NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Sandra Johnson
Houston, Texas – 10 November 2004
Today is November 10th, 2004. This interview with Jay Greene is being
conducted for the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project in Houston,
Texas. The interviewer is Sandra Johnson, assisted by Rebecca Wright
and Jennifer Ross-Nazzal.
I want to thank you again for joining us today. I’d like to
start by asking you to share with us a brief summary of your background
and how you first came to work for NASA.
I grew up in New York. Went to school at Brooklyn Polytechnic [Institute
(later renamed Polytechnic University), Brooklyn, New York], and when
I graduated—that was in ’64—I went as far away
from Brooklyn as I could. I wound up working for North American Aviation
at the time, in Downey [California]. Spent about nine months there
in a job that wasn’t particularly satisfying. One day I got
a telegram from JSC [Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas]—I
guess it was MSC [Manned Spacecraft Center] back then—and they
said, “We’ve got a job.” And without asking any
questions, I said yes, packed all my belongings in a suitcase, and
I headed for Texas.
Did you have a connection already at MSC, and how did that telegram
No. I interviewed while I was in school, and they were slow to respond,
and so I guess they were working down a list, and I made it. Came
down, and I didn’t know where I was going or who I was going
to work for or what the job was.
So you didn’t have any idea what type of job you’d be
So maybe you can tell us, when you got here, what were your first
assignments, and just walk us through some of those first days when
you first arrived.
Well, when I first arrived, Personnel was at Ellington [Air Force
Base, Houston, Texas] in a little shed. That was pretty impressive.
I was checking in, and while I was checking in at one end of the counter,
John [H.] Glenn [Jr.] was checking out at the other end. That was
Drove onsite. We were officed in the Mission Control Center in the
little potato chip windows behind the main entrance. I interviewed,
I guess, two or three different people. The one who interviewed me
for Flight Dynamics was [Philip C.] Phil Shaffer, and Phil worked
for [Grayden F.] Grady Meyer was the guy’s name who ran the
section. It was the FIDO [Flight Dynamics Officer] section, and we
worked in Glynn [S.] Lunney’s branch. Glynn was the Flight Director.
Gemini [Program] was just getting started. I’m trying to remember.
It was divided into two branches; two sections. One was the Apollo
[Program] section, and the other was the guys flying Gemini. I still
didn’t know what the job was, but they sounded like a good bunch
So I became a Flight Dynamics Officer and was assigned to Apollo.
Initially we started training by watching the Gemini guys, who were
just getting started out of the Mission Control Center here. Our section
was responsible for designing the trajectory displays for the Apollo
launches. Initially, as I say, we watched what the Gemini guys were
doing. We started designing displays based on what they did and adding
some little touches of our own. At the same time we were doing that,
we were learning about the spacecraft and trying to figure out how
you monitor a manned spacecraft during a launch phase.
We began interactions with the [NASA] Marshall [Space Flight Center,
Huntsville, Alabama] guys and the Saturn rockets, and not too long
after that I was given my first assignment, which was to design the
Flight Dynamics Officer, a FIDO position, on one of the Apollo tracking
ships. The thought was that a Saturn rocket was so big, it would burn
so long that it would go beyond Bermuda. So we put a ship out past
Bermuda, and we had a full control center on the ship. We had about
seven, eight people. For about two years that’s what I did,
until Saturn 501, the first Saturn V, launched. We were there; we
spent about a month out at sea for a five-minute pass, and that was
it. We came back in, and when we got back to Houston, I was told that
my next assignment, I would be the lead Flight Dynamics Officer for
502, which was another unmanned test of the Command and Service Module
[CSM], preparing an entry test in preparation for the lunar landings.
You mentioned that you watched the Gemini group. Did you start running
simulations at that time for the early Apollo flights?
We were running simulations when the Gemini guys weren’t using
the Control Center. Actually, we had the second floor and the third
floor, and I think they ran on the second; we would run on the third.
But they weren’t total backups. Red Bluff Road used to be a
two-lane road, and at one, two, three, four o’clock in the morning,
it was an incredibly beautiful drive. But we practiced mainly during
the night hours, and it was towards the end of the Gemini program
that we got prime time in the Control Center.
You mentioned that you were on the tracking ship for that first Saturn
launch. Can you just walk us through what that was like? You said
you were out there quite a bit of time. Where exactly were you?
Well, you know where Bermuda is. You know where Africa is. We were
in neither of those; we were about right smack dab in the middle.
The ship was owned by the Navy. It was operated by the Air Force.
It was outfitted by Goddard, the Goddard Space Flight Center [Greenbelt,
Maryland]. It was manned by Johnson, and all the sailors were Panamanian
and like that. So it was an incredible experience. We left from Miami
Well, we were headed straight to our tracking station, and if I remember,
the antenna broke. One of the antennas broke. So we put into Bermuda.
We had to spend three days in Bermuda, which was terrible duty, and
then we left Bermuda, we went on station, and we waited until it was
ready to launch. Between getting there and staying on station, before
you got to the station they had to lay out some beacons on the bottom
of the Atlantic so we could tell where the ship was and therefore
get our tracking data back to the Control Center. So we spent a couple
of days doing that. As I said, it was about a five-minute pass, and
we were done. Then we had to wait a few days to pick up the beacons,
which we never did recover. Gave up and came on home.
You mentioned that you spent a couple of years writing those procedures.
Maybe if you’d take just a second and just share the details
of what a FIDO is responsible for during a flight.
The FIDO stands for Flight Dynamics Officer. During launch he’s
responsible for monitoring the trajectory of the vehicle, maintaining
the vehicle within a set of limit lines, and if the vehicle were to
violate the limit lines, initiate an abort and then the eventual recovery
of the capsule. During entry, it’s preparing the targeting and
monitoring the trajectory down [through the atmosphere] and advising
the crew if they had to take some different actions. On orbit, it’s
again monitoring the trajectory and then computing any maneuvers to
change from one orbit to another orbit, based on what the mission
requirements were, including rendezvous, for example. So it was a
In that position, you were in the control room, or would be in the
control room in what they called the trench.
We’ve heard various stories about the trench.
None of them are true.
[Laughs] Did the reputation exist before you started working there?
Sort of. Sort of. It was an ever-building-type thing, and I guess
there were events that maybe made it more prominent. It was always
us against the systems guys. It was more of a Lunney’s guys
against [Eugene F.] Kranz’s guys. We did everything we could
to build on the mystique of being a trajectory guy.
What was it between the systems guys and trajectory?
It was just a rivalry as to who had the more difficult job, and everyone
knew we did, but they wouldn’t give up.
You mentioned the mystique of being a trajectory guy. What was that
We were the mathematicians and the scientists, and they were the mechanics
and the hardware guys. In truth, they were as much scientists as we
were, but nobody would admit it.
You mentioned that your next assignment was for the unmanned Saturn
V launch. That was Apollo 6?
Well, there was 502, and I guess that probably was 6. That was very
similar to 501, and everyone expected it to be a nominal mission.
It was about a twelve-hour flight intended to insert into Earth orbit
much the way that we went on a lunar mission, and then it was going
to do a full-up translunar injection; first time that had ever been
done. Then it was going to abort off that trajectory into a 9,000-mile—if
I remember; something like that—ellipse, and then burn for entry
conditions that would simulate maximum heat load for a lunar reentry.
First stage, everything was nominal. We got to the second stage, and
we had a visiting booster engineer who was watching the flight, and
then over the airwaves I heard him say, “That looks like two
engines out.” It turns out, per the flight rules, two engines
out was supposed to be a loss-of-control case, and by the time the
booster guys realized that we had lost two engines, it turned out
the vehicle was stable, and so we just let it fly.
The vehicle lofted, and then got on third stage and it started to
dive straight at the Earth, and based on that, I had a limit line
that we were approaching and had my sweaty little fingers on the abort
switch, and the thing finally straightened out and it made it to orbit.
Probably the first time we ever inserted into orbit going backwards,
based on the way the guidance missed its target box, and it just kept
on trying until it got there. So we inserted into an orbit, and everything
looked copasetic, and we came up on TLI [translunar injection] and
counted down, and S-4B [engine] was supposed to light, and it never
So I got to throw my little switch that separated the spacecraft from
the booster, and we went on and completed a semi-nominal mission.
Completed all the mission objectives. So we had three engines out
and we had this aborted profile. We did an approximation of the nominal
entry, and everything went so well that we man-rated the Saturn V
based on that, and the next time we used a rocket, we went to the
Moon; Apollo 8. Pretty exciting day.
Sounds like it was.
That was the day that Martin Luther King [Jr.] was assassinated, during
That whole time period was pretty turbulent. The Tet Offensive was
just a few months before that. Martin Luther King, of course, the
same day. Robert [F.] Kennedy, a couple of months later. We’ve
heard different people talk about how isolated or how on target they
were as far as—
Isolated is a good word.
Yes, isolated. As far as getting to the Moon, and that these other
events sometimes didn’t enter into that. Would you like to comment
on that, or is that a true statement?
We lived getting to the Moon. Our whole lives were focused on it.
When we weren’t working, we were partying together. We pretty
much lived space and let everything else go by in the background.
I’d like to go back just for a second and ask, were you on duty
or did you have any assignments during the Apollo 1?
Well, I did. I wasn’t on console at the time, and it was the
kind of test that was supposed to be so routine that I was downtown
at the LeCue Pool Hall when it came over the radio, and it was sort
The aftermath of that, how do you feel it affected the Apollo Program
as far as what happened next?
Well, we were the flight control guys. We were probably the least
affected of all the players. We were in a stand-by-and-wait mode.
We probably used the time effectively to build better procedures,
to train more than we would have had we not done that, to build teams,
get close to the flight crews. The end result is we probably wound
up with a better spaceship, a better spaceship than had we not done
that. And we did it quickly, especially in comparison to what’s
going on today with [Space Shuttle] Columbia [accident].
You mentioned that Apollo 6, of course, was the Saturn V, and then
the next one was the Apollo 8 flight, the next time that that was
used. The announcement actually came on November 12th of ’68
that Apollo 8 was going to go to the Moon. At what point did you hear
Not significantly before then. After 502, the next flight was Apollo
7, and we were working the Apollo 7 flight. I was on one of Gene Kranz’s
shifts; I think it was a sleep shift. We were called into the office
before that flight and told what we were going to do, and assignments
were given out. We went in and did the Apollo 7 mission, and if I
remember, we were taken off console towards the end of the flight,
and we went from the second floor to the third floor, and we started
simulating manned Saturn V flights, translunar injections, lunar orbit
injections, the whole nine yards. We were learning while we were simming
[simulating], and the flight was a matter of months away. It was intense.
Was there anything significant about Apollo 7 that you’d like
to share or anything during that mission?
It was our first exposure to manned space flight. It was our first
exposure to flying the Apollo in a manned configuration. It was our
first exposure to shift work and handovers, teamwork between the FIDOs
and the GUIDOs [Guidance Officers] and the RETROs[Retrofire Officers].
So we had a rapid learning experience as a result of being thrown
into this whole situation, unparalleled in what goes on now at the
Johnson Space Center.
The interaction between the ground and that particular flight crew
was rather unique. The crew was testy, and we got into everything
shy of verbal battles between the ground and the flight crew. Probably
the most significant was prior to entry. If you remember, that was
the flight that [Walter M.] Wally Schirra [Jr.] got his cold; and
made his millions doing Actifed commercials after that. There was
a big debate between the ground and the flight crew over whether to
come in suited or unsuited, and then once it was decided you had to
come in suited, because the foot restraints for the entry were built
into the suit, and so if you didn’t have the suit on, your feet
would sort of flop around.
It came down to a shouting contest between Wally and the CapCom [Capsule
Communicator]. The original CapCom was replaced by [Donald K.] Deke
Slayton. The head of the Astronaut Office came in and decided to tell
Wally which way was up. It was pretty intense, and after it was over,
I remember Glynn Lunney called us, all us Apollo guys who hadn’t
gone through Gemini, and apologized for the way the flight went and
said that “Manned space flight is usually better than this.”
You mentioned the relationship between the people that you worked
with on the consoles. Maybe you can explain some of that as far as
your positions, especially the ones that were sitting next to you.
The FIDO was the leader of this trajectory team, and the two other
players were the Retrofire Officer, RETRO, and the Guidance Officer.
We formed a team, and the FIDO was the leader.
We had some colorful characters, one of whom was John [A.] Llewellyn,
who was the Retro Officer. Let’s see. That was ‘67-ish,
something like that. So I was twenty-five, and John was—I don’t
know how much older than I John is, but he was the RETRO, and we wandered
in and here he was, he was a big veteran of the Korean thing, and
been with Glenn and Chris [Christopher C. Kraft, Jr.] since the agency
was started. I sat down at the console, and he started giving me grief,
and I said, “Hey, John, either cool it or unplug.” And
he unplugged and left, and I said, “Wow.” I said, “This
is pretty good stuff.” So we made up, and we’ve been good
buddies, but that was the threesome, and as I say, we worked together
as a tight team.
Maybe if you could talk for a minute about the relationship between
the ones working on console and then the back room, the SSR, the Staff
Support Room, and how that relationship worked and what they were
doing back there during a flight.
They were helping, and they probably helped more in the Gemini time
frame than they did in Apollo. That was a trend, that as capability
built in the front room, we sort of did away with the back room. Part
of that was display capability. Early on we used XY plot boards that
wouldn’t fit in a modern Control Center, so they made us keep
them in the back room, and we had guys who virtually paralleled us
watching the plot boards. The Guidance Officer, for example, though,
used in-line support, virtually augmenting what he did with eyes-on
capability in the back. Probably the biggest example of that was [Stephen
G.] Steve Bales on Apollo 11 and his [lunar descent] calls; and the
guy who probably made the call really was [John R.] Jack Garman in
the back room. So it varied.
As you mentioned, Apollo 7 was everyone’s first experience with
manned Apollo flight. As far as the Flight Directors were concerned,
and then the shifts, how were you assigned to the Flight Directors?
Did they pick who they wanted?
No. By the time we got there, Glynn originally was the branch chief,
and he moved up, and they had a Flight Director Office, so Jerry [C.]
Bostick, I guess—well, let me think. See, you’re taxing
me. No, Glynn kept the Flight Dynamics Office through Apollo. Bostick
had the FIDO group. That’s right; we broke into FIDO, RETRO,
and GUIDO groups, and the section heads made the assignments, approved
by the Flight Directors.
Were they based on expertise, as far as you know?
Expertise and gut feel.
Which team were you on for the Apollo 8 flight?
Apollo 8, I was on [Clifford E.] Cliff Charlesworth’s team.
Cliff was one of my favorites. He was a great, great guy. We did virtually
every exciting phase of that flight. We did the launch, the translunar
injection, all the outbound midcourses, trans-Earth injection, all
the homecoming midcourses, and entry. The only thing we didn’t
do was the lunar orbit insertion, and that was Glynn’s team,
Typically, how long were the shifts?
We tried for eight. An hour before, you’d come on and hand over,
stay an hour [after the shift ended]. So it was a ten-hour shift,
You mentioned that you started those simulations as soon as you found
out that you were going with Apollo 8. Did the simulations prepare
you for everything that was experienced on that flight in particular?
Yes, Apollo 8 was wonderful. It was probably the neatest thing we’ve
ever done, more so than Apollo 11.
If you don’t mind, if you would just walk us through that flight,
since you were on console for so many important parts of it. If we
can just start with the launch.
The launch was nominal. The new thing was we did the translunar injection,
and we had the new plot boards that showed the trajectory between
the Earth and the Moon, the vehicle moving out on this trajectory.
For a systems guy, a system is a system, and the air supply was the
air supply, but for a trajectory guy to see these new numbers that
had never been seen before, as we started screaming out of Earth orbit
and headed towards the Moon, was pretty exciting stuff. I’ve
often told this story; I went home after that, and I got me a bottle
of good Scotch and went out to the pool and just stared at the Moon.
It was a pretty incredible feeling.
Lunar orbit insertion, we were all in the Control Center, regardless
of when our shift was. It was a crowded room. Locked the doors and
had a clock counting down to when we would lose the signal because
we went behind the Moon. The clock went three, two, one, zero, and
the static broke, and we lost lock, just as we were expecting. Glynn
let everyone go, and we all broke for the men’s room, and I
say the men’s room because there were no women’s rooms
in the Control Center at that time. Fact of life. It wasn’t
till much later that the first women’s room—the men’s
room was replaced by a women’s room, as I found out by mistake.
But we all came back. We had two clocks counting down, and the first
clock was if they didn’t get the burnoff; the burn was behind
the Moon. The second clock was the nominal time. So we passed the
first clock, and no signal, so everything was going well. Got closer
and closer to the second countdown, which was the nominal time of
emergence from behind the Moon, and bingo, it went to zero, and we
had radio contact and everything was cool.
So we did all that. The Bible reading I’m sure you know of,
and that brought everybody to their knees. A lot of food during the
holidays. Pretty exciting times. We got on for the trans-Earth shift.
That was exciting. Burn went nominal. The whole flight was virtually
perfectly nominal. Then we landed, and it was over, and we started
simulating for Apollo 11.
I read that people in the control room, when the display went from
the normal display that they were used to, to a display with the Moon,
that that was quite a moment for several people. Do you remember that
Well, yes. I was the one who put the display up. As I say, it was
a trajectory display. I don’t know if you’ve seen the
big figure-eight. It’s a big figure-eight display, and initially
you move out real fast, and as you get farther away from the Earth
and Earth’s gravity, your acceleration slows down, and so most
of the trip is made in the early parts of the flight. As I say, it
was dramatic being the trajectory guy, counting the tens of thousands
of miles that we were moving. Intense.
During entry, we’d have team meetings, and they wanted to meet
after the shift so we can plan what we would do in the way of celebration.
There was a big American flag the guys got their hands on that filled
the whole front of the Control Center. Turns out it was the flag that
was from the Prudential Building down around the Medical Center [Houston,
Texas]. Then we had this other flag, and we designed a red, white,
and blue flag with a “number one,” signifying we were
the first on the Moon. It was a “in your face, Russians”
type thing. I forget whose wives they were, but they sewed these dynamite
flags, one for each member of the team, and Public Affairs and the
State Department and everyone else said no. So we wound up waving
regular American flags, and somewhere around the house I have a “number
one” flag. If it ever makes it to eBay, I’ll sell.
When that mission was over, you said you began training for [Apollo]
11. Were you involved in 9 and 10?
Nine, no. We let 9 go to do 11. Ten, yes. In order to monitor the
lunar landing, we required a new radar capability, and actually what
we were using was something called a Kalman Filter that was designed
out at the Jet Propulsion Lab [Laboratory, Pasadena, California].
It was actually called the Lear Filter. William Lear was the guy who
I guess we hired from JPL, and we used Apollo 10 to see what this
thing would do at lunar distances. So we watched 10 a little bit.
The 10 guys also verified some of the rendezvous tools that we would
use on Apollo 11. So, minimal participation in 10; major stuff with
On any of these other flights, you mentioned the tracking ship early
on. Were you ever on a tracking ship again, or was that the only flight?
No, you only get a guy from New York to do that once. Actually, we
never used the tracking ships after the first time. We had enough
signal coming from Bermuda that we put them in positions as we needed
them around the world, but we never manned a control center again.
Or at least that’s the way I—I know we didn’t put
a FIDO out there again. I don’t think we put a control team
How were the assignments made for Apollo 11?
I’m not sure. Jerry Bostick tells me that he’s the one
who selected me, and Lunney approved, and Kraft had to approve. There
was some hurt feelings, because I got the descent assignment, which
was the thing for a Flight Dynamics guy. I did descent, and I think
it was Shaffer who did the ascent, but I don’t remember. For
that flight, the lunar descent was important enough that we didn’t
do any of the other shifts. That was the shift. We used to train,
and anytime there was an accident, anytime the simulation crashed,
they would convene an investigation board, because we were crashing;
we crashed several of them. So that was pretty intense stuff.
Can you share some of the details about those simulations as far as
what you were working through?
First of all, we had to develop the flight rules for how do you monitor
a lunar descent, and it was hard building an envelope that would be
sufficient criteria and sufficient rationale to abort a lunar landing.
By the time it was over, what we decided was that we would use abortability
as the criteria to terminate a landing. In other words, as you’re
going down, we monitored—well, the first thing we monitored
for was to keep the crew from crashing into the Moon. That would have
ruined everything. But the other thing we monitored for was maintaining
the ability to leave the trajectory we were on and make it back to
rendezvous with the Command and Service Module, and if we ever lost
that capability, or prior to losing that capability, we would abort
So the FIDO’s job evolved into one of monitoring this trajectory
and always keeping a rendezvous capability so that anytime I aborted,
I had a plan for how to get back to the Command and Service Module
quickly. That turned out to be a full-time job. Later on the job also
picked up some targeting capability. We did Apollo 11, then we did
Apollo 12, and Apollo 12, we went back to the Surveyor [III Spacecraft]
and picked up a piece of that, and so we needed a pinpoint landing
capability. In order to do that, we had to figure out how you remove
some known targeting errors, or known trajectory errors, navigation
errors. On Apollo 11, as we were monitoring the trajectory coming
in, we picked up some velocity errors. They were radial errors, and
we got all excited and then rationalized during the flight that radial
error was a unique thing with the Lear Filter and the fact we had
a down-track error.
So, after the flight, when it got to Apollo 12 times, we figured out
we could use this measurable velocity error to figure out how much
down-track displacement. We would do it backwards. Here’s the
velocity error; now let’s figure out how far down-track we had
to be to cause that error. So we figured out down-track error, and
that was part of it. Then we had to figure out how do you tell the
onboard computer about this error. It was rather risky trying to change
the spacecraft’s knowledge of its position. What we wound up
doing, though, was we lied about where the landing site was; faked
it out. So we developed this thing called Noun 69, which was a position
change to the landing site that allowed us to land virtually within
walking distance of whatever the target was, which is what we did
on Apollo 12.
Let’s go back to the simulations for Apollo 11 for a moment.
The simulations right before the mission, were they more intense than
the simulations for any other mission at that point? And how so?
(A), we had a deadline; (b), we were doing something that had never
been done before; (c), we anticipated aborting. Nobody, nobody on
the team believed that we’d make it down the first time; I don’t
think anybody did. That became particularly bothersome for a Flight
Dynamics guy, because the first part of the job was monitoring the
descent; the other part of the job was if we abort, computing all
the rendezvous maneuvers to get the LM [Lunar Module] back with the
Command Module. So, it was intense. Then you had this accident investigation
if you had a crash, and, yes, we had crashes. The spotlight was on
us; the papers were counting down. So there was a lot of pressure.
How much interaction did you have with the crew at that point?
A lot. A lot. Not as much as many of us have had on later flights.
A lot compared to Mercury and the Gemini things, and it was a topic
of conversation; how close do you get to the crew? But we had quite
a bit of exposure. A lot of it came through the strategy meetings
we had, the data priority meetings, and [Howard W.] Bill Tindall’s
[Jr.] session. The crew would always be there, and we’d hash
out our arguments. We had flight rules reviews; the crews were there.
It wasn’t till later in the Apollo Program that we got to drinking
beers together and partying together on a routine basis.
Was that a concern at the beginning, of getting close to the crews?
No, it was more or less the way people grew up, and a lot of it probably
had to do with the politics of who was running the respective organizations,
and things changed as it went on.
As you were doing the simulations, the mission rules were being written,
and then, from what I’ve read, eleven days before the launch
it was discovered that there were no mission rules for the computer
alarms, because of the simulations that you were running through.
Do you want to talk about that, that situation and how your team dealt
No, because I wasn’t heavily involved in that. There’s
probably a lot more folklore than fact. You couldn’t hire better
press agents than the GUIDOs and the computer guys. They were playing
their whole computer alarm thing, and they had ideas about what was
wrong. I was panicking, because if they said, “Abort,”
they could go to the restroom, and it was my problem. No, I vaguely
remember the meetings on alarms and reactions, but not enough to help.
What about the communications delay? Do you remember any issues with
that as far as having to get the information and the communications
with the Lunar Module?
It wasn’t really a big deal. It wasn’t really a big deal.
I mean, I have a bigger problem talking on Instant Messenger now than
we did back then. We had a time delay, and because of the time delay
we had to bias some of the limits we had, because by the time you
reached the limit and you recognized it on the ground, you had already
passed it in flight. So that was a problem. Mars is going to be twenty-,
forty-minute time delays; that’s a problem. But the Moon was
not a significant issue.
If you will, just walk us through that mission and what you remember
about Apollo 11. Were you in the Mission Control anytime up until
the point that you were on console?
I was in the room for launch and TLI. We had sleeping quarters in
the Control Center, and Steve Bales and I, we took advantage of that.
We slept in the building. I remember we went out to dinner at—if
I do this, I’m good—Perusina’s [Restaurant, Dickinson,
Texas]. Did I do good?
On the Gulf Freeway, which it may be Heartbreakers.
Think so. Think that’s right.
I think so.
So I’m not that old. It wasn’t topless. It was a good
We came back and slept in the building and went on for our shift.
It was tight. The day before launch, we wandered into the Control
Center and Kranz was there, and he was with the guy who wrote Twelve
O’Clock High [Beirne Lay, Jr.]. That was pretty neat. There
were celebrities all around the place, and a lot of press interest.
Lot of press interest.
You mentioned your age, and so many of the controllers and the people
working Apollo and these missions were so young. What was it like
to be that age and then be surrounded by these events and celebrities?
Maybe being that age made it easier. We were doing our thing, and
we knew our thing was neat. We had total public acceptance. You can
walk anyplace in the city of Houston and saying you work for NASA
was almost a free pass. It was a total different environment. We were
isolated to a certain extent, and we did our own thing and didn’t
really care what people were saying about—at our level, at Flight
Control. I’m sure there were levels above us that sweated that
outward appearance stuff, but we were immune to all that. Had a certain
amount of swagger, because we knew what we were doing. We were the
first ones to do it, and since we were the only ones to do it, we
were probably the best. It was pretty slick. It was pretty slick.
Why don’t we stop and just take a quick break. We’ll change
tapes before we get to that.
When we stopped, we were still talking about Apollo 11, so if you’d
like to, let’s go ahead and talk about your role in that mission.
I was the lunar descent FIDO, and as I think I said, we were responsible
for the monitoring going down and the ability to abort coming up.
We got into the Control Center probably about four hours before landing,
and we targeted DOI, descent orbit insertion burn, which took us down
from a sixty-mile circular, I believe, to a sixty-by-eight, and then
from eight we did the descent. So we targeted the two maneuvers and
stood back to monitor. I remember the room was crowded. The other
shifts decided they couldn’t stay away. Security guys at the
doors; doors were locked. We effectively went to battle short on the
Control Center; in other words, let the hardware burn before you let
a fuse blow and lose capability. We all puckered, and it was off,
and it was just like a sim [simulation].
Everything was nominal till the computer alarms. While they were battling
with the computer alarms, I was geared for the abort if they decided
they didn’t want to go on. So we fought through that, and we
got down low, and Neil [A. Armstrong] started looking a prime piece
of real estate. Again, the slower you went, the faster the Command
Module was going in comparison, and so the whole rendezvous situation
was changing faster towards the end than it was at the beginning.
So we were computing abort modes based on what we were going to do
and how time was elapsing.
He landed, and then we had two—if I remember, there were two
go/no-go points, T-1 and T-2, and one of the big debates preflight
was how do you report to the Flight Director that you are okay to
keep on the Moon, and everyone was used to when a Flight Director
polled, you’re saying go. Do you want to go? We wanted to stay.
So everyone gave a “stay” call the first time, and we
didn’t sink and fall, and the cheese—the Mars guys didn’t
get us, and the Moon guys didn’t get us. So we went from T-1,
T-2, we will stay; and then you’re committed for at least one
orbit, and the relaxation after the biggest adrenalin rush in the
world was incredible.
We went back to the barracks and we thought the crew was going to
go nighty-night and do the EVA [extravehicular activities] the next
day. Of course, the crew decided that this was not the time to rest.
So we came down and we watched part of that, and then figured we hadn’t
slept in a couple of days, really well, so we called it a night. But
You mentioned the computations that you were making as the mission
was moving on, and these were all with the information that you were
getting. You were having to continuously recompute what had to be
Tell us how that was accomplished. If someone was reading this today,
they would think with computers, with whatever, how somebody would
do that today.
You mean the whole building had less computational capability than
this here IT [Blackberry wireless handheld device]. Yes. We did a
little bit better than using abacuses. We used Frieden calculators,
if you remember what a Frieden was, with thousands and thousands of
gears grinding. We had adding machines that would add hours and minutes
and seconds, because that’s what we had to add, so they were
modular sixty adding machines that you probably couldn’t find
even on eBay today.
So we had these processors. We didn’t have computers on the
console, because there weren’t computers that would fit on the
console. The computers were in the ground floor of Building 30, and
in order for us to make inputs to the computer, we’d have to
call down to a guy who would do the actual typing for us. He didn’t
type everything because it took so long, so we had this artifact.
We had paper tapes, and the paper tape was the predecessor of a mag
[magnetic] tape, and he’d type his commands and punch a tape
with a hole code in it. For every series of inputs we figured out
we’d need, he’d type up the inputs and put it on this
tape and have little coils of tape all around. We’d tell him
what we wanted, and he’d take this tape and feed it into the
reader, and we’d see the display screens and make any changes
we wanted by calling down and telling him what we wanted to change.
What kind of a time frame would it take to get that accomplished?
Ten, twenty seconds. It was quick. It was quick. We were using the
best machine, you know what I mean. We were using IBM’s [International
Business Machines Corporation] best.
Were you on console any more during that flight, or after that did
you just rest?
No. Eleven, we had one thing we were going to do. We came in and watched
ascent, and then we came in to be there during entry.
What was it like watching that ascent phase?
Everyone puckered. There are certain places usually we have backups
for everything we do. Apollo 8 was an exception, but even on subsequent
Apollos you needed that SPS [Service Propulsion System] engine to
get out of lunar orbit—single-point failure—and a single
engine to get you off the surface of the Moon. I’m not sure
we would accept those designs today, which doesn’t bode well
for the guys working on lunar exploration.
After that mission, you mentioned before, having time for parties
and that sort of thing, and everyone has heard about the splashdown
[Laughs] Do you want to share any of your memories of any of those,
for that mission or maybe some of the other missions?
They vary. They had a character all their own. Apollo 11 was the big
blowout with the fabled piano in the swimming pool. I wouldn’t
know. I think I passed out before we got that far.
Some of the places we used to go to, most of the places, aren’t
around anymore. The Singing Wheel on Highway 3; the [Flintlock Inn],
which is where the putt-putt is on NASA-1; the Hofbrau Garden out
in Dickinson. They all closed. Not that we had anything to do with
them closing—the Nassau Bay Hotel, which ain’t no more,
that’s where the piano went in. The Holiday Inn was always a
big, big hangout.
But the Flintlock was one of the best. I don’t remember what
flight it was, but we landed early in the morning, and it didn’t
matter; we didn’t know what time of day it was. The flight was
over, so we went to drink, and there were a thousand people in the
Flintlock, and at seven o’clock in the morning, Bloody Marys
seemed like the right thing to do. There was this bartender who was
making them one at a time, and everyone wanted Bloody Marys, and it
was an adventure going back and forth and having one of his Bloody
Marys. So we went to bed early that day.
We had good times. We really did. We worked hard. We earned the right
to celebrate, and we celebrated hard and went back to working hard.
Totally different environment than today.
When you first came to this area from New York and then from your
first position, how did you find a place to live and where did you
decide to live in this area?
First thing I did was find a quick place. I wound up living on Red
Bluff Road next to the hospital where the guy took his horse. What
was that doctor’s name who ran the Red Bluff—
No, this was not nearly as nice a guy as that. Anyways, I lived out
in Red Bluff, and within a year I moved from Red Bluff to one of the
really great apartment experiences in anybody’s life, which
was the Tally Ho Apartments. Tally Ho Apartments were on Airport Boulevard
right off the Gulf Freeway. Tara Hall is the big one. There was an
A&P [Supermarket] across the street. All the guys worked for NASA.
All the women worked for Delta [Airlines], because [William P.] Hobby
[Airport] was the only airport. It was one of the greatest living
experiences I’ve ever had. Still keep in touch with people just
from the apartment complex, and a whole bunch of guys from the center
used to live there. Then I matured and got married, and I moved out
here, and I’ve been here forever.
When you first moved out here, did you move into an area with a significant
amount of NASA employees in the area, too?
Yes, but a five-minute commute makes it really worthwhile.
Let’s move on to Apollo 12. You already mentioned about being
able to pinpoint the landing. What Flight Director were you working
under for that mission?
I didn’t. I took 12 off, I think. Yes, I took 12 off. I was
supposed to be the descent Flight Director for 13, and then other
things happened that they said, “We don’t need you this
flight.” Then I did 14, 15, 16, and 17. I did all those descents.
So during 13, were you in the Mission Control at all, helping?
Yes. Well, yes. I was at home, because I had a shift and I was going
to do descent. I was lying on the couch, and my wife, who wasn’t
my wife, she called and she said, “You see what happened?”
And I hadn’t. So I drove onsite. We all sort of responded to
what we heard on the radio and drove onsite. It was pretty grim. I
don’t think there was anybody who expected that crew to live.
A lot of them, in retrospect, will tell you how macho and cool, but
it was pretty grim.
What did you do during that time, do you recall?
We divided up into teams, and I was sort of assisting one of the guys
for various reasons and participated in a couple of meetings here
and there and had some spiffy suggestions, if I remember, but I was
not a major Apollo 13 guy.
Let’s move on, then, to Apollo 14. You said you were working
I think I was. You got me. I know I worked 15, 16, and 17. Thirteen
and 14 are sort of a—
Let’s move on to 15, then. Do you have any specific memories
Yes, I do. We did descent, and we also did—I remember I was
on for—it must have been TEI [trans-Earth injection]. I don’t
think I did the ascent. There were a whole bunch of things going on
on the surface of the Moon that were pretty messy, and the crew got
together and they were moving the rocks back from the LM to the Command
Module, and they had a sick guy that they had to deal with.
We targeted the separation burn, and we thought we had everything
under control, and the crew was late getting separated, and we had
the targets on board, and it was probably half a rev [revolution]
late, an hour, halfway around the Moon, that they finally got separated.
They were going to execute the targets. We thought it was neat from
the little telemetry that we had, and the crew reported that if they
executed the target, they would burn directly into the LM, at which
point we decided that we didn’t know where we were. We’d
stopped, and then the crew gave conflicting reports on their attitude.
At one point they said the sun was in their eyes, and that didn’t
make any sense, because they were supposed to be pointed the other
way. So we asked them, “Where’s the LM?”
He said, “It’s right in front of us.” That didn’t
make any sense because it was supposed to be behind them. But it had
to be in front of us if he could see it, because he didn’t have
any side view mirrors. Well, that took us about an hour to get that
sorted away and get it retargeted and understand what happened. It
was so confusing. It was one of the first press conferences that Lunney
invited me to attend, because he couldn’t explain how we screwed
this one up. There are certain guys around the site who still remember
that scenario. It was ugly. But aside from that, we got separated;
we did TEI, and it was semi-noneventful.
What had happened that caused the problem?
This is like describing a spiral staircase without using your hands.
The targets are fixed relative to the local horizontal, local vertical,
and then frozen inertially. If you’re going around this way
[gestures], and you’re inertially pointed posigrade, and you
keep that same attitude, 180 degrees later you’re no longer
pointed forward, you’re pointed “backerds.” That’s
what Texans say; backerds. That’s effectively what happened.
We hadn’t compensated for the one-hour delay, and there was
a simple way to do that. We learned a lesson. Fortunately, the crew
knew that they shouldn’t be burning into another spacecraft,
and everything was cool.
Was that the first time you had an experience with press conferences?
Yes. I had others later that were messier than that, but yes.
If there’s nothing else on that mission, do you want to move
on to Apollo 16?
Apollo 16 was T. K. Mattingly [II] in the Command Module, and it was
John [W. Young] and Charlie [Charles M. Duke, Jr.]. John and Charlie
separated from the CSM, and
T. K. did a gimbal check and failed secondary gimbals on the SPS,
if I remember correctly, and decided that he was no-go for descent
orbit initiation, and there we were. So we had to work that one out,
and while we were doing it, we decided we’d get to land back
near the Command Module, because he was drifting; they were drifting
So we told John what to do, and John decided in his own little mind
that we had just ordered him to deorbit into the Moon. He was wrong.
Finally we got the two spacecraft together, and we computed probably
three different rendezvous profiles and seven descent targets, and
eventually we landed and everything was copasetic. So that was the
highlight of Apollo 16.
It didn’t affect the landing as far as the targeted area?
No, that was fine. That was fine. You got me thinking. Apollo 12,
I did ascent. I was the Ascent Flight Dynamics Officer, launch. Lo
and behold, that was an exciting launch. That was the lightning strike.
That was sort of slick.
Do you want to talk about that one for a moment?
Well, not much. Probably a lot of people had more to say than I did.
Except, that, you know, again, the Flight Dynamics guy was the abort
guy, and it looked like we were going to have to do something rather
significant. We didn’t. We made it to orbit, and we were coming
up on Carnarvon [Space Tracking Station], the Australian tracking
station, half a rev [revolution] later, and we kept an acquisition
table, when we’re going to get acquisition and lose it; how
long the communication pass was. With all that was going on, we got
acquisition, if I remember, it was almost five minutes early, and
all the systems guys are happy. “We got data. We got data.”
I looked at it. [Charles F.] Chuck Deiterich was the RETRO. I got
a funny look on my face, and he looks at me, and I said, “Chuck,
there’s only one way we can get here five minutes early, and
that’s if we’re reentering and we don’t know where
we are.” Turned out that wasn’t the case. It was what
they call multipath, bouncing the signal off the Earth a couple of
times. Scared the hell out of me. But we never told anybody.
Do you want to move on to Apollo 17?
The only thing I remember about Apollo 17 was the party. We had a
Because it was the last flight?
Because it was the last flight, and Gene had some rather influential
friends who decided to throw a party. So we threw a party at the Astroworld
Hotel. It was at the P. T. Barnum Suite. I remember one of the guys
came up to me, Gerry [Gerald D.] Griffin came up, and he said, “Do
you ever get the feeling if there’s one place to be on an evening,
this is the place?”
You worked for a lot of different Flight Directors during Apollo.
Do you have any thoughts about any of them specifically that you’d
like to share? Also, since you later on moved on and became a Flight
Director yourself, what you could have learned from them during those
I enjoyed probably working with Cliff the best; Cliff Charlesworth.
My best friend among the group is Glynn. Glynn would drive you crazy,
because his mind would race so fast that he could churn out action
items quicker than you could absorb, much less answer. Kranz was an
impressive leader on Apollo 11. I like to think I became somewheres
between Lunney and Charlesworth. I don’t know whether I did
During Apollo, what would you consider your most challenging experience,
during the Apollo Program itself?
Or a moment or challenging moment or something that you had to do.
The 502 launch, because we were headed for a rather significant limit
line, probably as close as we’ve ever come to a trajectory trend
towards a limit line, ever come during space flight. I was moments
away from throwing the switch. We would talk. I was talking to the
Flight Director, Charlesworth, at the time, and he was trying to calm
down the Range Safety guys. Probably for hairy moments during Apollo,
that was probably it. Apollo 11 was just an out-of-body experience.
It was a different kind; it was a sustained adrenalin rush. I would
say that was the moment.
Do you have any favorite memory or proudest moment as far as the Apollo
The 11 descent. The 8 mission. Eight and 11 are the two favorite things,
or two of the favorite things. We did some pretty neat stuff later
After 17 and Apollo ended, how did that affect MSC and the people
there, and how did it affect your position?
Well, we had Skylab to look forward to and ASTP [Apollo-Soyuz Test
Project], eventually. Some of the guys got real impressed with that.
We had the concept for the Shuttle, and we had some beginning design
stuff, and the Ops [Operations] guys, we got involved in the Shuttle
design as much as we could. I became a Section Head and a Branch Chief
in that time frame.
There weren’t enough significant events in that time frame that
I really remember one from the other, except I got rid of the RETROs.
I decided I didn’t need RETROs. Didn’t matter whether
you were going forward or backwards, one trajectory guy was all we
needed. That’s in my autobiography. I got rid of the RETROs.
John Llewellyn hasn’t spoken to me since, which isn’t
all bad. Actually, he has, but not lovingly.
So we did Skylab, and Skylab had three launches and three landings
and a lot of time when, for a trajectory guy, there wasn’t much
of interest. ASTP, more of the same. Limit, going around and around;
the flight, and everything’s cool. Then sometime in the mid-seventies,
we started transitioning away from that and getting serious about
aerodynamic flight tests and the Shuttle Program and Shuttle ascents
and what do you do about that. But the Skylab stuff sort of passed
me by, and I have very little recollection of—I had guys in
the Control Center, and I’d fill out their time and attendance
reports, but there wasn’t much going on.
Do you want to continue on and talk about some of your other positions,
or you want to go ahead and break now? We can come back and talk about
Do you want to do that?
Otherwise I’ll get “confusled.”
Okay. That’s fine. We can do that. Before we stop, I’m
going to see if Jennifer or Rebecca have any questions that they want
to ask you, if that’s okay.
Can you tell us how the sims differed from when you were first planning
to go with Apollo 11, and how they changed through the later missions?
You mean through now?
Through Apollo 17. During the Apollo.
I don’t think they changed very much, except the Accident Investigation
Board thing sort of stopped, because—you see, at first they
didn’t think we were going to be able to pull it off. They had
real concerns about the Ops team that sort of went away.
Could you share a little bit more about the investigation team?
I don’t know much more about it. Maybe they never happened,
but they sure threatened us with the fact that they were going on.
Part of the problem was they had the lunar simulator, the descent
simulator, and there were two of those. There was one here and one
in Florida, which was sort of interesting, because if the crew was
in Florida, then the communications would go from Building 30 to Building
5 to Florida. If the crew was in Building 5, the communications to
talk to the crew, the com would go from Building 30, Building 5, to
Florida to Building 5. That’s the way it was hooked up.
So the point is, we had lunar surface and it was a very detailed model
of the surface, and it had a camera that, as we descended on the Moon,
obviously would get closer to this lunar surface, and then it would
go blurry and kick up dust. They found out the hard way that if you
crashed the LM, the camera would go smashing into the lunar surface
and break the lens, which by itself was an expensive piece of hardware.
So eventually they figured out they could put a probe under the lens
and stop the visual before we crashed.
I don’t know what that has to do with your question.
We’re talking about sims, how they changed, because the missions
changed, the objectives changed as—
Yes, but the pilots wanted to do ascents and descents and launches.
That was the fun part. That pretty much stayed the way it was. The
thing that was neat about the old days that we’ve lost, I think,
over the years was debriefings. Back in the old days, guys, I mean,
they’d screw up, and they’d throw themselves on the sword;
and somebody would screw up and not throw themselves on their sword,
and people would attack them, and there would be everything but fistfights
over the debriefings. The honesty and the learning experience, we’ve
lost a lot of that.
That leads me to another question. You mentioned Bill Tindall. Can
you share with us how some of his meetings went and how so much was
Oh, he didn’t do anything. [Laughter] Bill was my neighbor.
I hope I learned more from him than I did from the other Flight Directors.
Bill had the ability to get a bunch of engineers in a room and work
out problems in real time. Now, part of that capability comes from
the fact that we used blackboards and chalk more than we used viewgraphs,
and so you can have a discussion in real time, and somebody could
lay out a hypothesis and you can build on it and you could erase and
you can redraw a line and you can change a word, stuff you can’t
do with [Microsoft] PowerPoint and computers, and people don’t
That led to problem solving with groups of hundreds, and Bill was
a master at taking charge and leading the groups and coming out with
a product, and then being able to take that product and put it into
a very concise two-, three-page letter that became known as the Tindallgrams.
I happen to be one of the owners of a full set, a full set of Tindallgrams.
When the price is right, I’ll put that on eBay. But they were
masterful pieces of work. He was a hell of a guy.
The last question is about another gentleman you mentioned that we
don’t get to hear much about, and that was Cliff Charlesworth.
You said you learned quite a bit from him. What were some of the attributes
as a Flight Director that you really admired?
He didn’t try and do your job. He knew how to trust his people.
If he didn’t build that trust, they wouldn’t be on his
team real long. A lot of people disliked him. Cliff was Glynn’s
deputy for a long time. Just a real gentleman and a nice guy.
Did you have a lot of turnover in your area?
Turnover? You mean people leaving? Where would they go? No. Well,
one. We had one. [H. David] Dave Reed left, and probably because I
got the descent lead job on [Apollo] 11. He went up and he joined
the Department of Transportation. We had an amazingly few number of
casualties. We partied hard and partied into all hours, blowing off
steam, and I don’t remember losing anybody. We used to think
that the curbs on the feeder of the Gulf Freeway were to keep you
going in the right direction, and they did. They did. I have one guy
who got on the Broadway traffic circle. You know what a traffic circle
is? At Broadway. He was too drunk to figure out how to get off, so
he just left his car and walked away. So we did all that stuff and
we never lost anybody. Amazing.
That just brought something to mind. The hours that you spent at work
compared to the hours that you spent away from work, how did that
affect your life at that point?
It was different. It was different. We worked primarily during the
week, and working nights ain’t that bad. Sometimes we work days
and nights in the same—you know, and that got a little hard.
Maybe that was the advantage of being young. We were all resilient
and didn’t know any better. We lived around the Manned Spacecraft
Center. We partied around the Manned Spacecraft Center. We went to
marriages around it. You talk about the family; really close. Really
close. Close to this day. I don’t know about the younger kids,
but the old Apollo guys, we’re still close.
I’m just curious, did you see the History Channel documentary
of Gene Kranz’s book?
Why would I not see it?
I don’t know. What did you think of it?
I thought I was spectacular. Did you think I was spectacular?
I thought you were fantastic.
Thank you. I thought they did a dynamite job, and they’re in
town this week and next week, and they’re doing a sequel. There
was a mistake in that movie, a significant mistake.
Can you share that with us?
Yes. At the end of the movie they made a comment that all of Kranz’s
guys are retired.
And we know that not to be true.
Now so does [Rushmore] Rush DeNooyer, the producer. He promised to
bring me a reward, and I promise in the very near future to make his
So you’re going to be in the sequel?
No, I’m going to retire. I’m going to talk to them, I
guess, Monday. Monday, I think. So this was a good—
Yes, a good experience getting ready for it.
I thought they did a fantastic job and really believed in what they
were doing, and they got the right people together. There’s
another guy; Charles Murray. You know Charles Murray? Have you spoken
to Charles Murray? Charles Murray is the author.
No, we haven’t, but we use his book [Apollo: Race to the Moon]
He’s a real fan. He’s the one who got Harlan [R.] Crow.
Harlan Crow is a financial supporter of some think tank that Charles
Murray is in, and so a couple of months ago, Kranz, myself, Jerry
Bostick, John [W.] Aaron, Chris Kraft, Glynn Lunney got together down
at Perry’s [Restaurant] with Charles Murray and Harlan Crow,
who is Trammell Crow’s son. We just had a good time talking
about the old days and drinking Harlan Crow’s liquor. Trammell
Crow developed like three-quarters of Dallas [Texas] and half the
rest of the country.
I just had one more question for you.
Did you like me in it? I thought I was good.
I did. But I do have one more question for you. You talked about the
splashdown parties. Can you talk to us about the annual picnics, if
you went, or the Christmas parties onsite during the Apollo Program?
No, we didn’t do much of that. I mean, we were partying five,
six—I mean significant; make that more than that. We didn’t
really do the Christmas party thing. I’m not sure we knew there
were Christmas parties.
Okay. We thank you for sharing with us today.