Space Center Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Houston, Texas – 7 February 2008
Ross-Nazzal: Today is February 7, 2008.
This oral history with Mike Lounge is being conducted for the Johnson
Space Center Oral History Project in Houston, Texas. Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
is the interviewer.
I’d like to begin by asking you to tell us a little bit about
your career with the Navy before you came to NASA.
Lounge: Okay. I’ll be happy to.
I graduated from the [U.S.] Naval Academy [Annapolis, Maryland] in
1969, went immediately to what they called an immediate master’s
program. If you got selected for and got a scholarship somewhere,
the Navy let you go and spend a year or fifteen months getting a master’s
degree before you reported to your first duty station, and I got one
of those degree programs at the University of Colorado [Boulder, Colorado].
I went over there as a Navy ensign, wore an ensign uniform, I think
once, and spent fifteen months getting a master’s degree in
astrogeophysics, because then I wanted to be an astronaut and I hoped
that somewhere in the future there would be opportunity. So, to put
it in perspective, I think two days after I reported to the University
of Colorado for that program to start is when Neil [A.] Armstrong
stepped onto the Moon. So, a very exciting time. Every young ensign
in the Navy wanted to follow in his footprints, I’m sure.
So I did that. Then I went to flight training in Pensacola [Florida],
went through F-4 training and flew as a radar intercept officer, is
what we called them, but the systems guy in the F-4; it’s a
two-seat fighter. Flew about 2,000 hours in the F-4 on two different
cruises, one on the East Coast, one on the West Coast, saw combat
in Vietnam, about a hundred combat missions, most of them very boring.
Were there at the end of that war when the prisoners were all released,
and then we came back to California and almost immediately did a Mediterranean
cruise, so I got to see the rest of that world.
After that, I went to the Naval Academy as an instructor, taught physics
there for two years. At that time I was looking ahead to the credentials
that I thought might be needed to compete as an astronaut candidate.
There was an opportunity to be on the staff of a Navy spy satellite,
essentially, project, and so I joined that staff and was on that staff
for two years, and it was from that job that I interviewed the first
time for the class of ’78 Shuttle astronauts. I didn’t
get hired in that class, but I got close enough to get offered a job
at the Johnson Space Center, working in Mission Operations. So I asked
the Navy if they would send me down to Houston as a naval officer,
because the Air Force, they must have had too many officers, because
they had a hundred people down at the Center then, you know, on assignment
from the Air Force. The Navy said, “No, Commander Lounge, we
have an aircraft carrier in mind for you.”
I said, “No, I think I’ll just resign, then, and go to
work for NASA.” So that’s what I did. I left the Navy
and became a NASA civil servant in 1978.
Ross-Nazzal: How did the opportunity
for that job come about? You got the phone call from—
Lounge: Well, after the interviews,
I was curious about how I did, so I got a debrief on where I stood
relative to the candidates who were selected, so I called George [W.S.]
Abbey and I said, “I’d still like to work down here.”
And he said, “Okay, I’ll call you back.” Or he said,
“I’ll have somebody call you.”
A couple days later, I got a call from either Skip [Axel M.] Larsen
or Jim [James D.] Shannon. Skip ran the section in Shuttle Payload
Operations. That was the early days of planning how a Shuttle would
carry payloads. So Skip was the section head, and I was offered a
job working for him. Jim Shannon was the branch chief—John Shannon’s
dad—and John [W.] O’Neill, division chief, all working
for Gene [Eugene F.] Kranz. In that time, both Mission Ops [Operations]
and Flight Crew Ops were combined in one directorate headed by Mr.
Ross-Nazzal: So you didn’t have
the opportunity to interview with any other offices? You were given
this one opportunity?
Lounge: You just went where George
told you to go. [laughs]
Ross-Nazzal: Did you have any sort of
indication that if you took this position that you might be selected
for a future class?
Lounge: No. There was no commitment
like that. It was obvious that there were thousands of people that
wanted a couple of jobs, and you had to do something to differentiate
yourself, so moving to Houston shows the commitment. Being more of
a known quantity because you’re working in the organization,
there’s a chance to either succeed or fail, right? So, no, there
was no promise like that. Actually, in my working for Skip Larsen,
Jerry [L.] Ross and Bonnie [J.] Dunbar and I, the three of us, made
that same move, and all three of us were selected. One other guy,
I can’t remember his name, was also a candidate then in ’78,
and he did not get selected. So a pretty high percentage of those
of us who made that commitment. It paid off.
Ross-Nazzal: What can you tell me about
working with the payloads? What stage was payload development at that
Lounge: We worked on the crew interface,
so that hadn’t been established. The contractors were proposing
the control mechanisms for the payload and how the computer system
would operate and check out the payloads. We got involved in reviewing
that, making sure that it was the way that the crew wanted to see
it. So my job in those days was, they were just doing very detailed
planning for, I think, the first payloads on STS-5, Bill [William
B.] Lenoir and Joe [Joseph P.] Allen, had [what] they called PAM,
Payload Assist Module, satellites. The PAM-D system was a McDonnell
Douglas product, and then the communications satellite went on top
of that. So working with the engineers and figuring out how that would
be operated by the crew, be checked out by the crew, and then what
all the associated simulation requirements were, training requirements.
That was the job at that time.
Before that, though, I got to work on—actually, I may be confusing
that, because that may have been one of my first jobs as an astronaut
candidate. I’m trying to think of the time frame. No, that would
have been working as an engineer.
I also got to work on the STS-1 Flight Control Team as the Payload
Officer, not a big job on STS-1, because there were essentially no
payloads. But there was an observation airplane that was going to
fly underneath the Shuttle as it came back in, crossing the coast
of California with cameras to do some imaging, and we were coordinating
that. So it wasn’t a big job.
In that same time frame, I also was assigned to the Skylab Flight
Control Team. In those days, Skylab had been put in kind of on-orbit
storage. The hope was that Space Shuttle would be finished in time
to fly to the Skylab and attach some sort of—I don’t know
whether it was to attach a rocket motor to it or use the Space Shuttle
to boost it up higher. I don’t remember what. A lot of effort
went into that in the early days, in the ’78-’79 time
frame, ’78, maybe. They probably started it before then. Then
it became clear that Shuttle was not going to launch in time, so Skylab
came down in ’79 and that ended up being about the time the
first Orbiter [Space Shuttle Columbia] showed up at the Cape [Canaveral,
Florida] about half done.
So I was on the control team that just essentially watched all the
parameters of Skylab. There wasn’t much we could do except watch
it and see how the systems behaved. So I was there standing next to
Chris [Christopher C.] Kraft when the thing splashed into, I guess,
the Indian Ocean and then pieces of it onto Australia. But that was
Ross-Nazzal: An interesting time. Did
you have any fears that Skylab was going to land anywhere where it
might injure folks? I know that there was a lot of fear in the United
Lounge: I don’t know if it was
fear. There was a lot of uncertainty. We could pretty reliably predict
what orbit it would enter on, and we could change in the attitude
of Skylab and change how much drag it had, so they were pretty sure
they could predict the Orbiter and maybe even the half orbit. So as
we got closer, it looked pretty confident that it would be somewhere
where it’s mostly ocean, so we thought it would come in short
of Australia, would have been ideal. As it is, we hit some—I
don’t know if we ever caused any damage there, but there was
some fairly big tank structures that ended up in Australia. I guess
there wasn’t a big concern, though. No.
Ross-Nazzal: Do you remember NASA getting
fined for littering? Do you remember that event?
Ross-Nazzal: Just thought I would ask.
We’ve had some recent requests about that, and there were a
lot of people who want to know why didn’t NASA pay the fine.
They were just fined in jest.
I’m curious about your time on console. You had worked in the
Navy for so long. Was this the first time that you had worked with
women? Some of the people we’ve talked to from various classes
had worked in the military for so long, that they hadn’t had
Lounge: Good question. Professionally
that’s probably true. I never thought of it. But, yes, in fact,
because in those days the Navy, women were in the Navy, but weren’t
on ships. So that’s true, yes.
Ross-Nazzal: Were there a lot of women
who were working on the Flight Control Teams at that point?
Lounge: Probably not as many as now,
but a fair number. Bonnie, of course. Michelle [A.] Brekke was one
of the first selected to be Flight Director in that time frame, or
a little after that. … Linda Ham. Short, blonde. She was in
Propulsion, a very sharp gal, obviously in those days too. …
So, not as many as now. The engineering schools weren’t putting
out as many women then as they do now, but a fair number. It wasn’t
a big issue; it was just part of the business.
Ross-Nazzal: What was it like making
that transition from the military to a civilian world?
Lounge: Again, not a big deal. NASA
felt kind of like a military organization, very strong lines of command.
At least that was our attitude, those of us who came from the military.
We viewed John [W.] Young as assistant God, and George was God, you
know. That was it. [laughs]
Ross-Nazzal: What was your schedule
like when you were working in Payload Operations and then when you
were working Flight Control?
Lounge: So we were just doing simulations.
I was hired as an astronaut and joined the corps before we flew STS-1,
so this was early simulation days, so it wasn’t extremely stressful
and difficult. Eight to five, seven-thirty to five-thirty kind of
job. Not much travel in those days.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you guys have a Skylab
Lounge: Oh, I’m sure there was,
yes. In fact, my daughter still wears a Skylab Splatdown t-shirt.
I think it’s her favorite t-shirt. She’s twenty-four,
right? I think it’s her pajamas. [laughs]
Ross-Nazzal: That’s amazing it’s
still holding up.
Lounge: It is.
Ross-Nazzal: Probably has quite a few
holes in it.
I also read that you were the lead engineer for Shuttle launched satellites.
Anything you want to say about that?
Lounge: So that was the satellites that
went on the McDonnell Douglas PAM booster. That was that job.
Ross-Nazzal: Why don’t you tell
me about applying for the 1980 class of astronauts. Had it differed
at all from the ’78 application process?
Lounge: No, essentially the same process,
just kind of update the package and send it in. So that was done in
the spring, I think, of ’80 and interviews in the June time
frame, and selection around July or August, as I recall. Interview
process was very similar. Saw a lot of the same people that I’d
seen before, or recognized the names.
So that was a very stressful time, actually. I spent a lot of time
thinking, “Well, if I don’t get selected, am going to
stay here and make supporting from the ground my career?” I’m
not sure I’d worked through all that.
Ross-Nazzal: So when you got that phone
call from George Abbey, what was that like?
Lounge: That was good. Actually, I had
some indications that I was pretty close, so it wasn’t a total
surprise, but it was a huge relief, and obviously the largest single
career-shaping event of my life, that call.
Ross-Nazzal: Were you and Bonnie and
Jerry sort of comparing, seeing if someone got a phone call?
Lounge: Our offices were within shouting
distance, so you could hear the shouts. I think everyone was there
that morning. I couldn’t tell you who got the first call. But
the party that night was at my house, of everyone that called in the
Houston area, and there were probably, I don’t know, seems like
five or six, and then a lot of the ’78 class showed up at the
party that night, so that was fun.
Ross-Nazzal: That’s great. So
why don’t you tell us about that first day as you’re walking
into the Astronaut Office and you’ve got this new class of—Dave
[David C.] Leestma said you guys called yourselves “the Needless
Nineteen.” What did the rest of the astronauts think? We hadn’t
flown the Space Shuttle yet.
Lounge: Too many, right? That was the
general attitude, was, “We don’t need these guys.”
I don’t know. It was intimidating. It was like being a freshman.
I was going to say college, but maybe even high school again, you
know, in there with all the legends. So it was intimidating, I would
say. But we got pretty busy right away, so you forgot about that.
We were close to STS-1, so we were on board by, I don’t know,
the fall sometime, October maybe, September maybe, and went through
getting checked out in T-38s. That was exciting. The basic training
classes. Waiting for your first assignment. So we got our first assignments
around Christmas, and I was assigned to be a Cape Crusader, or the
Support Team at Kennedy [Space Center, Florida]. So we had typically
half a dozen astronauts down there, about the same number of engineers
of the VITT, the Vehicle Integration Test Team, that worked out of
the Operations and Checkout Building, crew quarters building at Kennedy.
So that was my first work assignment, an exciting one, worked for
Ross-Nazzal: How closely were you working
with the crew of STS-1 on this assignment?
Lounge: Well, we were sort of their
support guys, so when they would come down for some of the training
down there, we would make sure the cabin was set up. We did a lot
of test support, so we would be in the Orbiter, on the pad or in the
OPF [Orbiter Processing Facility] before it went out to the pad in
the final checks, and then on the pad supporting all the pre-launch
testing. STS-1, I was flying with Joe Henry Engle in a weather chase
airplane, so I watched that launch from 10,000 feet overhead. Sort
of missed the sound, but it was a kind of spectacular place to watch
from. So that was exciting. So I was down there for the first three
launches, STS-1, -2, and –3.
Ross-Nazzal: How much time would you
typically spend before a mission launched down at the Cape?
Lounge: Oh, a week, probably. But it
was really a full-time job at the Cape. We would typically fly down
on a Monday night or Tuesday morning and fly back Friday.
Ross-Nazzal: Were you doing that much
further in advance of a flight?
Lounge: Well, starting probably the
first of January of ’81. Is that right? Do I have the years
right? Yes. When did we fly? We flew in April.
Ross-Nazzal: In April.
Lounge: Right. So I was there for that.
I was there for STS-2 in November. I was at White Sands [Missile Range,
White Sands, New Mexico] in Ground Recovery Team for STS-3, and Jack
[R.] Lousma landing in the gypsum dust storm. Don [Donald E.] Williams
and I were the exchange crew, so we went in and relived Jack and Gordo
[C. Gordon Fullerton] after they landed, and rode Columbia on into
where they parked it, did all those things. That was fun.
Ross-Nazzal: That sounds like fun.
Where did you guys stay when you were down at the Cape?
Lounge: Bob [Robert F.] Overmyer, who
was sort of the team lead down there, had bought a condo, three-bedroom
condo, and he would rent out rooms. That was one place. What were
some of the other places? That was the one we stayed at mostly in
my time frame.
Ross-Nazzal: Who were some of the other
people besides Overmyer who were working on this project?
Lounge: Ellison [S.] Onizuka, Bo [Karol
J.] Bobko was down there; Don Williams; “Ox” [James D.A.
van Hoften] was down there; Kathy [Kathryn D.] Sullivan. I think that
was my era.
Ross-Nazzal: How do you think your career
with the Navy helped you in this first on-the-job training assignment?
Lounge: Being familiar and comfortable
around complicated systems helps. I wasn’t intimidated by it.
Well, that’s not exactly true. The first time we went down to
the Cape on our class tour, my reaction when seeing the pad, at seeing
the Orbiter and all that is, “My God, this stuff’s too
big. It can’t possibly fly.” [laughs] I think that’s
a common reaction. I knew how big it was, but it’s different
when you actually see it and you’re walking underneath the Orbiter
and all this stuff. But having gotten over that, it was kind of fun
to be there with the hardware. Everyone enjoys hardware over simulations
Ross-Nazzal: Was there ever a point
in the astronaut corps where you were talking about, “Is this
thing ever going to fly?” You’d been in the office for
a while, the ’78 class had been selected.
Lounge: No, not so much for us, because
we came in and went to work in January, and it flew in April. Of course,
the flight rate didn’t pick up as fast as we would like, so
there was some of that later. “Don’t fall in love with
your payload.” That was the mantra, because in those days it
was the policy that the crews flew in order. Seems kind of like a
crazy policy now, in retrospect. So if something happened to the payload
that was on the flight you were assigned three months before, you
learned a new payload and a new mission, rather than slipping with
Ross-Nazzal: That’s crazy.
What impact did the delays for STS-2 have on your position out at
the Cape? There were several delays getting that mission off.
Lounge: Actually, I was pretty sick
in that time frame. I had a case of mononucleosis and missed, oh,
I don’t know, six weeks of work in that time frame. That’s
mainly what I remember.
Ross-Nazzal: STS-3, you mentioned you
were out at White Sands.
Lounge: I was.
Ross-Nazzal: Can you tell us about that
landing? Were you there for the first few days when they were talking
about landing out there?
Lounge: Yes, we were. It was pretty
clear they were going to have to land at White Sands because of the
rains in California, and either one day or two days before the landing,
we were out doing a practice convoy, so the convoy, it’s I don’t
know, ten vehicles or something like that, and there’s a dust
storm you wouldn’t believe. We were stuck out there with zero
visibility, kind of leaning over at about a 45-degree angle from the
wind, and I’m thinking, “And they’re going to land
an Orbiter here tomorrow?” [laughs] It was hard to believe.
In fact, it cleared up the next day and it was a nice clear day, although
I’m told that many years later, picking up pieces from East
Texas of Columbia, they were finding gypsum from White Sands.
Lounge: Some of that stuff got in there
and never got out. I don’t know if that’s true, but possible.
Ross-Nazzal: That’s interesting.
I know that, what was it, last year they were talking about landing
the Orbiter in New Mexico. I thought that would be a sight to see.
Ross-Nazzal: I mean, it’s beautiful
out there with the white sand.
What was it like? Were there a lot of people out there to greet the
Lounge: No, not really. It’s kind
of a hard place to get to and not designed for public viewing. I don’t
really know how many were really there, because I was inside the Orbiter
most of the time. But, no, it was kind of a remote operation.
Ross-Nazzal: Your biosheet also says
that you specialized in the Orbiter computer system.
Lounge: So my job after my stint as
a Cape Crusader was, I was the astronaut representative to the Orbiter
Software Control Board, or actually it was the Avionics Software Control
Board. So I relieved David Leestma of that job; he had it, then I
had it. I think Dale [A.] Gardner had it before him. So I guess Navy
Mission Specialists were kind of on that track. But that was a fascinating
job because I got to really understand how the Orbiter worked. It’s
a software-driven machine. So we were involved in all the discussions
about should we do this change or that change, and what’s the
risk of doing the change versus the benefit. So that was a very rewarding
job. I liked that a lot. Taught me a lot.
Ross-Nazzal: And did you work in SAIL
[Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory] or FSL [Flight Systems Laboratory]
at Downey [California]?
Lounge: SAIL more than FSL. In that
time frame I think FSL was on its way out by then. We didn’t
have much to do with that.
Ross-Nazzal: And were there other astronauts
assigned to this task while you were working assignment?
Lounge: No, that specific job of being
the representative to the Control Board was a one-person job. We had,
I don’t know, three or four assigned to SAIL, but that was a
little different job, really.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you have any other
duties before your first flight?
Lounge: I don’t think so. I think
I went from that assignment to that flight crew assignment.
Ross-Nazzal: Why don’t you tell
me about how you found out you were selected for your first flight.
Lounge: I was on vacation. I had never
taken a two-week vacation, so I pressed and pressed and got all the
work done and flew—we had a little airplane then. Flew to Colorado,
my home town, and then I came down with walking pneumonia when we
arrived and finally checked myself into the hospital and was there
for a week. I think that’s when I got the call.
Ross-Nazzal: Not such great circumstances,
Lounge: Yes, yes.
Ross-Nazzal: So you were obviously pretty
happy, though, that had been selected.
Lounge: That was great. Didn’t
see that coming. To be on Joe Henry Engle’s crew, which was
great, Dick [Richard O.] Covey as the pilot, and a great crew besides
Ross-Nazzal: Can you talk a little bit
about the crew relationship? You had worked with Joe Engle.
Lounge: Worked with Joe at the Cape.
Ox a little bit at the Cape, Ox van Hoften. Bill [William F.] Fisher
was in my class. Hadn’t worked with him before, but knew him
well. And me. So, very, I guess by some standards, a small crew and
obviously stale, pale, and male. But we had a great time. The training
was fun for that mission. It was great mission. Turned out to be greater
than we had originally planned. I don’t remember our original
payload. Our original payload was a TDRS [Tracking and Data Relay
Satellite], must have been, because I remember going to Seattle [Washington]
for a technical meeting, and there was another crew that also had
a very similar payload, and Rick [Frederick H.] Hauck was commander
of that. We had a race to get to Seattle from Houston, and we beat
them. That was a big deal. We thought about taking off the travel
pod on the T-38 to see if we could go faster and do without our clothes,
because winning was important. I think we finally decided we didn’t
need to do that, but we were prepared to drop our travel pods in El
Paso [Texas] so we could make it one leg from El Paso to Seattle.
Instead, we had to do El Paso to Las Vegas [Nevada] to Seattle. [laughs]
That was great.
Ross-Nazzal: Now I understand from Dick
Covey and from Ox van Hoften that you basically came up with this
plan to go save an ailing satellite, you and Ox, when you were working
in the Reserves. Can you tell me your recollection of that?
Lounge: Yes. Well, Ox and I were in
the Air National Guard at Ellington [Field, Houston, Texas], and we
were on alert, I think the same night. You would go out there and
do alert duty, defending the soft underbelly of the United States,
right, with these ancient F-4 airplanes. I don’t know what we’d
have done. But it paid pretty well.
So we were on alert together that night, and this is the same day
that the—I don’t know, or within days of the problem on—who
was commanding that mission? It was the one [U.S. Senator] Jake Garn
was on, [STS 51-D], so this would have been spring of ’85. When
it became clear that satellite was okay, it was just a matter of a
switch that powered the computer had failed, and the technical guys
thought they could design a way around that failed switch. The problem
was, what do you do with that? So we, essentially on the back of an
envelope, said, well, what’s the mass properties of this thing?
Could it be handled by some sort of handling device by hand? It’s
a reasonable task to do. Attached to the robot arm and then if we
had to push it away, what kind of forces would we have to push on
it to make it stable, and is that a reasonable thing to do? So we
calculated a twenty- or thirty-pound push would be enough. Eventually
they did computer simulations and said, well, it’s 27.36 pounds.
Okay. But, no, it was kind of the feasibility thing.
So we went back to Joe and said, “Yes, we could do this,”
and Joe really pushed it through Center management and up to [NASA]
Headquarters [Washington, DC], “This is something we could really
do.” The key to the success of that mission and being able to
do that was NASA was so busy flying Shuttle missions that year that
nobody was paying attention. If we’d had more attention, there’d
have been a hundred people telling us why it wouldn’t work and
it’s too much risk. But fortunately, we flew, what, ten missions
that year, I think more missions than any other year. There was a
twelve-month period we flew ten missions; we were one of those. That
was the key. So that was great fun, just figuring all that out and
training for it and then going to do it.
Ross-Nazzal: Were you surprised that
you were able to—I don’t want to say “hoodwink,”
but that you were able to achieve this plan that you and Ox had come
up with on the back of an envelope?
No, I was naïve then. I didn’t know how hard the bureaucracy
was. Today it would just astonish me that that would happen. But,
no. Actually, we had a pretty narrow view of how NASA worked, I think,
as crewmen back then. I didn’t appreciate the big contractor
team that was necessary to make all this work. I knew who built what,
of course, but we really didn’t have the—today the Internet
and Space News and just the whole culture is one of much
more data sharing, and you know what’s going on, you know what
the problems are. Back then, you didn’t know what the problems
were until they bubbled up to kind of the flight-readiness level,
maybe a little bit before, but I think that’s different today.
And I wish we’d had a little more knowledge back then, or maybe
not. Maybe we would have worried a lot more than we did.
Ross-Nazzal: How did doing things sort
of on the fly impact the training for this mission?
Lounge: A lot of the things we couldn’t
train, especially that kind of mission. Actually, that made training
more fun, because there was less rote learning. You had to train for
skills and not for tasks, because you weren’t sure how it would
Ross-Nazzal: Did your crew come up with
any sort of tools to see that the mission would succeed?
Lounge: We built special handling tools
and we were involved in the design of those, and they built them all
on site in Building 9. So, a handling bar that was attached to the
satellite. The satellite was the size of a Cadillac Escalade, probably.
Ross-Nazzal: That’s pretty big.
Lounge: Weighed about—well, maybe
even heavier, probably heavier. Weighed about, I don’t know,
ten thousand pounds, five tons, something like that. It’s pretty
big. So we designed a bar that would be attached. I guess that was
the main mechanism. There was a grapple fixture that Ox had to connect
so I could grab it with the arm. Then there was essentially a computer
package that was bolted on—I don’t know how we attached
it—that was essentially the way we bypassed the failed circuitry
inside. There was a radio receiver that was put down by the rocket
motor to ignite the rocket motor after we were safely away. They did
that by ground command. So those were some of the pieces that we had
to deal with.
Ross-Nazzal: The launch of this mission
was scrubbed a few times.
Lounge: Three. Two. Well, scrubbed twice.
We flew the third time.
Ross-Nazzal: What did you guys do to
pass the time?
Lounge: Went to the beach house, I think,
swam. So that’s frustrating when you climb in an Orbiter and
you don’t go. So you never want to ask the crews, “Is
the weather okay?” That would be the wrong people to ask. Because
they asked Engle on the day we did launch. So it’s raining all
day long—we’re launching at, what, seven in the morning—all
night long, and there’s this little clearing that comes right
over the pad just about the time we’re supposed to launch. Going
out there, we had to put slickers on to keep dry, and we thought,
“Well, this is a waste of effort. Well, we’ll just go
through it.” We got on board and suddenly, well, maybe it could
happen. We think we see some stars up there. Then it starts drizzling
a little bit, and the Launch Director calls Joe and says, “How
does it look out there?” Joe says, “Well, it looks fine.”
So we launched. So what I think happened is that clearing in these
clouds moved out over the Gulf and became Hurricane Elena, because
during our mission, Hurricane Elena essentially filled up the entire
Gulf of Mexico. So that’s the launch weather story.
Ross-Nazzal: Why don’t you tell
us about that first launch and then your first day on orbit.
Lounge: So when I’m asked what
launch is like—and I had three of them—what I describe
is the first one was like slow motion. Everything took so long. There’s
just this huge “boom!” and you kicked off the pad in this
huge cloud, and I’m sitting in the middle, but I had a pretty
good view because one of the things I did in training is we had a
pocket checklist about this size [gestures], and I had them build
me a Mylar mirror that I put on the back of the checklist, and what
I told them I needed it for was there are a bunch of switches up here
and I needed to be able to see those switches, make sure they were
properly configured, and in some malfunctions, throw a switch. But
what I really wanted it for was to look out the window, because there
was this big overhead window over my left shoulder, but when you’re
strapped in the seat, there’s no way you can look out. But if
you hold this mirror right in your lap, this great view as the Orbiter
lifts up and rolls, you’re looking through that window right
down at the pad, and this huge billow of smoke and flame, and the
pad gets smaller and smaller. So that was pretty cool.
So the launch itself is very slow, I thought. It just took forever
to get to Max Q and throttle down and throttle back up, and finally
the solids come off and you see the flash, and sure enough, the engines
get burning and the Gs come on again and you just wait for every call,
“Negative return,” “Single engine TAL [Transatlantic
Landing],” you know, “Abort to orbit.” So it seemed
like it took twenty minutes to get to MECO, main engine cutoff, and
then you’re floating there. You kind of float up into your straps
and your checklist floats up, and dust, a little bit of dust. Pretty
busy right then, because you’ve got to make sure you get through
the maneuvers to keep you in orbit. But then you get a minute and
you want to sneak a peak, and by then your stomach has floated up
to your throat. But it’s pretty cool, and then you float up,
look out the window, so you’re upside down now, probably. It’s
just too overwhelming, the first view is. “I’ve got to
get back to work. I’ll deal with that later.” And so you
go back to work, and then finally you look out at this astonishing
view of Africa by now coming by, and still busy, a lot of post-launch
cleanup to do, get out of your launch entry suits, which was no big
deal. That was before the big orange suits.
Just amazing. I remember really getting comfortable, sort of comfortable,
about the time we came past Florida again, and looking out and you
could see the contrail that we made going up an hour and a half before.
It was still kind of there, just getting dispersed.
That was still a busy day on that flight. So I had a screw-up there
that caused it to be busier than it should have been. So we’ll
talk about that. We were supposed to deploy a satellite several hours
into the mission. We had three satellites to deploy: two smaller satellites,
one for American Satellite Company that distributes U.S. Today
newspaper, one for Australia, I think, and the third one was a big
Navy communications satellite that was a twin to the one we were going
to repair. So we were supposed to do one the first day, one the second
day, one the third day, and then the fourth and fifth days were repair
days, and there was a day in between.
So one of the things they had done before in the last couple of weeks
before launch, they entered a task that said activate the camera and
look at the payload bay and the sun shield to make sure everything
was intact after launch, and we did that. I did that; that was my
job. Then I commanded the sun shield open, and I had failed to stow
the camera. If it had been Day Two instead of Day One, I’d have
been more aware of it. On Day One you’re just kind of overwhelmed
and you’re just down doing the steps, and it’s not a good
defense, but that was an example of why you don’t change things
at the last minute and why you don’t do things you haven’t
simulated, because we’d never simulated that. That was some
engineer or Program Manager said, “Wouldn’t it be nice
to add this camera task.”
So now I had a camera out of position, opened the sun shield against
the camera, and it bent the sun shield and it got hung up on the top
of the Shuttle. So that was exciting. So then we had to activate the
robot arm early and get it out and essentially use it to bang against
the sunshade, like a baby buggy, very flimsy structure with aluminum
tube frame and Mylar fabric, so not a lot to it, but it had to get
out of the way. So I maneuvered the arm. Oh, by the way, the arm isn’t
working either. The elbow joint had a problem that wouldn’t
let the automatic control system operate the arm, so I had to command
the arm single-joint mode, which means instead of some coordinated
motion, command the tip to move in a certain trajectory, you just
had to say, all right, elbow, move like this; wrist, move like this,
rotate like this. So, a little awkward and took a while, but I got
the arm down there and banged on the solar array and got it down,
and then we deployed that one. That was actually the one we were supposed
to deploy on the second day, so we got that one out of the way. Then
actually that was probably—was that “Fish’s”?
Fish was responsible for that, and I was responsible for the other
one. Anyway, we deployed both of them on the same day, five or six
hours after launch. So that was exciting, more exciting than it needed
Was that the question you asked? I don’t remember.
Ross-Nazzal: No, it’s great. All
these details are really helpful, and they were questions I planned
Ross-Nazzal: Did you experience any
sort of space adaptation syndrome?
Lounge: Yes, probably typical. The first
day you don’t feel much like eating, and you’re stuffy
and fluids shift to your head, so you get the headache and the kind
of stuffy nose, and want to move slowly and you don’t like to
see things upside down. It bothers you to see somebody sitting on
the ceiling eating, for instance. And that’s kind of first-day
experience. That flight, I actually didn’t get sick, but could
have if I’d thought about it.
The next day you feel great. It’s like a switch. It’s
really an adaptation, I think, in your brain, that the brain has to
just reconcile what it sees with what it thinks it should see. So
as soon as you [snaps fingers] flip that switch somehow, it’s
okay and it’s just fun. It’s just easy, you float around,
you push off with your little finger and you’re on the other
side. If somebody wants to sit on the ceiling, well, that’s
up to them, because that’s fine. Every man for himself.
That was typical, I think, for my other two flights as well. Second
flight, which we’ll talk about probably later, we had a spaceship
cooling problem going uphill, so it was a lot hotter, and we’re
in these launch and entry suits, these big orange pumpkin suits that
have their own cooling problems, so that added to just a lot more
discomfort on launch on my second flight, so that was worse. Actually,
I did get sick. I was down using the WCS [Waste Collection System]
twenty minutes before I deployed the TDRS satellite; that was my job.
So I just went down, did it, and came back up and finished the checklist.
It was just another task I had to do, but that was not a fun day.
That’s why it’s interesting—and I hope these space
entrepreneurs succeed, but the newest craze is selling tickets for
a suborbital ride that lasts four minutes, and they pay $200,000 for
it. The first day is just not something I’d pay for. [laughs]
Ross-Nazzal: I guess they won’t
ask you to be their spokesman. [laughs]
Lounge: No, probably not.
Ross-Nazzal: That’s funny.
Lounge: We were talking about launch.
So I described this first launch as it seemed to take forever. My
second launch was the first flight after the Challenger accident,
with Rick Hauck and crew. That flight had taken so long to finally
get ready and go through all the extra certification steps and everything,
although we didn’t have any launch delays. We only suited up
once. I think we stayed on the pad for an extra thirty minutes or
so for upper-level winds. But that launch happened very quickly. Just
everything flew by. That seemed to take four minutes. I don’t
know why, it just did.
Then my last launch, on Columbia, was just like being in a simulator.
That was a normal eight and a half minutes and things happened like
they should. It was all differences in my attitude, I think.
Ross-Nazzal: I guess you get acclimated.
Lounge: Yes. STS-26, there had been
a lot of scrutiny on that flight, you know. It was about as safe as
flying a Shuttle could be. I think we were just so anxious to get
gone, it seemed to go faster.
Ross-Nazzal: On your first flight, how
did you handle issues like sleeping arrangements and when you would
eat meals, things like that?
Lounge: The first flight, I don’t
remember having any strong meal discipline; you ate when you were
hungry, fixed your own thing. Slept where you wanted to. In fact,
if you go over to the Visitors Center and go to the mockup of the
Shuttle middeck, there’s on the wall a picture, a poster, of
one of the astronaut sleeping bags. It’s strapped up to the
wall, because that’s where they were launched. You’re
supposed to unstrap them and get them out and get in them. I just
got behind it, because I liked the feeling of that pushing me against
the wall. So if you go over there you’ll see this hand [gestures],
that’s all you see, and it’s that hand. So that’s
where I slept on that flight.
Ross-Nazzal: I’ll have to check
Lounge: Yes. It’s easy to take
naps, because you just relax and you float around, but the trouble
is you end up with your head next to the toilet or, worse, next to
the teletype. That was before e-mail, so we had this very noisy teletype
thing to get our flight plan changes, and that would wake you up if
you were too close to that.
Ross-Nazzal: I understand you guys got
to take Walkmans up and take music with you.
Lounge: We did.
Ross-Nazzal: Any special music that
you took with you?
Lounge: Well, yes, I guess you know
that I’m a big country music fan, and specifically Willie Nelson
fan. I don’t know who arranged this, can’t remember, but
we used to have wake-up music—oh, you asked the Walkman question.
So I had a nice selection of country music, a lot of Willie Nelson.
But the cool thing about that was we used to have wake-up music that
was picked out by the CapCom, the Capsule Communicator, in the Flight
Control Team, and it was kind of tuned to the crew’s interests,
so on the second or third day of that mission, the wake-up music was
Willie Nelson and the Geezinslaw Brothers singing about—and
I can’t remember the song; I’ve got it somewhere. But
it was about our mission. They had written late one night. I don’t
know what the connection was that got them to do that, but it was
done on kind of short notice and they had to get it over to Mission
Control in a hurry, so we had somebody from Mission Control go to
Hobby Airport and pick it up from the runner that they had bring it
over. This won’t mean anything to you, perhaps, but the runner
was named Earl Campbell.
Lounge: So Earl was All-American running
back and star of the Oilers in that time frame. [laughs]
Ross-Nazzal: That’s kind of cool.
Lounge: Yes, it was cool.
Ross-Nazzal: Who was your CapCom for
Lounge: [Charles] Lacy Veach. I think
Leestma. I think David. Those are the two I remember.
Ross-Nazzal: And they’re the ones
in charge of picking the music?
Lounge: Yes. I don’t know how
they got that to happen, but as a result of that, later, about a year
later, Covey and I flew over to—maybe it was a couple of years
later, we flew over to Austin [Texas] and played golf with Willie
on his golf course. That was a real treat.
All the astronauts always talk about the people that they got to meet
when they were on the crews; the president and football players and
things like that. I think Dick Covey went over to California to film
Lounge: Yes, he did on one of his Hubble
Ross-Nazzal: Just kind of interesting,
those connections that you would make as a flight crew member.
Why don’t you tell me about the EVA [Extravehicular Activity]
and the role that you played in the recovery.
Lounge: So it was two days of EVA. The
first day was rendezvousing with this satellite that had failed, stranded
in low Earth orbit. So I’m the robot arm operator and the valet,
so Bill Fisher and Jim van Hoften were the EVA crewmen. My job was
to get them prepared, make sure that their suits were all functioning
properly, get them in the airlock, and then as we approached the satellite,
I went upstairs to the flight deck and got the robot arm activated,
and then as soon as Ox got outside—Jim van Hoften—he installed
a foot platform at the end of the arm, I grabbed it. He got into that
and then I maneuvered him up high above the Orbiter as we fly toward
this satellite, and then his job was to reach out and grab it, as
we had postulated six months earlier in the guard shack out at Ellington.
So that was cool. That was surreal, really.
Everything didn’t go real smooth on that approach. I don’t
know if you’ve talked to Engle, but you’ve talked to Covey,
Ross-Nazzal: Yes, talked to—
Lounge: And Ox.
Lounge: Did you get Engle yet?
Ross-Nazzal: We did. Actually, now that
I’m thinking about it, the only person we haven’t talked
to is Fish.
Lounge: So when the Orbiter’s
flying in space, it uses these big, really massive control jets. They’re
hard to describe. The Orbiter’s too big to actually fly. They
spit out a lot of this exhaust when they fire. Coming in, one of those
exhaust plumes hit that satellite and got it tumbling, and so now
we’re flying up closer, and this thing’s tumbling, and
Joe’s instinct is to try to match it, and Covey and I both yelled
at him, “No, let Ox do it.” And so we just flew up to
it and let Ox—and I say it’s tumbling, but I don’t
mean real fast. It isn’t stable. So Ox reached out and grabbed
the—it’s really the hard points that were used to attach
it to the payload bay when it launched. Managed to grab those and
get it slowly damped out and under control. But that was pretty exciting,
seeing that thing floating around and wondering if we’d catch
One of the images I have etched in my brain is the sun is either probably
just about to go down, and there’s this satellite and there’s
Ox kind of looking at it, and Fish is on the work platform on the
payload bay rail, looking at this thing as it sort of tumbles out
there, and we’re wondering, what next? Fortunately, or unfortunately,
I don’t know, that was the days before we had continuous communication
with the ground, so half the orbit you could talk to them and half
the orbit you were out of contact, and this was all out of contact
from there out.
Ross-Nazzal: So they were surprised
when you called back and said—
Lounge: I think by the time we got the
thing captured during a loss of signal, so it was all stable, except
we had burned a lot of gas. [laughs] More than we were supposed to.
Ross-Nazzal: The rest of the EVA went
Lounge: Yes. I mean, it was slower than
probably we had simulated, because the robot arm was a single-joint
operation, so we had to be very deliberate about moving the one joint
at a time, but we worked out way through that, got it handed down
to Fisher, who installed the handling bar and then he held it while
Ox put on a grapple fixture. Dropped Ox off and went up and grabbed
the satellite, and that was really the high tense part of the mission.
Once I had it stable on the end of the arm, then it was going to be
okay. So we did about half the work that day and parked it overnight,
went out the next day and finished the job.
Ross-Nazzal: What was the feeling in
the crew cabin once the EVA had been completed, and you had finished
all of the tasks you’d set out to do?
Lounge: Wow. I mean, we were pretty
glad. Of course, it was time to get home then. There’s five
or six consecutive miracles that have to happen before you get home
safely, so we were sort of focused on those.
Ross-Nazzal: What were some of those
tasks that you focused on?
Lounge: Well, getting the cabin all
stowed is a big deal, and then just executing all the steps to slow
down, get out of orbit, get the OMS [Orbital Maneuvering System] engines
burning about three minutes. You lose about 1 percent of your velocity.
That’s enough to start lowering down and scraping on the top
of the atmosphere. Going through that entry was a spectacular thing.
Ross-Nazzal: You weren’t sitting
on the middeck. You were sitting upstairs?
Lounge: I was in the middle, upstairs,
looking out the window. Ox was right by me, looking out the window.
He probably told you that.
Ross-Nazzal: I think so, yes.
Lounge: He said, “Well, I’ll
go downstairs in time for landing.” He didn’t.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you take any photos
of landing, or you just sort of took it all in as you were going down?
Lounge: I got some photos of the plasma
wake, if you will. As we come ripping through the atmosphere at Mach
25, it just shatters the atoms and makes this bright orange plasma
trail. You can actually see it from the ground. It’s like an
orange glow-in-the-dark kind of chalk drawn across the dark sky that
you could see on a nice clear night. So that is just an awesome fireworks
show. I got a couple shots of that out the window before we got down
Ross-Nazzal: Once you finally were on
Earth, and you opened up the crew cabin and stepped outside, what
are your recollections?
Lounge: Well, before that, you know,
it takes a while for them to get the access ladder up there and the
technicians up there, and we’re anxious to get out, so we’ve
got all our stuff off. I’ll never forget the technician’s
face when he cracked the hatch and the air equalizes, and then the
look on his face, made me realize what a stinky place it must have
been, because we didn’t know. Our noses had plugged up nine
days before. That was a priceless look. [laughs]
You’re a little tentative on your feet at first, and you have
to take the corners very carefully. Kind of like going up, it takes
about a day to get adjusted. By twenty-four hours after landing, it
feels like you never came home.
But that first coming into the atmosphere where the wings start holding
up the vehicle, so you start feeling weight and your head starts to
fall down on your chest, it takes an effort to keep your head up,
and your checklist doesn’t stay where it belongs, it kind of
sinks down into your lap, and you think, “This feels awful,
this gravity stuff. Am I going to feel this crappy for the rest of
my life?” [laughs]
And you roll to a stop, and it’s time, you’ve done the
post-landing clean-up things and it’s time to stand up, and
the first time you try, you can’t do it. It’s not that
you’ve lost strength; it’s just you forgot how hard you
have to try. So you really have to try to stand up and then you can.
Ross-Nazzal: Was your whole family there
to meet you?
Lounge: Yes, for that one. My kids were
pretty little then. Kenneth was four and Kathy was not two yet, barely.
Almost two. No, one and a half. One and a half.
Ross-Nazzal: Were you ready to go right
back up? Some of the folks we’ve talked to said they were ready
to go the next day.
Lounge: Oh yes. I had a flight assignment
before I landed. A month before we flew or something like that, we
got assigned to the Ulysses Centaur flight, which would have flown
in May of ’86 on Challenger. So when we saw Challenger explode
in January 28th—before that lifted off, I remember thinking,
“Well, [Frances R.] Scobee, take care of that spaceship, because
we need it in a couple of months.” So we would have been on
the next flight of Challenger.
Ross-Nazzal: Any concerns?
Lounge: Well, we weren’t then,
but, yes, I guess we should have been.
Ross-Nazzal: I think I read someplace
that your wife was working at the Johnson Space Center.
Lounge: She was. She was a flight controller.
Ross-Nazzal: Did she have any concerns
about you flying on board the Space Shuttle?
Lounge: Probably. I don’t know.
But she was part of the team, so it was her mission as well as mine.
Ross-Nazzal: Tell us about your public
relation tours after you came back from your first mission.
Lounge: Well, the most fun one was I
went to my little hometown in eastern Colorado and they had Mike Lounge
Day, and they had a parade. There were about a hundred floats in the
parade. There were more people in the parade than there were in the
town. I think they had to take turns watching the parade and being
in the parade. That was pretty cool.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you get the key to
the city and all that stuff?
Lounge: Oh yes. A street named after
me. There are not a lot of streets, but—.
Ross-Nazzal: How big is the city?
Lounge: Oh, I don’t know. Three
thousand people, maybe.
Ross-Nazzal: Sounds fun.
Lounge: It was fun.
Ross-Nazzal: You had mentioned that
you were assigned to another mission before you flew, which was [STS]
61-F, which was the Centaur mission.
Ross-Nazzal: Was there any discussion
amongst the crew that perhaps NASA was putting you at risk, since
you were going to be flying a liquid rocket?
Lounge: Oh, we were very worried about
it. We were involved in all the design reviews, the safety reviews,
developing procedures for getting rid of that stage if we had a problem
during launch. So that was a big concern, yes.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you ever approach John
Young or George Abbey or Rick Hauck at that point?
Lounge: No, we assumed we could solve
all these problems. We were still basically bulletproof. Until Challenger,
we just thought we were bulletproof and the things would always work,
some details to work out, but I guess that was my attitude, anyway.
It was a challenging mission, it was a privilege to be assigned to
it, important mission, I thought, so, we just had to work it out,
was our attitude.
Ross-Nazzal: How closely were you working
with the folks out at Lewis Research Center [Cleveland, Ohio] and
the other contractors?
Lounge: Very close. Very close. In fact,
they probably blamed us for getting that mission canceled, but we
really weren’t aggressive about that. We expressed some concerns
about adequacy of the software or making sure we had the right procedures,
but we thought it would work.
Ross-Nazzal: Were you surprised when
[James C.] Fletcher finally decided to cancel the Shuttle’s
Lounge: After the accident?
Lounge: No. After the accident, it was
a different environment, different willingness to take risks, different—because
another accident would have killed the program forever. So, no, I
Ross-Nazzal: Did you have any involvement
with the crew of STS-41 that eventually ended up flying the Ulysses
Lounge: No. No, by then I was off working
station design, I think, Station Freedom.
Ross-Nazzal: Where were you when you
heard about the Challenger accident?
Lounge: I don’t remember if it
was a training class. It was a flight procedures review, reviewing
the Centaur abort procedures that we might have to exercise in May,
when we flew that mission on Challenger. So we stopped the meeting
to watch on the monitor in the room, watched the launch.
Ross-Nazzal: And what did you do immediately
after you saw that the crew had been lost and the Challenger as well?
Lounge: So it was obvious when the thing
blew apart. Nobody said a word. I think we all just filed out. My
wife was due to fly in from a trip she’d had to California within
an hour and a half of that, so I decided to drive up to Intercontinental
[Airport, Houston, Texas] and meet her. So that’s what I did.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you have any responsibilities
in the investigation or the recovery?
Lounge: Yes, I supported the technical
team that looked at the tank and the engines, and tried to understand
what had happened there, make sure there wasn’t any engine-related
problem. So we didn’t know at first that it was the solid rocket
booster joint, although that came out pretty quickly, so I didn’t
spend a lot of time on that task. A little bit.
Ross-Nazzal: What effect do you think
the accident had on the astronaut corps?
Lounge: Well, it got rid of a bunch
of people that were unwilling to wait around then, because it was
obvious that this was a major change in the program, that we would
never fly as much as we thought we would fly, and it would be several
years, unknown how many years before we flew again, so I think it
motivated people to leave. Ox is one, for instance, because he was
not wanting to wait around. Did people leave because they now understood
that this was a real flying business where accidents happen? I don’t
think so. Most of us came from operational backgrounds where that
Ross-Nazzal: Did you ever consider leaving
the Astronaut Office at that point?
Lounge: No. No, Rick Hauck said, “We’re
going to be all right. We’ll be fine.” He hinted that
we might fly soon or we might be on the crew that flew the return.
He went to Headquarters and was Public Affairs Associate Administrator
for Fletcher then and was very tight with Fletcher, so we just hung
Ross-Nazzal: Before you flew on STS-26,
you were working in Space Station.
Lounge: Yes, I got assigned to Space
Station, the early conceptual design, Station Freedom at that time.
Ross-Nazzal: Was that the dual-keel
design at that point?
Lounge: Well, it started with dual keel
and had a racetrack arrangement of modules. It had all kinds of silly
stuff. It had a hangar for fixing satellites. I don’t know how
we thought we’d ever lift all that up there or make it work
when we got it there, but, yes, that was that time frame.
Ross-Nazzal: And were you primarily
working crew interface as you were in the seventies with the payloads?
Lounge: Yes, yes, that’s the assignment.
Crew concerns. One of my big campaigns was windows in the staterooms.
I said, if you’re going to have staterooms, they have to have
Ross-Nazzal: What are staterooms?
Lounge: Well, it’s crew quarters,
like on a ship. So I think in the end they didn’t even have
staterooms. They got tents in the hallway. In those days we insisted
on staterooms with windows.
Ross-Nazzal: Who were some of the other
folks you were working with?
Lounge: Story Musgrave. Ron [Ronald
J.] Grabe was involved then. We set up an office to focus on it, so
I think Mike [C. Michael] Foale worked with me for a while. Those
are the ones I remember.
Ross-Nazzal: The Astronaut Office had
changed a little bit since you had come in. I think John Young had
left and Dan [Daniel C.] Brandenstein became chief.
Ross-Nazzal: Flight Crew Operations,
George Abbey wasn’t there anymore, is that correct?
Lounge: He left after Challenger.
Ross-Nazzal: What impact did that have
on the office as you stepped into more of a more management-type position?
Lounge: Things were probably a little
more straightforward, you know, how decisions were made. So I worked
for Don [Donald R.] Puddy as the Flight Operations Directorate Director.
Your basic question was how did the environment change?
Lounge: I think we were all more realistic
then. Sort of the halcyon days of “We can do anything”
and “The Shuttle will revolutionize the world,” that was
changing. We realized that with the satellite business going back
to expendable rockets, that the Shuttle had to have a mission, and
so that’s why Station became very important, so we started really
focusing on making Station a real thing so the Shuttle had something
Ross-Nazzal: That makes sense. When
did you find out officially that you were going to be on the Return
to Flight crew?
Lounge: They timed that at the one-year
anniversary of the accident. That’s when they announced it.
I think we knew it a couple weeks before.
Ross-Nazzal: What did your family think
of that decision?
Lounge: They were okay. It was fine.
You either stay in the business or you get out of it, and if you stay
in the business, it’s to fly.
Ross-Nazzal: A lot of people have told
us, and I’ve read as well, that everyone wanted to be on this
flight. Can you explain why that was the case?
Lounge: What I just said. If you’re
going to stay in the business, you stay in it to fly. So, yes, that
was a big deal to be on that flight. My story is, well, they just
picked the most qualified, best-looking crew they could find. The
reality is, Rick Hauck already had the crew, essentially four of us,
1-F, were lined up sort of in line, and they added Pinky [George
D. Nelson] to make the fifth, so that’s the real story.
Ross-Nazzal: Tell me about the crew
relationship. You guys were all veterans and you were going to be
flying this flight.
Lounge: Yes. So that was a good, hardworking
crew. We had a lot of responsibility, I think, and that was a lot
more public. The first mission, as I said, we did it because no one
noticed. We were just one of ten. Now suddenly we’re one of
one, so there was a lot more public pressure on doing things. I’ll
never forget Dan’s prayer as we go to the pad for STS-26. He
said, “We need to take time to say a brief prayer.” Said,
“God help you if you screw this up.” [laughs]
Ross-Nazzal: Thanks, boss.
There was a lot of press interest, of course, in this Return to Flight.
Lounge: There was.
Ross-Nazzal: How did the crew handle
Lounge: You just focus on it. I mean,
you don’t see that. When you’re flying, it’s just
the five of you and the CapCom. That’s all there is in the world.
I understand that there was a 48 Hours episode and you were
also featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine.
Lounge: Yes, that’s true.
Ross-Nazzal: What did you think of all
of this media attention?
Lounge: I didn’t care for it,
but part of the job, I guess. Not part of it that I sought out, enjoyed
Ross-Nazzal: Had training changed at
all since your last flight?
Lounge: Probably a lot more training
on contingency scenarios, the things that could go wrong during launch
and what to do about them, although I’ve always been a little
skeptical that that was really a “stay busy” kind of approach.
Reality is, if things really start going wrong, there’s not
much you can do.
Ross-Nazzal: Was that sort of the consensus
among the astronauts when the crew escape system was devised?
Lounge: Oh, yes. What a waste. That’s
political eyewash. And I really feel bad we didn’t stand up
and say that, because it’s an extra I don’t know how many
thousand pounds of weight in the crew cabin that takes away from the
payload-carrying capability of the Space Shuttle, and it just is no
value added. It’s value subtracted. What little you could do
in the event something went wrong, you could do less of it when you’re
burdened by these suits that do you no good. I was totally against
it and still am. They offer no value.
Interesting. Have you had a chance to read Mike Mullane’s book
[Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut]?
Lounge: Yes. Mike’s great. Mike
has a lot better memory than I do. He remembers things. I think he
also has the writer’s skill of where he can’t remember,
he makes it up. [laughs] In a creative way. My idea of the world in
the office back then was never as Machiavellian as Mike’s.
Ross-Nazzal: What did you think of his
depiction of the Return to Flight crew and his depiction of Rick Hauck,
Lounge: I’m trying to remember
what he said.
Ross-Nazzal: I haven’t read it
in a while, but I think he thought the crew was a little full of themselves,
that they got, of course, dibs on all the simulators.
Lounge: Oh yes.
Ross-Nazzal: Seemed like the Return
to Flight crew was taking up too much time [and received too much
attention for their relatively easy mission].
Lounge: He was just jealous. He was
just jealous. Although I like to claim that we did have a pretty good
parking place. In fact, Building 4 South is smack on top of my old
parking place. [laughs] So that was not bad, being prime crew for
thirty-two months. Well, not thirty-two. Thirty-two minus twelve.
Twenty months we were prime crew. So there were some perks to pay
for all that crap about being in the press and dealing with the press
and all that.
Ross-Nazzal: What was the mood like
at the Center as you were preparing for this flight?
Lounge: Just anxious to get on with
it. We’d dealt with all the issues. Truth is, we could have
launched on the next warm day. So we had to fix that problem about
three different ways. Flight rules say you can’t launch when
it’s cold, and redesigned the joints so it can’t have
a problem when it’s cold. I think they added a redundant seal,
as I recall. So anyway, I counted three fixes. So we weren’t
worried about that one anymore. It’s the one that we didn’t
know about that would get you. That’s always true. Like debris
falling down the leading edge. So I remember thinking about the leading
edge and carbon phenolic and handling it a little bit, just to understand
what it was. We never thought of it as being this extremely fragile
thing that you could knock a hole in, really. Well, I didn’t
lose any sleep about that.
Ross-Nazzal: Any concerns on that day
going out to the launch pad, other than what Dan had offered?
Lounge: No, not really. It wasn’t
real high tension. It was, “Let’s get out of here. We’re
tired of not flying.”
Ross-Nazzal: You mentioned that that
launch took about four minutes.
Lounge: Yes, just flew by. I don’t
know why. Compared to the first one, especially.
Ross-Nazzal: So, any thoughts of the
Challenger crew as you were launching?
Lounge: Well, yes. When you go through
maximum aerodynamic pressure, which is really where there’s
most stress on the vehicle—that’s where Challenger blew
up—when you fly through that area, you couldn’t help but
think about them. And we had a picture of the crew on the middeck
and did a little memorial for them.
Ross-Nazzal: I understand that Dave
[David C.] Hilmers came up with that idea.
Lounge: Yes, that was probably Dave.
Ross-Nazzal: What effect do you think
that that had on the agency, paying homage to the crew of the Challenger?
Lounge: Oh, I think it was healing.
I think it was a good step. We needed to do that.
Ross-Nazzal: Before you flew on the
flight, President [Ronald] Reagan came out to JSC.
Ross-Nazzal: Can you tell me about that
event? Any recollections?
Lounge: So we saw him then, actually,
and then we saw him in the Rose Garden after the flight. But that
was very flattering that he would come out there, and I got pictures
of he and my family and he and the kids independently, that I hope
I can find, actually because I’m not very good at keeping things.
So that was an honor. What I remember about Reagan personally is he
seemed not very animated until the cameras came on. That’s what
I remember. When the red light of the camera came on, he came on.
He was 100 percent on. Then when it was off, he was sort of off.
Ross-Nazzal: The consummate actor.
Ross-Nazzal: And you took up a jacket
for him, is that correct?
Lounge: We did. It wasn’t me personally,
but it was on the flight. In fact, we gave it to him in the Rose Garden.
Yes, I’d forgotten that.
Ross-Nazzal: What did you guys during
your free time on STS-26? You had a pretty light mission.
Lounge: Yeas, really. TDRS and a couple
of middeck experiments. Did the usual playing with the M&Ms, playing
with your food. That’s always a biggie. Looking out the window
is always a biggie. I didn’t tell you about marching. Did anybody
tell you about marching?
Ross-Nazzal: I think Dick Covey mentioned
Lounge: That was the funniest thing.
Ross-Nazzal: Tell me about it.
Lounge: Fish and I created this one
on the middeck of the first flight, when we had kind of a down time.
We had about a day or two after the EVAs, before we came home, to
just kind of settle down. So we discovered that you could do close-order
drill in weightlessness if you maneuvered your arms and legs the right
way. So we did close-order drill, right face, about face, marching
in place, and Joe came down. He was the drill sergeant. That was just
so funny. [laughs]
I also understand that’s also featured in a movie. Dick Covey
had mentioned Loaded Weapon, I think.
Naked Gun 33 1/3.
Ross-Nazzal: All right. I’ll fix
that on his transcript.
It is. It’s Naked Gun 33 1/3, and it’s about
a half a second. You really have to be ready for, but it’s there.
Ross-Nazzal: I’ll check it out,
because I couldn’t find it.
Lounge: Yes, check that one.
Ross-Nazzal: Your crew also planned
to carry out an American flag to sort of build on the patriotism of
Lounge: Yes, and it was right at the
Olympics. Yes, we did, in fact, at touchdown.
Ross-Nazzal: Do you remember there being
any sort of political outrage at carrying out the flag?
Lounge: I remember somebody saying,
well, somebody might not like it, and we said, “We don’t
care.” Did somebody not like it?
Ross-Nazzal: Rick had mentioned that
it was the ’88 election, and someone had said that George [H.W.]
Bush [and his campaign had staged the event].
Lounge: Oh. Well, you know, George Bush
had nothing to do with it. That was our idea, so we just weren’t
in tune to that kind of politics.
Ross-Nazzal: Were you surprised that
Bush was there?
Lounge: So let me tell you an interesting
story about Bush being there. I think we learned on orbit that he
would be there. So my brother had been married to this girl that lived
in California, and I had met her a couple of times, and her name was—I’m
going to think of her name in a minute. That’s embarrassing.
Ross-Nazzal: You can always add it later.
Lounge: I’ll think of it. Anyway,
this is landing day. We hadn’t landed yet, and the Secret Service
is there and my wife’s there with my kids, and somebody comes
up to her and says, “Does Mike have a sister named—,”
whatever the name was.
And she said, “Well, no. Why?”
And she said, “Well, somebody just left this package and said
it was Mike’s sister.”
So Kitty said, “No, I never heard of that.”
So they went and they blew up the package, and it turned out to be
some sort of crystal goblet that my ex-sister-in-law, who lived close
by there, had driven up and had left it for me. So the Secret Service
had blown up the package. [laughs] And I didn’t know how to
get in touch with her to thank her, to explain it to her. I didn’t
have any way to connect. My brother had lost connection with her.
So to this day I don’t know if she knows that story.
Ross-Nazzal: I’d hate to be around
with the shrapnel.
Ross-Nazzal: So what are your recollections
of the day beyond blowing up the package? Having lunch with George
and Barb [Barbara Bush].
Lounge: Yes. Well, I guess we did. I
guess we did. I went to George and Barb’s home after my last
flights, what I remember more about them, at the White House.
Ross-Nazzal: And after the flight, you
guys went back to the White House, and then you also went to Congress.
Lounge: We did. They had a special resolution
that day of our Return to Flight. I’ve got that somewhere, too.
Yes, so that was a big deal. I think the Congress was much more friendly
about the program back then.
Ross-Nazzal: Why do you think that was
Lounge: I don’t know. There were
a lot higher expectations. It was a new program then, a new thing,
not an old thing. Now it’s an old thing. People want to get
off of it.
Ross-Nazzal: After this, you guys took
some PR [Public Relations] tours to the various contractors and NASA
Lounge: Yes, I think we hit all the
relevant Centers and the big contractors.
Ross-Nazzal: How were you welcomed back
Lounge: Big. It was a big welcome. Had
a big party at the Gilruth, I remember. We wore our “Loud and
Proud” shirts, which were the Hawaiian very garish kind of multicolored.
We wore them on orbit and had one of our pictures taken with that,
surfing. We were surfing in the middeck. So that was fun, and it was
good to go around and thank people that had hung in there and got
us back to flying.
Ross-Nazzal: I’m looking at my
watch and I’m wondering, do you want to stop here and pick up
Lounge: We can press ahead. Let me make
sure I haven’t made a commitment I’ve forgotten about.
Ross-Nazzal: So after this flight you
were working as the Chief of Space Station Support Office.
Lounge: Yes, I went back to that job.
Ross-Nazzal: Had things changed much?
Lounge: There was more emphasis on it.
As I said, somewhere around in there, the Center as a whole got serious
about Station, and then there was a lot of battling—and there
still is—about JSC’s piece versus Marshall’s piece
[Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama], versus Glenn’s
piece [Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio]. So a big part of the
job was getting involved in those inter-Center politics, which I’d
never really been involved in before. So that was interesting times.
Ross-Nazzal: So you were working the
various work packages?
Lounge: Going to reviews at the work
packages, and it was clear that John [W.] Aaron was the Center Director
and very possessive about Work Package Two. That was our Center’s.
Was it John Aaron? No. Aaron Cohen was the Center Director. John Aaron
was the Work Package Two Manager. So there was always just this intense
battle about whose work package had what and who was going to be the
overall integrator of the whole thing. It ended up they had to bring
it all to Houston eventually and put it under a prime contractor.
That was actually after I left, they did that.
Ross-Nazzal: Why do you think there
was such a heated battle over Space Station and which Centers would
have what work?
Lounge: Oh, it’s all politics
and jobs and careers. You know the Center rivalry between Houston
and Marshall goes back to Apollo. They never did really get along
then. [Wernher] von Braun and Chris Kraft, the battle of the giants.
Ross-Nazzal: Were there any major changes
made to the Space Station while you were working in this position?
Lounge: It kept getting smaller and
smaller. We discarded the dual keel as being impractical. Baselined
EVA. The big concern was how many spacewalks it took, and a big concern
was there’s no way to do that many spacewalks. I think in the
end we’ve probably done more than we said was undoable, but
at that time people were very reluctant about it. When I was flying,
you didn’t do a spacewalk unless it was really a very serious
problem you were trying to fix, so I never got to do one. I got to
train as the EVA crewman on two of those three flights, but I never
got to do a real spacewalk. So that was a change. So, how long did
I do that? I did it for about a year, and then I had to get back to
training for my last flight.
Ross-Nazzal: Why don’t you tell
me about that last flight. A little different from your other missions.
Lounge: Very different. So this one
was an astronomy mission. We had telescopes out in the payload bay
and we used the Orbiter as the observatory, so twenty-four-hours-a-day
operation, two shifts. I was the Orbiter operator on one of the shifts,
with two astronomers, and Vance [D. Brand] and Guy [S.] Gardner—Vance
the Commander, Guy the PLT, the pilot. That’s interesting, isn’t
it, that we have an abbreviation that takes more syllables to say
than the word it abbreviates. I always thought that was interesting.
Those two had two astronomers with them on the other shift, and then,
of course, so eight hours of the day it’s just you, or it was
just me and the two guys, and then you had the overlap and then tried
to sleep while the other guys were working. It was a very different
kind of mission, longer, more of a routine, I would say. We did, I
don’t know, several hundred Orbiter maneuvers. We’d do
an Orbiter maneuver every forty-five minutes during the operation
of the telescopes. So my job was to run the Orbiter during that time.
Ross-Nazzal: So you actually got a chance
to fly the Orbiter.
Lounge: To the extent we actually fly
it. You tell the computer what to do and it does it. And keep all
the other systems running. Gardner and I were the main plumbers. We
had a major toilet problem, and we had to get involved in that. But
that was a fun flight.
Ross-Nazzal: Who were the two astronomers
you were working with on that flight?
Lounge: So, NASA crew Mission Specialists,
we had Bob [Robert A.R.] Parker and Jeff [Jeffrey A.] Hoffman, so
Jeff was with me, and then we had two Payload Specialists that had
helped develop the telescopes. Sam [Samuel T.] Durrance was on my
team and Ron [Ronald A.] Parise was on the other team. This was ASTRO-1.
It was actually also supposed to be the next flight after Challenger.
It would have flown in, I guess, February of ’86 if it had been—so
I like to say I flew both flights after Challenger.
Ross-Nazzal: Other than maneuvering
the Orbiter, did you have any other duties?
Lounge: Yes, fixing the toilet.
Ross-Nazzal: How much time did that
Lounge: It was messy. It was plugged
up, and we had to stow the waste from the waste tank into these plastic
bags and seal them up. It was a mess. It was stinky. It was not a
glamorous spaceflight. I don’t know, we spent half a day worrying
about that. What else did I do? There wasn’t a lot to do. We
had some medical experiments we did. That was mostly pre-flight and
Ross-Nazzal: Did you do any SAREX [Shuttle
Amateur Radio Experiment]?
Lounge: I didn’t. I think that
was on the flight. I think that was Ron Parise’s thing, actually.
He was a HAM operator.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you guys take what
folks had learned on 41-D? They also had a problem with the waste
Lounge: No. So the normal way to empty
these tanks was to dump it overboard in the vacuum of space, but to
keep that nozzle from freezing up, there was a heater that had failed,
so the nozzle was frozen shut, closed, so we couldn’t dump the
waste tank, was the issue.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you work at all with
people at Marshall or were you primarily just working as the Flight
Engineer and then [Shuttle operator]?
Lounge: So I backed up the guys that
were dealing with the instruments, but never directly at Marshall.
The simulations, we were involved with Marshall. But I didn’t
make a bunch of trips there, no.
Ross-Nazzal: Any Earth observations
Lounge: Not that flight. We weren’t
pointed at the Earth very much, which was a little unusual, because
the other flights, unless you had a reason to be at some other attitude,
your payload bay down at the Earth all the time. This one, we were
pointed at the stars, so we could be, depending on the target, any
attitude. So that was a little different.
Ross-Nazzal: You guys landed at night.
Lounge: Landed at night at Edwards [Air
Force Base, California]. That was interesting. So that entry was a
little more colorful, I think, because it was in the dark. The landing
itself was hard to see. So I hoped Vance was going to the right place.
Ross-Nazzal: Did you have in mind, when
you were up for this last mission, that this would be your last flight,
that you would be leaving NASA?
Lounge: No, not so much. I was thinking
about my career, and I had a desire to have a career in industry and
do something else, but I also wanted to help build the Space Station,
and so I said, “Well, I can’t wait forever to build the
Space Station. If it looks like it’s going to be too much longer,
I need to go ahead and try to get into industry.” As it turned
out, I had an opportunity to join a small entrepreneurial company
that was just getting started. I got a call from Chet [Chester M.]
Lee, who was an old-time NASA guy, and he was the Vice President in
SPACEHAB, and called me shortly after I got back from that flight.
Actually, the first call was before I left. He left me a message saying,
“Please call.” I returned the call after that flight and
had some dialogue in that spring. Station was having trouble, and
it looked like it was the right time, so I left the following June
after that flight.
Ross-Nazzal: And since then you’ve
gone on to work with a number of NASA contractors.
Lounge: Just SPACEHAB and Boeing, actually.
Ross-Nazzal: So what did you do for
SPACEHAB, and what are you currently doing for Boeing?
Lounge: So at SPACEHAB I was the Operations
Director for our initial missions. We flew a module research addition
to the middeck in the payload bay. It was never a primary mission;
it was always tied to other missions. So I got involved in that in
the early days of planning the mission and building the systems, so
I was making sure the systems were built correctly so the astronauts
could operate them and meet all NASA’s requirements.
After a couple of years of that, I got involved in planning for the
next series of missions which we did, which was to turn that research
module into a cargo module to support NASA missions to the Russian
Mir Station and later the International Space Station. I was involved
in those concepts and developing all the systems. So I sort of got
into systems development and program management, and that’s
what I did in my last five years at SPACEHAB, I would say.
And then came to Boeing a little over five years ago, where I’ve
done business development, which is really trying to predict where
NASA will need help, what kind of things they’ll need to carry
out their missions, and position Boeing to be able to help them and,
oh, by the way, get paid for it.
Ross-Nazzal: We have a couple of questions
that we always like to ask people.
Ross-Nazzal: What do you think was your
most challenging milestone while working for the space agency?
Lounge: Most challenging assignment?
I’m trying to make sure I got the question right.
Ross-Nazzal: What do you think was your
greatest challenge while working for the agency?
Lounge: Well, the obvious one for me
would be to say the Return to Flight mission, but from what we actually
did, there really wasn’t much to that mission. We had to fly
it successfully and, as Dan said, we couldn’t screw it up. But
in terms of difficulty or complexity, it was really simpler than my
first mission or my last mission. The first mission is always personally
the big milestone. After that, it’s always, “What am I
going to do to follow that one?” And my first mission was just
incredible, with, you know, the ability to contribute personally,
as we’ve described. That was the most rewarding part of our
job at NASA. If not the most important milestone, certainly the most
rewarding, because we really had an influence on the mission design.
So I don’t know if that’s an answer that fills the square,
but it’s some kind of answer.
Ross-Nazzal: Would you also say that
that’s your most significant accomplishment?
Lounge: In the years I worked for NASA?
Yes, probably. Probably.
Ross-Nazzal: Do you think there’s
anything we haven’t talked about that you wanted to talk about
today or you think we should talk about, any lessons learned that
you want to pass on, or any anecdotes you want to share?
Lounge: No, maybe I’ve captured
just how different it was in those early years of Shuttle, and I guess
it would be before Challenger, when we were going to fly once a month
at least. That was going to be routine, and we were going to revolutionize
space and discover these amazing things, and we still will, but we
were just naïve, thinking it was going to happen the next year,
and not the next decade or the next generation. So there was a lot
of naiveté, and maybe it was just us or maybe it was just me,
but that was the big change. I don’t know if you’ve heard
that from others. It’s a little sad that that had to happen,
but that’s just maturing the industry, I guess.
I thank you for your time today, and I’m glad we were finally
able to meet.
[End of interview]
to JSC Oral History Website