NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Houston, Texas – 3 March 2011
Today is March 3rd, 2011. This oral history with Dr. Anna Fisher is
being conducted for the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project
in Houston, Texas. Jennifer Ross-Nazzal is the interviewer, assisted
by Sandra Johnson. Thanks again for joining us today. I certainly
to be here.
I know how busy you’ve been, so thank you very much. I have
a couple of questions for you about your preflight experience that
we didn’t cover last time. Did you continue to work as an ER
[Emergency Room] doctor once you came to Houston or was that something
you pretty much gave up?
the first year a little bit, very little bit. The group I belonged
to in Los Angeles [California] had a hospital in—let me think
where was it? Tampa [Florida], I believe. So I did a few ER shifts,
but it was just too difficult to try to do both. Being in a visible
position, I just felt that was probably not a good thing to do. I
had so much to learn. So that pretty quickly stopped.
I had read that you were in charge of medical ops for the first orbital
test flights. Can you talk about that assignment?
I wasn’t in charge of medical ops. What they did was they took
all the doctors in the office, and we were sent to each of the launch
and landing sites. So for STS-1, I was actually out at White Sands
[Northrup Strip, New Mexico]. We had the doctors at KSC [Kennedy Space
Center, Florida], White Sands, and Edwards [Air Force Base, California]
for the full duration of the mission. We participated in exercises
like Mode 8s, if the Shuttle goes off the end of the runway and you
have to rescue the crew. Worked with the PJs from the military, which
are the paramedic jumpers, but I wasn’t in charge of it. I just
participated in all of that, as did all of the doctors in the office.
Did you come up with a list of how you might save the crew, how you
would get into the Orbiter, and what sort of things you might encounter?
Did you come up with checklists and things like that?
we really didn’t have checklists. It’s a lot like EMTs
[Emergency Medical Technicians]. The rescue folks who are trained
to do that in all kinds of situations would actually do the actual
rescuing or bringing the crew out. We were there to provide medical
assistance and to answer any questions they’d have. We practiced
things like which way the wind was blowing, because you were worried
about nitrazine and some of the fluids that are on board the Shuttle
harming the rescue workers and crew. So we were more there in an advisory
capacity. If there were an accident to be the link to Houston, to
let people know what was going on. We never really got into the mode
of post accident, what would happen. That was how more we envisioned
the role, I think, was just being the liaison between the rescue folks
Did you simulate those possibilities?
yes. I was out at White Sands where we did a Mode 8. The helicopters
came in, and we practiced taking the crew away and flying the helicopters.
I talked with the PJs to tell them a bit about the Shuttle and what
to expect, if they had to go inside. Then I was there for the entire
STS-1 flight. I was there probably about three or four days before
and then for the entire flight.
Since you had practiced emergency medicine, did you feel like you
offered advice to some of the other folks who hadn’t practiced
like [M.] Rhea Seddon or Jim [James P.] Bagian?
she was a surgeon, so she’s well versed in all those kind of
things. No, I think we were all equally well trained and ready for
those things. I don’t think we particularly talked among ourselves
about how to do it. I think it was left to each of us to figure out
how to do it ourselves, which is kind of the way things were in those
days. Everybody was expected to perform, and you figured out what
you needed to know.
It just sounds like a very interesting assignment.
it was. It was really fun to see how all that worked and very educational.
Then they stopped doing that. I think STS-4 was probably the last
one. I was at Kennedy for STS-4 the entire time. I was at Edwards
for STS-2 and then White Sands for STS-1 and 3.
Oh, interesting. So did you get to see the crew land the Orbiter at
the one and only time. It was definitely an interesting time. Of course
it went well, so there was no need for a Mode 8 or medical things
like that. That all went very well.
Yes, that’s interesting. I know we talked a little bit about
Bill last time. You were the first married couple in the Astronaut
Office. Do you think that had any impact on your career or your experiences?
don’t think it had an impact on my career or anything. There
was a lot of attention given to it when he was first selected. It
was like a lot more interest in the media. We had parallel interests
from the time we met, which is probably one reason we were attracted
to each other. So it was nice to have somebody who really understood
exactly how the office worked, but it was more of a personal benefit
than a professional benefit.
When Rhea Seddon decided that she was going to marry Hoot [Robert
L.] Gibson, did you offer her any advice in terms of how to deal with
all the media interest?
Rhea was well versed in how to do that. She didn’t need any
advice from me. It was fine. Right in my closet at home I have this
picture of the four of us, Bill and me and Hoot and Rhea and our two
babies. It was a cute picture. I think we were both being interviewed
for one of the morning shows or something and then someone shot that
picture of us as we were sitting there. It was cute.
Oh that’s funny. We talked to her actually. She was talking
about how her son introduces himself as an astrotot. I suppose you
have two astrotots as well.
totally embarrass my younger daughter when I say, “Well, half
of your DNA was in space.” She goes, “Mom!” At least
when she was younger, she would get embarrassed. She’s probably
proud of it now. There’s a very small number of people who both
parents have been in space. Kara gets that distinction, my youngest.
Yes, it’s an interesting title, I hadn’t read about it
before. Last time you had also talked about the personal hygiene kit
and the Nivea cream that you had put in there. What else was in the
personal hygiene kit for the women? Did you talk about other things
that would go in it at the time?
I canvassed them and asked what things they wanted. It’s a pretty
diverse group there from Judy [Judith A. Resnik] to Shannon [W. Lucid].
So some people didn’t care at all. I think there was a little
bit of makeup that went in there, probably some mascara. I honestly
don’t remember. I’d have to go back and check, but we
really didn’t have a lot of extra things. We just added things
that were appropriate for women. Some creams and a little bit of makeup,
and that’s about all I can remember that we added that was different
than what was already there for the guys.
What about feminine hygiene products? Was that something that you
dealt with at all?
know what? I think it was left to each person to deal with it. In
fact, I’m going through training right now to be a CapCom [Capsule
Communicator] for ISS [International Space Station], and that was
one of the questions I was asked. Back then everybody just did their
own thing. I think most women elect to just stay on birth control
pills so that they don’t have to deal with it. You’ve
got enough to deal with without dealing with anything else. I’m
sure we carry something on board just in case of an emergency or something
like that. It’s not something that we all talked about. That’s
what I personally did. I think that’s what quite a few of the
females do even now who are on board Space Station, because it’s
just one less thing you have to worry about. With all the products
they have now that I hear advertised about birth control pills, where
you don’t even have to have periods for long periods of time,
that’s what I would opt to do. The only people who might opt
not to do that would be if you’re still planning on having children
after you fly on ISS then you might not want to suppress everything,
particularly if you’re up there for six months.
But again it’s pretty much an individual decision with you and
your flight surgeon. In fact, I’m trying to think if we even
discussed it. I probably did discuss it. Being a doctor, I just told
them, “This is what I’m going to do.”
When I talked to Kathy [Kathryn D. Sullivan] and Rhea, and we’ve
talked to Sally [K. Ride], it all sounds like everyone had their personal
preferences for things.
it was very rare for us to get together and discuss things and have
a consensus. I don’t remember. We would have some social get-togethers
once in a while, but I don’t really remember us ever getting
together that much and discussing issues unique to us.
That’s interesting. That says a lot actually.
Carolyn [L.] Huntoon was of course available. She was assigned to
be our mentor, someone we could go to if we had issues or problems.
I don’t think any of the issues we faced were that much different
from the guys. Wondering how you were doing, when were you going to
fly. I think it was more issues unique to being an astronaut than
specifically being female.
Oh, that’s really interesting. So you feel like you were treated
particularly equal in the Astronaut Office.
really do. I think NASA had made the commitment to accept women, and
they were very accepting. They really tried very hard to develop the
extra small EMU [Extravehicular Mobility Unit]. A lot of the development
effort was put into it. I think I discussed that last time. I was
involved in a lot of that early work. I think only after we just ran
into a lot of technical problems and then the cost of it was going
to be so great that they decided to cancel that. I think we were all
treated very fairly. If anything I think the guys felt we got too
much attention compared to them.
That’s funny that you say that.
would always make comments like, “Here, let me carry your bags
for you.” But it was all just teasing.
Just for fun.
it came to being treated professionally, sims [simulations], and as
CapComs and our various support roles, I never felt like we weren’t
wanted. I have to say that even when I was in medical school, that
was actually a little probably more difficult, particularly around
some of the surgeons at that time. It was just at a cusp. I read an
interesting article recently about the number of women in medical
school classes around that time, and mine was very typical. We were
probably like 15 in a class of 150. You would encounter little things
at that point. There weren’t that many women in medicine. Now
it’s 50-50. I might have told you that story where I was working
in the emergency room and there was a male nurse, a really big tall
guy. No matter how many times I would say I was Dr. Fisher and he
was the nurse, they kept looking at him. He was the doctor, and I
was the nurse. Finally we just joked about it. I just said, “Go
ahead, just be the doctor. Tell them what they want.” It was
just funny. Those kind of things happened a lot more in medicine actually
than when I came to NASA.
That’s interesting. That’s good for NASA.
was another interesting thing that happened to me. I was at the [STS]-133
launch, and I arrived just as the Blue Angels were flying. That was
really neat. I got in the elevator with this lady who was one of the
Blue Angel pilots. It was just so interesting, because nobody thought
anything different of her being a pilot. I was just thinking how far
we had come in that short period of time, because nobody thought anything
about her being a pilot in the Blue Angels. I was going like, “Oh
wow, how neat.”
That was one of the questions I wanted to ask you. What role do you
think that you played in furthering women coming into the Astronaut
Office, you and the other five women, and the acceptance of women
as pilots and commanders in the office?
I’m sure it really helped that we were there. Then young women
could look up and say, “Hey, if she can do it I can do it too.”
I’ve had funny experiences since I’ve been here so long.
I’ve had some of the women astronauts say that they heard me
speak, or one of the six of us, and that’s when they decided
they wanted to be an astronaut.
One Friday I was doing some ISS training, and one of the instructors
asked specifically to teach my class, because she had had my picture
on her wall when she was 12 years old. So a lot of people, not just
becoming astronauts, but just going into science and math and engineering
Another time about a year ago I was at the University of Hawaii Hilo
for El [Ellison S.] Onizuka science day. This Oriental lady came up
and asked if I had been in Japan about 20 years ago. I said, “Yes,
my husband and I did go make a trip over there.” She said she
had heard me speak, and that’s when she decided she wanted to
be an astronomer. She was working at the observatory there in Hilo.
It’s been interesting to actually get feedback from people that
it made a difference. I take it pretty seriously now when I go talk
to schoolchildren. You never know when you’re going to touch
a life, somebody who either gets inspired or who thought they couldn’t
do something might be able to.
Another interesting experience was when I was on that same trip to
Hawaii. One of the people involved in bringing me there was a wealthy
businessman but came from a very disadvantaged background. He got
his start at this particular YMCA [Young Men’s Christian Association],
and he asked if I would come speak to these kids. He kept warning
me. “These are kids who do drugs; these are kids that are troubled,
a lot of them dropping out of school.” I think he was preparing
me that they were going to be loud and maybe not as polite as some
of the audiences.
They were the most polite audience. It was about 100. He twisted all
their arms, and so I tried to talk about some of the hardships I had
overcome. Neither of my parents had been to college. My father was
in the military. He got his GED [high school equivalency] in the military.
My mom only had an eighth grade education, because in Europe at eighth
grade you decide whether you’re going to the university or to
trade school, and she went to trade school.
By the time I was in eighth grade I had gone to 13 different schools
because my father was in the military. So I tried to tell them that
even with all those kind of things in the United States, if you’re
motivated, and you get a good education, which you can do, that’s
your decision. That’s a particular group I would like to be
able to follow in ten years and see what came of it. There were a
couple people—I remember looking in the audience—that
seemed to really be hearing that message. And afterwards all these
big Hawaiian kids came up and wanted to take pictures. It was neat.
That’s, I think, one of the neat aspects of our job is that
we do get to try to help motivate kids.
In this day and age, where everybody wants to be a rock star or an
NBA [National Basketball Association] player, and they’re so
motivated by that type of thing, it’s nice to be able to get
kids to be excited about science and math too.
Well, there’s a new push for that now with the Obama administration.
hard though. It’s a tough sell, when you see these guys making
millions of dollars. Most rocket scientists don’t make anywhere
That’s true, that’s true. Do you ever do any work with
Sally Ride and her science camp?
asked me haven’t. I told her I’m happy to; I’m willing
to do that. I don’t know how she goes about who she asks.
It’s an interesting concept. I wanted to ask you about the diaper
concept. You had mentioned that in the last interview as well about
using diapers for women for urine collection. Were you involved at
all in the testing of that product before you flew?
all were. They gave us diapers, and we were supposed to go home and
use them. Have you ever tried—after years and years of potty
training—to lay on the floor in a seat with your seat laid back
so you’d simulate being on the launch pad? It is not easy to
You have to overcome all these inhibitions you have. But by the time
you’re out on the pad for three hours you’re going to
go. Who wants to be uncomfortable in your flight into space? No matter
if you absolutely drank nothing the morning of launch, absolutely
nothing, just because of that position and the blood in your legs
pooling, you’re going to have to go to the bathroom.
Now it used to be that guys had a condom thing that they would put
on that’s hooked to a tube. That’s what they used in all
the early flights, but they had a couple of malfunctions of those,
which that could be a gigantic mess. So now they just went unisex;
everybody wears the same thing and for EVAs [Extravehicular Activity]
too. You’re in a suit six or seven hours, plus all that prebreathe
time. Can’t imagine that you don’t have to go to the bathroom.
Did you make any suggestions for changes?
guy who developed this, what was his name? I’m sure you can
find out if you call the Space and Life Sciences Division. He developed
that really absorbent polymer which was what led to all the baby diapers
that we now have whatever that stuff is that absorbs it. It was his
research that led to—for us—all these billions probably
of diapers we now have for babies that are so absorbent.
It’s an interesting concept. I wanted to ask you when they made
the announcement for the first crews that included people from your
class, so STS-7, 8, and 9, was there any discussion amongst the six
of you about who might go first? And when you heard that Sally Ride
was going to be the first woman in space?
really. We all knew that was coming up eventually. I don’t think
it was something you discussed. You just were aware of it. To me it
was apparent that Sally was a front-runner because of the positions
they put her in. They put her to be a CapCom and put her to do different
things so I guess I wasn’t really surprised.
Was there a lot of competition amongst your class for flights at that
I think everybody wants to fly first. Everybody wanted to fly and
get into space as soon as you can. But that’s also tempered
with hey, I’m really lucky to be here, doesn’t matter
if I’m first or last. Other than Sally, I don’t think
anyone remembers who flew first and who flew last in our class, unless
somebody tells you. I think Shannon was the last woman, and yet look
how she had the endurance record on Mir for so long. I don’t
know if she still does. I lose track of all those kind of things.
At the time those things seem like big deals but you need to keep
things in perspective. I do think it’s interesting that the
first three women that flew didn’t have children and the last
three women that flew had children so I don’t know if that was
a factor. I don’t think it was performance, because everybody
did pretty good jobs, I think.
So you weren’t surprised?
was just interesting. No, I wasn’t surprised.
You had mentioned last time that you were working at the Cape [Canaveral,
Florida] with Sally for her flight. Were you there for the launch
yes, yes, I was there for the launch, because I was the lead Cape
Crusader. I was eight months pregnant at the time, so it was a definite
Can you tell us about that day? Is there anything that stands out
about that time for the launch of Sally’s mission?
for some reason I remember more the time we were doing the payload
testing together. It’s just strange what things stick in your
mind more than others. The launch itself, I was there doing my job
so I don’t even remember. Because I was pregnant, I wasn’t
the person who helped them strap in so I wasn’t out there. I
was doing one of the shifts, where we did the cockpit configuration
or something like that.
Did you actually get to see it lift off the pad?
yes. I was at the roof of the LCC [Launch Control Center]. All of
us that worked at the Cape would always go there and be there to be
ready to help in case there was a problem with families. That was
of course before [STS]-51L [the Challenger accident] so at that time
there really wasn’t a formal plan for what to do if there was
an accident. We learned our lessons after 51-L and now have a much
more tightly controlled environment. At that time we were just there
ready to help if there was a problem, but there was no plan of what
we would do.
When you came to the Center did you have contact with other professional
women who worked at JSC like Ivy [F.] Hooks or Rita [M.] Rapp?
really. Nitza [M.] Cintron, who was in our group, of course I knew
her and then Carolyn. Basically we were in our own little world. It’s
only if you encountered someone through your food testing. In fact
I’ve even noticed that just in general, not just with other
women, our biggest interaction was with MOD [Mission Operations Directorate].
Well, early on I guess our class probably had a little more interaction
with Engineering Directorate because we got here before the Shuttle
flew, so we interacted with a lot of the subsystem managers for the
Shuttle. But other than that our interactions tend to be primarily
with Mission Operations Directorate, our training folks and our flight
For different reasons, I’ve had chances to go lately to other
buildings or other areas, and it’s like wow, there’s a
whole part of the Johnson Space Center that I really don’t know
I was just curious if you had any sort of interaction. If they offered
any sort of career advice, as most people were fairly young when they
really. Like I said, we were—and I don’t mean that in
a bad way—we were just left on our own. I see a lot more intentional
mentoring now. Also it’s probably really important—not
that it wasn’t important then—but it’s really important
now as you get ready to go do these six-month-long missions. There’s
a great deal more hardship in terms of the traveling and training
for ISS. Your training is so long, and you’re gone so long.
So I think there’s a lot more mentoring of folks to be sure
that they’re ready for what they’re getting into.
It was more like we were selected and you were expected to do well
and that’s it. Kind of the same as it was in medical school,
too. I think now they tend to do a little more mentoring of medical
students as well. Kind of watching out, because it’s a pretty
difficult time as well. It used to be, “We picked these people
that are talented.” But just because you have good grades and
everything doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready for all
of that. I think now maybe in a lot of those areas they do a little
bit more mentoring.
I had read an article in the New York Times. I don’t know, from
1980. You said that the only trouble that the female AsCans [Astronaut
Candidates] seemed to have were getting the clothes to fit. Can you
talk about that? I’m assuming you meant the flight suits.
I was probably just joking—just getting flight suits that weren’t
big and baggy and stuff. They wound up having ours special-made.
They were cut for men.
was probably also referring to the EMU, because at the time in 1980
I was still doing WETF [Weightless Environment Training Facility]
runs in Pete [Charles] Conrad’s A7LB Moon suit, which was like
being in a big balloon.
Yes, I think you had talked about that last time, the difficulty that
of my officemates right now was an EVA trainer, and he was telling
me how for the smaller women if you can get a good suit fit, they
can do just as well, but if you don’t have a good suit fit,
you’re lost. That’s it. You just cannot do things if you
don’t have a good fit. That’s true for male and female,
but it’s just harder to get a good fit. So it was definitely
a struggle. We’ve learned so much with all the EVAs we’ve
done in building the Space Station which we just did not have that
experience back when I came.
I thought we would turn our attention to your flight, STS-51A. You
had told us about how you had been selected maybe about two weeks
before you gave birth.
it was a very interesting time. Our commander was Rick [Frederick
H.] Hauck, who just finished STS-7 and was back. They were still doing
their postflight appearances. Now the AsCan class has finished the
2000 level Shuttle training series, which is the introductory classes;
you do that as part of your AsCan year. Back then we didn’t
have that kind of training. Dave [David M. Walker] and I were the
two inexperienced people so we had to complete that whole 2000 series
flow, which we did together, to catch up with our other crew members
who had flown on previous flights.
So that was our focus. I was a CapCom at the time, and Rick actually
wanted me to give that job up. This was like Julyish, I think. STS-9
flew in October so it was fairly early in my flow. I spoke with him
and said, “I really want to do that, because I think you’ll
be a better crew member if you are CapCom and you see how Mission
Control works.” It was really hard for me, because I have a
new baby, I was CapComing, and I was also trying to get my training
flow done, but I really felt that I needed to do that. Because I was
breastfeeding at the time, I can still remember being on these shifts
trying to go to the bathroom and pump.
Now everything’s so nice. They have these little protected areas
where you can go breastfeed, not so back then. Nothing was really
set up. It’s not that people were bad. I don’t think they
really thought about stuff like that. Of course as women we didn’t
want to draw attention to those things. You don’t want to ask
for something special. That was pretty challenging to try to do both,
but I’m still glad I did.
So those first couple of weeks, when I had a sim either with Dave
for our 2000 flow or when I had a CapCom sim, I would come into work.
When I didn’t have anything on a schedule—and they were
nice, they tried to bunch it up—then I could be home with Kristin
a bit. So I never really had time off. I never took a leave of absence
for six weeks or something like that, but they were really nice about
trying to balance my schedule so at least I had some days off.
Then I had a wonderful lady, Susie Galvin, whose husband actually
is a contractor working in the space program as well. At the time
she didn’t have any children, so she was really good about being
there in the morning with Kristin. She took a nap in the afternoon
so that when I got home at 4:30 or 5:00 we basically had that whole
evening together. I didn’t put her to bed till 9:00 or 10:00
We actually had quite a bit of time together, and it worked out. Towards
the end of the flight that was probably really hard. I thought it
was hard having a little baby and training. Now that I’m an
experienced parent, I know that it would have been way worse if she
was in school and I was trying to worry how was she getting to this,
how was she getting to that, because with a baby you totally control
everything. They’re not off going doing activities and you’re
not missing performances of this, that, and the other. Now in retrospect
I realize that that was probably good.
For example, Karen [L.] Nyberg who was assigned to an ISS crew and
just had a new baby, she’s traveling back and forth to Russia
and to Europe. I probably wouldn’t have been as good at that.
So I admire her, that she can do that, because that must be really
You received recognition for being the first mother in space. Was
that a big deal at that point do you think?
was neat. Although I think I told you that I find it ironic that when
I was gone a lot I get a mother of the year award but when I stay
home and take a seven-year leave of absence to be with my girls there’s
no award. But it’s come in handy. I can show it to the girls
and say, “See? I got a mother of the year award. So don’t
argue with me.” It’s just funny. It was neat. Susan Lucci
was in the group that I was with, and there was a female governor
of Kentucky at the time. It was an interesting group. A fun trip to
New York [City, New York]. It’s some group based in New York
City that makes those selections. I don’t know if they still
do it or not. Probably do.
Did you win that award after your flight?
that was the Mother’s Day after I flew. I flew in November,
so that following Mother’s Day, the following May.
You were in this book Starring Mothers: [30 Portraits of Accomplished
Women by Jill Barber].
was really fun. I remember Jill. It was really fun. I thought it was
a really interesting book. That was a fun picture with Kristin and
the mockup over in Building 9. I thought she did a really nice job,
back in those days where people were trying to say yes you can work
and you can have children too.
Did you write the piece that was in there? Or was that an interview?
I didn’t write it, no, that was her interview. I think if I
recall correctly she sent copies and let you review it for accuracy,
which I always appreciate and think is nice when people do that.
Yes, it’s always important; don’t want to get something
wrong. Tell us about the crew relationship for this mission.
the first thing was really funny. When we first got assigned to our
flight we were an IUS [Inertial Upper Stage] deploy flight. So we
went all the way up to Seattle [Washington] to get training from Boeing
on the IUS. On our way back we found out oops, it’s not going
to be our payload. It was shifting around for some reason.
I don’t even remember what the next one was. Let’s see.
I was assigned in July. In February I was sent up to be on the Today
Show because it was the first flight of the manned maneuvering unit.
They wanted somebody there in case Bruce [McCandless II] got lost
in space, I guess. They were also deploying two satellites. Just before
I left, the first satellite was deployed, and about four seconds into
what’s supposed to be a four-minute burn to take it to geosynchronous
orbit it failed a few seconds into the burn. So basically this good
satellite is right in a useless orbit.
I figure there’s no way they were going to launch the second
one until they understood what the situation was so I flew into New
York. Before I left I knew that they decided to launch the second
one, which I was really surprised. I was traveling on the plane while
it happened. So I asked the taxi driver, “Hey, you heard anything
“Yes, they launched the second one and same thing happened.”
I was surprised the taxi driver knew. I was sitting here going, “Oh
great. Now I’m going to be on the Today Show.” Sure enough
they started asking me all these questions. I’m trying to explain
why they launched the second one, which I don’t understand either
so it’s hard for me to defend them. They asked me specifically
did I think NASA would try to go get those satellites.
I said, “No way.” The Hughes 376 spacecraft was basically
a cylinder. The whole thing is solar arrays, and then there’s
a motor at the end. It’s probably a little bit taller than this
room, about the size of a little school bus.
That’s a big satellite.
as satellites go it’s not that big, but relative to people yes
it’s pretty big. It’s a cylinder, and it’s got total
solar arrays all around it. It was not designed to be handled. I knew
that, because we were launching a Hughes 376 on our flight. We had
already at least had that part of it defined so I knew a fair amount
about them, and I said, “No, NASA has never done anything like
this before.” The satellites weren’t designed to be retrieved.
Then I got back to NASA, and it turned out the insurance industry
was really pushing NASA to do the retrieval mission. I don’t
think NASA really wanted to do it. I think they thought it was a pretty
high-risk mission, not risk of death but risk of failure. This was
only the 14th Shuttle flight, so it’s pretty early in our experience
with that. I don’t know what negotiations went on at the high
levels. Somehow the insurance industry convinced NASA to do the retrieval
mission, although it was in doubt all the way through up to when we
flew. I think they didn’t sign the final paperwork baselining
it till maybe a few weeks before we launched.
So we got real excited about it, the four of us on the crew. Rick,
I think, this was his first command. I think he was a little less
enthusiastic because he considered it as a chance to fail. I think
he became more enthusiastic as time went by. I could certainly understand
that as a first time commander, you’re going to sign up to do
this, something that nobody’s ever done before. You’d
probably like just a nice plain vanilla flight, if you can call any
Shuttle flight vanilla.
Dale [A.] Gardner and Joe [Joseph P.] Allen were the two EVA crew
members on board. Dale was actually fairly instrumental in coming
up with the concept of how you would get the satellite, because at
the time we didn’t think you could just handle something that
big. He came up with a concept of a thing called the stinger. The
satellite like I said is a cylinder, and there’s a nozzle at
the end for the engine. If you take something and put this up the
nozzle end and then open it up like an umbrella, it captures it. [Demonstrates]
On that piece of hardware was a grapple fixture. This thing attached
to the manned maneuvering unit so he would fly the manned maneuvering
unit over to the satellite and dock with the satellite. I could use
the arm to grab it and bring it down into the payload bay.
Then the problem is how are you going to hook that satellite into
the Shuttle and have it be secure for entry and landing. The only
part of the satellite that is structurally sound is the same end that
Dale had stuck the stinger into so you had to somehow get the stinger
out. They designed another piece of hardware that went over the top.
I don’t remember exactly how it all attached.
Then I was supposed to release from this grapple fixture, come across
to this top grapple fixture, and grab it. [Demonstrates] Then they
would take the stinger out and put a docking mechanism in and then
hook it into the Shuttle bay with that structure. So that was the
While we were training and doing ascent/entry training and all that
sort of stuff, Joe and Dale—and Dave was the IVA [Intravehicular
Activity] person inside—they were training how to do the EVA
portion of it. I was training doing the grapple, the release, and
I still remember one night. We were intimately involved in developing
the procedures with our flight controllers and our trainers. There
was so little time. This is February to November where you’re
designing a whole new thing that no one’s ever done before.
I remember being over at the SES [Systems Engineering Simulator],
which is where I trained for the arm stuff. I had Kristin in the little
car seat, because we were coming up after hours. We were doing something.
We wanted to develop some new procedure for something to try the next
day so I just brought Kristin with me and put her on the floor. We
were there working on stuff. So that all was developing as we were
doing all the routine things that you have to do, the ascent/entry
training; I was also the flight engineer.
We flew pretty much as a three-person crew. Joe Allen was MS [Mission
Specialist]-1, but he was just too busy with EVA stuff to train with
us as we do now with pretty much a four-person crew on the flight
deck. So it was the three of us off doing our own thing, ascent/entry,
and me doing robotics training. They were just off doing the EVA stuff
with that compressed time. We would occasionally be together for integrated
sims or for postinsertion deorbit preps.
It was a pretty intense time. We didn’t really know up until
the very very end if NASA was going to get comfortable and say, “Yes
you really can do it.” It was really interesting watching that
whole process; now the payloads and everything are pretty well defined
in advance now. Crews are not that much involved in developing procedures.
All that is pretty well done and handed to them by the trainers now
so that was really fun, demanding but fun.
What was the media interest like in this mission where you’re
going to release two satellites and then you’re going to salvage
were really interested, plus flying the manned maneuvering unit. Quite
honestly, we were so busy we didn’t have time for any of that.
Six weeks before launch, they had the day where you do all your interviews.
I did a little extra stuff with Kristin. They took some pictures with
Kristin over in Building 9. My poor mom. We brought Kristin and all
Kristin wanted to do, by this time she’s like about 13 months
old, was climb the stairs. Those stairs that go up to the mockups,
she’s climbing up and down the stairs, climbing up and down
the stairs. Whenever Mom tried to pick her up, she didn’t want
to be picked up. Mom didn’t want her to cry so Kristin climbed
up and down those stairs a million times, I think, that day. Then
I would take her, we’d do a picture for somebody, but that was
pretty much all of the media that we had time for. We were just too
Take us back to that day of launch, getting up, and getting ready
for that flight and launching.
I’ll go back a little bit further, because finally sometime
in the October timeframe the mission was agreed to and we knew what
we were going to do. Those last few weeks are very very intense. I
tell people you almost had to tell your scheduler, “Schedule
time to go to the bathroom.” Literally you’re just either
in a sim, going by checking—at that time—phone messages.
Thank God we didn’t have e-mail then. I think that would have
put me over the edge, having to respond to e-mail. So that was nice,
you kind of lived in this little cocoon of not knowing what was going
on. Every other moment that I had I was spending with Kristin.
We went into quarantine on Halloween, and it was Kristin’s first
real Halloween because the previous Halloween she was just a baby.
I know you’re not supposed to, but I ran back home real quick.
We just took her trick-or-treating to three or four of our neighbors,
because I just wanted to be there. Then I came back. I don’t
know if anyone even noticed I was gone, or if they noticed and just
didn’t say anything. Technically I was in quarantine, but I
just wasn’t going to miss that.
I think Bill, my mom, Kristin, and Susie left for the Cape a day before
me to get down there and be there. I remember going home. We launched
on a Thursday, but we were supposed to launch on Wednesday. So I guess
it was a Sunday that we left to go to the Cape. I remember going by
the house because it was okay; I could go by the house because nobody
was there. It wasn’t breaking quarantine. I remember it all
just seeming so surreal. It’s like I’m really getting
ready to go to the Cape, and I’m really going to launch. It
doesn’t seem real.
We flew down in formation in T-38s, which was really neat. Our families
were waiting there. That was hard, because I couldn’t really
hug Kristin. She was over there. She was always really good. We had
a little blue flight suit made for her so she was in the flight suit.
The really nice people who have our flight suits gave me a little
bit of that material. It was out of the light blue ones that we used
to wear, so it was really fun.
Oh, how fun.
get to the Cape, and I went jogging. Of course it really helped that
Bill is an astronaut. So I went jogging, and he brought Kristin for
me to see her while I was out jogging. That was really nice. The first
launch attempt, we scrubbed that first day. The first launch attempt,
again it just has this whole air of unreality about it. You’ve
been training so long. You’ve been looking forward to this for
so long. It’s like when Christmas finally comes when you were
a kid, and you were looking forward to it, and finally it’s
really there. It just doesn’t seem real.
Because it was back before the Challenger accident, there wasn’t
as formal a process. Again since Bill was an astronaut he could do
things that other spouses would not be able to do. He came and brought
my mom and Kristin to where you see the crews walking out. They were
back there in the rental van he had. He told my mom to not get out,
because they weren’t supposed to be there.
I told my mom that was going to be looking to see Kristin and her.
Because we launched around sevenish, it’s still dark; all the
cameras are flashing. Just one thing is on my mind, looking for Kristin
and my mom, and Bill too of course. But I’m looking for Kristin.
My mom saw my eyes, and she saw that I wasn’t seeing Kristin.
She knew Bill told her not to get out of the van. She saw my eyes.
She got out of the van. Somewhere in the netherworld of articles,
there’s a picture of my mom and Kristin that some newspaperperson
took. It didn’t get out too much though.
So that was neat. Once I saw her that was fine. “Okay, that’s
behind me.” Like I said, Dave Walker and I were the two rookies
on board; the others had flown previously. I can remember us moving
up to the front of the Astrovan. Looking out, because it was dark,
and the lights are shining on the Shuttle. It was just gorgeous. We
were both looking at each other going, “Are we really going
to go do this?” Also we had had a weather briefing. We knew
that the winds at altitude were pretty high. So we already knew that
we were probably going to scrub unless something dramatic changed,
because it wasn’t like a storm, it was a front coming in. It’s
not something that’s going to change in a couple hours. I think
in the back of our minds we were already prepared for a scrub. That
happened fairly early in the count. We didn’t sit out there
for a long time before they just said that the winds were too high
and they are not going to change, so we’ll scrub, turn around
The first two things you think about, I thought, one, “Oh my
God, we’ve got to pay for those buses again for our guests.”
Back then all the guest stuff you took care of yourself. I think after
Challenger they’ve got some plan that NASA helps with some of
that stuff. We’re all sitting there, “Oh, God, we got
to pay for those buses again?” Got to figure out who’s
staying, not stuff you should be thinking about. My second thought
was, “Oh, God, I saw Kristin, now I’m going to have to
try to redo that again tomorrow.” So it was fun.
We go back to crew quarters. I went jogging, saw Kristin. That night
we were getting ready for bed. The first night I went to bed. Joe
Allen looks at me and he goes, “Did you go out and see the rocket
ship on the pad last night?”
I said, “No, Joe, of course not. I went to bed like we were
Joe is a real avid photographer. I don’t know, have you seen?
He published a book [Entering Space: An Astronaut’s Odyssey]
with pictures. He’s a real avid photographer. In fact he’s
responsible for getting me interested in it. So we decide to go out
to take pictures at the pad. This is November 7th now, and it was
pretty cold. I have no idea why he’s wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
I was dressed more appropriately in a jogging outfit or something.
I don’t remember. We didn’t put on our flight suits. I
know he didn’t for sure. We get out to the pad with our badges,
and they won’t let us in because he’s not dressed; you’re
supposed to be completely covered, in case of fire.
The guard wouldn’t let us in. We explained. We said, “We’re
the crew; we’re going to launch tomorrow.”
He goes, “I’m sorry, but my rules are you can’t
come in shorts.”
All we could do was drive around the perimeter and take pictures and
head back. We didn’t have time to go all the way back, get other
clothes, and come all the way back. That was fun.
The next morning we get up and do it all again. This time it’s
feeling real. This time the winds are okay, the weather looked good.
So again we walk out. Same thing happened, although now Bill was really
upset at my mom. Again she saw me looking, and she got out again.
Saw Kristin. This time we get out to the pad, and I’m lying
there. As the time goes by thinking more and more about the diaper,
“Oh my God. This is not feeling good. I really want to enjoy
my launch. I don’t want to be uncomfortable.” Going through
all the formalities. Then as it starts to go inside 30 seconds, that’s
when you start to say, “I changed my mind, let me out of here.”
No, just kidding.
When you see those engine bells move you can really feel that from
way up in the cockpit. Then the solids ignite. Comes bright as day.
We launched around 7:00 or something. It was Dale Gardner’s
birthday. When they said goodbye to us, he said he promised not to
blow the candles out. It was cute. I remember just as we lifted off
Dave turned around and looked and reached his hand back. All I remember
is watching engines, altitude, airspeed, engines, altitude, airspeed.
That’s all I cared about was that those engines keep working
and that we were hitting all of our marks. Of course I was MS-2, flight
engineer, so I was watching all of our abort boundaries. That single
engine press to MECO [Main Engine Cutoff] call was just beautiful.
You can lose two engines and still make it to orbit. So that was good.
Then right at MECO I knew immediately. You could just feel the blood
rush to your face.
You see all the pictures of how all the astronauts look so fat in
their face because all the blood rushes to your fact. It’s great
for wrinkles. Didn’t have them then. I wish I could go do it
now. I knew almost immediately that I’m going to be the 50%
that doesn’t feel well. Joe was so sweet. He came up. Joe and
Dale were doing all the postinsertion stuff, because the three of
us on the flight deck, we’re having to reconfigure all the GPC
[General-Purpose Computers], the computers for on orbit.
That whole process and doing the OMS [Orbital Maneuvering System]-2
burn, all of that takes about an hour and a half, two hours. So basically
we’re in our seats. They came up. I remember Joe came up and
helped me take off my boots and started stowing our helmets. We’re
staying right on the timeline so they were just helping us in whatever
way. Just really sweet, great crew members.
We were really fortunate in that our first day was a relatively relaxed
day. I had to do the RMS [Remote Manipulator System] checkout. Did
not feel well. Thankfully our training is so good you can do anything,
no matter what. Every moment I had I just wanted to sleep. You’re
really tired with the adrenaline rush, and you’ve been up early.
It’s a long day. So even if you don’t have a lot to do
you’re still pretty tired. I remember that.
Sleeping the first night is so strange, because you feel like you
want to put your head somewhere, but you can’t figure out what
to do with your head. You don’t realize you don’t have
to do anything with your head, but you feel like you want to. I remember
the first night laying there thinking, “I wanted to come into
space so badly. I feel so terrible. Why did I do this?”
The third day I remember Rick looked at me and said, “Anna is
back with us.” It’s not like you’re feeling so bad
that you can’t do anything. It’s like if you have a cold,
and you feel out of it. You’re not totally there. You can still
function, you can drive, you can do everything you need to do, it’s
just not as much fun.
I remember the morning of the third day there was a hot dog that we
had. I’m not a big hot dog eater, but boy that was a good hot
dog. It’s my favorite hot dog I ever had. Thereafter the rest
of the flight was just absolutely so much fun. Very demanding, very
long days. We deployed two satellites. I was the lead for one of the
deploys, and Dale was the lead for the other. Then we had the day
in between where we had to get the spacesuits all ready. Then on day
five and on day seven we did the rendezvous with the satellites.
Nowadays when you do a rendezvous to go to Station, you’re not
getting ready to do an EVA at the same time. The whole crew is doing
the rendezvous together. Well, Joe and Dale were on the middeck getting
into their suits. Dave was having to help them so it was just me and
Rick doing the rendezvous. I’m in the pilot’s seat, Rick
is in the commander’s seat. Even though we had trained and I
should have realized it, I didn’t realize that for a lot of
that last part of the rendezvous, you’re just nose down to the
Earth. You’re just straight looking down through those windows.
We’d come across Houston. You could see Houston, Dallas, and
San Antonio. It was just a crystal clear night. You’re just
200 miles looking straight down. You could see San Antonio with this,
like a hub of a wheel; the way their freeway system is, they have
a loop and then wheels. Just very distinctive, because when you fly
T-38s you see it all the time.
We called down to Mission Control. “Hey, tallyho.” It
turned out that Bill and my mom and Kristin—we live over on
Mud Lake there, so it’s pretty dark there. There’s not
a lot of light. They’re out on our dock, because we live right
on the water. They could see. You could see the satellite and the
Shuttle, like two stars going overhead. My mom gets real excited,
so she was apparently screaming really loud. That is Kristin’s
first real memory that she can remember. She doesn’t exactly
remember seeing that but she remembers the excitement and everything.
When she was in lower school, all the teachers knew me and knew what
I was doing, but then when she went into middle school the teachers
weren’t as familiar, and there were more kids in that whole
class. They were given an assignment to write about their earliest
memory. So Kristin writes this story. The teacher said, “Well,
that’s really nice, Kristin, but you’re supposed to tell
a true memory.”
All of her friends go, “But it is true.”
Her mom is an astronaut!
that was funny. So we’re doing the rendezvous up to the point
where they’re in the air lock and are ready to go out. At that
last portion of it Dave comes up to the flight deck. I don’t
think anyone’s ever done that before and realized how challenging
it was. And we were only a five-person crew; we weren’t a seven-person
There were a couple times in those two days that it would have been
nice to have an additional crew member. If you look at the photography
from our flight, the first rendezvous, we got almost no pictures at
all. We were just too busy. On the second one we had to very consciously
say, “We’ve got to make the time to take some pictures.”
By the second one we felt a little more comfortable, like we knew
what we were doing. The first one it was just total focus on our jobs.
The one other thing that had happened was when we were in quarantine
back at JSC we had talked with the flight director. [J.] Milt [Milton]
Heflin, that was his first lead, our flight. It’s really neat
to see him and remember that. We had talked with them. The one concern
we had about the whole thing was that piece I told you about that
had to go over the top. Because the satellites were on orbit, there
was no way to fit-check things like we do at the Cape. We do lots
of fit-checks of everything particularly. If you look back at the
program historically, a lot of the failures had to do with mechanical
interferences. So that was the one thing we were worried about. Joe
and Dale talked with Milt and told him they had a plan—and Dave—of
how to just actually manually pull in the satellite if they had to.
We get out in the EVA, all the flying over goes great. Our training
was really excellent—the only thing that really surprised me
was the lighting, because you can’t really simulate the lighting.
For example when Dale was flying over to rendezvous with the satellite
the Sun was directly in his eyes and he had to figure out some way
to see. You’re in a spacesuit. You can’t put your hand
over your eyes. He had to adjust his approach to get the satellite
to give him some shadow because he couldn’t see what he was
When I was operating the arm, the satellite is spinning, because it’s
stabilized, very slowly. The Shuttle is moving a little bit. I’m
moving the arm. You’re going by the Earth. The clouds are moving.
The thing I remember so vividly is all the motion. I’m supposed
to stay focused on this arm and what I’m doing. I was so grateful
for all the training I had, because your tendency is then to start
doing everything really slowly when you’re used to doing it
a certain way. That was the thing I really remember, was that I really
had to focus hard, because it was so much motion.
That first part everything goes well. I’ve grappled it. Bringing
it down. They’re trying to attach the metal across the top.
Dale said, “It doesn’t fit. And it’s not going to
fit.” There was an interference somewhere where it was supposed
to attach. If Dale tells you it’s not going to fit, there’s
nothing you’re going to do; there’s no work-around for
it. Dale is one of the smartest guys I know, one of the most capable.
There was no point.
So luckily it was back then. We only had one TDRS [Tracking and Data
Relay Satellite]. Right now we were out of com [communication] with
the ground, so we talked about it a few minutes. They told Rick that
they’re ready to go with their backup plan that they had discussed
So we came AOS [Acquisition of Signal], and we explained the situation
and said, “We’d like permission to go ahead with our backup
plan.” Five minutes. You don’t have a lot of time to discuss
it when they’re out EVA, and we’re already probably two
hours into the EVA. So five minutes later they came back and said,
“You’re go for your backup plan.” Which nowadays
they would have told them to come back in; they would have had mission
management team, all this stuff. It was just neat.
I released the arm, and Joe got in foot restraints on the side. Basically
Joe just held the satellite at the nozzle end. They slowly turned
it around. We are looking out the back window and using our cameras
giving them a GCA [Ground Controlled Approach]. He can’t see
anything when they’re holding the satellite. He can’t
see if he’s going to bump it into the longeron or hit something.
He’s moving it very very slowly. We’re telling him what
to do, and he maneuvers it down. Dale put the docking mechanism on
the bottom, and then EVAwise the two of them worked together to hook
the satellite down that way. That’s the first time anyone had
ever handled something that big in space.
Now we do it routinely all the time but that was the first time. So
then we came inside. We had a day between. We got to change our plan
a little bit from what we were planning to do. The first time Joe
did the docking with the satellite. The second EVA Dale did the docking
with the satellite, and I maneuvered Joe on the arm, because he’s
going to take the satellite. Joe always tells the story. He says,
“Woman, be careful with me.” He says he felt like he was
on the highest diving board ever.
It wasn’t like now where you’re around the Station. Basically
there’s the Shuttle and nothing. We didn’t have as formal
protocols as they have now. When you talk with Dale who’s very
much of an engineer, who also was an arm operator, he would tell me
in arm terms how to move him around. Joe is just the opposite. Joe
is this wonderful free spirit. So I interacted with them differently,
and they gave me their commands of where they wanted me to move them
differently. So it was really fun.
That EVA, everything went well too. I think then that evening we looked
out, and we had launched two satellites successfully. We had the two
satellites in the bay. I think we just couldn’t believe it.
It was like did we really do it? Did it all work just like we had
planned it would? The last day was just so much fun.
President [Ronald] Reagan called, which was neat to have got to talk
to him. We did some interviews in space. I remember some guy asked
me how did operating the arm make me a better mother. I said, “Oh,
I don’t think it did.” You try to quietly say, “That’s
a stupid question.”
It was so fun. I remember Dale also had a baby just a few months older
than Kristin. We were the only two that had little children at home.
All the others had older children. I remember we were packing things
up. He looked over, and he says, “Are you glad to be going home?”
It was really a neat moment because he really understood.
It was one of those days where you wish you could stay longer, but
you’re also glad you’re coming home and you’re excited
about everything. It was really neat. I just got a note from Dale
just about two weeks ago. That son just died unexpectedly at 28, just
a few months older than Kristin.
Oh. What a shame.
felt so bad because I was just remembering that neat moment. That’s
the son he was referring to when he was talking with me.
But anyway a really neat flight. We deorbited on the morning of the
ninth day, landed at the Cape. It was only the second or third landing
at KSC. It was pretty early in that program. I was really glad I was
going back to the Cape, because that’s where everybody was.
My ex-husband wound up having to land at Edwards when they thought
they were going to be at the Cape, and it’s really hard. It’s
much more fun to land at the Cape and be right there.
I remember when we landed I felt like an 800-pound gorilla. I had
some switches to safe the OMS and RCS [Reaction Control System] overhead.
About eight or ten switches I had to throw in the postlanding. In
the simulator I’d just go chnk chnk chnk chnk chnk. I felt like
I had to lift my arm up. [Demonstrates] Again the same thing. I also
felt really lightheaded, because they want you to drink all these
containers of water and take salt pills. I knew if I did that I was
going to throw up, because it just tasted horrible. So I did the best
I could, but I know I was not hydrated. Now they have that vehicle
that pulls up to the Orbiter, and they take you out. A lot of times
people need an IV to get some fluids.
Back in those days, you were going to walk down the stairs. I was
really worried that I was going to fall. You don’t want to faint
on TV. Plus I was excited. I wanted to see the Shuttle. I was really
worried that I was going to not make it. Finally we went out. We walked
around. Went back to crew quarters. Finally you get to take a shower.
Here I am flying with four other guys. You know they’re going
to be out of the shower in two seconds, and I really wanted to wash
I really remember being in the shower and thinking, “I could
fall over here.” There was nobody there. Now I think they keep
somebody with you, because I’m sure they probably have had people
fall. You’re just a little bit disoriented when you come back.
I didn’t want to take long. I was trying to hurry. I think within
five hours we were on the plane heading back to Houston. I remember
landing at Houston and getting in the car. Again that was pre-Challenger.
We just got in our own car, went home. All my neighbors were out and
had signs, “Welcome Anna,” which is really nice. You really
appreciate it, but you’re also really tired and still really
unstable on your feet. You’re just trying to get through that
long day, because you started way early. You’ve now deorbited
from space. Now you’re just coming home. It was just a very
One of my officemates remembers we were one of the first flights that
actually just went right overhead Houston. We apparently left some
really huge contrail, because the weather conditions were just right
at the time to do that. Of course we didn’t see it but everybody
said it was really one of the really impressive entries. You go over
Houston, and you land at the Cape four or five minutes later. Pretty
amazing stuff. Then had a lot of neat postflight experiences. I just
can’t say enough about the crew that I was with. They become
like your second family. You’ve spent so much time with them.
Rick was just in town last week, and we had dinner together. Joe is
up in DC. I see him frequently. We had a get-together for our 20th
reunion. Even now I miss Dave so much. He died of cancer a couple
years back. You really miss them. They become part of your family.
Your crew actually received the Lloyd’s of London Silver Medal,
and I understand you’re the second woman to receive that. Will
you tell us about that?
that was really neat. Oh, one other thing. They were joking when we
landed, asking if we had anything—custom officials—to
declare, because we were the first crew to bring anything back from
space. Now they do it all the time, but that was the first time we
had brought something back.
As I told you, the insurance industry, which if you had asked me before
my flight, I would have said they’re the most boring thing you
could possibly imagine. But boy, I won’t say that again, because
really and truly they pushed very hard for this flight. Then it was
the second largest—or financially largest—recovery that
Lloyd’s of London ever had. The first was a Spanish galleon
with tons of gold that went down somewhere in the 1800s. This was
the second largest recovery of money and stuff.
What was really kind of funny is the satellites were refurbished.
They were launched about three years later by the Chinese, because
that was after Challenger. After Challenger they said no more deploying
satellites, it’s not worth risking crews for. Somehow they contracted
with the Chinese.
But anyway so they gave us that award. We went to the White House
and President Reagan presented it. It was so neat getting to actually
meet him and be there. We got to meet [British Prime Minister] Margaret
Thatcher, because Lloyd’s brought us to London afterwards for
a week of activities. We got to go see how that actually works, which
is really fascinating.
Did I tell you the story about going on the Concorde?
had signed up to do an appearance in Tortola months before I flew.
Because I thought, “Oh, by the time February comes, our flight
will be over, and it’d be nice. Bill, Kristin, and I could take
a little vacation there.”
As it turns out, the trip to Tortola I was committed to. Nowadays
I’d probably just say, “Send somebody else to do it,”
but I was committed to it. Right after that our crew was leaving for
a week to go to London. I go do the appearance in Tortola, and so
it must have been a Saturday. Then I’m coming back the Sunday.
Alexander [M.] Haig was there wearing his power suit. I’m in
this little flowery thing. It was just kind of a whole weird thing
trying to talk to these people, but it was really interesting. I give
Getting to Tortola is no easy feat. You have to fly to Miami [Florida].
It was like three plane changes and then three plane things coming
back. I just made my flight coming back. I almost missed that connection.
I remember I walked in the door about 11:00 p.m. that night. Kristin
was asleep already and walked out the door at 5:00 a.m. the next morning
to go to London [United Kingdom] for a week.
I didn’t want to miss that trip, because they flew us over in
the Concorde. It was just so neat. We flew to [Washington] Dulles
[International Airport, Virginia], because that’s when the Concorde
was flying out of Dulles. The Concorde is just an amazing aircraft.
Because it flies at 50,000 feet, you can start to see the curvature
of the Earth. Felt a little bit like being back on the Shuttle. I
got to sit in the jump seat, because again this was all pre 9/11.
So I could sit in the jump seat for the landing at Heathrow [Airport,
London]. Oh, it was just really neat.
Then we met with Prince Charles at Kensington Palace [London, United
Kingdom]. We had dinner at the mayor’s place. It was so cold.
They said it was one of the coldest winters they ever had. Oh, it
was freezing, but it was still fun.
I understand that Margaret Thatcher was a chemist. Did you have a
conversation with her?
I didn’t know that. No, I would have. She’s one of my
heroes. That was really one of the highlights for me of all my time
in the space program. So that was that. I was assigned to my second
flight two weeks after I landed.
It would have been the flight after Challenger. After that happened,
Bill and I decided to have a second child, because we didn’t
know how long all that was going to go. Then they redid the crews.
They named a special crew for the post-Challenger flight. My commander
Rick Hauck was the commander of STS-26. Then I wound up taking that
seven-year leave of absence, and came back in ’96, which was
I don’t know if you want to stop there.
I think it would be a good place, because actually I wanted to ask
some questions about Challenger. I know you went to school at UCLA
[University of California, Los Angeles] to get your master’s
no, that’s another funny story. I didn’t actually do that.
I was doing an appearance at UCLA, where they were trying to get women
to go into science and math. I was doing it for the lady in the chemistry
department who looked over people’s requirements who were getting
masters’ and PhDs and kept track of all that stuff.
We were on a panel. Afterwards I was sitting there joking with her,
because I had been on the MD/PhD program. So I spent a year there,
because the first year I was on the waiting list to go to UCLA Medical
School. That year I was a TA in chemistry. I took all the courses.
But the way things work, I think that’s true in most places,
if you’re on a PhD program you just bypass the master’s.
You’re never even awarded a master’s. You just get the
PhD. Well, I elected not to continue my PhD and then went on to medical
school and my internship, came to NASA, and totally forgot about it
to be honest.
So I was just joking with her and I said, “Gee, I certainly
did enough work. I should probably get a master’s.”
She said, “Well I’ll go back and check the records.”
I said, “No, I’m just joking. I really am just joking.”
She went back and checked, and I had all the requirements for a coursework
master’s, so they awarded me my master’s.
I was wondering how that worked with you being in Houston and going
that year was a lot of work in chemistry. Because my plans changed
so drastically, I just never thought about it. So it was just purely
coincidental that I even thought to say anything to her.
I hadn’t done that appearance and hadn’t done that, I
would have probably never even thought about it. I try as much as
I can to do. I go to UCLA at least once a year, both at the undergraduate
and at the medical school level. I try to because I feel very strongly
that getting a good education was vital to my being able to do what
I do. I like to be able to go back and say thank you and help them
any way I can.
I’m sure they appreciate that.
yes. That’d probably be a good stopping point. I’ll try
to not let so much time go by, because the rest of it probably won’t
take that long. But it is interesting, because having been in the
office as long as I have, I’ve got to see a lot of changes.
It was very interesting being gone for seven years and coming back.
That was hard but very interesting.
I did want to talk to you about that. So I think that’d be great.