NASA Headquarters Oral
Edited Oral History Transcript
Edward C. "Pete"
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Arlington, Virginia – 29 May 2009
Today is May 29, 2009. This oral history interview is being conducted
with Edward C. “Pete” Aldridge, Jr. in Arlington, Virginia,
for the NASA Oral History Project. Interviewer is Rebecca Wright,
with Sandra Johnson. Mr. Aldridge has spent more than 40 years in
positions relating to fields of aerospace, both in the public sector
and private industry. We thank you so much for sitting down with us
today and being a part of this project. We’d like for you to
please start by sharing with us how you first became interested in
the field of aerospace, and how this led to your work related to the
Department of Defense.
My earliest recollection of my interest in aviation and mechanical
things seemed to be about maybe around six years old. I loved to build
model airplanes. From that point, I was always interested in airplanes.
I could pick out every airplane that was ever built, so from that
early age, I just had this interest. It so happened my father had
a pilot’s license. Right after the war, the Second World War,
he actually bought a used trainer from the government surplus and
modified it and restored it. It was an AT-6 trainer. They called it
the AT-6 Texan at the time.
I was about ten years old. My father took me up in the airplane. The
airplane had a tandem seat, a pilot in the front, then the passenger
in the back. I was so small at that time, I couldn’t see over
the edge of the cockpit, so he put me on a telephone book and sat
me in the back seat, strapped me in, and I could see over the top
of the canopy. That right there, my interest in flying just was accelerated,
from age ten.
At age 15, I decided I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, and
as so happened, I wanted to go to Texas A&M [University, College
Station, Texas] because they had one of the better aeronautical engineering
schools in the area. I think it’s rare for high school students
to know exactly what they want to do and where they want to go to
school at age 15, but I set on that path, and I did it. I went through
it, and I got my bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering
from Texas A&M, and I got selected to go to graduate school at
Georgia Tech [Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia],
and I got my master’s in aeronautical engineering at Georgia
Then right after that, I entered into the aerospace industry at Douglas
Aircraft Company in California. That started my career in the aerospace
business. Through a series of promotions, I got transferred to Washington
in 1965. In 1967, Douglas Aircraft Company got into deep financial
trouble and was directed to merge with another aerospace company,
and they merged with McDonnell. So McDonnell Douglas was formed in
1967, and I was in Washington, and they asked me if I would be interested
in going back to California.
I liked Washington. I’d been here a couple years. I got offered
a job to go to the Pentagon. That’s where my government career
started. I got very much involved in missiles and space and aircraft,
space tracking, air defense, all the things that resulted in my continuing
in that career.
I guess it was just ever-changing at that point with all different
types of ideas and technologies proposed, being at that time in the
Very much so. 1967, the Cold War was at its peak. I went in the Pentagon,
and I got involved with missile defense. Well, about 1968, the Soviet
Union and the United States decided they were going to get together
in arms control discussions. That didn’t happen in 1968 because
Russia invaded Czechoslovakia, so the arms control discussions were
postponed for a year. But because of my expertise in missile defense—and
that was the key part of the arms control, they call it the ABM, Anti-Ballistic
Missile Treaty, the ABM Treaty—my expertise fit that mold.
So in 1970, I was asked to join the arms control discussions as an
adviser to Paul [H.] Nitze, who was then the representative of the
Secretary of Defense. From 1970 through about ’72, when the
ABM Treaty was signed, I was in and out of the arms control negotiations.
Sometimes I attended the negotiations themselves, either in Helsinki
[Finland] or Vienna [Austria]. Or I was part of the backstopping group
in Washington supporting the forward-based advisers. For those two
years, I was very much involved with that.
In ’72, after the ABM Treaty was signed, I had decided that
I’d spent five years in the government, and I didn’t see
myself as a career civil servant at that point. I was offered a job
at LTV [LTV Aerospace Corporation] in Dallas [Texas]. Here’s
a side story which gets involved with personalities. When I first
went to Douglas in 1961, I was sitting right next to a young engineer.
He’d been there about a year or so ahead of me, but we were
working together on all kinds of advanced missiles. This young engineer’s
name was Norm [Norman R.] Augustine.
Norm went to the Pentagon. I moved to Washington November 1, 1965.
Norm moved from California to Washington November 1, 1965. He went
to work in the Pentagon. I went to work for Douglas. Then, when in
’67 I went into the Pentagon, Norm and I were working together
again. In fact, we wrote the first paper, the development concept
paper, for a missile warning satellite. That missile warning satellite
is called the Defense Support Program, which is operational today.
Norm left in ’71 and went to LTV in Dallas. Well, in ’72,
he asked me to come work for him at LTV in Dallas, so I moved to LTV.
But then OMB [Office of Management and Budget] called and said—we
want you to come to Washington. We’re starting a new program
called Management by Objectives.
They wanted me to work in the National Security Group, which I did.
I worked there for a year, mostly on international problems—the
Export-Import Bank [of the United States]. Then in 1973, [James R.]
Jim Schlesinger, who was Secretary of Defense, asked me to come back
to the Pentagon and be the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic
Programs, so I moved over to the Pentagon in 1973 and stayed there
for a couple years.
Well, [President Richard M.] Nixon had resigned by then. Jerry [Gerald]
Ford was now the new President. He and Schlesinger didn’t get
along too well, so President Ford elected to name his chief of staff
as the new Secretary of Defense. That was Don [Donald] Rumsfeld. I
think it’s probably 1975 when this happened. Don Rumsfeld had
a deputy chief of staff, a young guy by the name of [Richard] Dick
Cheney who moved up to be Ford’s chief of staff.
Well, that was my first introduction to Don Rumsfeld; I worked directly
for Don. I ran the Program Analysis and Evaluation organization, which
basically put together the entire defense budget. We worked there
until [James E.] Jimmy Carter won the Presidency. Of course, Don left.
I stayed on for about three months, but then I decided I wanted to
go somewhere else. I stayed in Washington and worked for a company
called the System Planning Corporation [Arlington, Virginia]. I was
one of their vice presidents for strategic programs.
In 1980 when Ronald Reagan won the Presidency, Reagan had asked Don
Rumsfeld to put together a list of people who could come back into
the Pentagon. Don called me and said, “Would you be interested?”
I said, “Sure, for the right job.” Well, they offered
me a job as Under Secretary of the Air Force.
The job of the Under Secretary of the Air Force is somewhat unique.
At that time, you couldn’t say anything what it was, but it
basically ran the National Reconnaissance Office [Chantilly, Virginia.]
Also, the Under Secretary of the Air Force coordinated all the Air
Force space programs as well, so that position handled most of what
we called the black and the white space world.
I think that’s probably the introduction of my relationship
with NASA, which was the strongest at that particular point in time.
Even though I knew about NASA, had followed the space program for
a while, I didn’t have any direct relationship until I became
Under Secretary of the Air Force. Since I was the guy responsible
for launching spy satellites, I was interested in what the proper
launch vehicle would be. In 1978, President Carter had made a decision
that the Space Shuttle was going to be the exclusive launch vehicle
for the country for getting into space, launching civil, commercial,
and military national security satellites.
Obviously, I was very interested in the performance of the Shuttle.
It’s interesting that right before that, I was involved with
the discussion centering around what was the partnership that was
going to exist between the Air Force, (which had the responsibility
of launching military satellites) and NASA. What were the conditions
of that so-called partnership? Well, the conditions were that the
Air Force would build another launch facility at Vandenberg [Air Force
Base, Santa Barbara, California] for launching military satellites
off the Shuttle. They would also develop an upper stage that could
be put in the Shuttle for launching satellites to geosynchronous orbit,
which NASA at that time didn’t have any requirement for. So
that was agreed that the DoD [Department of Defense] would be investing
in those two programs, as well as purchasing rides on the Shuttle,
which had a certain price; then of course, obviously supporting the
basic technologies and stuff that would go along with it.
At the point when this was sold, the flight rate for the Space Shuttle
with five orbiters, which was the plan, was to fly 55 flights a year.
That seemed exorbitant to us at the time, but that was what it was
sold on. That 55 were all the commercial, civil, and DoD satellites
that could possibly be imagined. The Shuttle would fly them all, so
that required them to fly 55 flights a year. That meant the turnaround
time was every seven days; they’d have to turn a Shuttle around
for the five orbiters, about every seven days. The cost was going
to be one third of the cost of what it would cost the Department of
Defense to fly on expendable launch vehicles. In theory the idea of
having a fast turnaround, a cheap ride to space—oh, and all
the orbiters would meet all the DoD requirements for size and weight
and things of that nature.
All of these requirements and agreements had been set in place before
you moved into that position.
Before I moved in. This was in 1978. I believe Jimmy Carter wrote
a presidential directive that the Space Shuttle is going to be at—and
what we were told is that he didn’t write the actual 55 flights
a year, but it would meet all the demands of all the users. That was
1978. Well, in 1981—in fact, in April of 1981 we had the first
Shuttle flight. At that point, it was clear that some of these statements
of capabilities were going to be way lacking, that the turnaround
time was not seven days, it was much, much more than that. Of the
five orbiters, only four had been bought, two of which were so heavy
they couldn’t meet the DoD demands. We only had two orbiters
that could meet the DoD weight and size demands. The cost was not
one third of the cost of an expendable; it was more likely equal at
best, and possibly much higher than that.
In April when we first started to see this, we began to worry that
well, maybe we were not going to meet the demands of the Department
of Defense. We had a requirement for 12 flights a year from the Shuttle.
Our estimates of what we were seeing as turnaround time said you might
be able to fly 24 flights per year, but 12 to 18 was more likely the
number. If it was going to be at the lower end, or even at 18 per
year, we were going to take 12. We had a hard requirement to fly 12
flights. This meant the civil and commercial space business was not
going to be as robust as we thought it was going to be. We with national
security priority could preempt the launch of a commercial satellite
in order to get a national security satellite up. It was highly uncertain
whether or not any of the commercial or civil programs were going
to have much viability if the orbiter flight rate was in the 12 to
18 per year.
So we started getting worried. Well, in 1983 I decided—it was
my decision—looking at the flight rate, what our demand was,
what the performance of the Shuttle was at that point in time—by
then we had flown four flights, and much more robust data that was
showing it wasn’t going to be anywhere close to 55 flights per
year. NASA was still touting it was going to fly 24. It could fly
24 with the four orbiters. That was [NASA Administrator] [James] Jim
Beggs who made that announcement.
Well, I decided we ought to not terminate expendable launch vehicles.
In 1978, we were to start phasing down the expendable launch vehicles,
because we were no longer going to use them. All the production of
the expendable launchers showed an end date that was going to be probably
in the 1986 period. We were flying three different [expendable launch
system] vehicles, a Delta, an Atlas, and a Titan. The production lines
were showing a tail-off of those. All the satellites that we had that
were flying on the expendable launch vehicles, because the Shuttle
bay was different and the loads on the Shuttle and the acoustics were
so much different that we had to redesign all the national security
payloads to fit in the Shuttle bay and to take the Shuttle environment.
Since we were paying by the linear foot rather than the diameter,
all the national security payloads got short and fat, because that’s
how they charged us.
Side note. If you now look at the Titan IV, you’ll notice it
has a great big bulbous nose. That was because as we went from the
Shuttle back to the expendables, we had to put the new satellite on
the old booster. So it was short and fat, and that’s why you
have a big bulbous nose on the Titan IV.
In ’83, I went to the Secretary of Defense and said, “I
believe we should not terminate the production of expendable launch
vehicles until the Shuttle can prove itself, that it can fly at least
24 flights per year, and it can meet the performance demands of the
Department of Defense, therefore we should keep a number of expendable
launch vehicles continuing.” He agreed, went to the President
[Reagan], and the President agreed, and so we put together a budget
to send to Congress that would continue the Titan production line
for five more years, and we would buy two vehicles per year for the
critical payloads that the Titan launched. We also converted an old
Titan II ICBM [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile] to a space launch
vehicle that could launch the very small satellites that we didn’t
want to have to try to integrate a little satellite into the Shuttle
bay. It should not launch small satellites all by itself, it was far
too expensive. But we needed weather satellites launched, so the Titan
II launched from Vandenberg. We converted 14 of those to launch weather
satellites. Our plan was laid out, and NASA fought it.
Very bold statement, when so many of the people who were in the development
stage of the Shuttle said that so much of what they wanted for the
Shuttle, for the orbiter, was dictated by the Air Force, not what
they [NASA] wanted.
Well, see, it’s very interesting. It is correct. The Shuttle
bay was designed to fit the Manned Orbiting Laboratory [MOL], which
is a program by the Air Force that was going to put men in space in
a reconnaissance satellite. The other issue was that they wanted to
have the ability to abort from orbit, so if you got into orbit, had
engine failure, and you couldn’t reach full orbit but had to
come back and land, you wanted to have enough maneuverability in the
Shuttle to maneuver about 1,000 miles off from where you were to where
the launch site was by the time you made one orbit. So those wings
had to be built on it.
The Shuttle bay size and the launch weights were dictated by the Department
of Defense. But if they could not fly the Department of Defense payloads,
then the economic rationale that was dictated why we wanted the Shuttle
and why we wanted it to be the exclusive launch vehicle went away.
Without the Department of Defense, they had no Shuttle. They had to
accommodate DoD requirements. That’s sure enough what happened.
But in the idea of continuing the expendable launch vehicle program,
NASA got very upset about it. Jim Beggs in particular, because he
saw that as a move by the Air Force—and the Air Force basically
represented the Department of Defense, the Air Force was responsible
for launching all Department of Defense satellites, which included
Navy and Air Force and NRO. He got very upset and tried to, through
his contacts with the Congress, to get Congress to deny us the funding
for the continuation of the expendable launch vehicles. He testified
he saw it as a ploy of the Air Force to remove itself ultimately from
the Shuttle and go back to all expendable launch vehicles. Therefore,
the result of the Air Force and DoD going off of the Shuttle, in his
mind, is it made it less viable for commercial launches of satellites,
which were then planned to fly on the Shuttle.
So he, through his congressional contacts, continued to stress that
this was not the right thing to do. We had quite a battle between
ourselves and NASA. Finally, the national security adviser, I think
it was Bud McFarlane contacted the Secretary of Defense, and NASA,
and me—I represented the Department of Defense at this time
as Under Secretary of the Air Force—to get together and come
to a compromise. So we did.
We met in the Old Executive Office Building. Jim Beggs and I. Jim
kept saying, “You guys can’t get off the Shuttle,”
and I said, “We will sign up that we will buy at least one third
of all the missions the Shuttle can fly in any given year, we’ll
guarantee at least one third.” In fact, we were showing probably
half, because Jim was saying still 24 flights a year. At that time,
we were saying 12. But that’s another story. So we said, “We’ll
buy one third of them, guaranteed.” He said, “Okay, but
I also want you to help us work on the next generation of launch vehicles.”
I said, “We’ll do that.” The Shuttle follow-on.
We would determine what the fair pricing policy was at this particular
The reason for that, again I got to diverge a little bit. What was
happening between the Air Force and NASA at the time was the Air Force
had signed up with a certain set of interface requirements of their
satellite in the Shuttle. If there were some things unique, like the
clampdown mechanisms that were unique for that satellite against the
Shuttle, the Air Force would pay for it. All other non-unique things
in the Shuttle bay, that would be a NASA obligation, and therefore
our pricing policy was based on the linear foot, any unique things
associated with the satellite. Then other non-unique things, that
Well, about every week NASA kept throwing these non-unique requirements
over to the Department of Defense. It was angering a lot of people.
We put in our budget a certain price to fly on the Shuttle, and all
of a sudden NASA says, “No, the cost just went up 10%.”
This antagonism of the pricing policy and the antagonism of the expendable
launch vehicle versus Shuttle had a very high tension rate between
the Department of Defense, the Air Force, and NASA.
Do you believe NASA was doing that because of the lack of funding
support? Or do you know the rationale of why they kept sliding things
over to the Department of Defense side?
Yes. Because the price to fly the Shuttle was beginning to get known,
and it was much higher than they anticipated. The price was going
up, the launch rate was coming down, which made the price per flight
go up even more. It was just a spiral they were in. They were trying
to do everything to minimize the impact.
But in the final analysis, we agreed to redo the pricing, start some
technology for next generation space launch vehicle that could meet
DoD and NASA needs. NASA would stop arguing against the expendable
launch vehicle production. In 1985, that agreement was signed by the
President [Reagan]; it went all the way up to the President to sign.
That was the new launch policy and relationship between the Air Force
Well, then January 1986 rolls around, and Challenger blew up. This
issue of a complementary launch vehicle to Shuttle went away. The
whole issue went away. It’s also interesting, in 1985 we lost
a Titan. Titan blew up in August of 1985. Then Challenger.
Then in April of 1986, another Titan blew up. So the issue of our
backup was Titan, we now have two launch failures with Titan and one
launch failure with the Shuttle. It was some pretty grim days for
the space business, or the capability to put heavy payloads into space
Interesting, we found out that the two Titan launches can be almost
directly tied to the fact the production line was going down and the
good people were leaving, and the quality control got shaky. They
left one of the boosters out in the rain one day without cover—they
would never have done that. People were just starting to phase out.
You could almost say that the two Titan failures were directly associated
with quality control, that you always get when you get at the end
of a production line.
Well, this is about the same time though that you somewhat became
involved on a personal basis.
Well, yes, I have a lot of parallel things going on here. Right after
Jim Beggs and I agreed to this compromise, Jim then decided it would
be appropriate to try to reestablish this partnership between the
Air Force and NASA. At that time, of course, they had teachers training
to fly in space, and Bill Nelson who was a congressman then; we had
[Edwin J.] Jake Garn, a Senator. So Jim decided that it would be appropriate
to have an Air Force official fly. Well, they asked the Air Force
official according to the pecking order. The first person on that
list is the Secretary of the Air Force. So Jim asked Verne Orr [Vernon
Orr], the Secretary of the Air Force, would he be interested in doing
that. Verne Orr at the time says no, he would not, because one, he
was older, I think he was in his 70s at that time, and the more appropriate
person to do this would be me anyway.
So Beggs offered for me to fly. Since the Air Force responsibility
was to build Vandenberg Air Force Base, the SLC-6 [Space Launch Complex-6]
there, it would be very appropriate for the first [Air Force] official
to fly out of Vandenberg. So we set up for the mission. It was actually
STS-62A, because [if the number was] 1, it was Kennedy and the 2 [indicated
a launch at] Vandenberg, that’s how they were numbered.
In December 1985 I go to Houston to start astronaut training for a
flight that at that time was scheduled for July of 1986. I was in
Houston going through training. [Robert L.] Bob Crippen was going
to be our commander, who was the pilot on the first Shuttle mission.
Guy [S.] Gardner was going to be the pilot. Crippen the commander,
Guy the pilot. [Richard M.] Mike Mullane, Jerry [L.] Ross, Dale [A.]
Gardner were going to be mission specialists. [John] Brett Watterson
and I were going to be payload specialists.
We had two payloads. One was the SIRIS [Sputter-Initiated Resonance
Ionization Spectroscopy], which was stationary. It stayed on the Shuttle.
We were launching another one called Teal Ruby [P80-1, AIP, 888-Early
Warning Satellite], which was a military satellite for detections
of aircraft from space, and we were going to launch that. We were
going to fly out at near polar orbit. We were going to fly at a 72-degree
inclination, which man has never flown before. Of course, that’s
why you fly from Vandenberg; you can fly north and south. For military
missions, you want to cover the entire Earth. Well, you don’t
do that by flying east and west, so you fly north and south. We were
actually going to fly over the poles on every orbit, which was unique.
It was exciting to have a completely new mission.
The other thing we had to do was to “soup” up the orbiter.
We had to have a higher velocity in the orbiter, because if you go
east and west you get 1,000 miles an hour velocity by the rotation
of the Earth. If you go north and south you don’t get 1,000
miles an hour, you get zero. So what you have to do, you have to get
another 1,000 miles an hour out of the orbiter to get it into the
right orbit, which meant you had to build new solid rocket motors,
and you had to soup up the Shuttle main engine. It had to go I think
to 109% of its rated thrust, and the new solids were what we call
filament-wound cases, they’re not steel, they’re fiberglass.
We were developing those, because those were required for the DoD
orbits from Vandenberg.
When you say we, you’re talking about NASA and the Air Force
together developing those?
It was NASA developing that. But obviously, we—being the Air
Force—were monitoring that, because we had to make sure the
launch pad fit the new design and new power. We had to make it safe
as we possibly could.
So I was in astronaut training. Started in December, went through
December, January. Then of course January 28, the Challenger blew
up. We, our crew, were actually at Albuquerque, New Mexico, going
through training with one of the payloads that was going to fly, actually
one of the sensors that was going to fly on the orbiter. We were all
there because Sandia [Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico] built
the payload, and we were at Sandia going through the design and how
to make it work in orbit, things of that nature. We stopped and went
in a room to watch the Shuttle fly, all seven of us.
I guess like all things, you never forget exactly where you were and
what you saw at the time. We saw it take off. Crippen was sitting
in front. I was in the back of the room and I saw this explosion,
and thought, Jesus. Then I was waiting for the orbiter, as we all
were, to come out of the smoke. But as soon as that explosion occurred,
Crippen obviously knew what it was. His head dropped. I remember this
so distinctly. He knew exactly what happened. Or anticipated it much
more so, I think, than the rest of us did. Anyway, we obviously stopped
the training and headed back to Houston.
So happened that I had gotten to Albuquerque by a commercial flight,
but the other astronauts, I guess four of them had flown up in the
T-38s [Northrop T-38 Talon]. Well, when Challenger blew up I called
the Air Force and I said, “I need a flight. Get an Air Force
airplane.” We got a little T-39 [North American Saberliner Buisness
Jet] to get us from Albuquerque back to Houston.
At that time, I didn’t want the other guys flying. So I said,
“We need seats for seven people,” because I didn’t
want Crippen in an airplane, because he was devastated. He had flown
with Scobee [Francis R. “Dick” Scobee] before, and Judy
[A.] Resnik as well, I think. They’d been on flights together.
So anyway, he said, “No, I’m going to fly, I need to think
a little bit,” so he wanted to fly, so they did. They flew back.
But I got an Air Force airplane to take the other three of us back
to Houston. Of course, then we sat around there for a while. What
do we do now? We thought well, maybe the orbiter will be grounded
for a year, and then we’ll get back on training, but in the
meantime obviously our flight is at least postponed for a long period
I made plans to go back to Washington and we’d reconvene when
our flight would be reestablished. What we didn’t realize at
the time is now we had three orbiters, and you start looking at the
manifest, and now we had three orbiters and we had the production
line going for the Titan IV. So we had an expendable production line
intact. We really didn’t need to buy another orbiter to make
the DoD missions because we could fly those on Titans. We began to
think, why do we have Vandenberg anymore, the SLC-6, we have the Titan
pads there. We have ongoing production line. We have only three orbiters.
Clearly they can’t meet all the demands of DoD at this point
The decision began to be obvious that we weren’t going to fly
Vandenberg, and we weren’t going to put those heavy payloads
on the orbiter. Then you start looking at the other DoD payloads.
Of course then they said, “Well, with only three orbiters, the
commercial viability of the orbiter starts going down.” Obviously
the cost goes up even more so.
When I got back to Washington, it was my decision to put Vandenberg
in mothball status. The programs to soup up the Shuttle to meet the
Vandenberg requirement no longer was needed, so those were canceled.
We increased the production of the Titan IV from the ten, two per
year. We bought 41 of them, because we saw continuation. The longer
the Shuttle was down, we said, “Well, wait a minute. What about
the GPS [Global Positioning System] satellites?” They weren’t
going to go on the Shuttle. We were going to launch three or four
of them at a time. Well, with the Shuttle down, we started having
GPS satellites sitting on the ground. We want to get those up, so
we did a competition that said, “What is the best expendable
launch vehicle to fly GPS?” The Delta II won that.
Then as time continued to go with the orbiter down, which ended up
being down three years, the next critical payload was the Defense
Satellite Communications System that provided the global communication
for all the military. That was the next payload. We did a competition
to find the best launch vehicle for that one, and it came out the
Atlas was the winner. At the end of all this, we had 41 Titans in
full production. We had now Atlas starting production. We had the
Delta II continuing production. All of a sudden, we had a viable expendable
space launch industry.
We still had a few payloads that had been designed to specifically
fly on the orbiter, and we flew those. The last one flew in December
1988. That ended any discussion between the role of expendables and
Shuttle. We had, in fact, what we’d call now a mixed fleet strategy.
The Shuttle is used for the thing it’s uniquely designed to
do, and that’s where man is required. Where man is not required,
such as the DoD satellites, you don’t expose men in that mission
when it can be flown better off an expendable launch vehicle.
Looking back on that decision and those circumstances, how do you
feel that decision impacted the Shuttle’s future, knowing that
the DoD pretty much took itself out of that relationship?
Well, I think we realized—in fact, we put military people on
the Shuttle, and I started a military man in space program to see
what could humans, do in space that might be unique to the military
mission. We hadn’t found one. In fact the MOL program, the Manned
Orbiting Laboratory program, was canceled, because we couldn’t
find where having men in that satellite was beneficial. In fact, it
was harmful. You had to put a life support system in it. The cameras—that
now we can talk about—that were on the satellite, people moving
around in the satellite created “noise.” You didn’t
want anybody around. So you look at the cost and the complexity, so
the program was terminated.
We hadn’t found what other role men could do. In fact, I was
going to fly and take a pair of night vision goggles with me just
to see what it would look like from space looking through night vision
goggles, see if there was anything unique about that. But we had a
program, and people could come in with proposals of technology, demonstrate
the military applications of using men in space. We never found one.
I know your training period was very brief. Did it give you any insight
Oh, it was the most exciting time of my life. It was terrific. Not
only dealing with the crew, who were all terrific people. All were
seasoned, in the sense that the only two people who were rookies were
the two payload specialists, Brett Watterson and I. Of course, Crip
had gone up four times. No, I guess Guy Gardner was, he was also a
rookie, but he ended up going up four times later. But no, it was
exciting. The idea of dealing with the people, getting into the bowels
of the orbiter. Of course we couldn’t, the payload specialists
couldn’t touch anything.
In fact, I kidded around. I think [Gerald D.] Gerry Griffin was the
center director at that time. I was kidding him that as far as NASA
is concerned a payload specialist was the lowest form of human life.
But it was also unique in the sense that I was paying for the flight,
and yet I was a payload specialist at the same time. They didn’t
know how to deal with me.
But going through the simulators, they had a simulator out in California.
We flew out for that, went through a training program, essentially
two full days simulating a two-day flight. We were actually going
to be gone three days, but we did a 24-hour simulation. Day and night.
We took breaks just like we would go sleep, and then we’d come
back. We had a seven-man crew. There were going to be three people
per 12-hour shift, and then Crip was going to go back and forth between
It was exciting. I look upon that period as one of the highlights.
Learning how to eat, learning how to go to the bathroom. I got fitted
out in all the astronaut suits and stuff like that. It was exciting.
To this day, I contact people that I met during that period of time.
I was disappointed I didn’t get a chance to go.
But well, what happened after that, I came home, back to Washington,
went back into the Pentagon. I had decided that it was time for me
to leave. I’d been there for five years as Under Secretary.
In the meantime, they had replaced Verne Orr with another secretary,
a guy named [Russell] Russ Rourke. He’d been there since three
or four months, I guess four months. I came back and I started looking
around for another job, but then in March, one night about 5:00, phone
rings and my secretary answers, comes in and says, “[Caspar]
Cap Weinberger is on the phone,” who’s then the Secretary
of Defense. That was March of 1986. I knew Weinberger was in Korea.
It’s unusual that he’d be calling me, I know he’s
in Korea, which is at least 12 hours difference, it’s 5:00 in
the morning or something.
So I said, “Yeah, Cap, this is Pete. Where are you?” He
said, “Well, I’m in Korea.” I said, “I thought
I knew that.” He said, “Well, what’s happened is
the Secretary of the Air Force Russ Rourke has indicated he is going
to depart.” I said, “Really? He’s only been here
four months.” He actually came in December. This was March.
He’d been here four months. He said, “Yeah, he says his
wife is ill and that he’s going to quit and he has other priorities
now.” I said, “Okay, well, all right.” He says,
“I’ve talked to the President, we’d like for you
to replace him.” I said, “Oh.” He said, “Yeah,
would you think about that and let me know what you think?”
I said, “Cap, I’ve thought about it. For about three microseconds.”
So he asked me to become Secretary, I accepted, and I was sworn in
At the same time, I was running the National Reconnaissance Office
[NRO]. How could I do that and be Secretary of the Air Force? Well,
I had a very good Deputy Director of NRO. The Under Secretary that
was coming in was a guy named [James] Jim McGovern. He was coming
over from the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was general counsel.
He had no technical background at all, so I didn’t see him taking
over the NRO. I talked to Cap Weinberger and I talked to [William]
Bill Casey, who was then the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] Director,
who appoints the NRO Director, that I thought I ought to keep the
job as the Director of the NRO since I had a really good Deputy in
Jimmie [D.] Hill, who was there. They agreed. So I continued to run
the NRO, and continued to have interface with NASA making sure that
the payloads that they did fly, very few at this point in time, were
I stayed as Secretary of the Air Force until the end of the Reagan
administration. In December of 1988, I had served my eight years and
decided it was time to move on. I did, and I got offered a job as
the president of a new company, a new company for McDonnell Douglas.
What they decided to do is they had the McDonnell Douglas aerospace
division, and they decided to break it up into space, missiles, and
electronics. They formed three different companies—smaller companies,
but more focused on those three things. So I went to work as the president
of the McDonnell Douglas Electronic Systems Company in 1988 and stayed
there till 1992.
In 1992, the Aerospace Corporation offered me a job to become president
and CEO of the Aerospace Corporation, which was really more involved
with the things I was interested in, which was space. They’re
the space systems engineering arm of the Air Force, although now they
have become very much part of NASA. In fact, I notice today that the
new Augustine Commission, the president of Aerospace, Wanda Austin,
is one of the members of that, which I think is an outstanding selection.
During that time period, before we get too far, when you became part
of Aerospace, you spent some time on a couple of panels. One was the
first Augustine Panel. Then one you chaired [Commission on the Implementation
of U.S. Exploration Policy]. Then of course one with [Thomas] Tom
Stafford [President’s Moon-to-Mars Commission]. Can we spend
some time talking about how you were—
Yes, let’s go in reverse order. I remember I was involved with
Stafford’s effort, but more of an adviser. I didn’t participate
in the panel in a very active way, but I do remember a couple of the
things that he did, one of which I thought was, even today, I think
it’s a fundamental necessity.
One of the things they came up with was that if you could go nuclear
propulsion, it would save you enormous amount of money, billions of
dollars, and probably enables an Earth-to-Mars mission. I think I
remember the numbers right. I thought this was the most profound statement
they came up with, is that going with chemical propulsion from the
Earth to Mars takes 247 days, something of that time scale nature.
Then when you’re on Mars, you can’t stay very long, because
you’ve got to get back, and it takes you 247 days to come back.
Or you wait till the next closest approach orbit, which is another
500 days. If you had nuclear propulsion, you’d make the trip
in 60 days. Then you can stay as long as you want, because you have
enough power to come back in 60 days.
That to me says if it’s a 60-day mission, you’ve enabled
the mission to occur. If it’s 247, it’s marginal and you
can’t take as much stuff. That’s the one thing I remember
about that panel, but I was not in a day-to-day activity, I was more
of an adviser, and I read some of the draft reports.
That’s the one thing I remember. I keep harping on that today.
Maybe this Moon-to-Mars thing is still viable and nuclear propulsion
is still the enabler. It saves billions of dollars because of the
weight and all the other things. Like if it’s 247 days, think
of all the life support you have to carry with you. If it’s
60 [days], it’s a different game.
Now the Augustine [panel] was much more intense. We had reviews. In
fact, I have his report at home; I started to go back and look at
it to remind myself what we did. Basically, we tried to put a foundation
around a space program that we thought was real and feasible. But
I don’t remember all the specific recommendations that we made
Well, one that I thought was interesting is that you put the highest
priority as the science program.
Yes. That was a lot of discussion as to where the emphasis should
be. We all agreed. It gets back to the other panel that I did. The
space mission has to be sustainable over—like Moon-to-Mars—a
40-year program. If it’s sustainable, it’s got to have
some beneficial statement about something that it’s providing
the people as a result of the program. It’s interesting. If
you’re going to do robotic exploration, there’s some benefit.
But over the long term, focusing on the science and the technologies
that result therefrom was something we felt that would sustain a program
over a longer period of time than a deemphasis on science.
In fact, this report that I talk about it, the one that I was the
chairman of, 40 years, that’s ten presidential administrations,
that’s 40 congressional sessions, and it’s two generations
of Americans. How do you sustain a space program that’s different
than the military? With the military programs you have an imperative—national
security; I need intelligence; I’ve got to communicate; I want
missile warning; navigation system. I want all those things that support
our military. There’s not that imperative in the space program,
in the civil space program. It takes personal leadership. Well, unless
you can say there’s some long term beneficial impact that helps
Americans, I think that beneficial impact has to be science and technology.
The motivation of kids to enter science and technology because of
the exciting things you’re doing.
Also, it’s got to be sustained because there’s some tangible
benefit you see resulting from the space program. We know there’s
all the spin-offs. Creation of good jobs. That’s what you have
to focus on. There’s some really good jobs if you’re pushing
the space program. All the people say, “Well, wait. I can fix
the welfare problem with the money being used for space.” This
is fascinating. Over the weekend I was with some friends of mine,
and they were asking me this question. I said, “Well, how much
do you think we spend on space? Not military, but just the civilian?”
I said seven tenths of one percent of the federal budget. Everybody
said, “Whoa.” I said $16 billion. I guess it’s up
now closer to $18 billion hopefully. I said, “You could cancel
the space program and not make a dent in the welfare problems or health
care or any of those other things.” I think the theory that
they were trying to follow was well, if I could just cancel the space
program, I can go work on education, I can go work on health care,
I can go work on welfare, dadadadada. The space program, interestingly,
is the one area that does all of those at $16 billion or $18 billion
a year. It stimulates that kind of activity. Doesn’t detract
To answer your question, the science—because of the long term
benefit that science provides. That is why the priority was set the
way it was.
The other one was that, especially during that time period and what
we’re facing today, the focus on environmental measures from
the Mission to Planet Earth resolution. Information that came out
of there. Why you felt or your group felt so—
Well, I think incidentally it’s changed. It’s moved in
a slightly different direction. Because of the recent President in
2004 [President George W. Bush], the mission is different. The mission
is not this way, it’s that way. But I think, as I recall, our
feeling was that that’s one of the other tangible benefits that
you see. Understanding our environment to the point where we can take
advantage of it way ahead of time in trying to make sure we can fix
it. So that was, as I recall, our notion. That was the recommendation.
I found too where you chaired a Space Policy Advisory Board to review
the space launch strategy from 1991. The report that you issued a
year later was the proposal of Spacelifter. Can you share with us
some of that, and how that would have affected the civilian space
agency as well?
Well, the proposal was that the cost of space, the launch, was extremely
high, because basically we’re launching a few Titans, we’re
launching a few Atlases, we’re launching a few Deltas. If we
could figure out a way to build a production line where all of those
launch vehicles were based off the same core, we could have a production
line rather than say ten, ten, and ten, 30, rather than ten per year
on each production line, 30 per year. The cost goes down dramatically.
The concept I had is that let’s think about building something
that looks like a core. Then we have a dial-a-capability. We can do
solid rocket strap-ons if we want to. The basic core could be a Delta.
If you do a couple of strap-ons, you’ve got an Atlas. If you
do two cores together, then you got a Titan. So the concept of Spacelifter
was to get the production rate up pretty high, and get the cost way
down, and then have this dial-a-capability.
It so happens the expendable launch vehicle program we have today
is very much the same thing. It evolved, but you look back, it is
basically new technology. It’s a new launch vehicle. The Atlas
V and Delta IV are based on cores.
When you were developing this idea, did you see it as a possible follow-on
generation for the Shuttle as well, to be able to have the civilian
space agency use it?
They could use it, yes. In fact, they do use Deltas today. Not only
the space agency, but the commercial field. Because at 1991, we were
predicting a very high commercial launch rate. In fact, that’s
why we got into the difficulty we are in right now. The launch rate
was predicted to be so high that after Spacelifter, we had another
study that was done by [USAF Retired General] Tom Moorman, who came
up with the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle [EELV]. The reason for
keeping two contractors going was the launch rate was predicted to
be so high; you could justify two contractors building roughly similar
vehicles. But now that went away. That launch manifest rate went away
to the point where we really couldn’t justify keeping two companies
alive. You know what they’ve done now. They’ve merged.
They’re now the United Launch Alliance, which Boeing and Lockheed
merged together. Now they’re using essentially one overhead
structure rather than two. It’s saving the Department of Defense
$150 million a year. So that’s where we’ve come from.
But yes. Those vehicles should be used by commercial as well as civil.
That was the concept.
Now, we didn’t man-rate so they could launch the capsules, but
they almost are man-rated. The number of piece parts that exist in
the EELV programs, it’s significantly below what the number
of piece parts were in the old expendable launch vehicles, so the
result is the reliability is much higher. In fact, they’ve never
had a launch failure with the EELV, which I think is astounding. Usually
the first launch you have of a new launch vehicle, you get a failure
or get close to one anyway. Early in the game, they have spectacular
reliability. I know Norm [Augustine], when he does his study, that’s
one of the issues. Is there a way that we can use the EELV program
at least to deliver cargo? Whether or not we can deliver humans is
another story. But I know he’s going to look at that.
Well, I’m going to take you back. Where we left off your career
is when you moved over to the Aerospace Corporation. Because at that
time, it was federally funded as a research and development center—
It still is.
This was a change for you, in the fact that now you were taking your
ideas to this type of place of this type. Tell us what that was like.
It was an adventure. Having run a for-profit center in McDonnell Douglas,
then moving to a point where profit wasn’t the motivation, quality
was the motivation. We were paid by the Air Force. Maybe it might
be interesting to back up.
Why was the FFRDC [Federally Funded Research Development Center] created?
Especially the Aerospace Corporation? Well, the FFRDCs were created
a long time ago. The RAND Corporation is an FFRDC. They had the Logistics
Management Institute. In fact, ANSER used to be one. MITRE Corporation
The problem was when the military space program was created, the people
who were doing most of the engineering work in support of the Air
Force was TRW [Thompson Ramo Wooldridge, Inc.]. Well, TRW was also
in the mode of building the satellites. The Air Force felt this was
a conflict of interest. You can’t have the engineering group
over here advising the Air Force as to what to buy, and then having
the company they work for building the thing they told them to buy.
So they said, “This is not correct.”
What they did is, they created an independent group. They spun off
the part of TRW that was doing the systems engineering for the Air
Force. That became the Aerospace Corporation, whose purpose was to
independently advise the Air Force. They cannot compete for contracts
by law. Yet they can pay salaries equivalent to what industry can
pay; they’re not under civil service kind of rules and regulations
or salary structure. They pay competitive salaries, but their objectives
are aligned with the government’s objectives. Buy the very best
product independent of who is building it.
It put Aerospace in a unique role in advising the Air Force. Since
they can’t compete, companies can share information with Aerospace—the
old TRW, now Northrop Grumman, can share information, Boeing can share
information, Lockheed—knowing that that information is not going
to go among the contractors. They’re not going to leak, because
they’re acting much like the government does. The contractors
can in fact provide that information to the government. Aerospace
is just sitting there with the government.
Because they can pay competitive salaries, they can get higher quality
people, than the government could. We’re now finding that most
of the program management staff within the Air Force space program
is made up by lieutenants and captains. Well, Aerospace people are
in the colonel level in terms of equivalent such as experience and
things of that nature. Most of them have advanced degrees. Two thirds
of the Aerospace Corporation have masters degrees or above.
So you see the role of the FFRDC, in that case, is helping the government
considerably. Yet, they know what’s going on in each of the
industries; they know who has the mature technology, who’s doing
the best quality work. When they make a cost estimate for what a satellite
is going to cost, they have data from all the contractors, not just
the one that’s bidding.
It’s a very unique role. It was fun because my objective was
to provide the government with the highest quality service I could.
Our goal was mission success. [It] wasn’t profit. It was, put
the satellite in the right orbit at the right time. That was the fundamental
goal and objective of the Aerospace Corporation, to make sure that
It didn’t happen all the time. We had some failures. We had
another Titan failure about that time. I sat on committee that looked
at what went wrong, it was another quality control problem. People
weren’t paying attention. We lost a Titan.
So I stayed there. 1998, I looked at my schedule and I noticed that
I was spending just about every week in Washington. When I thought
about it a while, most of my customers were in Washington. I was having
to come back to Washington to pay attention to what they were doing.
In order to come back to Washington, if I made an appointment with
one of my customers, I would have to take a day and a half to get
here. Then, given the government, sometimes the meeting would be canceled
at the last minute. So I said, “Something’s wrong here.”
I went to the board of trustees of Aerospace and said, “I believe
my office ought to be in Washington. I can always come back to El
Segundo and get a meeting, because I’m the boss. It’s
very difficult for me to arrange meetings in Washington, and take
a day and a half, and have the risk of getting them canceled. Or if
I really need to see somebody right now, I’m there. If I can
get a meeting, I can do it. I’m also dealing with Congress.
I can deal with Congress much better.”
Congress at that time was attacking the FFRDCs as being overly expensive.
This, of course, was being administered by the Professional Services
Council, an organization in Washington that consisted of all the,
what we call the SETA contractors, systems engineering and technical
assistance—the SAIC [Science Applications International Corporation],
the TASC [The Analytical Support Company], Booz Allen [Booz Allan
Hamilton Consulting Firm] —all these companies who saw Aerospace
as a competitor.
They wanted to eliminate Aerospace. They said, that “we can
move in to do that,” because we don’t build hardware.
SAIC does not build hardware, so we can play that role. They were
saying, “It’s unfair. We ought to be able to compete with
Aerospace for that work.” They were lobbying Congress with PAC
[Political Action Committee] money, political action money that we
didn’t have. I was defending the role of Aerospace in Washington.
So I moved back here and from 1998 until I left Aerospace in 2001,
I lived in Washington. But I was then traveling back to California;
I had a hotel room right near the plant.
Then quick to 2001; that’s another story. I was on a cruise.
This is when George [W.] Bush won [the presidency]. My wife and I
were on a Christmas cruise around South America. I guess in December
we heard the news that Don Rumsfeld had been selected to be the new
Secretary of Defense. My wife said some kind of expletive and said,
“Oh, no,” and sure enough, I got home, and there was a
phone message, “Come and talk to me.”
I went down and talked to him. He asked me to be the Under Secretary
of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, which is basically—they
call this the procurement czar. But it’s more than just the
procurement czar. It dealt with the Missile Defense Agency; it dealt
with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; it dealt with
the Defense Threat Reduction Agency; and several others. There are
five different agencies that we monitored, but we also worried about
logistics, managing the Defense Logistics Agency.
I stayed there for two years. It’s interesting that Don Rumsfeld,
prior to his selection as the new Secretary of Defense, ran a space
commission for the nation to try to decide what the DoD’s national
security space organization ought to look like. In the past the guy
who integrated all the national security space activities was the
Under Secretary of the Air Force. After I had left, a new Secretary
came in and saw that he wanted the role of the Under Secretary to
be more ceremonial, to take some of the load off of the Secretary.
So they downgraded the past role of the Under Secretary of the Air
Force to an Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space.
Marty Faga [Martin C. Faga] was the very first one of those. I thought
that was a mistake, and it proved to be the case. An assistant secretary,
even though a presidential appointee, does not have the same clout
as the under secretary did. The decision process was more confrontational
and debatable within the organization as a result of lowering it.
His place at the seat of the table in the intelligence community wasn’t
quite the same as the under secretary. So I think [it was] about that
time, the uniqueness of the national security space program began
to be eroded.
There was a lot of pressure to declassify the NRO. It was done. As
a result of declassification, the oversight and attention given by
Congress and by staff and by auditors increased dramatically. So the
uniqueness of NRO, where you could make decisions quickly without
all the fanfare, a very closely knit internal capability, started
to deteriorate. It continued to deteriorate.
Well, when Rumsfeld’s commission was held, they made a lot of
recommendations, but one which was the critical one was to reestablish
the Under Secretary of the Air Force as the integrator of the national
security space activities. That recommendation, along with a bunch
of others, came from Rumsfeld. Then he had to recuse himself from
that particular activity, when he came to the DoD.
I came in, and he turned to me for the implementation of the commission’s
recommendations. I supported it strongly because it took the program
back to its original integrated self. Didn’t work out that well,
I would say now, looking in hindsight. The reason is because all the
other things I talked about, is a lot more oversight, a lot more people
involved in the implementation of the national security space program
as opposed to just the Under Secretary of the Air Force.
The other thing Rumsfeld asked me to do, he said, “I want you
to think about how we’re organizing the Missile Defense Agency.”
So I did that for him. I made it look like the old National Reconnaissance
Office with unique decision-making authority, an organization that
had very clear levels of responsibility and accountability to it.
In 2003, I decided that I had enough of the Pentagon and decided it
was time to move on, so I retired in May of 2003. Then, of course,
in January 2004 the President wanted me to run the Commission [on
the Implementation of US Space Exploration Policy].
I was in Florida and I got a call. We bought a house in Florida just
about the time I retired. We thought that I would be spending more
and more time in Florida and less and less time in Washington. It
hasn’t worked out that way, didn’t work out that way at
all. Anyway, I was in Florida and I got a call from the White House
from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the OSTP. They said,
“Well, the President is going to make an announcement about
the future of the civil space program. He’s going to form a
commission, and wants to know would you be interested in serving on
the commission.” I thought about how the commission was going
to be working for 120 days, and said, “Well, yes. Something
that important I can probably contribute—yeah, I’d be
interested if you want to consider me.”
Two days later, I got a call that says, “We appreciate you agreeing
to serve on the committee, and the President has agreed, but he wants
you to be the chairman.” I said, “Wait a minute. This
is a different ballgame.” Being a chairman and being just on
the committee is something else. So anyway, I thought about it again
and said, “Well, for something this important I can spend 120
days. I can give 120 days of my time to set the space program for
the future. I can do that.”
Then the guy called the next day, and he says, “Oh, by the way,
the President is going to make this announcement day after tomorrow,
and he wants you to be there.” I’m in Florida, and I’m
told, “We’ll fly a plane down for you.” That’s
what they did. They actually took one of the NASA planes, came down
and picked me up and flew me back to Washington to participate in
the ceremony. Then of course we then proceeded.
That commission was very interesting. A little different from the
Augustine Commission that existed in I guess the ’91 period.
We had open hearings, five different public hearings. We went to Atlanta,
New York, San Francisco, Dayton, and Washington. We invited people
to come in and give us their views about what we should be doing in
The charter of the commission was not to challenge the President’s
direction. That had already been debated. Options had been looked
at all the way from do-everything-robotic to do-the-manned-Moon-to-Mars,
or focus-on-Earth. All kinds of different options. It had gone through
the interagency process. The President decided, this is the mission
I want to accomplish.
Our job was not to challenge the mission, but determine what was the
best way to implement it. Again we didn’t try to say, “Hey,
forget about Moon, go back to Mars,” that was all decided for
us. We weren’t going to challenge that.
We started the process with, how is NASA organized to carry out this
new mission? Another question was, how do you sustain a mission like
this. It’s a 40-year mission, how do you sustain it? You got
to have Joe Six-Pack say, “This is good for me,” so we
addressed that. Carly Fiorina, who was then at Hewlett-Packard [as
chief executive officer], was the one who pushed this concept probably
harder than anybody else.
Our first thing was sustainability, so we looked at how do we sustain
it. Well, you sustain it by trying to show the benefits. You sustain
it by showing periodic accomplishment. You can’t wait 40 years
to do just that. You got to do it a step at a time. You got to stimulate
people’s interest. You got to run a program that people have
confidence that you’re able to do it, not a lot of mistakes.
You have to put together a program plan that has a lot of attributes
that sustain itself over a long period of time.
Then we brought people in to tell us how to do these kinds of things.
Of course, the guy who made the X-Prize, we thought that was terrific,
and we ought to have more of those. People look at those and say,
“Hey, that’s pretty neat stuff.” It doesn’t
cost a lot of money, but it’s pretty neat stuff.
The other thing is that you have to have a sustainable space industry,
jobs. We pushed NASA into “this is important, these are high
skill jobs.” If you get an industry started that can start hiring
people and showing progress, that’s a great benefit to the program.
Of course then the organization, structure of NASA, how does it look?
One of the things we looked at was what NASA’s organization
looks like today, and we said, “Oh, my God, there’s no
way to do a program like this with that organization.” You’ve
got to be more focused on what the mission was as opposed to functional
areas. We recommended that they make an organizational change.
Well, before we even finished the report [NASA Administrator] Sean
O’Keefe changed NASA’s organization. Progress was being
made even as the report was ongoing. The other thing we said, which
is the most controversial, was that the NASA centers, all of them
looking together, it’s too large to support this mission. Somehow
or another we got to address the overhead structure of all the centers.
You’re not going to close a center, but you got to think about
how does one restructure each center to focus on the mission and yet
not carry all the overhead that’s necessary. That’s really
We said NASA ought to think about the centers becoming FFRDCs, because
they clearly are government. As an FFRDC if the center is too large,
the amount of overhead, you can use the technical ability of the center
to do other things than just support NASA. You can support other kinds
of technology, industry, energy. You can even think about some of
the centers helping the Air Force. Each center will find its own level
of competency, not just being carried by NASA.
Well, that hasn’t happened. But still, in my view, I believe
NASA is paying too much for the center operations that are over what
they actually need to do the mission.
What were some of the challenges that you encountered as being a chair?
You only had 120 days. How were you able to take the talented people
that you had, plus all the input you were getting from these visitors
and people coming through and provide results?
We had, I think, seven very bright people. My challenge was to try
to focus. If we were going to make a series of recommendations, I
didn’t want to have 100 of them. I wanted to have five, six,
seven fundamental recommendations. We could have subrecommendations,
but fundamental key recommendations was what I was looking for.
As we heard people talk, I kept notes to myself. I kept writing down
what I thought was a recommendation. What was the critical thing?
In order to implement this vision what do you have to do? Sustainability.
I kept writing. How do you get a sustainable thing? You have to convince
people that’s what you have to do. Sustainability also goes
along with a space industry that can create jobs. You got to organize
NASA to the mission, not the way it is now.
So I just kept writing these down. Then after about a month or so
of these, I shared them with the entire group. We started whittling
them. As we listened, we modified them. We expanded some of them.
In fact, I brought the report today [Report of the President’s
Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy:
A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover; June 2004].
I’ll just take one of them, robust space industry. Commission
finds that sustaining long term exploration—you need an industry.
Well, then we had a series of recommendations that supported that.
Here’s another: finding [number] six, technology base. Here’s
exploration science agenda. Okay, and then there’s a series
of recommendations, then education. We had a finding on that and also
implementations of that finding.
Anyway, that was what I did. As we heard people, we essentially changed
those. Then I wrote a draft. Finally, I sat down at my computer and
I drafted something. It roughly looked like this. Then the other commissioners
came in, and they would modify it. Then as we got pretty close, I
would pick somebody who—there’s always somebody who was
the champion of the recommendation. Like sustainability, that was
Carly Fiorina. I said, “Carly, take this draft and make it look
right, like one person wrote it rather than a bunch of people.”
Same thing was true for education. There were a couple people who
really focused on education. Another one—science and exploration.
So we did that, and we then compiled everything together. We had a
couple of technical writers that were provided to us by NASA, then
they took the whole report and put it into a really cleaned up version
and injected pictures and that sort of thing.
But it was interesting. We had some very good people who came to talk
to us. I think we have a listing of those in the background. There
was a whole bunch of them.
Are there any that just stand out, that were unique?
Yes. Yes. A couple. One that I always recall, it gets back to this
issue of sustainability. It was Ray Bradbury, science fiction writer.
I said, “Mr. Bradbury, one of the questions that is troubling
us is, how does one sustain a program over 40 years that we need to
keep the interest, the budget, the momentum, the direction, because
somebody can come in, the next President, come in and change the direction,
and all of a sudden you’ve been going this way and now you’re
going this way, and how do you sustain this kind of a thing?”
He told us a very simple answer, “Just ask the children.”
I thought about that. Well, he’s right. They’re the ones
that are going to have to do it. If you take any kid anywhere and
ask him what he thinks about the space program, he’s excited
about it. Every one of them. So I thought that was just absolutely
profound. Just ask the kids.
Another one, in fact we have a quote in here of this guy, this is
Roger Gilbertson. It’s from the comments from the audience.
This [effort] was all open, so you could go anywhere and listen. Gilbertson
says, “I’m of the Apollo generation, that lucky group
of kids old enough to have experienced the Moon landings but young
enough not to have been distracted by the issues of the adult world.”
Said, “I was nine years old when Neil [Armstrong] and Buzz [Aldrin]
first walked on the Moon, and I could not get enough. 150 years ago,
if President Lincoln had formed this board, it might have been called
the Commission on Iowa, Colorado, and beyond, and you would have faced
the very same questions. Can we afford to explore the West? Isn’t
it dangerous out there? Shouldn’t we solve the problems of the
east coast first? Maybe even, is there life in California?”
So anyway, his comments just went down, sounded like exactly what
would have happened 150 years ago.
A battle that is still fought today.
We have just a few minutes left and I wanted to ask you about a statement
you’ve made, once in 1981 and again about ten years after that.
You mentioned that the use of space supports our current and future
national security interest. The one in 1992 was that you believed
that the nation was not keeping up with our international competition.
Do you feel, as you did in ’81, that space is still important
to national security?
Absolutely. In fact, I’ve used other terms like space is the
ultimate high ground in military operations. It’s so fundamental
to our abilities these days. Airplanes don’t fly without GPS.
They don’t communicate without satellite communications. The
accuracy of our weapon system such that we can drop one bomb on one
target as opposed to the World War II kind of mass bombing raids.
A B-2 [Stealth Bomber] can hit 16 simultaneous targets with one mission.
You don’t want to put 16 different airplanes in harm’s
Intelligence—absolutely essential. In fact, we would not have
an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union without what then
they called national technical means, meaning intelligence satellites
that would give us the information to verify the arms control. Therefore,
we would have spent a hell of a lot more money with the degree of
uncertainty. Both sides would have done so.
Of course, then you are in an arms race kind of a concept. The detail.
The soldier today. He’s in constant communications via satellite.
Gets GPS signals. He can talk. We used to have a concept called combat
search and rescue. When a pilot went down somewhere, we had to go
search for him and then try to pick him up. It’s now called
combat rescue. There’s no search. We know exactly where he is
all the time.
We depend so heavily on communications for force multiplier effects
that a smaller number of people, when they have intelligence communications,
they know where they are and they know where the other guy is, they
have a thing now called red blue location. They know exactly where
every soldier is along a frontline. With that information, they can
do the job with a lot fewer people than they would have otherwise.
So everywhere you turn— I don’t know how I could operate
without the use of space.
Now it’s almost like how do we as civilians operate without
the use of space. Somebody told me the other day, says, “Well,
we don’t need space, I have the Weather Channel.” Okay.
I don’t need space. I’ve got my GPS navigation system
in my car. All the timing. The clocks are set by GPS. The atomic clocks
on GPS. When you go to fill up your car with gasoline, the credit
card information is via satellite to give you approval. Everything
we do is based on that. So I feel probably stronger today than I ever
On the international thing, I would say in 1981 we dominated space.
The Russians were right behind us in the sense of their capabilities,
but our technology was far superior to theirs. All of that has slowly
deteriorated. I’m not sure we could have done anything differently.
But the Russians haven’t caught up, but the one that bothers
me, the Chinese. They are really moving fast. They’re doing
things that jeopardize the viability, survivability of our space systems.
They’re working on antisatellite technologies. They have their
own manned space program, which has now started. That obviously adds
more technological capabilities to what they’re doing. They’re
moving very fast. That one bothers me to the point where I’m
not sure I would race them, but I would do certain things to improve
the viability of our own systems.
With all those thoughts of looking to what should be done for national
security, is there still room for space exploration and the vision
for the civilian space agency to be included?
Absolutely. I think this is a three-pronged approach. Obviously the
military has the imperative. Because of the military, you can’t
say a lot about what it does, how it does it, information that’s
obtained from that. So the excitement of space really has to come
from the civilian space program.
I think that’s where the accomplishments like fixing Hubble
[Space Telescope], and now we’re going to see some pictures
from Hubble that’s going to blow your mind, and then when the
[James Webb Space] Telescope goes up, that’s going to be another
type of thing. I think the miracles that happen with the Mars rovers,
Opportunity and Spirit. What they’re doing by remote control
is just unbelievable.
The excitement. You can share information and show what you can accomplish.
That has to be done with the space program. The civilian. Now commercial.
I’m also excited about the commercial space program. It’s
slowed down, but now we’re beginning to see it turn back up
again. But that’s profit and loss, and they’re not going
to take high risk. They want to put something up that’s going
to work. It tends to be a lower technology, but more reliable. Commercial
firms can’t take risk, but it can create the space industry,
contribute to that space industry which keeps people in jobs and brings
the fact that we are in fact using space in our everyday life is important.
So I think all three of those are necessary.
Do you think there should be one overseeing agency to make sure that
these efforts don’t eventually coincide in space?
Yes. Yes. In fact, we recommended the recreation of the Space Council,
because I think it is important to have all the agencies that deal
in space understand the interfaces that exist. The Space Council,
which existed during Augustine’s thing, was very effective.
In fact, that’s who we reported to basically in the Augustine
Report, was to the National Space Council. I think it ought to be
recreated. It ought to be run by a high level government official.
We said the Vice President.
The people in the White House think that it can be run by the National
Security Adviser or the director of the Office of Science and Technology
Policy. I don’t think so, because I think it needs to be somebody
who has—in fact we said so, a federal focus. If this is so important,
this mission to Moon and Mars, it’s a national objective. If
it’s a national objective, it ought to have national leadership.
It shouldn’t be just part of the Department of Defense or NASA
or whomever, NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration],
but people who can see the direction and somebody who can make a national
decision and direct those offices to do what is necessary.
I think everybody who has a role ought to be playing in it, but it
should be run by a senior leader. I thought that when Vice President
[J. Danforth] Quayle was there—a lot of people didn’t
like him, but I did, I thought he was a nice guy. He had the right
focus. He brought the Secretary of Defense in. He brought the National
Security Adviser in. They would all be participating in the direction
we wanted to go. I think that’s very important.
We in fact recreated it in this report, and I’ll bet you that
Norm will say something about it in his report as well. DoD has something
to bring to bear on this mission. It’s the technology. They
spend billions of dollars on advanced technology. Obviously NASA.
Not sure what role NOAA would play. But those people should be involved.
There should be some participation by industry in this kind of thing,
because they have good ideas as well.
What were the challenges of working with ever-changing administrations
and congressional members?
I worked through them all. My first presidential appointee position
was [by] Ronald Reagan. I’ll tell you, that was an extraordinary
period. I remember before the election, when the American hockey team
beat the Russians [1980 Olympics]. I remember how the attitude of
the American people just changed, almost like we’d had enough.
The hostages were in Iran. Carter was, I think, a weak President.
We were getting beat up everywhere in the world.
When the hockey team won, the whole attitude changed. Then Reagan
got elected and comes in with these—he had terrific goals and
objectives, and he had a terrific way to manage those by telling all
of his cabinet officers this is where we’re going. They all
nod, and then he’d get the hell out of their way and let them
I remember Cap Weinberger. He knew exactly what Ronald Reagan wanted
done, and he was like a bull heading in that direction. Same thing
in the intelligence community with Bill Casey. Anyway, it was a period
of time that was a great enthusiasm in America, and a great respect
for the President and what he was trying to do.
I remember every Secretary of Defense had a different attitude. I
had to work with a lot of them. I was even there when Robert [S.]
McNamara was there, in a very strange environment, very arrogant type
of person. Then we went through a couple. Clark [M.] Clifford, but
he was there a short time. Then Mel Laird [Melvin R. Laird] came in;
very nice, smart, political knowledgeable kind of a guy.
Then after Mel Laird, I can’t remember who followed, but then
Don Rumsfeld was a different kind. When he first came in, he was very
young. He was 43 years old when he was Secretary of Defense the first
time. Somewhat arrogant, but not as hard as he became the second time
around. He was a very tough man to work for, unless you really knew
your stuff and could tell him no every once in a while. He would roll
I was there during Jim Schlesinger. Very articulate more professor
type person. All of them were different. Harold Brown, the same way.
I was only there for a short time.
Congress, a changing environment in Congress. Years ago, and I would
say in the ’80s, you had very strong chairmen of the various
committees. The chairman could pretty much dictate like [Senator]
John [G.] Tower was chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee or
[Senator] Barry Goldwater. They could pretty much dictate the direction
that the committee was going. They would keep the younger people in
line. That’s very different now. Everybody’s more of an
individual. Usually, if you got the chairman to agree with the direction
you wanted to go, if you could convince him this was the right answer,
the committee would go along with it. Not so anymore. It takes every
committee member, so you have to deal with each one of them.
I remember when [Leslie] Les Aspin was the chairman of the House Armed
Services Committee. The House Armed Services, the defense bill from
the House went to the floor. There were 135 amendments from the floor
to the committee’s chairman’s bill. Never happened before.
If the House Armed Services chairman said this was what we wanted
to do, and it went to the floor, very rarely did you get that type
of number of amendments to fix things that they didn’t like.
That’s true today. There are 535 different people, and they
all have something to say, which makes it difficult. Whether it’s
right or wrong is another story. They do represent their constituents,
and they have a right to believe in them. But I think pork barrel,
the pork is ridiculous. I know they’re trying to take action
to do that. That didn’t exist 20 years ago. A few of them, but
not to that extent, not billions of dollars the way it’s going
Anyway, every President, every Secretary, every cabinet officer is
a different personality. I’ve had to deal with those. You just
have to play it by ear how is the best way to handle it. First time
I met Rumsfeld (when he was Secretary the first time), he and I got
along great, because I briefed him one day on a weapons system, and
he had his own ideas of what he thought was truth. I told him he was
wrong, that wasn’t the fact, and told him why, and we became
friends ever since, twenty-five years ago, something like that. But
of course that’s why he asked me to come back again. It’s
been an interesting career.
OMB, [Office of Management and Budget] that was a very short time.
I worked on the Export-Import Bank, international issues. But almost
by the time I got there, I was getting—I don’t know, discussions
started about me coming back to the Pentagon. I always think probably
even when I was there at OMB (for a year), the last three months I
knew I was leaving to go back to the Pentagon. A different environment,
but interesting because I was there right during the Nixon problems.
That’s an interesting story. I remember going to staff meetings.
The Deputy Director for OMB was a guy named [Frederic V.] Fred Malek.
We’d have a staff meeting every Friday. I’d go in the
staff meeting, and Malek would come in. He said, “Well, we finally
turned the corner on Watergate. Everything is now okay.” Saturday
there’d be some other disaster.
For that period of time, it’s like week after week everything
was dominated by Watergate. Nothing could get done. Fortunately, I
left and moved to the Pentagon before Nixon resigned, so I was out
of it. But I’ll never forget that. Well, we finally turned the
corner on Watergate.
It’s interesting that you were there at that historic time,
and then also you were working for the Pentagon on 9/11/2001. Were
you in the building?
I wasn’t in the building. I had a speech engagement at Fort
Belvoir in Virginia at the Defense Logistics Agency. My speech was
at 10:00 am, so we had a breakfast meeting with Rumsfeld and several
senators that I was involved with. The breakfast was at 8:00. We were
meeting in the Pentagon. Rumsfeld said something about any time there
could be a major event, and we have to be prepared for this. I guess
he was getting ready for his budget or something was going on with
the budget, something he wanted. But anyway, we were sitting around,
and he talked about this major event and we must be prepared for it.
We had left breakfast, and I went back to my office, which was just
across the street from Don Rumsfeld’s. The phone rang as soon
as I got there, and it was my wife on the phone. She said, “Turn
on your television.” I guess this was around 9:00 or so. I turned
on the television in my office. A plane had crashed in the building
[New York City]. As I turned it on, they were showing this thing.
Just about that time, they showed the second one coming in. I said,
“This is not an accident.” But it was at 9:30 and I said,
“I’ve got to leave.”
I go out the door, and my military assistant is going with me. Going
down the escalator going to get our car to go to Fort Belvoir, which
is like 15 miles south of here. I thought to myself, “This is
probably a good time to be leaving the Pentagon.” I went down
to Fort Belvoir, started the speech, and of course we hadn’t
heard anything. Started the speech. We knew about the event in New
York. Did my speech. The speech was over at like 10:30.
As I was walking out, the general who was the head of the DLA, Defense
Logistics Agency, said, “The Pentagon is on fire.” I said,
“Oh, Jesus.” He said, “Let’s go down to our
operations center and let’s see what’s going on. We’ve
been told the Pentagon is on fire.”
So we go down, and then we did determine that the Pentagon had been
hit. Then they said, “The Pentagon is shut down.” They’re
telling everybody to go home. So here I am at Fort Belvoir. I had
my driver. I said, “Okay, well, take me home, and I’ll
try to call in.” You couldn’t get in. All the phones were
busy or nobody was answering.
I could call in to the ops center [Operations Center], but I had to
do it from home. So we start the drive home. Get there. My wife was
panicked because she’s heard the Pentagon is on fire and wanted
to know—then found out it had been hit by an airplane, didn’t
know which side of the Pentagon it got hit on. She didn’t know
that I had left the building to go give the speech and was panicked.
I kept calling her on the phone in the car, and finally I got through
to her to say that everything’s okay, and to tell her I’m
on my way home.
Well, at 7:30 that night I get a call from the operations center in
the Pentagon. Might have been 8:30 at night. They said, “The
Secretary wants you to relocate to a secure facility.” I said,
“Okay.” They said the Deputy Secretary had been at this
secure facility all day. The Secretary of Defense was still in the
Pentagon. The Deputy Secretary had left. He was in the facility. He’s
coming back. He wants you to replace him. This is at a bunker outside
of Washington; it’s 8:30 at night.
This is a funny story. As I was coming home [after the speech], I
got home, my military assistant is with me. My driver, of course,
has his own car; his car is parked in the Pentagon, so he has no way
to get home. So I said to him, “Okay, you take my car, take
it home, and then come by in the morning and pick me up, and we’ll
go back to the Pentagon and get your car.”
Okay, so now my car is gone. 8:30 at night the guy calls and said,
“He wants you to relocate to this secure facility.” I
said, “Okay, when does he want me there?” Right now. Oh.
Okay. He gives me directions and I tell him that I don’t have
any transportation. There’s no helicopter or anything like that,
there’s no transportation. He said, “You have to get there
any way you can.”
So I take my wife’s car. Now I’m leaving, going to someplace
where she has no idea, leaving her by herself without any transportation.
Anyway, she’s told me, “If that ever happens again I’m
not staying. I’m going with you.” Well, I went up there
and spent the night. Then I came back the next morning and went back
to the Pentagon. It was still burning. The smoke was all inside the
building. But everybody went back to work. Amazing. But that was enough.
Fortunately I wasn’t there. The airplane did hit on the exact
opposite side. If it had hit on our side, the Secretary of Defense,
the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs,
the Secretary of the Air Force, the Under Secretary, me, Secretary
of the Air Force would have been gone. It would have been a disaster.
Just all those leadership positions.
Well, we’re glad to know that you are safe and somewhat enjoying
retirement. Or is it enjoying retirement and still doing other things?
Well, I’m on three boards. On the board of Lockheed Martin,
that’s why we can use this facility today. I’m on the
board of a company called Global Crossing [Florham Park, NJ], which
is a telecommunications company. Another employee-owned company out
in McLean, Virginia, called Alion Science and Technology—a bunch
of entrepreneurial young men who have built themselves a really neat
little company. They own it. To watch their enthusiasm is pretty spectacular.
So I do those three, and that keeps my fingers in what’s going
on, but it’s still enough time that I can play golf whenever
I want to, go to Florida and stay for a while or whatever. But that’s
about the right balance. I wouldn’t change anything right now.
Just all I need to do.
Well, we thank you so much for taking time out for this project.
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