NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Roy Neal
Houston, TX – 28 April 1999
We’re now on the 3rd floor of Building 30 at the Johnson Space
Center. Mission Control, as it once was. It’s been reinstated.
And that gentleman on camera right now is Gene Kranz. We’re
about to hear more of his remarkable history. In an earlier interview,
we covered a lot of the beginning bases, going back to the Space Task
Group and the early days of Mercury and Gemini. And, Gene, when we
ended, we were talking about Apollo 9. As a matter of fact, you had
just said something about Jim [James A.] McDivitt, as the commander
of that mission, and I think that’s probably a good point to
pick up. What do you remember of Apollo 9?
Well, there were many things, Roy. I think the principle change that
we saw was the very long-term association we had with the crew preparing
for flight. We were originally in the slot that—and had the
command service module that the [Frank] Borman crew took for the Apollo
8 mission. We were shoved back in the schedule. But Jim, from our
standpoint, was a cut from a different piece of cloth than the majority
of the astronauts that we had worked with. The previous crews had
been literally the steely-eyed missile men, the test pilots that I
had known when I was back working with McDonnell [Aircraft Corporation].
But Jim was, I think, the first astronaut who really made an effort
to reach out and work with the controllers. He had established a game
plan for the mission, and one of the key elements in the game plan
was to make sure that the controllers on console here in Mission Control
had exactly the same procedures that would be used by the crews onboard.
Now this sounds like a very simple change to the process; but, at
the time of the early Apollo Program, we still had not quite come
together. We hadn’t fully come together as a team.
And Deke [Donald K.] Slayton’s troops guarded their checklists
and flight plan very jealously; and it was very difficult to get one
of the crew copies. The exact copy. And at times, we would find minor
discrepancies between what the crew was carrying onboard in previous
missions and what the procedures we had in Mission Control. So McDivitt
said, finally, “Enough’s enough! The people in Mission
Control are going to have exactly the same copies of the flight plan
and procedures that we’re going to be using in the spacecraft.
That’s the way I want to do business.” And from then on,
every team (actually, every crew) followed McDivitt’s lead.
That’s remarkable. Particularly because, looking back on it,
Apollo 7 rang out, essentially, the module; and from that point in,
Apollo 8 demonstrated that it could fly around the Moon. Apollo 9
was the first all-up test of all the hardware. So, I guess it was
a good time to start indoctrinating new procedures, wasn’t it?
Well, I think it was a good way to establish a new game plan. The
other thing was: Dave [David R.] Scott was the command module pilot
in that mission. And basically, he started putting out what he called
“pilot’s notes.” And he would write down every thing
that he understood coming out of the training. Every timely debrief
of simulation, he tried to write it down. And then he’d simplify
it to the point where, “This is the way I understand it. This
is the way we’re going to proceed.” And he’d send
it out to my Mission Controllers. And again, this was another step
in closing the loop, to make sure that the team on the ground and
the team in the spacecraft were perfectly synchronized. And again,
this was a standard that was carried forward by many crews in subsequent
What was your role on Apollo 9?
I was the lead flight director. It was basically my responsibility
to not only pull together my team for the mission events that we had,
I would launch the Saturn with the crew. I also had many of the maneuvers
associated with rendezvous. So, it was basically to make sure that
my team was up to speed but also to oversee all of the other Mission
Control teams that would be working. One of the real surprises that
came out of Apollo 9—it really wasn’t—it wasn’t
picked up immediately—was the workload associated with following
two spacecrafts (each with crewmembers). And at that the time that
we separated for the rendezvous process, I really had difficulty tracking
the spacecraft that was the lunar module, which was in the—performing
the majority of the rendezvous maneuvers, and the command module,
which was basically quiescent. But it still required a look-see. And
I came after the mission debriefing and I talked to the other flight
directors and I said, “You know, once we get into the lunar
phase of the program, we go up to the Moon with two spacecrafts, we’d
better have a way that we can split the team in Mission Control. So,
you’ve got one entire team that’s working with a lunar
module. Another team working with the command module.”
Glynn [S.] Lunney and Cliff [Clifford E.] Charlesworth were flight
directors, and they were—had the next two missions. And they
were somewhat skeptical that you could actually take and break the
Mission Control team into two chunks. They then got their experience
on Apollo 10; and by the time that we were on Apollo 11, we had started
moving in the direction now where, once we got into the lunar phase
of the mission (we had separated the spacecrafts), we would have two
Mission Control teams operating in the same room at the same time.
In fact, we had two flight directors at the flight director’s
console following these spacecraft!
But, the entire process of Apollo was getting the flight test experiences,
both on the ground as well as in the spacecraft, and finding what
is the best way to assemble the pieces so that we have the greatest
chance of success for the final step, which was to go for the Moon.
And I believe Apollo 9 fit in a very key part in that building the
confidence needed to go to the Moon. From my team’s standpoint,
it was very important because this was my second experience with the
lunar module. And we found out that Grumman Aircraft [Engineering
Corporation, Bethpage, New York] had built a spectacular spacecraft!
It was rugged; it was capable of doing the job. And as a result of
the Apollo 9 mission, we had total confidence in the spacecraft that
would ultimately take us to the Moon.
Just now you said this was your second experience with the LM [lunar
module]. What was the first?
The first experience was a unmanned flight test. It probably turned
into one of the most difficult times I’d ever had in Mission
Control. It was a mission that was supposed to be totally automated,
under the control of the onboard computer. But 3½ hours into
the mission, a programming error in the computer caused a glitch that—just
as we were starting the key parts of the flight objectives, the engine
shut down! And we had to take over manual control from the ground.
And for a very fast-moving set of sequences, like starting rocket
engines and accomplishing abort staging, it’s sort of a tough
business on the ground. But this team hung together and, over a 4-hour
period, accomplished all of the mandatory objectives on that unmanned
mission so that we could proceed with the manned phase of the program.
Once you got to the manned phase, was it still able to be automated,
controlled from the Earth?
We had a lot of capability from the Earth. But basically the majority
of the control exercised from the Control Center here was basically
to make the crew’s workload easier onboard the spacecraft. We
would initialize the computer with the data, what we called “the
state vector position velocity data.” We’d put the targeting
data in there. We would manage the communications. We’d operate
the recorders. But basically, these were all (what I’d say)
satellite services so that the crew wasn’t bothered with the
routine, the mundane. They could do the thing that they’d been
placed up there to do, which is accomplish the flight test and go
for the objectives.
And actually make a landing in a safe place as was proved rather rapidly,
wasn’t it, slightly later on? Getting back to [Apollo] 9 for
a moment, how did the crew split out? Were there two aboard the LM
and one aboard the command module?
That’s right. Yes. We had the—Jim McDivitt and Rusty [Russell
L.] Schweickart were basically the crewmen that moved into the lunar
module. And Apollo 9 had several aspects we hadn’t faced on
a mission before. Once the spacecraft had separated the lunar module
from the command module, they had to come back together because the
lunar module was incapable of reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.
And through this process, we had accomplished and were testing many
of the rescue rendezvous sequences that we might need to use later
on in the mission. In the process, however, we had a very critical
training exercise that at time, we didn’t realize the importance.
The training people left us. They killed the lunar module engines;
they couldn’t use them any more. So we had to perform a rescue
with the command module. And we performed this rescue in training
very successfully. But in the debriefing, SimSup [Simulation Supervisor],
who was the training boss, said, “Why did you leave the lunar
module powered up? Don’t you recognize how important resources
are in case you have some trouble?” We listened—we thought
it over and said, “Hey, that makes a lot of sense!” Well,
this was the beginning of what we would in later missions call “the
lifeboat procedures.” That if for any reason we would run into
problems during the mission, we had a series of procedures in place
where we could evacuate the command module temporarily and use the
lunar module as the lifeboat. And on Apollo 13 mission, as history
proceeded to lay out for us, this was the first set of procedures
we went to when we had the problem onboard the spacecraft. And this
was the characteristic of the training.
The training—there wasn’t anything, no matter how obscure,
no matter how way out, that we didn’t look at and say, “Hey,
we might be able to use this downstream. So, let’s take it,
write it out completely,” and we’d assign a responsibility,
a—basically establish the Center procedures for this case, and
then we’d put it sort of like in a bookshelf in a library. But
in desperation, when time’s short, you want to go back to something
that you’ve known and maybe tested before as opposed to trying
inventing on the spot. And our lifeboat procedures were part of that
If I’m reading you correctly, you’re saying that essentially
Apollo 9 was the focal point around which the later procedures were
You checked them all out, didn’t you?
Yes. And the—going through the manned sequence, Wally [Walter
M.] Schirra’s [Jr.] flight in Apollo 7 basically demonstrated
the capability of the command module to do the job and the procedures
that we had written for the command module. Apollo 8 demonstrated
our ability to work with the Saturn booster, inject the crew out to
the Moon, we then got around the Moon, we determined how well we could
navigate, proved our ability to navigate around the Moon, proved our
ability to perform maneuvers, and to return to Earth coming in at
the extremely high velocity of 7 miles a second. So, Apollo 8 put
that. Apollo 9 then really gave us the flight test checkout—the
single flight-test checkout—of the lunar module, along with
the rendezvous technique so that we had a building block. Apollo 7
proved the command module; Apollo 8 proved our ability to work in
the vicinity of [the Moon]; Apollo 9 proved the lunar module. Then
we put all the pieces together in the next mission in a full dressed
rehearsal for the lunar landing.
As I remember Apollo 9, it was a fairly uneventful mission. It went
pretty much by the book, at least what we saw from the outside looking
in. For the inside looking out, was it?
Well, I think from—the thing that surprised us on 9, and we
never really realized the significance on the ground (the medical
doctors did), is that we had the first of the crewmen, Rusty Schweickart,
who indicated that he had been sick in the early days of the mission.
In fact it was to the point where actually we deferred the extravehicular
activity to give him time for recovery. And again, in Mission Control,
we looked that—at that as a singular event. Yes, space motion
sickness; a crewman did get sick. But we sort of put it aside because
we didn’t have any other reports.
Much later we found out from the medical community that almost half
of the astronauts experienced some form of space motion sickness in
the early days of the mission. To the point where today in the Shuttle
Program, we really don’t schedule highly critical activities
in the first 2 days of the mission; and we try to work around that
particular malady that seems to be experienced by many crews.
Didn’t Borman show something like that on Apollo 8? Wasn’t
that the first real symptom?
Well again, this was a question of having enough instances occurring.
The only real focus that we had (or I had) in Mission Control was
basically the Rusty Schweickart incident, because basically I had
to come up with a game plan to work around it. In those days, we were
moving so fast that we were launching a mission every 2 months as
we were approaching the end of the decade and we had to fulfill the
pledge that we had made to President [John F.] Kennedy that only the
most significant events stood out. And you would find some way to
reshape the mission to accommodate the lessons learned. Again, without
the crew incapacitated or unable to accomplish the job, we just assumed
that we’d press on. And that’s exactly what we did.
How serious was this motion sickness? How serious was this illness?
Was he really incapacitated? Or was he capable of some activities?
I think the principle concerns here is internal to the spacecraft.
That the crew is capable of continuing the work, albeit at a reduced
level of—reduced skill level. But they could get the job done.
But once inside a spacesuit, if they would get sick, vomit, throw
up, there’s a possible chance that they’d be able to choke.
It became a very serious concern in the program. And again, this is
why in the later programs that we avoided extravehicular activity
if at all possible in the early days of the mission.
As flight [director], how did you work around it on Apollo 9 the first
time you really experienced it?
Well, Apollo 9, the principle task was to basically re-plan the mission.
And we had—Apollo 9 was a 10-day mission. It was broken down
into two periods: a 5-day period with the lunar module, and then the
5-day solo period with the command module. So, we had a lot of maneuvering
room to actually defer the extravehicular activity until we had indications
from the flight surgeons that the crew was feeling much better. But
this is a—this was not an option that you would have in the
early hours of, say, a lunar mission, where you’re injecting
to the Moon. You have a limited number of opportunities to use that
Saturn booster. So, the process, what we call of—what would
eventually be called the space adaptation syndrome (everybody’s
got to have an acronym, SAS, and the crew would refer to it as “the
dreaded SAS”), really never compromised a mission to a point
where we were unable to achieve our objectives.
Looking back now, was there anything else about Apollo 9 that comes
to mind before we leave it behind?
Again, it was this continuing flight test of the lunar module. It
was the second test, and again it gave me the conviction that we had
a very stout product in the lunar module. I also had the opportunity
to work with Tom [Thomas J.] Kelly and the engineers who designed
this magnificent spacecraft. They’re here in Mission Control
during the course of the mission in what we call “the spacecraft
analysis area.” And this is, I think, essential to develop the
chemistry of the Engineering/Operations relationship such that we—when
we need information on short order, they have the confidence in us
to give it to us and we have the confidence that what they give us
is going to be the best data they can provide in those minutes and
hours that we give them a chance to dig out information for us.
So, it’s this continuing process of building the team that actually
started—actually in the Gemini Program. Because in Gemini, we
had continued adding in the small pieces. So that, by the time that
we got to Apollo, we were approaching maturity in this business of
crisis management in spaceflight.
You were welding a team together that would stand you in good stead
during later flights, weren’t you? Here in Mission Control,
Is this room filled with memories for you, Gene—and I’m
sure it is—there must be a few that perhaps might be good to
tell. Do you remember anything in particular, any anecdotes that happened
on the way to flying to the Moon?
Well, we were speaking of Apollo 9. And one of the responsibilities—jobs
of the flight director is to not get ahead of his people. In fact,
don’t make decisions that they should be making. That’s
essential, really, for two reasons: one, you want to build the team
and you want to give these people the ultimate responsibility to provide
you the information so that you can assemble it together and pick
the course of the mission. In the training process, the trajectory
officer is called the flight dynamics officer. And the training process
not only is verifying the integrity of our knowledge. It’s also
looking at the integrity of the team and the decision process, and
can we make decisions in short seconds, etc.?
The—I had a simulation training run that was starting to unwind
on me. I had propellant leaks onboard the command module. I was faced
with some type of an abort. And as you approach the final seconds
of attaining Earth orbit, your options are dwindling very rapidly.
But one of the keys is, you have options to continue to go forward,
to try to get into orbit, as well as you have another option that
brings you back into the Eastern Atlantic—Atlantic Ocean. And
my FIDO [Flight Dynamics Officer] couldn’t make up his mind
as to which abort option he wanted to call, and I proceeded to do
his job for him.
I exercised what they call a MOTR [multiple object tracking radar]
abort, which was trying to drive the spacecraft back to the Atlantic.
And I called the abort that he should’ve called. And I passed
it on. The Capcom [capsule communicator] relayed it to the crew. The
crew executed this thing, and it was obvious that with the time delays,
as in this entire process, that I had picked the wrong abort mode.
And the spacecraft, instead of ending up in the Atlantic, ended up
in Spain! Well, this wasn’t a good landing point. And, you know,
you feel real bad when you blow one of these training runs.
But the instructor really drove the stake in that I had done the wrong
thing when he says, “Not only did you put the spacecraft down
on land, you killed the crew because the mountains that you brought
them in are above 10,000 ft. And that’s where the parachutes
should open.” So basically, they hit the mountains before the
parachutes opened. “And you will debrief these runs.”
But the key thing was, I was reading the flight dynamics officer’s
displays. I can read them. I know when you get into the, you know—into
the cutoff box. I know when you’re running out of the abort
But basically, I usurped his responsibility to make those calls. And
this is the process of training that teaches you very profound lessons.
And this is a lesson I never forgot, is that I am going—anybody
who ever works for me, from that day forward, whether it be in Mission
Control or in my organization, I expect to do his job and I’m
not going to do it for him. And if he can’t do it, he’s
going to have to find some other employment. So basically, it was
a lesson well learnt in Mission Control; and I think every flight
director went through similar lessons some time in their career.
Wasn’t that one of the things that your own management was doing
for you, too? They were giving you the leeway to make the decisions,
I was amazed that the—as in the process of growing up in Mission
Control here that our bosses had so much confidence in us. Chris [Christopher
C.] Kraft—I’ll tell a story about Chris Kraft, and this
is back in the very early days of Gemini.
Gemini V. It was time for hand over. We had all kinds of problems
in the spacecraft. We didn’t expect the fuel cells to continue
working. We were now moving into the phase of the mission where we
had to what we call “shoot the gap,” we had to move from
orbit 6 to about 16. Very limited orbital coverage. Everything was
unwinding. And it was time for hand over, and I expected Kraft to
give me the game plan. And instead of writing it down in his logs,
he put his headset away, got ready to leave. And I says, “Chris,
what do you want me to do?” And Kraft looks at me and he says,
“You’re the flight director. Make up your own mind.”
And he walked away.
And it was this kind of a confidence that was extruded by our management
that at times you couldn’t believe they would give you literally
the entire future of the space program and put it in your hands and
let your wrestle with it. Occasionally they’d do a bit of coaching.
You’d—sitting in Mission Control, you’d hear a bit
of growling from the console behind me where Kraft would sit. But
in no way did he ever interfere with the direction of the Mission
Control team. And this is an amazing level of confidence, when you’re
doing something that—not only out in front of the entire world,
you’re doing it for the first time. You have—it has the
ability to basically rewrite the history books.
With your background as a Marine, you were used to being the guy who
would take charge when you had to. You had to unlearn some of that,
Yeah, it was—I think every flight director, and myself included,
had very strong learning—Mission Control is a spectacular leadership
laboratory. It has the ability to give you the ultimate in confidence
that you can walk right off that cliff and literally walk on air.
At the same time, it can strip you to literally naked and show every
flaw that you have in knowledge, ability to form teams, trust between
individuals, right on down the line. But the Mission Control process,
as a laboratory for leadership, is one where you accumulate these
bits and pieces of knowledge. You learn to work with peoples of all
I think they give the military services a lot of credit for being
able to cope with the various rights and privileges of diverse groups
of people. I think in Mission Control, we demonstrated that well prior
to the military stepping in. Because we would have men, we’d
have Blacks, we’d have Mexican Americans, we’d have Whites
in here, from all parts of the country. And the whole focus was getting
in the job done. And it was—you used every available asset and
talent to get it. And it didn’t matter what they came from or
what their background was! And in later years, we added women into
this very critical equation. And they had no problems, not only in
measuring up but taking the lead. In fact in Mission Control today,
you look at any one of these pictures in TV. We’re about 40%
women. So, it’s basically a—it was probably one of the
first truly equal opportunity employers within the federal government.
And it’s a real privilege to grow up here.
Well, you had a team concept, too. Can you tell us a little about
The Mission Control team, the flight director’s got the job
description that is one sentence long: “Flight director may
take any action necessary for crew safety and mission success.”
From a standpoint of American industry, this is probably the simplest
job description of the chief executive of a facility. The flight director
is given a team of between 15 and 21 controllers. They’re people
who specialize in trajectories and spacecraft systems. We have medical
doctors, planners, facility operators. We have an astronaut who serves
as the communications link between the crew and ground. Each one of
these controllers, when they move into the control room itself, is
expected to be able to make 100% correct calls on anything within
his area of discipline, literally within seconds. A flight director’s
job is basically to assemble the pieces and, again, make the mission
decision, literally, in seconds.
The controllers have always used a principle that I would call “learn
by doing.” There is no piece of paper. There is no technical
information. There is no schematic flight—there is nothing in
this control room that was not developed by a controller. A controller
in the—say, the guidance system would provide all the information
on that system; and then he would hand it over to a flight planner
who would use it. And the flight planner wouldn’t redesign it
or change it. It was basically trust in that handover that that data
was correct. Then this flight planner would basically develop a flight
plan, hand it to the trajectory officer down for the design of the
So, each one of these controllers is totally accountable, not only
for getting the job done but for the 100% (what I’d say) perfection
of the information at his console. And I think everyone knows how
difficult perfection is to achieve. But in Mission Control, that is
literally the name of the game. It’s what I’d call excellence
in the art of crisis management.
Since no single individual can carry all that information, nor can
they make rapid computation, this was really just the tip of the iceberg,
however, here in Mission Control wasn’t it? Each one of those
flight controllers had support rooms and support people. Can you tell
us a little about that?
Yeah. Well, the control team itself in—sitting in this room
basically had the responsibility for the seconds-to-minute-type decisions.
Once they moved beyond that timeframe now and we had a little bit
more time to work on it, they had a support staff room. And the support
staff room was basically one layer deeper. One lever—one layer
more knowledgeable in the specific spacecraft systems, the jobs we
were trying to do.
And then once we moved beyond the minutes into the hours’ timeframe,
we had hot lines out to all of the contractors, where you could literally
reach out and touch the individual who designed, tested, checked out—the
last individual who had ever worked with the component in the spacecraft.
You could go into the laboratories. It was not unusual that within
hours of a problem, we would have a test rake set up in one of the
contractors’ or subcontractors’ laboratories trying to
duplicate the exact problems that we were experiencing in flight.
So, it was a—it was not a literally the tip of an iceberg. It
was really an incredible focusing mechanism for decisions that were
coming at us and recommendations from all over the country.
And a mission is probably the most incredible place—the wrong
statement here. The process of preparing for a mission and executing
a mission is an incredible forcing function, because it takes—it
requires each individual to step up to their concerns, the problems
they have, the gut feelings, and make a commitment, “Am I go
or no go?” And it starts from the lowest guy in the factory
up through his chain, where again you have this kind of a decision.
And there’s no such thing as a perfect spacecraft. There’s
no such thing as a perfect mission.
What you have to do, and you have to learn to make decisions short
of certainty. And I believe this was how we were able to achieve the
lunar landing, starting from a cold start, in 10 years. We were willing
to accept some level of risk to get the job done. And we believed
(and this to a great extent is—goes back into the design, the
program manager) whatever risks remained would be put on the back
of Mission Control to find some clever way to work around that risk,
to accomplish your objective in spite of a problem onboard the spacecraft.
So basically, our job was to—the engineers would do the best
job they could. They’d hand us the spacecraft, and it was up
to us to live with whatever risk remained in the spacecraft—the
design of the spacecraft, design of the mission until touchdown.
And as the flight director of that team, there must’ve been
an incredible amount of pressure on you to bring them back.
Well, the—in retrospect, I could feel, yes, that there was some
form of pressure. But during the course of a mission—I think
this is true whether it be a surgeon—a brain surgeon in an operating
room, firefighter trying to rescue some person—during the course
of the event, you never feel the pressure. You have a mission that
must be accomplished, and you feel superbly trained, you feel superbly
confident, you’ve got the trust of the people around you, you’ve
got an incredible team helping you to accomplish this task, to bring
this crew back, to get the objective. So that you never think of the
pressure. It’s—I think the body feels it at times. There
seems to be—whenever we get down close to launch, there seems
to be an incredible urge to go to the restroom.
And one of the things that I always get concerned about is—when
we call the launch hold, generally at about launch minus 9, we tell
the controllers, “Hey, we’ve got 5 minutes to where we
pick up the count”—that I’m going to lose a controller
as they stampede out the door to the restroom, that they’re
going to trample over each other! But that I think is the only physical
manifestation that I or other controllers have felt. I tend to have
sweaty palms. All the controllers would kid me that I put my hand
down on a piece of paper and they could see a perfect palm print.
But it’s something that is physical but not mental. You don’t
feel the pressure mentally.
I think the word is focus.
I think it’s focus. It’s—we use in Mission Control—we
use the term discipline, morale, tough, competent. And basically discipline
is the ability to focus so intensely upon the objective that nothing,
nothing is ever going to prevent you from accomplishing that objective.
And it might be to land on the Moon, or in the case of a later mission,
Apollo 13, to get this crew back home.
Well, perhaps we could now leave Apollo 9 behind. The lessons have
been learned, and you’re ready to start flying. And next up
was Apollo 10. In this case, you are not the lead flight director,
but you took an active role.
No, I was—at this time, I was the Division Chief of Flight Control.
So, literally every mission was my mission. But from my standpoint,
the key was to follow how well this mission was being executed. Was
the control team doing the right thing? Were the procedures all proper
and in place? Because this was the dress rehearsal for the Apollo
11 mission, where I would be intimately involved.
And I was concerned during the course of the translunar phase to take
a look at how well the LM spacecraft held up to being unpowered, going
through this voyage from the Earth to the Moon. And then when they
powered it up, were the checklists in place to power this thing up
efficiently, rapidly? Was the team capable of supporting these two
spacecraft in the dock mode and of staying on the timeline, so that
when the time came to separate and start the preparations for the
(what I’d say) the strafing pass across the surface of the Moon
with [Eugene A.] Cernan and [Thomas P.] Stafford, was everything being
executed 100% correctly, by the numbers, and on time? Because, once
you get to the Moon, you don’t have too many options. You have
very limited wave-off options. You’re either going to accomplish
your mission or not. I mean it’s black or white. There’s
no compromise there.
So, Apollo 10 was a dress rehearsal for this entire package. And as
an observer, I was watching everything that happened very closely.
I was also looking at the performance of my lunar module team, which
was very critical. Because the command module people, systems engineers
in particular, had several missions to warm up. So they had more a
experience in Mission Control and flying that spacecraft than the
lunar module people did. By the time that we would land on the Moon,
the experience in the LM world was a unmanned mission, Apollo 5, then
I had the Apollo 9, 10. So, the fourth time we would fly the spacecraft,
they had to be ready to take that spacecraft to the surface of the
Moon. So, I was quite interested in how my LM team was doing.
And 10 was the one on which they literally rang it out and came pretty
close to disaster, as I remember.
Yeah. Well, there’s a—I think there is a—each mission
leaves you with some very stark lesson that you learnt. And, again,
the ability—here we had a crew that had missed a step in the
checklist in configuring the autopilot. And again, the forcing function
has to be such that the controllers are as exquisitely tuned to that
checklist as the crew is. And if you see anything that is missed,
without a second’s hesitation, you have to make the call to
the flight director and Capcom to go up and make a correction to the
At times, you tend to look at omitted checklist items. And you back
off and say, “Well, we’ve got an experienced crew. The
crew’s going to get it.” We’ve made that mistake—we
had made that mistake a couple of times in previous flights. This
is one where there is no question, I think, we could have made a call
that would have eliminated that problem. But again, it’s—this
split-secondedness, exquisite timing necessary between this crew and
ground and again one of the reasons that you fly these missions. It’s
to address this process of achieving perfection in the business of
spaceflight, and it’s awful tough to get because things are
happening real fast.
In this case, if that crew had not pulled itself back from the brink,
how would you have felt about that decision not having been rendered
as rapidly as perhaps it might have?
I think in every mission that we’ve ever flown, I think we’ve
found things that we could’ve done better. We have stepped up
to assuming maybe even a greater responsibility. In our training people,
interestingly enough, in the—as we prepare for a mission, you
spend a lot of time (hundreds of hours) with the crew, going through
the rehearsals over and over and over and over and over. And you tend
to get into a routine. You tend to get into what you would say is
almost perfect synchronization here.
What the training people would do to us, very—as we were approaching
the time when the crew was going to go down to the Cape [Canaveral,
Florida] and—actually, we’re going to start the mission,
they’d throw in a less-experienced crew from a downstream mission.
So, all of a sudden, we’d have to go back into the coaching
mode with that team. We couldn’t expect them to be totally familiar
with that procedure, so we’d have to talk a bit more about it.
So, it was a process of the ground assuming that we had to be totally
aware and on top of every exact thing the crew did. And then if the
crew would then assume that the ground wasn’t watching at all,
you would have basically the conjunction where you probably had the
best and most effective operation.
So, it was to the point where the crew had to be capable for doing
the job and the ground had to assume for some reason the crew couldn’t
get it done. So, you drive for this very precise, incredible timing.
It’s—a mission is like a—watching a Super Bowl-class
football team in operation, where you watch that hand off between
the center to the quarterback and one of his running backs. It’s
all split-second. And you can’t afford a miss here. That is
the way that you must be focused for every event during the course
of a mission. And it’s really tough to maintain this level of
proficiency, hour after hour after hour after hour for days at a time!
But that’s the nature of our business.
In a way, what you’ve described—and we’ve just run
out of tape.
OFF CAMERA: Yeah.
OFF CAMERA: Rolling and speed.
Okay. [We’re] working now with a nice new load of tape, and
I was just about to ask: Gene, it would seem that Apollo 10 was the
culmination of the flight planning operations that you and the crew
of Apollo 9 had put together. Meaning, of course, you now had a flight
plan and everybody was on a reasonable facsimile of the same page.
Is that true?
Yeah. It was—we had matured. We started—the maturing process
started after the Apollo 1 fire. We were still—let me see if
I can start this differently again. In Mercury, basically we found
that man could live in space. But we also learned a lot more. We learned
a lot about ourselves. We found out that teamwork was a key element
in achieving the objectives. Always previously you had the flight
test pilot and you had the ground flight test team, but basically
the guy onboard the aircraft was the guy who was calling the shots
as time went on.
And that was principally the mode of operation for Mercury. You got
the crew up there. You’d provide them various voicing, but the
point is we didn’t have much insight to the space systems. The
crewmembers really didn’t have much of that confidence in the
ground at that time, so it was a process of learning that space is
somewhat different than the aircraft flight test. In the Gemini, we
now got to the point where there was a very definite relationship
between crew and ground. We had to provide the information for the
maneuvers that the crew would perform or during a rendezvous. We had
various abort modes during powered flight. We had to control the target
spacecraft—the Agena—for them, so all of a sudden there’s
now starting a convergence between crew and ground. And also we had
acquired much more—a greater insight into the space systems
that we were flying.
For a change, we had more data than was being displayed to the crewmember.
But again this was a process of now—of maybe going from the
baby steps we were taking in Mercury now to the point where we are
in our adolescence. Capable of getting an awful lot done, but periodically
going off on tangents. One of these tangents was associated with extravehicular
operations. We just kept blundering and blundering and blundering
until finally, after so many failed EVAs, we had to go back in and
say, “What is it we’re doing wrong?”
So, then we move from that phase, okay, into Apollo; and we’re
immediately bloodied by the Apollo 1 fire. And I don’t think
anyone who was working on Apollo didn’t feel in some way responsible,
as a partnership, that we made the wrong calls. And if we had done
something differently, maybe our crew would not have died. But at
the same time, this fire set a resolve that says, “We got to
grow up fast.” And I think this growing up fast, the resolve,
was kicked off after the fire. So, by the time we got to Apollo 10,
we literally were as good as we would ever get in the business of
We wouldn’t stop learning. But from a standpoint of a team,
from a standpoint of focus, from a standpoint of intensity, from a
standpoint of perfection, we were great! And I’m saying this
with no reservations whatsoever. This team knew what they were doing,
and the next couple of missions would demonstrate that in spades.
Apollo 10 demonstrated every part of the mission, with the exception
of three: the actual descent to the surface of the Moon and the landing,
the surface operations, and the lunar ascent. So, these were the only
three pieces that had to be put now on this chessboard. And we were
about to do it.
You certainly were. Because you were about to do the big one. The
point at which this program had been literally moving for so long.
Apollo 11. You were, what? The lunar landing flight director, weren’t
you? You were in charge of that. But you also took part in the whole
thing, didn’t you?
So, let’s go back over Apollo 11. And what a thing to go back
over! That’s a big project.
The—there’s many things that stand out. If a person says,
“Where were you when?” I had sure had an awful lot of
great breaks in my life. I mean, whether they be in college. Whether
they be in flying airplanes. But one of the ones that I remember that
is related to Apollo 11 in a very direct fashion was the day that
I got the assignment to do the landing phase. Cliff Charlesworth was
the lead flight director; and one of the responsibilities of the lead
flight director is to identify which flight director is going to cover
which phase of the mission. And moving in there, this was the first
mission where, in Apollo now—where Lunney, Charlesworth, and
myself, who had been flight directors on Gemini, were actually coming
back together again.
So, you had probably the three most experienced people at the console;
and it was a question of who was going to get to do what. And Lunney
had been to the Moon a couple of times; Charlesworth had launched
Saturns; and I had the lunar module experience. So you had no particular
driver that says, “This person ought to be doing this phase
of the mission.” And I was Division Chief at that time, and
Kraft had been really on top of us to nail down who was going to do
what! Until finally after the Apollo 9 mission, we all managed to
get together. And Charlesworth, as lead, had to make the calls.
And I called him and said, “Cliff, we got to make a decision
on which flight director is going to cover which phase of the mission.”
And this is probably the most anticlimactic meeting that I’ve
ever had in my life. He looked me straight in the face and he said,
“Well, I’m going to launch it, and I’m going to
do the EVA. So, that only leaves the landing and the lunar liftoff.
I think Glynn is going to do the lunar liftoff. So, you got the landing.”
And it was all over in about 60 seconds.
And, you know, each flight director—I don’t think there’s
any question, everybody wanted to do something for the first time.
And the beauty of the Apollo Program was there were enough firsts
to go around for everybody. But when it came time for the—this
first lunar landing mission, I really got to respect Cliff for saying,
“Hey, you take the job instead of me.” And I think he
gave me the job principally because I had spent most of my time with
the lunar module people, and I had just happened to have just a little
bit more experience in the lunar module than any of the other guys.
And it was a totally unselfish decision. And I think this is the way
the flight directors always worked. We’re always trying to find
out, “What is the best chemistry between flight director, team,
and mission that’s going to get—give the greatest assurance
that the job’s going to get done?”
And it worked.
But it had to work, didn’t it, Gene?
Yes. There was no question the—every mission in Apollo had a
large number of firsts. And every mission had a very visible profile,
from a standpoint of the media. If you even missed the slightest thing,
you know there was always this question somebody would ask you at
a press conference, “Is the lunar landing in jeopardy?”
And fortunately, as we went through these early missions (and we only
had a single shot at each one of these, so they all had to work),
you could look him straight in the eye and say, “No, we’re
on track, we’re going to get the job done.” And the—by
the time you got to Apollo 11, however, the media coverage, the external
pressures were incredibly high.
But again, this is one area where Cliff Charlesworth again, as lead
flight director, one of their roles was to try to provide the external
focus. So, he covered the majority of the mission briefings of a technical
sense. He covered many of the media briefings. So basically, he kept
the pressure off myself and Lunney so we could get ready for the jobs
that we needed to do. But there was no doubt as we were approaching
July 20th that we were doing something no one had ever done before.
Feel a lot of pressure? Did it worry you?
Again in retrospect, I would say: yes. But when you start feeling
the pressure, what you do is you find some way to keep your focus
so that basically the pressure moves into the background. And there
was so much to do to get ready for this first lunar landing that you
just immersed yourself in the job and the pressure faded into the
background. The only time I ever felt pressure during the—I
mean, felt intense pressure (maybe I can say this), we had had—it
was as a result of our training.
In the consoles here in Mission Control, there used to be a phone
directly behind the flight directors. And routinely during training
runs, the Program Managers and Chris Kraft, Division Chiefs throughout
the Center, added two small squawk boxes in their offices. And if
they ever wanted to hear what was going on in Mission Control, they
just turned on the squawk boxes and they could hear the crew talking
to the ground, and they could hear the flight director talking to
his team. So, it was reasonably customary that you would turn up these
squawk boxes. And it was always going along in the background while
you were having your meetings or making your telephone calls or whatever.
In training, the first month of preparing for the lunar landing, it
really went pretty well. It seemed we had a hot hand. We had come
off the Apollo 9 mission. We had achieved all of our objectives. The
lunar module people had done well on Apollo 10. And we proceeded into
the training process, and it seemed that, boy, every time the training
folks threw us a problem, threw us a curve, we’d pick it up,
we’d run with it, we’d come up with the right conclusion,
etc. And then SimSup, who was a—again, the training boss, a
guy by the name of Dick [Richard H.] Koos, must’ve looked at
us and said, “That team’s too cocky. That team needs to
get a few lessons.” And he called his team up and [said], “Let’s
put the screws to these guys.”
We ended up, now in our second month of training, we were only training
roughly about 1 day a week. The second month of training, we had a
particularly bad day where we couldn’t seem to do anything right.
We would crash. And learning to land on the Moon, you have a time
delay of about 3 seconds. So, anything you see—and by the time
you can respond and voice up instructions to the crew, you’re
3 seconds behind what’s happening onboard the spacecraft. And
as you get down close to the surface of the Moon, there is what you
would call a dead man’s box. [In] every airplane landing, there’s
some point where no matter what you’re going to do, you can
pit the throttles to those engines, you’re still going to touch
down before you’re going to come back off the ground again.
We really had not defined very well this dead man’s box as you’re
coming down to the surface of the Moon, because it’s a very
complex geometry you have to define. It’s tied into how fast
you’re descending. What is the altitude at this rate? What kind
of attitude are you in? So basically, it’s got many parameters.
And then if you add on top of this, this lunar time delay, it can
get pretty bad pretty quick.
We went through a bad, bad, bad day. We had crashed, and we had crashed.
And then to avoid crashing, we’d become unnecessarily conservative;
and we’d abort when we could’ve landed. And by the end
of the day, we felt pretty bad. And about that time, Chris Kraft calls
up on the phone. And from his initial comments, I knew he had been
listening to these simulations, and I knew he was watching us struggle.
And he said, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”
Well, there wasn’t anything he could do to help me! I mean,
it was—my team had to find the right answers, we had to find
the right timing, the right chemistry, right on down the line. And
for the first time in this entire process, I felt the pressure that,
“Hey, maybe our bosses were starting to lose confidence in this
team that they had signed to do the mission.” And that’s
when I felt the pressure.
My response was very straightforward. I put a switch on this phone
so it wouldn’t ring anymore. So, he could call all day and he’d
just get a busy signal. But we proceeded to dig ourselves out of the
pit that we had somehow dug for ourselves. We set a different set
of parameters in defining this dead man’s box. We biased the
times that we would use to make the calls. We became more conscious
of the clock. But piece by piece by piece, we started putting it back
together again until we felt not only were we going to get the job,
“Hell, yes, we’re going to get the job done!” There
was no question that we would get this crew down to the surface of
And the training process then—I mean, we just seemed to be on
top of everything until the last day of training. And this was again
a—I think a very fateful exercise that, to this day, I thank
Koos for giving it to us. We have a game plan that we call the Mission
Rules. And the Mission Rules are basically a preplanned set of decisions
where the controllers in the cold light of day will sit down and take
a look at all the things that could happen in the spacecraft or on
the trajectory on a mission-by-mission—I mean, on a phase-by-phase
basis through the mission. And there’s a lot of phases to the
lunar mission. So, you end with a book of Mission Rules that’s
literally about 4 in. thick. Literally thousands of rules.
But the controllers have come to the point where we’ve exercised
these, we’ve proved them right, right on line. The training
people looked, and they saw one entire area that wasn’t treated
in the rules. It was associated with the various alarms that are transmitted
from the spacecraft computer down to the ground. And on the final
day of training, which I would—I had expected would sort of
like be the graduation ceremony, they’d give us some problems,
they’d give us tough problems, but they wouldn’t give
us anything that would kill us. Well, that wasn’t their approach
to doing the job. And in the final training exercise, they gave us
a set of problems onboard the spacecraft.
We started off high. And on the way down, we started seeing a series
of alarms coming from the spacecraft. And there are two types of alarms:
one of the alarms said, “Hey, I’m too busy to get all
of the jobs done. So, I’m going to revert to an internal priority
scheme; and I’ll work off as many things as I can in this priority
scheme until a clock runs out, and then I’ll go back and recycle
to the top of this priority listing.” And it’s going to
get the guidance job done. It’s going to get the control. But
it may not be updating displays. It may not. And then if these type
alarms continue for a sustained period of time, it goes now to a much
more critical alarm, which we call POO-DUE. A due program zero zero,
where the computer will go to halt and await further instructions.
Well, if this happens up and away, you’re not going to land
on the Moon that day.
Well, they gave us these series of alarms. We had never seen them
before. My guidance officer, Steve [Stephen G.] Bales, was absolutely
flustered it seemed, and he calls the abort. I feel that we’ve
executed the right decisions. And in the training debriefing, SimSup
comes back to us and says, “No, we don’t think you exercised
the right decisions. We think you could’ve landed. We think
you should’ve looked beyond that alarm to see if you could figure
out what was happening in the guidance, the navigation, were the displays
being updated, etc.? You acted prematurely.”
We didn’t believe it. But Steve Bales, the guidance officer,
you never leave anything untested. He says, “Hey, flight, I’m
going to look at this overnight. I’m going to call together
a bunch of people from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]
Draper Labs, and we’ll find out what we should’ve done
here.” Well I got a call about 10:00 that evening that said,
“The training people were right. We had made the wrong decision.”
And they wanted to do some more training the next day.
So, these were two episodes associated with the training for the mission.
One where management had got involved in when we were having a very—we
were really struggling, when I felt pressure. The second time was
when I found out that, hey, we didn’t have everything wrapped
up as well as we should have. We had some loose ends, and now the
crew was going down to the Cape. (We were just weeks from launch.)
So, these were the two times that I really felt pressure during the
course of this mission. But, I didn’t feel anything externally.
Finally, they launched. They had TLI [translunar injection]. And there
they were, coasting out toward the Moon. And your crew were still
operating, getting ready for the big event. What was happening during
Yeah. The—several interesting things. This was my first experience
with the translunar phase of the mission, because I had worked [Apollo]
7 and I had worked [Apollo] 9. But we had never had this continuous
communication. And it was absolutely marvelous to sit in Mission Control
now and see the spacecraft 24 hours a day, throughout this entire
transit period. So, from my standpoint, we used this to continue binding
ourselves together as a team. I would go over through every one of
the telemetry measurements. I’d talk to the controllers about
it. I’d find out how, you know, “Let’s go through
the Mission Rules one final time here.” We started dusting off
all the very loose ends. So, the translunar phase of the mission is
the final period to pull all of the pieces together, to go over any
of the little items that maybe you didn’t close out as well
as you should have, to maybe go through the final discussion of the
Mission Rules. (“Will we really do this if this happens?”
kind of thing.)
But it’s a time to continue to build this chemistry that must
exist between flight director and team and crew when you have to make
a very short-term, rapid, time-critical, irrevocable type decisions.
Because once we got to the surface of the Moon—I mean, once
we got to the point where we were getting ready to land on the Moon,
there were only three options that day: you were either going to land,
you’re going to abort, or you’re going to crash. And,
you know, those options are pretty awesome when you think about it,
that, “Hey, we’re not only in this particular mode of
operation now. We’re going to be doing it in front of the entire
And it’s now to the point where you look to each other for this
confidence you need to work through any times when you might have
just the slightest tinge of doubt. And generally, the slightest tinge
of doubt comes when you’re tired. So, what you got to do is,
you got to continue and you got to help each other up. And that is
the magic of this flight control team that we have here. It is so
self-supporting! You know in Mission Control when a person needs a
little bit of help, a little bit more time to make a decision; and
this team is so totally focused. It’s marvelous. Marvelous experience
to live with.
Well, all of this paid off eventually, because that landing was not
a piece of cake.
No, the landing, I don’t think there was anything that really
prepared us for the intensity of the landing. If I’d back up
a little bit. One of the Mission Rules (I’m talking about game
planning) that was given to me exclusively, where I had to make a
decision, is in the preparation for the mission. Headquarters people,
the Program Managers, as well as Chris Kraft was concerned that if
we would crash and not have enough data to figure out why we crashed,
we’d be in jeopardy of the—not only losing the lunar goal,
maybe the entire program. So, everybody wanted to make sure that there
was some formula that would be used by the team to say, “Okay,
we got enough data to continue.”
I fought this particular rule, because they wanted something quantified.
They wanted some numbers with this thing. And I fought this rule all
the way through the process of building the rules, going through the
reviews (the mission reviews), etc. And I wanted a very simple one
that says, “The flight director will determine whether sufficient
data exists to continue the mission.” And that’s—I
just wanted that—it that simple, that it was a subjective call
by the flight director. And this was batted back and forth until very
close to the mission; and it was not resolved. So, I wrote into the
Mission Rules that exact statement: “The flight director will
determine if sufficient data exists to continue.”
Well, going back to the landing day now, this adequate information
means voice information and telemetry. As soon as the spacecraft cracked
the hill and we were now silently coasting down to the 50,000-ft mark
above the Moon, the telemetry was broken. The voice was broken. We
wouldn’t communicate. It seems nothing was going right. And
immediately that rule came to mind: do I have sufficient information
to continue? But then we’d get a bit and I’d say, “Ah-hah,
we can look at the spacecraft!” And there were a couple of times
when I would make calls for the go/no-go point of saying, “Okay,
all flight controllers, go/no-go time. Use the last valid data points
that you saw.” Well, this might be 30 seconds old. So, they’re
making decisions based on stale data.
We kept working, trying to figure out what was the problem with the
communications. And this turned out to be a—bad information
on the attitudes used in the spacecraft, because we were getting some
reflections off the skin of the lunar module. But again, this is too
late. We had to try to solve the problem in real time. And I again
go back to the teamwork. Charlie [Charles M.] Duke [Jr.], who was
my spacecraft communicator, was looking at the signal strengths, and
he saw the signal strengths varying. And he had seen—he had
also worked the Apollo 10 mission. He suggested to Don [Donald R.]
Puddy, who was the TELMU [Telemetry, Electrical, EVA systems engineer
(Lunar module)], he had the responsibility for the communications
but also the life support, electric systems on the lunar module, he
said, “Don, do you think we could’ve changed—make
an attitude change? Would that help any?”
So, then we tried an attitude change. Fortunately in training, we
had also worked in relaying voice information from the ground to Mike
[Michael] Collins back down to the lunar module. So, we were using
every conceivable ways to communicate. In the meantime, time is marching
down to my go/no-go points. We then have a anomaly onboard the spacecraft
where Buzz [Edwin E.] Aldrin [Jr.] calls down, and he’s not
seeing what he expects to see on the AC [alternating current] electrical
from a standpoint of the voltage indications. And again, this is very
critical from a standpoint of gyros, landing radar. A very critical
measurement. And again, the controllers looked at it and said, “Okay,
it’s looking good.”
Now by this time, my guidance officer, Steve Bales, has now got some
tracking information, and the spacecraft isn’t where he—where
it should be! I mean, it’s that straightforward. Now he didn’t
know whether the data he was getting was bad, whether it was just
bad navigation, or we had some kind of problem with targeting in the
spacecraft. But the problem was—is that, he really got my attention;
he says, “Flight, we’re out on the radial velocity,”
which is the vertical velocity, “and we’re halfway to
our abort limit.” Well, boy, when you haven’t even started
down to the Moon and some guy comes to you and says, “Hey, we’re
halfway to our abort limit,” it sure gets your attention! But
he continued and said, “I’ll keep watching it.”
So, all of a sudden now, you’ve got communications problem,
you’ve got the minor electrical problem, you’ve got navigation
problem, and you’re still trying to struggle in to meet all
of these windows for making your decisions as you’re now saying,
“Hey, we’re ready to ignite the engine.” We got
down to the go/no-go for start-up powered descent (this is done about
4 minutes prior to the landing point), and again we—there’s
no reason I had to wave off. The team was working well. So, we made
the go to continue. And as soon as we gave them the go to continue,
we lost communication. So, we couldn’t even call the crew! So
again we relayed—Charlie Duke relays through Mike Collins down
to the lunar module that they’re go to continue. Here we’re
getting ready to go to the Moon, and we can’t even talk to the
crew directly! Anyway, we keep working through this problem until
it’s time for engine start.
We’ve had data intermittently. Engine start; and again at the
time of engine start, we need to capture the telemetry of that point
so we know the exact quantities of propellants in the tanks. Because
now the propellants are being settled by the acceleration of the spacecraft
as the engine start ups. As soon as the engine starts, we lose telemetry
again. So, we miss this very valuable point. And we continue on down.
And now, from the time we start until the time we land on the Moon,
it should take about between 8 and 9 minutes. And this becomes a very
intense period where again Steve Bales, my guidance officer, has been
trying to figure out, “What’s with this navigation problem,
that we’re half way to our abort limit?”
Well, he comes back and gives me a call that really has now a bit
more confidence. He says, “It’s—we’re still
halfway to the abort limit, but it’s not growing.” And
he tends to believe that something happened upstream. It might’ve
been a maneuver execution, where the engine didn’t shut down
perfectly or it was—well, in retrospect we found out (this was
after the mission) that the crew had not fully depressurized the tunnel
between the two spacecrafts. And when they separated the spacecrafts,
it was like a champagne cork popping out of a bottle. It gave the
spacecraft a little bit more speed than it should have; it’s
like performing an extremely small maneuver. Well, over the period
of time of the lunar orbit, this maneuver now has placed the spacecraft
in a different position than it should have been [in] to start the
descent. But we didn’t know that at the time. We had to figure
So, now we’re in the process of going down and we’re making
the calls. Everything seems to be going right for a change. You’re
never quite relaxed during this process. We’ve learned to work
around the broken communications, but it seems to be getting better.
And we’re now at the point where we’re starting to evaluate
the landing radar data. Now this is an extremely important junction
because the lunar module is now using the altitude we gave it, based
on the tracking data and our knowledge of the position of the Moon.
We now have to update that altitude by the real altitude measured
by the landing radar. If there’s a very large different between
the altitude we’ve given it and what the radar’s seeing,
they have to find some way to smooth it out, because you can’t
make that correction instantaneously.
So, we’re now in the process of determining whether the landing
radar is acceptable to enter into the computer when we get a call
from the crew that they’ve had a computer program alarm. And
for a few seconds, it’s just total silence. Nobody’s commented
on this thing. We’ve all heard it. And then the crew comes down
and gives a reading on the alarm. Well, it’s certainly coming
to a fork in the road. Half of my team (in fact, most of my team)
is trying to decide whether to accept this radar; and Steve Bales,
my guidance officer, is an important part of that decision.
But now he’s got to answer to this program alarm kind of thing.
And it’s—for a period of time, half the team was moving
in this direction, the other half’s starting to move in this
direction here. So, I got to pull these guys back. And Charlie Duke
makes the call, “Can we give them a reading on the alarm?”
And again Steve Bales now has studied these alarms as a result of
this training exercise. So, now he goes back to his back room controller
(Tommy Gibson) and says, “Tommy, these are the ones that basically
we reviewed after training run, and I don’t see any problems.
Do you see any problems?” And then very rapidly, we’ve
got a go to continue.
So, now we’ve worked through this. Now we’re starting
to accept the landing radar data, and these program alarms are continuing
intermittently through the descent. And one of the things that Steve
comes up with, that he says, “Hey, it might be related to some
of the displays the crew’s using.” So, we [tell] the crew
to back off the very high utilization onboard displays on altitude
and altitude rate; and we tell them, “We’ll provide the
read ups,” you know, for them during this period.
So, this team now is faced with—I mean, we’re going to
the Moon! For real. This is not a simulation anymore. And it’s
faced with incredible problems that nobody had ever really anticipated.
We thought it’s—whatever happens, it’s going to
be clear-cut. But this was far from clear cut. And yet this team seems
to be getting tighter. The more problems they got, the more effectively
they’re working. And this almost makes me happy. Because a flight
control team is always best when they’re working problems. All
of a sudden they are now focused on something.
And from a back room loop, and we are never able to identify who said
it, a voice comes across that says, “Hey, this is almost like
a simulation.” And, you know, I sort of snicker. I mean it’s
sort of a mental point where you mentally back off now. And the intensity’s
still there. But all of a sudden you say, “Hey, we licked these
problems before. We’re going to lick them again.” And
we continued down the process.
Now communications. We’re about to the point where we’re
in powered pitchover. We’re about 5 minutes off the surface.
The communications have improved dramatically. So, this worry that
was in the background festering, that I might have to make a call
because we didn’t have adequate data, is now out of the back
of my mind. And all we’re doing is working these very focused
activities. And again the communications gets very tight. You can
now feel the crew has got their landing point identified. They can
see it. They can see that, if we continue this automatic guidance,
we’re going to land in a boulder field. So, we see Neil [A.
Armstrong] take over manual control, and he uses a input with his
hand controller that redesignates the landing point.
He’s got a grid in the lunar module window that’s sort
of like a gun sight. And throughout the mission, it’s basically
oriented that if I don’t do anything different right now this
is where I’m going to land. So basically, he’s redesignated.
So, we see that now, as a result of this error in the separation of
spacecraft, where we’re further downrange, we’re going
to land actually about 2½ miles, I believe, from our designated
landing site. And this is a rocky, boulder/crater field area. So,
now Neil is working into this area. And all of a sudden you start
becoming intensely aware of the clock that says, in most of the training
runs, we would’ve landed by now and we haven’t landed.
And they say, “Oh-oh, it’s going to get tight.”
And this is reinforced moments later when my propulsion guy, Bob [Robert
L.] Carlton, says, “Low level.” Well, we don’t have
a fuel gauge onboard the spacecraft. Once you get to the point where
you’re in the round part of the tank, down at the bottom, there
is a sensor that says, “Okay, if the crew is at a hover throttle
setting, he’s going to have 2 minutes to go.” But now
in the back room, this is where some of the magic in Mission Control
comes in. The crew, when they’re actually flying or hovering,
is—is above this hover throttle setting and below. Say it’s
30%. Maybe they might be up to 40. They might be down as 20. So, the
crew is throttling up and down here as they’re scooting forward
across the surface of the Moon, much faster than we had ever expected
to move this low. And I have a controller in the back room now who’s
looking at these squiggles on the analog recorder. And he is mentally
thinking, “They’re 3 seconds above 30%, 2 seconds below,
4 above, 2—.” And he’s mentally trying to integrate
how many seconds we have remaining of fuel. And he got pretty good
at this during training. He got to the point where he could nail it
within about 10 seconds.
So, we put a number of a 10-second uncertainty and biased it high,
so whatever number he gave us we were always on the safe side. Well,
then Carlton calls, “60 seconds,” and the crew’s
not still on the surface of the Moon. We have 60 seconds before we’re
either going to land or we’re going to abort. And Charlie Duke
at this time says, “We’d better be pretty quiet in here
right now, flight.” And this has been a mutually agreed on point:
that our job is to get the crew close enough to attempt a landing.
And from then on the only calls we’re going to make is fuel
remaining. Well, we’ve just told them it’s 60 seconds.
And they’re still not down there. Between 60 and 30 seconds,
we get a call that the crew says, “Kicking up some dust.”
And about the time they say that, we get the call, “30 seconds.”
So, now we’re down to 30 seconds remaining; and we’re
all watching the clock, counting down. And about the time the clock
hits 17 seconds (and it took a few seconds for me to recognize this)
we heard, “Lunar contact.” And this is—there’s
a probe underneath each one of the feet on the LM. And when it touches
the surface, the crew actually will hit engine stop and they’ll
actually fall in the last few feet. You hear that “Lunar contact,”
and then I hear the crew going through, “ACA [Attitude Control
Assembly] out of detent.” It’s going—but it takes
seconds to recognize that they’re going through the engine shutdown.
We must be on the surface.
And then the only thing that was out of normal throughout this entire
process, that we had never seen in training, was the people behind
me in the viewing room start cheering and clapping and they’re
stomping their feet. And our instructors are over in the room to the
right of the room, again behind a glass wall, and they’re all
cheering. And you get this weird feeling. It’s chilling that
it soaks in through the room; and I get it, and say, “My God!
We’re actually on the Moon!” And I can’t even relish
that thought because I got to get back to work. Because we have to
make sure, almost instantaneously, whether the spacecraft is safe
to leave on the surface of the Moon or should we immediately lift
off? We go through what we call our T-1 stay/no-stay decisions. So
that within 60 seconds of getting on the Moon, I have to tell the
crew, “It’s safe to stay on the Moon for about the next
8 minutes.” And I don’t have any voice. I’m clanked
And about this time, Charlie Duke’s saying—we hear, “Tranquility
Base here. The Eagle’s landing,” from Armstrong. And then
Duke says, “You’ve got a bunch of us down here about ready
to turn blue.” Okay. And now I’m trying to get started
on my T-1 stay/no-stay, and I’m punched up. And this all happens
in seconds! And finally I rap my arm on the console and break my pen,
and I finally get going. Get back on track again. And in a very cracked
voice say, “Okay, all flight controllers, stand by for T-1 stay/no-stay.”
And we go through this, make the stay/no-stay decision, then we go
through a T-2 stay/no-stay. And still everybody else is celebrating
and we’re intensely focused to make sure that it’s safe
to stay here. And then we have to go into a T-3 stay/no-stay, which
is the final one after almost 2 hours, that we’re safe to be
on the Moon for an extended period of time.
In the meantime, the pressurant gas we use (the supercritical helium),
has had some—again, this is something we didn’t anticipate
from the design. We got some heat soak back from the engines, so this
tank of very cold gas is warming up very rapidly. We don’t know
whether it’s going to explode. We don’t know whether the
relief valves are going to fire. But we know we got to stay on our
toes through this whole process. And we’re in a crisis mode
down here while everybody else is still celebrating. Until finally,
we see the pressure start to decrease very rapidly. We believe the
thing is vented. The relief valves by design had done what they should’ve
done. And for the first time, we can power down.
It is only after we made our T-3 stay/no-stay that we could really—I
won’t say “pat each other on the back,” but say,
“Geez, we did it! We—today, we just landed on the Moon!”
And walking over—I walked over to the press conference with
Doug [Douglas K.] Ward. And all I really wanted to do was to get back
to Mission Control because we had made sort of a silly mission design
decision—and nobody believed it—that once we get down
on the surface we’re going to put the crew to sleep. Well, we
knew and the crew knew (and I think the world knew) that the crew
wasn’t going to go to sleep. They wanted to get out on the surface
and start the exploration. So, at the time I was doing my T-2—T-3
stay/no-stay, I had two whole flight control teams. I had Charlesworth’s
milling around in the room, and I had [Lunney’s] milling around
in the room, trying to figure out who was in charge at that point.
OFF CAMERA: And speed.
Let’s see. Where can I—
You had just landed and identified—
I’m going to go back to T-3. Okay.
We had—I had gone through the T-3 stay/no-stay. And for the
first time, we had the opportunity within the control team to just
take a deep breath and say, “My God, today we just landed on
the Moon!” And throughout this entire process, there had been
several things that just in reminiscing [stumbles over word] well,
whatever it is, okay?
A few things that I didn’t really think back on. And it was
in debriefing the controllers. They came up and they said, “You
know, that was the best speech I’d ever heard.” And I
thought back, “Gee, I just was telling the guys what I thought—”
In the Mission Control, after we had had loss of signal, just before
we were in the process of now getting ready to see the spacecraft
again and go down, the controllers—the adrenaline was incredibly
high in this room. It had built up. And I said, “Okay, all flight
controllers. Take five. Be back in the room at landing” or actually
descent. And in fact—I’m sort of screwing this up. Let
me start back over again.
The adrenaline in the control room was building up. You could feel
it; it was palpable. It was almost like a heavy fog, that it was so
real! And the controllers got a break while we—during the loss
of signal period, and when they came back into the room now, these
guys were going to be here and there were only three options: we were
either going to land, we were going to crash, or we were going to
abort. And the room goes through almost a ritual. We go through what
we call “battle short condition,” where actually we physically
block the circuit breakers in this building, because now we would
prefer to burn up the building rather than let a circuit breaker open
inadvertently at a critical time. And we lock the control room doors.
And I really didn’t realize until after the mission, when a
couple of the controllers really talked about how all of a sudden
it was really sinking in, that they were now not going to get out
of this room until we had gotten our job done. Steve Bales was probably
one of the most vocal about it of saying, “You know, you don’t
really know what you’re doing when you’ve got a 26-year-old
kid in this room and basically you’re going to write in the
history books whatever happened today. And then you lock those doors,
and I realize, I can’t leave anymore! I can’t say, ‘Hey,
I don’t want to do this job! Okay? It’s too much for me.’”
And I felt I had to talk to my people. And I called them up on the
assistant flight director loop. And this is a secret loop that we
use only for debriefings. People in the viewing room can’t hear
it. People training. It’s just tied in to the people in this
room. And we use it only when we debrief and we’ve got some
real heavy-duty talking. Somebody didn’t do the right thing,
or somebody’s got to be chewed out. So it’s very private,
And I called the controllers up on the loop, and I told them how proud
I was of this team and the job that we were chosen to do. I indicated
that I believed that from the day we were all born, we were destined
to meet in this room this day, and at this moment, and that from now
on, whatever happened, we would remember this day forever. And we
then proceeded to give just a few coaching tips and this. And I said,
“Whatever happens, I will never second-guess any of your calls.
Now let’s go—let’s go land on the Moon.” And
terminated the loop, and all of the people in the viewing room were
probably wondering what the hell we were talking about. And that’s
a blank on the tapes.
But again, Steve Bales, the guidance officer, came up, and he said
how important this settling down process was. Not only to him, but
actually to his people in the back room. And since he was such an
intense part of the job—Steve was a very interesting guy. He
was what I would say: the prototype of the nerds or the geeks that
work in the computer world today. He was the first guy working with
this data, making absolutely irreversible, time-critical decisions.
And about 4 years out of college, he had grown up in the business.
And Steve, you could feel his emotion. When we would poll the room
and go through his go/no-go’s, I didn’t need an intercom
loop. Because Steve, you could feel this “Go!” And it
In fact, there was one time, as we were actually almost to the surface,
when we did our final go/no-go, he was so “Go!” that I
actually had to—I mean, I almost chuckled, that he was so intense
in doing the job. But this is a group of young people who had signed
up to do a job. It was generally the first generation in their entire
family who had ever gone to college. Most of these people were Midwesterners.
Their work ethic was absolutely spectacular! And I had no doubt that
this team was capable of doing the job.
They were young.
Ah, they were! They were young. Their average age was 26 at this time.
I have a picture of them, and it almost looks likes some of these
kids you saw flying the bombers in World War 2, where they’d
have the—these troops outside their B-17s, their B-24s. You’re
just feeling so intensely proud of these people.
In the—after we had completed the T-3 stay/no-stay, I made one
final trip to the training area, which is right in the corner of the
room, because I wanted to thank all of our instructors for the job
they did in getting us ready. And I was concerned because the one—before
we started shift, I’d gone in and Koos wasn’t there, our
SimSup. When I went down this time, however, he was in there; and
I found out that in his haste to get into Mission Control the day
of the lunar landing, my lead trainer had rolled his car. He had fortunately
emerged unscathed; and without a second thought about the car, he
continued to get a ride in here and reported to his console in Mission
Walking over to the press conference with Doug, it was—Doug
and I talked about the fact that, not only had we landed on the Moon,
but I almost felt cheated of the emotional content of that landing
where everybody else was out celebrating. And to this day, I just
sit down there, you—in Mission Control, you have to stay so
intensely focused that, other than just a very brief cheer, sort of
a “Whoop!” from the team at the time of landing and the
realizing how close this thing was, we immediately had to get back
to work. And it was—I would’ve liked to have found some
way to get some of the feelings and the emotions of the other people.
I know Chris Kraft and Dr. [Robert R.] Gilruth were behind us. And
it was just a—it was a marvelous time. It was a time of pride
within the nation. It was a time of turning young people loose, giving
them their head, seeing what they can do. And for a very short period
of time, I think we united not only our country, but the world. And
it’s marvelous what could be done by such an event. I just wish
we could recreate it, do it again today.
Perhaps at some time in the future, maybe on a mission to Mars or
something similar, there might be such a moment again. Do you think
that might ever happen?
I sure hope that my children and the youth of America can find this
kind of a dream that we were given by President Kennedy. Because it
was a dream we lived. We were so fortunate and proud to be Americans,
and living and to be challenged by such a magnificent set of goals.
I don’t think anyone ever considered themselves overworked or
underpaid. The pay was the job that we were doing. And it was a unbelievable
time. And we were privileged and proud to be born and a part of that
very violent decade, however.
Ah, but there were other missions still to be flown, Gene. And they
were tremendously important in your life as well. Let’s not
leave Apollo 11 until I’m convinced that you’ve said what
you really wanted to say about it. And then, if you have—
Well, I think the final thing: I saw Neil Armstrong. We had celebrations
and all of this kind of stuff. But, a bit about Neil Armstrong. All
through the preparation for the mission, I was absolutely amazed at
how quiet, how calm he was. We’d go through debriefings, and
generally Buzz would do most of the speaking. He would take most of
the notes. And the quiet, absolutely superbly confident assurance
that Neil had, also, was a—in retrospect was pretty inspirational
Here’s a guy who knew he was destined to do a job. And I believe
that, again, he believed that from the day he was born, this was a
job that he was singled out to do. I think every person who ever worked
with Neil had such a respect for the very quiet confidence that he
exuded; his incredibly professional demeanor. He was literally a man
for all ages within Mission Control. And I think every person today
has that same respect. Even it’s increased.
After the mission, the one time that I ever remember Neil talking,
almost with boyish glee, was: he was sitting over in a corner (I think
it was over in the conference room, I think it was 930 in Building
1), and we were just shooting the breeze. And all of a sudden he just
says, “You know, I think this says a lot for American craftsmanship,”
because in those days American craftsmanship was really in question.
Were we capable of building the high technologies that seemed to be
coming from Europe at that time? At that time, the European standards
were the ones everyone was trying to emulate. And there were questions
whether we were capable of competing in the world of the ’60s
and the ’70s; were we capable of competing for the future. And
Neil proceeded to elaborate on his feelings about the American craftsmanship
and the ability to do something so intensely complex and be successful
the first time around, that it was marvelous.
I think then, having said that, it is time to move on to Apollo12.
And I can remember Pete [Charles C.] Conrad [Jr.], since you were
talking of one great test pilot, let’s talk about another, who
said to me, “Lord, those guys landed on the Moon! What do I
do for an encore?”
Was there a similar feeling here in Mission Control?
No. I think that the—in fact, it didn’t take a second
for the Program Office to ratchet up the complexity, the objectives.
“Once you land on the Moon, what are you going to do to top
it?” “Well, I’m going to land on the Moon next to
a Surveyor satellite that was put up there a couple of years. So,
what we’re going to do is: at the time the crew is descending,
we’re going to give them a verbal guidance update they’re
going to enter into their computer, which is going to alter their
trajectory so they can land right there.” And doggoned if they
didn’t do it! I think the entire Apollo 12 mission had this—
Now for a change, I was sitting back. I was a spectator. So, it was
neat to watch other people do this thing that we had just done. And
the mission started off with a real bang. Literally. Shortly after
liftoff, the spacecraft was hit by a couple of bolts of lightning.
And the navigation system, the platform had started tumbling. The
electrical system had dropped off line. Data in Mission Control literally
made no sense. And a young controller, John [W.] Aaron, became a legend
with a call that he made. Gerry [Gerald D.] Griffin was flight director.
And Aaron, after studying his data for just a few seconds, says, “Flight,”
(Judas priest, I forget the—mental blank, okay?).
OFF CAMERA: It was something to auxiliary.
Yeah. SCE to aux. SCE to aux. John Aaron with just a few seconds of
reflection calls up Gerry Griffin and says, “Flight, have the
crew take SCE to aux—SCE to aux.” Well, this was a recommendation
no flight director had ever heard. No crew had ever heard. No Capcom
had ever heard. And Gerry stammers, “SCE to aux?” And
the Capcom says, “SCE to aux?” All with the question marks
behind them. And we voice this up to the crew. Well, Pete Conrad in
the voice tapes that we got after the mission onboard, he’s
talking to his crewmembers, Al [Alan L.] Bean, leans over and he says,
“SCE—SCE to aux, what the hell is that?” And we
repeat this statement one more [time].
Well, Al Bean—each one of the crewmembers in the spacecraft
had a portion of the command module that they were responsible for.
And down in the fourth switch in on the lower edge of the main display
panel, is this switch which is: signal conditioning equipment power
normal/auxiliary. So, he flips this thing down to auxiliary. All of
a sudden the data is restored properly in Mission Control. Now the
controllers can get back to work. Well, what we had is we had a 2-minute
window of opportunity. Because the concern at that time was, whatever
happened onboard the spacecraft may have closed the reactant valves
to the fuel cells. And if this occurs, the fuel cells will starve
from oxygen and hydrogen in about 2 minutes and you can’t restart
So, it was extremely important to get data back and figure out what
happened onboard the spacecraft real quickly. John Aaron was the—again,
one of these 26-year-olders in Mission Control. And he proceeded to
talk the crew through bringing the fuel cells back on line. And then
once they had gotten power restored normally onboard the spacecraft,
then it was a question of another controller, Buck [Briggs W.] Willoughby,
trying to establish what to do with this tumbling navigation platform.
Should they pull the circuit breakers? What should they do? But the
bottom line is: by the time that the crew got to orbit, we had restored
the majority of the spacecraft systems. And Gerry Griffin, in a very
gutsy move—and with the help of his leadership—made the
decision “Go to the Moon.”
That day I was sitting in Mission Control; and Sig [Sigurd A.] Sjoberg,
who was Kraft’s Deputy, was very concerned about the impact
on the spacecraft of this lightning strike, as was Kraft. Well, Sjoberg
went down into the trench, and he started polling each one of the
controllers down there and basically saying, “Hey, whatever
happened on the spacecraft, if you don’t have the confidence
to send it out to the Moon, I’ll support you in that decision.”
I have a picture of Chris Kraft leaning over the console, talking
to Gerry Griffin, giving him exactly the same coaching. And it was,
“We don’t have to go to the Moon today, young man.”
And this immediately relieved the political pressure to achieve the
missions, to the point where this team had only the technical issues
to work. And in the business of Mission Control, the business is spaceflight.
What you’ve got to do is you have to make your decisions based
on the technical data, and that’s this team’s job to do.
And it is up to the people that sit in the consoles, behind the flight
director, to take the political heat from whatever decision had to
be made. And this is the kind of inspired leadership that we had in
the program that was capable of stepping up to the plate and buffering
the outside world from the technical decisions these guys had to make.
I guess in part that’s because people like Kraft had the same
experiences that you had, wouldn’t you say? As a former flight
director, he knew—
I think Kraft’s name, Christopher Columbus, was entirely appropriate
for this guy because he was the pioneer in Mission Control. He launched
each one of the Mercury missions. But most important, he was the mentor,
the teacher, the tutor for this first generation of young people who
became known as Mission Controllers. He set the mold for everything
that would be done thereafter; and in particular, he set the mode
for the flight director and the flight director being able to take
any action necessary for crew safety and mission success. Chris had
been there. He had been and done that. And the beauty of the thing
was—is, even though he physically left the console, he knew
what these guys down here were doing. And he knew his job now was
to give them the confidence to make the technical decisions. And he
was going to broker whatever political fallout might occur back there.
A spectacular man!
He was the interface between top-level management and politics.
Yeah. I found that out in later years, because when Kraft moved up
to Center Director, I became the Flight Operations Director, the broker,
external interface for the Skylab and the Shuttle Program. So I had
an opportunity to feel this political heat that comes down when somebody
might want to land the Shuttle down at the Cape even though we don’t
think it should be landed at the Cape with a fuel cell down. Or we
made a call to launch when maybe all the Mission Rules weren’t
satisfied. Or we used more propellant than we should have pursuing
our mission objectives. I managed to spend some time up at [NASA]
Headquarters [Washington, DC.] explaining the control team’s
You actually walked in Kraft’s shoes in a certain—well,
getting back, however, to the fundamentals of the earlier flights,
because we’re coming up on the one that really made you famous—most
of all, even more than the lunar landing, which you bossed. Nonetheless,
Apollo 13 was the story of Gene Kranz as much as it was Jim [James
A.] Lovell [Jr.] and Fred [W.] Haise [Jr.].
Yeah. [Apollo] 13—13 was, again, a mission where the basic maturity
of this team continued to—I mean, just spread forth in almost
a magnificent fashion. We had made the decision missions earlier that
we would always have four Mission Control teams in place during the
course of a mission. And this gave us several advantages, because
quite frequently the mission events don’t fit neatly into 8-hour
shifts. So, a team might have to do what we called a “whifferdill.”
Either show up a shift early or show up a shift late. And having the
fourth team in position made that transition much easier.
But it also was designated as a crisis team; that if we had any problems
during the course of a mission, major problems, this team would try
to find some way to work itself off line and the remaining three teams
would have the—would continue to work 8-hour shifts throughout
the mission, whatever it turned out to be. My team was designated
as lead team; and we were the—we were responsible—our
principle responsibilities during the mission: we were going to be
doing the lunar orbit insertion and also we were going to do the ascent
from the Moon. And that’s what we had been trained to do. During
the course of the mission, it changed dramatically.
The launch was normal. And our crewmembers were Ken [Thomas K.] Mattingly
[II], Fred Haise (and Mattingly and Haise were the experts in the
lunar module, and they were scheduled to descend to the surface of
the Moon at Fra Mauro). Ken Mattingly was the command module pilot;
but very late in the mission sequence, he had been exposed to measles
and he was replaced by Jack [John L.] Swigert, a member of the backup
crew. We had trained with Jack—we had trained with the backup
crews during the course of preparing for a mission, so we had all
the confidence we needed in Jack. So, it was a question of getting
a few extra training runs under his belt with the Mission Controllers,
getting him tuned up again, and then getting him into the mission
The mission had been—gone very well. We had had a minor problem:
we lost an engine on the second-stage powered flight, but Mission
Control provided the crew with the new engine shutdown times. The
remaining engine—remaining engines kept working like a champ.
And they got to orbit, made the decision to inject to the Moon. The
injection went normal. Transposition, docking, extraction went by
the numbers. And as soon as that first sequence of mission events
had been accomplished, my team picked up the console; and we were
following in the shift rotation where we would now take a look over
the command service module. And we didn’t see anything of significance
in the—our first shift operation; and basically used this time
period in the mission to sort of look ahead at the mission and try
to close out any open items that might’ve been left over from
flight planning, Mission Rules, get the crew tuned up, etc. So, the
first mission went well. And then my team went into one of these whifferdills.
Basically, we had to get into the sequencing where we would now be
in the proper shift for the lunar orbit insertion. My second shift,
then, was in this new timing sequence.
I basically came in 8 hours later. And during the course of the shift,
we had the lunar module—the initial lunar module inspection
where the crew would open up the hatch. They’d go into the lunar
module, and they also had a television broadcast (sort of a TV tour)
of the lunar module. The television broadcast was concluded. And the
final—we were in the process of closing out the items in the
shift prior to hand over to Glynn Lunney’s Black Team. After
television broadcast was concluded, the wives and families had been
behind me in the viewing room, and as they left we sort of waved,
“Okay,” etc., “Adios,” and they went off.
They turned the lights out in the viewing room behind me, and the
final thing we had to do was to get the crew to sleep.
And we have a very detailed pre-sleep checklist we’d go through.
It’s about 5 pages in length. And we had gone through each one
of these checklist items very meticulously because in Mission Control,
the greatest error that always lends to a lot of levity at the post-mission
party is for some flight controller to miss something in this pre-sleep
checklist that cause us to wake up the crew. And we have a series
of awards we give out at the parties if this happens. And it’s
not all the jollies you get; you get really ridden pretty hard. So,
we were very meticulously following through this checklist. And we
were down to the final item in the checklist. We were getting ready
to close it out.
Now, earlier in the shift, we had had a anomaly—a problem with
the communications antenna, that did not seem to work properly. And
we were in the process of troubleshooting this. And we came to no
answer, and I hate to hand over incomplete problems to a next shift,
Glynn Lunney. Now the nature of the problem was—is: the antenna
would not track the Earth signal properly. Then all of a sudden after
troubleshooting for about 20 minutes—all of a sudden it started
tracking. And we could never figure out what caused this. In a similar
fashion, we had—my EECOM [Electrical, Environmental, and Communications
Systems Engineers] had a series of anomalies associated with the tank
pressures, where they had gone through some very rapid cycling in
there and the tank pressure had been reading, which is reading about
87—I mean, tank quantity had been reading about 87% at that
time also. It failed and started reading 100%.
So, we’d had a series of what we call “funnies”
that we had to close out during the course of the shift. And we were
down to the final entry, and—the cryogenics, the fuels that
we use onboard the spacecraft, are oxygen and hydrogen. It’s
a super dense, super cold liquid at launch at temperatures of –300
to –400°[F], packed in vacuum tanks. But by the time you’re
2 days into the mission, you’ve used some of these resources.
And these consumables have turned into a very thick, soupy fog or
a vapor in the tank. And like fog on Earth, it tends to stratify or
develop in layers.
So, inside the tanks, we have some fans we turn on to stir up this
mixture and make it uniform so we can measure it. Then we use some
heaters to raise the pressure for the sleep period. Well, we had asked
the crew to do this. In the meantime, the next control team was reporting
in for shift hand over, so the noise level in the room was building
up; and their flight director, Glynn Lunney (he was the leader of
the Black Team, and we used colors to identify those teams), was sitting
next to me at the console. He was reading my flight director’s
log. And we advised the crew that we wanted a cryo stir.
Jack Swigert acknowledged our request, and he looked behind him and
coming through the tunnel, from the lunar module, was Fred Haise.
Sy [Seymour A.] Liebergot at this time, who was my EECOM had the responsibilities
for the cryo systems, had now switched his attention to the current
measurements that he had (the electric current measurements). And
Swigert started the cryo stir. Liebergot saw the currents increase,
indicating the stir had started and he was now taking a look at the—computing
the time from the time started, etc., etc. All of a sudden I get a
series of calls from my controllers.
My first one is from guidance. It says, “Flight, we’ve
had a computer restart.” The second controller says, “Antenna
switch.” The third controller says, “Main bus undervolt.”
And then from the spacecraft I hear, “Hey, Houston, we’ve
had a problem.” (It was Swigert calling.) And there was a pause
for about 5 seconds. And then Lovell comes onboard to say, “Hey,
Houston, we’ve got a problem.” Within Mission Control,
literally nothing made sense in those first few seconds because the
controllers’ data had gone static briefly; and then it—when
it was restored, many of the parameters just didn’t indicate
anything that we had ever seen before. Down in the propulsion area,
my controllers all of a sudden saw a lot of jet activity. Jets were
firing. We then see Lovell—and this is all happening in seconds—we
then see Lovell take control of the spacecraft and fly into an attitude
so he can keep communicating with us.
And for about 60 seconds, literally, the calls kept—I mean,
just coming in. But they made no sense. They made no pattern, right
on down the line, until finally the training that’s given the
controllers kicked in. And very meticulously, they started making
the calls that were called—relayed up by Jack [R.] Lousma, who
was my Capcom at that time. And Lousma’s calls very gradually
started restoring some of the functions that appeared to be lost on
I’d written the time of this event. It was 55 hours, 55 minutes,
4 seconds. And I called over my communications guy and say, “Can
you see if you can take a look at your data and see if anything else
happened at the time of that event?” And he comes back and he
says, “Flight, that’s when we also saw this antenna beam
switch.” So, all of a sudden I went down sort of a false track
to thinking, “Hey, we had had a antenna problem. A glitch in
the antenna. Some kind of an electrical short circuit, similar to
the one we’d experienced earlier in that shift. And that shortly
we’d resolve the problem and be back on track to the Moon.”
In the meantime, however, most of the problems had been resolved.
And those that remain all focus on the single controller by the name
of Sy Liebergot. And Sy has the system you need to stay alive in space.
He has power. He’s got pressure. He’s got electrical.
He’s got heat. He’s got water. Basically, everything you
need to stay alive. And none of the data Sy is seeing, from his standpoint,
is believable. Very quickly it looks like we’ve lost one of
our fuel cells and possibly a second one. Cryo tank 2, oxygen tank
2, is reading zero quantity where previously it had been reading 100%
quantity. The temperatures instead of being -300 and so degrees Fahrenheit
are now at +17°[F]. I mean, that data doesn’t make sense.
Another tank is starting to decrease in pressure. So, he’s trying
to put all these pieces together in the back room.
In the meantime, a new problem is occurring because we’re now
approaching what we call a gimbal lock. And whatever happened is now
pushing the spacecraft around, and the crew’s got manual control—fighting
it—but some of the valves apparently have been shocked closed.
So, again we have to reopen the valves so the crew has the ability
to control the spacecraft attitude. And it’s tough for me to
work with the controllers because, interspersed with all the problems,
we get a call, “We’re approaching gimbal lock again,”
and then we have to interrupt the thought process. And Jack Lousma
has to voice it up to the crew. And for probably about 60 to 90 seconds,
it’s literally chaos in this place.
And then it’s amazing how this whole thing, it starts to take
focus. We still don’t have the slightest clue what’s going
on. Well, this continues in a unresolved fashion until Jack Lousma,
who’s my Capcom, comes to me and he says, “Flight, is
there anything that we can do? Is there anything that makes sense?
Is there anything they can trust?” And Lousma sort of—he’s
sort of acting as my conscience right now, because we’ve been
sort of scatter shooting in here. And I call the control team up,
and this occurs just about the time the crew is calling down. And
we realized we had—the crew says—they use terms like they’ve
had “some kind of a jolt” or “some kind of a shock.”
And all of a sudden I start—instead of listening to every crew
call and—controller call and relaying it up, I start being much
more selective in this process. Because I’m starting to get
the feeling that this isn’t a communications glitch. I’m
about 5 minutes into this problem right now. It’s something
else. We don’t understand it. So, we proceed very meticulously.
And I call the controllers up and I tell them that, “Okay, all
you guys, quit your guessing. Let’s start working this problem.”
Then I use some words that sort of surprised me after the fact. I
say, “We’ve got a good main bus A. Don’t do anything
to screw it up. And the lunar module’s attached, and we can
use that as a lifeboat if we need to. Now get me some backup people
in here and get me more computing and communications resources.”
I’d said these words, but then I immediately went back to tracking
And it took about 20 minutes and it was really frustrating, because
the situation is becoming more and more and more and more desperate.
We’re still not at the bottom. Because now it looks like this
oxygen tank is shot. The second oxygen tank (oxygen tank 1) is now
continuing to decrease. Two of our fuel cells are off line, and these
are our principal power-generation systems that we use. Liebergot
then comes to me and says, “Hey, flight, I want to shut down
fuel cells 1 and 3.” And I say, “Sy, let’s think
about this.” And he says, “No, flight, I think that’s
the only thing [that’s] going to stop the leaks.” And
then I go back to him the third time and I say, “Sy,”
and he says, “Yeah, flight, it’s time for a final option.”
And very reluctantly I agree to advise the crew that we’re going
to shut down fuel cells 1 and 3. And about this time, Kraft has come
in. And we—the crew then also realize their—they feel
very uncomfortable about shutting down these fuel cells. We go through
a dialogue that lasts several minutes with the crew until, very reluctantly,
they agree to shut these fuel cells down. And I think this is probably
the point in the mission where everybody has realized that we’ve
now moved into a survival mode because with two of the three fuel
cells shut down, we’re not going to the Moon anymore. We’re
going to just be damn lucky to get home.
And Kraft did come in. He was home showering. I had to have Lunney
give him a call. And when Chris comes in that’s probably the
only vernacular I’ve ever used that I probably never used again.
I said, “Chris, we’re in deep shit.” And I think
that sort of expressed it. And Chris went up to the console there
and plugged in. And again Kraft’s business as—what I’d
say his experience in the flight control business and as flight director,
he got back up to console. He didn’t bother bothering me. He
was letting me try to extricate myself from whatever problems were
occurring in here.
By this time, Lovell’s called down and indicating they’re
venting something. And we’ve come to the conclusion that we
had some type of an explosion onboard the spacecraft; and our job
now is to start an orderly evacuation from the command module into
the lunar module. At the same time, I’m faced with a series
of decisions that are all irreversible. At the time the explosion
occurred, we’re about 200,000 miles from Earth, about 50,000
miles from the surface of the Moon. We’re entering the phase
of the mission—we use the term “entering the lunar sphere
of influence.” And this is where the Moon’s gravity is
becoming much stronger than the Earth’s gravity. And during
this period, for a very short time, you have two abort options: one
which will take you around the front side of the Moon, and one which
will take you all the way around the Moon.
Well, Lunney has gone down to the trench (the flight dynamics area),
and he’s brought me up a list of all of the options that we’ve
got. If I would execute what we call a “direct abort”
in the next 2 hours, we could be home in about 32 hours. But we would
have to do two things: we’d have to jettison the lunar module,
which I’m thinking of using as a lifeboat, and we’d have
to use the main engine. And we still have no clue what happened onboard
the spacecraft. The other option: we’ve got to go around the
Moon; and it’s going to take about 5 days but I’ve only
got 2 days of electrical power. So, we’re now at the point of
making the decision: which path are we going to take? My gut feeling,
and that’s all I’ve got, says, “Don’t use
the main engine and don’t jettison this lunar module.”
And that’s all I’ve got is a gut feeling. And it’s
based, I don’t know—in the flight control business, the
flight director business, you develop some street smarts. And I think
every controller has felt this at one time or another. And I talked
briefly to Lunney, and he’s got the same feeling.
In the meantime, my trajectory people are scared out of their wits
that we’re going to execute this abort—direct abort, because
it’s very late in the trajectory to make this kind of a computation.
And swinging this mission around the front side of the Moon is going
to be a very risky job. In the meantime, my systems guys want to get
back home as soon as they can, because they know they’re in
deep trouble. So, it’s now decision time; and with nothing more
than the gut feeling to make the decision to swing the mission around
the Moon rather than come around in front. So, this then puts us on
the trajectory path that we got to start very rapidly coming up with
answers for. We talked briefly to the crew. “I don’t have
much time to say why we’re doing this,” and they’re
willing to follow whatever direction we’re going to give them
at this time.
In the meantime, we’ve now got the crew moving over to the lunar
module, starting the power-up process. And Glynn Lunney’s team
has finally come up to speed to the point where we can hand over to
them. Because my job now as the crisis team is to get off shift and
come up with some kind of a game plan from here on then. As soon as
Glynn hits the console, he’s immediately challenged because
our final fuel cell is now dying; and he’s got 15 minutes to
get over to the LM and get it powered up. But what is most important,
he has to transfer the navigation data from the command module computer,
which is dying, over into the lunar module computer. And this is all
pencil and paper and slide rule. In those days, we would’ve
killed for a pocket calculator; but they didn’t exist. And this
data transfer has to be absolutely perfect.
So, as Glynn’s doing that, I’m walking downstairs trying
to figure out which direction to go. And it’s obvious whatever
we come up with, it’s got to—we’re going to have
to come up with answers in hours and days what normally takes months
and years from a mission planning standpoint. We’re going to
be outside all known design and test boundaries of the spacecraft.
We’ve got to come up with the answers. Walk into this room.
My team is down there, and it’s loaded with my controllers and
their back room people. This is a data room. It’s a room that
is used only when there’s trouble, and you can sense trouble
in this room. It’s got two overhead TV monitors. It’s
got one small comm [communication] panel in there. But it’s
just filled with gray government desks, around all sides, where people
can spread out their records and start going over them.
Well, every table is filled with people spreading out records. They’re
down on the floor, kneeling down there. And in those days, it was
a very difficult job even to figure out times from records. You had
to break your time—
OFF CAMERA: Speed.
It was the Apollo 13 crisis room.
We’re in the—we’re in the data room. And the orange
telemetry records from the analog recorders we used were scattered
all over. And one of the very difficult problems that we faced was
that there was no instantaneous data retrieval in those days. It was
literally hours from the time we would request a printout of the telemetry
days—data until we would see them. So, the only records that
we had to work with were the ones that were in the recorders themselves
and a few of the hard copies. (We could take and make a copy of the
television display a controller was looking at.) So, we had these
pieces of paper. And these controllers had been watching the life’s
blood drain out of the spacecraft, and we knew there had been some
type of an explosion. But that was about all there was.
So, our job was basically to try to figure out what onboard the spacecraft
was still usable, and to come up with a game plan to get them home.
By now we had made the decision that we were going to go around the
Moon. And I made sort of a brief opening speech, because I had a lot
of new players who were starting to show up from the engineering community.
We had astronauts who were reporting right onboard. It was obvious
that the—that this team was much larger than we really needed
at this stage of the game. I needed to get focused upon the most immediate
Now throughout all of this problem as it was emerging, we kept hearing
one voice as we were going through the evacuation into the lunar module,
and that was Tom Stafford’s. And Stafford and Cernan had started
telling us about the problems that we would have in accomplishing
a alignment of our navigation system using the lunar module optics
while we’re—the spacecrafts were still docked together.
And they kept being insistent in this to the point where this became
a principle concern of myself and Lunney. So, with this background
piece of information, we’re now starting to look at, “Can
we afford to power down the spacecraft and get it to the point where
it can very easily stretch these batteries?” The game plan broke
down now into three distinct phases.
One is, come up with a set of master checklists that we would use
to get the spacecraft from where we were, around the Moon, and then
back to Earth. And I assigned one of my more trusted controllers—it
was Arnie [Arnold D.] Aldrich (he had been with us since very early
in the Mercury Program, he was in remote site engineering, he sort
of became the model for the systems engineers that we used in Mission
Control). So, Arnie was given the job to sort of be the individual
who would maintain the master set of checklists for the remainder
of the entire mission. John Aaron, a new controller (joined us in
the Gemini Program), was given the responsibility to sit on top of
all consumables, all resources available on both spacecrafts. And
John Aaron had absolute veto authority over any checklist entry. So,
Aaron and Aldrich were almost welded at the hips with Aaron being
the guy who had the veto authority. A third one, it was obviously
needed, was some guy to figure out how to turn the lifeboat into a
survival vehicle. And Bill [William L.] Peters, one of my LM controllers,
got that. So basically, these were the three key individuals. And
I told these three people to look around the room; and anybody that
they didn’t think they needed for the next few hours, to send
them back to their consoles and get them out of there so we could
focus in a smaller team.
We then did a blackboard exercise that listed—very quickly listed
the majority of the issues that had to be worked and who would work
them. John Aaron, who was the power guy, came and said, “Gene,
one of the things we’ve got to do is we’ve got to get
powered down immediately.” And I said, “John, I’ll
work on this but we got to figure out new ways to navigate because
we can expect the navigation system to continue drifting. And we have
to find some way to realign it.” So, we gave Phil [Philip C.]
Shaffer the responsibility to come up with ways to use the—and
I’m sort of getting ahead of myself.
One of the things that was giving us problem was that this explosion
that occurred had set a cloud of debris around the spacecraft and
frozen particles of oxygen. And we’d normally navigate with
stars, and we couldn’t see stars anymore. All we could see was
the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon. So Phil Shaffer was given the responsibility
to come up with techniques to check our spacecraft attitudes for maneuvers
and those kind of things using only the Sun, Earth, and Moon, and
to continue to refine the techniques of aligning the navigation system
onboard the lunar module once we did have to shut it down.
I took my team off line and tried to figure out ways to cut down the
return trip time, because John Aaron said, “There’s no
way we’re going to make 5 days with the power in the lunar module.
We got to cut it down to at least 4 days, maybe 3½.”
So, we were now moving ahead. The team split up and moving in several
different directions. I had one team working power profiles. I had
another group of people that was working navigation techniques. I
had a third one that was integrating all the pieces we need. My team
picked up the responsibility to figure out a day to—a way to
cut a day off the return trip time. And we set up formal tag-in ties.
We set up working areas down in the control room proper.
And it was amazing how literally presidents of corporations would
respond to these 26-, 27-year-olders I had in charge of these teams.
But again, I think that was one of the real miracles in Mission Control
here, is that the—not only the team structure but the relationship
between program manager, designer, flight controller, crew is one
of absolute and pure trust. And once a person was given the responsibility
to do the job, everybody would snap to and support him. Once decisions
were made, you never second-guessed those decisions. This process
continued for the first 24 hours. And my team came back on console
again to execute a maneuver that goes back to Apollo 9.
During Apollo 9, we did a lot of testing of the lunar module engine
while the two spacecraft were docked together. And immediately as
soon as we recognized we had to perform a maneuver to speed up our
return journey, that’s the set of procedures we fell back to.
We updated these procedures, based on the situation at hand. My team
came back on console and executed these procedures, and increased
our velocity on return by almost 1,000 ft per second. Changed the
landing point from the Indian Ocean now to the South Pacific. Sent
the aircraft carrier Iwo Jima to the landing location. And now with
this maneuver behind us, we could power down for the first time. And
then the power level, you can explain it very simply: it was about
the equivalent of 200 W [Watt] light bulbs in your house, or about
a quarter of what today’s microwave uses. And that’s what
we had to sustain us. It was a survival level to get the crew all
the way back to Earth.
Once we started this—got into this power down process, we had
only one major management flap. Deke Slayton wanted me to get his
crew to sleep, and he was very forceful about wanting to get his crew
to sleep (as Deke can be). And I said, “No, Deke, we’re
going to keep them up and awake until we get the spacecraft in a passive
thermal control mode.” Kraft wanted to power down even more.
And I had to tell Kraft, I said, “Chris, no, we’re not
going to power down completely until, again, we get this passive thermal
control.” So, what we had to do is, we had to invent a rotisserie-type
maneuver to spin the spacecraft on its axis because the only energy
we had was the Sun. And it took quite a while to do this. The first
attempt was unsuccessful. And again we had Kraft and Slayton grousing
that they thought they had the right take on things and we could solve
this problem later. And basically, I was the guy in charge who had
to say, “Nope, that isn’t the way we’re going to
do business. We’re going to set up this PTC [passive thermal
There were emergencies, contingencies, all the way through this process
of returning to Earth. There was no such thing as a free ride in this
mission. We had to perform a couple of emergency maneuvers because
our trajectory was flattening out. We didn’t know why. We had
to correct that. The crew was suffocating. We had to invent techniques
of using the square chemical scrubbers we used for the air from the
standpoint of the command module and be able to adapt those over to
the lunar module. Finally, as we were approaching the final phase
of entry, the procedures weren’t coming together quite as nicely
as we would have liked to. The crew wanted to see how we intended
to accomplish this final sequence.
The basic problem we had was, we had a command module that was our
reentry vessel. It had the heatshield, but it had only about 2½
hours of electrical power lifetime. We had the service module, which
is where the explosion had occurred; it was virtually useless. We
had the lunar module, [which] was attached on the other end of this
stack through a small tunnel, and that was our lifeboat. We had to
come up with a game plan to move this entire stack into a attitude
where we could separate all three pieces in different trajectories
so they wouldn’t collide with each other in entry. Then the
crew had to evacuate from the lunar module lifeboat at the very last
moment, power up the command module, get its computer initialized,
separate the pieces, and get into attitude for entry. So, this is
the game plan we were coming up with. And we didn’t really get
all the pieces put together and get them verified in simulators until
about 10 hours prior to the time that we had to execute this plan.
And the crew was quite concerned that they could see the Earth continuing
to grow in the windscreen of the spacecraft, and they still didn’t
have the game plan in hand. But we kept reassuring them. This is another
time when Deke Slayton came in, because he just said, “Hey,
you guys, they’re working on a plan. They’re going to
have it. Cool down. Okay?” And Deke Slayton had just a magic
of being able to work with his crews like Kraft had the ability to
work with us. I think those were the two real pioneers of spaceflight
operations. They set the mold for everybody else that would come from
that day on.
We got the procedures up to the crew. Jack Swigert had the command
module part of the procedures. Fred Haise had the lunar module. And
about the time we were voicing up these procedures, we realized how
desperate it was onboard the spacecraft. It was in the high 30s, low
40s. The crew had the cotton coverall flight suits they had. Very
moist. Fred Haise by this time had developed a high body temperature
of about 104°F, severely dehydrated, bad urinary infection. He
had the shakes. And we had to voice the instructions up to him so
he could do the lunar module of procedures. And we kept working back
Throughout this entire process, two other guys come to mind. It’s
Ken Mattingly and Joe [Joseph P.] Kerwin. And Ken had been very instrumental
in looking at—troubleshooting all the piece parts of these procedures,
the game plans, etc. Joe Kerwin would be the—the voice of Mission
Control during the final hours. And he’s a medical doctor, and
his bedside manner with this crew was absolutely superb. He was a
mentor, a teacher, a tutor, disciplinarian, teacher. I mean, the whole
9 yards. That—at times, I almost felt he was onboard the spacecraft,
placing the crew’s hands on the switches and just keeping—and
keeping—yeah—keeping them going.
Bottom line was—is, we continued to have a lot of surprises.
We had to do an emergency maneuver. One of our three command module
batteries failed just about—or was expected to fail just about
the time the parachutes were due to come out. And at the time that
we landed, this issue was still in doubt. The final thing I remember
about this mission was its reentry period because the mood in this
room was becoming very—what I’d say, mellow. When we got
ready to jettison the lunar module, we started speaking sentimentally
to the lunar module as we were getting ready to jettison. We’d
say, “Farewell, Aquarius, we thank you. You were a hell of a
good spaceship.” And in front of the entire world, to start
talking. But you didn’t even know the world was out there at
that time, we were so focused on getting these guys back.
And finally comes time to express our feelings. And again the entire
world’s listening, and Mission Control isn’t going to
admit we’re emotional. And the rookie onboard the spacecraft,
Jack Swigert, finally comes down. And he says, “You know, all
of us up here want to thank you guys down there for the fine job you
did.” And that sort of broke the ice, and we got a few “attaboys”
from Lovell and Haise, and then we go into blackout. And blackout’s
the time period in the mission where the reentry prevents communications
to the spacecraft. And by this time in the program, we could nail
it when it starts and when it finishes to within a second. And each
controller during blackout, this is an intensely lonely period. Because
you’re left—the crew’s on their own. And they’re
left with the data that you gave them, maneuver data, attitude information,
all of these kind of things. And each controller’s going back
through everything they did during the mission and, “Was I right?”
And that’s the only question in their mind.
And there isn’t any noise in here. You hear the electronics.
You hear the hum of the air conditioning occasionally. In those days,
we used to smoke a lot. Somebody would only hear the rasp of the Zippo
lighter as somebody lights up a cigarette. And you’d drink the
final cold coffee and stale soda that’s been there. And every
eye is on the clock in the wall, counting down to zero. And when it
hits zero, I tell Kerwin to, “Okay, Joe, give them a call.”
And we didn’t hear from the crew after the first call. And we
And we called again. And we’re now a minute since we should’ve
heard from the crew. And for the first time in this mission, there
is the first little bit of doubt that’s coming into this room
that something happened and the crew didn’t make it. But in
our business, hope’s eternal, and trust in the spacecraft and
each other is eternal. So, we keep going. And every time we call the
crew, it’s “Will you please answer us?” And we were
1 minute and 27 seconds since we should’ve heard from the crew
before we finally get a call. And a downrange aircraft has heard from
the crew as they arrive for acquisition of signal. And then almost
instantaneously from the aircraft carrier, we get: “A sonic
boom, Iwo Jima. Radar contact, Iwo Jima.” And then we have the
10-by-10 television view. And you see the spacecraft under these three
red-and-white parachutes, and the intensity of this emotional release
is so great that I think every controller is silently crying. You
just hear a “Whoop!” and then you’re back down to
In Mission Control, the unfortunate thing is—I guess it’s
necessary. You can never express an emotion until well after this
mission is over. And you get this “whoop” and you’re
back in there. This—the emotion, you can hear it in the voice
of the people. You’ve got some final instructions. A lot of
voice up to the crew, and it’s—you’ve really got
to work to get them. And then these guys are in the warm air of the
South Pacific. They’re home. They’re alive. You see them
come out of the spacecraft. Iwo Jima’s circling. It’s
deploying helicopters and PJs. And in Mission Control, our job isn’t
done until we’ve handed over the responsibility to the carrier
task force commander. And it is only when that is accomplished that
we can start this internal celebration.
And our celebration always started with cigars. I don’t know
what the young controllers are going to do in—today, because
you can’t smoke in Mission Control. Somebody ought to write
a Federal regulation that maybe will change it the day that the Shuttle
teams recover their crewmembers against long odds. But anyway, you
start with the cigars. And they’ve got to be good cigars, because
nobody in Mission Control is going to speak—smoke a bummer.
And we had some darn fine cigars! There were about 700 that we had
acquired. [They] not only went to Mission Control teams, our back
rooms, program offices, it went to factories, to laboratories. Everybody
had their mission cigar to light up at the same time that we did.
Thoughtfully provided by the Cigar Institute of America.
Yeah. And it was really spectacular. But anyway, once you get the
cigars lit up, there’s all the “Attaboys!” and celebration
in Mission Control. Then you unlock the doors, because they’d
been locked. And the real heroes start pouring in at that time, because
these are the folks in the back rooms who came up with the answers
we needed when we needed them.
Final phase of every mission, final celebration, is to pass out the
American flag. And we had these flags we passed—we started this
tradition when we set our first American—as a matter of fact,
our second record, but it was really the record when we rendezvoused
two spacecrafts for the first time. And for every mission from then
on, there has been an American flag in the hands of every controller
at the time of touchdown. And this was just, for us, a spectacular
time to live. I don’t think anything or anyone will ever forget
A final comment on this is: crew parties are always, always something.
And while we were waiting for the crew to recover, the backup crews
and the Capcoms always develop some kind of a parody on what happened
during the course of a mission. And, this was a parody that was taken
off after a very short set of comments I made during the mission.
They say—when I say, “Hey, I don’t understand that,
Sy,” and then Sy says, “I think it’s an instrumentation
flight.” And then Deke Slayton says, “Hey, we’re
going to have to do something about that.” And they took these
three segments of words, and they interspersed them with (and today’s
people won’t understand) Spike Jones and his music. And we had
some gospel singing in this, and we had comments by Chris Kraft and
President Nixon. They interspersed all of these on a tape, and we
had to listen to this thing over and over and over as we drank the
beer and smoked some more cigars with this crew. But it was that kind
of a way of business. This was a honest to God brotherhood that existed
in those days that I don’t think anything, any group of people,
in peacetime has ever come together in a similar fashion.
Does that old gang ever get together today for reunions of any sort?
We have one coming up. Generally, every 5 years we get together for
some type of a reunion. I think they’re altogether in too frequent—are
too infrequent. But I think that two or three things have done a lot
to help us in this most recent years. I think that the Apollo 13 movie
has done a lot to bring back and bring some recognition to some really
great people. People who stood tall when the times were short and
odds were long. I think John [H.] Glenn’s [Jr.] flight—I
think, helped us bring together some of the real joy of living in
the work that we did. And I think that’s helped. And I believe
now that the coming celebrations for this 30th anniversary (and we’re
going to have a lot of 30th anniversaries for lunar landings as well
as various missions that, you know, we have flown here); I think that’s
bringing it back together. So, it’s good to get the folks back
Now we’ve stopped right now with Apollo 13. There were other
follow-on Apollo flights, although the Apollo Program was cut short.
Nonetheless there were others, and they were quite important. What
was your role during the 14, 15, 16, and 17 phase?
Well, it was—it changed. We were at the point of having to move
engineers over to the coming Skylab Program. So, that was one dimension.
I was having to string my teams out more and more and more, and we
literally had our feet in two programs: Apollo and Skylab. At the
same time, the flight directors had become a very valuable commodity;
because many of the people who caused the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo
Programs to come into being were now retiring. They were leaving the
So, my flight directors—Cliff Charlesworth was one of the first
to go. He moved over into the forming Earth Resources Program in there,
because we were now looking at how we could apply some of the technologies
we had to other problems on Earth. Glynn Lunney left and he picked
up the Apollo-Soyuz Program at that time, which is now this next generation
of involvement, trying to involve the Russians in the—space
as partners. So, all of a sudden I started finding myself short in
flight directors and having to bring new people onboard. So, I was
in a role as sort of a mentor, teacher, tutor, same as Kraft had done
in the early days. And at the same time, to stretch our assets (because
I had to move training people over there), we started standardizing
many of the mission phases. I would launch the Apollo 15, 16, 17 from
both the Earth as well as the Moon. And the other flight directors
that were still remaining (Gerry Griffin) would handle all of the
EVAs, surface EVA. And then we would hand over to [M.] Pete Frank,
who’d do the EVAs. Griffin would do the landing. So, basically
we were in the process now of trying to find some way to use these
diminishing resources and yet still provide the same quality, so we
kept the experience as high as we could and moved new generations
of people over to the Skylab Program.
[Apollo] 14 stands out because probably one of the most famous things
that Griffin—it’s the one I remember Griffin in. He had
a solder ball in the abort switch. And as we were getting ready to
go down to the surface of the Moon, he had recognized this indication.
One of my other controllers came up with a software patch. This patch
was improved by MIT, and we executed a software patch on this mission
that had no more than 2 hours’ shelf life. From the time that
we recognized the problem until the time we started down to the surface
of the Moon, we were executing a very complex procedure onboard the
spacecraft to patch the software, to ignore the abort switch during
the startup phase. And what we did is, we used the engine to settle
the solder ball in the back of the switch. And once it was properly
settled in the back of the switch, then we re-enabled the abort function.
So, we were doing this to the point now where this Mission Control
team literally knew no limits. They could do no wrong. There was no
problem too tough or too time-critical for them to sign up for.
Apollo 15, I remember because of the heavy penalty the crew paid due
to the intense workload down on the lunar surface, where we got Dave
Scott and Jim [James B.] Irwin basically now with our rover extending
the surface operation, extending the surface time, and basically working
against the suit. Their fingers were hemorrhaged. They were—became
dehydrated. By the time they finished their EVAs and we lifted them
off, they got into lunar orbit and Glynn Lunney was on console at
that time. And he had the darndest time trying to get the spacecraft—spacecrafts
had been rendezvoused but getting ready for the separation of two
spacecrafts. Getting the equipments transferred over into the command
module. Getting the suit integrity checks, etc.
I was sitting next to [Lunney] in the console, getting ready to take
over the shift. And it’s like the crew was having mental lapses,
blackouts, in—with the instructions we’d give them. And
then they’d—we’d clarify the instructions for the
suit integrity check, the cabin integrity check. This wouldn’t
get done. The separation maneuver didn’t get off in time. It
was like we’d lived in a time warp. And after the mission, we
found that, due to the crew’s dehydration, we ended up with
the severe potassium deficiencies as a result of the surface operations,
the fatigue. And this is one of the characteristics.
And to prevent this in future missions, we spiked John [W.] Young’s
orange juice with potassium because that was the quick fix for the
thing. We tried to find some way to back off on the timeline. But
frankly, this ended to the famous orange juice rebellion onboard the
spacecraft; and we had some problems with the thrust vector control.
Mattingly was to execute a maneuver on that mission in here, and he
came around the back side of the Moon. The maneuver didn’t get
executed. We had another quick fix we had to work up for Mission Control
to keep that mission going. So, if I remember, the missions after
13 (14, 15, 16, approaching now 17), it was a series of go-for-broke
things that we and the crew would do to keep this mission going, to
accomplish our objective. The missions becoming more and more and
more difficult. And, to put it bluntly, this was a Super Bowl-class
elite—world-class elite team in crisis management that, to put
it bluntly, was at top of their form there.
We moved into 17. And it was with a degree of melancholy. I don’t
think there’s any person alive who had worked the lunar program,
who had worked these missions, that started to say, “Hey, we’ve
been to the Moon. What do I do after this?” I was looking at
the end of my era in Mission Control as a flight director. I had to
find some way to inspire a next generation of controllers to go on
and say, “Skylab in Earth orbits, circling endlessly in there,
is equally as exciting as it was going to the Moon.” And I had
to convince us. So, it was a traumatic period. A period of great change
as a organization, as teams, and personally. And the final thing that
Gerry Griffin and I decided to do: all previous—all previous
flight directors, they were in the console one day and then the next
mission they weren’t there anymore. And Kraft had gone out that
way. Lunney had gone out that way. Charlesworth had gone out that
way. We were determined that this wasn’t going to be the way
we handed over the shift.
Bob [Robert T.] McCall, a spectacular space artist, was sitting in
front of me at the console, sketching out, during the first and second
EVAs, the crew. And he was very gifted. He’d take a look at
the pictures on—that were on the television screen and, in 60
seconds, he’d have a pencil sketch done. We went to the coffee
shop that was in Mission Control at this time. And I was interested
in the legacy, because I wanted to leave a different legacy than the
one Kraft [had left]. Kraft had established the legacy of the flight
director. I was looking at the one—the legacy in a broader sense—the
one of the team. The one of the Mission Control itself. So, I asked
Bob to design us an insignia for Mission Control, and in the—I
talked—I put my thoughts out pretty well. And I said I wanted
to talk about the commitment. It’s really the one that led to
the flight controller’s pin. You’ll see it several places
in Mission Control today.
It represents everything we learned about spaceflight, the commitment
and the teamwork of the Mercury and the Gemini Programs. The discipline,
because once we failed in Gemini 4, we got into a series of arguments
between crew and ground in how the job was to be done. It carried
over into the mission. Morale, believing so strongly in your mission,
your team, and your success that you literally cause the right things
to happen. Tough and competent came out of the Apollo fire, where
basically we weren’t tough enough. We didn’t step up to
our responsibilities. We have to remember, in the business we’re
in, we’re always accountable for what we do or what we fail
to do. Competent we can never stop learning. So basically, I sketched
out to Bob the elements that I wanted to be representative of the
emblem of Mission Control. And he agreed to go do this.
I then came back in, launched the crew off the surface, and in lunar
orbit because we were going to continue in lunar orbit for some period
of time. Both Griffin and myself handed over to the next generation
of flight directors. I handed over my responsibility to Chuck [Charles
R.] Lewis, because he had been my assistant flight director, my faithful
wingman for so long. And Griffin handed over to, I believe it was,
Phil Shaffer at that time. And we then proceeded to sit in the viewing
room for the remainder of the mission and watch our new flight directors,
now born in Apollo, carry over into the Skylab Program. So, that was
the ending of the program for us.
It wasn’t really the ending of the program for you, though,
because by now you had moved on into management. And it was the end
of your flight direction.
But all of it—on the other hand, there were still flights to
be flown and spacecraft to be worked with. You just mentioned a couple
of them: Skylab for one.
Skylab was—it was—people say I— “Gene Kranz,
you really can’t, you can’t believe what you’re
saying.” But Skylab was as exciting to me as Apollo ever was.
This was—Skylab to me was a different type of focus. Focus as
a leader and focus as a team. Where we had a—the Apollo missions
were all short (on the order of 10 days or so). And it’s one
thing to hold a team together and do all the right things, keep the
quality for 10 days, even though it’s very intense. It’s
another thing to keep this team together for the best part of a year
and to hand over not tens but literally hundreds of problems every
shift without a glitch.
To have these people respond to loss of control because a control
moment gyro that’s holding the attitude freezes up, and this
whole stacked space system starts tumbling. To recover from a massive
short in one of the power distributors that is scattering solder balls
all over the inside of the spacecraft and all kinds of problems come
up. To learn to repair and replace things in flight. To go back to
brute force mechanics to fix the space systems. So, Skylab to me was—it
started off in a tough fashion where, again, the flight control team
literally fought, took over ground command of this thing and flew
it by ground command. Used half of all its propellant that was scheduled
for a year in the first week because we were manually firing the thrusters,
manually firing the jets. We couldn’t see the Sun.
We used the most primitive, rudimentary (and I was one of the plotters
for the—the flight directors called me back into action)—I
was sitting in Mission Control every day for a year, myself and Pete
Frank. Called me into action and we would plot external skin temperatures.
And from those temperatures, we would deduce the location of the Sun
and figure out where to maneuver it so we could find the proper balance
between keeping Sun to generate power through the solar rays versus
minimum temperature to keep the inside—everything in the inside
from frying. And we flew the spacecraft using simple plots. I mean,
just that way for the time until, again, this spectacular engineering
team at Johnson and Marshall [Space Flight Center, Huntsville Alabama]
could come up with ways to replace the thermal shroud that we had
lost and try to find ways to pop one of the stuck solar arrays loose.
And then they took Pete Conrad, Paul [J.] Weitz, and Joe Kerwin and
taught them to install all this stuff on a EVA. And these were the
most wild EVAs I think that we had ever, ever done since the—since
the Gemini Program! So anyway, this was—I looked forward—Pete
and I—Pete Frank and I, who was flight director, we basically
sat 12-hour shifts in Mission Control every day for a year. And we
were absolutely delighted when a flight director would call for us
to sit down at the console and maybe take a shift. There was one time
that was really funny, anecdotal.
The—at the end of the first Skylab mission, several of the flight
directors went over to receive awards from—over at Huntsville.
And they flew them over in the NASA [airplane]. Well, obviously, you
needed a flight director on shift here. And myself and Pete Frank
carried the time frame while they were off getting their awards. And
[the] flight directors came back from the awards, took a look at what
we had done from the standpoint of flight planning, threw it all out,
and started from scratch on that thing!
The other thing that was neat, which was—and not—really
something. Chuck Lewis had been suffering from stomach problems all
through the final mission, and till finally he required emergency
surgery. So, 2 weeks prior to the end of the mission, I was recalled
back to my flight director duties and sat his shift from the time
he had the surgery until the mission was over. So basically, I had
covered the Gemini, the Apollo, and the Skylab missions as a flight
director. So, it was a—probably the longest span in history
of any of the flight directors that were doing the business.
Couldn’t keep the old warhorse off the horse, could you?
No. It’s a—once you get into the—into this business,
it’s sort of—I was a pilot. I was a fighter pilot. And
when you left the cockpit, you really realized that you had lost this
one thing in life you treasured the most. But you also recognize there’s
a thing in life called progress. You got to keep moving forward. It
was the same thing with leaving the console as a flight director.
There is no question, any flight director who’s ever left has
had the happiest times of his life on console. My job now was to continue
building the teams and to continue the championship practices, that
production of the caliber of the teams, for the Skylab, the Soyuz,
and then into the Shuttle Program. So, that became my job.
What do you remember of ASTP [Apollo-Soyuz Test Project]?
ASTP was, to me, the enigma of the entire program. I found it very
difficult to believe that, first of all, we were abandoning Skylab—a
very functional, useful space station—and we were committing
resources, a launch vehicle, and a spacecraft to go after a purely
political objective. They made a big deal about working with the Russians
and learning to rendezvous and do fly-arounds. My God! We had done
that as early as the Gemini Program. There wasn’t any technical
aspect of doing this. And I could not believe that we were giving
up an extended mission in the Skylab for a purely political set of
objectives. But again, I’ve never been a politician. So, I did
not really focus, maybe as well as I should, upon this—the broader
set of political objectives. Because there has to be many constituencies
in space. There are political. There are technical. There are, what
I would say is our “keep America working.” There is a
variety. I look at the one that’s most important, however, is
giving young people a place to go. Young people a dream to have to
hold onto and to move into the future. That, to me, is the most important
legacy of space. And if it takes a political set of objectives to
do it, so be it.
Do you see that—
We’re down to 2 minutes, so you may want to—
Well, that’s just on this load. We’ve got another load
You were not too happy with the decision, then, to end our first space
station. Even that space station, of course, introduced a whole new
philosophy, didn’t it?
Now you’re looking at the difference between a mission and a
thing that stays up there, day in and day out?
The Skylab, I believe, was probably the most productive era of space
science in the history of the program. We had four major classes of
science. We had astronomy. We put astronomers onboard the spacecraft,
outside the Earth’s atmosphere, looking at the Sun. We had marvelous
relationships with major laboratories and scientific observatories
that were interacting with the crew in real time. As a control team
when the crew wasn’t there, we would take over these instruments,
point them, so that we continued the scientific process in an unmanned
fashion with ground control.
We had medical experimentation, where we continued to learn about
man in space, continued to probe the very unknowns about how long
and how capable will man be over an extended period of time. We continued
to press the envelope from a standpoint of crew performance. We found
[out] a lot about the psychology of having a crew in space and having
the ability to communicate not only with themselves but with their
families. To develop a camaraderie between the control team and the
ground so that we feel what they feel, and vice versa.
The Earth resources, to me, was probably one of the most magnificent
set of experiments. It was probably the most time-critical activities,
other than lunar landing, that we’ve ever performed in Mission
Control because we had finite resources onboard the spacecraft and
we had to compute these passes to a second-by-second basis. Cameras
on, off. But we would look at the major hot spots. The areas of geologic
interest. The areas where the oceans seemed to be doing things we
And then we had a series of corollary experiments. We did such things
as run furnaces and try to make—everybody makes a—kidding
about making very small (what are called) microspheres. Where you’re
making ball bearings in space. But these had a reason also. We were
trying to develop manufacturing process. We had to find out what happens
when metals melt together in the zero-g environment. We had this perfect
vacuum to work in. So, I really considered the abrupt termination
of Skylab, after only three manned missions, almost heretical in fashion.
It was sort of like leaving the Moon. And to give up this very rapid
process of learning for a mission that was purely political made absolutely
no sense to me!
Do you see a relationship, however, between the fact that now the
Russians and the United States are together and their objective is
to build a space station? A modernized version, if you will, of what
Skylab once was.
I believe that the process of working together internationally is
incredibly important; but I guess I’m an America Firster, that
I believe in America for Americans. I don’t believe that we’ve
got a businesslike relationship that is going to allow us to continue
to work in space. You have to have a set of ground rules that are
operational in nature, technology in nature. You cannot set a game
plan that’s totally political in nature. It isn’t going
to make sense to the participating countries, whether it be Russia
or America. I believe the problem that we have with the International
Space Station is that nobody in America is really understands what
is going on there, why we are doing this. We have done a very poor
job of selling this program. And I believe it is going to go the way
of the lunar program. It’s going to go the way of Skylab.
But the problem is, you can’t just walk out after the mission’s
over because you have this massive device up in Earth orbit that has
to be brought down in a controlled fashion. And it’s again an—a
horrible waste of financial resources within the United States, within
Russia, within the participating countries. Fact is, is that we have
to come to a businesslike set of agreements with the Russians in the
same fashion we have with the other participating countries—Europe,
Japan, and Canada. And we have not yet established that kind of relationship.
We continue to make excuses for the financial problems they’ve
got. We continue to make excuses for the lack of deliveries. The fact
is: these were recognized in the early days of the program. The financial
problems aren’t going to go away. The technological problems
aren’t going away. But we still want Russia as a partner. But
we also have to set up the game plan that is going to work for the
next 5, 10, 15 years.
And do you think it is possible to establish such a game plan?
I believe that there is enough in space for all participants that,
yes, we can establish such a game plan. We have to move beyond what
I would say are the national—what I’d say, almost ethnic
relationships for building a relationship in space, Russians versus
Americans. We have to look into it, what is good for our nation. In
a broader sense, what is good for our industry; what is good for our
scientists. We have to move beyond the boundaries we’ve got.
But to do that, we have to have a better framework, and we don’t
One thing we do have today is the workhorse, something called Space
Shuttle. And you worked on that, and now the Shuttles have flown in
an immense number of flights, very successfully. Would you like to
talk a little about Shuttle?
I love the Shuttle. I think the Shuttle is—John Young, I think
he said, “It’s a magnificent flying machine.” I
look at the Shuttle as the last hurrah of the Mercury, Gemini, and
Apollo generation. It is the device that was founded in the principles
that George [M.] Low and Robert Gilruth established. It is—carries
forward the characteristics of very strong leadership like a Chris
Kraft, Deke Slayton, Aaron Cohen, Owen [G.] Morris. So basically,
if you take a look at how this device came into being, it is probably
the most advanced technological space system that has ever been built.
And the—very interestingly enough, it was built by a generation
of people that today just really don’t receive the recognition
that they have—or they should have for the commitment they made
to America’s, in fact the world’s space capabilities.
[I] Believe that the Shuttle was the instrument that was built by
the most gifted technologists, leaders, and managers that ever existed
within the space program. And I think this gift that they gave to
the American people, the American public—the space business—is
never fully recognized. It’s the most fundamentally reliable
system, space system that has ever been built. It is a space system
that has a broad range of missions. It’s demonstrated itself
fully capable of accomplished every one of its design objectives.
Unfortunately, it has not achieved the economies that were intended.
But to a great extent, these economies are not being achieved principally
because of political limitations that have been put on the program.
At the time of the Challenger accident, we were one of the world’s
premier launchers of satellites from the Shuttle. We had carried the
majority of the Department of Defense payloads. We had done payload
operations, carried laboratories for many of the countries in the
world as well as providing a research laboratory for people in the
United States. With the stroke of a pen, it was decided that we were
unwilling to risk human life to deploy satellites that could be as
well deployed in an unmanned fashion. We sort of lost track of our
objectives. What we were after was continuing the operation of the
premier launcher within all space systems of the world, and we were
also trying to make this launcher economically feasible. Unfortunately,
we lost sight of what our objectives were in the early phase of the
program. We basically accepted a placebo for the loss of the Challenger
crew. And I think if they were here today, they’d say we went
the wrong way.
Do you think perhaps that too much was asked of the Space Shuttle,
because it originally was conceived as something that would be all
things to all programs. And perhaps that was asking too much.
Well, I’d say yes and no. And this is—I’m not equivocating
in this. I think it literally was everything technically that we asked
it to be. It could be—it could deploy, it could retrieve, it
was a platform for EVAs, it carried laboratories, it was a launcher
for satellite systems, you name it. Anything that was asked of it
technically got done. The one thing it did not become was the economic
workhorse that we had expected it to be. And I think this was part
of this process within the nation we were using to sell programs to
Congress. You overstate their abilities.
I don’t think any operator ever looked and said, “Hey,
we’re going to launch one of these guys every week.” No
matter how good your space system is, really it wasn’t that
good. The technology wasn’t quite there. It is not the [Douglas]
DC-3 of the space program. It’s back maybe a generation earlier
than DC-3. It’s some of the early Douglas transport prototypes.
But I think you have to put this in the context of today, and in the
context of the future. I think it is essential to maintain many of
these technologies, as a nation, so that we’re capable of protecting
and providing for our own people before we start worrying about the
peoples of the world. In order to take care of the peoples of the
world, we need a strong economic base ourselves. (I think we can see
that today.) As the economies of the worlds are sinking and rising,
okay, we are the stabilizing influence. We’re providing the
funds to keep those people going.
To do this, we need a stable and robust economy ourselves. To do this,
we need to continue to develop very new and very advanced technologies.
To do this, we have to find difficult objectives to go after, because
this is the forcing function for tough technologies. I think space
is truly the last frontier for the development of very new, advanced
technologies. We’ve been living basically on the seed crop.
The technologies of the ’60s provided the digital systems of
the ’70s. The technologies that we developed in the Shuttle
and that were developed through Star Wars are the ones that we’re
using for this tremendous communications revolution that we’ve
got. So I think we have to figure out: where is the research and development
coming from that is going to allow us to stay on top of the job? I
have concerns that we’re not investing well in R&D.
You may just have answered my final question. But the final question
is really one for you because you’ve been responding wonderfully
well to everything that I’ve asked for the last few hours. But
it could just be that I haven’t asked the one question that
would elicit what Gene Kranz really wants to say. So, with that in
mind, this microphone, this camera is all yours, Gene.
I would like to—I wish that as a nation that we could set our
sights much higher. I believe it is essential to have a national purpose.
It is essential to maintain the pioneering spirit that made this country
great. It’s the spirit that got us through this past century.
It got us through world wars. It allowed us to move into a leadership
role, and it was a compassionate leadership role throughout the world.
It is a nation that allowed us to step up to the challenge of the
Cold War, and win it. It’s a challenge that took the country
to the Moon. It took us into space. It made us the preeminent force
in space. And in the process of doing this, we rekindled the pioneering
spirit of a generation of people that grew up in the Depression and
came to adulthood in the ’60s, and carried space from the ’60s
through to the early ’90s.
I would like to find some way to sufficiently challenge a new generation
of people, to get them out of the “I” mode into the “we”
mode. To make them want to do something rather than be something.
I would like to give young people the same dream that we had. I would
like to find our nation unified, the world unified, in the achievement
of a common goal. I believe that space provides this. I believe difficult
programs like Mars would provide it. But unfortunately, we do not
have the national leadership that we need. We do not have a United
States Congress that really recognized the need for this country to
continue to grow and invest in R&D. We don’t have the national
leaders capable of stepping up and taking a difficult position and
articulating why we must do something.
I’m not interested in something for Gene Kranz. I’m interested
in something for my children. I’m interested in for something
for my children’s children. Because we are the only nation in
the entire Earth that is blessed with the types of freedom that we’ve
had. That has the economic potential of a great nation composed of
so many different ethnic groups and types of people that are capable
of doing these kinds of things! So, we must continue to force leadership
to grow. And I was privileged and proud to be part of the years when
leadership flourished in this Mission Control.
There is not one flight director who ever left here who was not inspired
to do something else and to do better. And I think that is important
for us to communicate, not only to people here at Johnson (people
who are going to be looking at these tapes). But to people of the
nation, this very magnificent era that we all lived in and maybe didn’t
look closely enough and find its true meaning.
That’s a wrap.