George took me out for a drink, and he says, “Crip,
they tell me I got to have a Deputy, so you’re it.” [Laughs]
So it was much like that. I was there primarily to carry the fire
when the ninth floor called and George wasn’t there, or even
a lot of times when he was there. I got the message of what needed
to be done, and so I sort of edged into management. I’d been
Deputy to John Young, also, as Chief of the Astronaut Office, and
had probably just started to widen my horizons a little bit. Unfortunately,
that was one of the first times I had to really start working budgets,
a real fun thing when you’re in management.
Didn’t get to escape that part, huh?
Didn’t get to escape that part.
But at some point there you were going to do a fifth flight on STS
Right. That was the flight out of Vandenberg [Air Force Base, California].
The Air Force built the launch site out there to do military missions
which required a polar orbit, and it was a flight I wanted a lot.
We talked earlier about me being on the Manned Orbiting Laboratory.
Well, the launch pad we were supposed to have flown out of was SLC-6,
so it was Space Launch Complex 6, and that was where the Shuttle was
going to fly out of. I felt like I’d come full circle, and I
really wanted that polar flight. I lobbied for it and ended up being
selected, although not without some consternation. I think since this
was primarily an Air Force mission, there was a big push by the Air
Force to have an Air Force commander on the flight. But the powers
that be ended up discussing it a lot and letting me take the lead
I had a great crew. In fact, we were assigned a unique payload specialist,
who was then Undersecretary of the Air Force, [Edward C.] “Pete”
Aldridge, to fly on that, and we trained for it. I personally think
we would have flown in the latter part of ’86. We spent a lot
of time out at Vandenberg making sure the launch complex was acceptable,
and we had lots of inputs as to what they were doing out there, especially
when it required crew interface.
Of course, we lost that mission. After Challenger [STS 51-L accident]
the Air Force decided they didn’t want to stick with the Shuttle,
that they were going to go to what is now the evolved expendable launch
vehicle. If I have one flying regret in my life, it was that I never
had an opportunity to do that Vandenberg mission.
What Orbiter were you going to be using?
[Space Shuttle] Discovery. We actually took the [Space Shuttle] Enterprise
out there and used it to run through where they had to move it to
stack it, and they actually had an external tank and some not real
solid rockets out there that—so we mounted it all up, and I’ve
got pictures of the vehicle sitting on the launch pad like it’s
ready to fly, but it was the Enterprise, as opposed to the Discovery.
We were also going to use filament-wound solid rockets, whereas the
solid rockets that we fly on board the Shuttle have steel cases.
That was one of the things, I think, that made a lot of people nervous
after—we needed the filament-wounds to get the performance,
the thrust-to-weight ratio that we needed flying out of Vandenberg.
So they used the filament-wound to take the weight out. After we had
the joint problem on the solids with Challenger, most people just
couldn’t get comfortable with the filament-wound case, so that
was one of the aspects of why they ended up canceling it.
The Challenger has changed so much for the Agency and for the nation.
Where were you that day, and how did you learn about the accident?
Well, I actually had the 62-A crew at Los Alamos in New Mexico, and
we were going through one of the experiments that we were going to
be flying on the flight. We knew when it was supposed to lift off,
so we managed to get ahold of a TV and watched the liftoff, but as
was common during that period of time, as soon as it cleared the pad,
they broke to something else. We tried to find another station, which
we didn’t, and then we started to go off, and Dale [A.] Gardner,
who was on the crew, said, “Well, let’s try one more time.”
He turned it on, and it had come apart in that time. We could see
it, which was devastating for everybody.
What was the next step for you and your crew?
Well, we obviously knew that there was no reason to continue with
the training that we were doing, and so our intent was to head back
to Houston. They had flown us to Los Alamos in a small plane, and
so they took us back to Albuquerque [New Mexico], where we had our
T-38s, and we flew back to Houston.
You became part of a Mishap Review Board. How soon did that happen
after the accident that you were called to work with that?
It was almost immediately. I think it was the day we got back that
George called me in and said that they were putting together a NASA
Mishap Report, and that J. R. Thompson was going to lead it up. J.
R. had been the guy that headed the development of the Shuttle Main
Engines. He no longer worked for NASA at that time, but they brought
him back in to lead it, and they asked me to be his Deputy for that.
So shortly, maybe within a day, I got in a T-38 and headed to Kennedy
Space Center, and started to work the cause of the accident and the
recovery of the vehicle and the crew remains.
How did that organization of that effort come to be? Did you have
outside people helping you, or were you one of the instrumental people
that started putting what you needed to accomplish, what you needed—
Some of both. I’m not sure who came down with—hey, we
obviously had to put together an investigation team, and somehow George
got me involved with it, which he was good at, at getting what he
wanted. So we actually took several astronauts and brought them down
there with us to work in various capacities. Bob Overmyer was the
guy we brought down to primarily work the recovery of the vehicle
parts and crew remains, but we had probably half a dozen astronauts
that were there. We brought in the Navy salvage group, who were the
likely ones to go in and pick up debris off the ocean. So some of
it was being directed; some of it was J. R. and I sitting down and
saying what we needed.
How long did this period of action last in your life?
Seemed like several years, but weeks, I guess, until we got enough
data to show that the problem was the solids at that joint. Shortly,
about that time, the President formed the Rogers Commission, which
was the official investigative team to look at it, and so the team
J. R. and I had put together was sort of a subteam to the Rogers Commission,
feeding data back into them. Then we were staying at the crew quarters
there at the Cape, and not going into town or doing anything but working
the accident, and seemed like it went on for a long time. After we
discovered the cause, from what we’d seen on the video, we wanted
to track and get the piece of the solid rocket where the hole had
been burned so that we had some definitive evidence of what we could
visually see. So we spent a lot of time using radar tracks and those
kinds of things to track where we thought it had landed in the ocean;
had people going out and searching.
Somewhere about that time that we discovered—at least, to my
surprise, the actual cockpit of the Challenger had come off and was
pretty much intact, free-falling into the ocean. So we pinpointed
that and sent people out looking for where it impacted, and they ended
up finding it, and that was where we recovered the remains of the
crew. A very sad time for all of us.
You were at the time Deputy Director of Flight Crew Operations. You
were also doing this. Were you involved at all, or how much were you
involved, with the astronaut corps in trying to also keep their spirits
up and helping the leadership of their morale?
Essentially, I dropped any Deputy FCOD [Flight Crew Operations Directorate]
operations at that time and had a contingent of astronauts working
with me there at the Kennedy Space Center. Probably my morale or personal
morale was about as low as it could possibly get. I’m not sure
I did much to enhance the morale of any of the rest of us, but we
were all working very hard, and that was the best medicine for us,
I think, to stay focused on trying to make sure we could find the
problem and fix it and go fly again, because I think that’s
what all of us felt the crew would want us to do.
Well, your role did change in ’87 to become the Deputy Director
of Shuttle Operations, and part of the time that you were there, we
returned to flight. So tell us about how that transition happened,
from moving to the Review Board into this new management position
and then you helping to get the nation back.
Well, when we pretty much wrapped up the cause of the accident and
the recovery of the stuff, debris, Dick Truly had been brought in
back into NASA. He was a Navy Admiral that was running the Navy Space
Command at the time, and they brought him in as the Associate Administrator
for the Office of Space Flight. Dick asked me if I would come up and
help him implement some of the recommendations from the Rogers Report.
So I went to Washington and spent probably the next seven to eight
months in D.C., going through what they recommended and trying to
conclude what we ought to do as a response to it. Part of that was
I was asked to put together a team to look at the management structure
for the Shuttle, and so I had Dick [Richard H.] Kohrs, within Deputy
Program Manager for the Shuttle; and Walt [Walter C.] Williams [Jr.],
former—I guess back in the Mercury days he was like the head
So the three of us sat together looking at what the Rogers Commission
had said was wrong, and we went and interviewed a large number of
people that were in various management positions, both within NASA
and without, to try to determine how we ought to restructure our management.
Put together a report with some recommendations. In one of those reports
was that we needed to get more operational people involved in the
Space Shuttle, in the program management of it. When I took that recommendation
to Truly, he said, “Crip, if you really believe that, you’ll
hang up your flying boots and come take that position.” Since
I really felt that, that’s what I did.
Part of that recommendation was that that position should be located
at the Kennedy Space Center and be the final authority for launch.
So I ended up putting together an office structure both at the KSC
and one here at Johnson and one at [NASA] Marshall [Space Flight Center,
Huntsville, Alabama] to support me in that; small operations. Dick
Kohrs was the Deputy Program Manager for Engineering, if you will,
so he and I worked very closely together with Arnie [Arnold D.] Aldrich,
who was the Director of the Shuttle Program, which we put in Washington
because we thought it needed that Headquarters focus.
So the three of us worked very hard to correct the problems that we
had with the Shuttle Program, not only those that caused the accident,
but some other things that we thought needed to be corrected. Truthfully,
one of the most difficult jobs I ever encountered. However, when I
look back at it, the fact that we were successful and did get us back
flying again, it probably was one of the more rewarding jobs that
I ever had. So I spent quite a bit of the time down at Kennedy Space
Center during that period.
Talk about return to flight and what that meant to you, especially
Rick Hauck commanding that, he was your pilot, and how that all came
Well, we in management, I guess, I know Truly and I and several other
people, had talked about who ought to command the next flight, because
we knew it was going to have a lot of scrutiny. Rick seemed like an
obvious choice for several reasons, and he then went and worked and
picked out his total crew.
Again, my focus primarily was on the process that we would use, to
put together the way we were going to run the Flight Readiness Reviews,
who was going to chair those, put together a mission management team
that was going to handle the L-minus-2 review and that would be sitting
in the firing room for launch, and how we were going to operate that.
Worked with the Kennedy folks on coming up with all the launch commit
criteria and what we would use to say it was go and what we would
use to say it was no go and how we’d do it.
Put together a new weather-monitoring scheme that brought in some
NASA folks to help us with the weather. Also, the Air Force, who does
an excellent job of it, but the nature of the Air Force is they rotate
people every two to three years for their career, and we worked to
get a permanent civil servant in the weather office there at the Cape
Canaveral Air Force Station. Brought in an astronaut, Mike [Michael
J.] McCulley, to sit beside me during the launch countdown in the
mission management team, to stay abreast of what the weather was doing
so that I had firsthand knowledge of it when I was making decisions
about whether it was time to go fly or not go fly.
So I was pretty busy at that time, and it was tough. Getting back
to fly, we had a lot more people telling us why we shouldn’t
go fly than we had why we should fly, something I know that we’re
encountering today after the loss of the Columbia.
Did you ever feel that you had lost the confidence of the American
people, or did you always feel that the people wanted the nation to
I thought the larger percentage of the people wanted us to go fly,
but I think their confidence was certainly [diminished]. Too many
people looked to the Shuttle lifting off regularly, putting payload
specialists on board, putting a teacher, if you will; looking at whether
we were going to go fly a journalist. Too many people had lost the
perspective of that it was still a test vehicle and would always be
a test vehicle, and that it had inherent danger associated with it.
I know, or at least I feel I know, that the professional astronauts
that were flying, I believe most of them understood that. I’m
not sure that some of the payload specialists that were coming on
board really fully appreciated it as much as those of us that were
intimately involved with it.
You were Director at Kennedy Space Center next, and you served there
Well, actually, Arnie Aldrich, who was the Director of the Shuttle
Program up in Washington, got selected to become Associate Administrator
for Aeronautics, and Truly asked me if I would come up and be Director
of the Shuttle Program in Washington. So I brought in Brewster [H.]
Shaw [Jr.] to take up the position I had held there at Kennedy, to
be the Deputy Director for Operations, and I transferred to Washington
as Director of the program, and spent two years doing that.
Probably 1990 was one of the worst summers I ever spent, because we
ran into a series of hydrogen leaks that we could never really find
what the problem was, and they were causing us launch scrubs, sitting
out on the pad. It was a tough time, but we finally licked the problem
and got it back flying again.
After two years of that I had had about all of Washington I could
take—it’s not exactly a fun place to work, from my perspective—and
was looking around for something new, and the potential came up to
take over the Kennedy Space Center, which is one of the best jobs,
other than sitting in the cockpit, that I know about here at NASA.
So I did that, and that was a great job. We had lots of successful
Shuttle missions during that period of time. I was there for three
years until I decided it was time to retire and go out into the commercial
You went to Kennedy about the same time the agency got a new Administrator.
That’s true. Dick Truly was the Administrator when I was actually
assigned there, but it was probably within three months or so after
I was there, I got this phone call that Dick wanted to have a teleconference
with all of the Center Directors. He did so and told us he was leaving,
and it wasn’t long thereafter that Dan [Daniel S.] Goldin was
announced as the new Administrator for NASA.
A new job and a new boss.
A new job and a new boss, you’re right.
Being in charge of a Center is so much more responsibility than being
part of an office or even in command of a mission. Those three years,
were you able to make some changes and to feel that when you left
there, you left it a place that was stronger and on the right track?
I think so. You probably need to go ask some of the people that were
working there, too. I had learned KSC pretty well from the time that
I was there as the Deputy Director for Shuttle Operations. But also
I had spent a lot of time at KSC, starting with the Skylab Program.
I was the original what we now call the “Cape Crusader.”
I went to KSC every time I had an opportunity, so I felt like I knew
the Center pretty well.
Large organizations are interesting to manage, because, again, it’s
kind of like when you’re sitting on top of the Shuttle. You’re
very dependent on the people under you, that they do the right thing.
So what you have to do is to try to communicate to them what is the
right thing from your perspective, and let them loose. Hopefully they
do the right thing, and if they don’t, then you redirect them.
This was the period of time when we were having to cut money back
again. We had boosted up—we kind of threw money at the Shuttle
to get it back flying again. “Threw money” is probably
a loose connotation of what we did, but we put money where we thought
we needed it to go and to boost certain things back up. But obviously
we didn’t need to continue to operate with those kind of budgets,
so we needed to figure out how we could bring them back down, and
people were nervous about doing that, cutting budgets again, going
to compromise safety. So we had to make sure that we weren’t
Total Quality Management was very popular about that time, which is
just another set of buzz words for doing more efficient work. We put
in some of those processes while I was there, and were able to bring
back the budget somewhat, and I thought we did a pretty good job.
When I left they were still wanting to bring it back more, and I was
not all that comfortable with some of the things that I could see
on the horizon, though.
Those ten years, almost ten years, from Challenger to the time you
left, you worked in some positions that had some strong changes and
made some tremendous accomplishments, but you were also having to
follow so many things that were coming after these recommendations
that came after Challenger. What do you feel was some of the major
recommendations and the major accomplishments, other than returning
to flight, after Challenger? What do you think are some of the good
changes that have affected the space program since that tragedy that
benefited the Agency and the personnel?
Well, the primary one, which I thought we had implemented after Challenger,
was pretty simple. It was communication. I didn’t feel, leading
up to the Challenger, and I think it bore out in all the reports that
came out afterwards, that between Headquarters and JSC and Marshall
and Kennedy Space Center, the communication wasn’t that great.
Sometimes it was, but sometimes it wasn’t.
I thought we put in some structure that would enhance those communications.
During the time that I was still working at NASA, I thought it worked
pretty well. If there was a problem that anybody saw, I felt like
it was heard across the system. Now, sometimes we heard problems and
after analyzing it, didn’t think it was something we needed
to deal with right then. But I at least had the feeling that if people
were concerned about something, they could bring it forward and have
it dealt with at the proper levels.
However, reading the accident report that came out of Columbia, it
was obvious, if we had corrected some of those, then we had lost something
along the way. Or maybe we thought we had corrected it, and we hadn’t
really done an adequate job. I would like to think that we had corrected
them, and somehow time had eroded some of them.
You did leave in 1995. Why did you make the decision to retire when
Several reasons, but the main one being that I was looking forward
to getting a little older, and concluded that if I ever wanted to
be able to retire comfortably, I was not going to be able to do it
by working on a government salary. So I thought it was probably time
to go out and see what I could do in industry.
At the time I left, when I went in and told Dan Goldin that I was
going to be leaving, I didn’t have any positions lined up; had
not talked to anybody, purposely had not done that. I took, I think,
a couple of months off before I started job hunting, which was a good
thing for me, and then I went to work doing something that was totally
not space related. I went to work for Lockheed Martin [Corporation],
running some of their simulation activities that were primarily there
to support the military.
And then your next job, you went to work in Utah for Thiokol [Propulsion
Well, after we’d been with Lockheed Martin a little less than
two years, I got a call from a headhunter one day that says, “Hey,
I got this job out in Utah that I’d like to talk to you about.”
I said, “There’s no way my wife’s going to go to
Utah. I don’t think that would work. ” [Laughs]
He said, “Well, let me let you talk about it, anyhow.”
So I said, “Well, I’ll call you back.” So I went
home and talked to my wife and told her there was a real opportunity
there, if she was willing to go live in a cold place for a while.
After we talked about it, we decided it was worth investigating further.
One thing led to another, and we ended up in Utah, and it was a great
time. I really enjoyed working at Thiokol and with the people that
we had out there. It was back working with the Shuttle Program, which
will always be in my heart somewhere. Well, it was a little bit broader
than that, but it was an excellent period of time, and at least the
solid rocket motors, I felt like I could continue to make sure that
we didn’t screw those up, and I’m proud to say the guys
continue to do that today.
What are some of the major differences of working for a government
agency for so many years and then switching over to a commercial atmosphere?
Well, you probably get different answers depending on who you ask,
but I found there were a great many similarities. Working in management
at NASA, I found that I worried about people, I worried about processes,
and I worried about money. And those three elements are still there
when you’re working in industry. The money you look at little
bit different, because there’s a profit element that you’ve
got to worry about. But you’ve still got a budget that you’ve
lined up, and you’ve got to go out and compete for new business.
Those things are somewhat new.
Going in and talking to a NASA manager when you’re a contractor
is a little bit different perspective, but it’s the same when
you’re working in NASA management, you’ve got to worry
about what your contractors think of you. So there’s a give-take
relationship on it. But people, processes, and money are the main
elements, and there’s a lot of similarities between the government
Did it help that some of the people that you were interfacing with,
you had interfaced with them before on a different level?
Found a familiarity there?
I knew the Centers, knew most of the folks in management. I had gone
through the period of time where legally—when you leave NASA
in the kind of position I was in as the Director of KSC, you can’t
go in and interface with NASA directly for one year, and even longer
than that for some contracts that you might have let. But I was past
that point, so I felt Dan Goldin was still the Administrator of NASA,
and I learned that when Dan was worried about something, I ought to
be worried about it, too. So I spent a lot of time talking to him,
and the Marshall people and all the Centers.
You mentioned it here and there, but we really haven’t had an
opportunity yet to talk about Columbia. In February 2003, we lost
that Orbiter and the crew. In fact, both the Shuttles that you flew
are gone now. Tell us about where you were with Columbia. And were
you involved in anyway with the Agency of helping to deal with that
tragedy and bring us back to flight?
I can remember [it] was one morning, and I was in the kitchen with
my wife. Got a call from my daughter Susan, who works here at JSC
for United Space Alliance, and she said, “Dad, there’s
Yes, and then the day happened from that.
It was tough. I turned on the TV. I had hoped it was never going to
happen again, although I did know the possibility was there. A lot
of people were surprised that we ran into a problem on entry. Truly,
in retrospect, when you go back, the original problem occurred on
ascent. But you’ve got to take out all that energy you put on
during ascent, and it’s always a dangerous time. Most people
don’t concentrate on it, but it is; it’s a potential that
you could lose it.
So I had a great deal of confidence in the people that were in the
management chain at that time. I was disappointed in, from my perspective—in
reading it, of course; I wasn’t involved directly in the accident
investigation or anything—that it did appear that we’d
had communication problems again, which are deadly in dealing with
this kind of a program.
I was asked to do several different things, and I declined. As I said
earlier, working with Challenger, that was one of the tougher things
that I did, and I didn’t feel like I wanted to go through that
again. And I knew we had some good people to do it. They didn’t
You worked so close with the Columbia Orbiter itself for so many years.
We had talked to many of the folks of the recovery, and especially
those at KSC. The Columbia itself, although a hard piece of metal
and a very complicated machine, was so much a part of their life.
You went to the memorial service and made a remark that you felt the
same way about that ship was so close to your heart.
Yes. Yes, that was one of the more tougher things that I—Roy
[D.] Bridges [Jr.], who was the Center Director there, he and Jim
[James W.] Kennedy, who was the Deputy at the time, called me up and
asked me if I would speak at the memorial. They said they were going
to have several people that would probably focus on the crew, and
they asked me if I would focus a little bit more on Columbia. Trying
to put together remarks for something like that—it’s a
very emotional time—was extremely tough.
But the Columbia to me, and in fact, Challenger, also, you spend so
much time with them that they almost seem like a living entity, and
to the folks at KSC that work on it every day, that’s certainly
the case. So I just tried to voice some of that. Besides losing the
crew, which was extremely painful, they felt like they’d lost
a piece of themselves, the folks at KSC did, when they lost Columbia.
And I felt the same way.
In December of 2004 Sean O’Keefe announced that he was going
to be leaving. You had served in the capacity of military aviator,
test pilot, engineer, astronaut, manager, director, and your name
was mentioned as a possible replacement. [Crippen laughs.] Did you
take this seriously? Is this something that you would have liked to
Well, I guess it was nice that people would think of me when they
were talking about filling that position, but truly, I felt like I
had done my part, and that there was lots of good people out there
that could run the Agency. So, while I was never asked directly to
do that, it was not a position that I would have considered, and I
thought they made an excellent selection in Mike [Michael D.] Griffin,
who’s a great friend of mine I’ve known for many years.
He’ll watch over things.
Although, you know, I mentioned earlier when I was Director of the
Shuttle Program in Washington, that it’s not my favorite place
to work, and it still is not. It is a political agenda, and I’m
not a politician, so it’s not something that I would have wanted
You have served so many of those other roles and your contributions
are wide and vast. What do you consider to be your greatest contribution
to the Space Agency?
Return to flight after Challenger, without a doubt.
What do you consider to be your greatest challenge? You mentioned
the budgets. [Laughter]
Greatest challenge. I’m not sure I could pick out one. I mentioned
earlier the problem that we ran into. Communication is tough, and
it’s so important in any kind of an organization, whether you’re
flying Space Shuttle or building wickets.
So when I was involved in management at NASA, especially at KSC, and
then when I ended up out at Thiokol in Utah, I felt like that was
the thing that I needed to work on the most, to try to make sure that
communications were flowing, and communication is two ways. It’s
not one-way. Making sure that people that were out there, both contractor
and government, at KSC, and all my Thiokol people when I was there,
knew what I was thinking, knew where I was trying to go, and that
I knew what they were thinking and what kind of problems they were
having. So that was probably the thing that I worked on the hardest.
Well, my questions and my areas that I wanted to bring up with you
are just about done. Are there some other thoughts or other areas
or aspects of your career that we didn’t—we touched on,
but—there are so many, and I know we could talk so much longer.
Well, I think we did a good job of covering it. I mentioned earlier
I had a chance to start working on the Shuttle in like 1972, ’72
or ’73, and except for the small period of time when I was with
Lockheed Martin for about two years, I worked on it again until I
retired from Thiokol in 2001. So it’s been a major part of my
life, and when I look back on it in retrospective, I’m saddened
that we lost two vehicles and fourteen crew members, but I still think
it is a marvelous flying machine and I feel good about having had
an opportunity to participate in it.
My final question for you, if you can explain to those of us who aren’t
pilots and will never be, why—I had a quote from you that you
had said that flying the Shuttle was a test pilot’s dream. Explain
to all of us who aren’t pilots and aren’t going to fly
in the Shuttle, why? Especially STS-1, but why? Why is the Shuttle
a test pilot’s dream?
Well, it’s kind of hard to explain if you’re not a pilot
or inclined in that direction. I guess test pilots—[people]
that want to be test pilots want to push the envelope, and pushing
the envelope means doing something for the first time. The Space Shuttle
flight on STS-1 had so many firsts associated with it, it’s
hard to find something else that can compete with it. Some of my test
pilot buddies would probably challenge it, but to get a chance to
take a winged vehicle into orbit, use solid rocket motors that have
never been used previously, and then bring it back down to a landing
on a runway which is much more elegant than dropping into the ocean.
It’s just hard to find something to beat that, and so it’s
something I’d dreamed about as a kid, and had a chance to do.
We’re so glad that you took time today to tell us all those
things that you were able to do so that we could understand them and
learn to much. I just appreciate your time. I know you’re here
for some good news in your family, and so we’ll let you get
back to that. Thanks again for being here.
Okay. Thank you.