NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
M. P. "Pete"
Interviewed by Doyle McDonald
Seabrook, Texas – 19
oral history with Pete Frank was conducted in Seabrook, Texas on August
19, 1997. This oral history was conducted by Doyle McDonald for the
Johnson Space Center Oral History Project.]
Frank: I was in the Navy ROTC in college
and took a commission in the Marine Corps. Went through officer basic
school and from there went into flight training and served a tour
in … [a] Marine fighter squadron. And when I got out of the
Marines, or got off of active duty, I went to work for a company in
Dallas called Temco [Aircraft Corporation]. And they were making—they
had three contracts. One was a trainer for the Navy, a basic trainer,
one was a target drone and the other one was an air-to-surface missile.
McDonald: That was it, a small company?
Frank: Yeah, it was a small company
but that was—they had a lot going but all three of those—none
of those three ever got into a production contract. They all flew
through flight test phases and then that was it. But anyway from there
I went to work for Martin in Baltimore. And that was one of those
kind of career things, … [I] went up there for a specific job
and when I got there they had reorganized. And the guy that I was
going to work for didn’t get the department that he was planning
to start but he found me a very good job … doing reentry trajectory
McDonald: For which program?
Frank: Well it was a general study.
Kind of a basic parametric study of the effects of different things,
lift and drag ratios and entry angle on trajectory results. And so
I got to do a lot of that. … [There] wasn’t anything available
on that at the time and with a computer program you could do these
things. Vary the parameters and see what happened.
McDonald: What kind of code were y’all
Frank: Oh boy, I don’t remember.
Well, it was machine language.
McDonald: It was all machine language?
Frank: Yeah, yeah. Yes, ones and zeros.
But that evolved into working the Apollo study program. We won a contract
to do an Apollo study phase. … [I spent] a couple of years working
that … [but then Martin] didn’t get selected to build
Apollo. And some other things were happening there and I just found
it incredible that people really thought they were going to go to
the Moon, but it was fun working on it. And then when NASA actually
awarded a contract and said that they were really going to do this,
I decided that I really wanted to work on that, so I left there and
came to work down here for JSC.
McDonald: And that was in ’62.
Frank: ’62, right.
McDonald: When they first started JSC.
How did you get—most of the people we’ve talk to were
in the Space Task Group, you know, under [Robert R.] Gilruth at Langley
and they moved here. How did you get into the program? Did they put
out a call?
Frank: Yeah, they were recruiting people
right and left. And having worked the study contract, I had a lot
of experience doing reentry trajectory analysis. And we had worked
the Apollo proposals so we knew all about the mechanics, the flight
mechanics problems. And work on that was just experience they really
wanted so it was no problem at all getting a job offer. In fact, I
started out as a section head. They hired me as a section head for
Reentry Study section.
McDonald: Mission planning.
Frank: Mission planning, right. Morris
Jenkins was the branch chief. He did a little bit of reorganizing
after I got here and I was actually working the head of two sections
for a while. One of them was the Guidance and Control Section and
the other one was Reentry Studies. I got a fellow I knew from Martin
to come down, Claude Graves, to come down and … [work] the Reentry
Section. So he came and took that over and I just worked the guidance
McDonald: And where were y’all
Frank: We were in—they called
it the Houston Petroleum Center. It was … [an] office …
[building complex] on Gulf Freeway. They had a fake oil derrick out
in front of it… You know where Oshman’s warehouse is?
Frank: It was right next to that. In
fact some of the flight control people, John Llewelyn in particular
was one, … [were] in that Oshman warehouse. NASA had offices
in there. But that was really, really good, interesting fun working
back in those days because you were doing trajectory studies and guidance
studies … [for which] there was no precedence (that we were
aware of anyway). So you did a lot of … [creative thinking].
You did a lot of analysis and then … [developed] computer program[s]
that would be a good simulation of it. And if you had confidence that
it was a good simulation then you would run a bunch of further analysis
and do things, trial and error, a lot of stuff on the computer, until
you got something that seemed to work right. [This was the tool we
used for planning Apollo mission flight paths (trajectories). We developed
that from "scratch."]
McDonald: So what was the first thing—what
system did you first do any trajectory analysis on?
Frank: The Gemini.
McDonald: On Gemini. You did work on
the Gemini reentry?
Frank: Yeah, yeah, they were still flying
Mercury but I wasn’t working it at all. That was, let’s
see, [L. Gordon] Cooper was [the last mission]—I think [Walter
M. Schirra, Jr.] Schirra’s flight was in that time frame too.
I think they were still doing two or three of the Mercury flights.
But I wasn’t involved in that. Morris Jenkins’ branch
was not involved in that at all.
McDonald: How did y’all interact
with [Maxime A.] Faget’s design team?
A little bit testily, actually. But there was a lot of rivalry and
trying to [gain control of the mission planning role]—I think
some of the bosses were worried about turf battles and making their
job bigger. And it worked down into the guys down at the section and
lower levels. But there was a lot of … it wasn’t actually
antagonism but it was competition for things. And we would get involved
with having a different idea or different way of solving some problem
and then you’d actually compete to get yours accepted. There
was some amount of wasted effort because of that but it probably was
somewhat beneficial in that it kept you on your toes, there was always
somebody to challenge what you were doing, because you needed, not
only prove it to yourself but you had to … prove it somebody
who had another idea.
I remember a lot of times going into meetings where the program office
would be running a meeting and there would Max’s people and
then there would [Christopher C. Kraft, Jr.] Kraft’s people,
and then there’s the contractor and there was a lot of debating
that would go on back and forth about what was the right, the better
way to do something. I think in the end, Kraft’s folks pretty
much won out when it came down to the actual operational activities.
We didn’t necessarily have the right—the best equations
for the guidance algorithms and stuff like that, but how you applied
them and what you did with the mission with them was something that
Kraft’s folks seem to always come up with the answer that the
Program Office ended up accepting as being a more practical way to
do it. But there was lot of that going on for a long time between
Kraft and Faget and it just filtered down to the people working for
them too. But like I say, it was never an antagonistic thing, it was
just a competitive thing.
McDonald: I don’t think that’s
Frank: But I remember being bothered
by it. That you felt like you were spending a lot of time trying to
see if the other guy’s idea really had a hole in it that you
could move him out of the way and get your approach across.
McDonald: Did you work with the docking
missions too, for Gemini?
Frank: Yeah, but we weren’t the
main stream part of that. Ed [Edgar C.] Lineberry and … [his
branch] were the ones that really did the rendezvous and the terminal
part of rendezvous, the proximity ops and things. But they were focused
on that and really worked that out during the Gemini part of the program.
McDonald: So when did y’all move
onto the Apollo piece.
Frank: Well we started, with Morris
Jenkins, we started Apollo, … in ’62. Most of our effort
was on Apollo. And really the only Gemini effort was reentry and that
was because they had a lifting component on the Gemini [entry vehicle].
They didn’t on Mercury. And the guys that were running Mercury,
Carl [R.] Huss and … [the] Flight Analysis Branch, … were
doing all the Mercury work and they had no experience with the lifting
body … [trajectories]. And so Morris’ people got involved
in doing the Gemini reentry … [analysis and planning]. And there
was, within John Mayor’s division, there were people competing
for an area to work in between Carl Huss’ guys and Morris Jenkins
reentry people. In that case, Morris’ reentry folks eventually
took over that whole job because of the ability they had to do the
lifting body analysis.
McDonald: What did you see as the biggest
problem with the—if you’re looking at Gemini and the reentry,
what did you see as the biggest issues you guys faced?
Frank: Well, I don’t think it
was—I don’t recall it being any big technical issue. You
just couldn’t miss the ship that much because you didn’t
have that big of a maneuver envelope. And as long as you did the de-orbit
maneuver in a reasonably good fashion, the lifting maneuvering stuff
was just kind of like tweaking the thing a little bit. So …,
I don’t really remember a big entry problem with Gemini. It
wasn’t that big a deal.
McDonald: And you worked on Apollo simultaneously?
Yeah, … we were working Apollo at the same time. Really from
the start of ’62. The biggest, well there were two big problems
from our standpoint of Apollo. One was the reentry. The real narrow
entry corridor that you had to hit coming back from the Moon and not
do something really bad to the spacecraft. The other was getting to
the Moon. The navigation that got you to the Moon was something that
we had no prior experience with … and we used a lot of help
from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. …
also] hired a contractor to work with us … called Analytic Mechanics
Associates, some guys that had a lot of orbital mechanics, interplanetary
experience analysis. … [W]e were trying to figure out how to
get the spacecraft on a trajectory that was close enough to being
perfect that it would take very little [subsequent] maneuvering to
get it exactly where you wanted it. We had no hope of just launching
it from the Saturn V and coasting to where you wanted to go to the
Moon, … [we] knew … [we would have] to make adjustments
was something they called a free-return trajectory. And theoretically
it was possible. From the cut-off of the third stage of the Saturn
V, S-IVB, the spacecraft would go out and it would meet the Moon out
there and circle around it and get slung right back to the Earth and
hit an entry corridor that was satisfactory… [The spacecraft]
wouldn’t skip out and it wouldn’t burn itself up going
in steep. To find some guidance capability that would let you do that
was the big challenge. You knew you couldn’t do it perfectly
but the closer you could come to it, to getting this free-return capability,
the less propellant it would take to achieve it once you were doing
your midcourse corrections. And that was the whole thing we were trying
to do was minimize how much fuel it took to get back onto the free-return
trajectory. [The trade-off was a desire for carrying lots of fuel
for mission flexibility and safety vs. a desire to carry as little
fuel as possible to save weight. A significant consideration for mission
planning was to be able to get the mission done but use as little
fuel as practical.]
we got involved in doing Monte Carlo [probability analyses] studies
of what the guidance system probably would do to you, and then how
much propellant you needed to budget for that kind of thing. [The]
Apollo VIII mission where we finally sent … [the crew] out there
on that trajectory, that was a real nail biter because everything
up to then had just been, “Well, that’s what the computer
McDonald: Were you involved in the decision
to send VIII to the Moon?
McDonald: Were y’all surprised
Frank: I was surprised. I was a little
apprehensive about it but … [we were] going to have to do it
sometime. The first time, it had to happen. By that time, I had left
the Mission Analysis and was over working my way up through the Flight
Directorate Branch. [I] [w]as really disappointed I didn’t get
put on that mission [as a Flight Director]. Really was. … [I'd]
been working that trajectory for two years [in Mission Planning, I
thought]. I’m the perfect guy to get put on that, but it didn’t
McDonald: When ya’ll designed
the trajectory to go to the Moon, you hear a lot about the Earth orbit
rendezvous versus Lunar orbit rendezvous discussion?
Frank: Yeah, that was going on when
I came here in ’62. I mean it had been going on for a good while
and I really don’t remember if it got resolved just before I
got here or shortly after I got here, but I wasn’t involved
in that tradeoff. That was a big decision to go that way and it worked
McDonald: Did you work on the LEM [lunar
excursion module] trajectories, as well, and finding the descent stage—?
Frank: Yes, right. In fact, we were
very much involved in that. The basic equations were derived by some
guys up at MIT, the Draper labs at MIT. And we got involved, my Guidance
Control Section got involved in doing a lot of evaluations, seeing
how you could employ it and what it’s operational characteristics
were. You’d look for things like if you get a little bit of
deviation off, and you … [always will, it never is]—if
it doesn’t go just perfect, what are the difficulties you run
into when things aren’t exactly right and how close can we expect
to get to the landing site that we want and all that. Those kind of
studies, we did a lot of that. But I remember getting a set of equations
from … MIT …, probably was one Friday because I remember
spending some time over the weekend with these things going through
and looking at them and reading them. Being a little confused at first
on how that could possibly work but after studying it a while, I saw
what they were doing and it dawned on me, just like the light coming
on, I still remember that feeling, of say, “Hey, looks like
that’s going to be the right thing to do.”
McDonald: Were you involved in the design
and development of the sequencers that were used for, or computers
I guess they were, for the LEM module?
Frank: Yes, in that the operation folks made inputs into that. We
didn’t build it or we didn’t say this is the way it’s
going to be. We’d make inputs into what we wanted, what we thought
it ought to be.
McDonald: So when did you actually leave
MPAD [Missions Planning and Analysis Division] and go into the Flight
Frank: I believe it was in ’68.
It was … I remember being in a MOCR [Mission Operations Control
Room] as an observer [(a flight director trainee) during] …
the Saturn flight that Glynn [S.]Lunney was the flight director on.
And we had really serious trouble with one of the [Saturn] stage’s
engines, … [he] couldn’t tell whether it was burning or
not. And I was sitting there, sympathizing with Glynn, as he was trying
to get this situation resolved. He was just about to go LOS [loss
of signal]and I remember thinking and watching him work that and thinking,
“Boy, that’s tough.” Because it was the difference
of whether there was a successful mission or [a] failure. And that
was … we were flying Apollo missions but it was an unmanned
flight. I believe that was ’68, might have been ’67, I’m
McDonald: So which mission did you work
on? You were flight director on 12.
Frank: Yeah, my first mission was Apollo
9. [Eugene F.] Kranz was the lead flight director on that and it was
the first Lunar Module Mission, Earth orbit. I had one … [team]
on 9, I had a … [team] on 10, did not have a … [team]
on Apollo 11, … [had a team on] 12, did not have a shift on
13 and then 14, I was the prime flight director for 14, and then 16
McDonald: What shift did you work on
Frank: I know I worked the reentry shift
but I’m trying to think if there was [any other big activity
for my team]. I don’t remember.
McDonald: Were you there during the
Frank: No, no, Gerry [Gerald D.] Griffin
was … [the launch flight director].
McDonald: Did that change the flight
plan at all as a result of that, you think?
Frank: Only [in earth orbit]—I
don’t … [remember] if they spent … [one] extra rev
or two in Earth orbit... I know there was a lot of reevaluation of
systems to make sure they hadn’t been damaged. They got things
back on and running [during the launch but had to do evaluations in
order to see if] … we [had] hurt them some way. We probably
spent an extra orbit or two doing that. We had a window that you could
[use], if you didn’t get out on the [first] orbit that you wanted,
you could come back around and try … [the next] one.
McDonald: Even though you weren’t
assigned during 13, after the explosion, did you have a function?
Frank: Oh, yeah, everybody did.
McDonald: I figured you did. What was
your function after this?
Frank: Well, off line, we were working
with the EECOMs [Electrical and Environmental Command Officers] and
everybody trying to get the power requirements down to nothing. And
also looking [at how to get them home]—I remember working with
flight dynamics guys trying to decide whether to [do an immediate
turn around and come back to earth]— We were getting data relative
to doing a [direct] turn around or going … [around] the Moon.
[We were] [t]rying to get enough information together to decide that,
but … [the answer] was really based on the system’s concern
more than trajectory. Even … [though] you could have saved a
whole lot of time by coming back directly, we probably wouldn’t
have tried it because of the concern about what would happen if you
… [fired up the SPS] engine.
McDonald: So when you worked 14, you
were the lead flight director after 13, did you think that had a lot
Frank: I’m sure we did. I know
that there was a lot more media involvement that time then there was
on the beginning of 13. Although I don’t really remember the
details, I’m sure that we were all a lot more alert all during
the trans-lunar coast phase. I mean, we had it demonstrated [to us]that
things could happen at any time. And truly by 13, the trans-lunar
coast was kind of a phase you just had to get through. You just sort
of went into power-down mode while you [coasted along]—waiting
till you got to the Moon. … [Apollo 13] showed that you couldn’t
relax … [anywhere].
McDonald: After the … when the
program got canceled after 17, how did that effect the people you
worked with and the morale?
Well I think people recognized the two sides of that situation. One
of them, you got these Saturn Vs and the spacecraft sitting there
[what a waster] even though it’s still a big effort to use them…
[H]ere you got this great equipment and you [were] just going to mothball
it or really scrap it. And that’s when I think the question’s
really of, “Well, why in the hell did we go to the Moon in the
first place?” started. You begin to see that the answer to that
wasn’t so simple. In my opinion, we were going to the Moon just
to learn how to go to the planets.
me, it was a learning experience, a steppingstone, and you were going
to get all this operational knowledge and understanding about that
process and then going to apply it to Mars missions and really going
to start manned exploration of the solar system and beyond. And that’s
pretty naive but that’s really what I thought. [That was] my
view of what was significant about Apollo. Sure I understood the geologists
and the physicists position that, “Hey, we can get stuff off
of the Moon that’s going to tell us a lot about how this whole
system got formed and where it came from or how it got formed."
And okay, that’s good, that’s good reasons to [do Apollo].
then once you start … you got that kind of information from
the three or four different sites that we went to, do you really need
any more of that. I think there was understanding that, “Why
do we keep taking this risk when we’ve got everything out of
that mission, out of that program, that we really went after.”
You could get more of the same or maybe find something totally different
at another landing site but you’ve got 99% of the goody out
of the Apollo program so why risk crewmen another two or three times
going out there. So it didn’t seem all that bad a deal to me
to shut down the Apollo. What bothered me was when we shut down the
Skylab because that could have every bit of potential of involving
something really big, really good but was very short-lived.
McDonald: Back to the Apollo for just
a second. On the Apollo program, as a flight director, what did you
see as the biggest challenge with the flight control team?
… [The biggest challenge to the flight control team was to always
make the right decision about what course of action to take. In a
problematic situation to know whether it was ok to continue the mission
or whether it was prudent to modify the plan, or even whether it was
time to abort. So much effort and cost goes in to each flight that
you don't casually quit, but the risk to the crew and the spacecraft
must not be unnecessarily increased. A "go/no go" decision
in a time-critical situation puts a great deal of pressure on the
flight control team.]
[Some other less critical challenges that I felt as a flight director
were] getting the team to work as a team [and maintaining a high state
of alertness. Early in the program,] … what struck me and surprised
me was that the disciplines … worked really well within their
discipline. The EECOMS … knew their EECOM stuff and they worked
really good with their back room… But I was surprised at how
narrow[ly] focused so many of the flight control team guys were. They
… it was almost like a guy was looking … EECOM would be
looking at his displays and his systems are all working fine and he’s
just happy as a clam. He almost couldn’t care less what was
happening at GN&C over here. I don’t mean that in a cynical
way but in training, in simulations, when you got to see a lot of
these problems and how it affected the team.
lot of times people would … their inclination or their instinct
was to just … if their problem was working fine, good. They
weren’t too concerned and they weren’t that focused on
what they could do to help the other guy out. I can’t remember
specifics but I’ve got a feeling that they could very well have
debates going on between a couple of the disciplines because some
guy wanted to infringe on their margin. Maybe it was to save his from
totally crashing. [For example, the propulsion system might have to
use some of their reserve fuel to help solve an electrical system
problem. They] … use some of your margin and then they’d
argue about it. They didn’t start off with that overview feeling.
That was part of the task that I saw that a flight director had to
do was to instill that and get that teamwork kind of attitude going.
Now, when I got involved as a flight director, it had been going on
as a discipline for awhile. I wasn’t there in the beginning
of developing the flight director role but there still was that element
that, to me, was a big part of it. That was kind of a surprise. Later
on, I think that … went away. You didn’t see that so much.
on, the big problem was keeping people as alert and on top of things
as they could. It was easy to get complaisant even after Apollo 13.
You still would see long hours of smooth operations, no problems coming
along, nothing exciting happening, and people would get kind of powered
down and not as alert as they could be. That’s human nature,
I guess, and it probably will always be there. I think that could
be a problem in space for a real … an Earth based mission that
goes on for two or three years, you couldn’t keep up that real
intense level of focus. Maybe you don’t need to, you [could]
get a computer to do it for you.
McDonald: What was your assignment after
Frank: Well the last Apollo was the
McDonald: You worked Apollo-Soyuz? I
know you were in a working group.
Frank: And I had the lead flight director
role and the Worker Group [No. 1] responsibility on that.
McDonald: How was it working with the
Soviets before they were the Russians?
It was the most interesting things I had done because they were so—they
had such totally different personalities and views about things. And
to work closely with them, you got to really understood what their
problems were and what was motivating them. They just reflected a
lot of that secretive society that they had. When you could kind of
peel that back, underneath it all, they were just humans like everybody
else and we all know that now. But back in the mid ‘70s, it
was strange working with the Russians. To realize that a part of the
group you were dealing with in this meeting in building 4, there was
a certain number of KGB guys mixed in with that group. [They never
acknowledged it, but] … they didn’t know squat about the
technical work; … they were there to exercise their prerogatives
over the rest of them. There was a lot of suspicion.
think they … first of all, they were really impressed with NASA,
the facilities, and the things we had available to work with, just
basic office equipment. For gosh sakes, they didn’t have anything
like that, they really were backwards. And that was a big eye opener
that how crude things were that they did. Their ability to run computers
was very, very archaic. We ended up doing a lot of the routine administrative
kind of things that they just couldn’t handle because they had
no facilities to do it. But you get away from the office and you get
out in a social environment and they were great. Really friendly,
loved to party, and just had a great time. We’d ride on a bus
somewhere with busload of engineers and secretaries and administrative
people and there’s always, if it was at night or any [significantly
long] period of time, they’d end up starting some big song contest.
loved to sing. They knew these songs that, of course I had never heard
of, but they all knew them. They’d sing them real well and it
was kind of embarrassing how much talent they had for doing stuff
like that we didn’t. And they also had real talent in basic
science, basic physics, and basic mathematics. What they lacked was
the computer … [applications]. But they knew as much or more
about the fundamentals of orbital mechanics than we did. They knew
as much or more about aerodynamics as we did. It was just the ability
to do detailed, in-depth analysis of a lot of parameters that they
would have trouble getting the … [answers]. It took them a long
time to do it because it was mostly done by hand kind…
McDonald: What do you see as the—what
was the biggest challenge you saw in ASTP [Apollo-Soyuz Test Project]?
The language difference. Yeah, the mission was not that complicated,
it was just simple rendezvous mission and docking in low Earth orbit.
So it was relatively easy to do, but the language was terrible. And
I think, I guess we must have spent three years on that program and
if they’d have been all English/American thing, it would have
been six months. The language combined with the geographic separation
just added tremendously to it and it added a lot of uncertainty. It
added risk to it, I think, because, a lot of times, you’d have
no idea what they were talking about and vice versa. We’d be
talking along and thinking we had understanding that everybody was
in agreement and [it would turn out] we were agreeing on two different
things. And it was all in the translation.
was when I really began—had a feel for how much jargon that
we were using in our day to day operations that translators or interpreters
[didn't understand and couldn't translate accurately]. People that
were taking the English and putting it into Russian, they wouldn’t
know what we were talking about a lot of times. They would misunderstand
what we were telling them and then they’d convert it into Russian
and it wouldn’t make sense. And early on, we would get into
these discussions [with the Russian engineers] and you’d say,
“What in the world—what’s wrong with these guys.
Why in the world do they want to do that. You know, that doesn’t
make sense. It’s going to be a lot harder and all of this.”
And we’d argue about something for two days and, come to find
out, it was a misunderstanding. And so it got to be that whenever
they were proposing something and it came across as, “That’s
really stupid”, hey there’s a language problem here.
we caught on after a while that if it was something that really didn’t
make sense, then it didn’t make sense, there was a misunderstanding
somewhere that was a cause of it. And that helped a lot when you finally
realized that. That they didn’t have some different kind of
physics or mathematics, you were just struggling with the language
McDonald: In terms of the KGB [Soviet
secret police] guys, did you feel like the Russians, not the KGB people,
but the engineers and flight ops people, do you feel that they distrusted
the Americans? Was there a lot of that to overcome initially?
Frank: Yeah, I think they thought that
we probably were spying on them or listening to what they had to say.
We were having a meeting in my office one time and there were several
of them there and we were discussing something… [T]here was
a noise in the ceiling and they all looked like … [they thought]
somebody['s] eavesdropping in a real crude fashion. And I don’t
know [what it was], it was something in the ducting that made some
noise and I know damn well that’s what they thought that we
were somehow secretly recording what was going on. But that wouldn’t
have made sense because there wasn’t anything going on that
they would be ashamed of or they couldn’t live with. But they
just tolerated the KGB guys. They had no choice and so they had learned
to just live with that and go on about and do your job and try not
to let them slow you down too much.
McDonald: What did you do during Skylab?
Frank: Not much. By that time …
I guess when it started, I was the head of the Flight Director Office.
And I didn’t work on the console on Skylab. And toward the end
of that, I also became the Flight Control Division Chief, so I didn’t
work on the console during Skylab. I kept … my biggest problem
with Skylab was keeping Putty [Don L. Putt] and Neil Hutchinson apart.
McDonald: I can understand that.
Frank: … [There] was—I thought
one time those two guys were going to have a fight in the MOCR.
McDonald: I was going to ask you, you
mentioned keeping people, during trans-lunar coast, keeping the people
motivated, not motivated, but alert.
Frank: Alert, yes.
McDonald: I was thinking about Skylab
needs especially …
Frank: Yes, Skylab. We were concerned
about it before we got into it. You know, we thought that was something
to really be concerned about and so there was a lot of emphasis put
on that to try to look out for it and keep it from happening. But
you know, it was such an intense period of planning, that there was
a lot of activity going on in the Control Center trying to keep every
minute of every day useful onboard. That helped a lot but there was
still a lot of periods where it was just really, really boring in
the Control Center. And you saw all kinds of peripheral things involved
during those missions. People spend a lot of time working on some
screen image, it was almost like an entertainment kind of thing. They
would put some big image up on the big screens up there. It had very
little to do with the mission.
McDonald: You went to Flight Control
Division in what, ’74?
Frank: I’m sorry?
McDonald: When did you move to Flight
Frank: ’74, yes. Let’s see,
the ASTP was in ’75. That was the flight, it was started about
three years ahead of that.
McDonald: Were they working on Shuttle
when you moved into that position.
Frank: Yes... In fact they were working
Shuttle, some of the Shuttle analysis anyway … [T]hat was going
on before we moved over to building 4. I remember some—Carl
Huss and folks looking at aborts off of the Shuttle launch. Yea, that’s
a whole other problem.
McDonald: Being Flight Control Division
lead, included in the Shuttle was the idea of the partially reusable
spacecraft, how did that affect the flight control aspects of the
missions, where part of the spacecraft came back and you used it again?
Yea, you know the parts, other than the main spacecraft, I mean, the
SRBs [Solid Rocket Boosters] were the things that really got used
and abused. But the orbiter being a reusable, I don’t remember
that being a whole lot different. The thing about Shuttle that gave
us a lot of concern, gave me a lot of concern, was this idea that
it was going to be so operational that you power way back [in the
MCC] and you [would] have very little ground support involved during
missions... They were trying to make it run like an airline where
you checked it out, launched it on its mission and when it came back
… did whatever you had to [in order to get it back in the air.
The in-flight ground support for the payloads would be the main activity]…
original design would have been closer to allowing you to do that
than what we ended up with. … [The Shuttle Program] …
had to keep cutting costs and weight … so things kept getting
taken off, capabilities kept getting taken out of the Shuttle. It
was supposed to operate at, like, 50 or 60% of its capability and
by the time it flew, its capability was so much less than what was
originally planned, you couldn’t afford to only use 50% of it,
you had to use it all, nearly. But that [made the] concern about being
able to really do that and have everybody cutting back on the support
of the Mission Control [even greater].
were really struggling to retain capability in the Control Center.
… [There] was always somebody ready to stop spending money in
the Control Center because … "it wouldn't be needed."]
We finally found … [an] argument [that justified a major control
capability in MCC.] [O]nce we got that argument on the table and accepted,
then I felt a whole better about it. I said, “Well look, maybe
it’s eventually going to get that way [(nearly autonomous)],
but you’re not going to fly the first few flights with no Mission
Control Center.” And they said, “Oh …, you’re
right.” So we got a Mission Control Center. Well then, “Okay,
fine, we got one. We’ll use it and only … [quit using]
it if we prove that we don’t need it. It’s there and we’ve
got it and so we’ve got something that we can work with. And
if do have to power it back, it’s only because the Shuttle works
out as well as the designers hope it does.”
so once that came about, then I thought that we were going to be all
right in Mission Control. And that’s pretty much the way it
worked out. But they were really talking about having five men on
the ground as the full complement [in the MCC]. We were going to budget
meetings defending against that proposal. … [The program office
was] really serious [about] trying to do that. But nobody wanted to
fly the test flights that way, so we had to put a Control Center in
place that would work for the Shuttle
McDonald: I don’t know how closely
you’re following the Space Station activity today. Every year
to hit the budget cuts—the people in congress want to cut the
budgets, they say, “What’s the relevancy?” Similar
to the question about Apollo. How do you respond to people who say,
“Why are we building Space Station?”
Well there’s, I guess there’s … maybe it’s
the same argument. There’s two arguments. You believe that’s
an area that offers a great deal of potential for the best interest
of society, civilization. It’s a region of human involvement
that has a lot of potential for making society viable in the long
term. There’s all kinds of subsets of technical disciplines
that benefit from doing research in that area. People either accept
that or not. If they don’t accept it, then it’s a waste
of time, waste of money, not only expensive but dangerous.
you know all of those arguments. And you either believe that those
kind of motivations to look into fundamental research that has potential,
that you can’t really appreciate until you get into it or you
don’t. I guess you can believe … that’s okay, that’s
fine as long as you’re not spending my money doing it. Go spend
your own money but don’t spend my tax money. And I don’t
know how you argue that. That’s just a person’s attitude.
That’s the way they feel about things. I don’t think you
can change that. But when you really look at the … don’t
think in terms of twenty years or a hundred years but really long
term. If there’s going to be anything resembling a human race
or living organisms they’re going to eventually need to be somewhere
it’s pretty well accepted that the Earth is not infinitely long
lived, it’s got a limit. So everything we know about gets totally
destroyed unless some of it goes somewhere else. That’s what
appealed to me about Apollo. It was the first preliminary step that
maybe several centuries from now culminated in something like that,
moving humans to another part of the universe. It's a whole lot different
from remote sensing of cornfields in Kansas. That's another aspect
McDonald: Looking on the career, we
always ask people, “Who stands out as the people you remember
Oh boy, there’s a lot of people that really stand out. I think
one of the most outstanding people in the whole program was a guy
name Bill [Howard W.] Tindall. He just amazed me what he ended up
accomplishing. Pretty much through his own personal hard work and
efforts. He had a personality that got people to follow him and go
along with him and do work with him. He could really get people to
work together. You got all these diverse elements of Program Office
and Max Faget’s people and Kraft’s operations people,
MIT people, and Rockwell, and all that.
a little bit of introduction of working with Bill, everybody was ready
cooperate and work with Bill Tindall because you knew that his motivation
was to get the job done right. He didn’t want any credit for
it himself and he just wanted to make damn sure that it got done right.
And he was smart enough to recognize when things were not being done
well and could pick out the guys that were telling him the good stuff
and filter out the guys that were telling the bad stuff. But he just,
to me, was somebody—if you didn’t work in the program,
you probably never heard of Bill Tindall but he was an amazing guy.
oh, there were a lot of characters around but guys that seemed perfect
for their job were Kranz. He just … I couldn’t imagine
him doing another job than what he did as that flight director role
and flight control leader. If you’d put him some other kind
of job, he’d approach it the same way and maybe totally destroy
everybody involved but the job he had was, he was made for that job
and he did it real well. I thought, certainly Kraft but those are
all of the big name guys.
know my memory is real bad about names but there were some folks in
the Flight Control Systems area that were really dedicated to a particular
area that they worked and they were really motivated to make sure
they did that really good. And I can see them but I can’t come
up with their names.