NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Houston, Texas – 3 June
Wright: Today is June 3rd, 2004. This
oral history interview with Joe Engle is being conducted in Houston,
Texas, for the NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. The
interviewer is Rebecca Wright, assisted by Sandra Johnson and Jennifer
Thanks again for coming in today. Our topics today are your participation
in NASA’s Shuttle Program. Originally slated to begin in March
1978, the Shuttle missions were delayed somewhat, providing you extra
time for training. Tell us about this time and how you were able to
separate your time for training for your own mission, for STS-2, as
well as being a backup for STS-1.
Engle: Well, the delay in the launch
had only minor frustrations, really. Of course, everybody wanted to
get the bird in the air and show that it would fly okay, but the delays,
as you implied, really provided us with more time to prepare for,
get ready for contingency situations. Those first few flights, the
first flight in particular, and even the second flight, and I’m
sure the third and the fourth for Gordo [C. Gordon Fullerton] and
the troops, there were so many things that we didn’t really
know for sure how to train for yet, so we probably overtrained in
some areas and overtrained in a lot of areas. But we didn’t
know that at the time and so we always felt that we could use more
time, more additional time, to polish skills, to look at more things,
to turn over some more rocks. And every rock we would turn over, there’d
always be interesting things under it to look at and to prepare for.
I remember very distinctly not having the impression of idling or
spinning our wheels or treading water during those delays. We were
engrossed in always new things to look at, a list of things that we
could go at. I think we at the time thought, anyway, we had prioritized
things. Of course, new things would always pop up and some of them
would jump to the top of the priority list.
But we were very, very busy getting ready for things, overpreparing,
as I mentioned, I think, in retrospect. The guidance system was very
suspect, the inertial platform was suspect in how accurate it would
be as far as bringing us back to the intended landing site. So we
spent a lot of time looking at dry lakebeds all over the southeast
part of the country and practicing approaches into those dry lakebeds,
and researching the lakebeds to see what the surface area was actually
like, whether it would support the Shuttle, and how long they were,
and what the prevailing winds were, and when they were wet. It was
interesting. It was fun from a pilot’s standpoint, and we did
develop a great deal of confidence that we could bring the airplane
back; we could bring the Columbia back and land her anywhere in the
southwest part of the country, if the guidance was not accurate.
Wright: Could you share with us some
of the preparations that were made with the flight controllers, how
you and [Richard H.] Dick Truly worked with the flight controllers
in preparing so that you would know how to communicate on board, and
just those types of aspects of that preparation?
Engle: Because of the launch delays,
we did have additional time to prepare for the flights and we got
to work very closely and come to know and have a rapport with the
controllers and, in fact, all the people in Mission Control, not just
flight control, but [Donald R.] Don Puddy, but all the people that
were on the console, all his experts on the various systems. We knew
them by voice, when we would hear transmissions. Of course, in the
real flight, we only would talk to either the CapCom [Capsule Communicator],
sometimes pass information on to Don Puddy, the Flight Director, but
normally the CapCom was the direct interface. But we knew the people
on the consoles. We got to know pretty much who was on the console
by what kind of response or direction we were given for certain simulated
failures that we’d had during simulations. And that was good;
that was really good. We worked as a very, very close-knit team, almost
being able to think and read each other without a whole lot of words
Wright: When you were named as Commander
of STS-2, there was some time, of course, that lapsed between the
time that you were named and to the time that you were able to launch.
How did your mission change from the time that you were given that
assignment to the time that you actually launched?
Engle: Probably the biggest change that
occurred was more emphasis on being able to make a repair for a tile
that might have come off during flight. As you know, John [W. Young]
and Crip [Robert L. Crippen] lost a number of tiles on STS-1. Fortunately,
none were in the critical underside, where the maximum heat is. Most
of them were on the OMS [Orbital Maneuvering System] pod and on the
top of the vehicle. But the inherent cause of those tiles coming loose
and separating was not really understood, and on STS-2, we were prepared
to at least try to fill some of those voids with RSI [Reusable Surface
Insulation], the rubbery material that bonds the tile to the surface
itself. So in our training, we began to fold in EVA [Extravehicular
Activity] training, using materials and tools to fill in those voids,
not a lot unlike what we’re preparing to do now, when STS-114
flies and we do return to flight. The tile repair techniques really
are fairly similar. The materials and tools have been improved so
that there’s much more confidence in it being a successful repair.
Wright: What do you remember about your
EVA training? Where was it done?
Engle: It was done in the old Neutral
Buoyancy Facility, which started out as the centrifuge building, the
round, circular building, and I think it’s attached to Building
5, but I don’t remember what the number of it is now. A large
pool was built in there in place of the centrifuge, when the value
of the centrifuge became pretty much nullified, so all the EVA training
was done in that large neutral buoyancy pool. That was the predecessor,
of course, to the Sonny Carter Training Facility that we have now.
The training was very similar to what’s done now as far as inflating
the suit and balancing the suit with lead weights so you’d be
neutrally buoyant, and then practicing the routines, practicing the
EVA procedures that we’d use.
The tasks were not only trying the different proposed ways to access
areas on the Shuttle by climbing, straddling, and shuffling out on
the boom itself, and then the anomaly of closing and latching the
payload bay doors if in fact the payload bay door motors had failed.
We practiced manually closing them with a pulley arrangement that
pulled the doors closed and cinched them and then a manual latch that
we would install up in the corners on the latches.
So we did some very, very elementary EVA training, both Dick and I
did, and that probably was the major change from the time we started.
I think the other major addition or change as we evolved was to incorporate
a series of flight test data maneuvers, inputs, into the vehicle during
the entry so that the aerodynamic parameters could be extracted from
the data that was being recorded, and we were able to then understand
more fully what the margins were of the Space Shuttle as you reenter
the atmosphere. On STS-1, understandably, the desire was to fly the
most benign entry possible, the least disturbed entry possible, and
just keep it right in the groove all the way down, not knowing at
all how the vehicle would react or respond to that kind of an entry.
The entry was very, very successful and we were therefore able to
convince the management that we could aggressively pursue looking
at what the margins were so that in future flights we’d know
if we could go to a lower angle of attack for more cross range; for
example, if we could maneuver at higher roll rates if we had to in
an off-nominal situation. So we were able to perform a whole series
of maneuvers, which was very, very rewarding from a pilot’s
I think another unique thing about what Dick and I were able to start
looking at was the transatlantic abort mode of operation, or the maneuver.
The abort windows were from the time the solid rocket engines burned
out, you could then take over manually and fly what was called a return-to-launch-site
abort profile, which was flying outbound for a ways and then turning
around backwards, flying backwards, and then accelerating back toward
the Cape [Canaveral, Florida] until the fuel had burned out of the
tank, and then jettisoning the tank and gliding back into the Cape.
And that was a very, very uncomfortable maneuver to fly, a very demanding
maneuver to fly, and nobody liked the idea that it would certainly
be a last-ditch maneuver.
The other, if you had an engine problem, was abort to orbit, or abort
once around, which you had to have almost enough energy, the engines
had to burn long enough to get you almost to orbit anyway, and you’d
go once around the Earth and then come back in and land. And in between
those two, was a significant period of time where if you lost one
or two engines, you couldn’t make it to orbit and you couldn’t
make it back to the Cape, so you ended up jettisoning and rolling
out and trying to make a skipping reentry maneuver, and keep the Orbiter
under control until you could get to glide situation and then bail
out after you got down below 20[,000] to 25,000 feet. I can’t
remember the altitude right now.
We practiced these situations, these emergency scenarios in the simulator,
and both John and I were very frustrated that we had the airplane
under control and were flying it back, but had to throw it away. John
and Crip didn’t have time or didn’t have the luxury of
time to work on and develop any kind of a recovery maneuver and procedure,
but Dick and I did, because we had a little extra time as their backup
crew and also then preparing for STS-2.
We were able to develop a technique that we could, on the outgoing
leg, fly a little more of a depressed trajectory, because we didn’t
have to retain the ability to fly back to the Cape quite so long,
because we could pick up the ability to then just press on with the
same amount of energy and make it across the Atlantic and land on
the west coast of Africa, or I think at the time we had targeted for
Spain, to Madrid or Marone. I can’t recall which was our base
at that time. But it closed the gap, and we had developed manual procedures
that we could do that and flew that.
Subsequent to that, then, the guidance people took those profiles
and built them into the auto guidance, and we now have the transatlantic
abort option during launch, which not only closes the abort gap and
gives you good assurance you’re going to get the vehicle back
intact, but it also, by not lofting the initial climb-out profile
of the Orbiter, it allowed more payload. You needed less energy to
fly that kind of a maneuver; it allowed more payload manifesting in
the future. So that was a rewarding thing that we did, which was a
fascinating thing for pilots to do, to cut and try and put that profile
together. Not only fascinating and fun for pilots, but it actually
had a practical application downstream.
Wright: Maybe not on a practical note,
a couple months after the landing of STS-1, you and Dick Truly accepted
a cardboard key to the Space Shuttle Columbia. What memories do you
have of this?
Engle: I remember doing that. I don’t
remember too much about it. I think the hope was that would be a traditional
handover of the vehicle to the next crew. It was a fun thing to do.
In fact, I think it was done at a pilots’ meeting one time,
as I recall. John and Crip handed Dick and I the key, and I think
there were so many comments about buying a used car from Crip and
John, that it became more of a joke thing than a serious traditional
thing, and I don’t recall that it really lasted very long. I
think it turned from cardboard into plywood, and I don’t recall
that it was done very long after that.
Wright: A fun moment.
Engle: A fun moment. Plus, once we got
the next vehicles on line, Discovery, Challenger on line, why, it
lost some significance as well. Besides, you weren’t really
sure which vehicle you were going to fly after that, so you didn’t
know who to give the key to. [Laughs]
Wright: And you wanted to make sure
you had the right key.
Engle: That’s right. [Laughs]
Wright: Based on the lessons from STS-1,
did you have any concerns, or what were your concerns as you prepared
Engle: From STS-1’s experiences,
I think the tile repair was the primary thing that we probably prepared
for as a result of STS-1. The entry maneuvers, we had those in mind
prior to the flight, and I think we were even working on the transatlantic
abort profile before John’s flight got airborne.
But when John and Crip actually lost a number of tiles on their flight,
the emphasis then was raised. The focus was narrowed to at least having
some kind of technique that was at least a try on fixing the tile.
We always, of course, from the beginning we had the RMS, the remote
manipulator system, the arm, manifested on our flight, and that was
a major test article and test procedure to perform, to actually take
the arm, to de-berth the arm and take it out through maneuvers and
attach it to different places in the payload to demonstrate that it
would work in zero gravity and work throughout its envelope. Dick
became the primary RMS responsible crewmember and did a magnificent
job in working with the arm people. Sally [K.] Ride, I believe, was
one of the primary RMS support people, and they had worked up a very
complete, very extensive test profile to run the arm through, and
he was pretty consumed in that during a good bit of our training time.
Wright: STS-2 had a number of firsts,
with the RMS being one, and you also mentioned Sally Ride. It was
the first time that NASA had a female CapCom. She was also involved
as a support crew and helped train you and Dick Truly on being able
to take the photos for part of the geological assignments. Tell us
about that training and what were some of the techniques that you
needed to have to take not just pictures, but good photos that could
relay the information back to the scientists.
Engle: Anticipating; in other words,
knowing ahead of time which orbit a particular site was coming up
or an opportunity was coming up, and knowing how many, really, seconds
it would be until we would be overhead and in a position to get good
photos was probably really the key to that, and I’m sure still
is. There are some features on the Earth that stand out, and really
stand out especially as you go overhead, things like the Straits of
Gibraltar and the Florida Keys and Long Island [New York] and Cape
Cod [Massachusetts], features that are very distinctive and very prominent.
But there are two things about space flight that make those a little
more difficult to take advantage of. One is, the Earth is often very
much covered by clouds, so features that you hope to have and you
have programmed to take and in your time line and all, may be covered
with clouds as you pass over, so it nullifies the opportunity to do
The other thing is, when you look other than straight down, as you
start to look out toward the horizon, features blend in or disappear
into haze pretty rapidly, so those distinct land-sea interfaces and
features on the ground, volcanoes, even, and things like that, they
quite often are not really perceptible until they get pretty much
underneath you, and they go by pretty much in a hurry as well. Things
go by about the same angular rate as they do when you’re in
an airliner, really, traveling. So you do have time; it’s not
a snapshot thing, by any means, but you don’t have a lot of
time as they pass underneath.
So you have to anticipate and have the proper lens on for whatever
features you want, what magnification you want, and the settings on
the camera at the time. The Hasselblads were manual—the apertures
and the shutter speeds were set. So we had a table of land targets,
geological targets, Earth observation points, I guess they were called,
and each one had its own shutter speed, sun angle, aperture setting,
lens that you would use, and being prepared as that photo opportunity
came underneath was really the major thing. Very little opportunity
to say, “Gee, look. Isn’t that great down there? Let’s
go get a camera and take a picture,” because by the time you
did, it would be gone. That’s one of the things we learned early
in the program, was that it really was beneficial to have loaded and
ready cameras Velcroed to the windows overhead, so that if you saw
something come up like that, you could, in fact, grab a camera and
take a picture in a minimum amount of time anyway.
Wright: Were you and the scientists
satisfied with the products that you brought back?
Engle: Oh yes. At that time, we were
still in the “Holy cow. Look at that” phase. Features
that were just awesome, that folks had not really seen yet, and not
nearly so much into the optical light spectrum of vegetation. The
experiment we did have was the telescope. [Office of Space and Terrestrial
Application 1 (OSTA-1)]. But it was a side-looking imaging device
that could penetrate foliage and features that covered the actual
surface of the Earth, and look at and actually penetrate down a ways
to get subsurface features. For example, we were able to, with that
imaging system, find old riverbeds, river paths, through the Sahara
Desert that are covered up by sand, and other features, like sunken
ships. The Graf Spe, that was scuttled by the Germans in Montevideo,
Brazil, we passed over it and were able to image it as we went across.
It was a great experiment, a fun experiment.
Wright: With the RMS, you also had a
camera. Some of the maneuvers that you were trying, with the different
cameras and how to maneuver the RMS and then to turn the cameras,
I watched the video and noticed that one of the camera shots was you
and Dick Truly waving through the windows, so you were experimenting
with those. I also noticed that there was a “Hi, Mom”
sign. Did you have anything to do with that as well?
Engle: [Laughs] That was Dick’s.
Yes, that was a great move on his part. He had made up that “Hi,
Mom” sign and had it ready. Again, that was those exercises
with the camera to see what visibility envelopes were available with
the elbow camera and effecter camera. They were worked out by Dick
and Sally, and I think, Dick, when he was, I guess, going through
the routine must have realized that there was an opportunity to pull
a good one like that. That was a great one.
Wright: STS-2 launched seven months
after STS-1. It actually had a couple delays. It was supposed to launch
in October. How did the delays in the launch affect you and Dick Truly
in your schedule of training, and also, how did the launch compare
to the simulators?
Engle: The delay really was not bothersome
at all. I don’t think we even among ourselves discussed any
negative aspect or any disappointment with delays. Of course, we ready
to get airborne at anytime, but we also knew nobody was going to jump
in line ahead of us, so it was not a concern at all.
On the contrary, much as in STS-1, but I think even more so in STS-2,
it gave us more time to prepare for things that had been identified
that could use some more preparation for. The transatlantic abort
and the entry flight test maneuvers, we call them PTIs now, programmed
test inputs now. They were not programmed, they were manual test inputs
at the time, and it gave more time to practice and tune and hone those
maneuvers so that the input from the crew, my inputs into the stick
were optimized to give the proper response from the vehicle, which
would allow the best recovery at that data, those parameters, the
primary and secondary parameters, by the aerodynamicists and engineers.
So we didn’t really have any dejection over the delays. We used
every minute to our benefit on that. And morale was high. We kept
a very high morale, because we knew we were going to fly and we knew
that we had a neat, challenging mission and we were wanting to do
the best we could.
Wright: Were the simulators changed
or enhanced after STS-1? Was there feedback from that crew?
Engle: Yes, there’s feedback after
every mission. The feedback is sometimes very transparent or translucent
to the crew because of the sophistication of the flight control system.
The airplane is designed to try and fly with an optimum response to
the pilot input, and sometimes obtaining that response pushes the
flight control system itself, the hydraulic system and the electrical
feedback system, too, pushes it to its limits. So the hydraulic system
may be working very, very hard in trying to satisfy what you’re
asking from the cockpit, and there are ways that you can filter some
inputs, ramp some inputs, to knock the edges off of some inputs, that
we learned were, in fact, driving the flight control system to or
nearly to its limit. But because it was still getting the right reaction
from the airplane, the crew didn’t realize it, even though the
hydraulic system may have been just having its tongue out, trying
to keep up with us.
So there were continual improvements to the flight control system,
to the avionics systems, but again, they were pretty much invisible
to the crew and they were even pretty much—you asked about the
similarity between the trainers and simulators and the STA [Shuttle
Training Aircraft] landing trainer airplane, with the vehicle. I think
our impression was that the simulators and the STA were very, very
close to giving the same response impression that the actual vehicle
did, and I think some of that may have been a little masked by the
fact that having been in a zero-gravity environment for a duration
of time really recalibrates your sensory perceptions, and 1-G [gravity]
is not your calibration point anymore; zero gravity is your calibration.
So when you get back in the pattern, even 1-G, like we’re sitting
here now, feels very natural. But when you first come back from orbit,
it doesn’t. You sense that you’re really heavy and being
pulled down and something isn’t right. And when you have a pilot
task on top of that, it kind of masks out your ability to detect the
subtle changes in a simulator and an airplane.
Wright: Speaking of airplanes, sixteen
years before you launched on STS-2, you were in your [North American]
X-15 and touched space for just a brief moment in time, and now you
were having an opportunity to go back, but this time for a longer
duration. Can you share with us your thoughts as you were sitting
there on the launch pad getting ready to return to some place that
you’d been longing to go?
Engle: Yes, as I recall, the only conscious
recollection to the X-15 was that at the end of the flight, we would
be going back to Edwards [Air Force Base, California] and landing
on the dry lakebed and I think that’s where I felt for all of
the training and all of the good simulation that we received, that’s
where I felt the most comfortable, the most at home, going back to
Edwards. And at the end of the flight, when we rolled out on final
approach going into the dry lakebed, that turned out to really be
the case. It was a demanding mission and there were a lot of strange
things that went on during our first flight, but when we got back
into the landing pattern, it just felt like I was back at Edwards
again, ready to land another airplane.
Wright: You launched on STS-2, but just
two and a half hours into flight, you had a fuel cell that failed
and the mission rules dictated that your flight was going to be reduced
from 125 hours to 54. What was your reaction when you heard that your
flight was going to be decreased in time?
Engle: We were disappointed. As I recall,
we kind of tried to hint that we probably didn’t need to come
back, we still had two fuel cells going, but at the time, it was the
correct decision, because there was no really depth of knowledge as
to why that fuel cell failed, and there was no way of telling that
it was not a generic failure, that the other two might follow, and,
of course, without fuel cells, without electricity, the vehicle is
not controllable. So we understood and we accepted. We knew the ground
rules; we knew the flight rules that dictated that if you lost a fuel
cell, that it would be a minimum-time mission.
We had really prepared and trained hard and had a full scenario of
objectives that we wanted to complete on the mission. Of course, everybody
wants to complete everything. Our first sense of disappointment, really,
was one of, gee, now we’re not going to be able to do all this
stuff, and there’s been this big investment in all of these
things and we’re not going to be able to get the data on them.
So that was, I think, our first real disappointment. I don’t
think we consciously thought, well, we’re not going to have
five days to look at the Earth. I don’t think that really entered
our minds right then, because we were more focused on how we are going
to get all this stuff done.
Wright: You managed to do it, because
the mission was declared as 90 percent complete with its mission objectives.
Engle: We were able to do it because
we had trained enough to know precisely what all had to be done and
we prioritized things as much as we could. When our sleep period came—fortunately,
we didn’t have TDRSS [Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System]
at the time. We only had the ground stations, so we didn’t have
continuous voice communication with Mission Control and Mission Control
didn’t have continuous data downlink from the vehicle either,
only when we’d fly over the ground stations. So when our sleep
cycle was approaching, we did, in fact, power down some of the systems
and we did tell Mission Control goodnight, but as soon as we went
LOS, loss of signal, from the ground station, then we got busy and
scrambled and cranked up the remote manipulator arm and ran through
the sequence of tests for the arm, ran through as much of the other
data that we could, got as much done as we could during the night.
We didn’t sleep that night; we stayed up all night. Then the
next morning, when the wakeup call came from the ground, why, we tried
to pretend like we were sleepy and just waking up.
After the flight, I remember Don Puddy saying, “Well, we knew
you guys were awake, because when you’d pass over the ground
station, we could see you were drawing more power than you should
have been if you were asleep.” But that was about the only insight
they had into it.
The fact that we were up all night, in addition to not getting sleep,
which may or may not have been a good plan, in retrospect, in getting
ready to do the de-orbit and landing then the next day, we also had
a problem with our water in that the membrane that failed on the one
fuel cell allowed excess hydrogen to get into our drinking water supply,
so we had very bubbly water available. Whenever we’d go to take
a drink, I don’t remember the percentage, but a large percentage
of the volume was hydrogen bubbles in the water, and they didn’t
float to the top like bubbles would in a glass here and get rid of
themselves, because in zero gravity they don’t; they just stay
in solution. We had no way to separate those out, so the water that
we would drink had an awful lot of hydrogen in it, and once you got
that into your system, it’s the same way as when you drink a
Coke real fast and it’s still bubbly; you want to belch and
get rid of that gas. That was the natural physiological reaction,
but anytime you did that, of course, you would regurgitate water.
It wasn’t a nice thing, so we didn’t drink any water.
So we were dehydrated as well; tired and dehydrated when it was time
to come back in.
In addition, the winds at Edwards, they were very high a couple of
orbits before entry, when we were making the entry preparations, and
there was a chance that we would not be able to land at Edwards, but
would have to divert. So there was a number of interesting things
that contributed to the entry.
Wright: Let’s talk about the reentry.
It certainly was a momentous time, as you had mentioned earlier, that
there were some maneuvers that were performed, twenty-nine from what
our research says, and they were performed during Mach 24 to subsonic—it
was the fastest procedures that had ever been manually performed.
You’re the only astronaut to have manually flown the Shuttle
in and landed it. Could you give us the rationale of why this needed
to be done, and can you walk us through during that reentry and tell
us what was going through your mind as you were coming back home to
Engle: The rationale behind the maneuvers
was, as I alluded before, we were very anxious to see how much margin
the Shuttle had in the way of stability and control authority, how
much muscle the surfaces had at different Mach numbers, hypersonic
Mach numbers and angles of attack.
Also, in the event that a de-orbit had to be made on an orbit that
had excessive cross range to the landing site, in order to get more
cross range rather than S-turn back and forth to deplete energy, the
technique was to just leave the vehicle in the bank in one direction
and keep flying toward the landing site, off your straight ground
track toward your landing site. You could increase that cross-range
ability by actually decreasing the angle of attack. It allowed the
leading edge of the wing to heat up a bit more and would cut down
on the total number of missions that a shuttle could fly, but it would
allow you to get that extra performance, that extra range, to make
it to the landing site.
How much the leading edge would heat up and just how much more lift-to-drag
that would give you, turning ability, cross-range ability, was theoretically
known and had some wind-tunnel test data, but the wind tunnels are
very susceptible to a lot of variables, Reynolds numbers and scale
effects and things like that. So you really want to know for sure
what you have in the way of capabilities if you ever have to use them,
and that’s what our purpose was.
During the entry, I would pulse the vehicle in all three axes—in
pitch, a step input, rolls, inputs, and rudder kicks for yaw—to
see what the effectiveness of the surfaces were during entry, or effectiveness
of the flight control system was during entry, and how quickly the
vehicle would damp out after being disturbed.
As far as cross-range or the performance capability, at various Mach
numbers, at a couple different Mach numbers, we swept the angle of
attack, deliberately pushed the nose over, decreased it, I think,
5 degrees, I believe it was, plus or minus 5 degrees, to see how much
more cross-range 35 degrees angle of attack gave us than 40 did, and
conversely, went above 40 degrees to 45 degrees to see if we had for
some reason wanted to lower the heat on the leading edge of the wings,
we could pull up to a higher angle of attack. But that would cost
us range, down range and cross range, and just how much that did cost,
so that in the future, if that was necessary, the flight planners
could then program where the de-orbit burn was. If you didn’t
have as much range, you could make the burn a little bit later, so
that you weren’t as far from the landing site as nominally planned.
So getting that data to verify and confirm the capabilities of the
vehicle was something that we wanted very much to do and, quite honestly,
not everyone at NASA thought it was all that important. There was
an element in the engineering community that felt that we could always
fly it with the variables and the unknowns just as they were from
wind tunnel data and always come down the chute. Then there was the
other school, which I will readily admit that I was one of, that felt
you just don’t know when you may have a payload you weren’t
able to deploy, so you have maybe the CG [center of gravity] not in
the optimum place and you can’t do anything about it, and just
how much maneuvering will you be able to do with that vehicle in that
condition? How much control authority is really out there on the elevons?
And how much cross range do you really have if you need to come down
on an orbit that is not the one that you really intended to come down
So it was something that, like in anything, there was good healthy
discussions on and ultimately the data showed that, yes, it was really
worthwhile to get and, therefore, those maneuvers that we did on STS-2
were programmed into the automatic flight control system, into the
entry flight control system so that subsequent to that, those maneuvers
continued to be made and data continued to be gotten, but it was done
automatically by the computer.
Wright: In the successful landing that,
according to the [NASA] Dryden Flight Research Center [Edwards, California],
that was watched by more than 200,000 people. Did you have any idea
when you were landing, that there were that many people that were
Engle: No. No, I didn’t. In fact,
I don’t think Dick and I even thought about that. We knew there
were a lot of people out for John and Crip’s landing, but when
we got cut from our five days down to two days, I think we figured,
well, nobody’s going to be there, because nobody knows about
this. I don’t think we gave a second thought if anybody would
be out there for the landing or not.
If I may back up on the entry, I mentioned that we had a vehicle with
a fuel cell that had to be shut down, so we were down to less than
optimum amount of electrical power available. Let’s see. What
all else was going on? The winds were coming up at Edwards. We hadn’t
had any sleep the night before, and we were dehydrated as could be.
And just before we started to prepare for the entry, Dick decided
he was not going to take any chances of getting motion sickness on
the flight, because the entry was demanding, with all these profiles.
Dick had the cue card, and the plan was for him to read off the Mach
number and the condition for the maneuver and what the maneuver was
going to be, just to remind me of what these twenty-nine maneuvers
were, so we did them precisely right on the way in. He had replaced
his scopolamine patch and put on a fresh one. The atmosphere was dry
in the Orbiter and we both were rubbing our eyes. We weren’t
aware that the stuff that’s in a scopolamine patch dilates your
So we got in our seats and got strapped in, got ready for entry, and
I’d pitched around and was about ready for the first maneuver
and said, “Okay, Dick, let me make sure we got the first one
right,” and I read off the conditions. I didn’t hear anything
back, and I looked over and Dick had the checklist and he was going
back and forth and he said, “Joe Henry, I can’t see a
So I thought, “This is going to be a pretty good, interesting
entry. We got a fuel cell down. We got a broke bird. We got winds
coming up at Edwards. We got no sleep. We’re thirsty and we’re
dehydrated, and now my PLT’s [Pilot] gone blind.” [Laughs]
But back to the landing; the maneuvers were not compromised. Fortunately,
Dick was able to read enough of the stuff and I had memorized those
maneuvers. That was part of the benefits of the delay of the launch
was that it gave us more time to practice, and those maneuvers were
intuitive to me at the time. They were just like they were bred into
me, which I was glad. It seemed like everything went in slow motion;
it was just waiting and waiting for the next maneuver to get that
input in and to see what the response was.
But the landing, when we did get back overhead Edwards and lined up
on the runway, as I mentioned before, I think one of the greatest
feelings that I’ve had in the space program since I got here,
was rolling out on final and seeing the dry lakebed out there, because
I’d spent so much time out there, and I dearly love Edwards
and the people out there.
In fact, I recall when Dick and I spent numerous weekends practicing
landings at Edwards, I would go down to the flight line and talk with
guys that I didn’t know at the time, because I’d been
gone a while, but I knew their predecessors and people on the maintenance
line, and go up to the flight control tower and talk with the people
up there, and we would laugh and joke with them. I remember the tower
operator said, “Well, give me a call on final. I’ll clear
you.” Of course, that was not a normal thing to do, because
we were talking with the CapCom here at a Houston throughout the flight.
But I rolled out on final, and it was just kind of an instinctive
thing. I called and I said, “Eddy Tower, it’s Columbia
rolling out on high final. I’ll call the gear on the flare.”
And he popped right back and just very professional voice, said, “Roger,
Columbia, you’re cleared number one. Call your gear.”
It caused some folks in Mission Control to ask, “Who was that?
What was that other chatter on the channel?” Because nobody
else is supposed to be on. But to me it was really a neat thing, really
a gratifying thing, and the guys in the tower, Edwards folks, just
really loved it, to be part of it.
Wright: What type of review did you
personally conduct when you were on the ground, of the Orbiter? Did
you take a look at it once you got back?
Engle: We did. We sure did. I think
every pilot, out of just habit, gets out of his airplane and walks
around it to give it a post-flight check, I think. It’s really
required when you’re an operational pilot, and I think you’re
curious just to make sure that the bird’s okay. And of course,
after a reentry like that, you’re very curious to know what
it looks like. You figure it’s got to look scorched after an
entry like that, with all the heat and the fire that you saw during
entry, or the glow from the heat during entry.
Additionally, of course, we were interested at that time to see if
the tile were intact, if any tile had come off, chips. We lost a couple
of tiles, as I recall, but they were not on the bottom surface, lower
surface. They had perfected the bonding on those tiles first, because
they were the most critical, and they did a very good job on that.
But we walked around, kicked the tires, did the regular pilot thing.
Wright: While you were on flight, you
received a phone call from President [Ronald W.] Reagan, who was visiting
Engle: Sure did.
Wright: Was that expected? Tell us about
Engle: It was not a total surprise,
because I recall we got a call from CapCom saying that he was on site
and he would be making a quick call, so it wasn’t like the phone
ringing and you’re picking it up and him saying, “Hi,
this is Ronnie.” But it was a real honor. I remember wishing
that I had had more time to think about the right thing to say or
something really prophetic to say, but I didn’t. It was just
one of those, “Yes sir, things are going great. Thank you for
calling.” It was a very brief call, but it was a real honor
to get to talk to him.
Wright: And after returning back to
Houston, you had breakfast with Vice President George [H.W.] Bush.
Engle: That’s right, yes.
Wright: How did that come about? Did
you have a chance to have more of a visit?
Engle: We did. We had a good chance
to visit. In fact, that was held over at the [Johnson Space Center]
Gilruth Center, I remember. President Bush, as you know, was such
a personable person; still is. I still just enjoy the heck out of
reading things that he’s said and quoted, and I’ve had
the occasion to meet him and say hello a number of times since. I
think the world of that man. But it was very much of an honor at the
time, and we had the breakfast. He’s a very friendly, very personable
guy. Mrs. [Barbara] Bush, as everyone knows, is just—you wouldn’t
trade her for anything. [Laughs]
Wright: That kind of kicked off your
public relations tour. What all did you have to do as part of post-flight
Engle: Of course, I think every crew
dreams of going to Europe and going to the Alps and skiing and doing
things like that. We had the Canada arm, the RMS on board, built by
Spar [Aerospace Ltd.] in Toronto, Canada, and we had a great interface
and developed a great relationship with the Canadians in preparation
for that flight, both training in Canada and training here and installation
of the arm into the bird down at the Cape. So our post-flight tour
was to be a tour of all of the provinces bordering the U.S. in Canada.
So just prior to the Christmas-New Year’s vacation time frame,
we started at the Maritime provinces and started working our way west,
and I think we got about to Saskatchewan, then after the break, continued
on west through the Rocky Mountains—had wonderful experiences
there—and on out to the coast, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
We really enjoyed working with the Canadians. We had a number of fun
exchanges with them. I know as the payload bay was being finished
out and closed out, the Canadians claimed they were having a little
trouble with the thermal protection blanket, the last section of the
blanket, which was just prior to the shoulder joint, and no one thought
anything about it, because it had to be there, but it wasn’t
a big deal and they assured us it would be there on time.
So very soon before payload-bay closure, the blanket showed up and
the Canadians proudly wrapped it around and it had a big Canadian
flag on it. Dick and I decided, “Man, we cannot allow that to
happen. We’re going to have to outdo them. We’ve got to
have a big American flag somewhere on there.” So we went down
to the dime store—I forget what the name of it was at the time,
but we got, I believe it was, a three-by-five flag. It may not have
been quite that big, but we got an American flag anyway, and said,
“We’ve got to put this on the aft bulkhead of the payload
bay so when the cameras come on, we’ll have the cameras pointed
toward that flag and that’s the first thing that will be downlinked
to the ground.”
Of course, it had not been through any of the space qualification
for materials or anything of that nature, but at that time other things
had priority over that. So we got them to sew some Velcro onto the
flag and sew Velcro onto the aft bulkhead, and Velcroed that flag
onto the aft bulkhead. So we were able to get a one-upsmanship on
the Canadians by showing that flag first. Of course, during all the
testing, the cameras were on the arm, so the Canadian flag was showing,
but we were at least able to counter that a little bit on that.
The other thing with the Canadians I recall was that they got me really
good. All of our clothes were packed in storage containers, and you’d
pull them out first day one flight and get clean clothes out, clean
socks and underwear and all. They had modified some jockey shorts
and replaced mine with these modified Canadian jockey shorts, which
the side panels on the jockeys were red and the center section was
white, with a big maple leaf on the center. And I’ve still got
those. [Laughs] So they did get the last laugh on me on that one.
Wright: Are there any particular lessons
or words to the wise that you passed on to [Jack R.] Lousma and Fullerton?
Engle: Yes, I think a few things, rather
minor, but one, to be ready for the loud explosion and fireball when
the solid rocket boosters were ejected. That was not really simulated
very well in the simulator, because I don’t think anybody really
anticipated it would be quite as impressive a show as that, and I
think John and Crip—I don’t remember that they mentioned
it to us, but that caught our attention, and I think we did pass that
on in briefings to the rest of the troops, not just to Jack and Gordo,
but to everyone else who was flying downstream.
The other thing was the nose-gear derotation after touchdown, after
the main gear touches down. The flight-control system in the Orbiter
is a rate command system and that means that the vehicle will respond
in pitch rate and roll rate and yaw rate, but pitch rate primarily,
only when you ask it to do a pitch rate. And it will try everything
it can, if you don’t ask for anything in the stick, if you don’t
come out of detent on the rotational hand controller in pitch, and
ask it to do a pitch rate one way or the other, it tries very hard
not to. It will do everything it can not to, and that’s true
even after it touches down.
Most airplanes, when you touch down, you have to keep coming back
on the stick a little bit and ease the nose down and keep coming back
on the stick, because as you slow down, the dynamic pressure’s
getting lower, so the force on the surfaces are less. They have less
force, less muscle, so you have to keep deflecting the surface more
and more in order to control the rate of derotation on nose-gear slapdown.
In the Orbiter, you don’t do that. As a matter of fact, if you
don’t deflect the stick, and the nose starts down, the flight-control
system senses a pitch rate with no request from the pilot, so it brings
the elevon back up to try to hold that attitude. It’s kind of
an unnatural thing, plus it happens after you’ve come through
the entry and made the approach, a steep approach, and gotten the
bird on the ground and you’re kind of in a relaxed mode, “I’m
back home safe,” and so you’re not ready for something
new like that. And before you know it, the bird has slowed down, the
surface is all the way up, saturated in deflection, trying to keep
the nose up, and you really don’t want the nose up, because
it’s going to come down and slap down real hard then.
So John got caught with that on the first flight, and we got caught
with that as well in that the nose came down harder than I would have
liked to have had it touch down. Not really hard, not particularly
hard, because I was aware of it. But we passed that on to the following
crews, that you have to make a conscious effort, as soon as the main
gear is on the ground, to go forward on the stick, which is kind of
an unnatural thing to do, because pilots normally come back on the
stick. But you have to initiate the derotation and get the nose started
down so that by the time the surface gets almost to full up, why,
you’re nose is on the ground or nearly on the ground. It’s
a different technique, is all.
We learned early in the flight, and I think we talked about previously
in the Shuttle training aircraft, the large lateral force deflectors
on the bottom that we took off the STA because they gave the lateral
accelerations for high pitch accelerations when you move the stick
quickly back and forth. You tend to do that in fighters and we tend
to do that in the T-38s when we’re training, like very aggressive
roll inputs. They’re not really necessary when flying a profile
like you fly with the Space Shuttle, which is kind of a gradual, slow,
easy pattern, and those quick accelerations are not necessary.
So, just pilot technique can be developed where you make gradual ramp
inputs and slowly go into bank maneuvers instead of rapidly, and you
avoid those uncomfortable side lurches that you get in the Shuttle.
You can do it, but there’s just no need to and we can avoid
that. So just piloting techniques like that come almost naturally,
Wright: It was about four months after
your flight that you went to NASA Headquarters and spent some time
up there. Share with us how you were selected to work up at Washington,
D.C., for a few months.
Engle: General [James A. “Abe”]
Abramson, Jim Abramson, was the Director of the Office of Manned Space
Flight at the time. I had known and met him, and he asked if I would
come up there for a short tour. Actually, he said it was my time in
purgatory after having such a good deal, getting to fly the airplane.
Jim actually was one of the Air Force MOL [Manned Orbiting Laboratory]
pilots, and when NASA picked up the six or seven MOL pilots, they
put an arbitrary age limit on who they would take, and Abe was just
above that age limit. So he took it very well, but he kidded about
that. He was going to get even with everybody, because he didn’t
get to fly down here.
But he asked me to come up and work with him. That was very early
in the Space Shuttle history, in its flight history, and at that time,
NASA was very actively pursuing payloads to fill up the payload bay
and to generate more flight time and more revenue, and he had asked
me to come up and work in that particular capacity, to assess—I
think his words were “to give a sniff check” to some of
the potential payloads to make sure that they were compatible and
applicable to a Shuttle type of operation and deployment and integration
into the vehicle.
Then in addition to promotional, it was an educational responsibility
to potential customers, not just U.S. customers, international customers.
I know we did go to South America and we went to Europe and talked
with primarily either national entities, governmental agencies, but
also some private entities that had potential communications satellites
that were candidates to be flown on the Shuttle. That was supposed
to be a four-to-six months tour. I was nine months there.
Wright: You remained on the active flight
status with the Astronaut Office and you received another command,
STS-51-I. Did you know when you returned to Houston that you were
going to have that command? Were you told prior to returning?
Engle: No, there was no guarantee of
it, and certainly I did not have that assignment when I came back.
It was quite some time after I came back before I did get a flight
assignment, as a matter of fact.
No, part of the agreement was that the tour at Headquarters would
be a temporary thing and I would return to the astronaut corps and
get back into the flying chain, but at that time there was no set
sequence as to who goes when, and when you would get a flight. It
was a matter of coming back and getting into the competitive loop
again and waiting for a flight, until those flights that had been
assigned were already flown.
Wright: What were some of the duties
that you were doing while you were waiting for your next assignment?
Engle: I know they involved a good bit
of development of flight controls and guidance systems and payload
integration systems in the simulators. Working some of the EVA problems;
by “working” I mean helping to develop and use the tools
on mockups and in the neutral buoyancy tank. But I don’t recall
anything spectacular that I was assigned to at that time.
Wright: Your second mission was vastly
different from the first, with not only span of duration, you were
going to be up for seven days, but you also had a crew, and your objectives
included launching some satellites. And to even add more challenge
to it, as you went through the training process, it changed. Your
crew changed, your payloads changed. Can you share with us how all
those changes affected your training and how you were able to pull
it all together?
Engle: The second flight really, on
the surface, appeared to be less demanding than STS-2, because we
had only a crew of two on STS-2, and one of the lessons we learned
from those first four orbital flight tests was that the Shuttle, the
Orbiter itself, probably represents more of a workload than should
be put onto a crew of two. It’s just too demanding as far as
configuring all of the systems and switches, circuit breakers. There
are over 1,500 switches and circuit breakers that potentially have
to be configured during flight, and some of those are in fairly time-critical
times. Not only is it a high-task situation from a standpoint of just
checklisting and getting all of them configured, but the accessibility.
Some of them are on the mid deck and some are on the flight deck,
so you’re going back and forth and around. Having more people
on board really reduces the workload of actually flying the vehicle.
Now, as we progressed into the flights into the Shuttle, of course,
the missions became more complex and the payloads became more complex,
that compensated to a certain extent. But it still allowed, during
the boost phase, to have a full crew of three, with a fourth person
on the flight deck helping out as well, to share that workload during
launch and during entry and landing. Then once on orbit, the crew
could then be assigned separate tasks and separate responsibilities
on orbit, and that’s exactly what we did on our flight, eventually
ended up to be 51-I. And that’s what every crew does. The commander
assesses what all tasks have to be done, and in some cases, what particular
skills some of the crew members have and if they’re more applicable
to a certain task or experiments to be performed, and assigns those
workloads and levels out the workload as much as possible.
The biggest difference between STS-2 and 51-I was the fact that there
were more people to help out. There was no problem with the size of
the crew or the makeup of the crew as far as compatibility or integration
of the crew was concerned. It was very compatible, a very well-integrated
crew, even with all the changes.
Wright: It was the twentieth mission,
and it launched between rainstorms.
Engle: Yes, we did. In fact, we made
several launch attempts. On one, we felt that we were really going
to go. Everything was counting down smoothly and the flight was called
due to weather, and we couldn’t see any weather at all out the
front windows, which was looking straight up, or out the side. But
it turned out that there was a thunderstorm within ten miles, and
that was the launch rule at that time, and that you don’t launch
if there’s an active cell within a certain radius of the launch
I remember we got out of the bird and we were very disappointed, because
we thought we should have gone. The rain shower never did come over
the launch pad. So when we were picked up and joined by Mr. [George
W.S.] Abbey and John Young, who was flying the weather chase that
day, we started grousing, kind of kidding, but we were saying, “Man,
we should have gone today. Why didn’t we go to day? We had a
And they were somewhat disappointed, too, that we weren’t able
to launch, and we were told, “Hey, you guys are in the cockpit.
We’ll make the weather call; you be ready to go fly. When we
tell you it’s time to go fly, it’ll be time and you guys
will be ready to go.”
On the subsequent attempt, we had rain slickers on when we went from
the crew quarters out to the van, and it was raining very hard. When
we went from the van to ride the elevator up to the bird and got in
the bird, we left our slickers there in the white room, big old yellow
rain slickers. We got on board and we really didn’t think that
there was a prayer of us going to fly that day. The reason that we
went out to the bird was that they had one more day delay before they
had to detank and that would have been two more days, and the weather
forecast was not good for the next day anyway.
So we got in the bird and we strapped in and we started countdown.
[James D.A.] Ox van Hoften was in the number four seat, over on the
right-hand side aft, and [John M.] Mike Lounge was in the center seat
aft, and we were sitting there waiting, and launch control had called
several holds. Ox was so big that he hung out over the seats as he
sat back, and he was very uncomfortable, and he talked Mike to unstrapping
and going down to the mid deck so that he could stretch across both
those seats in the back of the flight deck.
We were lying there waiting, and it was raining, and raining fairly
good. We got down to five minutes or six minutes, and at that time
I can’t remember whether it was five or six minutes when we
started the APUs [Auxiliary Power Units] after we got the call from
launch control to start the APUs. [Richard O.] Dick Covey and I looked
at each other kind of incredulously and asked them to repeat. And
they said, “Start the APUs. We don’t have much time in
the window here.” So he started going through the procedures
to start the APUs, and they make kind of a whining noise as they come
up to speed. The rest of the crew was asleep down in the mid deck.
I think it was Fish [William F. Fisher] woke up and said, “What’s
that noise? What’s going on?”
We said, “We’re cranking APUs. Let’s go,”
or something like that.
Dick was into the second APU, and they looked up and saw the rain
coming down and they said, “Yeah, sure, we’re not going
anywhere today. Why you starting APUs?”
We didn’t have time to explain to them, because the sequence
gets pretty rushed then. So we yelled to them, “Damn it, we’re
going. We’re going to launch. Get back in your seats and get
They woke up Ox and Mike, and they got back in their seats, and they
had to strap themselves in. Normally you have a crew strap you in;
they had to strap each other in. And Dick and I were busy getting
systems up to speed and running, and all we could hear was Mike and
Ox back there yelling at each other to, “Get that strap for
me. Where’s my com lead?”
“Get it yourself. I can’t find mine.”
And they were trying to strap themselves in, and we were counting
down to launch. They really didn’t believe we were going to
launch because it was, in fact, raining, but they counted right down
to the launch and we did go. It went right through, a light rain,
but it was raining.
Then after we landed and we asked them about that. “Boy, you
know, we launched right through rain. I didn’t think we were
going to be able to launch.”
Of course, the response was, “We were flying weather out at
the SLF [Shuttle Landing Facility]. Why didn’t you tell us it
We used the rationale then. We said, “Our job is to be ready
to fly. You guys tell us when the weather’s okay.”
Wright: What a way to go.
Engle: Yes, it was a great launch.
Wright: And it’s such a busy and
full schedule that you had, with so much to do on this mission. On
the first day you deployed two satellites. How did that impact the
Engle: It really didn’t. The reason
for launching the two on the first day, rather than one on day one
and one on day two, was that in opening the payload bay and in cycling
the sunshields on the two satellites, the procedures were out of sequence
and the remote arm had not been rolled back. The brackets that hold
the arm in place had not been rolled back to provide clearance for
that sunshield to come back, so when the sunshield was retracted,
it hit the arm and deflected it somewhat.
Mike had to then unberth the arm, take the arm and actually push the
sunshield back the rest of the way so that the satellite was exposed,
and not knowing whether there would be a problem getting it deployed
or not. It was deployed early and then we had time to deploy the second
one as well, so we deployed the first two satellites the first day.
Then the Syncom [IV-3 Satellite], the Leasat or Syncom, as it was
called, either one, that we carried was deployed then the following
day, so we actually got a little ahead on the time line, which was
good, because the arm had suffered a malfunction as well in that it
was not working. One of the joints had to be operated in the manual
mode rather than the automatic mode, so Mike couldn’t fly the
arm like you normally do, moving it around from one place to another.
He had to move it, operating an electrical switch, selecting a joint,
and then going plus or minus with the electric motor and moving one
joint at a time to get to the right positions to use it. That became
a concern as to how much that was going to slow us down on the grapple
and the capture and then the redeployment of the failed Syncom that
we were going to go repair.
Wright: Speaking of that satellite,
one of your tasks was to rendezvous with this rather large satellite
that had been deployed earlier that year and not working. Share with
us your approach.
Engle: As I mentioned earlier, the tasks
for the flight, one of my objectives was to try and distribute the
tasks among all the crew as evenly as possible and to give everybody
something really interesting and meaningful that they could come back
and talk about. We had three satellites, so the three mission specialists
each were given the responsibility to launch one of those satellites.
Ox and Fish were designated as the two who would be going EVA to repair
the satellite, so Mike was the remote arm operator, and all three
of them therefore played a most important and demanding role in the
capture and the repair and the redeployment of this satellite.
Dick and I got to ride in the front seats, and I was going to get
to land the vehicle, so I gave Dick the responsibility of doing the
rendezvous of the Syncom-IV-3, so he did that. He trained in the simulators
and practiced in the simulators and did an absolutely superb and excellent
job of that rendezvous. My job, really, was to stay out of his way
or help him, assist him in any way I could, but to stay out of his
way while he flew the rendezvous, until we were actually within about
a thousand feet of the satellite. Then he would turn control of the
vehicle over to me for the final approach and getting Ox in position
to manually grapple it.
When he had completed the rendezvous maneuver and had stabilized and,
I think, said words to the effect, “Okay, boss, it’s all
yours,” and I looked up out of the pipper, the crosshairs of
the pipper, I kind of expected to see it somewhere in the field of
view in the window, but he had flown that rendezvous and perfectly
nailed it so that the satellite was right behind the pippers, and
I had to look a couple of times, in fact, to see where it was, because
it was right in the center of the pipper.
The rendezvous was a beautifully, perfectly flown rendezvous and made
the rest of the task very easy. I say “very easy.” It
didn’t mean that there weren’t traps that we had to be
careful of in the final approach. Flying up to that satellite, you
transition from looking out the overhead and flying a control-system
orientation, where up fires fore and aft thrusters and down fires
the same, and then left and right is pretty straightforward, but roll
is different, so you change axes systems.
As you go from the overhead window and it comes down into the aft
window view, you change the orientation of the vehicle, and you also
change a perspective, where lifting and pushing and pulling take on
different axes as you go from one window to the other. In that transition,
my first input was one using the old system, so it was the wrong input,
and the satellite starting drifting toward the window instead of down
into the payload bay, so I reversed controls to get it back out of
the way so we wouldn’t impact it, and had to kind of restart
and bring it back down into the payload bay again. A good lesson learned
and one to bring back and warn the next guys to be careful of that.
Wright: What other dangers or situations
were you trying to avoid as the two astronauts were doing the EVAs
during the two days? What were some of the things that you were doing
to protect the Orbiter?
Engle: On the initial grappling of the
Orbiter, Ox was out on the end of the arm, in a foot restraint on
the end of the arm, and we had planned to capture it with a tool that
we developed in the three months that we had to get ready for it.
It was like a big towel rod that had clips on the end. The Syncom
was supposed to be rolling very slowly in a roll, and the two trunion
joints, which are like ball hitches on a pickup truck to pull a trailer
with, there are four of them, two on each side. They’re used
to mount the satellite on to the rails in the payload bay of the Shuttle.
We had developed this tool that as two of those came around, as two
of those trunions or balls came around, Ox could clip this rod onto
them and secure it and stop it and then have a handle to move it around
with, because the satellite had not been built to be handled at all
When we arrived and saw it first out the window, we saw and found
that it was not spinning in a slow, stabilized spin maneuver, but
actually the rotation had been slowed down by [Henry W.] Hank Hartsfield’s
[Jr.] crew’s attempt to jar the latch to bring it to life, to
make the micro switch contact to bring it to life, and that rotation
had been slowed down to a certain extent. But the theory was that
the four months that the satellite had spent rotating around the Earth
and going through the Earth’s flux field took some more rotational
energy out of it to the point where it was not stable anymore. It
was just randomly kind of tumbling in space. As we approached the
satellite, the grappling tool, it was obvious, was not going to be
of any use at all and Ox was going to have to just grab it by his
It was a 15,000-pound satellite and about fifteen feet in diameter,
which was a huge satellite, and the separation joint surface, we were
warned, might have sharp edges where the pyrotechnics separated it
from its booster, from its shroud, and we were told, whatever you
do, don’t get close to that. Well, when we got up to it, it
turned out that that was the only really good place that Ox had to
grab the satellite, and he looked carefully to make sure there weren’t
any sharp edges. But he grabbed it by that edge of the sunshield to
stop it and to slowly get it rotated around where he could grab theses
trunion bolts and stop them right in front of him, and then take the
tool and actually mash it on manually. It was a tremendous job of
adapting and doing some real-time adaptation on orbit, EVA, on Ox’s
part, to capture that satellite and to get it so that he could have
a hold of it.
The piloting task during that time was keeping Ox in position to do
this all the time, by flying the Orbiter and keeping him positioned,
because Mike Lounge on the arm really was restricted in how helpful
he could be, since he had to fly the arm with single joint. He couldn’t
automatically fly Ox around and keep him in position.
We accommodated for those things and captured the vehicle, and Ox
held it and tried to position the Orbiter to move it down where Fish
on the other side could put another handling bar on, and then Ox could
then put the grapple fixture on the outside. Then Fish held it while
Mike brought Ox back into the payload bay. We took the foot restraint
off and Mike then went back up and grabbed the satellite with the
From then on, it actually was pretty straightforward. It took a little
more time to orient and position the Syncom, presenting the surfaces
to Ox and Fish, where they could remove panels, hotwire the avionics
to the battery bus with a wiring harness that we had taken up, and
essentially make the electrical repair to the satellite.
Then the redeploy, again, was not as taxing, not as stressful, really,
as the capture and getting it secured, but it was a matter of positioning
Ox again on the arm and letting him give some pushes on the one towel
rod that he had left on. It started spinning, so to get it stabilized
so we could then back off and then they could fire the engine to take
it on up to geosynchronous orbit. And every time he would push, the
satellite, of course, would not only take on rotational, but also
translational energy, and it would start to move away. It was a matter
of flying Ox back up and keeping him close in so that when the towel
rod came by again, why, he could grab it again and give it another
push and spin it a little bit faster. It took about three or four
of those shoves, as I recall.
Wright: Quite a sight, I would imagine,
to watch it.
Engle: It was a phenomenal sight. You
bet. You bet it was. As a matter of fact, as it was spinning and going
away, we flew the Shuttle down around to line Ox up with the satellite
so that we could get a picture of him and the satellite in the background.
He gave it a salute and then the Charles Atlas sign.
Wright: Speaking of pictures, your crew
also did some Earth observations. Any expertise you were able to share
with them on how the best way of taking those photos to bring back
the shots that the scientists were looking for?
Engle: Well, not me personally, other
than the continual warning to be ready ahead of time, because you
won’t recognize your target until it’s time to take the
picture, then you’ve got to have it or it’s too late.
But by that time, a great deal of Earth observation photography had
been done and our instructors were very, very good in setting up the
charts that would show the times, the orbit, the times, and all the
camera settings that were necessary to do it, and what kind of features
were desired and what kind of targets of opportunity to really concentrate
on, too, to be ready for. By that time it was standard practice to
have cameras Velcroed all around the windows of the glass boat to
Wright: Were you able to see more this
trip, since it lasted a little bit longer than your first one?
Engle: Oh yes. Yes, you bet. There was
more time to look out the window, and that, I think, was one of the
neatest experiences about space flight, having the time to look back
at the Earth. The professional gratification that comes, for a pilot
anyway, comes with the landing, the entry and the landing and touching
down and rolling out. I think the most memorable thing is, when you
really don’t have a meaningful task to do at all, is to look
out the window and look back at Earth. It’s a very, very inspiring
experience to see how thin, how delicate the atmosphere is, how beautiful
the Earth is, really, what a beautiful piece of work it is. And to
see the features go by.
Sultan [Salman Abdulaziz] Al-Saud was assigned to our crew initially,
when one of our payload satellites was the ARABSAT. He was assigned
as a mission specialist on our crew, and when he eventually did fly,
I think he said it better than anybody has. He said, “The first
day or two in space, we were looking for our countries. Then the next
day or two, we were looking at our continents. By about the fourth
or fifth day, we were all looking at our world.”
Boy, it’s one of those things that I said, “God, I wish
I’d have thought of that. I wish I’d have said that,”
because I thought that was classic. It really was.
Wright: Tell us about your crew, how
you were able to work so well with your crew. Since you had so many
changes and mixing and matching, how did it all come together and
what was special about them?
Engle: Well, the crew, as you mentioned,
changed continuously from our first assigned mission until the final
eventual one. In fact, our last change came within the last three
or four months of flight, when we took on the added task of rendezvousing
and repairing Syncom-3. We had to drop payload specialists, because
we needed that payload and that room in the cabin for EVA equipment
and for tools.
The crews rotated fast enough there was never time to develop any
problems or concerns. The folks who were assigned temporarily to the
crew, the eventual five of us that went—we all had a total attitude
of concentrating on what needed o be done and getting that done, and
as we got closer into flight, particularly with the repair aspect
of the Syncom satellite, we all were so busy that we didn’t
have time to develop any kind of irritants or things that bothered
each other. We just all seemed to be working together. Everybody had
a job that they had to do and they’d show up at the simulator
prepared for that session, and that was kind of the story of the crew
the whole way through, just a totally dedicated, totally prepared,
very competent crew. A lot of talent on that crew.
Wright: Your second flight and also
your second Orbiter. Were there differences in flying Discovery compared
There weren’t any at all that I could perceive. I know folks
have asked that, and quite frankly, from an airplane-handling qualities
standpoint, I was very, very pushed to find any difference between
Enterprise and the two orbital vehicles, Columbia and Discovery, other
than the fact that Enterprise was much lighter weight and, therefore,
performance-wise you had to fly a steeper profile and the air speed
bled off quicker in the approach and landing.
But as far as the response of the vehicle, the airplane was optimized
to respond to what pilots tend to like in the way of vehicle response.
So when you made an input on the stick, it was really transparent
what was happening inside the systems and inside the airplane itself.
It tried its very hardest to give the optimum response asked, and
we really didn’t change those responses very much.
There were some things that would have been nice to have had different
on the Orbiter, and still are, and that is the hand controller itself.
It’s not optimized for landing a vehicle. It really is a derivative
of the Apollo rotational hand controller, which was designed for and
optimized for operation in space, and since that’s where the
Shuttle lives most of the time, it leans toward optimizing space operations,
rendezvous and docking and those types of maneuvers, where you have
a definite breakout force in the hand controller from the detent.
The stick force gradient, how much harder you have to push for additional
deflection, is not as important and as apparent as it is on an airplane.
In fact, some of the airplane characteristics are not optimized for
space, so it’s a compromise stick and a compromise controller.
Wright: After STS-4, the ejector seats
were taken out. Did that give you any cause of concern or any cause
Engle: No, no. The ejection seats probably
were a comfort to a certain extent in the approach and landing tests,
because they could be used pretty much anywhere in the profile, even
while you were mated to the [Boeing] 747. If there was a problem,
if something drastic happened, why, you could bail out at any time.
But on Columbia, I don’t know. I guess they were there primarily
so if there was a gross malfunction in the guidance system and you
entered and came subsonic over the middle of a forested area or a
mountainous area and there’s no place to land, you could at
least get into a stabilized glide and bail out. But they really didn’t
do any good at all on launch, certainly not on orbit.
The idea of the ejection seats, the envelope that they provided you
an escape capability was very, very small. They did take up a lot
of room and a lot of weight, and they did limit the crew to two people,
which, as I mentioned earlier, was a real workload for the crew, a
real heavy task load for the crew.
Wright: Are there any other thoughts
or memories you’d like to share with us about the second mission
or anything connected with it before we move on? How was the landing?
You didn’t have so many maneuvers on this landing as you did
the first one.
Engle: No, the maneuvers were all automatic
on this one. It was just a matter of as you came up to a Mach number
and an altitude or a condition, the maneuver was there ready to happen,
and you could inhibit it by going to the keyboard and inhibiting that
maneuver so it wouldn’t do it, but, no, the entry was much more
Having been in orbit for even a short period of time, like we were
on STS-2, and experienced an entry and a landing and all, there was
much less anticipation. You had a feel for what was going to happen
and I was ahead of the game more, I know, on the second flight than
on the first flight. The nose gear touchdown was not nearly as hard
on the second one. We were fortunate; we had good landings on both
flights, so there was a very smooth touchdown on both flights, on
the lakebed again, which I was glad of, because it was at Edwards
again. And I know it was much more practical to recover the Shuttle
at [NASA] Kennedy [Space Center, Florida] than at Edwards. It saved
having to haul it all the way across country, but there was just something
about that lakebed out there at Edwards and the environment that I
really loved landing out there.