NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Providence, Rhode Island – 6 June 2002
is June 6, 2002. This oral history is being conducted with Dr. Jim
Head at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, for the NASA
Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. The interviewer is Rebecca
Wright, assisted by Sandra Johnson.
Thank you again so much for taking time from your busy schedule to
visit with us today. We’d like to start with you telling us
what sparked your interest in geology and planetary geology in particular.
I’d always been interested in the outdoors and just getting
outside, the rocks and so on. I guess really what sparked my interest
in geology was when I was a freshman in college at Washington and
Lee University [Lexington, Virginia], I had to take a science course.
So I looked in the catalog and all the labs were inside, physics,
chemistry, biology, and [for] one of these [courses], geology, all
the labs were outside, and I said, “Hey, that’s for me.”
I had no clue what it [was] all about, because they didn’t have
geology in [high] school. So, actually, that really got me interested.
I took it my freshman year, and by the end of that year I was just
totally in love with it. I had the opportunity to go to Montana at
the end of that year to work in the field as a field assistant, and
the professor [Dr. Ed Spencer] said, “You’re either going
to come back loving geology or hating it,” and I loved it.
Then I came to grad school, actually, here at Brown, and Thomas [A.
“Tim”] Mutch, who went on to become the Associate Administrator
for Space Science, was a geology professor here, and I started to
work under him. He wasn’t interested in planetary at that time,
but over the next couple of years he became interested in it.
People like Gene [Eugene M.] Shoemaker came and gave lectures. This
would be ’67, ’68, somewhere in there, and it was very
exciting. So we had a few courses on remote sensing and how you take
the principles we were learning about the Earth to turn them to Mars
or Venus or the Moon and how you would use the same things to understand
the geology there, and that got us all thinking. We actually had a
graduate seminar in which there were three people in the class and
two of them went to become—[R. Stephen] Steve Saunders is the
other one, he went on to become the mission scientist for Magellan
and Odyssey presently and so on. So it was a very productive time
and influenced a lot by Tim Mutch.
I guess, for me, really, what [got] me into doing planetary geology,
[and] there really wasn’t a field of that [type] at the time,
was that [during] my last year in graduate school, Tim had gone off
to work at USGS [United States Geological Survey] at Flagstaff [Arizona]
on a sabbatical, and I was thinking, what am I going to do? Am I going
to go to teach at some small university or work for an oil company?
Because my [Ph.D.] thesis was on Earth, not on the planets. So I was
looking through a college placement annual, which is a book that has
career information for potential people in a whole range of areas.
I looked up geology in the back, and there was an unusual name I didn’t
recognize. I turned to that page, and there was a full-page picture
of the Earth’s Moon, from, you know, Earth-based picture of
the Moon, and it just said, “Our job is to think our way to
the Moon and back. If you’re interested, call this number.”
Well, whoa! Okay!
So I called that number, and it happened to be Bellcomm [Inc.], which
was the systems engineering organization at NASA Headquarters. I got
an interview. I went down there, and they offered me a job. It was,
like, unbelievable. That ad, I wish I’d kept it, of course,
but it was just one of those things that was just completely engaging.
How do you get to the Moon, let alone, how do you think your way to
the Moon and back?
In a sense, this term epitomized systems engineering, which, of course,
I had no clue what that was about at the time, and it was just really
becoming a well-established field of endeavor, and that epitomized
it: you have to think your way to the Moon and back before you even
take one step to get there. In a way, you have to have all the considerations
and all the systems together, really figure out how they’re
going to fit together so you can actually do the job.
That, actually, was really important because that’s exactly
what Bellcomm did, and, for me personally, it was just amazing to
parachute into a bunch of people, engineers, scientists from all disciplines,
who were looking at these things from a systems engineering standpoint,
whether they knew it or not, and the real systems engineers, which
were the people from Bell Labs and the NASA people, were integrating
it together in such a way that it worked, in that sense.
So that was just amazing for me, and it probably completely shaped
my thinking about how I approached science from there on. So, I can
remember, it’s like one of those things, like, where were you
when [President John F.] Kennedy was [shot], whatever, or something
like that. It’s like, my gosh, that page, [with the Moon picture
and the question,] opening that and seeing that was a real amazing
thing, and there was so much depth in that, I didn’t realize
it at the time. So I was sold at that point. I got the job, and I’ve
been in planetary science ever since.
started, and what were your first duties for Bell?
when I first went there, again, this was—I can’t even
remember the date, actually, probably ’68, somewhere in there.
I can’t remember exactly. But my boss at the time, Dennis James,
said, “Well, you know, we usually give people about a month
to just read up on things, but we don’t have time to do that
anymore. So, here. We need to have six backup landing sites to present
to Congress next week [for] after Apollo 11.” It was, like,
my god, what, “Sure.” I was too dumb to say, “I
don’t know what I’m doing.” I said, “Okay.”
So it was a lot of on-the-job training. It reminded me of the Berlitz
[International] method of teaching languages, like total immersion.
You just got thrown [into] the deep end of the pool, and it was amazing.
I’ll never forget that at the end of the first day, I was just
total adrenaline, like, “I’ve got to do this. I’ve
got to figure it out. I’ve got to learn the Moon. I’ve
got to do all this.”
It was at NASA Headquarters in the L’Enfant Plaza [Washington
D.C.], and at the end of the day I’m looking for the light switch
to turn the lights off. I couldn’t find it. I didn’t want
to leave the lights on; that wouldn’t be good. But I didn’t
want to ask anybody, “Where the heck is the light switch?”
because, like, how stupid could you be? [Laughs] It turned out it
was one of those buildings that was built at the time before the energy
crisis, where there’s one big switch down at the end of the
hall and you leave them on all the time till somebody comes along
and turns them off. But it was, like, one of those things. It would
make my first day at work, I don’t even know how to turn the
But that’s the first things we did, was basically look [on behalf
of] NASA Headquarters at future landing sites and things like that.
That quickly evolved into—I mean, the other detailed studies
were going on at that time. It’s just that I wasn’t involved
in it in the first week. They gave me these things right away.
you with a team of people, or did they give you this as a solo project,
to come up with—
really gave it to me to do, and I think it was obviously something
that where there were enough people around to do mid-course corrections
[if I got into trouble]. But it was just, like, a good thing for total
immersion. The boss knew that I would have to quickly learn the Moon,
quickly learn the capabilities, quickly understand what work had gone
on beforehand, and picking out sites to that level and so on, and
that’s exactly what I had to do. So I had to go around and ask
people and think myself and so on.
Then in retrospect, I can see that from that they were watching me
and how I interacted, what kind of questions I asked, etc., so they
could best use whatever talents I had to fit into the right place.
So I did end up soon thereafter getting into the geological traverses,
mostly the surface geology, into background studies for landing site
selection, for doing geological analyses and mapping to help support
the USGS people who were working on those as well, preparing information
analysis of all the images that were coming, to think [about locations]
for future landing sites, and then astronaut training, both in Houston,
[Texas,] and also we took them out in the field a lot, the formal
site selection process, and then, also, as time went on, much more
deeply involved in the traverse planning as we got towards the “H”
and “J” missions where, actually, there was a lot more
opportunity to spend time on the Moon, where you were then able to
actually do these kinds of complicated complex interactions. Then
we’d apply system engineering to surface operations as well.
Then at that point I got involved a lot in the field trips, training
in the classroom, going to the Cape [Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center,
Florida] when the crews were at the Cape getting ready to go. For
[a given] mission we’d go there and do the last briefings for
the last month. While they were at the Cape getting ready, we’d
do those in the evening. Then at the same [time] we were picking future
landing sites, while we were training the crews who were going to
be up next in the field, and then mission operations. Whenever there
was a mission, I would go to Houston and be in mission control for
the operations, and then, of course, with the data analysis [in the
Lunar Receiving Lab (LRL)], when the data came back, and also all
the simulations, too, played a big role in that as well. It is hard
to imagine in retrospect that we were doing all that at the same time,
but somehow it worked. [Laughs] It was pretty amazing.
would you like for our particular interests of today take these and
break these down some and talk about some of these sections at one
Okay, let me just look through here briefly. We could press on by
that if you’d like. Yes, in terms of my background knowledge
of the space program, I was really scared because I actually hadn’t
finished writing my thesis when I started to work there. So in the
evening I had to go home and type, type, type away on my thesis. At
the same time, in the day I was just operating completely on the Apollo
things and traveling and stuff like that. And I didn’t know
anything about the Moon.
But it reminds me of that Indiana Jones movies where, you may remember
that, where they’re kind of like, there’s stuff flying,
Nazis everywhere, this and the other thing, and then there’s
this pit of snakes, and it’s, like, the woman turns to Indiana
Jones and says, “What do we do now, Indy?” and he says,
“I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go along.”
You know that great line? In retrospect, that’s what we were
It’s not as cavalier as it sounds, you know. We were really
learning as we went along, and a couple of your questions in here
are really important in the sense that the feedback was very real.
You were finding out something about the results of one mission, and
that factored it into the field training and into the planning of
the traverses and so on. So there was a big lack of knowledge when
I first came in. I still work on site selections for these missions
to Mars and things like that, and I keep having to remind people,
“You know, we landed Apollo 15 with forty-meter-resolution images.”
I mean, you know, they’re worried about micron-scale studies.
It’s just amazing.
But we quickly learned, and I think, in retrospect the reason I got
hired was because I had a good general education in geology, and what
that meant was you were something of a geological problem-solver,
not necessarily that you had specific knowledge about the planets
or the Moon. I think an astronomer who might have known more about
the Moon than I did, from some points of view, wouldn’t have
been as good a person in this job, because it was the kind of, like,
understanding the geology and how geological processes work and how
they come together that was going to be so critical in the crew training
and the site selection and actually integrating everything together.
So [in retrospect] I feel a little bit better about not knowing much
at the time.
Yes, it’s just a question about the relationships between systems
engineering and geology. I think one uses a microscope as an analogy.
You know, you can be looking down a tube at a microscope and have
a very collimated, specific view. A lot of science is like that, where
you’re really trying to understand the detailed relationships
between things. But on the other hand, if you step back, in the final
analysis what you’re really trying to do, broadly speaking,
is put all this together in understanding how the Earth works, where
it’s been, where it is now, and where it’s going. So it’s
a system, big-time.
It’s only been in the last couple of decades that people fully
appreciated how much of a system the Earth is, with plate tectonics
and the atmosphere and the overall evolution, how everything’s
linked together … and the role it [this interconnectedness]
plays. So, in a way, it’s perfect to apply systems engineering
to a planet, because it’s cause and effect. It’s input,
output. It’s all those same kinds of things.
So, for me, I think it’s guided my approach to research, to
stop, think about what the problems are, what’s going in, what’s
coming out, what’s cause and effect, and how do you address
these questions, and how can you get them, what do you need to understand
that, those types of things that were exactly what we were doing then.
I think it’s become more a part of geology now than it has in
the past because people are really beginning to see the interconnectedness.
And that’s for the Earth, and, of course, when you step back
and look at the neighborhood, which would be the solar system, it’s
even more that way. You have to understand that. That’s why
we study Mars, because a significant part of Earth is missing. It’s
been destroyed. So Mars preserves some of that record and so on. So
it’s just tremendous, I think, relationships between systems
engineering and geology, and I don’t think it’s really
fully appreciated. It’s just kind of like, oh, yeah, that’s
the way it is now. But it’s been a real evolution.
The questions that were being asked at the beginning of the Apollo
Program were very, very basic. They were, had the Moon ever undergone
extensive melting or not, what is the origin of the Moon, what makes
up the dark materials versus the light materials. It was just pretty
basic. So, obviously, with the combination of exploration techniques,
what the Soviet Union did with automated sample return and Lunokhod
rovers and things like that, as well as the clear, clearly very, very
important Apollo missions, it’s just completely—it’s
just a whole new—the Moon is now a cornerstone, really, maybe
even a keystone in the understanding of the rest of the planets, because
right now I’m working, for example, on the history of water
The total model for the crust of Mars is taken directly from the seismic
data about what [the] crust look[s] like from on the Moon, because
we [put] got seismometers all over the place [on the Moon], we have
some information on the structure of the Moon, and so our whole model.
We have none of that from Mars. So we say, “Okay, here’s
a planet that’s a lot more like the Moon than it is like the
Earth. So we’ll take the Moon thing and transport it directly.”
If we hadn’t had that information with Apollo, we’d be
totally clueless, totally clueless.
So, you know, it in many ways is a keystone. It’s a simple—it’s
not simple, but it’s not complicated by the atmosphere and by
water and all these other things you see. It’s not complicated
by the high temperatures … of Venus or Mercury. So it’s
like a baseline from which we can then look at that other planetary
bodies and get some perspective about what’s going on.
You can’t do that from the Earth because it’s so active,
and so much of the early record’s destroyed. So that’s
why it’s so important. We know an immense amount about it now,
and it’s helping us to understand the other planets. So that’s
where it is in my mind at the present time.
did have so much to do at one time at the beginning. Were you given
priorities? For instance, you started out by having to come up with
landing sites for Apollo. You knew that was a priority. You had started
to tell us about your way of defining how to start doing this. Maybe
you could walk us through the process and how that ended up.
I think a lot of it had to do with just simply identifying what the
big questions were, because there was this constant pressure, on the
part of systems engineering, actually, where do we want to land? Well,
you just can’t say. The engineers were all trying to find areas
that were safe to land, which was their job. But that didn’t
mean that it was the best place to land; it just meant that they felt
that you could safely land there.
So almost immediately there was introduced two parallel tracks; where
do we want to land because of science, and where do we want to land
because of engineering and crew safety? As you might always predict
to be the case, they were totally orthogonal, in a way, because the
engineers wanted to go to the smoothest, flattest, most reasonable
flat places, and the Rocky Mountains and Kansas aren’t exactly
the same thing, you know.
So we would try to ask the big questions, and people like Noel [W.]
Hinners were very, very instrumental there. Noel was my boss. Actually,
there was a succession of people who served in that capacity, but
Noel was early on my boss, and then later on my boss’ boss and
so on. But he was very good at thinking about the big picture. How
do we know if it’s melted or not? How do we know if these are
big impacts or volcanoes or whatever? What is the question? And then
where will we go geologically to try to address that?
So there was a level of really large questions that were being asked,
and there were meetings and discussions with key scientists about
this. I can remember discussing this with Harold [C.] Urey, who was
really the father of planetary science in a lot of ways, whether the
Moon was hot in the interior or not. So we had these kinds of discussions,
and there were meetings at which scientists would be brought together
to discuss these things.
So there was a Group for Lunar Exploration Planning, called GLEP,
and that had a whole bunch of people from different disciplines on
it, that covered the range of disciplines that were interested in
lunar science, but also people came to those meetings who just had
a general interest in the questions. We got a lot of background about
what the important issues were.
Then most of these people didn’t know a lot about the details
of the Moon. Many of them didn’t. So there might be somebody
who was a seismologist, who wanted to study the interior of the Moon.
They couldn’t care much about what the surface looked like.
They just wanted to put the seismometers in a big triangle. That’s
it, okay? So these were clearly not the people who were going to be
the best people to tell you where the final landing site ought to
be, because if there were already two, you knew where the third was
going to be. It was going to be at the biggest triangle you could
make from that.
So there were people who began to be really knowledgeable about lunar
geology. Most of them were at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff
and Menlo Park [California]. Gene Shoemaker started that branch, and
there were a host of other people, like Gordon [A.] Swann, Bill [William
R.] Muehlberger, who participated in that, but also people who were
doing mapping, like Danny [Daniel J.] Milton [phonetic], Mike Carr,
Desiree [E.] Stuart-Alexander, Jack [John] McCauley. Don [E.] Wilhelms
is the father of lunar geological mapping.
So they really had been looking at the Moon through telescopes and
trying to understand it from a geological point of view. So they were
really some of the key people that said, “Okay, here’s
how we think it works, and here’s where we’d suggest.”
I think Noel [Hinners] was chair of the Group for Lunar Exploration
Planning for a while, and he would get these people together to present
both the big ideas and the geology, and then our job was to try to
make sure that it got put together in a systematic way.
Bellcomm was in an unusual position in a lot of ways. This is my view,
now. In many ways it was detested by other parts of the program because
the people at the Johnson Space Center [formerly Manned Spacecraft
Center, Houston, Texas] thought they were running the program, and
indeed they were in many ways. The people at U.S. Geological Survey
thought they were doing the geology, which they were in many ways.
And the people at Headquarters felt that they needed some kind of
organization to make sure that all this was coming together, because
they weren’t just administering. They wanted to be sure. [Laughs]
So that’s where Bellcomm came in, to do the systems engineering
and to really make sure that everything was going right. So, in a
way, that was a really smart thing to do, with such a complex goal
as getting to the Moon and back safely and actually doing some exploration.
But it created kind of some resentments, too, for sure. The people
at Johnson Space Center were scientists. It was a lot of competition
and jealousy, in a way. The role, who’s actually doing this,
who should be doing it, and so on.
Our role was to make sure that it all came together. So, in a way,
we were a layer on top of this chaos in a way. It wasn’t total
chaos, but there’s these rumblings that were going on between
the scientists at Johnson Space Center and those at the USGS. They
were always kind of, like, banging around. Then on top of that, the
Apollo Spacecraft Program Office [ASPO], the people who were running
it in Houston versus the people who were doing it at Headquarters
and back and forth.
I can remember Rocco [A.] Petrone, who was the Director of the Apollo
Program, saying to me one time, “I want you to go out there
and make sure that this is happening and happening in the right way”.
So he’s the boss, and that’s essentially, I would say,
the role that Bellcomm played, just make sure everything’s going
right. So, in a way, that was a lot of fun because you got to participate
in almost everything. But you had to, at the same time, I guess, establish
your own credibility with these people, because they saw you as an
interloper in some ways, you know, just initially, a Headquarters
spy or whatever, you know.
But for me, I guess probably naiveté went a long way in a sense
that most of this stuff I didn’t realize. I was just trying
to do my job, so I built up what I think in the final analysis were
good working relationships with the people at JSC and at the USGS
and elsewhere. So it actually worked out really well, and I think
I become one of the number of people who could move between all the
different things and not be kept out of the loop, but actually do
what I was supposed to be doing.
For example, one of the key people in the program was Jack [John R.]
Sevier. Jack was the Apollo 11 mission engineer, and he’s one
of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Well, you can imagine
if you were the Apollo 11 engineer, you had to have a sense of calm
about you, when they come around the loop, to be sure that the flight
directors do to be sure that everything’s okay. Basically it’s
your responsibility to make sure that it all happens, right? He was
one of the calmest and most reasoned persons. I never saw him really
raise his voice in anger, you know what I mean, and that was just
the kind of balance you needed in this kind of environment.
Jack and I hit off really well, and we worked a lot together. Because
he was an engineer, we ended up with H and J—well, for the J
missions, really, being a team of people who tried to blend all the
requirements together, make sure that the traverses were put together
in a way that were reasonable, and then we’d go sell them to
people. “Okay,” we’d say, “Here’s the
basic guidelines. This is what we can do on the thing. Let’s
work it out, and so let’s work out a traverse here,” with
the USGS people, and then we’d have to take it to the—we’d
go back and forth and give these presentations all the way around,
modifying things as the responses came in, and just keep going around
until we basically got it right. Then we’d tend to present to
the crew in the training area, too.
So Jack worked for the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office in Houston
at that time, and we spent a lot of time together, I mean a lot of
time. People at Headquarters like[d] this because they knew they were
right in it. If I knew, they knew, and I don’t mean that in
a spy sense. It’s just they had also, I think, confidence, in
retrospect. I wouldn’t have said that at the time because I
didn’t know what I was doing in a lot of ways, but I think they
at least felt that they knew that I was in on these various things.
So Jack and I, I think, were able to bridge a lot of the potential
problems that existed there, certainly on the J missions.
So we spent a lot of time basically traveling around to brief various
people and to fine-tune the traverses, so that everybody totally had
input on them. But we sort of tended to be the ones that, like, kept
them all together and kept track of the [changes] and presented them
say lots of time. That’s lots of hours. But did you have a lot
of days and months to get all these details accomplished between the
time we started and the time the missions actually took place?
of the things about being a geologist is that you have a very bizarre
perception of time. It’s a very long perception of time in the
sense that, you know, for me time doesn’t kick in until millions
of years. So I have to calculate my own age. Like, I know my birth
date, so that helps. But I couldn’t tell you right now what
year each of the missions flew in, or how long or what was going on.
It’s just, I’m not locked into the time scale like that,
which is probably why I was able to help do this, because if you think
back now, it’s just unimaginable that all could be done in that
short period of time.
But it was the group of people that were together, and I think one
of the things for me was that—you know, you always hear these
stories. I’m sure you’ve heard these. You’ve got
tons of tape on this, but, oh, this wasn’t any individual, it
was a group of individuals, and dah-dah-dah had a team. Those sounded
a little weird, the words, like, okay, yes, it’s the party line.
But that was so true, even with all these little difficulties that
I was talking about. Everybody knew what the goal was.
So if you had a meeting, and I could only remember just a couple of
times when any kind of interpersonal rivalry emerged in any of these
meetings. And when it did, it was like you’d pooped in the punch
bowl or something. It was, like, everything stopped, everybody, you
know, “We’re going to the Moon next week. I mean, come
on, can’t you guys do this somewhere else?” And it was
incredible. So for me it was a real demonstration that if you agree
upon a goal, people can really work together to get it to happen.
That was just totally impressive to me. Again, it’s a little
bit of retrospect, because at the time that’s the way it is.
But to have that be the way it is, is just no mean task. To have all
these people agree with that was pretty remarkable.
you have new people come into the circle of the decision-makers, or
did the people who began the cycle stay with it throughout?
were always new people. I worked under Sam [Samuel C.] Phillips, Rocco
Petrone, I think there was another one in there somewhere, you know,
as Director of the Apollo Program, maybe one other. I can’t
remember now. But Rocco was the one that was there most of the time.
The crews would change every time, and there were new people coming
in and mapping, and the principal investigator for the geology experiment,
it went from Gordon Swann to Bill Muehlberger, things like that. But
I wouldn’t say it was a gross turnover. There was a lot of consistency
from time to time. But, yes.
when you got ready to look at the specific sites, was there a specific
protocol of how you decided to do that, or were lots of people able
to suggest different ideas?
there were lots of different ideas suggested, and largely they came
from the geological and geophysical community, and a significant number
of them came from the U.S. Geological Survey. A significant number
of them were also determined by the images that had acquired by the
Lunar Orbiter spacecraft, and that targeting was done largely by scientists
like Hal [Harold] Masursky and others from the U.S. Geological Survey.
So what that means is that they had five Lunar Orbiter spacecraft,
automated orbiters, that acquired images for the Moon for site characterization,
certification, and so on, and as they got more and more data, they
were able to turn these to things other than yet another set of flat
areas with which you could count craters on, and they began to look
at advanced science sites.
So the selection of those advanced science sites was really going
to determine your menu for future sites, and there were quite a number
of them. But a lot of input went into those decisions early on from
the geologists who worked on the targeting of that, which were those
people, I think, like McCauley and Wilhelms and Hal Masursky and other
people like that. Then a lot of it was determined by increasing confidence
in being able to land in certain places.
So, for example, there was no question that the first landing site
was going to be in a mare, and it’s going to be in a flat area,
that the issue is which flat area. They’re not all the same
in spite of what it looks like in some of the images. So then after
that there was a constant push to actually increase the capabilities
by getting out of that narrow zone, equatorial zone, of flat areas,
basically. One of the smartest decision, I think, that was ever made,
I think it was made by Bob [Robert R.] Gilruth, was to go to the Apollo
12 site, what became the Apollo 12 site, which was the Surveyor III
landing site, because what that did was, it challenged them to land
next to that old spacecraft. You probably are aware by now that Apollo
11 landed long big-time.
So the idea that you could land it on a pinpoint thing was not just
part of the—it was, like, a challenge to do that. So they did,
beautifully. Remember when Pete [Charles] Conrad [Jr.] flipped over,
and he and Alan [L.] Bean could actually see the “snowman”
that was the target landmark? We knew then just instantly that that
was just like, my god, you know, that this was going to open up everything,
because if they were confident in the landing, then we could go to
the highlands. Of course, Apollo 13 was in a more rugged area, and
14 finally went there, and then 15, I mean, jeez, they came over Hadley
mountains looking up, and they had to pitch over and land over this
side of the rille, and they landed very close to the landing site.
The same with 17, it was a box canyon.
So increasing confidence on the part of the engineers was mapped out
into more and more complex landing sites, which increased the science
big-time. There was a parallel thing which you allude to later on
in some of these questions, that the relationships between the scientist
and the engineers and flight directors, due to a lot of very insightful
opportunities that people had and took advantage of, that changed
over time, big-time. The interaction increased, the understanding
increased, and the science benefited immensely from that. So by Apollo
14, the engineers and flight directors were pushing to go to places
that the more conservative engineers didn’t want to do, and
they won. That’s why we went to Apollo 17.
was the push, also, because the program was going to be cancelled,
and you only had a few more times to visit.
we certainly were trying to optimize the science, but if I was an
engineer, I would always be hard over on crew safety because the thing’s
going to be over if anything bad happens, as it almost was with Apollo
13. At the same time throughout this period, missions are dropping
off the other end like crazy. I worked on Apollo 21 and 22 doing lunar
rover traverses. People think, what, what are you talking about? I
mean, there was an Apollo 21 and 22 at one point. But they just kept
dropping off the end. So I think probably there was some pressure
there, but I don’t think it gets to the level that engineers
are going to risk something.
Where a scientist might say, “We’ve got to push for this.
We just can’t have the same thing again. It’s not worth
the money or effort,” and they don’t fully understand
the constraints from the engineering point of view. I think that,
not that anybody risked the crews in any case in any of these decisions,
it’s just that typically with engineering considerations, you
don’t know all that stuff. You’ve never landed there.
You’ve never tried this.
So you make your estimate and then you add what we call now in mission
planning, “reserves.” So you’re trying to budget
a mission and you think the experiments going to cost $50 million
to build, but you’ve never built one of these before. So you
put in 25 percent reserve, so it becomes more than that. So, in the
same way, engineers, they’re making these estimates and they’re
saying, “Yes, I think that probably it’ll work like this,
but I’d better put in—,” what they call a pad, which
is just essentially their hedge against what they don’t know.
So each engineer all the way along the line tends to be putting that
in, and, of course, sometimes they’re additive. The best people
in the program were people who were, like, flight controllers and
flight directors and broad-scale engineers who could see where the
pads were adding up and say, “You’re being too conservative
there.” Those are the people that, I think, helped us the most,
who could really get an overview and say, “Look. Go back and
try that again, because I think if you did this other thing, you can—,”
“Umm, okay.” Those are the people that helped. So it wasn’t
really like, “We’re going to land there hell or high water.”
It was much more like, “Look. That’s your estimate. I’m
looking at this as an overview. You’ve both added 10 percent.
That’s the same thing, so let’s go back and see if we
can do that,” and they [made] the effort to do it.
The easiest thing is not to do that, to be safe. You say, “No,
we can’t land there. Just go to the other place,” and
it’s a safe landing. You’re a hero, you know? But these
people ultimately knew, based on our interactions, how important it
was, and so they went to bat for you. It was really, really quite
course, the crews played a very important part in this because of
their training, and then you helped them be trained so that when they
got to the Moon that they would be able to—and even they got
to the Moon, they’d be able to recognize the areas that they
needed to. Would you talk to us about the training and how you got
the crews ready to go, and how their confidence built from one mission
to the other?
I think, initially in the early days, which I wasn’t involved
in, sort of pre-Apollo 10, you know, they would have group field trips.
From what I’ve heard from the people who were there, both the
astronauts and the trainers, people like Dale Jackson and Gene Shoemaker
and others, there was zero interest from the astronauts’ point
of view, in fact, some downright derision. People just thought it
was stupid. So that was, like, probably not the peak time of astronaut
training, per se.
Of course, at that time it was obvious why, because most of these
people were not scientists. They were test pilots, and they didn’t
want to get their feet dirty. They wanted to be the first to do, fill
in the blank. That’s the kind of people they were, and we are
where we are now because of that.
But slowly people began to realize that, okay, if we’re going
to continue to do this, that we have to be able to figure out a way
to optimize the mission. Because clearly any of those kinds of people
also wanted to do the absolute best job of whatever the mission was.
That’s another characteristic of the test pilot or whatever.
So the fact that their roles changed, in a way, gave them new perspective
on what success was going to be.
I can remember one time where we were just kind of hanging around
drinking beer with some of the crews. It was, like, pretty early on.
We were just thinking about it. This was somewhere between Apollo
12 and 13, I think, and on a field trip. It was, like, I was looking
at the way these EVAs [Extravehicular Activities] are growing here
in time. I was kind of kidding them, saying, “[You all are]
going to have to learn a little geo lingo if you’re going to
be on the Moon for twenty-one hours.” “Hmm, yeah, twenty-one
hours. You know, how many times can you say, ‘Wow, this is a
fantastic view? We’ve got the flag up. What do we do now?’”
It sort of grew on them, too, that twenty-one hours, that’s
a lot of time. We don’t want [to] look, like, stupid, being
stupid here. So many of them actually were interested. But those that
were more or less just test pilots also got the picture, you know
what I mean. You can’t ask for better students because they’re
extremely highly motivated people who are very bright and are going
to do the job, period. You didn’t have to worry about this,
and, you know, if you get nervous about, you know, like, with, sometimes
with students, you have to bring them along professionally as well
as from a factual point of view, and you’re sort of counseling
them on how to give your first talk as much as you are about what’s
in the talk. That wasn’t a problem here. [Laughing] These people
knew how to get there and back. So it was really more to optimize
the science, and they were great students. We would end up, some of
them were more interested than others, but they all wanted to get
the job done.
Dave [David R.] Scott, the Commander of Apollo 15, for example, was
totally into exploration. He knew that this was going to be the first
of a major stage, the J mission, and looking, extending the capability.
He was totally dedicated to the analog with essentially a host of
previous missions, but really Captain [James] Cook’s voyage
mostly. The parallels of that with how government sponsors research,
why Cook’s voyages were done. They weren’t just exploration
voyages. There was a background of, like, presence in the Pacific
and all these other things.
So he [Dave Scott] was amazing. He really wanted to optimize the geology,
and he did put pressure on to do certain things. Like, that’s
the only mission that had the stand-up EVA, because he wanted when
he first got there to go look out the hatch, open it up, look around,
and describe the terrain, because that’s what you tend to do
as a geologist. So that was pretty amazing. He also had a tremendous
interest in the historical aspects. We would spend a lot of time—I
spent a lot of time working on background information about researching
crater names and stuff like that and to optimize the kind of, like,
historical comparisons and so on.
He took, I think, yes, he took a piece of Captain Cook’s ship,
I think, to the Moon and returned it to the museum, I think, in New
Zealand or something like down there, anyway. So there was a lot of
stuff like that.
So, let’s see. Yes, the training went through a transition of
going from the early days, which I wasn’t involved in, when
I understand it was a pain in the butt for the astronauts, as far
as they were concerned, to ever increasing levels of interest on the
one hand and just simply doing a job of being on the surface and learning
what they needed to do to do that.
I have to say that the people who participated in the exploration
of the Moon on the surface and in orbit were—we’d have
been hard-pressed to just send all geologists to do that. [Harrison
H.] Jack Schmitt carried a very important set of background information
and questions and capabilities there, no question. But I don’t
think that derides at all or detracts from the role that the people
who went played. It’s just amazing.
you recall what crew was the first that you worked with?
see. I think probably Apollo 11, yes, because most of the other field
The other thing was that there was a division at Bellcomm between
the people who worked on the surface things and the people who worked
on the orbital things, for obvious reasons. So Farouk El-Baz tended
to do most of the orbital aspects of the training with the command
module pilots, and I tended to do most of the geological aspects of
the surface exploration. So it was just good division of labor. So
he tended to work much more with the photography from orbit, which
was Apollo 8, 10, and so on.
As soon as the surface—I can remember field trips with the Apollo
11 crew, and relatively late field trips in Arizona where we were
practicing them getting out of craters if they got into trouble. There
was a concern about them getting into craters and not being able to
get out. So it wasn’t so much geological training as actually
real terrain training, basic geological things, but also having somebody
go down into the crater they can’t get out of and then having—they
had kind of like a tether-like thing that they carried. I don’t
think they carried it past 12 because the problems kind of went away,
I think. But, you know, testing on that, like, okay, throwing it over
and bringing them back up and so on.
So it was a combination of real-time sort of engineering-type training,
geo training and geology. Then it just more and more, more and more
details, like, yes, tons of time practicing as the J mission. Well,
I mean, practicing with mobile equipment transporter for the 13 crew
and doing traverses on craters and fieldwork and stuff like that,
with the 13 and 14 crew, and then much more extensive training with
the 15 crew. We’d go all over the place and do rover-like traverses.
We had a little back room in the tent, and we’d have radios,
and somebody would make up a geological map based on aerial photographs
and do a traverse, usually one of the USGS people. Then they would
take that and go out in the field, and we’d be at mission control.
They’d describe it as if it was they were on the Moon and we
were in mission control. Then we’d do debriefings and do that
So it got to be more specific kind of training, not just geological
training, but traverse training, as it got closer to the missions.
But in the intermediate time we’d take the crews out, once they
were named, to analog-type areas. There would be geological examples,
not really traverse kinds of things, and then you could evolve to
the traverse-type things in similar other types of terrain. Then finally
for the latter part of the crew training, when they were at the Cape,
we’d go down there.
God, I commuted from D.C. to the Cape practically when they were down
there, because they would—actually, Dave Scott really started
this tradition. They had their day full. But he felt that they weren’t
getting as much geology as they needed, particularly because of the
fact that, of course, as you get closer to the mission, everybody’s
got to talk to you, and, of course, geology’s kind of low on
the list for a variety of reasons, mission success and so on.
So what he instituted was us coming in in the evening, which was really
their time. So usually maybe two or three of us would go down there,
usually the PI [principal investigator] of the geology experiment,
the CapCom [Capsule Communicator], who would usually be there anyway,
and Jack Sevier, and one or two other people. We’d talk about
various geological topics, getting them ready to go. It’d be
great because you’d come down in the afternoon, and you’d
have dinner with them at crew quarters, which is a real treat. I mean,
the food was—I’ve never had pork chops like that before
or after. I don’t where the hell they got them, but just say
the word “astronaut” next time you go to the store in
Cocoa Beach and maybe that’ll work, I don’t know.
But it was just really fun sitting around because it was their free
time, relaxed, and you feel a sense of trust, too, because, I mean,
man, there’s just—walls are being pounded down to try
to get to them, and it was a real nice thing. So then after that,
we’d adjourn to the briefing room next door and we’d spend
an hour or two on the traverses and whatever the geology, and it was
field trips that you talked about, were you responsible for setting
up all those aspects as well?
I was really a participant in those, but a pretty active one. The
U.S. Geological Survey people were commonly the ones, and the people
at Johnson Space Center who were designated to be in charge of crew
training at those times. So there would be the principal investigator
of the field geology experiment, who would be Gordon Swann early on
and Bill Muehlberger later—well, initially Gene Shoemaker, then
Gordon Swann, then Bill Muehlberger. So between them and the people
at Johnson Space Center, they had arranged for where are we going
to go, and then they’d do all the logistical arrangements through
their staffs, and then we’d just have a division of labor and
go from there.
then when you got to the traverse and the service activities, were
those areas that you also planned, did you plan those specifically?
on the field trips, you mean?
I ranged everywhere from being CapCom person in the tents to—we
each took turns doing things, like keeping track of the traverse,
all the kinds of activities that we would do in mission control during
the actual missions themselves. So, yes, we’d trade those around,
depending on what’s going on.
you have any input on who was the CapCom?
was selection totally by NASA?
Probably by the head of the astronaut corps and maybe whoever was
head of the ASPO or something. I think it was—I’m not
sure, I don’t actually know how it was done, but I—
No, somewhere in there. They were uniformly good. I mean, Joe [Joseph
P.] Allen was fantastic on Apollo 15. I mean, he’s such a great
guy. He’s easy-going anyway. But, yes, they were excellent.
it was their role in this as well, that they knew the geo terms.
absolutely. That was really essential, yes. So they went on most of
the field trips, if not all of them, and also participated in a variety
of other training sessions.
some point you trained, and you sent word. The management staff brought
them down to, or encouraged them to come down to show them how you
were working in the field and what use that was. Could you share with
us how that happened, where you had some of these key individuals
come down on the field trips?
I think—I’m not exactly sure who was the key person responsible
for actually getting that to happen, but once it began to happen,
it was clear that it was the right thing to do. I suspect that Gordon
Swann was one of the people who was responsible for that. I know certainly
Jack Sevier, who saw the wisdom in doing that and worked as hard as
he could to make it happen. So I’m a little hazy on sort of
like who actually—bingo—had this idea and really was the
driving force. I suspect it was one of those two.
So what we did was encourage a lot of the flight directors and other
managers to come participate in the field training so they could really
get a sense of what geology was about and so on. It was just a natural.
Plus, Jack and I would go around, and we spent a lot of time making
presentations to various people in these different arenas, the FCOD
[Flight Crew Operations Directorate] and just all the way around.
Whoever was interested, we would do that.
I know that it had helped somewhat, because here were people who were
coming to you, to tell you about what was going on. We’d stay
there forever, if they wanted to, to talk about these things, because
we knew these were—well, we enjoyed it because we were excited
about it, but also we knew that these people, if they didn’t
understand what was going on, it was going to be—nothing would
be optimized, you know what I mean.
In a way, I think this is one of the benefits actually of Bellcomm,
too, was that—I’m just thinking about this situation at
Headquarters. I mean, Rocco Petrone would have a status meeting on
the various missions. Again, I can’t tell you exactly how often
they were. It seemed like they were pretty often. Rocco was an amazing
guy. I mean, he had a great attention for detail, and so I would commonly
end up giving the briefing on the landing site selection, on the landing
site and the traverses, what’s the status, what’s going
on, what do they look like, etc. So when Rocco’s there, everybody’s
there. So the whole staff’s there, because the boss is there.
That’s the way it’s supposed to be. So I would get up
and give—whenever I’d brief Rocco, the first viewgraph
I would put up would be one of the full Moon, because I knew that
he’d been thinking between the last time and the time we got
Invariably he’d go, “Oh, hold it. Hold it a minute. Jim,
I just had a question. You know, I was thinking about this.”
So it would be some science question or some curiosity question about
the Moon. He’s sitting in front, and I could look in the back
and see all the engineers going, “Oh, god, [boring]. This is
going to go on forever.”
But he really set the pace there in asking these kinds of questions,
and I think even if you were just enduring this, it was something
that people kind of got into. “Oh, gee, if we went there, we
could understand this,” and so on, and it became something of
an integrated view rather than just an engineering challenge. I think
the same thing could be said for a lot of the flight directors who
came out and saw what it was like and the kind of things you would
like to learn and why a little extra time here was important or there
and so on.
Many of the crew helped in this a lot. They could see that, again,
if they were going to optimize their performance on the Moon, that
they had to have these people on their side. So I can remember a number
of times where the crew requested things from the surface that were
granted, based on logic, based on their perception of what was going
on on the Moon scientifically, not just reading the dials back in
On the other hand, I can remember times when the astronauts felt that
they wouldn’t get permission, so they went around things. You’ve
probably heard about the famous “seat belt basalt,” you
know. Have you heard this story at all?
rather hear you—
it’s just on Apollo 15 on one of the EVAs, we’d been very
focused on explaining to the astronauts that the question of was there
any gas in the rocks as they came up [from depth within the Moon].
They undergo decreasing pressure, so it’s like opening a soda
water bottle with gas starts to come out. It’s really a big
mystery as to what was driving these volcanic eruptions, because gas
is a big component of that on the Earth.
So we kept telling them to be on special lookout for rocks with holes
in them, because the gas, when the rocks cools and the gas is coming
out, it’ll be vesicular, which means it just has a lot of holes
in it from the gas, and that would be—god, if they saw one of
those to get it. It’s sort of like the “Genesis Rock.”
If you see something that looks like that, that’s going to be
a gold mine.
So they’re coming back from, I think, the first EVA. I forget
which one, but they’ve been told that it’s time because
they’ve been out there this amount of time and you need to get
back. So Dave Scott said, “Houston, we’re having a problem
with a seat belt. I’m just going to get off and adjust this
thing.” I was sitting watching the seismometer, and it “zzzzzz,”
stopped, and you can see it stop, and then it gets all [Head gestures],
jump back on the thing, and they say, “Okay.” Then it
takes off. “Okay, we’re on the way back. It’s okay.
Well, it turned out what had happened was that Dave had been driving
along. “Whoa! There it is! There’s a rock with all these
holes in it. They’re not going to let us stop.” So they
did this seat belt thing [to convince Mission Control that they had
to stop], and it worked. You know, it worked. I mean, that was pretty
remarkable, because the rock was very important and just like the
so-called Genesis rock, in understanding many aspects of lunar science.
So there was something. They knew what to look for. They knew how
important it was.
Probably if they’d said, “Hey, we’ve seen the vesicular
rock that we’ve all been talking about. Can we stop and get
it?” the answer probably still would have been no. But it worked,
so, as an example of at least them knowing and also having an assessment
of the system, too. They were on the surface. They probably had a
little better idea of whether they could drive a little faster on
the way back or something like that. And they also knew a lot about
we’re talking about training and talking about discoveries,
share with us your thoughts of being there and hearing as they find
these and knowing that some of the knowledge that you have helped
to acquire has helped them find these wonderful discoveries that we’re
still learning from today.
at the time it just seemed totally normal, you know, it was just like
you were doing your job. So it was just a sense of shared excitement
of exploration and discovery. It’s hard to imagine that you
could actually feel like you were on the Moon with them, but that’s
pretty much the way it was, because you shared with them a lot of
these things, and they shared with you in real time what they were
seeing. So there was just, at least for me, this collective sense
of exploration. I didn’t get a sense of instant gratification,
like, “Oh, I mentioned that to them, and they saw it.”
It wasn’t like that. It was just a complete collective sense
of “We’re doing the job here, we’re getting this,
and we’ve got to see what it looks like when they get back,
and make sure we marked that bag,” blah, blah, blah, blah, more
Yes, so it was totally adrenaline, because it was a limited time on
the surface of the Moon. You just end up not knowing how long they
were actually going to be there. You never knew when something was
going to happen. The only thing you could be sure was that something
was going to happen that you didn’t plan on. So it was a total
adrenaline rush, and there actually wasn’t a lot of time for
reflection of that kind, you know what I mean, in that sense. But
it still was, again, part of that teamwork thing. It wasn’t
like “I did this.” It was like “It’s really
you already processing that information on how to use it for the next
even for the next EVA. That was the critical thing, because we would
go, take that information, and say, “How do we want to change
it? Do we want to change the next EVA?” So we were constantly,
yes, real-time processing it, the whole time, the whole time. Then
for the next mission.
did you make a lot of changes in subsequent EVAs based on information?
yes, some. Mostly individual things, not in major changes except for
technical aspects required at, like, problems with consumables or
going back and having the drill not come out at Apollo , stuff
like that where you had to take up the extra time to get that highest
priority objective. But, yes, there were a lot of real-time calls.
Apollo 15, for example, again we landed forty-meter resolution data.
So the question is, how many rocks were there? We wanted to go to
the Apennine front, and we had this kind of, like, extended area along
the base of the Apennine front where they were going to traverse.
But when he [Scott] did his stand-up EVA, it didn’t look like
there were a lot of boulders down there, so the idea was to go all
the way along there and sample these boulders. The radar data had
suggested that there were a lot of boulders there. But when they got
there, there weren’t.
So, I remember this really distinctly, as the discussion. “Okay,
what are we going to do here? Do we go all the way along there, or
do we spend time where we are now to optimize what we’re looking
at? There are some boulders here, but we don’t see many down
there.” So the decision was to really focus on what you’re
seeing, what you’ve got here. And that’s where they found
the green glass, actually. So those kind of calls were made, definitely.
Yes, there were things like—on Apollo 17, there was a gravimeter
measurement made at the edge of the southern mountain range there,
the South Massif. Its value was so different between what was taken
around the lunar module and there, that they really wanted to try
get one in between. So, the call was, okay, change the traverse, that
you stop on the way back to deploy and get a gravimeter measurement.
That’s one I remember distinctly because it’s so clear.
You need to establish the gradient. Is it linear? Does it fall off
or whatever? It’s also one we did in one of the simulations.
That’s one I introduced. I introduced some readings which would
force you to have to make that decision. So I put them in to force
the people in the back room to make a decision, because it’s
so obvious something was going on with those readings. And that’s
essentially what happened. So it was good because we practiced it,
and it was more like, “Oh, yes. Gee, okay, yes, yes, we can.
The other thing is that there was a lot of, like, in change. I mean,
the way the thing was set up was good in that in the back room you
had the field geology team and other people and so on and related
people there, although, of course, they weren’t in the mission
control. They were in the mission control building, but not in the
[MOCR] Mission Operations Control Room, I guess. So one person would
communicate from this room to the CapCom—to the flight director,
actually, to the flight, and that person was usually an astronaut.
So, like, Jim [James A.] Lovell was the person on Apollo 15.
One interesting situation happened, which involved a question like
you [are] saying about changes, had to do with this major issue about
what we do down on the Apennine front. Okay, do we go all the way
along the traverse or whatever? So we had this intense discussion
about this, only the geologists. Jim Lovell’s kind of, like,
watching, like a tennis match, you know what I mean? Then finally
the decision was to be, okay, we should stay here and optimize the
area around the thing. So everybody looks at Jim Lovell, and he said,
“Wait a minute. Repeat that again.”
Okay, so I said, “Okay, what we’re seeing is this, this,
this, and this. On the basis of that, we’d like to do this,
this, and this, which means that we should stay pretty much where
we are, okay?”
He looked at me and he goes, “Jim, take my badge, go down, and
tell that to the flight director.” Oh, shit. It was, like, “Uh…”
You know, I’m thinking, you just don’t stick your head
in the door, and you don’t say, “Hey, Jim Lovell sent
me, you know.” So it was, like, oh, my god, what am [I] going
to do? Because I couldn’t not do it, of course. But I couldn’t,
you know, I was really—.
So I looked around, and there was Schmitt standing there, okay, who
was an astronaut, obviously, and he was scheduled to go in two missions.
So I said, “Jack, come with me.”
So actually I pushed him in the door, and then I came in and waved
the thing [Lovell’s badge]. It was, I think, Gerry [Gerald D.]
Griffin, who I had gotten to know reasonably well. So he looks at
me with his death-ray stare, like, “What are you doing in here?”
you know what I mean? I kind of went, “You know, [Head demonstrates
mumbling under his breath],” and I guess Lovell had mentioned,
you know, and I could hear him going, “Oh, okay.”
So, anyway, so he just said, “Go ahead,” and he pointed
to the CapCom. So I went up, sat there, explained it to the CapCom,
who was Joe Allen. Then Joe looked up at the flight, of course, and
got the nod, and it was sent up.
But it was like one of those things. It was, god, you know, it was
a moment of truth for me. It was, like, jeez, you know. But, again,
that was an example. Under more normal circumstances, it would have
gone from the group consensus to Lovell to flight to CapCom. But there
were changes like that, and mostly some were due to science and others
were due to essentially operations like problems, etc.
On Apollo 17, when it was clear that there was this gigantic boulder
that had incredible diversity in it, and Jack almost could make his
own call there, but we talked about that, and there was more time
spent at there than, say, elsewhere and so on. So that was good. There
were good updates.
Again, you’re running totally on adrenaline on those things,
too, because you know what the mission control area looks like. It’s
like, there are just no windows, so you can be in there for days and
not know what’s going on. [Laughs] Most people are, probably.
But I remember coming out on Apollo 15 at the end [of an EVA]. I guess
probably it was the end of the first EVA. I can’t remember exactly.
But it was sort of like a break, and I came out with Deke [Donald
K.] Slayton, who was the head of the astronaut corps at the time,
and neither of us—we were just kind of talking. I just said,
“That really went successfully,” blah, blah, blah. We
were both walking out the door. We were both going out of the door
of Building 31, and it’s pitch black. It’s night. We’d
kind of lost lock on the time.
We both looked up [to the sky] at the same time, “Jesus.”
It was the Moon, and it was, like, Deke was not the kind of a guy
who emotes much at all, but it was, like, “My god, they’re
up there.” It was incredible, just to be completely out of it,
be totally focused on this, and then to walk [out] in[to] the night,
and there it was. It was pretty remarkable.
the other side of that, before each mission there were a set of objectives
that was clearly defined. What was the process for that? Who got the
final call in making sure the objectives were in some type of priority?
let’s see. There was a committee, as usual, that—I can’t
remember the exact name of it now, but essentially it was a science
planning group of some kind that was responsible for approving the
traverses and helping to get them organized. This is the one that
Jack and I would constantly go to, back and forth and so on. It included
people like Ray [Raymond G. Zedekar] from the time line group and
A part of it, as I recollect, had to do with, again, making sure that
the priorities between and among instruments and experiments was appropriate.
So at some level, and, honestly, I don’t remember exactly at
what level, whether it was the Group for Lunar Exploration Planning
or what, at some level there was a decision made about, okay, heat-flow
experiment has the highest priority, field geology is next, and so
on is next, something like that. Commonly they’d be broken down
into elements, to deploy it, or do this or that or the other thing.
Then you’d argue about that, you know, about which had the highest
priority and [what] the mission rules were. So there was a group of
people who kept the mission rules, and that’s where the priorities
get mapped out into. It’s like anything; you have a set of rules
like that, like default things. If this problem arises, then the highest
priority is you go back. You get the heat-flow probe and before you
take off and do more geology-type things. And they just got argued
out as a function of time.
you have direct input into the priorities?
that was part of some of the things that we did at Bellcomm in a systems
engineering sense. So, yes, we certainly were involved.
In the final analysis, to address the question you asked me a little
while ago, the Group for Lunar Exploration Planning and the USGS and
JSC and Bellcomm, etc., all had input into this whole thing, but ultimately
a set of recommendations were made for the site selection to the ASSB,
the Apollo Site Selection Board, which was chaired by the Director
of the Apollo Program and had representatives from the major centers
and they made the final decision.
But, of course, like with any big decision like that, a tremendous
amount of work had been done beforehand. So it wasn’t like a
university faculty meeting where everything is done from scratch.
There was, like, a lot of background work. So it’d be really
surprising if some dark-horse site came in at the last minute. It
wasn’t a rubber stamp, but a lot of work went into it beforehand,
and they made the final decision.
So it was at that point, “That’s going to be the site.”
I guess probably the NASA Administrator must have say after that,
you know, for the final approval. I’m not exactly sure about
that. Our big role was the ASSB, to get that finally through.
Then once that was done, then all the focus was on that site and the
crew would be trained relative to that and so on. That represented
change in crew training style as well, where you’d now go to
something that was more explicitly related to that.
other components were part of your pre-flight analysis that you’d
have to do?
mostly the Lunar Orbiter photographs were really important. The engineers
did a whole host of analyses related to roughness, measurements based
on crater frequency distribution and a lot of other things. There
were, of course, a whole set of safety constraints that had to do
with optimal—I don’t know what, optimal—well, a
whole set of mission constraints. For example, you couldn’t
land over on the complete eastern side of the Moon because there was
a mission rule that you had to have, I don’t know, I don’t
remember exactly, but fifteen minutes between acquisition of signal
and beginning of PDI, power descent initiation. So if they’re
out of contact till they come around the edges of the Moon, and if
they need x amount of time in communication with Houston to make sure
the orbit’s updated correctly before they can start power descent
initiation, and that means there’s a portion of the part you
can’t land in over there.
So there were a lot of rules like that that constrained things. Initially
the reason it was in the equatorial zone is that you didn’t
want to have the command module do a plane change, because then you’d
have to get back to that point again. That’s an added concern.
So it wasn’t until we were able to get them to agree to a plane
change that we could go to sites like [Apollo] 15 and 17 and 16 and
So there was a host of other things like that that operated. That’s
why it was so good to work with Jack Sevier, because he knew these
cold, because he was an engineer. He had worked, like, Apollo 11 mission
engineer. He’d pretty much been through the thing from alpha
to omega, and knowing where you might be able to push on those was
I lost it there. Did you, was that—
were talking about the pre-flight analysis, the components of that.
okay. So Lunar Orbiter images, and then sort of like engineering data
for site characterization, the broad scale of mission constraints
that told you where you even had access on the Moon, and there was
emerging remote sensing data. It’s hard to imagine this at the
time, but we had almost no information on the chemistry of the surface
before we landed, obviously. But at the same time you could measure
things remotely with a telescope, and that information started to
come into play as spots began to be characterized on the surface and
differences were seen.
Tom [Thomas B.] McCord, who was at MIT at the time, was key in that
area, as were a number of his colleagues. So they were taking data,
and we would use this to say, “Oh, you know, the Apollo 12 site
is likely to be different from the Apollo 11 site because of these
characteristics,” and allowed us to distinguish between possible—we
didn’t have enough information about the Moon to know that it
was going to be specifically this. We just knew that it was likely
to be different, which was important at that time.
Then, of course, with each mission we’d get more information
from orbital experiments. So there’d be images taken by the
astronauts. On Apollo 14, for example, they took a special camera
along to get pictures of the candidate Apollo 16 landing site, and
so that kind of new data was brought in. Then with each J mission,
like, there would be the [pan], mapping camera, very high-resolution
images, which we immediately used to analyze the geology of the site
and use that in traverse planning.
Here, for example, just compare this. You can see this is a picture
of the Apollo 15 site, and this is a forty-meter-resolution [Lunar]
Orbiter photograph. These are the names of the craters that the astronauts
picked for frame of reference. But on 17, we had—I don’t
know where this is. Is this 17—no, this is 15. But the 17 site,
you know, we had really high resolution, couple—few meter-resolution
images, that we could actually pick boulders out that they could go
it. So it was a very different situation.
equipment evolved as well, or did you have an opportunity to include
additional equipment that you thought would help determine future
right. There was a high-con [phonetic] camera on Apollo 14, for example,
that was very high-resolution, didn’t perform as well as one
would like, but, nonetheless, there was that opportunity, and also
taking a 500-millimeter lens onboard to get really high resolution.
We were able to take that onboard the Apollo 15 mission and keep it
on for the next couple of missions, too. That mostly helped at the
site. Like, they could stand on one edge of the rille and get really
high-resolution pictures of the far edge. The pictures that you see
of the mountains and the background there of Mount Hadley were taken,
you know, it’s fifteen kilometers away, but you could see the
details of the structure.
those photographs used in training the astronauts, or was it used
just for your analysis?
no, we used them in the training, totally, yes, always, yes. Then
the traverse maps, the ones that they took with them to the Moon,
were those maps with the traverses on top. So this is what they carried
around on the surface, were these kind of, like, Mylar, stiff paper
kind of—no, it’s not Mylar, whatever it’s called.
I can’t remember now, but anyway, stiff paper stuff [cronopaque].
Now, here’s a good example here. We also had to do things like
do walking traverses in case the rover didn’t deploy, which
it didn’t initially on Apollo 15. So we had to work out a whole
set of walking traverses, and they had all the things onboard to do
that as well.
I guess another thing we did was—I’d forgotten about,
too, is we’d work with the people in mission planning to do—the
astronauts would have cuff checklists, as you probably are well aware.
Each of those would be things not to forget to do or some just procedures
on what to do. So we worked—I certainly worked with them on
defining the key issues that are on those little things at each of
Once we got the traverses down, we’d work with them on the cuff
checklists to put all the right things in and be sure that—yes,
here are some examples here, just be sure that—here’s
stuff like investigate talus for the commander and lunar pilot, what
you’re supposed to be doing, a little bit about the kinds of
trenches to dig, what to take, and so on. We’d also always put
little surprises in there from place to place.
special surprises you’d like to share with us?
of them were a little joke kind of like things, you know, here and
there. Most of them are so totally characteristic of the late sixties
and early seventies, it’s embarrassing to talk about them now.
that you instigated?
Head: I was
just an innocent bystander at the time, yes.
course. Go on record to say that, right?
like that, yes. No, it was interesting. Yes, if you go back and you
look at the traverses in detail, you’ll hear the seemingly unexplained
chuckle from time to time. And that’s what it would be. Basically
it was a lot of guy stuff, if you get the drift. But anyway, it was
a little tension-breaker perhaps. But it was, again, a good indication
of the really good relationships among the crew and the crew training
people, the people in, like, Ray Zedekar’s group and so on.
That was really quite good.
The crews always [had] a presence of mind that just, at the time,
that was just normal, because you’re all in this kind of together.
They’re working. They happened to be the ones on the Moon, and,
yes, their butts are hanging out there a couple hundred [thousand]
kilometers away. But they’re just so astronaut that it doesn’t—you
don’t even think of them being perturbed at all, okay. So it’s
really interesting to think about that. Like, we called Jack Schmitt
up, I think, the night before launch in crew quarters. He was so hyper
on the geology, we said, “Don’t forget to enjoy the trip,”
you know what I mean. It was, like, it was just a lot of fun because
the people were so tied up and things. But at the same time they would
Like, for me personally, for the people that trained the Apollo 15
crew, the crew had made a decision to kind of name some things for
these individuals. It was really amazing because I remember the last
briefing we did was just, like, two nights before launch, I think.
I forget now exactly, but the last couple of days they had by themselves
to go out. There was all kinds of crazy things that go on, like tethered
crab races in the astronaut quarter hallways, stuff that just, you
know—nothing we tell you is going to help now, so just enjoy.
So … a number of people got worried [at the last minute] about,
okay, when they land on the surface, how are we going to tell the
major landmarks around? So I said, “Okay, I’ll mention
[it] to them.” So this is when they were behind the screen at
this point. They were in quarantine by this point, so last briefing.
So I said, “This is just one idea. If you’re looking out
when you look through the areas on the surface, remember that there’s
a big break looking due west, okay, and one looking due north, and
one looking due south, and you’ve got the mountains at your
back. If it’s convenient, just call that one the west portal
and the north portal and the south portal, just in your descriptions
to us, we’ll know what that’s about.”
They all looked at each other, “Yeah, sure, [Jim]. Good idea.
No problem.” It was, like, just this kind of, like, little bit
of, like, maybe we pushed it too far here, because they go, “Yes,
sure, yes. Like, come on, Jim, it’s too late, yes.” So
I kind of, “God, I hope I didn’t do anything wrong there.”
Well, it turned out that they’d already decided to name these
things after us. So when they were on the Moon, they were just kind
of looking in different directions, and every once in while, they’d
say, like, “Oh, there’s Silver Spur.” Of course,
nobody had a clue what that was, and they’d named the south
portal Head Valley, and when they said that, they were heading down
and were looking at Head Valley, I missed it completely. It was like,
“I don’t know that area. What the hell was that?”
Somebody said, “Did you hear that?”
So they even had the presence of mind to do stuff like that. It was
just amazing. I’m not sure I could do that myself at all. But
they really were quite remarkable people and incredible job to be
able to balance all that, all the engineering, all the science, and
in an incredibly hostile environment.
take a break right here. [Tape change]
the question of being involved in the post-flight activities, we were
involved in a couple of ways in the debriefings of the crews when
they came back. This became increasingly important and increasingly
personal as the missions went on and the group became really more
focused and smaller in some ways. For example, Apollo 11 and 12 debriefings
were a lot of people because, well, of course, it was a big deal,
so everybody wanted to be there, but also everybody wanted to learn
from it, too. So they were more formal kind of affairs that there
were a hundred people there, something like that, maybe more. I can’t
remember now. But probably most of the real debriefing took place
on a more personal level with the people who were key in the next
But with time they became more personal in the sense that, I mean,
I can remember participating—well, eventually what we’d
end up doing, and I can’t remember whether it was the formal
debriefing or the informal debriefing, but we’d take all the
tapes, the photos and stuff and go to some room in the basement of
mission control and just sit there for a day and go through these
things. That was just amazing, because for the first time you would
see the astronauts responding to them seeing themselves on the Moon
from the films, the TV cameras and things like that, which, of course,
was totally different for them. So they could see themselves interacting,
and, of course, they were pretty relaxed at this point, and it was
hysterical. That was one of the funnest times, because we’d
just sit back and go through it with a set of really good questions
to try to optimize the next mission. But it’d just be a lot
of fun, too. It was, like, they’d be calling each other klutzes
when one kicked over this or that or something like that, and it was
just a lot of fun.
So that was really important, because actually for us it gave a much
better picture for what they really felt they were capable of doing
and what was easy, what wasn’t easy. Then we could not necessarily
write a bunch of memos, but really factor that into the next planning.
So how long did it really take to turn those boulders over, or make
samples here, document this, and then the other thing was a pain in
the neck, or they were just doing their job, or what was easy and
what wasn’t. So that was great.
Then I was also involved in the preliminary examination of the samples
in the Lunar Receiving Lab as a member of the preliminary examination
team for a number of the missions. So you’d go there and you’d
get in the glove box and the bunny suits and the glove boxes and just
work with the basic description of the rocks, unwrapping the rocks.
I helped in doing two that I definitely remember, were 15415, the
Genesis rock, and doing the description of that, and also in unwrapping
the orange soil.
Oh, my god, on the Apollo 17, which Jack and I, to a great media—you
know, that was a big deal, because they were back and they were going
to unwrap it. Well, of course, on the Moon, it really looked orange.
I was standing next to Jack when he was undoing it. Of course, there
are a bajillion lights as cameras and media and so on. You’d
think that would have make it like the Moon. But for some reason,
it just looked like dirty brown soil, and everybody’s going,
“Where’s the orange? Where’s the orange?”
Well, it kind of looked like that at the time. But it was really spectacular.
So those are the kind of things.
One of the reasons for doing that, of course, was then to factor into
the next mission, thinking both from the sample point of view, which
you were actually seeing and what kind of rocks they were able to
really collect, and the job they did and actually packaging them and
so on. Those were all really important in thinking about the next
mission and understanding what we were actually finding out. So we
were very closely involved. A number of us were at least closely involved
in that as well.
you involved in setting up the standards for the LRL?
I had nothing to do with that. It was done well before I came along
and by people who know that sort of stuff.
You asked a question about interacting with the simulations, the role
in mission control during simulations. This was really interesting
for me. There were a number of different kinds of simulations. There
was the kind we did in the field where they’d be out there,
they’d be doing their thing, and we’d be pretending like
we were on the Moon. They were great.
But there were full-up simulations where all of mission control was
simulating the mission. That early on introduced the problem of actually
how you do that. So you couldn’t early on do that from the remote
site. You couldn’t say, “Okay, we’re going to be
out in Arizona and hooked in with mission control,” because
there’s an incredible communications mess. Eventually one was
able to do that a little bit from time to time, for example, from
the rock pile at the Cape, for example, where they were able to kind
of, like, get in the suits, do their whole thing, and so on. But mostly
earlier on it was just simply exercising the systems.
Actually even, I think, early on, you wouldn’t even care that
they were on the Moon. You would just say, “Okay, now we’re
going to do this. I’m going to set a time. It’s going,”
and so on and so on. It’s like there weren’t even astronauts
there. But it became pretty clear quickly that it would be important
to run through the whole integrated thing, so what they needed was
somebody who could actually pretend they were an astronaut.
I have no actual recollection of how I got in this position, but somehow
I did, possibly because of the work that I did, you know, in the traverses
and knowing them and possibly also because I had hopefully by this
time gotten the confidence of the astronauts and the mission control
people working these different areas.
But what I would end up having to do would be to—we’d
have a simulation. Okay, it’s going to be August 12th. We’re
going to simulate EVA 1 of Apollo 15. So I would have to go to Houston
and get together with the simulation supervisor. These people were
incredible. They were the most feared people. So the sim sups, it’s
like they’re God. So they’re going to control what this
thing’s going to look [like]. They were actually a bunch of
really good people. But they would say, “Okay, what we want
to do here is we want to exercise a number of different kinds of systems,”
because I’m worried about this system, that system, maybe the
suit or the rover or the whatever, whatever.
We’d get together beforehand, myself and a guy named Hiram [G.]
Baxter, who was an [Philco] engineer down there, and we would be the
two pretend astronauts. It was one of the most unbelievable experiences
I’ve ever had, because you’d, first of all, be in on the
whole thing. So the sim sup would, say, “We need to exercise
this time these five systems. So you need to, Jim, figure out a way
we can exercise those systems.”
So, you know, I had to, for example, get a suit leak that wasn’t
terminal but was slow. So I had to think of a way in which, you know,
I’d be going, like, “Oh, Houston, you know, I see this
really interesting rock over here. It looks like a multiple breccia,”
something that would entertain the people in the back room and get
them excited, the geology dudes, but at the same time rush over there,
trip on the rocks, fall over, say, “Oh, I’m okay. No problem,”
and then drop my hand, and they’d introduce the suit leak. So
it had to be something integrated that made sense. So I’d be
going, “Oh, I see a really interesting block field coming over.
I’m going to try to get near the crater,” and then I’d
pretend I’m driving towards the crater.
“Oh, it really looks neat. I can see these big boulders here,
there, and everything.” Then the wheel would fall off or something
like that, and you’d do the wheel fall-off thing.
So we really worked together to pretend like you’re on the Moon
and make it something where the people in the science back room were
being exercised, as well as then make it an integrated thing where
the flight controllers and the whole flight operations setup would
get realistic geologically, so to speak, realistic problems that would
arise out of the surface operations, if you get the drift.
So that was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun because you were sitting
there at a console in which you had access to all the loops that the
flight controller had. So you could introduce the suit leak, and you
could push the button of the people in that part of the subdivision,
the suit group, and listen to what—they were going, “Well,
we don’t see anything yet.”
You’d go, “Oh, I think I’m stretching this a little
bit,” and they’d pump it up a little bit. So then they’d
really get worried, and then you knew you were doing your job and
stuff like that, and the same in the back room. You’d try to
introduce things to the scientists that would make them want to change
things. So you’d say something that was exciting geologically,
but, like, you hadn’t fully understood the implications of it.
So I could sort of do that because I would know the implication of
being a geologist, but an astronaut might describe something that
they hadn’t been trained for, but that might really be interesting.
Then it would be up to the back [room], and then I’d punch in
the back room, listen to them talking about “God, could that
be a what’s-it? You know, jeez, if it is, they ought to go back
and look at that.”
Then, you know, then when they were flagging from that a little bit,
I’d say something like, “Actually it looks sparkly now.”
“Oh, my god, that’s it.” So you really were able
to try to optimize, really, the scientific return by introducing a
number of things that made abnormal situations be normal in real operations,
and that’s an example. One of them I can remember is that gravimeter
measurement, where we’ve done this before. That’s, “Gee,
you know, we know we want to do that,” so they’d been
through the whole thing, and it happened. But it was a lot of fun
because it was total adrenaline, because you were punching these buttons
and trying to listen in, watching the sim sup out of the corner of
your eye. He’s kind of, you know [an eagle]—and these
were long EVAs. It was amazing.
Probably one of the best accolades I got in the Apollo Program personally
was at the next mission review, which was the big review in Houston,
was when the person who was in charge of all the simulation supervisors
said, he was reporting, “We had this simulation and it really
went well, and we want to give Jim Head an award for that. We’re
going to name him a half-astronaut,” with the emphasis on the
“half-as[s],” I think. But, anyway, I took it as a compliment,
So those things really had an effect, going through the whole thing.
It meant that you really got to know all these people, too. So you
could see that not me personally, but everybody, you know, back and
forth, and they were really effective.
you able to be in support room for every mission?
see. From probably 12 on, in the support or the support-support room,
yes. Not for Apollo 11.
were you for Apollo 11?
Head: I was
home, basically. Yes, it was pretty amazing. Yes, because that was
not a geology mission, per se. It was a really small group of people.
It was just the core, total core there, and I hadn’t been in
the thing that long at that point. Actually, the success of that really
was what caused things to blossom on Apollo 12. They carried geological
maps, and in Apollo 13, there was much more training and a lot more,
and on and on it went. It was great.
much difference does the rover make in achieving the accomplishments
from the science area?
orders of magnitude difference. You were traveling to a radius of
seven kilometers. I have a plot, actually, that I made up which has
all the traverses, including the Soviet Lunokhod traverses, all in
the same scale. It just is incredible when you look at the difference
between Apollo 11, 12, 14, and then the J missions, 15, 16, and 17.
Just amazing. So you had to cover a lot more ground. You could see
things in between. You could go to places you couldn’t get to
otherwise. So you could go to two or three or four different major
objectives and successfully investigate them. Yes, it was just a very,
very fundamental delta in this system from a science return point
of view. Plus, you also had twenty-one hours of surface EVA, which
is—that’s a lot of time.
geological findings, did they meet up to your expectations, or did
you have expectations?
it’s sort of back to the “We’re making this as we
go along.” I think so much was new that it would be hard for
it not to meet your expectations. I mean, almost everything we were
learning was new, and you didn’t want to get complacent about
that. There were people who would be satisfied with just landing at
some point and picking up rocks. You have to appreciate that a significant
number of the people who had worked on extraterrestrial rocks, they
were meteorites, and nobody had a clue where they came from in context,
geological context. They’d fall out of the sky, you know. So
the idea of spending time to figure out exactly what—they’d
done profitable analysis on those kinds of rocks for years. So they
weren’t so concerned about geological context. But the geologists
really were, and probably went a little overboard on that, too.
There’s a famous story, I think. Who was it? I think Neil [A.]
Armstrong told me this, but Bob Gilruth kind of was watching the preparations
for one of these traverses. The astronauts were supposed to document
the rocks, take a stereo pair and a panorama and “before”
and then take an “after.” Well, that’s a lot of
time when you’re picking up rocks. Bob Gilruth, being the kind
of guy he was, you could see, he’s going, like, “Hmm.
You know, they’re likely to come back with this big rock box
with one little rock in it and a bunch of pictures, you know. That’s
not going to look very good.”
So the word is that a couple of days before the thing, he said, “Neil,
when you get up there, the end of that thing, take that shovel and
fill up that rock box. Don’t you come back with that thing half
empty.” You may remember that on Apollo 11, the indium seal
of the thing didn’t close. This is really distinct—well,
because it’s he’s shoveling the stuff [into the box and
getting the seal dusty], which was absolutely the right thing to do,
because you could spend all your time documenting these rocks and
lose the sense that actually quantity is important here, too.
Sorry, I’ve lost lock on the point of the whole question there.
were talking about the expectations.
Head: I guess
the only unrealized expectations were perhaps, some people would say,
were some of the landing sites. Of course, having twenty-one missions,
there were ideas about places that one would go to, like Marius Hills
were a good one. A lot of the USGS people wanted to go there, because
they had, like, morphological features that looked like volcanic deposits,
cones, that were very similar to the ones in their home area in Flagstaff,
and a lot of people were disappointed we couldn’t go there,
couldn’t go to Tycho, which was a big impact crater in the southern
highlands, or Copernicus central peaks, for example. That was on the
list. It was ruled out for a couple of reasons, partly having to do
with the fact that you wanted to go to multiple-objective sites where
you could do multiple things because, in that sense, people knew the
program was coming to an end so you wanted to optimized with the rover,
being able to get to a bunch of different things that might, with
smaller capability, like Apollo 14 or 12, you would have to go four
different missions to go to.
But it would take a real cynic to say, “We blew it on that.”
Of course, you’re talking to somebody who was involved, so I
probably have not a completely independent view of it, and I certainly
have a vested interest in it being a success as an individual. But
I think given the capabilities and what we knew at the time, we learned
an immense amount.
I think the best example of that is Apollo 16, where we went to a
site which we thought we knew what was going on, we didn’t know
what was going on, we found out something completely different than
we’d anticipated, and lunar science is the better for it, totally,
you know what I mean, from that point on, because, in fact, it wasn’t
what we thought was there, and that’s what exploration is all
about. So, in that case, there’s an example of something where
one might be disappointed we didn’t find what we were looking
for, but they’d miss the whole point of what exploration was
all about. Certainly would like to go more places, but I’m not
you were unwrapping those rocks from Apollo 17, it was going to be
the last samples from the Apollo Program, and your future was in front
of you. Where were you planning to go, and how did everything that
you had just encountered affect your next plan? Or did you know at
that time what you were going to be doing next?
again, you’re so busy doing that that, that, actually, a bizarre
part of the whole thing was that starting—and again I can’t
remember exactly when, but maybe around Apollo 15, certainly by Apollo
16, Bellcomm was beginning to compress. You know, since it was known
the number of total missions that were going to be flown, that had
been decided, and we were praying that it wouldn’t be less than
The range of people who were thinking the way to the Moon and back
had done their job, in large part. So many of these people were [leaving],
the size of Bellcomm was contracting immensely. I probably moved my
office three times in the last two years, or one year, whatever it
was, because, you know, smaller and smaller quarters. You’d
go out on a trip, you’d come back, and, “Had to move your
stuff over the weekend,” because it’s a smaller group.
But we were the ones who were doing the work at that time. The systems
engineering had shifted to the traverses, not just the whole system
of getting there and getting back.
So, jeez, by the end of Apollo 17, it was just a handful of people.
So the handwriting was on the wall, absolutely. But from a scientific
point of view, these were just data collections years. These weren’t
analysis years. These were making sure you did the job right to get
the data. But then we would study to understand what actually was
going on, and there was clearly years ahead of one in terms of those
kinds of analyses.
We were just talking about that at the 33rd Lunar Planetary Science
Conference, and we just had that. So the analysis has gone on for
decades. For me personally, the people at Bell Labs were interested
in helping me find a place to go, but I was so interested in what
I was doing at that time, I wasn’t really concerned about that.
Then Tim Mutch, who was here [at Brown] and who had since become even
more involved in NASA after I left, put forth the proposal to come
back to Brown, because he was starting to think about a planetary
science program here. So I don’t remember the exact timing there,
but by the end of the Apollo Program, I guess I must have known that
that’s what I was going to do. I’d been made an offer
and came here as an assistant professor of research. So, yes, there
was a transition there, but you just weren’t thinking about
that. You had too much to do, you know, which is probably pretty naïve,
but somehow it worked out.
are you still involved with NASA today?
since Apollo, I’ve worked on a lot of missions. I’ve gone
on to be thinking about, well, of course, the analysis of the lunar
data, which I still work on, and then continuing with comparative
planetology. So Tim Mutch by this time had become principal investigator
on the Viking Lander spacecraft, so I work with him a little bit on
the Viking Lander data and interpretations during the mission operations
and then went on to propose to and be on missions to Galileo, Magellan,
Mars Global Surveyor. I’m on the Messenger [mission] to Mercury.
So it’s been a real kind of like ongoing analysis, just trying
to understand the different planets and what they’re telling
us about the Earth. So we continue to do that, basically.
So I work with NASA a lot on these missions in a host of different
ways, with experiments and so on, as do the students. Many of the
students who have come through here are now at NASA Headquarters.
Jim [James B.] Garvin, a student of mine and Tim’s, is now the
Mars Program scientist at NASA Headquarters. So these people are now
in good positions of involvement in the program. A host of them are.
I still also work on astronaut training for the new classes of Shuttle
astronauts, the AsCans [astronaut candidates], which is a lot of fun.
It’s been great to watch the evolution of the attitudes with
the new people coming in over time. So every time there’s an
AsCan class, I’d go down and do a week of briefings or something
like that on planetary science, and keep in touch with some selected
group of them as they fly their Shuttle missions, too. So that goes
I’m also working with Europeans. I’ve worked for the Soviets
a lot during the height of the Soviet space program, was an investigator
on one of their missions, a guest investigator on two of them, actually,
to the planets. We have a joint agreement between Brown and the two
major space research institutes in the former Soviet Union. So we
have a lot of people here, and the students get to go there. It’s
quite an experience culturally and politically and every which other
way, scientifically. So it’s been a very important tool, because,
obviously, the international aspects of the program are really important
now, and it’s important for the students to participate in that.
I guess an interesting aspect of that has been to get a perspective
on the Soviet part of the space program, because I think when we were
all in Apollo, we knew there was the political backdrop, and there
was important reasons for doing what we were doing on a national,
international basis. I certainly didn’t have a clue as to what
was going on and what the Soviets were really doing, and it didn’t
have any meaning for me, anyway. I just knew we had to do the best
we possibly could, because that was the presidential mandate.
But, in retrospect, in getting to know these people over time, it’s
been really fascinating to meet the people who were doing parallel
things on their side. Colleagues of mine, that I’ve known for
years now, were working on the human exploration landing sites from
the Soviet point of view and the Lunokhod missions and stuff like
that. It’s really fascinating. Someday we’ll probably
write that book, the comparative [aspect of the two programs].
One of the fun things for me was actually getting the Russians together
with the U.S. astronauts. I remember a memorable dinner we had over
at John [W.] Young’s house a few years ago, where I took the
Russians, two or three of the Russians who had been instrumental in
the Lunokhod missions, and brought the maps and so on, and we had
this incredible time where Johnny described what it was like to walk
on the craters, and they described what it was like to drive on them.
It was just amazing. I wish I’d taped it, but it wasn’t
the kind of thing you were going to tape; it was just a totally spontaneous
kind of thing.
But the human exploration program has also been [of continuing interest]—we
have here at Brown, Sergei Khrushchev, who is Nikita Khrushchev’s
son. I don’t know whether you’re aware of that or not.
Yes, are you going to talk to him at all?
He didn’t have much to do with Apollo directly, but he’s
been just a very good friend and it’s been incredible to get
his take, because, as he said, he worked in [Vladimir] Chelomei’s
Design Bureau in the Soviet Union, which was one of the two major
design bureaus for developing their program, the rockets, and the
capabilities. As he says, “My father used to drag me to all
these other meetings, like the Politburo meetings, where they were
making these big decisions.” So he’s an incredible resource
on what it was really like from their point of view. It’s been
just completely interesting to see that develop, to get better informed
about that with time.
you able to bring your experiences of your Apollo days into your classes,
and, if so, what do you tell your students about the benefits of the
Apollo Program, as far as not just geological studies, but as far
as of the accomplishments involved?
Yes, I definitely do that. I teach an introductory course in planetary
geoscience called Earth, Moon, and Mars. It’s a non-prerequisite
general science course. So it’s got everybody in there, from
freshmen, clueless, to senior poets, or whatever.
So there’s two things that we do, really. One of them is that,
actually, I made up a lab, which takes lunar rocks and the thin sections
cut from the rocks, where they actually take the actual Moon rocks
and reconstruct in the lab the history of the Moon, which is, like,
really, remarkable, that they’re actually able to hold the rocks
and say, “Okay, where does this come from?” in retrospect
of what we learned when we were taking—what we didn’t
know when we were collecting, but we learned from that. Now it’s
just a freshman lab. So that’s pretty interesting.
I also have a lot of stuff, like these traverse maps where they can
actually see where the astronauts picked it up. I don’t dwell
on that too much, because that’s a lot of the solar system to
cover, but what I do try to do during the period of time when we cover
the Moon is to get one of the astronauts to either come by or do a
telecon, in which we take an hour, you know. I talk about five minutes
at the beginning of that. “Okay, we’re going to talk to
Dave Scott. Here’s the mission. He went to Apollo 15. Here’s
what it did, and here are some pictures,” and then he’ll
get on there and talk about his experience, the science, and then
there’ll be half the period where they can ask him questions.
So that kind of brings in the dimensions of exploration and the human
aspects to it.
So what do I tell the students? I don’t tell them much in the
sense of justifying. We don’t discuss a lot of automated versus
human exploration. What I try to point out in the class in many different
ways is that a lot of science accomplishments are done on a basis
of events that have nothing to do with the science themselves and
that you have to be both ready to optimize for the science when those
happen and spot them coming when they do.
For example, we know the ocean floors on the Earth primarily because
of what happened in World War II, where ships were going back and
forth. You didn’t know the topography, so people had gravimeters
and bathymeters on these ships so that they could tell where submarines
might be and know the sea floor better. Well, you could never have
done that and said, “Hey, we need a study of the sea floor.
Let’s send all these ships out.” It would be years. So
you needed to take advantage of that, know the data set was there,
and then kind of take advantage of that to understand what’s
going on and to know what the best thing’s to do for future
study. So, in a way, World War II is responsible for us having a really
important knowledge of the first-order character of the ocean and
cracking the code on how the earth works.
Then subsequently, the cold war, we were mapping the hell out of the
sea floor, and only part of that data comes available do we actually
understand it a lot better, because people want to know where Soviet
subs are going to be. So, giving them appreciation for the kind of
interlinkage of history and science, and then the same way, Apollo.
You could never justify going to the Moon and spending that money
on the basis of the [science] results that humans could provide. You
couldn’t do it.
Like, you can’t now justify sending humans to Mars on the basis
of science. But you can, if it is a national imperative, clearly take
advantage of the human’s capabilities. What we got from the
Apollo traverses would take us a long, long time of a whole host of
automated missions to accomplish the same thing. There’s no
question about that at all, in complex instrument deployment, integrating
things, seeing the green glass from where you were, recognizing that
sparkling rock over there that you might not at all see from the rover,
and just really Jack Schmitt going and working those big boulders
over, because he knew what he was looking for and he could tell in
an instant where the best sampling sites were and piece it together
and document it. It would take you just an immense amount of time
to do that with automated spacecraft.
We’re getting to that point now, but if you had a choice and
you had unlimited money, sending humans is the way to go. But, of
course, we don’t have unlimited money, so you take what you
can get, which is very sophisticated remote-sensing kinds of things.
mentioned about how you lost track of what time it was, day-wise,
night-wise. Every day was full, running to the next. Did you have
any personal life at all during this time period? A day off to go
fishing or go rock hunting, whatever you did for your hobby, did you
have any of that during this time period, when the adrenaline was
it was pretty all-consuming. Being at NASA Headquarters meant you
traveled a lot because you had to go, not just be at NASA Headquarters,
but all these trips, and to Houston a lot, and the Cape and so on.
I like to think I did, because obviously I had a family, and I tried
to keep them informed of what I was doing on a general basis as well
as we went to the Apollo 15 launch. We all went to Disneyland, stuff
like that, at the same time, and they were able to see the launch.
That was the one hiatus in there when we no longer were training the
crews because the day before, that was it. Then you had a day or so
before they got to the Moon.
But I don’t know, you sort of made the time. I don’t know.
I have the sense that I spent a lot of the time at home with my two
daughters, but probably not as much as I should have. I think there
are a lot of casualties with personal lives in these kinds of, really,
really focused kinds of things, and yet at the same time, I don’t
I suffer from the fact, so to speak, that my vocation and avocation
are pretty similar; that is, I’m totally curious about what’s
going on. So science isn’t just like I come to work and do this.
I mean, I’m always thinking about these kinds of things. So,
if you’re digging in the garden or whatever, it’s always
kind of working about what’s going on. So I don’t get
a sense of being a workaholic, although I put in an immense number
of hours. It’s not a pain, you know what I mean. It’s
just kind of a curiosity. I don’t know.
That’d be a question you probably should ask my two daughters.
But I do remember one thing where I would explain to them where I
was going. “Okay, I’m going to Houston because we’re
going to the Moon.” So I tried constantly to inform them about
what was going on, so it wasn’t just like I was gone.
I remember that the—probably Apollo 12, I kind of remember,
anyway, this was, like, they’re home watching it on TV. My wife
and my two daughters are sitting there, and the first astronaut was
there. “Who’s that?”
“Oh, that’s Pete Conrad.”
The second one gets out. “Who’s that?”
“Oh, that’s, you know, Al Bean.”
“Where’s Dad?” [Laughs] So it was, like, one of
these, “Wait a minute. He did all this stuff, and he didn’t
get to go?” [Laughs] It was great.
On the other hand, I do remember also coming home one time, and something
I’m not very proud of, is I remember my youngest daughter going
up to go to bed, and she was pretty young at the time, and crawling
in my suitcase to go to sleep. It was not a good sign, you know. It
was kind of symbolic there. So it’s a big cost, I think, in
some ways, but hopefully it all balances out.
got to do the simulations as an astronaut. Did you have any desires
to be able to be one of the people that you planned to go up there?
of the things is that the astronauts were so good at making you feel
a part of the exploration, that you felt like you were—I can’t
remember the term, but you’re participating in it in a way that
you sort of are there. There’s a term for that. I can’t
remember exactly what it is. But you felt very much a part of what
was going on. So that combined with the fact that you had your job
to do and the fact that pretty much there was a set of people waiting
in line meant that, sure, they call me up, I’d been at the Cape
in a flash. But it wasn’t like that was even remotely realistic.
Then people have asked me that about being a Shuttle astronaut, something
like that. It sounds bizarre, but we have so much fun doing what we’re
doing in planetary exploration, that is, continuing on with this kind
of, like, moving out and seeing these things for the first time, that
although it would appeal to me, and once again, I would never turn
it down, and if I had $20 million, I’d probably plop it down
to go, but it’s not something that I wanted to say, “Okay,
now I’m going to go spend a significant amount of time trying
to become an astronaut, to then wait a year or two, or at that time
maybe three or four, to get a trip into Earth orbit.”
It’s, like, that would be great, but it’s so much fun
doing what we’re doing in terms of continuing the lunar exploration
to the planets and so on, that it wasn’t something that was
a priority. I mean, I’m totally curious. I’d love to do
it. But exploration comes in many different ways and forms, and I
think we’re doing it in a big way here.
I remember one of the CapComs was saying to me one time, he said,
“This is really silly for me to be going off to Ellington [Field,
Houston, Texas] and you to be going off to the commercial thing. You
should be coming with me, you know, to fly around to these different
I said, “You know, I kind of like that idea.” [Laughs]
He raised with, I forget who it was, Deke Slayton or somebody like
that, and the only problem was I had to have, apparently, what I was
told it was I had to have—what was it? I had to have, yes, survival
training in Panama or something like that, you know what I mean. So
it was off the radar screen at that time. But it was nice of them
to think about that.
Yes, again, I think that that just the summary would be that they
were so good at making you part of the thing that you just felt like
you were part of the exploration, just tons of times, like inviting
you into crew quarters when they were getting ready to go, and just
a whole host of things like that in which you really felt involved,
were pretty amazing.
back, do you feel like you have one area that brings to you that you
would feel like your greatest accomplishment or your greatest contribution
to the space program during the Apollo days?
just participation. It gets back to that thing. It sounds like an
old saw, but the team effort. I would say that, really, just being
able to participate with a host of highly dedicated, focused people,
who really knew how to do a job and get it done, learning from them,
participating with them, that’s about all you could ask. I think
that was a privilege and an accomplishment at the same time, from
my point of view, anyway. Everybody was doing their thing, but there’s
nothing I could think that would—just being part of it was really
an accomplishment, for me, anyway.
want to just take a second here. If we could just pause for a second
and give you a chance to think and to maybe review some of the information
that you have. Is there anything else that you would like to talk
about before we close for the day? [Tape recorder turned off.]
rest of the night, too. Do you, I mean, is there anything else, or
you’re just looking at that particular aspect?
that one right now. But we can certainly keep moving through here.
Yes, just the issue of the volcanic history of the Moon, one of the
key things, of course, was whether it had actually been molten or
not. When the geologists looked at the images from the Lunar Orbiter,
it was pretty clear that lava flows were the thing that was forming
a lot of these areas in the mare. But other people were so convinced,
particularly geochemists and cosmochemists. So it wasn’t until
the Apollo samples came back on Apollo 11 that people were then convinced
that they were lava flows and they were volcanic eruptions. The age,
the ancient age was a big surprise.
So it was clear at that point that these planets didn’t just
acrete cold, but that they heated up in the interior. That was a major
change in our thinking, and we’re still trying to sort out what
that all means, what the heat source is. But from that point on, it
was very clear. Then the data that we got from later missions, Apollo
missions, lunar missions, the lunar sample return missions as well
as remote-sensing data, subsequently from Galileo as it flew by the
Moon a couple of times on its way to Jupiter, and also from the Lunar
Prospector mission, and Clementine really showed us the diversity
of mare rock types and the diversity of volcanic activity on the Moon.
So that’s pretty much a done deal now. The question is how it
actually happens, what the heat sources are, and what the early stages
of formation of the Moon and its evolution mean about the later stages
of volcanic eruptions. That’s still a very exciting area of
research, which a number of people are involved in.
Again, I think it’s really safe to say that the Moon is just
a keystone for the understanding of the other terrestrial planets.
What we know about big impact basins, what we know about ejecta emplacement,
what we know about melting and recognition of lava flows, emplacement
of explosive eruptions in very different atmosphere environments,
this is all very closely related to what we learned from the Moon.
So that’s been a major, major contribution to interpretation
of the remote-sensing data that’s been obtained from other planetary
missions. Without that in-depth background that came from Apollo,
we wouldn’t be able to interpret these things very well at all,
actually. Most people don’t fully appreciate that, but having
been through them all, you see the building and the assumptions that
are going into the interpretations of a lot of these other planets.
Let’s see. A couple of things about individuals in the Apollo
Program. Indeed, if you think about it, I was really born at the right
time. I can remember high school, when Sputnik went up. It’s,
again, one of those times that people who were alive at that time
remember exactly where they were, because it’s such a stunning
event. It’s a change in your reality.
It was very exciting at the time, threatening as well, because it
was a Soviet spacecraft, and that was a big issue and problem for
everyone. But on the other hand, I’ve come to since that time
have the opportunity to toast my Soviet colleagues at dinners in their
homes with vodka, thanking them for providing me with my education,
because, in fact, my graduate education was paid for by the National
Defense Education Act, which was a total response to Sputnik. So they
love the irony of that, you know. [Laughs]
Yet there have been a lot of people who were involved in this incredible
endeavor, where they brought so many different things to the table
in terms of getting to the Moon and back and understanding what was
going on. Had I just gone through my normal education and gone off
to some place, an oil company or a small university or whatever, I
would never have been exposed to people other than sort of, like,
local colleagues. But to be parachuted into this situation just by
chance, because it just happened to be I got out of school when this
was going on, was really amazing for me personally because I would
just be working with cosmic-ray physicists, you know, planetary geophysicists.
That was just becoming a field at the time. Engineers, managers, a
host of people you’d never be involved with just in a normal
sequence of events at that point in your career.
So that was just incredibly educating to me, to be able to work with
these people, and then, most important, to see how it all came together.
It wasn’t just, “Okay, today we’re going to talk
to engineers and see what they have to [say].” It’s everybody
working together to make this goal a reality.
People that stand out are people like Jack Sevier, who was, again,
part of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office. He was just a very close
colleague. You can design on paper a good collaboration in the sense
that you take two résumés and you put them together,
“Oh, these are very complementary. These people should be able
to solve this problem.” But, of course, the real clue is in
the personalities. They can be hypergolic or not, in the sense of—you
know what that means, right? Yes. Okay. So, hypergolic personalities
are pretty common, particularly when they’re complementary,
because they’re threatening to each other in some ways, you
know. But Jack and I, for some reason, really hit it off, and instead
of being hypergolic, it was synergistic. We would both be able to
ask each other so-called stupid questions, which led to each of us
learning a lot.
So that’s the kind of person I think you met in the program,
and for the most part you just learned a lot. Of course, you had to
do your job and you had to do it well. That’s how you gained
the respect that you could then build on to learn more. But there
were hosts of people like that in the engineering side, Chet [Chester
M.] Lee, in terms of management, and people like Rocco Petrone. Rocco
was just amazing, very, very bright guy. Like I said, when we started
these briefings, it’d be a good ten to fifteen minutes each
time where he have all these science questions, and it was great fun.
But tough guy, and you weren’t going to get up there with any
kind of BS either, that’s for sure.
Jim [James A.] McDivitt, after his Apollo 9 mission, went on to become
the head of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, and he was really,
really excellent, too. He was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He had total
common sense where common sense is really something that’s not
really so common. I always had a tremendous amount of respect for
him in resolving things. When he would chair these mission reviews,
you just knew the right questions were on the table and the right
decision was going to be made.
One of the things that has always disturbed me is the fact that that
rocket that you’re looking at there that you all see every day,
I guess, if you’re at the Center, more or less, the one sitting
out on the green, in the interest of JSC, should have gone to the
Moon. I think that’s the one that was Apollo 18. Jim McDivitt
took me aside one night at a splash-down party and offered me the
job of mission scientist for Apollo 18. Apollo 18 was going to be
just going, taking the command module and going into polar orbit and
mapping things in a way that hadn’t been done with the near-equatorial
kinds of things.
Had I thought that mission was going to be a reality, that would have
been an incredible thing to do, but my sense was that it wasn’t
going to be and that it would better for me to try to do this thing
here at Brown, as I remember, at the time. But I would have loved
working for him, because he is really, really a great guy.
Chris [Christopher C.] Kraft [Jr.] was amazing, too. He, again, a
no bullshit guy who told it like it was, and pretty much turned out
to be that’s pretty much the way it was. That cut through a
lot of stuff, you know, when you didn’t have to—you’d
just say, “Hey, we don’t have time for this. You know,
black is black, and white is white. That’s black. That’s
white. Get back to me if it’s not.” You know what I mean?
Usually he had the right call on those things and is, to me, a really
excellent leader. Same with a whole host of people in the Flight Control
Division, Operations Divisions, etc. The flight directors, Gene [Eugene
F.] Kranz, obviously, and Gerry Griffin and that crew, were just great.
They really looked at and had an overview of what was going on such
that they were flexible sufficiently to take input where it was coming
from unusual places or just really see the overview and the evolution
of the program.
We had, I think, in the waning days of Apollo, it must been after
Apollo 17—yes, it was—we had a dinner, a science-engineer
dinner somewhere over there, somewhere at JSC. It was pretty amazing
to think about how it had come from real competition early on to kind
of a celebration of good synergism. That was pretty powerful stuff,
because it really did work that way. Yes, those were lots of people,
lots of people, who were really just great, and all throughout the
I was kind of running out of names there and things. Let’s see.
What else do we have on this list here?
you want to share anything with us about the time that you spent with
the Lunar Science Institute?
yes, sure. Yes, let’s see. After I came here to Brown, I guess
it wasn’t very long after I came here to Brown, I was asked
to be on the Advisory Committee for the Lunar Science Institute, it
was at the time. So I agreed to do that since I was just a young professor,
had hardly even gotten started. I was really pleased to be asked to
be on that Advisory Committee. So I did, and very soon after that,
the big guns on the Advisory Committee were not happy with the way
the direction of the Institute was going in that they felt that it
was going too far in the direction of things not related to the samples
and the rocks and the results of Apollo, but to outer planets, satellites,
and places that were more astronomical than geological or whatever.
I was, again, pretty naïve about all this. So there was in the
background some dissension, significant dissension about the current
director at the time, probably whose only crime was not doing what
the Advisory Committee wanted and being offered another direction,
but whatever. Anyway, they decided that it would be better to try
to get someone in there who was more related to the basic program.
I was kind of a bystander in those decisions, having just come on
the committee. But then, of course, once the director had decided
to resign, so what do you do now? Then it became something that I
was involved in, in a search for a director whose experience and orientation
was more along the lines of what it was felt that the community of
the university sponsoring this was interested in.
I remember we were making the decision that, look, it’s virtually
impossible to actually have somebody come in at the present time.
If we’re going to get somebody good, it’s going to take
us at least six months to a year to actually to get them to agree
to come. So it’s not something that you’re going to do
So the idea was posed by somebody, “Well, you know, we really
need to get an interim director in to bridge the gap.” Actually,
I think it was Lee [Leon T.] Silver, actually, who was also there,
said, “You know, I think we have somebody like that in the room
now.” I’m kind of looking around, and I said, “Jeez,
I thought these guys all had permanent jobs.” Then he was talking
about me. So when it finally emerged who the hell he was talking about,
I was in such a state of shock, I wasn’t smart enough to say
immediately no. [Laughter]
But it looked like an interesting thing to do, remembering that these
were data-collection years in Apollo, the idea that you had at that
time a lot of money, a million-dollar budget and a lot of staff, good
staff, and the opportunity to bring in a whole host of people. The
ship, in a broad sense, was, like, listing somewhat and not very oriented
on a specific direction. So the idea that you could take a year to,
actually, with some vision of what was done in Apollo and with emphasis
there on potential future directions, try to set it on a right path,
or at least maintain it so that somebody coming in could do it, was
It would not have ever have been anything I would have said, “I
want to apply for that job.” But posed as it was with a limited
time and so on, it seemed interesting. So, actually, I ended up commuting
to do this, because I also had commitments here [at Brown], and, obviously,
as we were saying, it wasn’t exactly the kind of thing that
was conducive to family unity. So, actually, I was able to work it
out so that I commuted. I’d do one week down there and one week
here. Then, also, I brought my family down from time to time, in certain
periods of time. So that was kind of, like, a big deal for them. That
was kind of fun. Houston in August, I mean, you know, “Whoa,
Dad, it’s great.” [Laughs]
an experience that—
Head: I remember
my oldest daughter wearing shorts and not being able to sit down in
the car. You know how it gets. What’s the big deal, sort of.
Then the snapping-turtle thing where you sit in the pool with just
your nose sticking out. [Laughs] But, see, they learned something
But at any rate, so that was quite an experience, and I did learn
a lot in a very short period of time, because I was working here,
too. I was trying to develop the program here. It was just amazing.
I just learned a lot about the management aspects and development
of staff and things like that. Again, it was total immersion, because
this was not a position I’d had before and it wasn’t a
position I was moving into here at all either. But that was great.
So at the end of the time, that’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t
want to be the permanent director. That wasn’t why I took the
job. It wasn’t like, “Oh, this will be a nice step.”
I really wanted to be here teaching, working on research, etc. Yet
at the same time, going through all that, it was terrific, because
I just learned an immense amount. Of course, I interacted with a host
of scientists, which helped me in the longer run, too, even more,
because this is in a different environment. It wasn’t just doing
the traverse. It was, like, okay, what should the future of planetary
science be, what should the future be here? So it was a great experience,
but it was not something that I had any aspirations to do permanently
at all. I wanted to teach and do research. But it was really terrific.
It was before frequent flier miles, too. I don’t know. I could
have gone to the Moon, you know, [with all those miles].
I imagine it’s true.
we get ready to close today, are there any final thoughts that you
would like to add? The only other question, and I know you have answered
this in roundabout ways, but I’m not quite sure if you would
like to just close us out with, of the lessons that we learned from
Apollo, what are you might feel might be the greatest lesson of all?
I would say that it’s not a scientific one; it’s a human
one. It’s that if you put your mind to it and have a goal that’s
articulated at the highest level and it’s a goal that has imagination
and substance, then it’s amazing what people can do. Again,
it’s that old saw, but the reason you hear it so often is because
it’s so true. I don’t think it affected anybody. It’s
made me realize how much humans are capable of doing when they work
together, and it’s also made me appreciate the failings of working
together when goals aren’t well articulated and agreed on.
So I think Apollo is a real tribute to human capability, to put individual
differences aside and work towards a common goal. I constantly see
that as a ray of hope in broader aspects. If you just know that humans
are capable of doing that, then you sort of have hope that in each
of the individual areas, some collective group will get together and
do that to further things.
I had to do the senior honors convocation, give the talk. Some faculty
member gives a talk at graduation each year to the seniors who graduated
with honors, and I got the [short] straw on that one this year. I
was just going through and thinking about trying to give them some
perspective on what’s happened since this building was actually
built in 1903, when the Wright brothers first—it was held out
here on the green, and I was just trying to put in some historical
perspective about where we are today. I kind of did the math. So,
okay, this is, like, 1903. 1900, humans had not flown, and powered
flight, and blah, blah, blah, blah, and 1957, the Sputnik. I think
it was ’57. I said, “A mere twelve years later, we were
walking on the Moon, you know.” Then I said, “No, wait
a minute. That can’t be right.” [Laughs] When you think
about that, it is just unbelievable.
I think if you put it in that perspective, it isn’t because
we had the technical power, because we didn’t at the time. We
had to invent that, and, again, I had to do the math on that a couple
of times, actually go look up in the book to make sure that ’57
was the right year, because twelve years, that’s, like, nothing.
It’s nothing. And Apollo didn’t happen in that either.
It was much less than that. So it’s just pretty amazing that
that all happened. So I hope that that lesson isn’t lost, and
I’d say that that’s the major contribution of the program.
A second one which is also very important is expanding our experience
beyond the Earth, so when we look back at this picture, the type that
was taken by the Apollo 11 astronauts, and this is the icon of the
environmental movement, which is another way of saying, it is something
where you see the Earth in its full glory for the first time but also
in its loneliness and you appreciate the tenuousness of this. By looking
at the other planets as the astronauts first did and we went out to
these other planets, you really get a perspective on where we are
and where we’re not and a perspective on history, of our place
there, and a better respect for what we have as humans and what we’re
actually doing to the environment. So that’s another really
It’s, like, if you just look just a few hundred years ago, not
many hundreds of years ago, Jesus, you know, we were the center of
the universe. It’s like the Earth is the center, and, of course,
it’s gotten worse ever since. Not only are we not the center,
but we’re not even close to the center. The better perspective
we have, the better the reality check we have, and I think that’s
something that Apollo really started as they looked back initially,
seeing this, describing it, taking the pictures, and then picking
up the rest of the record from looking at the Moon, is probably the
second legacy, to me, anyway.
I had an opportunity to read Chris Kraft’s book a few months
ago, which was really—of course, I knew him throughout the Apollo
Program, but coming into it in ’68 or whenever it was, almost
all the background stuff was a done deal. All the Mercury and Gemini
were—all the things to work out about what you do and so on,
were just done. Reading his book was great because it filled in the
foundation on which the pinnacle was built, which I only knew from
kind of like empirical word of mouth, sort of little things here that
people talked about. But that book was great in just seeing how all
that happened. It was just amazing. Just amazing.
we’ve enjoyed learning from you today and listening to your
experiences, and we certainly thank you for taking your time out of
your schedule to do this for the Oral History Project at Johnson Space
I appreciate it very much. I don’t reminisce much, but you can
see this must have been some huge exception here. [Laughs]
we’re glad you did it for us. Thank you.
I think it’s really important to do this. I appreciate it very
much. I listen to some people come and talk about what happened in
Apollo with them not knowing that I was involved. It’s really
interesting to listen to. You know, wow. And some of them may be right,
because my experience is not necessarily the way it actually was.
That is to say, I’m looking at it from a certain point of view,
and there certainly were forces at work, like the larger political
forces, about the competition with the Soviets that could have driven
things that I had no idea about. But lots of times history is really
rewritten, of course, in the context of current events, and so I think
it’s important to have a set of realities as perceived for this
by the individuals who lived it.
I remember when I was a kid, the teacher asked me, I think it was
like in sixth grade, which is better to read, a history written of
an event a few years after it happened or fifty years after it happened.
I thought that was a no-brainer. Oh, it’s got to be, you know,
the one that happened just a few years after it happened, and she
said, “No, not necessarily, because those people are too emotionally
involved in what happened.” It was just, like, I couldn’t
believe that that was a credible answer at the time. But, of course,
I thought about it, and, of course, I think this could have been about
the War Between the States in the U.S. That might have been the topic,
in which case, of course, emotions were high, and it took a little
time to get perspective. But probably both are right.
So I’m happy that there’s an archive to get the immediate
return, too, as well as the longer-term perspective on the forces
that were involved in the events.
we’re happy to be part of it. So, thank you, again.