Space Center Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
C. Kraft, Jr.
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Houston, Texas – 6 August 2012
is August 6th, 2012. This oral history interview is being conducted
in Houston, Texas with Dr. Christopher Kraft, former Center Director
of the Johnson Space Center. Interviewer is Rebecca Wright, assisted
by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal.
[Space] Shuttles were made in those Management Council meetings. What
brings me to that is that in the latter part before we flew the Shuttle,
there were X number of Criticality 1 problems. Well, I shouldn’t
call them problems, but Criticality 1 means that if you had a failure
of that particular function or system or part, you would lose the
spacecraft. During the latter phases before we flew we reviewed in
detail at the Management Council every one of those. I mean in dirty
detail, total detail. I would like to ask, “Where is that recorded?”
At that point in time, of the Shuttle accidents, [Space Shuttle] Challenger
[STS-51L] and Columbia [STS-107], nobody ever talked about that in
anything I’ve ever read since then. All these reviews, all the
oversight that was made of the program, nobody ever talked about the
fact that those things were reviewed. That’s number one, but
number two is I don’t believe anybody remained in the top management
of the program that knew what those decisions were. That’s very
The Space Shuttle was like any other space vehicle. Weight, performance—that
is power, liftoff capability—always a major issue, always will
be in any space vehicle. You’re always fighting weight. I tried
to find a piece of paper written by Caldwell [C.] Johnson. He wrote
a paper that said spacecraft grow like babies. Regardless of what
you do they’re going to gain weight, so you’re fighting
weight all the time. Therefore, trying to do certain things that you
would like to do sometimes can’t be done because you just don’t
have the physical capability of overcoming the mass.
You have to make critical and judgment decisions as to what you can
do, what you can’t do, and when you can do it, when being the
better of the evil and the good. Somewhere along the line you have
to say I’m going to build it. If you keep saying I can make
it better, I can make it lighter, I can make it perform better, yeah,
you can do that. On the day you fly you can do that. Remember, that’s
a very important aspect of any kind of particularly aerospace design.
You never ever get to the point where you’re satisfied that
you couldn’t have done it better. But you’re never going
to fly if you have that attitude. Never.
As we were building the Space Shuttle, we knew we did not have an
escape capability for the astronauts. We tried every way we could
think of to overcome that, like you would in Mercury or Apollo, and
in Gemini, which was terrible. Ejection seats. But the mass of this
thing was so big, weighing 200,000 pounds sitting on the pad, the
Orbiter, there was no rocket that we could jam up the tail of the
thing that would allow us to get the whole spacecraft off, which is
what you would like to do. You’d like to fly the damn thing
as an airplane.
Secondly we then asked, “Is there any way we can build an escape
pod?” Blow it off the end of the Orbiter if we have a malfunction
of the engines that causes an explosion or solid rockets that fail.
So we tried to build a pod. That was a failure because of two major
things. Number one, it was extremely heavy to do and very difficult
to separate it and propel it away from an explosion, overpressure
or ball of fire that happens when the rocket might have exploded or
the tank blew up. But secondly it’s another spacecraft. It has
problems of reentry, depending on where it happens. It has major problems
in control. You can’t just let it spin. You’ve got to
try to put it under control and guide it to where you want it to go,
or at least try to guide it. As we investigated that we spent a lot
of money looking at it. We spent a lot of money deciding that by God
if we’re going to fly this thing we can’t do it. It’s
technically not feasible to do it.
Now I’ll give you some background there. The Air Force with
the B-50 something, think it was 50 something, in that time period,
built a fighter bomber by Convair. They put a pod on that front end
to save the crew instead of parachutes, instead of ejection seats.
They couldn’t make the damn thing work. They just flat eventually
gave up on it. Took it off. They threw it away, because it was not
practical. I give you that background. If we’re going to fly
the Space Shuttle, if we’re going to go into orbit and carry
65,000 pounds with 1,100-nautical-mile reentry, we just physically
technically don’t know how to build an escape system for this
Now what are we going to do about that? What is our answer to, “Well,
are you just going to give up on trying to save the crew if you have
a major catastrophe?” The answer was no we’re not. Well,
how do you say that? Number one, we’ve got two solid rockets
on the outside of this machine on the pad. What is your escape system
normally? Solid rockets. What’s the reliability of the solid
rockets that you use in the escape system? Probably 98 percent to
99 percent. What’s the probability of failure of these two solid
rockets on the side of this vehicle? Probably 96 percent to 99 percent.
What can we do to make them 100 percent? Because if they are 100 percent
or damn close to it, the solid rockets on the side are our escape
system. That will push this vehicle to 150,000 feet, at which point
we could separate the Orbiter if we have a problem and can’t
go any further and fly it back. As a matter of fact from 50,000 feet
we could fly it back, if you could separate it. But separating it
ain’t no easy problem either at Mach something and high dynamic
So that was our answer to the question what are you doing to save
the crew. Was that acceptable? It sure in hell was to everybody on
the Management Council. It sure in hell was to anybody that asked
us within the NASA management chain. It sure in hell was to anybody
that asked us period. A lot of people didn’t ask us I guess,
but we asked ourselves. Now we also spent millions and millions of
dollars on the software and those computers to be able to do that.
We could fly that machine back to a landing at Cape Canaveral [Florida]
or a landing in Africa if the machine was intact. We provided the
software and the quad-redundant computers that would allow us to do
that if the machine was intact.
That’s what we talked ourselves into if you want to call it
that, but I felt comfortable with that. Now I don’t think anybody
in the whole system thought more about the safety of the crew than
I personally did or my people did, recognizing that we couldn’t
damn well fly that machine if we hadn’t made that decision.
Now the other thing we did, similar decision, was when we first started
designing the machine we had a go-around capability; i.e., you could
approach the runway at Cape Canaveral and if you weren’t satisfied
with the approach, wave off. We could start some jet engines, drop
them out of the wing, fly around and try to land again. It didn’t
take us long to figure out we couldn’t do that either. It weighed
too much and it was very complicated and it added a whole fuel system,
tankage, lines, all kinds of control systems associated with the engines,
and the engines themselves, and the fact that they had to drop out
of the airplane somewhere, carried in a pod somewhere. Add all that
up. It’s too heavy.
So we said can we land it dead stick, pilots call airplanes with no
power, glide it, we got enough L/D, lift-drag ratio, to fly this machine
as a glider, and how do we prove it. We proved it. We did the Approach
and Landing Test. Pilots didn’t have any trouble landing it.
They landed it 135 times and didn’t have any trouble landing
it. Well, that was a pretty good decision also, and allowed us to
do the program. We couldn’t have done it if we’d tried
to keep those engines on. So the two, the escape system problem go
together and the wave-off capability.
Now let’s go back to Mr. [Michael D.] Griffin and Mr. [Charles
F.] Bolden. Mr. Griffin comes into the program as the new NASA Administrator
and says, “Space Shuttle is a flawed design. It has no escape
capability and it is too dangerous to continue.” He kept using
that statement. He used it when he first became the Administrator.
He used it with the press, used it with the Congress. I finally decided
he ought to stop saying that, so I wrote him a not short e-mail. I
said, “Stop using that term flawed design. It is not a flawed
design. Here’s what it is.” I explained to him what I
just did to you. Why and how we made those decisions and what you
could do with what you had. I said, “I can’t overcome
the fallacies of man in my spacecraft design. I can’t overcome
the stupidity or the lack of knowledge or whatever that goes into
making decisions, the decision-making process that people have. I
can’t overcome that. I can overcome systems problems, and I
think we did.” That’s what I told him. I said, “I
think the system works, has worked, and if you treat it properly will
Further, he and Mr. Bolden said it was fragile. Fragile. That’s
a poor choice of words for any spacecraft. I’ve never known
a spacecraft that wasn’t fragile. I don’t give a damn
what it was. Whether it was Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab or anything
else, they were all fragile and proved to be so. That’s what
you live with. That’s what spaceflight is all about. It’s
difficult. It’s hard to do. It has structural problems, has
thermal problems, has reentry problems, has control problems. It is
fragile. But the Space Shuttle is probably the least fragile machine
we’ve ever built.
Now let me prove that. When we designed that machine we did what we
called—I think I’ve said to you before—we built
it with a point design. What that means is that for every Mach number
and altitude and dynamic pressure that that vehicle is going to see
on a specific trajectory within very narrow limits during launch and
during entry, it’s only designed to fly down that trajectory.
Only. Get that. Only. It won’t fly anyplace else, because we
don’t know how to do that. We still today do not know how to
do that. This thing is not an airplane. It doesn’t just go up
and fly. It comes down a very very controlled trajectory. Up and down.
We go to great lengths to keep it on that trajectory, or we did. We
put up balloons for launch. We knew exactly what the winds were. We
knew exactly what the dynamic pressure was as we went up, and knew
that it was within the limits of our design. Same thing is true when
we reentered. The computers kept that machine on the trajectory which
was very very carefully designed. For those pieces of information
going up and coming down, it is not fragile. It will withstand a safety
factor of 1.4 minimum on every piece of structure, every piece of
So to call it fragile is to say you don’t know what the hell
you are talking about. In spite of the fact that it is fragile if
that makes sense to you. I can’t take a hammer and beat the
hell out of the thermal protection system, but I can tell you that
it will withstand 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit without slumping. I can
tell you that the nose will be at 3,500 degrees, which is almost the
temperature of the surface of the Sun, and withstand that temperature.
It’s proven to be. There was never a failure of a tile that
you would have called a Criticality 1 situation. Never in the history
of flight. Never in test. We proved it by test.
To say it was fragile because of the tiles or fragile for any other
reason is false. It says you don’t know what you’re talking
about. You don’t understand the design. So I say to you go get
all of the decisions we made in terms of the fragility, in terms of
the mass, in terms of the performance. You’ll find that we were
very careful about that. When we said the solid rockets have to have
100 percent and somebody abrogates that position, which the people
that designed the rockets said they didn’t want to do, and yet
NASA did it, that’s fool’s play. Not systems design. I
can’t overcome that. Same is true of the piece of trash that
came off that tank that hit the wing. I can’t overcome that.
They should not have allowed that thing to fly under those circumstances,
either the rocket or the tank.
Seventy-seven flights saw pieces come off of that tank, and they didn’t
fix it. The creed in Project Mercury was if you know of a known problem,
you will not fly, or you must have technical sound engineering reason
why you can. They abrogated that creed if you will. Don’t know
where to go from here. That’s what I wanted to say to you.
You said, “Looking back on the Shuttle Program what do you believe
to be the greatest strengths?” Well, it would do anything you
would ask it to do. It would put up 65,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit
at 28 degrees’ inclination. It didn’t matter what you
carried up there. It would do the job. It would add beneficial help
to you to check out the vehicle before you released it. You could
bring it back if it didn’t. You could go up and capture a satellite
that had failed. Whoever thought you could do that and bring it back,
fix it and fly it again, which they did? Whoever thought you could
take the Hubble [Space] Telescope, which was totally useless because
of failures of engineering judgment at the Marshall Space Flight Center
[Huntsville, Alabama], and yet the astronauts fixed the damn thing
for them? It was a brilliant piece of engineering to put something
on there to compensate for the flaws in the mirror. That was a pretty
good job, wasn’t it? So I can say that the Shuttle did everything
you could ever have asked for it from a performance point of view.
I don’t know anything that you ever asked it to do that it didn’t
do, except for the two flights that failed. It ended up putting up
1 million pounds into Earth orbit and building the biggest monstrosity
in spaceflight you’ve ever seen. What else could do it? It could
have done the same thing in going back to the Moon, and should have.
You could just as well put things into orbit around the Earth and
then go to the Moon, which is the right way to do it, because then
you can build spacecraft that never have to enter the Earth. Just
fly them back and forth from low-Earth orbit to lunar orbit. Translunar
spacecraft. Don’t ever have to come back to Earth unless you
want to put them back in the bay of the Space Shuttle and bring it
back. They can just stay there. Have an assembling point. Have a fueling
point. You could do all of that with the Space Shuttle.
No, that’s not good enough. NASA has got to have a new project.
I did ask Mr. Griffin. “Well, why did you give up on the Space
“Well, I had to make a decision,” he said. “The
[President George W.] Bush administration says you can only have so
much money, and so I figured that the only thing we could do was give
up the Space Shuttle. Take that money that it cost to operate and
fly the Space Shuttle, and build a project to go back to the Moon.”
I took him to task about that. But that was his answer. Now he would
later say, “I have to agree with Dr. Kraft. That was not a very
good decision. We should have kept the Space Shuttle. I would have
done that, had I known that we were not going to get the money to
build the lunar mission.”
He would say today, “Yeah that’s the right way to do it,”
because I forced him to say it. I got that on e-mail if you want to
read it. But he says, “I decided that in this political world
I’m going to go for the gold.” Which is the big SLS [Space
Launch System]. It’s the wrong way to do it. Nevertheless that
was his decision making process.
Now I said to myself—not being a party to any of this anymore—well
what could I do to maybe overcome that objection. Maybe I could get
USA [United Space Alliance] to take this machine over commercially
and fly it themselves. They could use what’s left over in terms
of flights for their own purposes. Sell it. I couldn’t get them
to do that for a long while, but eventually I did. Eventually they
made a concrete proposal to Ms. [Lori B.] Garver and Mr. Bolden, that
USA would take it over. We will absorb two thirds of the cost and
if you give us the facilities initially, you give us the vehicles
initially, we will eventually pay you for them, and eventually all
you’ll have to pay is the cost per flight. They refused.
They refused to even report it to the Congress that they had such
a proposal. Mr. Bolden and Mr. [William H.] Gerstenmaier who now is
a chief technical guy in [NASA] Headquarters [Washington, DC] would
not take it forward.
Further, about six months later a group of financiers in Great Britain,
in conjunction with George [W. S.] Abbey and others, proposed to buy
the damn thing. NASA refused to accept that proposal, said they didn’t
want it. So I go back to the point. With the Space Shuttle, with the
Atlas V, with the Delta IV, you could go back to the Moon easily relative
to Apollo in about a decade.
Further, we had the Europeans agreeing to do exactly that and be a
party to the program and build those parts of the vehicle which NASA
did not want to build or could not afford to build. They still want
to go. You read in the newspapers today that Russia and the Europeans
are talking about doing it without the United States, without an SLS.
SLS would probably be a great vehicle, but you probably won’t
be able to afford to fly it either. Even if you had it you probably
couldn’t afford to fly it. What else do you want to know?
Dr. Kraft, let me ask you since you’re talking about cost. Sometimes
when people have referred to the Space Shuttle Program as being flawed
they refer to also the cost of operation.
point. Let me talk about that. People will say today, Bob [Robert
F.] Thompson will say today, that we never really believed that we
could fly 40 flights a year. We never really believed we could turn
around [the Shuttle] in two weeks. That was just a salesman pitch.
I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit because I worked
my fanny off to try to do it. You could do it.
Now why couldn’t you? Because the culture of the system wouldn’t
allow it. Cape Canaveral engineers, Kennedy [Space Center, Florida]
engineers put more hours of tests in the hangar than they ever put
on flight, probably the first X number of flights. Why? That’s
their culture. They didn’t have to do that. The machine had
quad redundancy. We didn’t put that on there to say that all
that stuff had to be working on the pad. We put it on there to allow
you to have malfunctions of various systems that would still allow
you to fly. Called it FO/FO/FS, fail operational/fail operational/fail
safe. Now had we known how they were going to use it, had we known
that we couldn’t overcome that culture, we wouldn’t have
done that. That was a damn fool thing to do to put that much redundancy
in there. If you have to have that much going for you at the time
of launch you can’t launch it. I don’t mean that literally,
but it’s very difficult to do that when you have that many systems
that we put on there as redundancy backup.
Four computers, three APUs [auxiliary power units], should have had
four, four IMUs [inertial measurement units], you can go anyplace
you want in that vehicle. It had quad redundancy. You had valves.
You had power systems. You had anything that was in the line of criticality
had quad redundancy. That was built for the purpose of doing quick
turnaround, of having quick performance, of having high reliability.
We used nothing but highly reliable parts in the machine. They cost
money. Because you prove that the things will work. You don’t
buy transistors that fail and have infant fatality or something like
Everything we did was done on the basis of trying to get quick turnaround,
trying to say just bring it back, look at it, follow the trends of
the system with all the instruments. Again 1,000 points of instrumentation
on that machine so you could follow the performance of the systems
and see how the trends were that those things might fail and replace
them before they did fail. That’s what we asked for. You could
say this is what it was doing when it landed, this is what you have
to check out, go back to the pad with it after you’ve done that,
and now you get on the pad and launch it again. Well, there might
not be something working. That’s what you got the quad redundancy
So if you said you were going to do that, you could have done it.
Not inside the NASA culture. I wrote a report about it. Mr. [Daniel
S.] Goldin—and a group of people—asked me in 1994. They
were already taking quite a bit of cost out of the program. I have
to admit that. They got the cost down from about $3.5 billion to $2.5
billion. He said to me, “I want to get another $1 billion out
of the program in terms of operating costs. Can you help me do that?”
I put together a group of people including George [W.] Jeffs, several
people from Marshall, several people from the Cape including Bob [Robert
B.] Sieck, and Frank Borman. We met and met and met, and we wrote
a report that said here’s how you can do it. That’s what
formed USA. That’s a NASA report. Got NASA on the top. Not me.
NASA. That said you could do that and here’s how to do it.
As a matter of fact here’s several ways you can do it. That’s
what I went back to USA with. Finally pulling eyeteeth got them to
write a proposal, which NASA refused. So all I can say to you is I
could not overcome the NASA culture.
mentioned that NASA at some point wants to move on to another spacecraft
instead of utilizing fully the capabilities of the Shuttle.
Kraft: I think
it’s probably that, but I think it’s the politics. I think
the recognition by the Administrator that he has to make decisions,
and if I’m going to have a program I have to give this one up
in order to have the next one. I don’t disagree with that. I
recognize that as a political problem. I’m not saying that you
can run the program in a political vacuum. You cannot. You have to
build the damn thing inside the politics. But that’s possible.
To say that we didn’t have any politics in Apollo is nonsense.
We did. We sell the program every day. The Shuttle was even worse.
You had to persevere. You had to do it, do it and reduce the cost.
You had to extend the schedule. You had to do everything you could
possibly do to keep the program alive, and we did.
I don’t argue the fact that it’s hard to do. I don’t
argue the fact that maybe it’s impossible to do sometimes. You
have to give up. That’s what happened on the new lunar program
Constellation. [President Barack] Obama came in and his people said,
“We’re not going to support it.” I thought that
was wrong. That was the politics. [Norman R.] Augustine comes in and
writes a report. From a technical literary point of view it’s
the worst damn piece of paper I’ve ever read. I said that publicly.
It made no sense. If you read it, it says do this, do this, but if
that doesn’t work do this. What kind of damn nonsense is that?
Or he said you should never start the program unless you have a guarantee
that the budget is going to be there. What the hell? Has he ever seen
a national budget? It only goes for a year. How the hell are you going
to figure that out? No NASA program has ever been run that had enough
money. If you say I got to have the check in the bank before I go
you’re not going anywhere. That’s what his report says.
His report says build a big rocket. That was an MIT [Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts] demand on his board
I realize that’s an opinion. It’s my opinion. It was opinion
of a lot of people with any sense. He says do the commercial business.
Well, what’s commercial about what we were doing for God’s
sake? We just gave them another $1 billion yesterday, whenever it
was. That’s commercial? Mr. Elon Musk. He shoots his mouth off.
I don’t know how much money he’s got in it. Maybe $100
million at the most, and that probably wasn’t his money. Probably
somebody else’s money. That’s politics. The politics.
Lori Garver particularly decided they’re going to push the commercial
I wasn’t opposed to that, I was just opposed to the method.
As a matter of fact, I consulted for one of them who was trying to
build it, Orbital Sciences [Corporation]. They didn’t win one
of the contracts, but that’s because I probably insisted it
had to fly.
Kraft, how much do you think the Shuttle’s future was impacted
or the decisions were impacted when the decision was made to stop
taking commercial payloads as in the satellites that were going up
prior to [Space Shuttle] Challenger [accident, STS-51L]? Do you think
that had some type of impact on how the Space Shuttle was perceived?
I don’t think so. We sold the Shuttle on the basis of the fact
it would do all the NASA programs, all the DoD [Department of Defense]
programs, and all the commercial programs. Bob Thompson said well,
we knew it wouldn’t be able to do that. That’s partially
true, but that isn’t to say we couldn’t have. That isn’t
to say that we shouldn’t have. In my opinion we could have.
Now you ask me could you have made the Shuttle better? Hell, I gave
you that answer at the outset. Of course you could make it better.
JSC had a list of about 40 items under Mr. Goldin. He was given $1
billion in budget to do it. He used the money on something else, because
he couldn’t build the damn Space Station the way it was going.
I don’t know what the politics of that was either. I’ve
written a whole paper about that, by the way, the history of the [International]
Space Station, how it got where it is. Very interesting. It goes from
an $8 billion program to a $100 billion program. It goes from a program
that weighs about 40,000 pounds to one that ways 1 million pounds.
like to see that.
program management goes from poor to nonsense. I have a paper on that.
A piece of white paper on that. Mr.—what’s his name—came
in at the request of the president, I guess it was George [W.] Bush,
to take a look at the program. He totally ignored all that. I know
him very well and I wrote him a letter and said, “How could
you ignore the past of the program?” He said, “Because
I was told to.” So that’s the politics. It’s there.
I can’t overcome it. That’s true. He couldn’t overcome
it either, and didn’t choose to.
Tell you an interesting story, a sideline. I got a telephone call
about six months ago from Mr. [Edgar M.] Cortright. Know who Cortright
says, “I want to apologize to you,” for something that
took place when I was back there working on the Apollo 13 tank. Now
if you read my book, you’ll find out that on Apollo 13 the tank
failed not because there was anything wrong with the tank, but because
they used it improperly. Number two, they replaced the heater with
a larger heater but they didn’t replace the switch through which
instead of a half amp now flows one and a half and the moment you
hit it with that kind of power burned the goddamn points.
The heater is on all the time. It burned the damn insulation off the
wire inside the tank as they emptied it. Now that didn’t have
a damn thing to do with the tank. Mr. Cortright comes in and says,
“You got to rebuild a new tank and you have to put in all these
new wires. Glass-covered wires.” Very difficult to build. I
know, because I watched it being built. It cost us $50 million to
build a new tank. But the thing that I was ticked off about was that
you’re now going to fly a tank on Apollo 14 that’s not
qualified to fly in space. Whereas the tank that flew on Apollo 13
was qualified to fly in space, if you hadn’t abused it. I asked
him that—Dr. [Robert R.] Gilruth and I asked him that. His answer
was “Well, I got my reputation to worry about.”
I knew there was no way I was going to overcome that. Now when Neil
[A.] Armstrong wrote his book later, 10 years, 15 years later, 20
years later, whenever it was, he was on that committee with Cortright,
but he had to leave. He wasn’t there when they made up their
mind and said what they were going to do. He says in his book, “Well,
if I’d stayed I would have agreed with Chris that we didn’t
need a new tank.” So here’s Armstrong saying we didn’t
need a new tank in his book.
[The Space Shuttle is] called the most complex vehicle ever built.
What improvements could have been made to increase its efficiency
and performance constraints? Well, to begin with, there were a lot
of things you could do without doing anything. For instance when we
put the Space Station up and with the agreements that Vice President
[Al] Gore made with the Russians, we couldn’t put it up at 28.5
degrees’ inclination, which is where it should have been. I’ll
say a little bit more about that shortly. We had to put it up at 50
degrees because that’s the only place the Russians could get
to from their launch site with their launch vehicles.
The engines and performance were now not good enough for all the mass
they wanted to put up inside the Space Shuttle, so they had to increase
the SSMEs [Space Shuttle Main Engines]. You had to increase the performance
of the SSMEs from 1.06, which was max, to something like 114 percent,
115 percent. Now that drives the temperature up, drives the requirements
on the pumps up. You had to go redesign a lot of it. It cost a lot
On the other hand if you flew the SSMEs at 98 percent performance,
which you could on almost every flight, the reliability goes up so
high, you would never have to look at it again. That’s one thing
you could have done.
The tank was too heavy now to get this performance, so you had to
change the tank to aluminum. They had to add a material, [aluminum/lithium
alloy]. Now let me tell you, you couldn’t weld it with the weld
process that we used. It’s hard enough to weld aluminum, which
they developed a whole new process to build that tank. Now they have
to redesign the weld system. The cost of building a tank went from
the initial estimates of $2 million, then $8 million, 40 million bucks
per copy. So instead of making it better and more efficient, they
made it better and more expensive. Now how could I have done that?
Well, I could have gotten rid of the APUs. That was proposed. I could
have gone to electric motors. I could have done a lot of other things.
I could have improved the electronics. I could have changed the computers.
I could have improved the hell out of the thermal protection system
by densifying all the tiles at the surface. I could have changed the
material in the tiles. On and on. I could have modernized everything
on it, and increased the efficiency and decreased the cost of operations,
if the culture would have allowed me.
So the better is the evil of the good. Yes it is. But we could have
brought the cost down. We could have improved the hell out of it,
within the cost. That’s one of those things that in the politics
of NASA and the politics of the Congress, very difficult to do. NASA
doesn’t like to do things that way. In that regard going to
the commercial world is the right thing to do. They don’t have
to abide by all these government clichés. I was a party to
that. I think it was a good idea.
I wanted to get rid of NASA out of the Shuttle, period, and said so
in this report I wrote in 1995. I think I told you that story. I went
down to the Cape to look at it personally four or five times when
I was writing that report. I’d go down there. George Abbey,
I didn’t have to do much, because he would always tip me off
as to what to look for. You go look at the R&QA [Reliability and
Quality Assurance] people, and you look at the list of things. Seventeen
people have to sign off on a process that they’ve got. Seventeen
people. That not only is expensive, it’s stupid. Not only that,
the 17th guy says all 16 of these people have signed off, why the
hell wouldn’t I sign it. You only need one. Only need one.
I said in my report, well you’re spending $500 million a year
on reliability and quality. You don’t need to do that. Cut that
down from 500 people to 100 people, you’d be just as well off,
and maybe better off. When Mr. [Harold W. Gehman, Jr.] wrote his report
on the [Space Shuttle] Columbia [STS-107] accident, he said Kraft
is part of the problem because he said get rid of all the reliability
people. That isn’t what I said at all, but that’s the
way he interpreted it. He said, “Kraft said don’t make
any more changes to the Shuttle.” That isn’t what I said
I said the big problem you have at the Cape, one of the big problems,
is that you’re piecemealing changes, and therefore the procedures
for checking gets changed every time you do that, don’t do that.
Do it in a block concept. Save your changes up. I didn’t say
that by myself by the way. Save all the changes up and make a block
change, what we did on previous spacecraft. That’s what we did.
We didn’t change it continuously. We saved up our changes and
put them in the next spacecraft.
feel like some of those lessons that you learned in those early unmanned
programs got lost along the way as part of the culture?
Yeah that’s the reason I was asking you about the chronology
and the reporting of this thing. People have forgotten that. I’ll
give you another example. I got an e-mail three or four weeks ago
from one of the top flight directors. He used to be head of the Flight
Director’s Office at JSC. Still there. Like to retire. He says,
“I got a question from a pseudohistorian at Cape Canaveral.
Says he’s looking at Apollo 4, and he noticed that they did
a skip reentry trajectory in that test to prove the thermal system
The question he asked was “Is that the way they did Apollo?”
He, the flight director asked that question. He sent a note to me
and several others. My first statement was “That’s a damn
dumb question. But I won’t say it’s dumb. Here’s
the answer. Of course we used the skip trajectory in Apollo. We dove
it in, killed off part of the energy, took it back out, and then came
in at the normal entry velocities, so the heat shield design did not
have to overcome 36,000 feet per second, only 25,000 feet per second,
and we could design the thermal system to do this. Furthermore, we
had a mechanical device on board which the astronaut looked at to
make sure it was following that trajectory. Furthermore that was the
reason we had to be damn careful when we came in to make sure we didn’t
skip out or dive in. Furthermore if you go to Google.” I looked
it up. “Here’s a report written by Mr. Claude [A.] Graves
and Jon [C.] Harpold that says Apollo reentry. It’s got all
kinds of lines and altitude and skip trajectories in there, it’s
got the note that describes this mechanical device. It’s a 15-page
report.” [NASA TN D-6725]
encounters that a lot.
don’t tell me about the need to keep these things in mind. It’s
absurd that people don’t remember things like that. What the
hell are they doing in the business? I’m an old man and it’s
still all up there. I guess they’re all dead. That’s classical.
That’s what happened in the Shuttle. It hadn’t been that
long, had it? People forgot the decisions that were made, the reasons
the decisions were made. The reasons why decisions are made are important
because that determines how you’re going to use the machine.
may be the piece that’s missing; the reasons why those decisions
were made. Not just what the decisions are.
You deserve to ask, “Why did they do that?” And there
is an answer. We didn’t just pull it out of the air. We did
that in excruciating detail.
you mentioned SpaceX. I have to think you’ve been watching some
of how that came about with their process to enter into the exploration
business. Do you feel like they’re applying many of the lessons
that NASA and that you learned as you were coming through those early
Kraft: I hope
they are but I doubt it. But the technology is very superior to Mercury,
it’s very superior to Apollo. Doing it today is a hell of a
lot easier. It doesn’t require the detailed testing and design
that NASA put into it in those early days, so it is easier to do.
It has been done, so the test program doesn’t have to be the
same. That’s what makes it less expensive. That’s what
allows you to be able to do it. You can hire engineers that can read.
So yes, it is a lot easier for SpaceX to build a Mercury capsule because
that’s what it is, or an Apollo capsule. They haven’t
built the manned one yet.
was my next question.
they’re going to find out that in order to satisfy themselves,
I hope themselves and NASA, that it isn’t easy to prove that
it’s safe. I just think that’s where the costs are going
to be. That’s where the rub is going to be. But I don’t
think they’ll have trouble doing it if they are wise people.
There’s no reason why they can’t hire some good wise people.
I was consulting for Orbital Sciences. I know Orbital Sciences was
one of the best companies in the country compared to SpaceX, and they
were not very smart. I’m no brilliant damn engineer, but I could
tell them what to do. That’s why I asked you about the Monte
Carlo process. That’s another interesting story. Bob [Robert
G.] Chilton, very close personal friend of mine, was up at Texas A&M
[University, College Station, Texas]. He taught there for quite a
while. After talking to you I said, “I’ll call Bob.”
I said, “Bob.” Same question I asked you. “Do you
know of any documentation on the Monte Carlo process that we used
for looking at the reentry dynamics of the Shuttle?”
The answer was “What’s a Monte Carlo?” He was responsible
for the goddamn thing. “What’s a Monte Carlo?” You
even know now what a Monte Carlo is. I had a lot of experience with
Monte Carlo analysis because that’s what John [P.] Mayer and
Bill [Howard W.] Tindall and Emil [R.] Schiesser and others used to
analyze the trajectory analysis back in those days.
is a very different and maybe somewhat of interest time in space exploration.
Of course we’re sitting here on the morning of the news that
the new rover hit successfully on the Mars surface. It at least gives
a little bit more excitement for NASA to have a success to talk about.
they did this morning was fantastic. You don’t really know how
fantastic that was, because it’s like the reentry of the Space
Shuttle in that they had to design it with wide variations in environment
to begin with. They didn’t know what the density was going to
be, what altitude was going to be. That makes a big difference then
on the aerodynamics that you’re going to have to use to slow
the thing down, and how the parachute is going to open and on and
on. So that means they had to expand the variables. To do it under
those circumstances is pretty damn good.
believe one analysis person made the remark that it was somewhat reminiscent
of Apollo. With the ascent engine and the parachutes and the whole
episodes of having to figure out all those variables that if one didn’t
work nothing was going to work.
was a good analogy I thought.
If you look at Apollo 11, if you had tried to do that automatically
on Apollo 11, the landing on the Moon, I think you’d have waved
off. The system would have waved you off. But we had some people on
the ground saying it was still working okay. We had guys in the spacecraft
that said it was still going where they wanted to go. That allowed
you to do it. But that was part of the system too, wasn’t it?
Because that’s what that damn control center over there was
for. We had 5 million words of computer capability, which is peanuts
comment you made a while ago about SpaceX, that the technology is
easier. But I guess the decision making process is the same.
They must have some pretty damn good engineers. That’s all I
I think that’s the history of space exploration, is having the
engineers are pretty good guys. They’re not the smartest people
in the world. I mean that literally. But they know how to get a job
done. That’s what you need. You need both. You need a Max [Maxime
A.] Faget and Chris Kraft. We were the antithesis of each other, but
you needed both. I and my people, not just me, but all the people
that I had working together, we knew how to attack a problem. We knew
how to look at all the ifs, ands and buts. Then we knew how to evaluate
it, and where to take the risks, and within the risks, how to overcome
them. That took a lot of effort, a lot of work, a lot of money to
do it. Then I went out and tried to sell that idea.
I went to work for GeoControl as a consultant and tried to sell the
mission control concept to the power companies. Nuclear power companies.
That was a tough sell. They still had all the bells and whistles in
their control room. You can’t do that. Now they have all the
things we had, but I couldn’t convince them at that point in
time. That was in the late ’80s. They ought to get rid of all
the Bourdon gauges and all that stuff they had in their control rooms
and go to some software displays, etc., which were readily available.
Here it is. Well, it’s a good idea, but we tried to sell that
to the Electric [Power Research] Institute in Stanford [California],
who was their research group. They said, “Yeah it’s a
great idea, but we’d have a hard time selling that to the practical
guy in the field.” But today it’s there.
If you’d had that, the thing that happened in Three Mile Island
[Pennsylvania], [Eugene F.] Kranz went up and looked at that when
they had the Three Mile Island [nuclear accident]. He was overcome
with disbelief that they would do that. They turned the system into
a system that wasn’t there. Working on the pump and the cooling
pump, so they had this one offline. The emergency system said turn
it onto this system, and the pump wasn’t there. Any modern display
system would have a big red light that would come on that hey that
pump isn’t there. That was pretty dumb.
You asked what were the weaknesses. The weaknesses, it did take a
lot of turnaround capability initially, because you had to fix the
tiles that were beat up by the damn foam coming off or the rocks coming
up off of the runway. When we first flew it, smart us, we put these
sod lines in the runway so that we didn’t have to worry about
the brakes and the tires skidding and all that sort of thing. Well,
hell, it brought chips up off the runway when it landed. Ran all over
the tiles and marred the hell out of them. So those kinds of things
had to be done.
There was a lot of maintenance you had to do when we first started
flying. The first time we lit the damn fuse, they got overpressure
from the solid rockets, and knocked about 25 tiles off the back end
of the vehicle. Fortunately they were all noncritical tiles. Max Faget
figured that out on the back of an envelope, how to fix that.
How do you fix it? He went out there and looked at it and put a bunch
of V-shaped canvases, filled them full of water and killed off all
the overpressure. The pressure coming back when you lift the solid
rockets came back up out of that trench and knocked the hell out of
the back end of the Orbiter. Three or four psi [pounds per square
inch] overpressure. So yeah, we learned a lot of things as we went
along. That was the main thing I was going to talk to you about. I
That piece of paper I sent you about the management team meeting and
people criticizing the hell out of Ms. [Linda] Ham and the program
manager at the time, [Ronald D.] Dittemore. That wasn’t where
the problem was. The problem started way before that. The culture
did change in NASA. That woman that came and said the culture had
changed on that review committee unfortunately is right as hell. I
would never have admitted that, but it was true.
It started when [James M.] Beggs came to be the Administrator. We’d
had these meetings on the intercom between the management in Washington
and the management in Houston once a week, and talk about the problems,
etc., etc. Beggs, when he got to be the Administrator, started coming
to those meetings in Washington, and he started arguing with us over
the intercom. I started telling him he was full of shit. That didn’t
go very good, not very well, he didn’t like that. It was customary
in NASA, I believed, to say it like it is. You’re talking about
people’s lives, you’re talking about the program, you’re
talking about things that if you’re going to do something and
don’t do it right it’s going to fail. That’s the
way I tried to run my organization, that’s the way I wanted
my people to be the same way. If I was wrong I wanted to know it.
Don’t tell me later that you were wrong. I want to know it right
now. Tell me I’m wrong so I can change my mind and change the
way we do business.
Anyway, because of that environment, it had become more and more difficult
to make decisions as we normally made them. You could make a decision,
and if it was wrong you could change it. Well, that came to a head
on—I don’t know if it was the first or second flight.
But on one of the first Shuttle flights we had three fuel cells and
the program had a mission rule that said in the first several flights,
if you have a failure of one of the fuel cells we don’t have
enough batteries on board the space vehicle, the spaceship. We only
got enough batteries to last about an hour, so that’s not long
enough to get to another landing site. So if you have one fuel cell
fail, how do you know that’s not a generic problem? We hadn’t
had enough experience on the fuel cells.
The mission rule said if you have one of the cells go out and you
will therefore come down on the next available prime landing site.
It happened. We did it. We announced we were going to do it. Well,
Beggs got on the damn telephone. We were assembled. All the major
leaders of the program were in one of the rooms over in the Mission
Control Center, including me and George Jeffs and Glynn [S.] Lunney
and Ed [Edward P.] Smith who was chief engineer of the Shuttle. We’d
all talked it over. Yeah, that’s the right thing to do.
He calls us on the phone and says, “You can’t do that.”
“What do you mean we can’t do that? That’s what
the mission rule says.”
“You’re ruining the reputation of NASA.” He says
this on the telephone. Gave us holy hell for doing it.
He got through talking, and I said to him, “Sir, this is what
we’re going to do, that’s what we decided. We’re
going to bring it down.” He was really pissed off at me. This
group walked out of that meeting, and we looked at each other. We
had another meeting that said from now on we’re not going to
tell that son of a bitch a damn thing.
Now we didn’t put it that way exactly but that’s what
we did. We’re going to make our own decisions in these matters
and we’re going to follow it through. If he wants to undo them,
he’s going to fire us. He did. He fired me. But that was the
genesis of the Challenger accident right there, because people stopped
being as forthright. People stopped reporting things. On the Challenger
accident they weren’t reporting properly. It was worse on Columbia.
The management process failed, but that’s where it started.
People started going underground with the process because they didn’t
like all that damn criticism they were getting from the management
in Washington. They said we’re not going to put up with it.
Now that was okay as long as you had people like me there, or George
Jeffs from Rockwell. It was okay because we knew how to deal with
that. But we left. Now you got people over there that don’t
have any guts, so the system keeps getting weaker and weaker and weaker.
Eventually that’s going to bite you. When you don’t tell
it like it is in our business, it’s going to kill you, and it
does. That’s a very unfortunate thing. But it is true. Now I
don’t know that you would ever write that. I don’t know
that you would ever try to explain that. I don’t know that anybody
would agree with that. I know my friends would agree with that, but
Beggs would never agree with that. He would say, “Well, they
I don’t blame him for firing me. He didn’t like the way
I operated. He didn’t like the way I told it as it was. A lot
of other meetings after that. When they were trying to rewrite the
contracts at the Cape to get rid of Rockwell, Beggs was the kingpin
of that. Beggs didn’t like Rockwell. He told me. The day he
came into my office, the first day, he said, “I don’t
like Rockwell. I don’t trust those people.” I was overcome
by that, because that’s a stupid statement. But that’s
the way he operated. He was one of those kinds of people that operated
that way. So when they wanted to change the contract at the Cape,
eventually that’s a good idea. I myself recommended that, and
do it on a competition, because it brings the cost down, etc. But
it wasn’t the time. It was in the first days of the Shuttle.
Even if you got rid of Rockwell you’re going to have to hire
them all back because they’re the only people who know how to
do it. You’re going to have to teach whoever came in there all
the stuff. I said it wasn’t time. “Can’t do that
right now. I don’t want to spin that contract.” He really
got ticked off at me.
Walt [Walter C.] Williams was in the office. There were three or four
of us in the meeting, just that number. He said, “Well, Walt,
what do you think?”
He said, “I think you better listen to Chris.”
So then he looks at me and he says, “Goddamn it, Kraft, when
are you going to be ready to make this change in the contract?”
I said, “Sir, I’ll damn well tell you when I’m ready.”
I’m sure that was the day he decided I’m going to get
rid of that SOB. I’m sure. I had other people telling me you
can’t keep doing this or he’s going to get rid of you.
Hans Mark wanted to get rid of me anyway. So they did. They could,
because what I did was retire, and then they rehired me as a rehired
annuitant, because if I didn’t do that I was going to lose all
kind of money in my retirement, when they changed the retirement in
the government. Jack [R.] Lister came and he got about 20 of us together,
old heads, and said, “You better retire now and let NASA rehire
you, because that way you’ll be under the previous retirement
system.” When we did that we gave up all the civil service protection,
so he had to rehire me every year. Best thing that ever happened to
me, because I went out and made money.
a few more rounds of golf in, didn’t you?
I went to work for Rockwell. They paid me. Rockwell immediately paid
me $200,000 a year as a consultant. I was worth every damn penny of
it when I first went to work for them. I later quit because I wasn’t.
I worked for them, I consulted about 10 years for them, and I said
I’m not worth the money they’re paying me, so I just quit.
Chairman of the board called me and said, “We got to have you.”
I said, “No, sir, I’m not worth the money you’re
paying me, I’m through.” But at that point I’m now
on four, five boards where I’m making a lot of money, so it
I was on the board of a hospital company. I was on the board of the
Park Plaza Hospital, board of governors. These people saw me there,
and they asked me to be on their board.
you work any more with Max Faget after you left?
yeah. I was on his board too.
what I thought.
was a great guy. A very interesting person. After he’d been
the president for a while he asked me to go on the board. He said,
“When you were the Director of the Center, I thought you were
doing a terrible job.” He said, “I’ve since learned
how good you were.”
always a different perception when you’re sitting in that “The
buck stops here” chair, isn’t it?
Mr. [Harry S.] Truman says. You can’t stand the heat, better
get out of the kitchen.
I’m just reminiscing here. I enjoyed every damn minute of it.
I wake up in the night sometimes thinking about all the great people
I worked for and with, the things we were able to do together and
how we did them. How we got them done. Absolutely phenomenal. Without
somebody like Gilruth and George [M.] Low it would have been impossible
for me to do what I did.
do you feel like their characteristics were that allowed you to be
able to do what you did? What kind of leadership attributes did they
tried to think about that. My definition of leadership is the number
one requirement is you have to be willing to accept the responsibility
for the organization of which you are a part and the people in it.
If you aren’t willing to do that you can’t be a leader.
That’s a hell of a responsibility if you do it right and do
it well. That’s where it starts. So I say I was willing to do
that. But number two, I was willing to let somebody else do it. I
always believed in giving people responsibility for doing the job,
and letting them do it without interference. You’d find that
they weren’t doing it like you wanted it done half the time.
But it was being done, and it got done, and in the end might have
been better than what I was thinking about doing. So I think that’s
the two characteristics of leadership that you have to have. That’s
hard to do.
My mother used to say—I think it was my mother—she used
to give me a lot of cliches. “You don’t learn anything
while you’re talking.”
a good one. I like that.
Kraft: I love
that. You don’t learn anything while you’re talking. Second
thing she said was “You put everybody’s troubles in the
barrel, you always choose your own.” Part of my philosophy of
life I guess.
remember you sharing that one before. I’ve used it often. People
sit and think about what a horrible day they have, but if you think
about somebody else’s, yours almost always seems better.
Go look at somebody else’s problems. They’re big relatively
You mentioned that you were the antithesis of Max Faget. Can you explain
that? I’m curious. Can you expand on that?
I was good with people, he was not. I was willing to accept the idiosyncrasies
in the system. I was willing to live within the rules. I was willing
to make it happen in spite of that. He was not that kind of character.
He was a perfectionist. He wanted to do the thing with the best technology.
He wanted to do things that would extend the schedule or make it better
or make it easier. He wanted a straight wing on the Shuttle. He was
right. But sometimes being right is not the way to go. We were just
two different kinds of people. Gilruth sure recognized that. He called
me in. He said, “If George and myself can make it happen—”
he had to say that—“we’re going to make you my deputy
because I want to retire, and I want you to be the Director.”
Scared the hell out of me.
I said, “Yes sir, I’m going to do what you tell me.”
Fortunately it happened. But after he had done all that, then he called
me back in his office. He said, “I’d like for you to consider
having Max as your deputy.”
I said, “Bob, I won’t take the job if that’s the
case.” It was that simple for me. He and I could not have worked
together. The reason I gave him was I said, “Well, I don’t
think we’re very compatible.” But I said, “Also
he’s more important to the organization where he is than he
would be my deputy.” That was my answer to him. I said, “No,
I won’t take the job though if that’s part of the requirement.
I won’t take the job.”
it seemed to work out pretty good. He was probably happier with that
Kraft: I needed
a special guy to be my deputy. He had to accept my way of doing things.
I had 23 people answering to me at the Johnson Space Center. That’s
a terrible organization. You don’t run organizations that way.
That’s the way I wanted to do it.
I thought it worked pretty damn well because I was willing to do what
I said before. I was willing to have 23 people doing what they ought
to do, how to do it, and telling me what they were doing, and how
do I help you get it done. I was willing to make decisions. I was
not afraid to make decisions. Somebody taught me early in my life
I guess that you’ve got to make decisions. If you don’t
make them the system just won’t work. The damn organization
won’t run. This machine won’t go unless you make a decision.
If it’s the wrong one okay, you find that out and change it
and do something about it and make it better next time. But the system
has to have leadership. It has to have people telling them what to
do. As long as you’re willing to listen to how they want to
do it. You got to be able to listen.
That was Joe Shea’s problem. He couldn’t listen to what
other people wanted to do. He wanted to make the decision, he wanted
to do it himself, he wanted to be the guy in charge of everything.
You can’t be that. Particularly in the business we were in.
We had 400,000 people working on the job. How the hell do you get
400,000 people to do the job unless you can trust the others how to
That’s the reason I got along so good with Rockwell. I caught
a lot of guff for that. You’re too close to the contractor,
they would say. On the other hand, I was in charge, I insisted that
I be in charge of the award fee for Rockwell. Headquarters tried to
take that away from me four or five times. But I used that to control
the program. If they did a good job they got the money. If they didn’t
do a good job I didn’t give them the money. In one case they
did a horrible job and I didn’t give them any money. They fired
the chief engineer, and he never forgave me for it. Ed Smith was the
chief engineer. That was an interesting story, because I told you
the story. [Robert A.] Frosch, we were about to give up the Space
Shuttle; turned into, as I told you, a research program. They had
made that decision in the total NASA.
He went to see the president. The president said they got to have
it, etc., etc. So he came back from that. That precipitated a supplemental
budget through the Congress for us and a $2 billion increase in our
budget to the next year. We needed $700 million immediately. We got
it. Well, I went to Rockwell among all our contracts. They gave me
a number that they had to have now to maintain the schedule and in
the next two years. So I used that number. Two weeks later they gave
me another number. I don’t remember the numbers, but it was
big. A $300 million increase in what they needed instead of what they
told me they needed. I had to then go take that up the damn chain.
I couldn’t keep that under my hat, so I did. Congress gave us
holy hell. Everybody gave me holy hell. Well, when it came to the
award fee I said, “You get zero for doing it.” So they
fired Ed Smith, who was the program manager. Ruined his career I guess.
Although he left Rockwell and became the chief engineer on the [Northrop]
B-2 [Stealth Bomber].
that’s not a bad job.
wanted the B-2. He was chief engineer and program manager on the B-2
and did a hell of a job. So he made out all right.
you did him a favor.
I did. But he was a damn good man as a chief engineer. He was one
of the best I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. But he really screwed
me a lot of pain. Caused NASA a lot of pain. Congress really tore
us up not just for that but the whole damn thing. NASA had been in
there two weeks before we resubmitted this thing and said, “We
don’t need any more money,” because that’s what
the OMB [Office of Management and Budget] had told us, you got to
say that. They wanted to give us more money as a matter of fact, the
committees did, and NASA said, “No, we don’t need any
more money.” Then two weeks later we told them we not only wanted
more money, we want $700 million right now, and we want $2 billion
added to our budget next year. Because we knew the president was going
to say, “You could have it.” So they got their pound of
flesh and quart of blood from NASA and we got our money.
Kraft, I certainly don’t want to take up your whole day. But
I wonder, since you’re reflecting a little bit this morning,
you made a comment earlier that if you don’t mind taking a few
minutes and reflecting on it, you said that spaceflight is difficult.
So the other part of that question is but why should we do it, why
should we keep pursuing ways to explore space?
straight off answer to that is in a lot of cases we shouldn’t.
I think that’s the case about going to Mars, or the case of
landing on an asteroid. It’s too dangerous to land on an asteroid.
There’s no damn good reason to do it in my opinion that you
couldn’t do it remotely. Same is true of going to Mars. I see
no justification for sending man to Mars. Now if that was the only
place we could go, that might be a different story.
In my opinion there’s so much to be gained by going back to
the Moon and so much to be learned, not only science, and not because
of science do I want to go back to the Moon, although that is there.
I think the Moon has all kinds of natural resources which can be utilized
on the Earth, and eventually will be. That’s utopian, but I
think it will be. I think there’s a great utilization that can
be made of the Moon. We could live there, you could find out how to
live in another planet without atmosphere. Lower gravity. You could
have a scientific observatory on the back side of the Moon. Be protected
from the reflections of the Earth, etc. Could mine, could produce
water, could produce fuel there, you could produce power there. All
those can be done on the Moon. You wouldn’t do that on Mars.
For God’s sake it’s 270 million miles away. So I say there’s
a lot to be learned. But the main reason for going into space is what
you could do with what you learn here on Earth. That’s the main
reason for going into space.
Doing it with man requires an order of magnitude or increase in the
technology as compared to doing it unmanned. That is where the ROI
[return on investment] is from going into space. Space is wonderful
for science. It’s wonderful for us kids that want to do something.
But it’s even better for the man in the street. Or our way of
life in the United States philosophically. So that’s the reason
I think the space program is so important.
The space program is as important to the country as the Department
of Defense is to the country. Why do you have a Department of Defense?
Obvious. Why do you have a NASA? Not so obvious. But anybody in their
right mind looks at what happened in the ’60s to the change
in the state of the art. The whole damn United States manufacturing
capability and process has changed because of the space program. Nobody
had ever heard of a clean room. Nobody had ever heard of a transistor.
We had a fuel cell but nobody would use it, etc. We didn’t have
telemetered instrumentation that allowed us to look at a human being
in a spacecraft flying around the Earth. Today every [hospital] ICU
[intensive care unit] in the country has telemetry.
A guy at Methodist Hospital said, “We’re going to have
remote medicine.” I said to myself, “I did that in 1975.”
We had vans running all over the state of New Mexico, had NASA on
them with doctors in them. But we found out that we could put, not
trained doctors, but we could put technicians in them, and we could
bring those Indians and the people out in the desert into that van
and the doctors in Houston could look at them. I said to myself, “You
just figured out you’re going to do that again. Well, why didn’t
you keep doing it?” Anyway all I’m saying is that the
benefits of the NASA-developed technology—[previously] the biggest
changes in technology took place because of war. We had to go kill
people. NASA was the first time we’d ever done that without
killing people. The communication satellite which NASA developed changed
the whole world. Changed it. The world was no longer the same place,
could no longer say that they did something and not tell you. We could
take a picture of them doing it because of NASA. The computer industry
was revolutionized by our demands of going to the Moon. Not only on
the ground but remotely. Because we were able to build small, at the
time high capability, low-powered devices that would compute. Now
I got a damn thing I carry around in my hand. Bigger [more powerful]
than my whole first floor of the Mission Control Center.
The photographic circuitry, you know how that’s done? You draw
a circuit on a big thing like this. Artists do it, engineers do it;
they draw all these lines on there. Those are wires, and those are
all the software that goes with those AND [logic] gates and NOR gates,
etc. You put that on a big thing. You photograph it and you shrink
it and then you stack them and make the thing this big instead of
big as this room. That’s NASA money right there. So that’s
where it is. I don’t know what it’s going to do, where
it’s going to be tomorrow. I don’t know what the invention
is going to be that allows me to totally change my way of thinking
or doing. That’s what NASA is worth.
Now you can say well, there’s a lot of other places to spend
the money. Okay, do it. But spend it that way. Spend it on applied—get
that—applied technology. Why do I use that term? Because it
has a schedule and a budget associated with it. That drives the answer
back to the better is the evil of the good. You have to come up with
an answer in six months, and I’ll give you $100 million to do
it. That’s applied technology.
Regular technology is I’ll give you the money, and I don’t
know when the hell I’m going to get an answer. I may never get
an answer. I’ll probably get 10 different answers I didn’t
ask for. That’s wonderful. But it doesn’t do a damn thing
for the economy. It does eventually. But applied technology, forcing
you to do something that has to be used, has a purpose. Very big difference.
Very big difference. Technological engineers will refute that. But
they’re wrong. You have to have schedule and budget and a purpose.
Got to have a purpose.
We only landed on the Moon because we had to do it. If [President
John F.] Kennedy had said, “We’re going to land on the
Moon,” like Obama says, “I’m going to go to Mars
in 2035,” that’s like saying they’re not going.
When you get there, probably change your mind 14 times, and should
have. But Kennedy says, “We’ll do it in this decade.”
That’s a hell of a damn requirement. Hell of a damn different
requirement than saying, “I’m just going to the Moon and
I’ll land there in 1990.” Which he could have said.
So you have to have that incentive. You have to have that drive. You
have to have the people that are willing to commit to it. You have
to have people like me, George Low and Bob Gilruth that are willing
to say, “God, I don’t know whether you can do that or
not but I’m sure willing to give it a run. I’m going to
bust a gut to do it because it’s important.”
read a quote not too long ago about the difference between being committed
and being interested is that when you’re committed, there are
no excuses. You’re committed to doing it no matter what. I think
that describes pretty much what you were able to do.
When President Kennedy said, “We’re going to the Moon,”
I was a flight director at Cape Canaveral. I hadn’t launched
John [H.] Glenn yet. He says, “You’re going to go land
on the Moon.” I shook my head. Gilruth had called me and said,
“You better listen to the radio today.” Or the television.
Whatever it was. “Man is going to make an important announcement.”
He said that. I’m just shaking my head. Bits around me and all
these things out at Cape Canaveral and countdowns and rockets on the
pad. Guidance system to go this way instead of that way. The last
Atlas we had launched went that way instead of that way. The last
one blew up.
you’re going to the Moon.
somebody says, “You’re going to go land on the Moon.”
That’s pretty damn good.
it is good.
Kennedy was in one of those buildings over there on Telephone Road
[Houston, Texas, during his visit in September, 1962], and I had to
tell him how we were going to go to the Moon. I didn’t have
the slightest damn idea how we were going to go to the Moon. I had
to put a bunch of charts in front of me. Telling President Kennedy
this is how we’re going to do it. The senator who was with him
went to sleep.
He woke up with a start. He said, “Young man, you believe all
this shit you’re telling me? How do you?” I almost fell
out of my chair and so did the president. Because he was right. I
didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. President Kennedy,
I had never seen anybody laugh so much in my life, and I was laughing
right with him, because he probably knew I didn’t know what
I was talking about either.
you had a plan, that’s what mattered.
right, I had a plan.
had a schedule.
a schedule and I had a check to do it with. I had the country backing
Kraft: I had
the Congress backing me. I had the greatest people in the world working
for me, and I was working for the greatest people ahead of me. So
that’s a pretty good formula.
is. It’s a good memory. A good set of accomplishments.
I don’t think we knew what the hell we were accomplishing when
we first started. We were all flight test engineers. Gilruth was a
flight test engineer, and that’s what I was. How we get higher
and faster. That’s all we were trying to do. But you could see
as it happens, and reflect on when it did happen, the impact that
had. Having been a part of it, having watched it happen, going in
there and seeing all that stuff. I bet I went into 150 damn machine
shops in this country in that time period. All dirty, nasty-looking
things. Now you go into them, they’re all clean. They all had
to have a clean room next to them where all the parts go. They work.
They didn’t work before.
Those transistors. Remember all the trouble we had with transistors?
First time you put a transistor in zero g [gravity]. All those little
balls of sawdust started floating around inside of them. Got jammed
up into the points and they shorted out. You build 150 transistors,
10 of them would work. Or you forgot that you didn’t hermetically
seal them. You had some atmosphere in there, and they started growing—in
a cave, there are things they call stalactites and stalagmites, we
call these green plague and purple plague. Started growing. The stuff
inside the can would grow and grow. It’d hit one of the points
in there and short out. That was what we learned.
Just learned and learned and learned. Got better and better. First
time we hooked up the environmental control system in the Command
Module at Downey [California]. Within a couple weeks the damn thing
is leaking like a sieve. All those pipes had holes in them. How the
hell did that happen? They stacked the pipes outside in the environment
of LA [Los Angeles]. Install them in the spacecraft, we put that liquid
in there, and immediately it was like an acid reacting with all the
impurities in the air in Los Angeles, and ate holes right through
the damn pipes. That was a lesson learned, wasn’t it?
good lesson to learn on the Earth.
and on. On and on. On and on.
those little bitty pieces came together, didn’t they?
I remember we built those damn hydraulic actuators. They had redundancy
in the wrong place. They had the O-ring seals. They called them Greene
Tweed seals. Had a certain shape and you couldn’t put them in
backwards. Except they did. The first time we hooked that thing up
it blew up. Not literally, but the damn hydraulic fluid going everywhere.
Just a lousy damn design. We went to Moog, [Incorporated] over in
Buffalo [New York]. “Build us an actuator with redundant seals
on it.” It cost us 50 million bucks. But we had a new actuator
and it worked. Just learned all that stuff.
and built upon it.
over and over and over again. First time we did metals. Why do you
have to have these tags? You have a piece of metal, well, we had to
have a piece of metal over here that we stored with a tag on it. This
came out of that lot and it cost a lot of money. But when that damn
thing failed because of some problem, we had this piece over here
that we could run a test on. That costs you money but by God it makes
it work in the end.
interesting how much money, if you could figure how much money was
saved by doing those types of testing and put those processes in place
in the long run. Or lives you saved because of making sure those tests
the only way you could have confidence in what you were doing. Took
that knowledge, that testing, that belief that it had been done the
right way, and the processes had been followed, and this was the processes
you had to follow. We had people checking to make sure those processes
You run a test on something, some piece of electronic gear, and it
wouldn’t work. What the hell happened to this thing? It worked
before, but I got a new box, doesn’t work this time. What did
you do? Well, we made it a little better. Well, why didn’t you
tell us you made it a little better? Because when they made it a little
better they moved this over to here and this over to there and the
damn thing didn’t work anymore. That happened in a big control
box in the Shuttle. Process specs [specifications] were extremely
important. But they cost a lot of money. That’s what you had
to pay. That’s what SpaceX has the benefit of today. All of
that I just went through, they have the benefit of all that. They
didn’t have to learn it.
There was a company down there in southern California that was building
these big lines that go from the tank to the engine to carry the fuel,
hydrogen in one, oxygen in the other, there were jackets on them,
vacuum-jacketed to maintain the temperature. They couldn’t get
that out of the factory to save their life. We must have spent millions
of dollars perfecting the process, the welding process. They couldn’t
do it. They had the contract but they couldn’t build it. We
could send our engineers in there, watch what they were doing, and
figure out how to make it work. That’s wonderful stuff. Couldn’t
have done it without them.
We built the Space Shuttle. We built all these special devices down
there at Convair to make the structure lighter, and we had to build
the machinery to make it happen. Put little strands of boron in the
tubes. Weld it up like a cigarette. Learned how to attach things on
the end. God, that was hard. In the end we saved a pound, and spent
$10 million doing it I guess. But that’s the only way you could
land on the Moon. The Lunar Module. If you took your fist and hit
the side of the Lunar Module, you got a hole in it. It was that light.
That’s the answer to your question.
a good answer.
hard to explain that to a congressman spending money. If they go see
it then a lot of them did. That’s what tiger teams was capable
of doing. We don’t have any more tiger teams.
I got out of you what I wanted.
I think we got more out of you. So we appreciate that.
probably did but I want to make sure that somewhere there was recorded
the fact that we didn’t just haphazardly decide not to have
an escape system on the Space Shuttle. There was justification for
it and good engineering judgment for it. It worked pretty damn well.
If you used it properly. If the red light comes on in your car and
says stop the engine, it ain’t kidding. If you don’t stop
the engine, you’ll have to buy a new engine. You now know that.
you don’t do it, I can’t make you do it.
will happen, won’t they?
right. You have to suffer the circumstances. So you got to know where
to take the risks. When we laid out the test program for going to
the Moon, going to do this flight and do this, and we’ll learn
this, and then we’ll go to the next flight. That might take
us more than one flight. Here’s A, B, C, D, E. That’s
what we called them. We’ll do reentry tests. We’ll do
a test on the engine. Fly up there and do a rendezvous. Separate the
Lunar Module and bring it back together and see if it’ll dock.
Have to have that. Have to know that before we go to the next step.
Got to Apollo 10 and George [E.] Mueller said, “Why are we doing
Apollo 10?” Well, to tell you the truth, sir, when I get to
the Moon, whenever we’re going to land, I want to know that
everything I did up to that point works. It’s as simple as that.
I want to know if it worked. I want to know when I come back off of
the Moon I can rendezvous with that Command Module so when I go land
on the Moon all I got to think about is landing on the Moon and getting
off. Yes sir.
the way we’re going to do it. I’m not going to change
my mind. I want that test. So we did it. We learned one hell of a
lot from Apollo 10 before we got to 11. We didn’t learn quite
enough because we put all the switch settings the same as we’d
done on Apollo 10 in Apollo 11. That was wrong, because that’s
when we got the wrong answer in the computer. Because we left the
damn rendezvous radar switch on to make sure if we had an abort we
could do the rendezvous and radar back to the Command Module and rendezvous.
But we didn’t need that when you’re descending to the
Moon. So it’s taking in all that data and screwed up the computer.
At least when we got to 11 we were able to overcome that, because
we knew everything else around it was okay.
judgment and good decisions.
based on experience, knowledge. Sometimes we had to break that. We
did some things sometimes we didn’t really know. Like the reentry
of the Shuttle. I was not positive or sure that we knew what we were
doing there. But I didn’t know what else to do.
I was trusting in the mathematicians and the electronics engineers
and the computer guys. They’d run all the tests I could think
of. So we better go try it. Got to have a little nerve today. When
we landed I said, “We just became infinitely smarter.”
So there we did do it without really being certain. We were reasonably
certain, but we weren’t certain.
turned out to be a good thing.
people don’t understand how you go about that process. Just
think. At every one of those tenth of a Mach number in the critical
range there that we selected gains, as we call them, if you have this,
you have X this. That takes place probably a million places in the
Shuttle computer. We ran a test with enough margin in there that it
worked. It worked no matter what the variations were, a random process.
Let it all change. It worked. That’s pretty good confidence.
If you can change the hell out of it and know the gains you got set
there are going to work, okay, I’m ready to go to the next point.
That’s what we did all the way down.
I guess you’d have to say that there were some of us that had
gained enough confidence based on experience that that kind of a rationale,
that kind of testing was sufficient. We learned that as we went, didn’t
we? As we went, I think we began to gain that kind of judgment. Maybe
we were lucky. I don’t know. Maybe the Lord was with us. All
of the above.
of the above.
certainly had a lot of things happen that we got awful lucky about.
When Apollo 13 blew up, it could have blown the whole end off of the
damn thing and damaged the heat shield. Then it would have been Katie
bar the door. That would have been the end of it. We just got lucky
there. Maybe because we were so diligent about other things that we
made the luck. Like the golfers say, it’s amazing how your luck
improves when you practice. It’s true. I suspect that happened
got a little more knowledgeable to be able to apply your luck a little
easier, didn’t you?
On the Challenger accident, we weren’t lucky. On the Columbia
accident we weren’t lucky. But we had indicators, but we ignored
them. Weren’t smart enough to figure that out. The people at
the time were not smart enough to figure that out. That’s what
happens. Probably happened to Amelia Earhart, didn’t it?
to Wiley Post over Alaska back when I was a kid. Or it happened to
[Charles A.] Lindbergh going across the ocean. He got lucky as hell.
Having all these hallucinations, going to sleep, etc. Persevered I
golfer you were telling me about yesterday. He wasn’t so lucky,
Played 71 beautiful holes and then screwed up on the 18th and lost.
He’s done that twice now in the last couple months. Led the
damn tournament. This one he led for 71 holes and lost. That’s
a hard day getting up today, wasn’t it?
Kraft: I imagine
it was for him. He said his son was crying. I think that really got
to him. He’s a hell of a nice guy too, [Jim] Furyk is. Well,
get me out of here. You’ve had enough of me for the day.
you probably need a break. We worked you hard today. So we appreciate
you coming in.
Kraft: I appreciate
always enjoy it when you come in.
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