Space Center Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Bethesda, Maryland – 17 March 2004
Today is March 17th, 2004. This oral history with Rick Hauck is being
conducted in Bethesda, Maryland, for the Johnson Space Center Oral
History Project. The interviewer is Jennifer Ross-Nazzal.
Thank you for meeting with me again today. I know your schedule is
Thank you. On St. Paddy’s Day, my father’s mother, Florence
Fogerty, would be pleased to know that we’re doing this on St.
Paddy’s Day, if she were still with us.
Thank you. We appreciate it.
I wanted to ask you, in the last interview when we spoke, you mentioned
that you were actually told by George [W. S.] Abbey and [Richard H.]
Dick Truly that you were going to command the return-to-flight mission,
but you were told that you couldn’t actually tell anyone this
information. What was your reaction when you heard this?
Well, I was absolutely thrilled that I was entrusted with that mission.
I think every member of the Astronaut Office, probably without exception,
wanted to be on that flight, so I was thrilled with it. The fact that
I couldn’t tell people about it or speak about it publicly,
any concerns about that were dwarfed by the enthusiasm that I had,
knowing that this gift was in my pocket now. I knew that, of course,
until something’s announced, it can be changed, and so that
was in the back of my mind. But it wasn’t an overriding concern;
once we had the crew put together, as I think we talked about, with
Dick [Richard O.] Covey coming in to fill the slot that was left when
Roy [D.] Bridges went back to the Air Force, and “Pinky”
[George D.] Nelson was invited back from the University of Washington
[Seattle, Washington] to round out our crew.
Can you talk a little bit about the crew relationship? I’ve
actually seen videotape of your crew in orbit, and you guys were wearing
Hawaiian shirts. Somebody was surfing I believe.
Can you talk a little about that?
Well, we had a great crew, and one of the reasons for it was [that]
we had focused so much, at least three of us, on getting ready for
that Shuttle Centaur mission, which we’ve already talked about,
and I’m not sure if we mentioned that all of us were experienced
space fliers, and so there were no training issues. In other words,
as the commander, I didn’t have to worry about someone who hadn’t
flown in space before, were they going to adapt well or weren’t
they and so forth. Those issues were absolutely not on my mind, and
each of the five of us could take a substantive responsibility for
various aspects of the flight. So that was really a pleasure.
We were all socially adapted, I thought. Dick Covey was one of my
very close friends, as was Pinky Nelson. I had great respect for Mike
[John M.] Lounge and Dave [David C.] Hilmers. I hadn’t worked
with them as closely as with Pinky and Dick, who were classmates of
mine, class of ’78. So we got along well, and I think we understand
the need to enjoy what you’re doing, and so what you saw on
that tape of us in our Hawaiian shirts—why don’t I tell
you how we happened to have Hawaiian shirts, if I haven’t already
There was a ceremony down at the Kennedy Space Center [Florida], when
electrical power was plugged back into Discovery for the first time
after its overhaul period. As you might imagine, you have this most
complex machine in the world and someone takes the power cord and
plugs it into the wall and electricity surges through it, and you’re
hoping that you’re not going to smell smoke and everything works.
So it’s a very big milestone, and we were invited to come down
for that occasion. As I recall, Forrest [S.] McCartney was the head
of the Kennedy Space Center at the time. We were presented with these
Hawaiian shirts by the people that did the overhaul and the preparations
in the Orbital Processing Facility, the OPF, on Discovery, and the
reason is that they—I don’t know if it was once a week
or once or month, I think it was once a week—they would wear
colorful shirts in to work. They called them their loud shirts and
they called themselves the “Loud and Proud” group. So
we were made honorary members of the Loud and Proud group, and we
said, “We’re going to have to take these shirts up into
space with us.”
So after we’d gotten into space, we released the TDRS [Tracking
and Data Relay Satellite], which was our primary mission. We’d
spoken our remembrance of the Challenger crew. Once we had the weighty
issues behind us, I think it was on day two or maybe day three, we
decided now is the time to break out the Hawaiian shirts, and Hawaii
was one of the locations where we could downlink video. So without
mentioning it to mission control, we got dressed in our Hawaiian shirts.
Then when we came on over Hawaii, we said, “Well, here we are,
we’ve got our Hawaiian shirts on, and we’re just enjoying
our day in the sun.” I think I said, “Life’s a beach,”
right? “Life is a beach.”
So we videoed that and NASA took some of that footage, and later,
when we made our post-flight movie, we added some Beach Boys music
to that, I think, that had been rewritten by a local band in Houston
[Texas]. They had given us a wake-up call with—what’s
that song by the Beach Boys? Something about when her daddy took her
T-Bird away. “We’ll have fun, fun, fun.” So that
was adapted to “We’ll have fun, fun, fun, till we have
to put the Shuttle away.” So anyhow, that was what that was
And we enjoyed it. I think it’s very important to have those
times when you can relax. Human beings need a certain amount of smiling
Yes, I’ve seen it. At Space Center Houston [Houston, Texas]
they show a clip of your mission, and they also have one of the Hawaiian
shirts up in the Spacesuit Gallery.
Oh, wonderful. I’ll have to go look. I’ve got mine back
in my closet at home, even now.
Let me go back and ask you about training for this mission. I know
that you were heavily involved with training. You worked with the
trainer to develop the training. How had training changed from your
first two missions to this new mission, where safety was probably
the most important factor for this mission?
Well, of course, we’re talking 1987, so it’s seventeen
years ago, so my memory certainly isn’t perfect, but I don’t
recall the training being significantly different. Safety is always
paramount, and the failure that occurred, of the solid rocket boosters,
was nothing that the crew could have had any influence over.
What I recall about it was because we were in training when the accident
happened, and all of the Astronaut Office went into kind of a proficiency
mode of training. So even before we were named as a crew, we were
still training periodically, not at as high a level. So we had an
awful lot of three-person training—CDR, PLT, and MS-2, the commander,
pilot, and flight engineer, mission specialist. So I think we could
have fallen asleep and still performed our reactive measures, if we
had to, on STS-26.
Of course, the flight-specific training we had was for deploying the
Tracking and Data Relay Satellite. That was typical of the training
we’d do for satellite deployments, and we had a few other minor
experiments. But I’d really say that there wasn’t a significant
change in the level of detail or the approach to training. We just
had a lot more of it because of the downtime.
Let me take you back to launch day. You actually had to wait on the
launch pad for about an hour and a half until you officially launched.
What were you thinking at that point? What was the crew talking about?
Well, we got up that morning, and the weather forecast, after they’d
sent their radiosonde balloon up—I don’t know if that’s
the proper term—that measures the upper-level winds, and we
had been briefed, before we went out to the launch vehicle, that there
was an upper-level wind sheer that, if it persisted, would be a constraint
to launch and we wouldn’t fly, and they weren’t sure whether
that was going to clear or not. Of course, it’s hard to predict
So we really went out thinking we weren’t going to launch that
morning, which is—I think I joked with Bob [Robert L.] Crippen
later, “Thank you for convincing us that we weren’t going
to launch so we could really enjoy the morning.” But, of course,
we were ready to launch, and I recall riding out in the crew van,
and George Abbey and John [W.] Young and Dan [Daniel C.] Brandenstein—I
guess, if Dan was the Chief of the Office then—getting out of
the van as we went on, and having that same feeling of, “This
is a very special morning.” Here you drive up to the launch
pad and you’re the only people around, other than the folks
that help you strap in. So I’d say it was very sobering, but
we still thought, “Well, we’re probably not going to launch.”
Well, we got strapped in. I recall at one point I guess we were told
it looked like that constraint was released. Well, let me back up
a little bit. I think they had a problem with a fuse in one of the
circuits having to do with communications. I’m not sure. So
there was a period of time when someone had to go back to a parts
bin somewhere and get a fuse and bring it up and install it in the
cockpit. So that was a delay, but at that point we were still being
delayed, I think, for the upper-level winds.
Then we got down to the T-minus-nine point and we could listen on
the loop and we could hear the Launch Control Director polling the
various stations, and we’d hear, “Go,” “Go,”
“Go,” and we were convinced that when it got to Bob Crippen,
who was the mission manager—I think that was the term—we
were going to hear him say, “No go for winds.” Then we
heard his voice, and he said, “Go.” [Laughs]
So we kind of looked at each other and said, “Ooh, I guess we’re
really going to fly.” So in that T-minus-nine time frame, which
actually is more than nine minutes from launch because there’s
some built-in hold time, we’re lying on our backs thinking,
“Okay, we’re really going to do this.”
I heard Dick Covey say, “Uh-oh,” and, sadly, that was
the last phrase heard from Challenger, someone’s voice, maybe
Mike [Michael J.] Smith, saying, “Uh-oh.” So those were
the wrong words to speak then.
And I said, “Covey, what’s wrong?”
He’s in the pilot’s seat and he’s looking out over
the beach, out over the water, and he said, “I see a rain squall
out there and it looks like it’s headed our way and it may keep
us from launching.”
I said, “Dick, just don’t use the words ‘uh-oh’
again as long as we’re flying in this machine together.”
That didn’t cause a problem, and we counted down and launched
at—I forget what time it was, but that morning.
Did you have any concerns, given the fact what had happened last time
on Challenger? Were any of those thoughts going through your mind?
Well, I’d characterize my thoughts, contrasted with my previous
two flights, set against the backdrop that NASA, prior to [STS]-51
L, had never lost a crew after launch. They lost the Apollo 1 crew
and, of course, astronauts had been killed in airplanes and car crashes
and so on, but we’d never lost anyone in a spaceflight. So even
though on STS-7 and STS 51-A I knew this was dangerous, I kind of
comforted myself with the thought, “We’ve never lost anyone
before, so we’ve got this wired; we know how to do this.”
Well, that comfort could no longer be delivered by that thinking after
I was convinced that everything had been done that could be done to
prepare the machine and the crew and the software, but I knew that
my good friends had died the last time a machine had launched. So
I was really focused on that and I did think about that. But you can’t
dwell on those things. It’s just like landing on an aircraft
carrier at night. You can’t dwell on this dangerous situation
you’re in, because you’ll be distracted from doing what
you have to do to keep it from being too dangerous. So I found over
my years of flying that you really could segment your thinking and
push things off into the far recesses, and I was certainly successful
at doing that for launch.
I do absolutely remember counting down after liftoff to solid rocket
motor burnout and two minutes and ten seconds after launch and the
solid rockets are gone, and I remember thinking, “Well, glad
they’re out of the picture.”
But, you know, for years, and it may even still be true, that [according
to the] risk analysis, the forecast was that if there were ever any
real problems with the Space Shuttle, it would come from the main
engines. Of course, we still had six more minutes to ride the main
engines into insertion, so I wasn’t breathing too big a sigh
of relief yet.
And I do recall going through Mach 16. I would read off Mach numbers
just because Pinky was down below and couldn’t see any gauges,
and it was just kind of to keep some kind of communication going.
I’d say, “Mach 12, sixty miles,” and, “Mach
15,” and so on and so on. I remember Mach 16 and we were starting
to get increased acceleration, Gs, as the fuel was being depleted,
I did clearly think, “Boy, I hope this doesn’t blow up,”
and, “Human beings put this thing together. What an incredible
machine, and I just hope it doesn’t blow up.” Then, once
again, taking that thought and pushing it to the back and doing that
by looking at instruments and focusing on gauges and so on, to kind
of distract myself from that thought. And, of course, everything went
smoothly for the rest of the mission.
I didn’t mention that—I forget. Launch plus about twenty
seconds, we did something called an SM alert, SM being a systems maintenance
minor alert, but it’s something that was annunciated and I think
it had to do with the pH level in a fuel cell. It wasn’t a red
alert. It wasn’t a yellow alert. It was this minor alert, but
still, it flashes in your face, and I’m thinking, “Whoa.
What is going on?” And mission control didn’t say anything
about it, and they didn’t say anything about it because they
[later] said, well, they figured we’d look at “Well, it’s
an SM alert. It’s a fuel cell pH. Not a big deal,” so
they didn’t want to bother us.
When we came back and debriefed, I said, “I wish you had told
us don’t worry about it, just to reinforce that.” It was
a minor issue, but it sure got our attention there for a period of
I noticed in some of the literature that I read about this mission
that you did have a problem with the flash evaporator system that
raised the temperature. How did that impact the crew and the mission,
if at all?
I don’t recall that being a big deal. You always are concerned
that if something’s not working precisely the way it should,
then you hope that it doesn’t degenerate into something that
will cut short the mission. So other than us being aware that it was
not operating within its normal limits, it never got to the point
where we were concerned that it was going to shorten the mission.
On board this mission, you actually paid homage to the Challenger
crew. Can you talk about that, and whose idea it was?
Sure. I don’t remember what time, chronologically, it was, but
I remember it was Dave Hilmers who one day said, “You know,
we really should put some effort into deciding how we’re going
to remember them.” And we agreed that each one of us would have
a brief period where we could speak, but that we would put our thoughts
all together and we would review what each of us wanted to say to
make sure that it fit contextually. So Dave took a first hack at it,
writing the whole thing, and that gave us some structure, and then
we parsed out who would take what part, and then that individual tailored
their own remarks into their own words. So I give Dave credit for
the idea, although it would have come to one of us eventually. I think
it said as best we could our thoughts.
What impact do you think that that had on the agency itself, this
act that you did in space?
It was something that needed to be done, I think, so in some way I
think we probably filled that requirement. I mean, we talk in space
terms about requirements. I don’t mean that someone was requiring
that we do that; I mean it was a need that someone during the mission
needed to say something that all of us could reflect upon. So we had
given the text of that to our CapCom [Capsule Communicator] prior
to liftoff so that once we’d said the words, they could have
text that they could give to the media and so on. So that was done
in advance. I think it just was something we needed to say, and I
gathered from what was said later by people in the office and so on,
that it captured the thoughts.
Speaking of the press, this was a pretty high-profile mission. How
did the crew deal with all of the public interest and the media interest?
Well, once again, we’d all flown before and there’d only
been twenty-four successful missions of the Shuttle before then, which
isn’t all that many, looking at how many we’ve done now.
So media interest, although it had started to wane by the time STS
51-L occurred, I think we’d all been exposed to that process.
We agreed with NASA PAO [Public Affairs Office], Johnson PAO, to the
level of media involvement, and the approach was similar to the previous,
but as you say, there was certainly a lot more interest than, let’s
say, on my second mission.
I do recall that each of the anchors, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather,
and I think Tom Brokaw, although I’m not sure, came down to
the Johnson Space Center at some point as we approached the launch
date, prior to our going into quarantine, and we spoke to each of
them for footage that they could use. Of course, we dealt with the
print media and a certain amount of radio. I don’t remember
it being terribly intrusive.
I remember that CBS did do a segment or a complete show, if you recall
a show called 48 Hours. The concept was to take forty-eight hours
in the life of either some people or a group of people as it was focused
on a dramatic event. So they came down during our training and did
a 48 Hour segment on the crew, mission control. Also, as I recall,
they interviewed people like—oh, the science-fiction writer—oh
well. They came to the Outpost, which was the name of the local bar
there that some of us went to from time to time, and they filmed segments
of this over forty-eight hours. They came to the simulator building.
I still have a copy of that segment, and I think it came off well.
It focused on training. It was during an integrated simulation, one
of our last integrated simulations, so Chuck [Charles W.] Shaw, who
was the Flight Director, was in a fair amount of that.
I remember the New York Times sent down one of their top photographers
to take some photos for a spread they were going to do in the New
York Times Magazine, and as it turned out, I think they used a picture
of Mike Lounge getting into his spacesuit for an underwater training
session as the cover of that New York Times Magazine.
There was an incident that at the time concerned me a great deal prior
to the announcement of the crew, that we were going to be a crew,
and that was one of my friends from high school days was a gent named
Jim [James] Reston, and Jim is a writer. He’s a very accomplished
nonfiction writer. He’s written a number of books, and he’d
done an article on me in the Washingtonian Magazine back in 1984.
I had mentioned to him, in confidence, that I was going to be the
commander of the next Shuttle mission, and he wrote an article for
the New York Times Magazine that was published two days before that
became public, or maybe the day it became public.
What really concerned me, of course, was that that decision could
be reversed at any time, and I was sensitive to the fact that managers
don’t like to be preempted in their news. Maybe it came out,
as it turned out, after it was announced, but it obviously had to
go into the works before it was announced. Jim and I had a few words
about that, but we’re still good friends.
I’m sure you were a little relieved it came out afterwards.
Were there any major questions that the reporters would often ask
you? When we talked about the STS-7 mission, they were asking Sally
[K.] Ride all these gendered questions.
Right. Well, clearly, “Do you think you’re ready? Do you
think that the problems have been fixed? What gives you confidence
that the problems have been fixed?”
I don’t know if I’d mentioned it before, but Dick Truly,
at the time Associate Administrator for Space Flight, Code M, he gave
me a standing invitation to attend any decision-making meeting involving
senior management as it related to preparations for STS-26. I think
that was an unusual invitation. I don’t know if it was ever
done before in the Shuttle Program or since. But what that gave me
was the opportunity to gain confidence in the process.
I would fly over to Marshall Space Flight Center [Huntsville, Alabama],
and the senior management council, which was Admiral Truly and J.R.
[James R.] Thompson and Aaron Cohen and the program manager for the
solid rocket boosters and so forth, sitting around the table, “Should
we test the solid rocket motors this way or that way? What’s
the latest on the testing?” So when all was said and done, I
had the confidence in the fixes that had been made and I had confidence
in the team of people that had made those decisions. I have suggested,
although perhaps this suggestion wasn’t needed, but I’ve
suggested to current Associate Administrator Bill [William F.] Readdy
that Eileen [M.] Collins would benefit from such an invitation, and
I mentioned it to Eileen also.
So you’ve had an opportunity to speak with both of them?
Are there any lessons learned that you haven’t passed on, that
you think should be passed on about this return-to-flight?
No. As a matter of fact, people are so focused on not only correcting
the previous problem, but on avoiding any future problems, that the
amount of diligence exercised in getting ready for this flight, and
I’m sure for the next flight, is so extraordinary that I’d
be hard pressed to take issue with nor turn over a rock and find anything
else that needs to be done. I hope that’s the case for the next
flight of Space Shuttle. I did tell my family, “This will be
the safest flight ever flown by NASA, STS-26.” What I did not
say was, “And that guarantees that I’m coming home,”
because, of course, there’s no guarantee. But I was comfortable
that, within my view, everything had been done to prepare everything
for that flight.
Is there anything else that happened during that mission that you
would like to talk about?
Oh, I loved—wake-up calls are always fun, and Kathy [Kathyrn
D.] Sullivan, who is one of our CapComs, had somehow made contact
with Robin Williams, and he agreed to tape wake-up calls for us. Not
long before then, he had made a movie called Good Morning, Vietnam,
and the tagline from that movie is him on the radio as a disc jockey
in Vietnam saying, “Good morning, Vietnam.” So one morning—I
forget which morning—we awakened with Robin Williams’
voice saying, “Good morning, Discovery,” and then he went
through a very amusing patter, invoking each of our names and poking
fun at some things. So it was a great way to start that day, and as
a matter of fact, I wound up with a tape of his preparation for that,
with a lot of outtakes, things that were never used. So that was lots
of fun. Other wake-up calls involved this adaptation of some of the
Beach Boys songs that I thought was very well done by this band in
Houston. So the wake-up calls were lots of fun.
Let me mention another thing. We knew, of course, when we came back,
and we stepped off the Space Shuttle, there would be a lot of media
coverage of that, and I forget who thought of it, but it was someone
on our crew said, “We ought to have an American flag on board
so that when we walk off, we can wave that American flag.” Patriotic
gesture. So the way that was accomplished was, it was agreed that
when we landed, and the ground crew came up to check on us before
we exited, he would bring a folded-up American flag and a pole, I
guess, a two-piece pole that we could attach it to.
As it turns out—of course, this was October 3rd, 1988, and the
presidential elections were [a few] weeks later, and Vice President
[George H. W.] Bush met us at the foot of the steps on the lakebed
at Edwards [Air Force Base, California]. So you look at the video
and he’s standing down there with Dr. [James C.] Fletcher and
Admiral Truly and George Abbey, waiting for us to come down. The door
opens, and out I come with this American flag, and down we troop,
and we stand there shaking hands with Vice President Bush, big hug
from—I’ve never seen Dr. Fletcher that emotional before,
but big hug from him, big hug from Dick Truly, and we stand there
for a picture. I’ve got this American flag, and on the other
side of the flag is Vice President Bush, and maybe not surprisingly,
in the media is this big harangue about the crass use of the Space
Shuttle crew by the Vice President for political purposes and how
this was obviously a staged event and the American flag there was
And I remember writing a letter to the editor of Time magazine, where
this was opined, and I stated the facts that, “No, we were not
prompted by anyone to bring a flag. That was our idea, and we were
very proud to have the Vice President of the United States meet us
at the bottom of the steps.” It didn’t matter whether
he was Republican, Democrat or whatever. And that letter to the editor
was published in Time, as a matter of fact.
So, in any case, after the pictures were taken, the whole crew walked
around with Vice President Bush, underneath the Space Shuttle to look
at it. We took this little tour. Then we went off to have our post-flight
physicals. He went back to the Officers’ Club at Edwards, where
Mrs. [Barbara] Bush was, with our family, and they had lunch with
our families while we were going through our one or two-hour physicals.
Then we got back together again on a parade stand outside of the Dryden
Flight Research Center [Edwards, California], for the official welcoming
home. And I recall that, in addition to the Vice President was the
Governor of California, Governor [George] Deukmejian, and, of course,
Admiral Truly and Dr. Fletcher, the Administrator, Chuck [Charles
It was a very hot day, very hot, and people had been sitting out in
the audience for hours, and I remember looking down and seeing my
uncle, who was my hero and who was fairly infirm by this time, and
thinking he’d been sitting out there for a couple hours in this
broiling sun. I felt badly about that. But he was the person who,
when I was a child, I looked up to as a Navy pilot. So it was great
to have that kind of closure.
So anyhow, we’re up on the stage and everyone has time for remarks,
and I remember remarking on how wonderful it was that just a few hours
before, that we crossed the coastline of California—I don’t
know what the proper data was, but I said, “At 110,000 feet
at Mach 6,” and I turned around and I said, “Eat your
heart out, Chuck Yeager.” [Laughs] He laughed, of course. But
here was one of my childhood heroes who was up on the stage with us.
So that was lots of fun. And we had this sense of completion, and
we were all very happy.
Another anecdote. When we left from showing the Vice President around
the Orbiter, our van went into the medical facilities, and en route
to that, our families were standing out there for hugs and kisses
before we went in, and every one of them had what I’ll call
Groucho Marx glasses and nose and mustache on, so there’s some
photographs of all these people with these Groucho noses on.
My son was not there because he was serving on board a Navy ship in
the Persian Gulf. And I will share another fun thing for me. I had
taken a photograph of him maybe a year before. He was in shorts, T-shirt.
And one of my good friends, prior to that launch, said, “Why
don’t we have that blown up to a life-size cutout and then he
can be at your launch and he can be at your landing. So we did that,
and so we had this six-foot-tall cutout of my son Steve, and he came
to our pre-launch parties, he spent the night in crew quarters with
us. As we walked out to get on the crew van, we had a crew photo of
the five of us in our spacesuits, with flat Stephen in between. So
then when we returned, flat Stephen was there and even he had Groucho
glasses on. So that was fun.
Those are great memories.
Let me ask you about your return to JSC and the welcome-back ceremony.
You said at the time that that was one of the proudest days of your
life. Do you think that still is?
I do. I do. We had a very important mission to accomplish; “we”
in the collective sense, the whole NASA contractor team, “we”
as a crew. It was a relatively benign flight by design. The objectives
were to get up safely and get back safely and deploy a Tracking and
Data Relay Satellite to replace the one that had been lost on the
Challenger. It was clear that this was very important to the country,
very important to NASA. So to have participated in that and to have
contributed whatever I had contributed was something that I could
capture and reflect on, and no one can ever take it away from me.
So, yes, I’d still say that. I mean, you always reflect on how
proud you are about your kids and so forth, and family. Family, country.
This was country.
Can you talk a little bit about your PR [public relations] trips after
you came back?
Right. I think I’ve mentioned before, after STS-7, Sally and
I made a big trip to eight different countries. After STS 51-A, we
made trips out to the manufacturers of the satellites and so forth.
After STS-26, we went back to NASA. We went to all of the space centers,
and we went to the contractors who built the hardware. We went to
Downey, California, where the Space Shuttle had been built. We went
to Palmdale [California], where they’d been modified.
The objective was to continue this healing process and to really focus
on those people that the success depended upon, and those were everybody
that had worked on return-to-flight, as best we could reach them.
So this wasn’t outwardly focused; this was NASA contractor team
inwardly focused, and everywhere we went—you can imagine Marshall
Space Flight Center, which was where the solid rocket booster program
was managed from. That was a very emotional visit for everybody. Wherever
we went, we tried to make ourselves available for autographs and so
forth. I have no idea how many hundreds of autographs we signed over
that period of time. Kennedy Space Center, Edwards Air Force Base.
Then we did have an invitation from the City of Las Vegas [Nevada]
to go out there and be guests of honor for a celebration. They were
great, and when that one was over, we had not yet gone to [Morton]
Thiokol [Inc.], up in Ogden, Utah, and it was clear we needed to do
that. Of course, they were the folks that built the solid rocket motors.
So as the rest of our families went home, Dick Covey and I went up
to Ogden and were met at the airport by Senator [Edwin Jacob “Jake”]
Garn, who had flown on Space Shuttle. He said, “I called the
governor yesterday to see if we could have dinner at his house, so
we’re going to have dinner with the governor and—,”
I forget, the congressman from that district. Senator [Orrin G.] Hatch,
Senator Garn, the governor, and Dick and myself, and I think the senators’
and congressmen’s wives, the governor’s wife, the spouses.
And I recall sitting at dinner, and the plates that are laid before—this
is in the Governor’s Mansion—that are laid before you,
I’d almost call them ceremonial plates. They’re not what
you eat off of. They were USS Utah, the United States Ship
Utah. And I said, “Are these plates from the USS Utah
which was sunk in Pearl Harbor [Hawaii]?”
The governor said, “Yep, these were retrieved from the hull
in Pearl Harbor.”
I said, “My father might have eaten off of these,” because
my father was on the Utah when it was sunk at Pearl Harbor,
survived. But this was just out of the blue. I’d never even
thought of that. Here I am in Utah, and I just never really associated
that much with my father having served on the USS Utah.
So anyhow, we had dinner there. Then the next day, we went up to Thiokol,
and Dick and I took the stage in our blue suits, and all of the Thiokol
employees there on the shop floor, and I said, “You make good
rockets.” The place went wild. This was kind of a cathartic
moment for them, I think, as it was for us. That was, I think, another
thing that had to happen for this healing process to continue. That
was a good trip.
I’m sure we made lots of other trips. We went to Slidell, Mississippi
[NASA Slidell Computer Complex]. We went to Michoud [Assembly Facility],
Louisiana, the engine-testing facility, the external tank manufacturing
facility. We did a lot of Silver Snoopy Awards for people that had
excelled in what they did. We came up to [NASA Headquarters] Washington,
I recall, just prior to the flight, President [Ronald W.] Reagan came
to Houston to give an address related to spaceflight. We were in quarantine
at the time. It was probably just ten days before flight, so there
were restrictions on who could come face-to-face with us. I think
if you were going to get closer than twenty feet to a flight crew
member, the employee has to have had a recent medical exam and be
sensitized to the fact that if they felt they were contagious with
something, they should not get any closer. So, of course we had to
get face-to-face with our trainers and so forth, so they were all
part of the program.
So the President comes down. We’re behind the scenes, behind
a big blue curtain in Building 9 there, with thousands of people seated
out front, and we’re waiting on the President—we’re
in our blue suits—and I noticed something really odd, and I
said to Covey, I said, “Walk with me over here towards that
Secret Service man.” So we walked over towards him, and we got
within about twenty feet and he started to back up, back up, back
up, because he’d been briefed to not get closer than twenty
feet from the flight crew in quarantine.
Well, I’ve got to say that I admire the professionalism of the
Secret Service. It’s almost like I was playing a game with them,
and I guess in some way I was, but it was clear that here was a very
professional person who was observing what he’d been asked to
So anyhow, the President came, gave his speech. I presented him on
the dais with a flight jacket and said, “I hope there’s
a time after we come back from the flight that we can present this
to you as a flown item.” He graciously posed for lots of pictures
backstage with us and our families. And after we came back from the
mission, we were invited to go to the White House to present the flight
jacket. My wife and I were also invited to go to the White House for
the last State Dinner given by President Reagan, and that was in honor
of Mrs. [Margaret] Thatcher.
I sat at the table with Vice President Bush, who had by this time
been elected. I sat next to Mrs. Bush. My wife sat next to a young
Army colonel named Colin [L.] Powell. Afterwards, during the dancing
and so forth that takes place after the State Dinner, she said, “Oh,
you’ve got to meet this neat Army officer that I sat next to.
We were trading jokes.” My ex-wife was a good joke teller, so
at one point this colonel came over with his wife and said, “I
want to meet you,” and this colonel, later to be General and
Secretary of State Colin Powell, was just as delightful as he could
I have a few more anecdotes about this, but it’s not on the
subject of spaceflight.
You’re always welcome to share them.
Well, I recall that Orel Hershiser, who was a baseball pitcher who’d
been on the team that won the World Series, I met him that night.
I was in military uniform and I had all my medals on, and he said,
“Gee, those are a lot of medals. Would you trade those for my
World Series ring?”
I said, “Sure.” [Laughs]
He said, “Well, I don’t have my ring yet. I’m just
kidding. I’m just kidding.” So I never gave away my medals
and he never gave me his World Series ring. I tried to get my wife,
during the dancing, to double-cut with Tom Selleck, who was there
also. He was there with his mother, because his wife was about to
give birth to their baby. I said, “I’ll bet he’d
be a good sport, and I’m sure Mrs. Selleck wouldn’t mind
dancing with a man in uniform,” but my wife was too reticent
to do that, so she passed up that opportunity.
It sounds like you had a great time.
Only a few months after your flight, you actually decided to leave
I did. I was forty-seven years old, approaching my forty-eighth birthday,
and I knew I wouldn’t do this for the rest of my life. So I
was very conscious about being past the age of fifty and trying to
develop a new career. So it was a very conscious thought that revolved
around my age. In fact, I had made the decision to retire before our
last big press conference, but I decided not to mention that in the
press conference, because I thought that would distract from what
the press conference was all about. But I also decided that if someone
asked me, that I would respond, and someone at the press conference
said, “Are you planning on flying again?” and I said,
“No.” So the next day, we had our video opportunities
with the three morning shows, Today Show, Good Morning
America, and I forget the—
I think it’s the Early Show, or Morning Show.
Whatever. And I remember Jane Pauley, who was the host of the Today
Show at the time, in the process of this interview said, “And
Captain Hauck, we understand that you’ve decided to retire.”
So I think I’m probably one of the few people who was able to
announce on national television that I was on the job market. [Laughs]
You can’t buy that kind of publicity.
Can you talk to me a little bit about your work with the Navy? You
actually went into their Space Systems Division.
Right. I’d been contacted by a member of the Bush transition
team prior to exiting the Astronaut Office. Ken Adelman was his name,
and he said, “You know, Captain Hauck, that Congress has passed
an act that establishes the National Space Council, and that will
be headed by the incoming Vice President and will involve the Secretary
of Defense, NASA Administrator, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of
Transportation.” I don’t think State was part of that.
The idea was to develop national space policy. And he said, “We
need an executive director for that, and you’re one of the people
whose names have been mentioned. Would you consider that? Would you
come have an interview with Vice President-elect [Dan] Quayle’s
chief of staff?”
So I went to Washington and had that interview, and got a call back
and said, “We’d really like you to consider taking this
job, and we’d like to schedule you for a meeting with Vice President-elect
I had scheduled that meeting. Flew up to Washington, and about the
same time, I’d gotten a call from the Pentagon, from Chief of
Naval Personnel, Vice Admiral [Mike] Boorda, and asked me if I would
come back to the Pentagon. No guarantee that I’d make admiral,
but they had a position they’d like me to fill, and would I
consider that. So I had these two strong inquiries, and I came from
a Navy family, and when it all sorted out, I decided that I’d
try the Navy position.
So I called Vice President-elect Quayle’s Chief of Staff and
said, “I don’t want to waste the Vice President’s
time, and thank you very much, but I’ve decided to go back to
the Navy.” And I thought that was all settled.
Then two weeks later, in Houston, I got a call on Saturday morning.
“Is this Captain Hauck?”
“Please hold for the Vice President,” who had since been
inaugurated. Very nice chat. “Your name keeps coming up. I understand
you’ve made a decision to stay in the Navy. Would you mind coming
up and chatting with me about it in Washington?”
“Yes, sir, I’ll be there. You tell me when.”
So I flew up to Washington and went to the White House and had a meeting
with Vice President Quayle, which he couldn’t have been more
pleasant and so forth, but I reaffirmed that I wouldn’t forgive
myself if I didn’t give the Navy—this chance at the Navy.
So that was the end of that.
I spent a year in the Pentagon as Director of Navy Space Systems Division,
and I decided one year of that was as much fun as I could stand, and
so I retired from the Navy.
What were some of your major goals or duties in that position?
In the Navy?
That was a budgeting position, working for a three-star, Vice Admiral
[Jerry O.] Tuttle, who had oversight over the Navy’s Space and
Communications Systems, and my particular task was to kind of shepherd
the budgetary aspects of various programs, some of them classified,
some of them not; the Navy’s satellite systems used to support
the fleet, Naval Space Command funding. The Navy, of course, didn’t
have anywhere near the size of the budget as the Air Force does as
prime service for space matters. I had some work having to do with
anti-satellite technology, some space-based surveillance things and
After you retired from the Navy, you actually went into private industry
and started working for INTEC, which is now AXA Space. How did you
get involved in this line of work?
The founder and owner of INTEC was a fellow named Jim [James] Barrett,
and Jim was very influential and involved in industry’s request
to NASA to attempt the rescue of PALAPA and WESTAR on what became
STS 51-A. Because here were two satellites that were insured, I think
the total loss to the insurance market was certainly more than $ 100
million, may have been closer to $200 million, and there was a sense
that if they could be retrieved and brought back to Earth, and refurbished,
that that would not recoup the losses, but could mitigate the losses
to the insurers.
So you had Jim Barrett here in the United States and a fellow named
Stephen Merrett as a Lloyd’s underwriter in London, were the
two principals from the insurance side who wanted NASA to go get these
two [satellites]. And as luck would have it, of course, I commanded
that flight. I got to know both Jim and Stephen quite well and I maintained
that relationship with Jim when I was in Washington in the Pentagon
and Jim was here in Bethesda. And when I retired from the Navy, he
asked me if I would be interested in sailing with him in his new sailboat
in a race from Norfolk [Virginia] to the Virgin Islands, and I said,
“Sure. I don’t have anything better to do. You know, I’m
But I was talking to Hughes, Midway Airlines, Mitre Corporation, Rockwell
[International Corporation], and a few other companies. During the
days when Jim would be driving down to Solomon Island here in southern
Maryland, I would go with him a few times and we’d chat. He
was in business—I’d never had business experience—and
he served as a consultant to me in my job search. Then one day he
said, “Rick, how would you like to be the president of my company?”
I said, “Jim, I know nothing about insurance.”
He said, “Perfect.” He said, “I wouldn’t want
an insurance person whose mind was clouded by traditional insurance.”
He said, “I need someone who knows rockets and satellites that
I can teach the insurance business to.” So, after twenty-four
hours of thinking about it, it seemed like a wonderful opportunity.
That was October 1990. Here it is 2004, so, almost fourteen years
ago. In the interim, the company was sold by Jim Barrett to the global
French insurance company AXA, and here we are.
How closely do you work with NASA now in this position?
I don’t work with NASA, in this position, very closely at all,
but I have worked with NASA on a pro bono basis mostly. The distinction
that I want to make is that as insurers, we don’t deal with
NASA, because they don’t insure. The taxpayer provides that
insurance. But I’ve been able to stay in close contact with
NASA in an advisory role over the years. I’ve chaired several
studies. I chaired a group to give an independent look at the preparations
for the second Hubble [Space Telescope] servicing mission. I chaired
a couple of National Research Council studies for NASA, one on the
vulnerability of the Space Shuttle to orbital debris, and the other
one on what measurements need to be done robotically on Mars before
humans go to Mars. That one was completed just two years ago and apparently
is still being of some use to NASA. The name of the report is Safe
I’m currently on what’s called a graybeard panel, an old-guy
panel to try to help NASA as they have developed the next-generation
reusable launch vehicle, which now is morphing into the Project Constellation,
I guess. So even though I professionally don’t have a direct
relationship with NASA, my ties with NASA are still pretty strong.
I’m glad to hear that you still maintain that contact.
Well, it’s good for me, and I hope it’s helpful to NASA.
Before I close out today, I just had a couple of general questions
When you were working for NASA, is there any point at which you could
look back and say, “This was the most challenging milestone
for me personally.”
I would say it was probably getting ready for the mission that never
was, and that was getting ready for the Shuttle Centaur mission, because
it’s clear that that was going to be a very risky flight. As
with any flight, if everything goes well, it’s not risky. It’s
when things start to go wrong that you wonder how close you are to
the edge of disaster. And with Shuttle Centaur you’re much closer
to the edge than in most flights, because this was going to carry
the Centaur upper-stage [filled with] liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen,
in a very fragile booster in the cargo bay of the Shuttle.
I think we’ve talked about, in our previous conversations, that
if there were to be a requirement for a return-to-launch site, all
of the liquid oxygen and hydrogen would have had to been automatically
dumped out of the booster. It’s clear that that was, in my view,
probably going to be one of the riskiest missions NASA had flown on
the Shuttle. It won’t ever compare with STS-1, which, in my
view, with all the unknowns, was the riskiest one, but this was going
to be one of them.
So that was as demanding a time on me, I think, because the crew,
along with George Abbey and the Astronaut Office, were almost like
a lone voice in the agency, raising concerns about the risks involved
in this mission. And, of course, when the Challenger accident happened,
eventually Shuttle Centaur was cancelled, which I think we’re
very fortunate that it was cancelled.
So there was some real soul-searching. Would it have gotten to the
point where I would have stood up and said, “This is too unsafe.
I’m not going to do it.” I don’t know, but we were
certainly approaching levels of risk that I had not seen before.
By contrast, what do you think has been your most significant accomplishment
while working for NASA?
I didn’t screw up. [Laughs] I don’t know, I just worked
very hard and I was very fortunate. I was rewarded by always being
given good assignments and working with a good team that answered
the mail, I think. I don’t know, I think my strength is probably
in flying ability, but also perhaps in a leadership role in bringing
people together and working through issues, but I can’t point
to anything in particular.
Is there anything you think we might have overlooked in your previous
oral history or today that you wanted to talk about?
No, I think this has been pretty thorough. Obviously we’ve got
reams of files that I could review and go through, but I think we’ve
touched on issues that would be of interest and may be of some significance.
I thank you again for your time.
I enjoyed it.
Thank you very much.