NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Sandra Johnson
Houston, Texas – 21
is June 21st, 2004. This oral history interview is being conducted
with Brian Duffy in Houston, Texas, for the NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project. Interviewer is Sandra Johnson, assisted by Rebecca
Wright and Jennifer Ross-Nazzal.
I want to thank you for joining us today and agreeing to participate.
to be here.
you would, please share with us briefly about your experiences in
your career before NASA and how they influenced your decision to apply
to the astronaut corps.
Duffy: I first
became interested in aviation when I was—I can remember being
probably four or five and watching some of the first jet aircraft
make contrails in the sky, and I remember lying down in the grass
and watching them go over, and that was actually the first bit of
interest that I had in aviation, wondering, “Wow. How can they
do that?” That was about the extent of it until we moved to
another town when I was in elementary school. Well, before I started
first grade, actually, and the adjacent town had a naval air station,
the South Weymouth Naval Air Station in Massachusetts. So from that
point on, I grew up watching airplanes coming and going, taking off,
landing, flying around the neighborhood. I saw the Blue Angels [U.S.
Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron] every year when they came to town,
and thought they were just the best.
So I was interested in aviation and kind of amazed by it and along
the way, of course, the space program started, when I was in third
grade or so, ’61, when Alan [B.] Shepard [Jr.] launched,
and I remember watching that on television and it took my interest
in aviation and my amazement to a whole new level, like, wow, they’re
actually leaving the planet, which was something that I thought was
just the coolest. And many children my age at the time wanted to be
astronauts, because it was the coolest thing you could possibly do,
But I thought I’m just a kid and I live in this little town
and my dad’s a mailman, and I’m never going to have a
chance to do any of that. But I did think that the aviation aspect
was something I could do, so going through school, I applied to go
to the Air Force Academy [Colorado Springs, Colorado], because I knew
at the time, if you graduated and were physically qualified, that
you were pretty much guaranteed a pilot training slot. And even though
I had never been in an airplane in my life, on July 3rd, 1971, I got
on an airplane in Boston [Massachusetts] to fly to Colorado Springs
to go to the Air Force Academy, hopefully to become a pilot, because
I thought that’s what I wanted to do.
While I was there at the Academy, I found out, yes, in fact, I loved
it. As a matter of fact, one summer, one of my summer programs, I
found myself—I think I was nineteen years old—I might
have been twenty, but I was in the back seat of an [McDonnell-Douglas]
F-4 [Phantom], 100 feet off the ground, going 600 miles an hour in
a flight of four, going to the range to practice bombing things, and
I realized this is really what I want to do. So that really focused
me on my future and that was to become a fighter pilot. That is what
I decided I wanted to do. And things worked out the way I wanted them.
I got an F-15 assignment out of pilot training when I graduated. I
flew a couple of tours in the [McDonnell-Douglas] F-15 [Eagle], one
at Langley in Virginia, Langley Air Force Base, and then we went over
to Okinawa, Japan, to Kadena Air Base.
It was after that point, after having flown the airplane for five
or six years, I was kind of about as good as I was going to get, I
thought, and so I was looking for another challenge, something else
to do, and I got the opportunity to go to test pilot school and that
started me off on a whole new track now.
I went to Edwards [Air Force Base, California] for a year and did
that, and then my assignment out of there was to go to Florida and
fly as a test pilot at Eglin Air Force Base up in the panhandle. My
wife and I were there, just loving life. I mean, things were good.
We were raising babies and had a nice house. I was flying a couple
of different kinds of airplanes. And one Friday afternoon, sitting
in the back of the room, with my chair against the wall—we had
a weekly meeting where we went over what we had done that week and
what we were going to do the next week—and at the end of the
meeting, the squadron commander said, “Oh, by the way, NASA’s
looking for Shuttle pilots.” They were going to have another
selection. This would have been in the spring of ’85 that
the meeting was. And he said if you have these academic degrees and
this kind of flying background, and kind of read off the minimum criteria
that you needed, then he said, “If you’re interested,
here’s how you apply.”
Well, mentally, I had put a check in every block and was amazed to
find out that I was qualified to apply and I thought, “Jeez.”
I thought back to that eight-year-old kid who sat there and watched
Alan Shepard go, and I thought, how could you not apply something
that you wanted to do so long ago? Even though I didn’t focus
my career to do that, it just kind of worked out that way. But to
find myself qualified to apply was amazing to me. So I said, “Well,
yeah, I’ll throw my hat in the ring with everyone else,”
never expecting to get selected, of course, but you never know. And
then I did get selected, so that’s how it all worked out. That’s
how I got to NASA anyhow.
you will, just describe that astronaut selection process, from the
time you applied and what happened until the time you were selected.
kind of an interesting—this is more like my personal stuff as
opposed to NASA. Is that what you’re looking for?
were a number of us who all had met those qualifications to apply.
As a matter of fact, I knew my competition, because we were all cut
out of the same mold. We’d been at the same schools; we’d
flown the same airplanes; we’d worked together, maybe had desks
next to each other. So I knew all the guys I was competing against
and didn’t really think I was the one of the two, maybe, that
they would select. They had some other guys that I thought were more
qualified and would be better, more likely to be picked. So I almost
didn’t apply, even though I wanted to, because my work got in
the way. I had to go on a couple of trips on some projects I was working
on; I wasn’t going to be around.
But one of the guys I was talking about there, one of my contemporaries,
who had been my roommate at the Air Force Academy, called me up while
I was on a trip and said, “You have to apply.”
And I said, “Oh, come on.”
He said, “You have to apply.”
And I said, “Okay, Steve,” just to get him off my back,
I said, “I will. I will. I’ll be home for the weekend.
I’ll do it.”
He said, “I want that thing, because Monday morning, I’m
jumping in an airplane and flying to Randolph Air Force Base [Texas]
to deliver all of our applications,” all of the ones from Eglin
there, and he says, “And yours better be in it.” So I
came home and I did it over the weekend, gave it to him that morning.
Sure enough, he took off, jumped in an F-4, flew to Randolph, delivered
Then time passes from the time they’re turned in, because the
Air Force has to screen the applications and make sure—well,
they put criteria on top of the NASA criteria, because they want you
to be at a certain career point and not too old, because they might
need you somewhere else, but they have their own reasons for it.
So one day, a few weeks later, probably, I think I got a phone call—no,
actually a message came out, a formal message came out of the Air
Force saying these ten Air Force officers have been selected for interviews
by NASA, and to make arrangements to be here on a certain week, arrive
on a Sunday and leave the next Friday night or something like that,
and I was one of the ten. Well, so now I really know the competition,
because it’s just those ten names on there and all of them were
my friends. I mean, we all knew each other.
So again, those stars were still amongst the group, so my chances
of coming were pretty nil, I thought. But I thought, well, I’ll
come and enjoy the interview, the whole process. I did; I arrived
with everyone else and we went through that week. I met some of the
other people that were here, Navy folks that were being interviewed,
and had a real nice time. I got to meet many of the astronauts and
I actually sensed their enthusiasm for the program and just how special
this was. Because it’s even more special than you might think,
and it’s infectious. So I was here during the course of that
week, which is really—it’s a one-hour interview and a
four-and-a-half-day medical, basically.
During the course of that week, I became infected with just how great
a program the space program is and how topnotch the people are that
work in it, how motivated and how this would really be a fun place
to work. So my hope in being selected was ratcheting up here kind
During the course of that week I made some new friends, met a lot
of people, got inspired with the program, and had what I thought was
a good interview. I was towards the end of the group, and that can
be either good or bad, at least in my mind, because if you’re
here—I don’t know how many people were here, maybe forty
were here that week. It might not have been that much; it might have
been thirty or some smaller number, but the board has to sit through
each one of these, an hour at a time, one right after another throughout
the week, so you just can’t help but think that by the time
they get to me, if I’m number twenty-seven or twenty-eight or
whatever, they’ve got to be bored out of their minds; I mean,
they’ve heard it all ad nauseam.
But while I was in there, I said, “Well, this is my one shot.
I’m going to have a good time. I’m just going to enjoy
it. I don’t expect to get selected.” I had a little bit
of fun with the board. Mr. [George W.S.] Abbey, George, was running
the show there at the time and I had done my homework so I knew some
things about him personally, his personal life, where he’d gone
to school, where he grew up, what he’d done in his Air Force
career, those kinds of things. So I was prepared to interact with
them on nearly an equal level, because I would know almost as much
about him as he knew about me. So I actually had fun. I was relaxed
and joked around a little bit with them, and one time I threw a zinger
across the table at him, just to see what he would do, and he didn’t
move his head; he just kind of lifted his eyes up at me and kind of
cracked a little smile and looked back down. So I had a good interview.
So as I left, I thought, “Jeez, maybe I have a chance here,
because that went really well.” At least I felt it did. And
then what’s funny is that there’s like, say, five weeks
from the time you finish your interview until the phone calls go out,
and over the course of that time, my confidence just—it was
pretty linear; it just degraded in a straight line. So by the time
the phone calls were about to be made, I thought, “Oh, I didn’t
have a prayer.”
The morning the calls went out, I shared an office with like five
other pilots and they were all out flying. I was the only one that
wasn’t on the schedule that day, and the intercom, actually,
says, “Captain Duffy, telephone call from NASA. Pick up on line,”
whatever, line two or whatever. So I looked at my phone and I knew
that when you picked it up, if George Abbey’s on the other end,
then he calls with the good news, and if it’s anybody else,
that’s bad news. So I picked up the phone and recognized his
voice, and of course, my expectations went sky high. And he was funny
in the way he said it. He said, “Well, we were just wondering
if you’re still interested in coming.”
And I was kind of like, “Are you kidding?” [Laughs]
He said, “Well, okay, we’ll see you at the end of July.”
This was the first week in June.
And I said, “Yes, sir. I’ll be there,” and hung
up the phone. Then I sat there and thought, “Now what do you
do?” When you get this call, it’s the biggest phone call
of your life, at least up to that point. What’s your first action?
What do you do? So I called my wife. I figured that was safe. [Laughs]
And she was all excited. She had the kids there on the counter and
they were all screaming, and she’s dancing around the kitchen
or whatever. She had them excited; I could hear them in the background.
So then we packed up and headed this way. So that’s kind of
the sequence, going from not expecting to be here, to thinking it
was a real good interview, and then having it come all the way back
down again over that time period. It’s kind of an emotional
said your wife was excited. Was she also excited about moving to the
She was a little bit afraid that the city was too big. She didn’t
like the idea of living in a big city, but I explained to her, I said,
“No, it’s really like twenty, twenty-five miles outside
the city. You can go to the city if you want, or stay in your little
area if you want.” So when we came here on a house-hunting trip,
she was very happy with the area.
got here in July of ’85, and you began your training. I’d
like you to go through a little bit and tell us some about your training
and the different things that you did during training. But during
your training, something significant happened, and that was the Challenger
that first year, yes.
maybe you can just walk us through some of your training in the different
areas that you worked in and also how that accident affected your
that was a big deal, obviously, for everybody. Yes, we rolled into
town here and spent that summer, August and September, doing some
kind of team building with my group. There were thirteen of us that
were selected, and a lot of it is getting to know each other in lots
of different ways, whether it’s professionally and socially.
Some of us were runners, so we started running together and just doing
things together. We were a pretty cohesive little group there. We
were thirteen and the rest of the office was about a hundred, maybe,
so we were this small little group.
I’ll never forget the first Monday morning meeting that I went
to. We got here and that very first Monday I think they had a formal
press thing and all that for us, so that the following Monday, we
went to the regular Astronaut Office meeting and I sat in that meeting
for probably an hour and a half, and walked out at the end of an hour
and a half and had not understood one thing they were talking about,
not one thing. And I realized, wow, I’ve got a lot to learn
about this, because people are speaking very passionately inside about
certain subjects, using all these acronyms, which I had no clue what
I came to realize that you can be the best fighter pilot in the world
or test pilot—we had astrophysicists, we had all kinds of different
specialties, engineers—and you can be the best of everything,
but when you come here as an astronaut, you don’t know anything
about flying in space. So everybody starts at the same level, which
is basically zero, and you have to build up from there, and to NASA’s
credit, that’s where their training program started. They assumed
you didn’t really know anything, which, thank goodness, because
Then we started building from there, and it starts out with just simple
stuff, some simple astro classes to get you understanding orbital
mechanics. Then even some other basic classes. They brought in specialists
and professors from different areas to talk to us about ceramics or
rocket design or you name it, because I believe the idea was for us
to be well versed, because when we go deal with the press or schools
or whatever, you might get hit with questions in many, many different
fields from different directions, and it’s nice to be able to
handle them and not have to give them the Navy salute [gestures] the
whole time and say, “I don’t know.”
So we spent time doing that, sitting in academic classes, just learning
fundamental, basic things. We started out with systems-level things
for the Space Shuttle, and you take them one at a time. You take the
normal system. They describe it. Here’s how it operates. Then
you go think about, well, how do you use it. Then they start saying,
okay, well if this breaks, it acts like this, and if that breaks—you
start learning some of the malfunction signatures, how you recognize
if something’s not working right and then what you do and what
its impacts are.
You do those a system at a time and then you go to the next level,
which is when you start combining systems and they start, well, the
electrical power system actually provides power to the hydraulic system
controllers, which—you know, and they start putting the puzzle
together. So that year, starting from kind of basics, from zero where
you don’t know anything, at the end of the year you’re
in pretty good shape for being able to understand what’s going
But I actually worked, by my standards, quite hard to be the best
crewmember possible, to be an asset to a crew, not a liability, which
was my goal. I found that it took me three years to get to the point
where I was comfortable, and that was with a lot of simulator time
that I got as a result of Challenger happening, and we can go back
and talk about that.
Actually, when Challenger happened, we stopped flying for
nearly three years, so some of the crews that were together were disbanded,
some people left. There were a lot of simulators that they needed
people to go fill, and so I got in every one I could, because I was
working hard at being the best that I possibly could be. So it took
those three years, including all of that hard work time, I think,
to get to the level that I felt I needed to be at.
Going backwards now, back in that training, you mix in things like
your [Northrop] T-38 [Talon] checkouts and things, along with all
those classes that I was talking about that we have, and then simulators
start showing up and we start doing things in there.
I was actually out flying when Challenger happened. I was going to
El Paso [Texas] for a training flight and I’d been waiting and
waiting that morning. Because of the ice problem that they had, it
was delayed for quite a while. It finally got to the point where I
had to leave, because I had to be in El Paso by a certain time. So
I was actually ten minutes out from landing out there, I guess, when
the accident happened, and walked into the FBO and they had a television—FBO
is a fixed base operator, where we used to get gas out in El Paso,
and taxi in, shut down, get out, and walk in, and the television’s
on and everyone is looking at the television. I was trying to comprehend
what had happened, because I hadn’t heard anything and no one
had said anything over the radio or anything.
I knew a little bit about the system. I knew that there wasn’t
any crew escape system, and I saw what happened and I knew that that
was over. I jumped back in my airplane, flew back to Houston, just
to be back here as soon as I could be for my family and for whatever
else might need to be done.
It was hard. We had just built a house. When we arrived here in ’85,
there wasn’t a lot of new construction that had gone on for
almost twenty years. The areas around here, Clear Lake Forest, Nassau
Bay, Camino West out there, those areas were established and were
here. The prices on those homes, compared to where I was coming from,
were pretty high, and I surmised that it was because over the years
the owners would tack the real estate commission fees on top of whatever
they paid for it, so over the years, even though the house was getting
older, the price was going up.
I found that it was about all that I could just to afford even a very
old house, but I could build a brand-new house cheaper, which didn’t
make a whole lot of sense to me. So we found an area out in El Lago,
out in Taylor Crest out there, where there were some lots and where
there’d been some recent, a very little bit, but some recent
building. We contacted a builder and we came to terms and so we ended
up building a house out there, and that took from—we might have
agreed in August sometime to do that until the end of December, or
almost the end of January, actually.
We closed on our house, and I might be a day off in here, closed on
our house like on Thursday, had our stuff delivered out of storage
on Friday, and I think Challenger happened on Monday. It could have
been closed on Friday, delivered on Monday, and Challenger happened
Tuesday, but it was in that sequence like that.
So when I got home, we were wall-to-wall boxes in the house and she
had stopped unpacking and she said, “What are we going to do?”
I mean, we’d just bought this house like a day or two prior
to this happening.
I never had a doubt that they would find out what happened, fix it,
and that we would continue to fly. I didn’t have a doubt, and
that’s what I told her. So we continued to do that, and it turned
out, of course, we were right, I guess. But that’s where Challenger
happened, right in the middle of that year of training there, and
it was traumatic, obviously, for everybody. A lot of questions about
what are you going to do or what’s going to happen. Where is
the program going?
mentioned the crew escape and, of course, there was a difference in
the suits after Challenger as before. So did those types of training
issues come about pretty quickly or was that something that was later
on down the road?
away the desire for a crew escape capability was addressed, and Aaron
Cohen commissioned Bryan [D.] O’Connor to lead an effort to
study different ways of getting crew escape incorporated into the
Shuttle. They looked at everything. They looked at—and we’ve
subsequently done it again, after Columbia [accident], but they looked
at everything and decided that what we ended up with, was this like
fireman’s pole, escape pole, with these different suits, were
probably the best that we could do, given the money that we had at
the time and the design that we had. We probably could have, but we
didn’t, go redesign the vehicle and build a whole different
vehicle. I’m sure it was because of costs.
were some of your first assignments?
Duffy: I asked
to go to SAIL [Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory] as my first,
and that was after Christmas. The first six months, they didn’t
give us any technical assignments. It was just do your homework, study,
learn. Then it was at about the six-month point where they assigned
us jobs. Some people went down to the Cape [Canaveral, Florida] to
become Cape Crusaders. Some folks did other things. I had recognized
that the Shuttle was a software-intensive vehicle, and I thought the
better I knew the software, the better off I would be. So I asked
to go to SAIL, which is the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory,
where we did all the software testing for the vehicle. I guess I was
doing that when Challenger happened.
Maybe about a month or so after Challenger happened, I got a new assignment
from SAIL, even though I was just getting checked out on SAIL, where
I was going to be of some use to them. I had had a flight safety background
as a safety officer in the Air Force. One of my jobs in the Air Force
was as a safety officer, and so Mr. Abbey basically said, “I’d
like you to go to Huntsville [Alabama], to [NASA] Marshall [Space
Flight Center] and be part of their process, their safety process
and what they’re doing. So that was what I did, and I did that
for, I would say, quite a while, a year and a half or so, in slightly
different capacities over time, but basically working at Marshall,
up in Huntsville.
That was an interesting challenge, because I’m sure for the
people at Marshall we were a little bit of a threat to them. On the
other hand, we were their customer and the people they wanted to take
care of so well, so it was a little difficult, I think, for them.
So I went there and I believe some people would look at me—I’d
roll into a meeting in my flight suit and I’d be a threat to
them. However they really felt about it, I think some people felt
that way. Not everyone felt that way, but some people did, and I don’t
But I got there and I had a gentleman who was the head of their safety,
reliability, and quality assurance outfit. He was an older gentleman.
His name was Wiley [C.] Bunn, and he took me under his wing and made
sure that I was involved in everything that he thought was important
or he thought I might be interested in. He made sure that I was invited
to the meetings and I had a place there. So he became a good friend
and he was a great, almost a mentor for me while I’m in that
role up at Marshall doing all this return-to-flight activity. He was
a great man. We lost him a number of years ago, but he was a great
guy. I don’t know if anyone else has talked about Wiley Bunn
at NASA. I wanted to get his name in there. He was dynamite, though.
So those were my jobs. Do you want me to continue, any other jobs?
let’s see. Different capacities for almost a year and a half,
all the way up to return-to-flight, I was doing things associated
with either the external tank or the Space Shuttle main engine or
the solid rocket boosters. Those are all Marshall projects, so I was
doing things at Huntsville, at Marshall.
I was one of two family escorts for the return-to-flight. [Richard
N.] Dick Richards and I were the two family escorts for STS-26. That
was a pretty intense time, but that was just a little temporary job
thing, but it was very significant for me. It was a big deal, standing
there with the wives and the children of the first crew after Challenger
as they were launching. That was pretty tense.
you don’t mind, just tell us a little bit about what your duties
not just for that flight, but for all missions we have what we call
family escorts. The crew selects two astronauts who they and their
families know. Not everyone knows everyone, but you have an idea who
would be a good surrogate husband, who’s a good stand-in, so
these two astronauts do whatever is required to take care of the families.
That includes going to their house the day they’re going to
the Cape, picking up the suitcases, putting them in the car, riding
out to the plane, riding down with them on the plane, making sure
either the transportation’s there, the rental cars are there,
whatever, getting them settled, going to the grocery store and buying
the diapers and the baby food and whatever is needed to get them back,
because oftentimes the wives don’t have the ability to travel
around freely. They’re under a lot of pressure, because when
they get their families starting to arrive, they get tugged in lots
of different directions.
So the escort makes sure they have everything they need, acts as the
bad guy, if they have to, to protect the spouses from whoever they
need to be protected from. Then you’re with them on the roof,
you travel with them, you stay in touch with them during the mission,
you go back with them for the landings to wherever they’re going.
So you’re like a family member when you’re one of those
family escorts. I did that a number of times.
quite a bond, I would imagine, with the family.
do. You do. You get very close, yes. You share a lot with them, so
it’s good. Not as close as you get on a crew, because you’ve
trained together for a year.
you don’t mind, for a minute talk about some of the training
you did as far as the STA, the Shuttle Training Aircraft.
that’s great; because that’s the best simulator we have
for me, for who’s eventually going to be landing the Shuttle.
They start you out, introducing you to the whole system, how it works,
what its strengths are and what its weaknesses are, because there
are some weaknesses to it, things that you have to be careful of or
you can get fooled, because the Orbiter will fly slightly different
than the STA, and if you expect it to fly like the STA, there are
some areas where it doesn’t.
We go out and they have a syllabus, a twenty-ride syllabus or some
number of rides, and they step you through. They start out with real
basic things and then gradually you work your way up to more and more
difficult scenarios. It’s very good. It’s so good that
even though I’d never flown the Space Shuttle, on my third mission,
when I was the commander for the first time, and it’s the middle
of the night, three in the morning or something in Florida, we go
through the whole entry, we roll out on final, and I looked out in
front of me and I had the exact same scene in front of me that I’d
had two thousand times before, because the training was that good.
It was like I felt completely at home, like, “Oh, I’ve
been here before.”
So even though I was going to do something that—you know, landing
Space Shuttle is a pretty big deal and I’d never done it before,
I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t excited or anything. It was
just like, “Oh, yeah, you do it just like you trained.”
That’s the way we do things, actually. Train hard and train
right, and then when you go do it for real, whether it’s launch
or do a rendezvous or land or whatever, or do an EVA [Extravehicular
Activity], even, if you trained right and then you just do it the
way you trained, there’s not a lot of pressure. As a matter
of fact, there’s hardly any pressure on you. You just do your
job, do it the way you trained.
So that STA is a marvelous tool for getting us ready, because I never
had a doubt. Sure enough, I found the vehicle was a little bit different.
The Orbiter was just slightly different than the STA. Part of it is
even your physical reaction, because when you go to train, let’s
say, a flight over to the Cape to go fly an STA mission, the night
before, you got a good night’s sleep. You get up that morning,
had a nice breakfast and whatever it was. You feel 100 percent. You
feel perfectly great physiologically. You go fly, you fly to the place,
fly your mission, ten approaches, fly home, and you’re done.
Well, when you’re coming back from space, you are not 100 percent.
You might not have slept all that well the night before. You don’t
feel the same. You’ve got a G-suit [pressurized anti-gravity
suit] that’s squeezing the daylights out of you. Your fluid
level is low. You’re in a pressure suit; even though you’ve
trained in them a few times, it’s heavy. It wasn’t heavy
before. It’s a lot heavier when you’ve been in space for
a couple of weeks, when you’re coming back.
So there’s a lot of things that are different that make it more
of a challenge to do it for real. So anything you can do to eliminate
the other things that could distract you, which is what the STA does—all
the visual cues are the same, even though your physiological cues
are different—anything you can do helps make it safer for you.
So the training is great. The STA is dynamite. It’s the best
tool we have, I think, for the pilots.
there any other assignments during that time period?
Duffy: I was
at Huntsville. I was a family escort. Then I came off of that and
they had me working with taking over from or with John [E.] Blaha
and [Michael L.] Mike Coats, who had been working things called contingency
aborts, and that is what do you do during an ascent if an awful lot
of things go wrong. We didn’t really have any great procedures
for what to do. Like, in the case of Challenger, if all three main
engines had shut down and the vehicle had at that point—say,
it was a different kind of an accident; say the engines shut down
or something, what would you do? We didn’t have procedures for
all these—we call them contingencies.
So we had these things called contingency aborts and we started working
on developing the procedures for those contingency aborts, and that
was actually tremendous fun for me. The answers weren’t always
good, like there were some regions where you say, “Well, you’re
going to die. If this happens, they’re going to die. We can’t
help you. There’s nothing we can do, and you just have to recognize
that.” Well, okay, what can we do so that doesn’t happen?
What I did was I learned an awful lot about how the vehicle flies
and reacts in all these different flight regimes, because we go from
flying zero miles an hour, sitting on the launch pad, to flying 17,500
miles per hour in just a few minutes, eight and a half minutes, and
along the way, you fly through a lot of different regimes of aerodynamics.
So you have to learn what you can do and what you can’t do with
the vehicle and with the Orbiter in those different flight regimes.
How can you get to a point where you could bail out? Because now we
had this bail-out system, but in order to be able to use it, you have
to be essentially below 40,000 feet, subsonic, in controlled gliding
flight. So you have to get from wherever you were during an ascent,
where something bad happened, to subsonic, below 40,000 feet, in controlled
So there are a lot of things that you need to worry about, and this
procedure development was just great, because I learned so much about
how you do things. That meant so much later on, because I was so comfortable,
even as the commander, where my crew is looking to me to be right
all the time—all the time. I had the confidence and knew that
I knew what I needed to know to do all of that stuff. So that job
of developing these procedures, well, I probably did that for a year,
year and a half. That was a great job. I learned a lot.
From there I went to Mission Control and I was a CapCom [Capsule Communicator],
and, again, you learn a lot. You learn not the stuff that’s
going on inside the cockpit, but you learn what’s going on on
the ground by being there. Then I worked a number of missions, trained
with the crews and worked a number of missions. Then I got to go fly
for my first time, finally, seven years later.
that time also you were a Technical Assistant for Flight Crew Operations?
yes. Where’d that fit in?
’86, ’87. It was after Challenger. Actually, I did
that for quite a while. It was after Challenger happened, because
[James D.] Jim Wetherbee was in that job before me and he was there
during all of the Challenger activities, and then I took over from
Jim, so it would have been toward the end of ’86, I think.
For the next maybe year and a half or so, year, year and a half, I
was George Abbey’s technical assistant. We called it “the
Bubba.” I was George’s Bubba for a while, and as far as
my professional development was concerned, that was probably the job
where I learned the most. He was a terrific mentor in that he introduced
me to the people I needed to know and he taught me what I needed to
know to interact at the higher levels of management, including dealing
with the [United States] Congress and members of Congress and NASA
Headquarters [Washington, D.C.] and senior industry executives. So
I learned a lot.
There were times when I was just watching him in doing that and there
were other times when he delegated stuff to me to go handle. He said,
“I want you to go handle that. Just let me know what happened.”
So he trusted me to go make some decisions on his behalf in some of
these meetings. So that was a real learning experience for me. It
was in that time period there that I got to meet and know many of
the people who would continue to lead NASA into the future, so personally
that was good for me, because it got me the visibility that he wanted
me to get. I’m not sure I sought it out, but it’s what
he wanted. He thought, “You need to do this,” and so as
a mentor, that’s what good mentors do, is they develop you.
So he was really good at that.
you ever have a chance to go back to SAIL?
went back to SAIL. Just had a very little bit of time in there, just
enough to get checked out, and that was it and then it was all these
Let’s see. Other jobs. Let’s see. I was a CapCom. That
was really good. I really learned a lot there. Went off to fly; trained
to fly. Oh, when I came off my first flight, they made me the lead
Cape Crusader down at the Cape, so I did that for maybe a year, not
a terribly long time down there. Not even a year, because I flew a
year later. I might have done it for five or six months, because I
had been assigned to my second flight the day we went into quarantine
for my first flight. So I already knew when my second flight was going
to be, and it was just a year later, fifteen months later.
So I did the Cape Crusader thing down at the Cape and then trained
and flew again and then came off. So, summer of ’93. At
that time there was a team that was pulling together—Space Station
Freedom was being phased in and the new International Space Station
was phasing in, and I got drafted by Mr. Abbey to come to Washington,
which is up where he was, and it was him and [Daniel S.] Dan Goldin
and [William M.] Bill Shepherd and [Douglas R.] Doug Cooke and all
of the early International Space Station team were all up in D.C.,
and they called me up and they said, “Here, you’re done
flying now. Come on. Get back to work.”
So I spent the remainder of that summer and the early fall up in Washington,
D.C., doing International Space Station things, right as the Russians
were coming onboard. I went up there to help in some areas. [G.] David
Low was brought up and David helped bring the Russians onboard in
the very early days, when we were trying to figure out are the Russians
of value and why should we bring them onboard and who should do what.
So we were making those real fundamental decisions during that summer.
Then towards the end of that, my task became to move the International
Space Station office to JSC out of Washington. So I had to come down
and negotiate with people to get floor space and whatever support
they needed. We just had to figure out, well, how are we going to
do this; who are they going to be badged to, where are they going
to live, who are they going to report to. There were just some fundamental
things that we had to nail down, and it was in that fall of ’93
that we did that.
Mr. [Eugene F.] Kranz was not very happy with me, because I had to
take some of his floor space over in Building 4. We looked everywhere
for space and there was just some certain places that made sense to
try to put an office. Unfortunately, his guys were there, so we had
to boot them out. So he was not happy with me, but I don’t think
he still holds a grudge or anything. He would have preferred I went
somewhere else, but that’s the way it goes.
That’s ’93. Then I guess I was doing Space Station-related
work for a while, maybe even through the next year as we were in the
early design parts of it. Then I was assigned again to fly. Around
in November of ’94, I was assigned and so I started working
my crews. We flew in January of ’96, so that means in February
I was back on the street. What did I do then? It’s funny how
you come off of a flight, you know. Everything’s a big deal
in buildup to it, build up, build up, build up, and then the flights
over. “Okay. Go get a job. Find something to do.”
In my case, they always had something waiting for me. Now, in this
case, let’s see. We’re in early ’96 now. Mr. Abbey
was the Center Director by this point and he had me come up on the
ninth floor and be—I don’t remember what it was called.
that when you were the Technical Assistant Director?
Assistant Director, Technical. That’s what it was, yes. So I
did that for quite a while, a number of years doing that, and then
off to fly for my last time, my last flight.
I came back from that and ended up on the ninth floor again, ended
up after some time as the Acting Deputy Director of the Center. So
I started out in SAIL and I ended up as the Acting Deputy Director
of the Center and I flew four times in between.
go back to that first flight, STS-45. How did you find out you were
assigned to that mission?
Duffy: I think
[Daniel C.] Dan Brandenstein had given me a heads-up. Dan was the
Chief of the [Astronaut] Office at the time and he had given me kind
of a heads-up that it was going to happen. He and I had had a discussion
earlier about crew assignments and timing of things. It was to my
advantage, actually, not to fly too early, because of the way things
There used to be a policy that when you flew the first time, you got
what we called a flight promotion, where you would, say, if you launched
as a lieutenant colonel, you would land as a colonel, essentially,
that kind of thing; you’d get a one-rank promotion. My class
was grandfathered underneath that. After Challenger—I think
President [Ronald W.] Reagan had started it. After Challenger, the
DoD [U.S. Department of Defense] had cancelled the policy. My group,
because we had been selected prior to Challenger, was grandfathered.
So we were going to be the last of the group where a military member
would get a one-rank promotion, one-grade promotion, when you flew.
I happened to know the way my promotions were falling in time, and
so I had talked to Dan just to tell him, “Much as I want to
fly right away, if it fits in your plan, it’s to my advantage
to fly a little later.”
Then he had thought about it for a little bit and he had said, “Well,
what do you think about something like this?” So I kind of had
an idea. He says, “Will this work for you?”
And I said yes. His plan was perfect. So I ended up, I guess, being
the last person to get a flight promotion, because I was the last
person in my group to fly. It was actually okay with me, because it
was going to work out in the long run. So I kind of knew that it was
I didn’t know who the whole crew was. I knew [Charles F.] Charlie
Bolden [Jr.] was going to be the commander, and I was ecstatic with
that, because he’s great. I learned more about leadership from
him than I have from any other single person in my life. So I was
real lucky to be there, assigned to that crew.
the training process with that crew, can you go through some of the
things that you trained for and how you trained together and some
of the dynamics of the crew?
We were going to be a science mission. It was called ATLAS 1 [Atmospheric
Laboratory for Applications and Science]. We had a number of payloads,
like in the mid teens, payloads in the payload bay that we would control
either with special panels that are hardwired to the experiments or
using software on the computers to turn things on and off. It was
going to be a twenty-four-hour operation, so we were split into two
crews. We were a crew of seven, so we split into two groups of three,
a red team and a blue team, and Charlie kind of split the difference
so he could float in between the two.
So we trained for the ascent and entry part as a group, because you
do those things together. Then a lot of the other training was done
just with our smaller sub teams, the red team or the blue team, for
all of the payload activities. So I had a role, and my role was primarily
to point the Orbiter, have it pointing in the right place at the right
time so that when, say, [Kathryn D.] Kathy Sullivan or Dirk [D. Frimout],
who was our payload specialist on the flight, when it was time for
them to operate the instruments, the instruments were pointed at what
they were supposed to see.
So there was a coordination effort that we had to learn to do, and
the other crew did the same; that was [David C.] Dave Leestma, Byron
[K.] Lichtenberg, and [C. Michael] Mike Foale. So we kind of complemented
each other, but we operated pretty much separately for on-orbit ops
[operations] and then we worked together for the up and the down part.
there any criteria that separated you into teams?
did what the commander told you to do. Charlie decided.
Bolden was the criteria.
Bolden decided. He said, “Brian, you’re flying the Orbiter
on,” whatever shift I was on—I think I was on the blue
shift—and he said, “Dave,” Leestma, “you’re
flying the Orbiter on the red shift, and you other guys,” Kathy
and Dirk and Mike and Byron would work the instruments. We just did
what Charlie told us. But it was a logical breakdown. Dave was a good
operator and that was what I had done, been an operator in the past.
had a couple of payload specialists and a payload commander on that
flight. How was the payload specialist-astronaut relationship at that
depended on the individual, on both sides. I thought it went okay.
It wasn’t frictionless. It wasn’t friction-free by any
means, and there were some times when Charlie had to make sure things
were smooth and that feathers weren’t ruffled. But for the most
part, I thought it was fine. I never had any particular problem with
it and I thought things were okay, but there was the occasional incident
or two where people get a little crosswise with each other.
talk about the launch for the first time. You mentioned the simulator
was really good on your first landing as commander.
simulations for the launch, did—
Duffy: I thought
the sims [simulations] for the launch were great. I was absolutely
impressed with the power of the launch. As a matter of fact, I was
really impressed with just how much raw power there is in that vehicle.
But there weren’t really any surprises. I guess I had talked
to enough people about the launch process and what it’s like
and what it feels like, and I’ve seen enough of them from sitting
there on the ground watching it and I could just picture myself in
that, you know, what was going on inside, but you can’t feel
it until you do it. You can think about what it might be like, but
you don’t actually physically feel it until you go do it.
The simulator is great in that it can give you vibration and some
little sense of motion, but it doesn’t give you that acceleration—it
can’t—that you get for real. I had flown Mach 2 in an
F-15 in my career many, many times and had thought that had been pretty
fast, and we blew through Mach 2 in nothing flat and we still had
a long way to go to accelerate. So I was most impressed with just
the amount of power, the raw power, and as a result, the acceleration
that you had, because you just kept going and going and going. You’re
going faster and faster, and even though you don’t have a good
visual reference to see anything and compare it, you just know you’re
going fast, because mentally you’re integrating all this acceleration.
You’re looking at your acceleration tape that’s just zinging,
going by, and it’s just amazing. Those last couple minutes,
particularly the last minute, you’re averaging three Gs, you’re
accelerating, which is nearly 100 feet per second per second, so every
ten seconds that goes by, you’re going 1,000 feet per second,
faster than you were ten seconds ago. It’s awesome. It absolutely
blows you away.
Then the engines cut off and you go from what I’ve described
as like the most violent place you’ve ever been in your life,
to the most peaceful place you’ve ever been in your life, in
a couple of seconds. It’s a real interesting little transition,
when the engines shut off and all the thrust stops, and all of a sudden
you’re free-floating. Everything’s quiet. It’s interesting
how it happens, and every time I was equally impressed. Even the fourth
time, I just went, “Wow. I forgot how much power there is.”
It’s awesome, it really is.
were some of your responsibilities as soon as you got to that point
first hour and a half or so you spend turning this rocketship that
you rode into the vehicle that you’re—in our case, it
was going to be a laboratory that we were going to use to do all of
these experiments. So you safely shut down all of the systems that
were operating that you’re not going to need until entry. Then
you reconfigure the cockpit. You fold up some of the chairs, the mission
specialist chairs, they detach from the floor, and you fold them up
and you stow them out of the way. You start powering up things that
you’re going to need during the mission that weren’t powered
during ascent. So it takes a while to do all of that, reconfigure
the computers to the on-orbit configuration. It takes a while to do
that. I was primary for some of them and backing up on some other
mentioned your primary responsibility was making sure that the Orbiter
was in the right position.
the mission, yes.
the actual experiments. Did you have any other type of responsibilities
with the experiments?
there are always little things that you do, but I wasn’t a primary
operator of the instrument; I was a helper in ways. I wasn’t
the prime, but it was my job to have the Orbiter in the proper attitude
at the right time.
was a historic flight scientifically because of the first ATLAS, the
first Mission to Planet Earth flight.
you have any thoughts on that?
I actually became more of a—I came to appreciate environmental
concerns more. I’m still not a tree-hugger or anything like
that, but you can’t help but realize just like how thin the
atmosphere is, for example, when you look out and you see it edge-on,
and it’s just like that [gestures]. You can block it out with
the width of your thumb. So you really do have a sense that, wow,
this is a small planet. And it is small; you go around it in an hour
and a half. It takes longer to drive across Houston in rush hour than
it does for us to orbit the Earth. So it’s not that big and
it’s what allows all of humanity to exist, so we collectively
have to take care of this little ecosystem that we have, because it’s
pretty fragile. So while I’m not a tree-hugger, I recognize
that it’s important that we take care of it.
I think some—well, I’m not sure they’re scientists.
Some people take the fact that the Earth’s climate changes,
is changing in a certain way or another, and they attribute the changes
to us, something that we did, as if the Earth would have been static
had we not been here or whatever, and that’s not at all true
when you look back in history. So that’s why I’m not a
big tree-hugger kind of person, because I don’t necessarily
believe that we are influencing the changes that we’re observing.
Are the changes real? Sure they are, but are they caused by us? Not
necessarily. So I temper my environmental awareness with, you know,
there’s some reality here. I think we’re not as important
as some people think we are. Like George Carlin says, the Earth’s
going shake us off like a bad case of fleas. [Laughs]
interesting. I’ve never heard that one before.
haven’t heard George’s talk about it? He says, well, we’re
just—you know, people are complaining about us destroying—I
think that’s the way he puts it, we’re destroying the
Earth. “We’re not destroying the Earth. The Earth’s
going to shake us off like a bad case of fleas,” and he might
might be right. So anyhow, it was a big mission and I was happy to
be part of it. I think here now, twelve years later, I think they’re
still reducing data from that mission. We collected tons of data.
was the first of, I think, of eleven-year—was it the sunspot
solar cycle, yes.
right. The sun cycle.
imagine they are still collecting that.
they probably are.
Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment.
you have a chance to participate in that?
I did. I got my license before. We had to have two licensed operators
onboard, one on each shift, in order to be legal, to be able to use
the radio, so Dave Leestma got his and I got mine so we could do that.
That was really a lot of fun.
That ended up being one of the neater things for me for a couple of
reasons. One day was kind of neat. I got patched. We were flying over
Australia, and this was all prearranged. We talked to a station on
the ground in Australia and they were tied to the amateur radio shack
out here at JSC, who patched me to my wife sitting at our kitchen
table, so I was flying over Australia in space, talking to Jan in
Seabrook, sitting in El Lago there, at our house. She was sitting
at our kitchen table talking to me. So that was a neat experience.
Then over that week sometime, they had a school contact scheduled
and we talked to Ed White [Elementary School, El Lago, Texas], where
both my children were going to school at that time, and I found out
there that my son got on the radio and I learned that he, in secret,
had gotten his amateur radio license, without me knowing about it,
so that he was KB5SIY, that’s his call sign, so he completely
surprised me with that. And that’s a very technical thing to
get and he was in like fourth or fifth grade. Of course, he ended
up going to MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge,
Massachusetts], so I guess that was probably a hint that he was inclined
to do that kind of thing.
was an early sign.
So that was really neat, but SAREX was great. I really enjoyed using
it. It helped me really feel connected to normal life down here on
the planet, because you can’t see people from up there. You
can see cities and highways and things like that, but it looks uninhabited,
other than the buildings and things.
a reminder that there are people.
So it was nice to do that, and to be able to stay in personal contact
with my family. That was really special.
kind of questions did people ask you?
over the radio.
Duffy: A lot
of times they just want to talk to you just to put you in their log
book. Big amateur radio buffs, they keep books on who they’ve
talked to and where, and so talking to a spaceship is a big deal to
them. So a lot of it is just they say, “Hello,” and then,
“Thank you,” and they sign off and they let somebody else
get on. They’re a very accommodating community. They’re
very professional in the way they deal with you. But sometimes if
you have a contact with a school or something, you get the normal
kid questions. “What’s it like in space?” and “What
does it feel like at liftoff?” and the usual kind of questions.
landed at [NASA] Kennedy [Space Center, Florida]. As a pilot, what
were your duties during landing? And describe that landing for us,
if you will.
talk about the entry a little bit, because the entry surprised me.
I talked about the ascent did not surprise me; the entry surprised
me. I don’t know if I just wasn’t listening or I just
didn’t understand. I clearly didn’t understand; whether
I’d heard it before or not, I didn’t know. But we were
coming back in, we’d been up for nine days, and coming back
in, pretty much all at night, because we were going to land just after
dawn in Florida, so the whole thing was in the dark, pretty much.
We came in and, similar to the simulator, the outside you get this
glow, which is all this hot gas surrounding the Orbiter as you’re
coming in during entry. Unlike the simulator, however, I looked out
and I had little embers of things going by my window, and I remember
looking over at Charlie and saying, “I hope that’s not
He chuckled a little bit and said, “No.”
A little bit later, I looked down at the nose cap on the Orbiter and
it was like carnation pink. You know, it’s normally a black
carbon-carbon material. It was carnation pink and we’re surrounded
by orange and yellow fire that’s alive and moving, and Charlie’s
over there, he’s got his arms crossed, just watching the Orbiter
fly and the needles coming in, and I said, “Bolden, you didn’t
tell me about this,” because all of this other stuff going on,
or that you don’t see in the simulator. In the simulator, the
window changes color, gets brighter, and then it goes back to black.
It’s not like that in the real world. So there were some surprises
The biggest surprise, however, was physically, and I think part of
it was because, in my case, it was the first time in which I’d
gone to extended weightlessness to now back into the G field, into
gravity, and it’s not just to 1-G; it’s to 1.4 or 5-Gs
and it’s sustained for a long period of time, and you’re
coming in at a forty-degree angle, so the drag is this way, [gestures]
so what happens is you’re going down and forward. So I actually
had to put my hand on the glare shield and hold my torso up to keep
it from slumping down and forward during the entry, and I don’t
think anyone ever told me about that. I had to learn this myself.
Not that it’s that big a deal, but it was a surprise.
And also, physically you’re working a lot harder. That G-suit’s
squeezing you, as I mentioned earlier. Your blood level is a little
low so your heart’s having to beat faster, so you’re sweating.
You feel like you’re working out, actually. There are a lot
of physiological changes that you’re going through. So I was
surprised by that on my first flight.
But my job then was to help Charlie watch the Orbiter fly the approach
around to line up with the runway, and once Charlie was down on final,
I’m kind of supposed to be his backup for this whole thing.
Then once he’s coming down, I just kind of verify that, yes,
we’re aiming at the right point, and that we’re doing
the things that we’re supposed to be doing. Earlier on, I had
started the hydraulic power units to get the hydraulic power we were
going to need, both for the flight controls and to be able to put
the landing gear down and the breaks to stop.
Then other than that, I just help Charlie fly the approach verbally;
I don’t touch anything until it’s time to put the gear
down and then I lower the landing gear. Then I’m calling altitudes
and air speeds to him as we’re coming in for the final approach,
because a lot of things are happening very quickly and we have a certain
cadence that we like to get in, 20-220, 10-210, 5-205. You’re
talking about air speed, feet. Twenty feet—we have a radar altimeter
that tells us where we are that does a pretty good job, and so I’m
calling off altitudes and air speeds to him and he’s flying
based on what I’m telling and what he’s seeing, to land.
Then once we’re down—at the time we didn’t have
a drag chute. We did on my second flight, but we did not, so he flew
the nose down. Then I just called the decel rate that we were braking
at to come to a stop. I didn’t play a big part in it, other
than I was helping him, and I was there to be the redundant system
in case something happened to him, prepared to take over should it
the flight, the crew was actually removed on gurneys instead of coming
out on your own. Was this for the medical?
one or two of them might have been. Those are things they call DSOs,
detailed supplementary objectives, or something like that. Those are
things we sign up for ahead of time. They’re voluntary and sometimes
they only want one or two subjects; they don’t want everybody.
Yes, now that you mention it. I’d kind of forgotten that. I
think one or two of the crewmembers did do that. It was because they
wanted to try to preserve as much as they could, they wanted to be
able to observe the recovery to 1-G from zero-G and, of course, even
that way is not completely accurate, because even though you might
be lying down, you’re still lying down in 1-G, so there’s
some gravity things involved. I had forgotten that. There’s
probably a lot I’ve forgotten over the years, a lot of the details.
before the flight, Charlie Bolden brought in a psychiatrist to conduct
psychological profiling of the crewmembers.
and the families.
the families, so that you would understand how each other operates.
you flew other times without that, do you feel like that really helped?
Duffy: I thought
it was a good thing to do, particularly for a first-time flyer, and
it was a little bit of support for my wife as well, so I thought that
was good. It’s not a lot different than the way things are done
nowadays in different ways. Like this whole Myers-Briggs personality
assessment. You know, the whole reason for doing that is to understand
your tendencies, the things you’re most likely to do and the
way you’re most likely to act, and then understand that other
people are wired differently and have other different tendencies.
I’ve thought about that, actually, that this Myers-Briggs stuff
that we’re doing nowadays in management is not that different
than what Charlie had us do back then. It just was called something
different, and instead of taking a standardized test, it was done
almost individually, one-on-one kind of thing, but the same idea.
I thought it was a good idea. If nothing else, it makes people more
aware that, hey, people have different needs than you do, they think
differently than you do, they have different priorities than you do,
they’re going to react differently. So, yes, it was good.
do you think was your biggest challenge as a crew on that flight?
first flight? Let’s see. We weren’t that experienced as
a group. I had never flown. Foale had never flown. Dirk had never
flown. Byron had flown once as a PS [payload specialist], in a different
role. So that left Charlie and Kathy had flown. I don’t know
if she had flown once or twice at that point, but Charlie had flown
twice. But we didn’t have a lot of experience, so we just needed
to be careful about not making rookie mistakes, not making mistakes
from inexperience, and that was a challenge, was to pay attention
to the detail, trust the procedures, trust the training, to do what
you were trained to do.
On orbit I don’t recall that we had any particular big challenges.
We had a good time. I loved it. I was just blown away by what I saw
up there, flying through the aurora. On that mission, our launch time
was timed so that every time we got to the southernmost point of our
orbit, and we were in a 57-degree orbit, it would be local midnight.
It would be midnight at that particular point, and then the next orbit,
the Earth would have rotated some and we’d come back around
and it would be midnight again at that place. So we were seeing the
dark—when we were in the southern hemisphere, it was dark, dark
down there and it was just unbelievable. I never got tired of looking
at it. In the daylight it’s beautiful in a different way, the
colors and the different land masses that we got to see.
I fell in love with geography. I love it, and geology, because you
get to see things from a regional perspective when you’re up
there, when you can see a thousand miles in either direction, you
see large-scale things and it’s really neat. It changes your
imagine so. After the flight, did you go on any of the post-flight
trying to remember. I know one extremely memorable one. We were invited
to Belgium at the invitation of the King and Queen of Belgium, and
we went on the most royal, wonderful trip to Belgium that I could
imagine, where we were just treated like royalty. It was so nice.
Well, it was nice for the spouses, too, because they don’t get
the rewards that we get when we fly. We get the personal reward of
having been there and done it, seen it, and experienced it, and they
don’t get that; they get the pain of the launch and the relatives
and all of that stuff. My wife doesn’t sleep very well when
I’m off the planet, she says. So she needs to be rewarded, too,
in some way, and this was a great way to do it. I think it was about
eight or nine days over in Belgium that was out of this world.
read that you went along with Charlie Bolden and David Leestma to
Hollywood to return an Oscar [Academy Award].
we did. We flew an Oscar on the flight. We went out—I don’t
remember if we carried it with us or if we just went out to present
it, but it was really Charlie’s show. It was his deal, and the
rest of us just went along for the ride and to enjoy it. But that
was fun. We had done a presentation where we actually presented the
Oscar on the Academy Awards show from space. We did a crew event with
the Oscar there, and that was fun. I’d forgotten about that
one, too. I guess I should write all this down. That’s why we’re
doing all this.
You’ll have it.
why we’re doing all this. It’s amazing what you forget
right. It will be written down for you.
Did you also take a trip back to your hometown?
Duffy: I did.
You can only imagine, my town’s pretty much a blue-collar town,
where I grew up, outside of Boston, and, first, my being selected
in the program was huge and it was a great boost for the school system,
because I had gone through the public school system there. So all
of a sudden they can say, “Here’s a product of our schools.
This is what you can become,” as a motivator for the kids, which
I thought was great to be able to do that.
But they made a welcome home, a big celebration. They had a parade
for me. I rode in this big parade. It was fun. It was a big deal.
Then I went down to the football stadium and I addressed the crowd
down there, so it was neat. I was happy for the town, because they
were so happy, because no other town around there had anything like
this ever. So they were feeling pretty good, they were feeling pretty
proud. So when you can do that for people, that makes you feel good.
did you learn about your next assignment?
see. My next flight?
day I went into quarantine for my first flight, actually, and all
I could think of at the time was, “Jeez, I sure hope I like
this, because I just signed up for two of them.” [Laughs] It
turned out I really do, I love it. Particularly the flying part was
So, going into quarantine, I knew, that day, whatever day it was,
back in March of ’92, I knew I was going to fly on [STS-]
57, which was great, because I was all pumped up, ready to go. I knew
I’d be freshly trained, I’d know everything I needed to
know, I’d have the experience from the first flight I could
use on my second, which turned out to be real beneficial.
you just went right into the training for 57?
I went down to the Cape as a Cape Crusader for a few months down there.
that for us, if you will.
down to the Cape?
it’s great. Every time I go to Florida, good things happen,
so I always loved going down there. It’s a very special place.
There’s no other place like it in the world, where you get all
this huge, high-tech rocketships and things, and then you’ve
got alligators crossing the street, and snakes and eagles and everything
co-existing right there, a beautiful beach. I always enjoyed Florida,
so going down and being part of the support team, which is what you
are down there, that help other missions, when you’re not flying,
you’re always helping in some way, even if you’re in a
management job. You’re helping support the following crews,
and being down there as a Cape Crusader, you’re helping also.
So I liked doing that; it was fun. All we did was help get the Orbiter
ready for launch, followed it through its checkout while they were
getting it ready, keep the crew appraised of any problems that they
were having getting the vehicle ready so they’re aware of them.
Because when you launch, generally you don’t launch with a perfect
vehicle; you launch with, “Well, this is wrong with it. Expect
to see this, and that’s wrong.” Nothing critical, but
there’s this little short list of things that aren’t working.
It’s not any different than every time I flew an F-15, before
you take off—or even a T-38, for that matter—you’d
look at the aircraft forms ahead of time and in there are the gripes
that are written up, the discrepancies that have been written up,
documented by other people. If maintenance action was taken, they
write in what they did to fix it and who checked it to make sure that
it was done right. So there are things that are always wrong, and
so as C2, we followed those things, made sure the crew was aware of
them so there weren’t any surprises.
Then we got the vehicle ready when they rolled out to the pad, we’d
help go through the countdown, turn on all the radios, check them
all out, do everything, so that when the crew comes out to the vehicle,
all they do is get in, get strapped in, and go, because everything
else has been done. So that was fun. I liked that, being in Florida,
going to Florida. It was a great experience.
your family get to go back down with you for any of that time period?
Duffy: I don’t
think so. Not during that time frame. They’d been down on one
launch and they were coming down for the next one, so I don’t
think they did that.
think before we start STS-57, if we go ahead and take a break and
let Rebecca change the tape.
mentioned that you found out about your assignment for STS-57 and
you went down and you worked at the Cape for a while and then you
came back to begin training.
us a little bit about that flight and what the mission was about and
what your training entailed.
different than my previous flight in a couple of ways. One was we
had a lab module. It was the first flight of the SPACEHAB module,
so we had to do the things that you have to do when you’re following
the first flight of anything. It was being manufactured down in Florida,
right outside the Kennedy gates there, and so we’d go down there
and follow the progress of it. As they were doing tests, we sometimes
participated in the actual tests of the lab module itself. While that
was going on, we had to learn about fifty different experiments that
were going to be inside the lab, and those were divided up amongst
the crewmembers and who was going to do what.
On top of all that part of it, we were going to rendezvous with the
EURECA [European Retrievable Carrier] satellite, the European science
satellite. It had been in orbit for a year, been dropped off by STS-46
the year prior, and it was done doing its science and we were going
to rendezvous with it and grab it with the arm and stick it in the
bay and bring it home. Essentially that was the mission, so it was
slightly different than my first one. The up and the down part’s
the same. Ascent and entry doesn’t change very much, except
our orbit was different. We were in a low-inclination orbit instead
We had [Ronald J.] Ron Grabe as the commander, and Ron had flown a
number of times. I think this was his fourth flight, second or third
as the commander. I’d have to go look at the record. I used
to know all that. David Low was flying. He was our payload commander,
so he was kind of in charge of that stuff, and our lead space walker,
because we also had an EVA planned for the flight. [Peter J. K.] Jeff
Wisoff was a first-time flyer, and Jeff was going to be EV-2. Nancy—she
was Nancy Sherlock at the time—Nancy [J.] Currie was our MS-2,
mission specialist-2, our flight engineer, and it was her first flight.
Janice [E.] Voss was going to be one of our payload operators as well,
and it was her first flight.
So again, we had another flight with some inexperience on it. We had
Ron kind of carrying the ball. Particularly in the training, he was
just really good about knowing what was important for us, what we
needed to know, what we should focus on. Because I’d never been
involved in EVA, I’d never done a rendezvous, so there were
some things I didn’t know, so I was watching and learning as
we went. Fortunately, it helped me a whole lot later on, because on
all my other missions I did rendezvous and did EVAs, so this was a
So the mission was mostly the science stuff. One day was an EVA, one
day was the rendezvous, and the majority of time was working science
things, experiments. I became the first person to solder in space.
We had a soldering experiment, which was kind of fun doing that, seeing
how solder works in zero-G as opposed to in 1-G, and can you repair
electronics up there. There were some fundamental reasons for doing
it, not just for yucks, you know.
mentioned the EURECA satellite and your first experience to rendezvous
with a satellite. If you can describe that experience and what responsibilities
you had during that.
I almost blew it on Ron. He had to save it. We were in the final part
of the rendezvous. We’d done all of the things that you have
to do to get to the rendezvous, and this is a zero-G kind of a problem,
because in zero-G, if you push on something, it pushes back, and during
this rendezvous at this one fairly critical point, I don’t know
how far away we were, maybe one to two thousand feet away from the
EURECA, I was supposed to change the digital autopilot, the DAP, manually
by typing in a value into the computer. I think I was supposed to
change some value from whatever it was to 0.5, and the keyboard that
you punch into, the numbers are spring-loaded, they kind of push back,
and apparently I didn’t bottom out the decimal point, so I put
in like .5 [point five] and it went in as 5 [five]. So when he put
an input into the controller, he got ten times the response that he
We instantly recognized what the problem was and what had happened,
and Ron made just a fabulous recovery from that; never said a word
about it. It was obvious to everybody what had happened. I felt badly
about it and I apologized. He basically said, “Hey, we got it.
Don’t worry about it.” But still, it was an event that
happened that wasn’t planned, and he made a real dynamite recovery
from it. So that’s what I was doing in there. I was messing
up the DAP while he was flying a rendezvous. [Laughs]
During the [rendezvous], I didn’t have much more to do. Ron
was flying the rendezvous. All I was doing was backing him up, after
that, watching. And the EVA, I was running the EVA from inside. I
was the IV crewmember, the intravehicular crewmember, while David
and Jeff were outside. So I ran their time line and talked to them,
told them what tools they were going to need and what settings to
put them on and walked our way through all of that.
Then we had to do a little improvising on the EURECA. The solar arrays,
they were supposed to have a latched indication and they didn’t
have it, so we took the opportunity and went EVA. It was already in
the bay and then the EVA was the next day and David was going to go
out and get on the end of the arm and have Nancy fly him out where
he could then physically push on the solar array to get them to compact
so that the latching mechanism would work. So we had to kind of make
that one up on the fly. Not that it’s a big deal, but it was
something that we hadn’t trained for or thought about.
do you think the training prepared you for those types of incidences
when, as you mentioned before—
Duffy: I think
we felt quite well prepared for not only the normal things that would
happen, but if something went wrong. We felt we were pretty well prepared.
you train for the IVA crewmember in the tank before the mission?
yes. Yes, we did. We were in there quite a bit trying to get things
ready. The NBL [Neutral Buoyancy Lab, Sonny Carter Training Facility]
was just opened. We were doing some of the early training in there,
if I remember right. No, I take that—were we in the NBL or were
we still in the WETF [Weightless Environmental Training Facility]?
We might have been in the WETF still. I’m trying to picture
the control room, because those guys would be in the water and I’m
in this control room looking at checklists and a camera view. We were
over in the WETF at the time. The NBL wasn’t built yet, I guess,
for this flight.
So we spent a lot of time over there, and a lot of time just table-topping
things; not even in the pool, but just sitting around the table talking
through time lines, coming up with decision points. “Okay, if
we’re at this point at this many minutes into the EVA, we should
have been here. If we’re this far behind, then what are we going
to do? Are we going to take these other tasks that were scheduled
for downstream? We’re not going to do those; we’re going
to move this other thing in.” So we kind of talked through the
alternative things that we would do, the alternative time lines if
things didn’t go the way we wanted them to.
That’s kind of the way we trained for a flight. You get to the
point where you can pound the normal stuff flat, that it’s just
easy to do, and then you concentrate on the “what if”
scenarios. What if this goes wrong? What if that goes wrong? What
are we going to do? Because you want to be as prepared as you possibly
can. And we did that a lot, because the EVA was a big deal for us,
the biggest thing that Jeff and David had ever done or were going
to do up to that point in their careers.
was a first for both of them?
Yes, neither one of them had done one, so it was a big deal.
An interesting thing happened while we were up there. I remember we
were in this attitude, kind of belly forward, flying like that, and
the four of us were on the flight deck. Jeff and David were outside.
And all of a sudden it was as if somebody took the Orbiter and hit
it with a bulldozer or something. The whole vehicle just went “thungg.”
It just shook.
It got quiet on the flight deck and we just looked at each other and
looked at Ron, and Ron looked at me, and Nancy was there on the flying
arm. We thought, well, what was that? We looked around and we thought,
well, maybe we were hit by something. We looked outside and didn’t
see any damage. Nothing came flying through the wings or through the
payload bay or anything.
After a while we said, “Well, maybe we ought to tell the ground
about this.” [Laughs] And we tried to figure out the diplomatic
way to tell the ground that, “Hey, we felt like we got hit by
something,” because the whole vehicle just shook like somebody
picked it up and went “wham!”
We told them about it and they came back a little while later and
they said, “Well, we looked at all the data. We don’t
see anything. We think what might have happened is there’s a
tunnel—,” the tunnel that goes from the mid deck back
to the lab module. They were thinking maybe—it has supports
to hold it in place during 1-G and during launch, for launch and entry,
and they said, “We think maybe some residual forces that were
built up on the ground just released, something released and it rang
the whole vehicle.” But that really got our attention. [Laughs]
the two outside know what had happened?
never knew anything. We asked them afterwards, we said, “Hey,
did you happen to notice anything?”
And they said, “What?” No, they didn’t have a clue.
If they’d looked inside at that time, though, they would have
seen eight big eyes like, “Whoa! What was that?”
the hearts racing. [Laughs]
I mean, everyone just stopped, like, “What was that?”
one of the noises you expect to hear.
not a normal event. We had some other abnormal things during entry,
too, that we can get to eventually.
there any other experiments or anything that you can remember on that
flight that you took part in that were memorable?
that I liked or some that I—there were some that I really despised.
They were like Science Fair projects. We were not happy to be doing
them. We thought this is the dumbest thing we’ve ever seen,
but we were more or less ordered to do them, so we had to do them.
But there were some good ones. We were growing some cancer cells just
for research purposes, try to see how cancer cells and tumors would
grow in zero-G, and ultimately there could possibly be a market for
something like that, where in weightlessness you can grow things in
three dimensions. Like take the cancer cells and grow tumors so that
you can bring them back and do research on them, try medicines and
try techniques and whatever. That’s a pretty painless way to
get a tumor as opposed to having to grow one in a human and try things.
So there were some neat things that we were doing as well; protein
crystal growth kind of experiments for research, again, medical research.
The soldering thing I told you about that I was monkeying around with.
That was kind of fun. But they were good. But I think their total
was over fifty different experiments that we had onboard, so it was
was successful mission.
the broad range. Yes, it was successful, very successful. We came
close to losing some of them, because the Orbiter Endeavor had a cooling
problem on the runway and we came within minutes of having to do some
sort of emergency powerdown on the runway, but again, Ron Grabe kind
of worked through the problem and worked with the ground very closely
and got that all squared away, so we kind of saved the day right at
the very end.
mentioned that at the entry, there were some unusual things on that.
yes. My entry on the first flight had been, as I mentioned, all at
night. It had been ascending coming over—I guess across Mexico,
up across the Gulf by Fort Myers [Florida], and we kind of hung a
right and took it out over Orlando [Florida] and then around over
to KSC. This one was a flatter, lower trajectory. We were coming across
Mexico, kind of northern Mexico, basically, and it was across Baja,
across northern Mexico and then across the Gulf, coming in almost
due east, more or less, and it was sometime in the morning, after
sunrise in the morning, not sure the exact time; maybe mid-morning
time frame; summer, so hot.
There’d been a lot of heating going on during the course of
the day, down low, from the sun beating on it. We were coming in during
entry. Everything’s going smoothly, hunky-dory, and we’re
about Mach—I don’t remember, Mach 22 or Mach 21, something
like that, slowing down, and we got one of these events where it was
like somebody took the rear end of the Orbiter and just rang it. Just
went “wham!” It was like we hit a speed bump or something
in a parking lot. Like “boom!” We didn’t think anything
about it. About thirty seconds later, sometime later, another one.
Well, Nancy told us later, she said she was sitting there and—the
simulator doesn’t do this. She said we hit the first one and
she looked up front and Ron and I just continued looking straight
ahead, so she just kind of went, “Well, I guess that’s
what it’s supposed to be like.” She’s thinking,
“I’m just a rookie. I’ve never done this before.”
After the second one, Ron looks over at me and he says, “Have
you ever felt that before?”
And I said, “N-no.”
And Nancy said her eyes got about that big at that point like, “Whoa!
What’s going on here?”
They call them density sheers. Even up at a very high altitude, above
200,000 feet, there are these different air masses, just like you
have warm fronts and cold fronts and things you see on the weather
map down here. Well, those things extend up at a high altitude and
when you’re going very fast and you change from one to the other,
you get an instantaneous notification that you’re somewhere
else. [Laughs] And it really gets your attention, because it’s
“brrroom!” It’s like somebody really picks it up
and shakes the whole Orbiter. The whole vehicle rings, because the
vehicle’s not very sturdy. It looks like this big massive, sturdy
thing. It’s about as stiff as a Twinkie, and truth be known,
during ascent you can actually feel it flexing. It’s not just
made of I-beams of steel or whatever.
Anyhow, we had these funny events during entry and Nancy said the
first one didn’t bother her, but when Ron asked me if I’d
ever felt—and here he is on his fourth flight, “Have you
ever felt this before?”
“No.” She said that got her attention. She’ll tell
you that story from her perspective.
far as this mission, were there any specific challenges or any other
memories that you’d like to share about the mission itself?
Duffy: I made
just some tremendous friendships. Of course, you do that on all these
flights, but just made some tremendous friendships. I just had Jeff
Wisoff and Tammy [Wisoff] at my house weekend before last. They were
visiting from Colorado; they came down with their little two-year-old.
So you form these bonds that are tight, like forever.
In the business world now, I occasionally run into David Low over
there. It’s like we’re brothers or something. We see each
other from time to time, but you kind of pick right up where you left
off and it’s fun.
So I made some really good friendships there. I haven’t crossed
paths so much like with Ron lately. I used to see Janice pretty regularly,
Janice Voss, and Nancy once in a while. But there’s some great
memories. Nancy and I were on the fight deck one night, I remember.
We were only the second flight to actually waive off for two consecutive
days and not land until the third day, and that was a whole interesting
experience doing all of that. But there was one of these waive-off
nights, where we’re waiting to go to bed, basically hanging
out, and she and I were upstairs, turned all the lights out on the
flight deck and the two of us just sat there and floated in the window
and watched the Earth going by, in the dark, you know, watched the
dark side. It was pretty neat. Lots of memories like that.
that extra time, did you have more time to observe—
did, yes. Yes, and I just ate it up. I loved it. Yes. Looking at the
Earth, I never got tired of it.
you do any of the photography?
of course. Yes, but by that point, you kind of budget your film so
that on landing day, you’re done; you use all your film up.
Well, we had two more days. We had passed the landing day so we had
shot all the film early. So we didn’t even have film to shoot,
so we just got to look and just enjoy it. It was really cool.
there anything else about those first two flights or anything we’ve
talked about so far that you’d like to add?
I think what I saw, if I could summarize them, what I saw was two
different but very effective styles of leadership, with Charlie in
the way that he led people and Ron in the way he led his crew. I learned
a lot from both of them in different aspects, places where Charlie
has his strengths and places where Ron has his strengths, so I felt
really lucky to have had those two commanders on my first two flights,
because I really learned a lot from them. They’re both very
talented in different ways and I extracted from those experiences
things that I would use later.
learned as far as—when you became a commander, you took from
both of them.
to do, what not to do, things like that.
if you don’t mind, we’ll stop for today and get you out
of here in time to go do what you need to do.
great, yes. Thanks.