Space Center Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Sandra Johnson
Houston, Texas – 17 December 2002
Today is December 17th, 2002. This oral history with Steve Hawley
is being conducted for the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project
in Houston, Texas. Sandra Johnson is the interviewer, and is assisted
by Rebecca Wright and Jennifer Ross-Nazzal.
I want to thank you for coming back to speak with us again.
During our last interview, we ended by talking about your first flight,
STS-41D, and today I’d like to talk about what you did between
STS-41D and your next flight, 61C.
Okay. I was lucky enough to get assigned to be assistant to Mr. [George
W. S.] Abbey, who was at the time Director of Flight Crew Operations.
So I spent my time in Building 1, and basically being his assistant.
It was interesting for a number of reasons, but in particular it was
really my first exposure to kind of what goes on outside my organization.
I had pretty much been working exclusively within the organization,
within the Astronaut Office, and the things that we did at the Cape
[Canaveral, Florida, Kennedy Space Center] and elsewhere, but I wasn’t
really too familiar with a lot of the other senior managers at the
center or what their organizations did, and so I was just lucky and
felt fortunate that he had given me the chance to come up and do that.
So it was a good broadening experience. And seeing how he did business
as well, running FCOD [Flight Crew Operations Directorate].
So you did that until you were assigned, or were you already assigned?
No, I did that till I was assigned again. I was kind of—I don’t
remember—seems like it was probably in the fall of ‘84,
so I guess I did that—I didn’t have to do that too long
before I got reassigned. And then, of course, I continued in that
assignment till it was time to actually leave and go back to training.
So just because you get an assignment doesn’t mean that you
drop everything and start training full time. But it’s nice
to know you’ve got one coming.
Right. So you were assigned to 61C.
Yes, although at the time, back in those days, it wasn’t very
unusual to change flights several times, as we had discussed in the
context of 41D, STS-12, back then. I think initially it was a TDRS-B
[Tracking and Data Relay Satellite] flight, and then it was a TDRS-C
flight, and then it became the complex of payloads that we actually
flew. So actually, I think, when we were assigned initially, we were
assigned to 51I. We weren’t assigned to 61C, although that’s
the one we ultimately flew.
In fact, as I recall, we were assigned to two or three different flights
before it stabilized out, including 51L at one time, we were the crew
for that, and 61B, because for a while it looked like we might get
an EVA [Extravehicular Activity]. And then we got—whatever happened,
I don’t really remember. It may have been that some of the other
flights of payloads weren’t ready, and therefore some crews
We may have mentioned last time, but it’s common today, you
get assigned to a flight, and that’s the flight you’ll
fly. And if the payload’s delayed, then you delay with the payload,
and a lot of that’s driven by the specific training requirements,
in particular for the assembly missions.
Back in those days, a lot of the flights were similar. They were launching
satellites or running some experiment operations that could be quickly
learned, and, therefore, it wasn’t quite as important to stick
with your payload. In some cases, Spacelab crews, for example, where
the complement of experiments was very complex and specific, and there
was a lot of training involved, they did stay with their payload,
but other crews rotated. If your payload went away, you just got the
next one that popped up, and that pushed everybody else. So I think
we did end up having three or four different assignments before we
ended up—the crew stayed together. We finally ended up on 61C.
That was what I was going to ask you. The crews normally stayed together
at that point instead of following?
Yes, with the exception in those days, we were flying payload specialists
more commonly than we do today, and sometimes the payload specialists
would stay with the payload. In fact, of course, that was in many
reasons why the payload specialists were flying, was for a specific
payload. In fact, I remember we trained for a while with [Gregory
B.] Greg Jarvis when we thought we were going to be flying with him,
but the five NASA individuals stayed together.
And along with those five NASA individuals, you had Congressman [Clarence
Who was going to fly on this one.
And, as you said, I think Greg Jarvis was assigned at first—
For a while—
And then he switched out—
Yes, and, and then we had [Robert J.] Bob Cenker, who was an RCA [Radio
Corporation of America] engineer, who was flying, because they were
flying, as I remember, some cameras, some payload bay cameras that
flew—we also had, I think, an RCA satellite on board. So we
had two payload specialists, Bob Cenker and Bill Nelson.
Well, how was it having a U.S.representative on this flight, assigned
to this flight? Did it affect your training, or did it affect the
mission in any way?
The answer, most certainly, is sure. [Laughs] I guess it affected
the training in some ways, because I don’t remember exactly
when he was assigned, but it seems to me he was assigned fairly late
in the flow. So he had a lot of catching up to do, and so it affected
the crew training from that point of view. He also, of course, didn’t
come to the flight with any experience like we did, I mean didn’t
have ops experience, didn’t have previous spaceflight experience,
and so it took resources from the crew to help Bill get through some
of the training and keep an eye on him, and make sure his experience
was going to be safe and successful.
He also had demands on his time because he was still in office, and
I remember he was going back to Washington [D.C.]. I assume that he
went back only as often as he absolutely had to, because I’m
sure he would have preferred to stay and train with us, but he was
gone some, and I remember that was kind of a scheduling issue, to
try to work around his schedule.
Let’s see. Did you ask me—what was the other part of the
Well, just how it affected your training and the flight itself, I
mean, having him onboard.
Oh, the flight itself. Yes, it’s actually kind of interesting,
because we all suspected, although no one ever said, that because
of the delays that we got into and the fact that, frankly, our payload
[complement] wasn’t very robust, that were it not for his presence
on the flight, we might have been canceled. We had one satellite and
some other experiments. It was almost, as I recall, kind of a clearinghouse
sale, if you will. I mean, we had a lot of GAS [Getaway Special] cans
[canisters] and Hitchhiker payloads and a bunch of stuff that hadn’t
been able to fly previously, and here came a flight that for whatever
reason that I don’t remember, we only had one satellite and
nothing else on board, so they were able to put some of this other
stuff, which was important in that they had commitments, but in the
great scheme of things, after we got into delays, you could conceive
of somebody saying, “Well, you know, I’ll bet we can put
that satellite somewhere else and just not fly this flight.”
We wondered about that and always thought, without knowing for sure,
that that might have happened if we hadn’t had a congressman,
but this was his flight, and so we had some guarantee that it would
You’d get to go up one way or the other.
That’s what we thought, yes.
Well, as you mentioned, you had several delays. You had seven delays
on this flight. What did you do during those times, I mean in between
the delays? I mean, did you just continue to train? I think the flight
originally was scheduled at some time in December and then—
Right, December 17th or 18th, as I recall, and then—
And it was a month later before you flew.
Yes. We continued to train. Of course, in the middle there was kind
of the Christmas New Year’s holiday, so I don’t recall
that we did a lot of training during that interval, although we stayed
in quarantine a lot of the time. In fact, we went back right after
New Year’s and tried again. So, actually, even though we didn’t
launch till kind of the middle of January, we were trying to launch
for about the first two weeks.
When you’re in the launch mode down in Florida, the pace is
not very hectic. I mean, you’re not in training typically like
you would be if you’re here in Houston and going to the simulators
every day. You’re, you know, reviewing procedures and checklists,
and having—it’s actually kind of a nice time, because
you have the opportunity to sort of sit back without the pressure
of having to be in a sim, and maybe just think about, “Okay,
here’s what’s going to happen. Let’s think through
the normal time line and think through how we’re going to do
On later flights, we’ve used that time to sit down as a crew
and just sort of talk through how things are going to go. It’s
a luxury you don’t always have in the training environment because
the pace is so hectic. You’re running from one event to the
next. Of course, the events are never normal. They’re always
full of malfunctions that you have to deal with. So the chance to
just sit down and as a crew say, “Okay. Here’s how it’s
probably really going to go. Let’s talk through that and make
sure we all understand what we’re going to do.”
I’ve always enjoyed the time in quarantine, although for that
flight, as I recall, because of the launch time, we were getting up
at two in the morning every day. And, you know, several weeks of getting
up at two in the morning gets old. And we enjoyed each other on the
crew, so that made it nice. We had a good time together.
So the delays, did that create a feeling of frustration, or was it
just part of—
No, my approach to that has always been, hey, you know, I’d
go out to the launch pad every time expecting not to launch. In fact,
I don’t know if I said it last time, but if you think about
all the things that have to work, including the weather at several
different locations around the world in order to make a launch happen,
you would probably conclude, based on the numbers, that it’s
not even worth trying. So I always figured that we’re going
to turn around and come back. So I’m always surprised when we
So my mindset was always, you know, we’ll go out there and try
and see what happens. So I never really viewed it as a disappointment
or anything. I always feel a little bad for, you know, maybe family
and guests that may have come out to watch, that now they have to
deal with the fact there’s a delay and whether they can stay,
whether they have to leave, and that’s kind of a hassle for
them, but it never bothered me particularly.
Now, in those days, the launch windows were much longer than they
are today. Typically today with [the International Space] Station
we have five-minute launch windows, and in those days the launch windows
were two and a half hours, and if you add the normal two and a half
or three hours that you’re in the orbit or prelaunch, you’re
out there on your back for five or six hours, and that gets to be
pretty long, day after day. But the fact that you didn’t launch
never bothered me particularly.
Well, you came up with an innovative idea to fool the Columbia there
for the last—
Yes, we were getting kind of desperate. [Laughs] I had discussed that
with the commander, I don’t remember, maybe a day or two before,
because I had been through the 41-D experience, and so even only my
second flight I was developing something of a reputation for not being
able to launch. So they must know it’s me.
So then I guess—I don’t remember how we came up with the
specifics of the disguise, but I decided that if it didn’t know
it was me, then maybe we’d launch, and so I taped over my name
tag with gray tape and had the glasses-nose-mustache disguise, and
wore that into the [white] room. I had the commander’s permission,
but I don’t remember if we had told anybody else we were going
to do that.
Well, evidently, it worked because—
Evidently, it worked, because we did launch that day, yes.
Well, as you mentioned, there was a variety of experiments on that
flight. Were you responsible for any of those experiments, or are
there any in particular that you remember?
I kind of remember the suite of experiments, although I don’t
remember specifically any one for which I was in charge. We kind of
shared all the responsibilities. Frankly, I mean, there’s no
such thing as a nothing space flight; but, you know, maybe if there
ever were, that would have been it, so it’s kind of hard to
divide up the nothing you’re doing five ways.
But, again, we enjoyed each other. The crew got along really well,
and I remember that crew, in particular, we developed a lot of techniques
for backing each other up and learning how to do things together,
so you had a different set of eyes watching a procedure or a separate
independent brain making sure that whatever you were doing was right,
and maybe because of that I sort of remember being involved in everything
without really remembering who was responsible for it.
I think Franklin [R. Chang-Dìaz] and [George D.] Pinky [Nelson]
were responsible for the satellite deploy, because I had done one
on a previous flight. Again, in those days, a lot of us—you
know, on this flight there were two of us getting our second flight—no,
three of us getting our second flight, and two of us getting the first
flight, so we didn’t have a lot of experience, so as we looked
at the tasks, I remember we talked about, well, you know, I had launched
a satellite on my previous flight, so maybe on this flight Franklin
and Pinky should do it so they get the training and the experience.
And I had trained for EVA on my first flight, so maybe on this flight
Franklin and Pinky should train for the EVA. We didn’t have
one scheduled, so we kind of, as I remember, divided up the responsibilities
along those lines just so that we could maximize the resultant training
and experience on everybody on the crew.
You and [Charles F.] Charlie Bolden [Jr.] and [Robert L.] Hoot Gibson
tracked some spiral eddies in the Earth’s oceans.
Do you want to talk about that for a minute?
The only thing I really remember about that is that as hard as it
was to launch, it seemed to be equally hard to land. We were supposed
to be the first flight to go back to KSC [Kennedy Space Center] after
[Karol J.] Bo Bobko had blown a tire on 51-D, and the weather just
didn’t cooperate. So they kept waving us off and making us wait
another day to try to get back into KSC.
And what I remember is that by the third day we had sort of run out
of most everything, including film, and part of our training had been
to look for spiral eddies near the equator, because the theory was,
for whatever reason you didn’t see them near the equator, and
Charlie was looking out the window and claimed to see one, and I told
him, “Well, you’d better draw a picture of it, because
we don’t have any film.” So we couldn’t take a photograph.
But we were pretty much out of everything by then the end of the flight.
So you just drew pictures of spiral eddies?
So we drew pictures of spiral eddies. That’s all we had.
And waited to land.
Yep, waited to land.
So you finally did land on that one.
Yes, and that was finally in California.
Well, not long after you landed, the Challenger accident happened.
Do you remember where you were and what you were doing during that?
Yes, I do. I was, in fact, in Topeka, Kansas. I had been invited up
after the flight to participate in Kansas Day, which is the 29th of
January anniversary of Kansas’s statehood. So I was up there
at the request of the governor, and I was going to do some speaking
and go to the ball. I had just flown into the air base in Topeka,
and they had actually let me go in the VIP room there and watch the
launch on TV while I was waiting for—I don’t know if I
was waiting for a ride, wherever I was going. So I was there when
Right afterwards, we were all recalled to Houston, and I remember
Joe [H.] Engel flew up and picked me up, and we flew back.
Your father was actually asked by the astronauts to speak at the Memorial.
Yes, George [Abbey], I think, had asked me if he would do that. So,
yes, he was here as part of the memorial service on site. President
[Ronald W.] Reagan and the Administrator came, and my dad was part
I imagine that was an honor for him to be asked.
Yes, it really was, and I think he still feels very honored and grateful
to have had the opportunity to participate in something like that.
A lot of the guys in the class had gotten to meet him, so it was,
I think, of some comfort to have somebody involved that a lot of the
astronauts had known. He had met a lot of them, so he had some kind
of kinship with the bunch at the time.
In ‘87, as part of the recovery after Challenger, the STS
61-C crew, you supported the countdown demonstration test for the
Can you describe that for us?
Yes, well, I think what they were really trying to do was, because
it had been a while and probably would be a while yet before we flew
anything, they wanted to process the vehicle kind of through the flow
and get it out to the pad, and practice the countdown, and so that
everybody could kind of rehearse the skills that they would need once
we returned to flight. George asked or assigned—I don’t
know that George ever asked—he probably directed us as the last
crew to fly to go down and participate as the crew for that practice
countdown. And we were happy to do that, and that was kind of a nice
experience, to go down and be part of the team again.
Well, since you were the last crew to fly before Challenger, what
procedures had changed with this test compared to—
I don’t know that really any procedures had changed. During
that time, the whole program was looking at a whole bunch of things
in terms of how to improve the safety of the system. So there were
a lot of design changes, engineering changes, procedural changes that
were being incorporated in the program before return to flight. But
this test really was just an opportunity for the team to get back
to thinking about launch procedures so they wouldn’t become
rusty, and I thought that was a valuable thing to do, the close-out
crews and the launch team getting to go through their procedures.
I think the countdown itself was pretty much the way it had always
been. It was just a chance to kind of remember and get re-familiar
with the procedures.
Also, after Challenger, you took part in Sally [K.] Ride’s task
Yes. It wasn’t really her task force. She was part of the Rogers
And my assignment had been to actually be part of the KSC team, and
I worked with [John J.] Tip Talone [Jr.], who was one of the flow
managers at the time, and our job was to look through the processing
of the vehicle itself prior to launch to see if there was anything
in all of that that could have contributed to the accident.
Now, when we started that activity, nobody knew exactly what had caused
the accident. It was not too long after that, that it was pretty clear
that it was a solid rocket motor problem. But I think, wisely, all
of the teams continued. You know, you don’t want to drop what
you’re doing, thinking you know the answer, only to discover
later, “Well, maybe that wasn’t really it. Maybe it was
So we did that for several months, and then when our report was complete,
I went up to [NASA] Headquarters and kind of provided staff support
to the Rogers Commission. Sally was actually a member of the commission,
and I was one of the guys there just helping to integrate all of the
information. I think all of the sub team reports were made available
to the Rogers Commission for their report, and since I had worked
on that one, I was able to kind of help integrate that into what they
And how long were you there doing that?
Oh, I don’t really remember. It seems like it was a couple months.
It wasn’t probably full time. It was part time, as I remember.
It was kind of interesting. I mean, to get to meet, you know, the
people that were—it was a pretty high powered commission, and
to get to meet some of the members was very memorable, getting to
meet Chairman [William P.] Rogers and getting to talk with him. Neil
[A.] Armstrong was on the team, and Professor [Richard P.] Feynman,
who had always been sort of a hero of mine as I grew up as an astronomer-astrophysicist.
I mean, he was legendary as a physicist, and to actually get to meet
him was really special, and there are many other members of the team
that were also very well known and famous in their own right. So that
was a really unique experience.
Of course, the “Leadership in America’s Future in Space,”
the report that was produced—
Yes, we helped write that.
Yes. Those of us that were—a lot of that was, you know, a lot
of that report writing is done by the staff, and then the members
kind of critique it. So some of the stuff I remember writing myself.
Yes, I don’t remember how much of it survived.
What parts of it do you—
I don’t really remember. Probably a lot of the parts about—it
addressed some things that were not—I guess I’d put it
this way. The chairman felt that it was appropriate to look not only
at the specifics of that accident, but other things that his group
might want to say about safety in the program, and that included,
among other things, the role of astronauts in the program, and that
was one of the places where I think I contributed, was how astronauts
ought to be involved in the program.
I remember one of the recommendations of the committee—I don’t
think I was responsible for this one—but talked about elevating
the director, the position of director of FCOD, because at the time
of the Challenger accident, he was not a direct report to the center
director. That had been a change that had been made sometime earlier.
I don’t remember exactly when. And that commission felt that
the guy that was head of the organization with the astronauts should
be a direct report to the center director. So several people went
back to Houston and put George’s desk up on blocks in an attempt
to elevate his position. [Laughter] I think he left it there for some
period of time, as far as I can remember.
Enjoyed the elevation?
Enjoyed the elevation.
Well, in May of ‘87, you replaced Henry [W. “Hank”]
Hartsfield [Jr.] as the Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office. What
were your duties and responsibilities in that position?
The chief and the deputy are responsible for a lot of the technical
issues the astronauts get involved with, all of the individual astronauts
in one way or another involved in their various program issues. Usually
there comes a time when the office itself as a group needs to take
a position on some technical issue or program issue, and we would
Of course, we would make recommendations for job assignments for people,
who would get to go work as a CapCom [Capsule Communicator], who would
get to work down in Florida, who would go work at SAIL [Shuttle Avionics
Integration Laboratory]. We made recommendations about crew assignments,
and basically just running the administration of the office.
Now, when I came in as deputy to [Daniel C.] Dan Brandenstein, who
was the chief, I felt that it was my job to be the guy that was available
for people to come talk to, because the chief is pretty busy, and
he’s involved in lots of stuff that take him away from the office,
and maybe he doesn’t have as much time to spend listening to
the people in the office. And so I felt like it was my job to sit
there with the door open, and I actually did that. I sat at the end
of the hall, and I’d always leave my door open, and I sat there
with my desk facing the hallway, so people could see if I was in.
Painful as that was, I felt it was my job to be the guy that was there,
that if people wanted to come and say something or vent or ask for
something, that they had somebody to go to. So I remember, for whatever
reason, I remember that being something that I thought was very important
in the job.
So that was something that you decided yourself, not something that
was expressed that that was a part of your job?
Were there any other major issues that you remember dealing with during
Oh, well, you know, we were dealing with all the issues associated
with return to flight. I remember auto-land being a big deal back
then. That was something that people were pushing on that we had a
concern about in the office. Not so much that—I think there’s
been a misconception over the years that the astronauts are macho,
and they’re not going to sit there and let the computer land
it; they want to land it themselves.
I never thought that was the real issue. I always thought that the
real issue was you’ve got to have confidence that the auto-land
system is going to work. And we didn’t feel like we had enough
confidence in the redundancy in the system, nor preflight predictions
in how it would behave, that is, the different simulators, as I remember,
the SAIL and the Shuttle training airplane, and the Shuttle mission
simulator, tended to behave a little differently with respect to auto-land,
and so we weren’t confident that for a given set of circumstances
we knew exactly how it was going to perform. And there were some other
technical details. But I remember that being an issue.
One of the reasons that was an issue was because in those days they
were talking about long-duration Orbiter, and wanting to fly for twenty-eight
days or longer, and they didn’t feel like a human could come
back and land the Shuttle after a month in zero-G. And if that was
true, then they needed to have an auto-land. I remember getting involved
Maybe the biggest issue was just coming to closure on all of the different
technical activities that were under way after Challenger—hardware
improvements, procedural improvements, software changes, all the stuff
that made us ready to go fly again. And I also remember there was
just a lot of administrative stuff. We do a lot of, you know, travel,
and other things that always seems to be a headache, for some reason,
in that job, at least in those days kind of fell on the deputy to
be the guy that dealt with those problems.
Well, were there any concerns being the person that—you were
setting yourself up to be the person that people would come to with
complaints because of Challenger? I mean, were there any worries or
anything that you had to deal with in that respect?
Yes, I guess there were some. That wasn’t what most people came
to complain about. It tended to be, as I recall, a lot more mundane.
And probably there was just about as little as I could do about it
for them as I could about the big problems. But, no, I think the things
that I remember, the whole issue of crew escape, I mean, we had a
crew escape activity going on after Challenger, and I remember there
was some testing about using rockets mounted to the side hatch that
would actually forcibly extract you from the vehicle. People looked
at ejection seat designs. Finally, we settled on the pole system,
which is still the one we fly today, where in an emergency you would
go and attach a lanyard to a pole and basically slide out the hatch,
and the pole’s designed to get you clear of the wing so that
you don’t hit anything getting out.
But the whole issue of escape and the new pressure suits we were going
to wear was kind of an issue. There were some people that thought
it was unconscionable to not have an ejection system in the Shuttle.
Not many, but there were a few that—and some of them still feel
that way today, although the ones that I know about aren’t in
the office anymore, but they still feel like we should have a crew-escape
system, more sophisticated than what we have.
We felt that, frankly, the design of the Shuttle just really didn’t
permit it, in terms of weight, and amount of money it would take.
There were also people that thought the suit was kind of burdensome
and didn’t really want to have to wear it. And we sort of just
had to say, “Well, yeah, but you do have to wear it.”
And there were people that understood, “Well, okay, we should
wear it for ascent,” but they didn’t really want to have
to wear it for entry, and we said, “Nope. Yes, you do.”
And those discussions still go on from time to time, as far as I know.
Well, you also served on the selection board for the 1990 astronaut
I think pretty much every class since ‘84, as I remember.
Oh, really? Okay. What exactly were your functions on those committees?
Do you make recommendations? Can you describe the selection process
and your part in that?
Yes, there’s really two parts to it. There’s something
that’s called a ratings panel, and that group is the group that
has to go through all of the applicants’ folders and make some
preliminary decision about who are the most qualified, because from
the most qualified you select the ones that actually come down to
Houston and go through the medical tests and actually get interviewed.
And some subset of the ratings panel ends up being on the selection
board itself that actually does those interviews. So fundamentally,
the selection board’s job is to have looked at the folders,
to have reviewed the contents, to have looked at the recommendations,
to have sat through the interviews, and ultimately make some judgments
as to who are the best candidates to recommend to the center director,
who is the selecting official.
I actually sort of always enjoyed being on the selection board. It
was kind of a humbling experience, because I thought over time we
seemed to always get a more and more qualified bunch of people wanting
to come work for us, which I always thought was kind of an honor,
that all of these really capable people wanted to come work in your
program. Several of us used to joke that we probably wouldn’t
even be competitive if we were trying to get selected now.
But it was also, I thought, very important to select the right kind
of people to come into the program, and so being on the board was
also, I thought, a great responsibility. So I was always proud to
be entrusted with that responsibility. It’s a real burden, because
it takes a lot of time. The interviews themselves take basically six
solid weeks if you interview, you know, 100, 120 individuals, which
is typically what we would do, plus the time beforehand to go through
hundreds or thousands of folders and try to make a determination who
are the most qualified applicants. But, like I say, it’s a real
honor to be asked to do that, and I always enjoyed it.
Do you think the process has changed significantly since you were
selected in ‘78?
I don’t think the process has changed much. I think the quality
of the people that apply has gotten better, in part, frankly, because
it’s a little easier now to prepare if you want—I mean,
when I was a kid, people like me didn’t get to be astronauts,
because I didn’t want to be a military test pilot. Nowadays,
as a kid in school, you can—well, plus in those days, you know,
in fact, before my class, I don’t think they had—NASA
hadn’t actually picked astronauts for ten or eleven years. So
the chance of actually even getting a chance to apply was very remote.
Now, today, that’s not true. We select more or less regularly
every couple or three years, and you sort of know what the job is,
and so you have a chance to tailor your development in that direction
if you want to, and I think that does tend to give you more qualified
So you see that more and more in the applicants—
I think so.
—that they are being tailored?
Yes. I think they know what the job—they have a better idea
what the job’s like. They kind of know what the skills are that
we’re looking for. And we’ve had a number of astronauts
come into the program and be successful, and if they want to, they
can pattern themselves after the people that have done that.
You still get that today. It’s a little bit humbling and a little
bit different now. When I first started on the selection board, people
would say, “Oh, yeah, you know, I always wanted to be an astronaut
ever since I watched Apollo 11 land on the Moon,” and now in
later years it’s been, “Yeah, I really wanted to be an
astronaut ever since I was a little kid and I watched the first Shuttles
launch.” And you think, “Ah, jeez.”
Nobody ever says, “When I watched Steve Hawley launch,”
but they will say, “Hey, when I saw Sally Ride launch, then
I really wanted to be an astronaut,” or, “I thought I
could do that, too.” [Laughter]
They’re getting younger and younger, I imagine.
Well, you were assigned to STS-31, but, actually, you had been assigned
to 61-J, which was planned before the Challenger accident.
It was planned to happen later that year.
As a matter of fact, I was assigned to that even before 61-C. flew,
so it wasn’t unprecedented, but it wasn’t common that
you’d get assigned to two missions at the same time. That was
kind of neat, although as a practical matter, it didn’t figure
into it because we didn’t do much training for 61-J before Challenger,
and, then, of course, it all became sort of irrelevant.
So you knew for a while that you’d be a part of that crew that
deployed the Hubble [Space Telescope].
And so then you did, after a while—I think you were actually—when
were you assigned for 31? Was that in ‘88, I think?
I don’t remember. That sounds about right, yes.
Yes, okay. Well, since it was postponed for so long, when you were
reassigned, did they assign the entire crew at that point, or was
They didn’t assign the entire crew, but it was mostly the same
crew. The commander was different. When I was assigned to 61-J, John
[W.] Young was the commander, and then they got around to assigning
31, John was no longer the Chief of the [Astronaut] Office. He was
the Special Assistant to the Director [of Johnson Space Center for
Engineering, Operations, and Safety], and Loren [J.] Shriver was assigned
to be the commander.
Do you think that you being the astronomer, is that why you were assigned
to that mission?
Yes, well, it’s interesting. I probably have told people that.
I like to think it was because they thought I’d be a really
good arm operator. [Laughs] But, in fact, there is value in having—I
always thought at the time; I think it’s true today—value
having an astronomer involved in something like that for the simple
reason that we want to make sure as we design and execute the mission,
that the needs and requirements of the customers are understood and
dealt with appropriately, and we want the customer—my opinion
is, we want the customers to know that we value that.
By having an astronomer involved—I mean, I suppose people may
think that an astronomer is there because this is a telescope and
maybe he’s looking through the telescope or doing something—I
mean, in flight, there’s not much you can do that’s really
astronomy. I mean, you need to be a good arm operator, but preflight
you can hopefully—I felt I was in a position to understand what
the astronomers needed to accomplish and also, of course, understanding
how the Shuttle program works, how the Shuttle vehicle works, what
our constraints are. It put me in a position where we could perhaps
suggest ways that the customer requirements could be best met.
So, hopefully, it helped the Hubble science team believe that there
was somebody on the crew that really understood what they were trying
to accomplish and was part of their team as well in trying to help
get that done, as opposed to maybe creating the impression, “Well,
here’s a bunch of guys that don’t really care about our
payload. We’re just a payload, and they’re just trying
to launch it,” and maybe creating some problems there.
There’s a lot of technical issues anytime you do something like
that, where you have to reach a accommodation between what the customer
may want and what the Shuttle is capable of providing, and I think
what the customer wants to know is that we really do understand and
care about what they’re trying to do rather than, “Ah,
you know, we’re the Shuttle. We’re going to do it the
way we want, and we don’t care about you.”
So I do think that happened from that point of view. So, yes. The
short answer is, yes, I think that was part of why I was assigned.
In the last interview, I believe you mentioned that you had a chance
to see some of the satellites and where they were being created and
built and meet with the teams. Did you do that with the Hubble also?
Sure did, yes. I always thought that was really important. Even perhaps
more so for Bruce [McCandless, II] and [Dr. Kathryn D.] Kathy [Sullivan],
who were the two crew members that would have done an EVA had one
been necessary. There were several scenarios that were all in the
case of a problem, but where two of our crew, Bruce and Kathy, would
go outside and intervene by EVA in order to make the mission successful.
And so their ability to see the telescope and do fit checks and handrail
location assessments and things like that were important. It’s
tremendously important to be able to see something like that and understand
where the antennas are, understand where the handrails are, understand
where the Magnetic Torquers are, and knowing not to touch them. And,
frankly, even more so for a payload like Hubble, which is going to
be there—it has been there now twelve years and hopefully will
be there another eight years, it’s the one time that we have
the real telescope there where we can fit-check tools, and we can
dry-run our procedures.
So we were working on things not only for STS-31, but also with the
knowledge that we’d be going back to Hubble over the years for
servicing missions. At that time we didn’t know we’d be
going back in three years to, you know, correct a mirror problem,
but we knew we’d be going back and doing some things, some tasks
on it, and the ability to see it, to fit-check the tools, to maybe—and
Bruce and Kathy were good at this—to look at some worksite or
some task and say, “You know what would really make this easier
for a suited astronaut to do would be if you made this connector bigger,”
or if you had a different sort of interface for opening the compartment
or if you put a handrail here or if you put a little grip on the black
So we were able to improve the serviceability of the telescope by
the fact that it was here and we could actually see it, and I hesitate
to say “play with it,” but evaluate tasks and tools, knowing
that astronauts would have to be working on this for the next, you
know, twenty years. So that was critically important, plus the fact
that it was just big and beautiful. [Laughs] And to get to see it—I
mean, today we’ve seen enough pictures now of it in orbit, I
guess, but back then to be able to show a picture of it to somebody
with a technician standing next to it and show how big the telescope
really is, is pretty impressive.
Well, how did you train for the RMS [Remote Manipulator System] arm
and for the deployment of it?
Primarily in computer-driven sims [simulations]. So I actually didn’t
get—the sims are very good. I didn’t get to do anything
really with real hardware, maybe like Bruce and Kathy got to in training
for EVA. We did have a big Hubble-sized balloon that we had in Building
9 facility called the MDF, Manipulator Development Facility. It’s
been shut down now, but it was the one training location where you
had a real Shuttle arm. That means you could really—it was physical,
and you could really drive it into a structure and damage it.
We had a balloon that was shaped like Hubble, at least the Hubble
without the solar arrays, and so you could practice maneuvering this
big object around, and that was kind of interesting, although I found
that in Building 9, the robot arm in Building 9 can’t really
lift very much weight, and so the balloon is filled with helium because
it sort of floats, which is a nice stimulation, but it’s also
susceptible to the air currents in the building, and it was interesting
and somewhat frustrating, I think, to try to maneuver it, and particularly
in proximity to the payload bay, because it would sort of drift around
in the air currents in the building. It wasn’t near as stable
as the real HST [Hubble Space Telescope] was on the real arm. Most
of the training, therefore, we did in the computer-based simulations,
where the Hubble was basically a cartoon in the monitor.
But some of those simulations were very good, and after the flight,
we made them even better, because we discovered the arm didn’t
work exactly like the simulator when we actually got around to deploying
the Hubble. That was kind of interesting, too.
Well, why don’t you walk us through the actual deployment.
The mission was designed from a couple of different perspectives.
The one which was important was the way the telescope got power during
ascent was by being plugged into basically a cable from the Orbiter.
By necessity, the solar arrays are stowed during ascent so it’ll
fit in the bay, and until you get the Hubble out of the payload bay
and raised above the Orbiter, the solar arrays can’t come out,
and the cable wasn’t long enough that it could still be plugged
in while you’re waiting for the solar arrays to come out. The
reason I mention that is because, therefore, you had to unplug it
before you raised it, and if for some reason the solar arrays didn’t
come out, you had to send the EVA astronauts outside to manually deploy
the solar arrays so it could get power before the telescope died,
because the batteries wouldn’t survive indefinitely.
For space adaptation reasons, we don’t normally schedule an
EVA before the fourth flight day. In a contingency like that, we wouldn’t
normally schedule it or be vulnerable to it before the third flight
day. So that meant that—I’m trying to remember. I think
maybe we were going to deploy Hubble—we had deployed Hubble
on the second day, with the knowledge that if we had to, we could
do the EVA, and that would give them time to check out the suits and
So, anyway, the design was, we’d go up, we would get on orbit,
we’d check everything out on the first day, and then the second
day we’d get into Hubble deploy. It’s done with the robot
arm, so you grab it with the robot arm and then lift it out of the
payload bay, lift it up, kind of rotate it end for end, and then the
solar arrays come out, and then you put it in the proper release position
and let it go. If all that works, then it’s all done with the
Two things happened. One, we, on purpose—see, the way the robot
arm is designed, it’s electric motors that drive the individual
joints, and you can determine the rate at which the joints drive by
how much current flows to the electric motors, and how much current
can flow can be determined by how you configure the software. It’s
all run by software in the Shuttle computers. And for a very big payload,
for a massive payload, in particular one that’s going to be
in proximity to the Shuttle, what you’re worried about is a
very, very remote failure case that the arm could fail in such a way
that it drives by itself. And the operator is always there watching,
but, obviously, if it’s close to structure, you may not have
much time to react. So they intentionally limit how fast the joints
will drive so that they give you some time to react in the case that
there’s this far-out failure that happens and the joint fails
on by itself and gives you time to intervene and save the day.
What that means for Hubble, Hubble being at the time the biggest payload
we had ever deployed with the arm, the amount of motion you could
command was limited, because it was designed to protect for this failure
case, at least while you were close to the payload bay. So what we
found as we started to lift Hubble out of the payload bay was that
it didn’t come straight up, not that we would have expected
necessarily for it to come straight up out of the bay, even though
that’s what we were commanding it to do, but it seemed to wobble
around a lot more than the simulator had predicted, and that was a
bit of a challenge.
After the flight, we found out that the explanation was reasonably
simple, and it was that in the real arm there’s noise in the
joints, and because we had limited the signal by the software in order
to protect for this case where you got this strange runaway failure,
and you’ve got to react, that the noise was actually a fairly
significant contributor to the intended signal, and so there was a
lot of sort of random motion that was being imparted. Normally, you
wouldn’t see that. You’d command high rates and noise
in the joints is small compared to the amount of signal that you’re
actually commanding to get the joint to move. But in this case, because
we weren’t able to command a lot on purpose, the noise was a
contributor that manifested itself in uncommanded motion.
So we actually managed to make the sim more realistic when we got
back and actually modeled the noise in the joints. So forever more
it was more realistic. But for me, that day, it was interesting, and
not quite what I had expected.
The other thing that happened was, once we finally got the telescope
to the position where the solar arrays are to deploy, the first one
deployed and came out fine, and the second one began to deploy, and
then it stopped. And this was exactly the case that we had protected
for but had worried about, which is now you can’t get the solar
array out, so you’re not generating electricity. And if you’re
not generating more than you’re using, eventually the batteries
will run out and Hubble will be dead. So Bruce and Kathy had to suit
up and get ready to go out and manually deploy the solar arrays.
The ground worked on that for a while, and ultimately they figured
out that there was a sensor that was erroneously reading too much
tension. This thing was designed so that if it started to hang up,
the motors would turn it off so you didn’t damage the array.
And the sensor, as I recall, was sensing that that was happening but,
in fact, it really wasn’t, and the ground figured that out,
and they were able to bypass the sensor and then resend the command,
and ultimately it worked okay, but by then Bruce and Kathy were in
their suits in the airlock ready to go outside, and actually never
got to see the deploy because they were in the airlock at the time.
As a matter of fact, there’s a famous—well, I think it’s
a famous picture of the release of Hubble the first time. It’s
actually a scene taken from the IMAX footage that ultimately was in
Destiny in Space . What had happened, as it turned out, was,
we had trained for a bunch of failure cases. We had trained for the
case where everything is normal and we have, you know, all five of
us supporting the deploy, and we’d trained for a case where
there were three of us inside, and there were two guys out doing the
EVA, but I guess we hadn’t really thought about the case where
there were three inside and two in the airlock. Bruce and Kathy, as
I recall, were the photographers, and they were locked up in the airlock.
So we didn’t get as much photography of the Hubble deploy as—in
fact, if [Charles F.] Charlie [Bolden, Jr.] hadn’t remembered
to turn on the IMAX camera, we probably wouldn’t have got any,
but fortunately he did, and the IMAX people were kind enough to give
us a frame out of it, so we have a still of Hubble being released.
Well, during the release, the camera on the end of the RMS that was
there to assist you, you couldn’t use it.
Yes. I think it was—it may have just been overwhelmed by the
sunlight reflecting off of the aluminum thermal protection system
that covers the telescope, but for whatever reason, there was no picture.
I remember we had sort of trained for that case, and I had a pretty
good view out the window, so I could see the end effector and I could
see the grapple fixture, and so as we separated, it was visible, so
I actually wasn’t too concerned about it.
One of the things I remember that I had subsequently forgotten was
that—the telescope is exceedingly bright when the sun is shining
on it, because of all the reflective surfaces, and we got back from
31, and it may have even been because of the end effector camera problem,
but I remember saying, “You know, when we go back to it to service
it on subsequent missions, you really ought to consider rendezvousing
in the dark, because the payload bay lights would be adequate to light
it up, and you wouldn’t have to suffer the glare and all that
And I remember, when I was assigned to STS-82, one of the things the
Hubble team wanted was a color camera on the end effector, because
they wanted to use it for doing a survey, a close-up survey of the
Hubble, and they wanted the color image, and I was concerned about
that, because the color cameras don’t provide as much low light
sensitivity, so if you’re going to rendezvous at night, having
a color end effector camera could be a real problem. It won’t
show an image quite as well, and you might be able to see adequately
with the payload bay lights or a floodlight or something like that.
So we went over to Building 9 and set up some tests to see, because
I was really concerned about this color camera they wanted to put
on the end effector. And I remember getting into a discussion about
this, and thinking, “Well, the right answer would be just to
rendezvous in the daytime, because then there would be plenty of light
for this color camera, and who’s the idiot that thought we ought
to do this at night?”
And the guy, honestly, he did not remember. He just said, “You
know, it was that STS-31 crew that recommended that.” He didn’t
know that I was on the STS-31 crew, and I didn’t remember we
had said that.
And after he said it, I went, “Oh, yeah, that’s right,
we did.” [Laughs]
It turned out that that camera worked fine, and we were able to do
it at night with the color camera. So everything was okay.
You have to be careful what you recommend.
Yes, you might have to deal with it.
You may have to deal with it later.
Well, there were some other things besides the Hubble on the Atlantis
on that flight. Do you remember—
Actually, it was Discovery.
Oh, was it Discovery?
Oh, okay. Do you remember anything about any of the other payloads
or the experiments?
I don’t remember that we had too much else, frankly. Hubble
pretty much filled the bay, so we didn’t have anything else
in the bay. We had IMAX, and we probably had some mid deck experiments,
but I don’t remember much about them.
What was it like for you when you finally, being assigned to this
early on, four years before, and then finally seeing it fly, what
was that like for you personally to experience that?
Well, to be honest with you, the thing I thought of wasn’t the
fact that I had been assigned four years before or whatever, and finally
got to see it fly, as much as the people that had been working on
it basically their whole careers. I mean the scientists. The same
thing years later I was thinking when we deployed Chandra [X-Ray Observatory].
But, as I remember, Hubble got a—I think it became official
sometime maybe in the early seventies, so we’re talking twenty
years since it’s been a real formal project, and people had
been working on it prior to that. And, you know, guys like Dr. [Lyman]
Spitzer [Jr.] who had spent, you know, fifty years thinking about
it, well, forty, maybe, really, thinking about, you know—this
is really about all of the people that had spent their whole scientific
career for this moment. The fact that it was four years for me, you
know, in that context seemed to me to be nothing.
Also, frankly, as an astronomer, I really felt that I knew the potential
of the instrument and what it could really do, if it all worked, and
for me, that was tremendously exciting to suddenly have a large telescope
in space and the things that it would be able to do. I mean, even
now, though, in retrospect, I didn’t have any idea how significant
the discoveries would be and how profoundly revealing the Hubble observations
would be. But I remember thinking, you know, “This is really
going to be special.”
And that’s really exciting, I mean, as an astronomer, to have
a tool like that that will allow you to see the universe in ways that
you never thought would be possible was tremendously exciting. And
to have it actually turn out to be that and more over the years, even
though we had a bit of a slow start, is very rewarding. Probably,
as an astronomer, that’s about the greatest thing, if you’re
going to be in this program, that’s the greatest thing to have
been able to be part of.
How long was it before you found out, or was it after you landed you
found out about the problems with the mirrors?
Yes, a couple of months. I remember being on the Hill doing a post
flight visit, which is typical after every flight, and we had the
first light pictures, and we were running around showing these first
light pictures to everybody. I remember the images were kind of fuzzy,
but we were telling everybody, “Yeah, it’s supposed to
be like that.” [Laughter] And then finding out that there was
a real problem, and that was pretty devastating, really. Again, sort
of for the same reasons. I mean, personally, I was convinced we didn’t
screw it up, but again, that so many people had spent so much of their
careers working on this one instrument, and then to have it perhaps
Now, one of the things that I suppose maybe affected me—this
whole thing affected me perhaps a bit less was because I really think
I understood, even in its degraded state, I mean, even if we had never
done anything about it, it was still a [unique] instrument. The thing
that people don’t really understand, I believe, even today,
is that despite the flaw, the telescope had the sensitivity that we
had advertised it would have, and it had the resolution that we said
it would have. The problem was, it didn’t have both at the same
time. And so there was still state-of-the-art science, cutting-edge
research that you could do, that you couldn’t do from the ground,
but you couldn’t do all of the problems that you had intended
to address with that telescope because of the lack of being able to
have the limit of sensitivity and the limit of resolution at the same
We had image-correcting techniques that could be applied, and they
were successful to a large extent, although they cost you light to
do it, and they threw away some of the input and, therefore, that
affected the resultant sensitivity. But you could recover a lot of
the resolution. If you didn’t care about the resolution, you
could get the sensitivity and just not worry about it.
But there were some problems, like determining the Hubble constant,
that were considered really important problems that the Hubble was
designed to address that, because of the problem, could not be addressed.
That was very disappointing, but I guess all I’m saying that
in terms of a total disaster, I didn’t ever view it as a total
disaster. I mean, it was unfortunate, and certainly disappointing
to everybody that had anything to do with it, but the telescope was
far from useless, and it always frustrated me a little bit, I think,
that people would paint this thing as a piece of iron floating around
Earth that had no value, because that wasn’t true. Scientifically
it was still very important, even in its degraded state.
Then the media pretty much painted it that way.
Yes, they did, and people really wanted to believe that, I guess.
And, frankly, it’s tough—I mean, we had kind of collectively
screwed up, and, you know, it’s hard to go back and say, “Well,
yeah, but don’t worry about that because it’s really working
pretty well.” I mean, people aren’t going to buy that.
Furthermore, I think, you know, it’s not for me to sit in judgment
of whether this was a sound technique or not, but preflight they were
making a very big deal about the images. Now, as an astronomer, I
knew scientifically there was a lot more to what Hubble was going
to do than to just make pictures. I mean, the spectra were going to
be very important, and the photometry was going to be very important,
and the astrometry was going to be important, and the images were
going to be important, too, but all NASA appeared to want to talk
about was pictures that were going to be obtained.
Well, fair enough, but now the thing launches, and now what’s
impacted? Well, the pictures. Now, we could still do spectra and we
could still do photometry and some of the other things, but you can’t
sort of go back and say, “Well, forget all that stuff I told
you about the images being really neat. Here’s some neat spectra.”
So we didn’t really have a good argument to convey, I think,
that this was still a very capable instrument, even though I felt
that it was.
And the scientific community felt that it was.
Yes, I think. I mean, the scientific community is sort of diverse,
and I don’t know that the scientific community ever, you know,
speaks with one voice, but there were people that were using the telescope
from ’90 to ‘93 and doing important work. I’m
sure there were others that felt NASA had really screwed this up,
and they were not very happy at all. So you could probably find a
whole host of points of view on that.
Well, you mentioned that you were sure that your crew had not done
anything to cause the problem. Was there ever a question of that?
No, but, you know, I mean, that’s the sort of thing that—
First thing you thought of?
First thing you think of is, “What did I do to screw this up?”
Well, after that, you came back. What was your position when you first
came back from that flight? Were you still—
I guess it was probably ill-defined, because I had actually had an
offer to go to [NASA] Ames [Research Center, Moffett Field, California]
before the flight happened, and [Richard H. “Dick”] Truly
had called me, I think in December or thereabouts of—would have
been ‘89, and asked me if I wanted to consider going out
and taking a job at Ames, and I told him I was interested and wanted
to think about it, but I had this flight, and I really didn’t
feel like I was in a position to decide till after the flight. I had
actually gone out to Ames before the flight and talked to the management
out there and told them the same thing.
So when I came back, I suppose I was kind of in limbo, because now
that I’m back, I had to decide what my next job was going to
be. I suppose my two options were either take the job at Ames or to
go back to my old job as deputy chief for the office, and I elected
to go to Ames.
Why did you do that?
Two reasons, principally. One was because the Administrator asked
me to. I always felt it was a good idea to do what the Administrator
asked you to do. But, secondly, I had always intended to stay with
NASA for my whole career, and at that time—that was my third
flight, and I had been in management a bit as the Deputy Chief for
the [Astronaut] Office.
So, I was thinking two things. One was, if I really want to be a management
guy some day, I really thought nobody is going to care whether I had
three flights or four flights, and I believed if I had stayed, I could
have probably gotten a fourth flight. Don’t know when, but—or
a fifth flight, and I said, “But they might care if I had management
experience.” So I felt in a career sense it was going to be
more worthwhile to get this different kind of management experience
than to just hang around and do another flight, which I, you know,
felt I had already done that. It wasn’t that I didn’t
like flying. It was just that I felt long term it would be more beneficial
to me to get this other experience.
Plus the fact that I didn’t know much about NASA other than
what I did, and this was a chance to go see a different part of NASA,
different from human spaceflight, different from JSC [Johnson Space
Center]. It was a science center—is a science center. To be
involved in the management of science as opposed to operations. I
was a scientist by training in the first place, so I thought, you
know, this is the right time to go off and do this. So I said, “Yeah.”
Although it was still a tough decision to go do that.
In retrospect, I’m very glad I did, for a variety of reasons.
I did learn a lot that was extremely important to me later in life.
I did learn that at least at that time I still liked operations a
lot. That’s what I wanted to do. And it turned out that I got
a fourth and a fifth flight anyway. So it kind of all worked out.
The best of both worlds.
Yes, it really was.
Well, what exactly were your duties and your responsibilities in that
The way it worked at Ames, Ames is a Code R center, but they have
a lot of Code S projects. Code R is primarily aeronautics and technology,
and Code S is science. They asked me to be basically the guy that
reported to the Center Director, who was responsible for the Code
S stuff, so my title was Associate Director. I was kind of the Deputy
Director for Science, and the real Deputy Director had the same job
for the aeronautics, so he and I both reported to the Center Director
in those two areas of specialty. So basically I had purview of all
the Code S stuff, which was about 40 percent of what the center did.
A lot of that at that time was life science research. There were some
planetary exploration. They did astronomy, infrared astronomy, specifically.
In fact, I had some interaction with that group back when I was in
graduate school, because we had a pretty good infrared group at [University
of California] Santa Cruz [California], where I went to grad school,
and I was aware of the Ames infrared astronomy program. They at that
time were flying a C-141 aircraft with a telescope in it that did
The problem in doing infrared astronomy is that the infrared stuff,
for the most part, doesn’t get through the atmosphere. Water
vapor tends to absorb it. And so they mounted a telescope in a C-141
and flew it up at 40,000 feet, which is above most of the water vapor,
and they could do infrared astronomy that they wouldn’t otherwise
be able to do. They had a group there that did that, so that was all
That was the science disciplines. They also did a lot of things in
aeronautics that I got to learn about. So I got to learn about the
different parts of NASA that I didn’t have any experience with.
Then, as you mentioned, it was a different environment than JSC.
It really was. I remember characterizing it at the time, we had something
like 2,000—is that right? I’m thinking we had something
like 2,500 civil servants out there. Maybe that’s not right,
but whatever the number was, I felt like if you went around and asked,
you know, “Hey, what’s the mission of Ames?” you’d
get 2,500 different answers, and it would all be, “Well, it’s
what I’m working on,” because it was very diverse, and
people were working on their own areas of interest.
And I thought at JSC if you went around and asked everybody, you’d
probably get about the same answer. People go about it different ways
and they have different interests, but we had a common goal of flying
people in space. I mean, I felt that there was more of a sense of
“us” and a sense of teamwork at JSC. Ames is more like
a university. It’s not a criticism; it’s just how it is.
It’s how it’s set up. And you have a bunch of different
research projects taking place in a common setting.
It was interesting because it was a little bit challenging to be,
you know, at the director level for something like that, because there
was probably less unanimity of purpose at a place like Ames than there
is at a place like this. So it makes, you know, the job of focusing
the activities of the center a little more challenging, because a
lot of people may not care about the issue that you have if it doesn’t
directly affect their research.
Is there anything in particular that you were in charge of or worked
on while you were there that comes to mind?
Well, there are a couple things. One of the things that—I didn’t
really work on it much. I remember, though, that there was a group
there led by [G.] Scott Hubbard, who actually now is the director
of Ames, to develop a Mars mission based kind of on the heritage of
Pioneer. Ames liked to say—and I think they have a legitimate
right to do so—that they were better, faster, cheaper before
it was fashionable. They were behind some of the early planetary probes
that were very successful—the Pioneer Series. In fact, Pioneer
spacecraft are still operating today, and we’re talking, you
know, thirty or thirty-five years later in some cases, very successful
missions, very well done and relatively inexpensive.
They had developed a mission to go to Mars, and that begat sort of
a conflict between Ames as a Code R center, and Code S at Headquarters
that was funding this project. And that was an example early in my
tenure there of how difficult it is to be at the Center Director level,
because Headquarters can fund these projects as they see fit, and
they had chosen to fund this at Ames, and Ames had developed it. It
ended up being basically the Mars Pathfinder mission that flew successfully
several years ago.
But what happened while I was there was that ultimately Code S decided
to move that project to a Code S center, so they took it away from
Ames and gave it to JPL [NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,
California], because, my prejudice was, they didn’t really want
to invest heavily at a Code R center when they had other Code S centers.
Plus, the Code R Center Director didn’t want to invest a lot
of his Code R resources in this Code S project at his center. So Headquarters
decided to put it as a Code S center, and that resolved the issue.
But it’s an example of the difficulties that arise in trying
to kind of cross codes.
Now, maybe in today’s environment we wouldn’t see that
so much as we did back then. But that was one of the things that happened
early on in my job there that was kind of an eye-opener.
The other thing I remember is at that time [NASA] Dryden [Flight Research
Center] was part of Ames like [NASA] White Sands [Test Facility] is
today a part of JSC. There was a lot of thought, I guess in particular
at Headquarters, that Dryden should go back to being its own center.
There was a time, I don’t remember when, where we consolidated
centers to some extent, and that was probably a political move. Dryden
at one time was a center and became part of Ames, and, therefore,
NASA had one less center. [NASA] Wallops [Flight Facility] may have
been a center at one time. I don’t recall. It sort of, I think,
technically works now under one of the other NASA centers: White Sands,
you know, works for JSC.
But the plan was to make Dryden—I don’t know that at the
time we were going to make it completely its own center, but we were
supposed to be kind of autonomous, a wholly-owned subsidiary, and
I got to work with the Dryden folks in figuring out how to kind of
spin them off so that they had their own organization and maybe technically
reported to the center director but were really independent. And that
was interesting because I learned a lot about Dryden and Ames and
all of the interfaces. That was [pretty] challenging.
Ultimately, Dryden did become its own center, and it is today its
own center. The hope, I think, was to reinvigorate the flight research
activities there. Maybe if they were on their own, they would have
a more robust program than if they were reporting through another
center like Ames. I don’t know whether there was merit in that
thinking, but that’s what I think the thinking was. That was
very much a learning experience for me.
You feel like you got everything you wanted to out of that experience?
Yes, I did. I had gone out there kind of with this plan that, figuring
that for six months I was going to be stupid and not know anything,
so I would spend that time trying to understand and learn about Ames
and what they did. And then after six months I might be able to—maybe
a year—start being able to contribute something back. And then
I figured after a couple of years I’d be in a position to make
a decision about, you know, did I want to stay and keep doing that?
Did I want to do something else?
And that kind of worked out the way I had planned it. Maybe I had
expected to spend a year learning and a year doing, and then evaluating.
I probably felt like in six months I knew enough to be able to contribute,
and I felt like I did for a while, and then when I was about eighteen
months into the job, coming up on the two-year anniversary, I got
to thinking about, “Okay, maybe it’s time to think about
is this what I’m going to keep doing? I mean, I could probably
grow up to be a candidate for Center Director here one day.”
After all of that, I kind of concluded that I really did miss the
operations. So I really did want to get back in operations. JSC was
my first choice, but I don’t remember thinking it had to be
JSC. I had talked to some people I knew at Kennedy about, you know,
maybe they had positions there.
And so in addition to learning about a lot of things having to do
with running a center, I learned, at that time, at least, what was
important to me, and it was about still being in operations. So I
was lucky enough to get a chance to come back here.
The only thing I tell people—a lot of people have over the years
asked me about going to Ames, because particularly in the Astronaut
Office, a lot of people go through the same thought process I did,
which is, “Hey, I’ve done this for a while,” and
kind of thinking, “What should I do next?” and, “Where
could I get some experience?” The thing I tell them is that
for me it was great. I mean, it was the right decision, and it all
worked out. The thing that I would do different, though, is I assumed
that I’d be able to execute this plan that I just described,
and that at the end of two years, if I didn’t like it or I wanted
to try something else, I could just do it. I didn’t realize
[that] I was a little bit naive, and I’d tell people, the thing
I would have done different was drop bread crumbs or attach a life
line or get something in writing, because one of the things that happened
when I was out there, when I went out there, I did so at the request
of Dick Truly, who was the Administrator, with the knowledge of [Dr.
William B.] Bill Lenoir, who was running Code M, with the support
of my Center Director, who was Aaron Cohen, and the support of my
immediate boss, who was [Donald R.] Don Puddy, who at the time was
Director of Flight Crew Operations.
Well, in the course of those two years, Puddy was leaving, Cohen was
leaving, Lenoir and Truly had left, and so all these guys that I knew
and who had asked me to take on this job, and who I figured if I ever
just told them, “Hey, here’s what I’d like to do
next ,” you know, they’d let me do it, they were all gone,
and there wasn’t going to be anybody left that had any clue
who I was. So that’s the one thing I’d have done different,
I think, is I would have had kind of an escape plan, if I really wanted
to preserve the option to do something else. And that’s what
I have told people that asked me, is, “Yeah, it was a great
experience, and I got everything out of it I wanted. The thing I would
have done different—.” I was lucky that it resolved itself
the way it did in the way I wanted it to, because there’s certainly
no guarantee that you’d be able to be as mobile without some
preexisting agreement. But, by and large, it was exactly what I had
hoped it would be.
I think we’re going to stop and take a break here for just a