NASA Headquarters Oral
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Sandra Johnson
Washington, DC – 11 April 2017
is April 11, 2017. This interview with Alan Ladwig is being conducted
at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC for the NASA Headquarters Oral
History Project. Interviewer is Sandra Johnson, assisted by Jennifer
Ross-Nazzal. I want to thank you again for joining us today. We appreciate
you taking time out of your busy schedule to come visit with us.
tell you what though. Being retired, I don’t know how I ever
got anything done. I’m busy all the time.
heard that before. First, if we could talk about the beginning of
your career. Back in 1981, you started as a program manager for the
Shuttle Student Involvement Project [SSIP, for Secondary Schools,
an annual competition which invited students to propose experiments
for flight aboard the Space Shuttle]. How did you first come to work
I got out of the Army in 1974, I came to Washington, DC to be the
president of a group called the Forum for the Advancement of Students
in Science and Technology. At that time, a group that I worked with
in college called the Committee for the Future had moved to DC. I
had tried to get my old job that I had in college with the committee,
but they weren’t in a position to pay anybody. They had this
mansion in Rock Creek Park [Washington, DC]. You could live there,
room and board and $25 a week, which wasn’t all that attractive
to me at that point in my life.
I stumbled on this group called the Forum for the Advancement of Students
in Science and Technology, FASST. They hired me to be their president,
so I started working for them for five years between ’75 and
’80. During that time, FASST was an organization that promoted
college student participation in aerospace, energy, and biomedical
technologies. We tried to find ways to get students directly involved
in those. We had conferences at the White House, we had conferences
sponsored by government agencies. We did a big project for NASA on
solar power satellites, seeing what students thought of that.
We were doing fairly well, and in that period we met a guy named Dr.
Glenn [P.] Wilson [Jr.], who was on the Senate aerospace committee
[Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences]. He was also one of
the primary individuals who helped write the [1958 National Aeronautics
and] Space Act for NASA. He took a shine to our organization, and
we got along with him very well. We were promoting an idea at the
time to put college student experiments on the Space Shuttle. This
is back in the mid ’70s, so the Shuttle isn’t built yet,
they’re still talking about how it’s going to go. The
last thing people at NASA wanted was a bunch of young people like
us running around the halls trying to push them to create a student
program. They just wanted to get it built.
We didn’t get a lot of sympathy from NASA or a lot of cooperation
at that time, but Glenn Wilson thought it was a great idea. He arranged
to have myself, Leonard David, who worked at FASST—Leonard David
is one of my longtime friends who today is still a very great aerospace
reporter for SpaceNews [publication]—and a student named Rex
[W.] Ridenoure, who had been a Viking student winner when they put
student experiments on Viking.
We got to testify on the Senate committee before Senator Adlai [E.]
Stevenson [III], Senator Harrison [H. “Jack”] Schmitt,
I forget who else was there. We were promoting this concept. They
were receptive, they thought it’d be a good idea, but again
the Shuttle is not built yet so “go back and be patient.”
Wilson, in the meantime, left the Senate and came to NASA [in 1978]
to head up an education division. He came to a party I had one night,
pulled me aside, and said, “I would like you to come to NASA.
We’re going to do this student program, but it’s probably
going to be done for high school students.” I said, “Okay,”
because FASST, the student organization, at that time was starting
to peter out. We had funding issues. It was a struggle to keep the
doors open, and after five years I was like, “Enough is enough.”
Glenn then worked to get me into NASA, and this was in January of
1981. He tracked me down on the day before the inauguration of [President]
Ronald [W.] Reagan, because Reagan had said the first thing he was
going to do was sign a hiring freeze. I was out doing goodness knows
what, and he actually tracked me down through my ex-wife who I seldom
spoke to. I had talked to her the day before, so she happened to know
where I was. Dr. Wilson found me and he said, “Get over to NASA
Headquarters right away, we’ve got to get you sworn in.”
I got over here, and a guy named Charlie Carter had hand-carried the
paperwork through the personnel offices. Sarah [G.] Keegan was in
personnel at the time, then later in public affairs where I worked
with her again. At 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, Sarah swore me in
as a temporary employee. That’s all they could do at that time
to get through the process quickly. So I came in as a temporary employee
and the next day Reagan takes the oath of office, goes in the Capitol
building, and signed a hiring freeze. I always felt there was a certain
magic about that moment, that things just aligned. Had I been a day
late, who knows where I’d be?
The Committee for the Future, by the way, was interesting. I met them
when I was in college, and they were one of the first public advocacy
groups for space. This was in 1969, ’70. I went out to visit
a couple of college friends in New York City and their father, Colonel
John [J.] Whiteside, was the head of the Air Force’s public
affairs office in New York City. He picked me up at the airport. It
was a blizzard, and this little guy—Russian hat on, little beady
eyes poking out of a fur coat—the first words out of his mouth
to me were, “Hi, we’re going to new worlds.” I said,
He and a woman named Barbara Marx Hubbard were starting this Committee
for the Future, and they wanted me to be their student leader. We
had national conferences at Southern Illinois University [Carbondale]
where I went to school, so I worked for them for a couple years. Then
I got drafted [into the U.S. Army], was away for two years, and then
when I tried to rehook up with them I ended up with FASST. FASST leads
to NASA, set up the Shuttle Student Involvement Project.
Luckily there was a new Associate Administrator [for the Space Shuttle
Program] at the time, General James [A.] Abrahamson had just come
in. When he did his tour of the Centers, he met the education people
down at [NASA] Marshall [Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama]
who told him about the Shuttle Student Involvement Project. He immediately
locked on to it. He thought that was a great idea. He said, “How
do I find out more about this?” John Taylor, the Marshall person
said, “When you get back to Headquarters find Alan Ladwig.”
I want to set a context here. This is in 1981. I’m a temporary
employee, I’m a GS [General Schedule (civil service level)]-7.
Maybe young people feel this way today, but back then an Associate
Administrator was a pretty big deal to me. I thought that was really
special. Wilson is gone that day. I walk by his office, and I see
this man standing by his desk looking around, so I popped in. I said,
“Can I help you?”
He said, “Yes, I’m looking for Alan Ladwig.”
I said, “I’m Alan Ladwig.”
He said, “I’m General Abrahamson.” I almost gasped
because I thought, “General Abrahamson coming to see me?”
He and I sat down and I told him about the vision we had for the Shuttle
Student Involvement Project.
He said, “What can I do to help?” When Wilson came back,
they got together and again he said, “What can I do to help?”
He said, “Ladwig needs a permanent position. He’s only
temporary.” I think it was a three-month deal. “We’ve
got to get him in here somehow.”
Abrahamson said, “Okay, we’ll transfer him into the Office
of Space Flight.” That’s what they did, they transferred
me over. I was working on the project there in collaboration with
the education division, certainly with Glenn Wilson. General Abrahamson
was so supportive that when we selected the first student winners—there
were 10 winners that first year, I guess we announced it probably
April or June of ’81. Abrahamson says, “I want one on
the first Shuttle flight.”
At that time JSC didn’t want anything to do with this program.
They were focused on getting the Shuttle flying for the first time.
In fact, when we sent the 10 winning proposals down to them, the note
that came back—I think it’s in the history file somewhere—said,
“You don’t expect to fly these things, do you?”
We replied, “Yes, that’s what it’s all about.”
Then Abrahamson said, “Okay, get me one on STS-3.” That’s
what we focused on. We picked Todd [E.] Nelson’s moth, fly,
and bee experiment. It was in a see-through plastic locket in the
middeck. We had to get corporate sponsors to help pay to turn the
winning proposals into flight-ready experiments. That was a big deal,
little that I knew at the time.
Years later I once noted that had I known in the beginning how hard
it would be to get an experiment approved for flight, I’m not
sure I would have persisted. There was an advantage to being naïve.
I didn’t know about safety reviews and the process they go through
to put something on the Shuttle. It was going to cost money to do
this. The Office of Spaceflight didn’t have the money to do
it; education didn’t have the money. We came up with this notion,
“We’ll go out and find corporate sponsors.”
We asked industry representatives if they would be willing to help
a student. Not only pay for the development of the experiment, but
also to mentor that student, pay for related travel, and turn that
proposal into a flight-ready experiment. Then we also picked a NASA
scientist or engineer to work with them. So we had a great combo [combination]
of the student, his or her teacher, the corporate sponsor, and a NASA
sponsor. That made all the difference in the world to get things done,
because the corporations were like me. They didn’t necessarily
know—at least the people I was working with didn’t know—what
it took. I worked with public affairs people. They didn’t know
anything more than I did about the process.
We worked really well together. They had a very lengthy paperwork
process for safety. I went to General Abrahamson and I said, “Look,
this is an experiment with some insects for God’s sakes. We
shouldn’t have to do this.” He said, “You’re
right.” So we were able to reduce the necessary forms. If memory
serves me, we were able to reduce the form to four pages.
Honeywell [Inc.] worked with Todd Nelson from Minnesota, Rose Creek,
to prepare the experiment. He flew his experiment on STS-3, and we
actually got the astronauts to pull it out and take a picture. The
result of that experiment was that after a few days in space the moths
and flies adapted, but the bees kind of spun around a lot. The complaint
at the time was this was taking away space from a professional scientist.
Our response was that “Hey, it’s a middeck locker, just
ease up. This is a good way to get students interested in science.”
Todd Nelson was on top of the world. He was on all the morning [TV]
talk shows, [The] Today Show, CBS [TV network], all the shows back
then. He became a mini-celebrity, and it was neat in a way because
here a science kid is getting as much attention as an athlete.
After he completed his experiment, he turned in his report [Experiment
Results: Insect Flight Observation at Zero Gravity, NASA-CR-173028
(1983)]. Then he called me up one day and he said, “When do
I get to go again?”
I said, “Sorry, this was a one-time-only opportunity.”
He was really crushed because he became so notorious with this thing.
He really enjoyed that attention. He even ended up being recruited
by different colleges. I want to say he went somewhere in Texas [University
of Houston], but they actually held a press conference the day they
signed him up. This was pretty cool stuff. Over the years I have tried
to track down the 10 original SSIP winners to see where they are today.
I’ve only been really successful with one of them, Dan [Daniel
J.] Weber, who now has kids older than he was when he did the program,
but I stay in touch with him. Another one of the students ended up
being a history intern here at Headquarters. That was neat.
Eventually, I think all but one or two of those 10 experiments actually
flew. One of them needed two simultaneous Shuttle launches, so I never
understood how the judges selected him to begin with. But, overall,
SSIP was a successful program, and I was in charge of it until 1983.
I then became General Abrahamson’s executive officer until he
was tapped by President Reagan to go to the Pentagon to run the Star
Wars program, the Strategic Defense Initiative. Abrahamson asked me
if I wanted to go with him. Even though I’d been in the Army,
I thought the notion of me at the Pentagon and my challenges with
authority probably wasn’t going to work real well.
So I said, “If it’s all the same to you, I’m going
to stay here.”
He said, “What would you like to do?”
At that time, they were just developing the notion of what they then
called the Citizen in Space program [later the Space Flight Participant
Program]. I said, “I’d like to manage that program.”
He said, “Okay,” and made the assignment. He had Jess
[Jesse W.] Moore, who was his replacement, make the arrangement, so
I got to be the head of that program from the very beginning. Nat
[Nathaniel B.] Cohen had done the initial legwork. He was working
with the NASA Advisory Council [NAC], and they had set up a special
task force to take a look and see if it made sense to fly a civilian
on the Shuttle. They looked at things like safety, for what purpose,
and a whole list of things. They had a really good task force. It
was led by one of the NAC members, Dan [Daniel J.] Fink. They went
out to all the Centers, they interviewed a lot of people and had the
public submit letters. They turned in their report in [June] ’83
that said, “Yes, we think it’s okay to fly a civilian.”
By the way, this task force was done because Jim [James M.] Beggs,
the [NASA] Administrator, got tired of getting calls and letters from
self-proclaimed VIPs [very important people] that thought they should
get to fly on the Shuttle. There had been articles in Parade magazine,
Omni [science fiction] magazine or others. NASA has a list. [Actors]
Jane Fonda and Robert Redford were on the list. I’d have to
go back and look up, but there were celebrity-types on the list.
One day Mr. Beggs declared, “We’re without a procedure
to deal with this,” and he didn’t want to deal with it
anymore. He gave it to the Advisory Council, and they set up the task
force. The task force came back, said, “Yes, we think it’s
probably okay to do. But it has to be done with a purpose.”
That purpose was communication. They developed three categories. They
said a broadcast communicator, a written communicator, or an educator
communicator. Of course those of us from the education background—my
Master’s was in higher ed [education]—we were elated that
an educator had made the list.
We assumed that a journalist would go first, just because journalists
always thought they would go first. This dates back into the mid-’70s
where NASA looked at flying non-astronauts a couple different times.
There were studies back then on it, they called it the “Unique
Personality program. They looked at different categories of people
Ultimately, the Naugle task force led to an internal NASA committee
that was led by Ann [P.] Bradley, who at the time was the number three
person, Associate Deputy Administrator. Other associate administrators
were also on the committee. The membership included the heads of the
Office of Spaceflight, Chief Scientist, Chief Engineer, and External
Affairs. They got together to review the three recommended categories.
There was a lot of thought that went into this, because you pick one
category, the other two categories are going to be ticked off.
I was the executive secretary of that group. I don’t recall
that I had a vote, because I was a GS-12 or something by then. They
gave it a lot of thought, and they ultimately decided the first opportunity
ought to go to an educator. We thought that was great, because at
the time educators had a bad rap [reputation] going. They didn’t
get the credit we thought they deserved. I saw this with the Shuttle
Student Involvement Project. It was the teachers that got the student
to the finish line, and then too often the teacher was forgotten.
Todd Nelson got all the publicity, and we had to fight to get the
teacher any recognition.
We liked this idea that an educator would get to go. Then it was like,
“Well, what kind of educator?” That group decided we need
an external organization to manage the program much like the National
Science Teachers Association [NSTA] had managed the Viking [Mars probes
launched in 1975] student program and the Shuttle Student Involvement
That was an important point. That was the other piece of the Shuttle
Student Involvement Program. It was managed and run by the NSTA. We
could not have done it without them, because they went out and got
volunteers to read all these student proposals and winnowed it down.
We had a selection committee that picked the final 10.
many actual entries did you have for those proposals?
was in the thousands, then over time it got to be even better because
the word got out. I think we probably ended up flying over 40-something
experiments over time, but it was always a struggle. These kids came
in when they were 14; I remember one kid was in college when he finally
got to fly. JSC never made it easy for us, it was always something.
With the Teacher program we had a decision memo for the Administrator.
Ann Bradley penned it, and it laid out the rationale for flying a
teacher. At the end it said, “For approval.” There was
a line for Beggs to sign. We sent it in to him in March. We didn’t
hear anything and didn’t hear anything. We’re starting
to get nervous, “Maybe he’s changed his mind, doesn’t
want to do this.”
On June 21, 1984, he approved the decision memo. Underneath his signature
he wrote, “Longest day of the year.” For years I thought,
“Oh, the poor man. This was such a hard decision for him. This
was really a long day for him.” I told this story to someone.
They said, “No, you idiot, that is the longest day of the year
[summer solstice].” I’ve had a good laugh on that one
Then the political appointees of Reagan got involved. They decided,
“Oh, the president should announce this.” Here at Headquarters,
we thought any other category of people that flew—be it the
science astronaut back in the Apollo era [Harrison Schmitt], the mission
specialists in the early ’70s, corporate payload specialists—that
was all announced by NASA officials. Political appointees—and
I don’t want to speak ill of them because I became one—always
looking for a way to get exposure with the White House.
The appointees convinced the White House that the president should
make the announcement. Remember, by this time there’s another
election going on, Reagan and [opponent Walter F.] Mondale. President
Reagan made the announcement on August 27, 1984, at Jefferson Junior
High School, Washington, DC. Reagan stood up and said, “The
first civilian to fly on the Shuttle is going to be one of America’s
finest, a teacher.”
Then we had a press conference here at Headquarters that Mr. Beggs
led. I was on the panel, along with Ann Bradley, and we announced
how we were going implement the program. We had selected the Council
of Chief State School Officers [CCSSO], an organization of the superintendents
of education of all the states. We needed them to, number one, to
give us a little bit of distance from the process that let them develop
the criteria, because this thing was going to be fraught with people
They came up with the notion that you had to have five years of teaching
experience, no administrators, full-time teachers at the elementary
or secondary level. Of course, immediately we started hearing from
administrators that were pissed off that they didn’t get to
apply. I think in either Oklahoma or Kansas some administrator threatened
to go to court to block the program. It was just absurd. Part-time
teachers were ticked off because they didn’t get to go, teachers
that had only taught four years were ticked off they didn’t
get to go. But we got through all that.
We came up with this in collaboration with the CCSSO, and we developed
a 12-14-page application. We wanted some self-selection going, because
we knew this was going to be a big deal. So, how do you start to narrow
the pool and yet get good people from the beginning? The length of
the application was step number one. Again, had we not had the council,
we’d have never been able to do this. We wouldn’t be able
to afford it—just all the volunteer help that they got that
read those applications.
There were more than 40,000 requests for applications at the beginning,
and 11,400 teachers actually submitted it. They’re out there,
then you have to come down to two winners per state. A videotape of
the teacher being interviewed was part of the entry process. So the
evaluators had to watch all these videotapes, but God bless them.
They did a wonderful job and came up with two winners per state and
the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Department of Defense schools,
Bureau of Indian Affairs. We ended up with  finalists, two per
Oh, and by the way, as I said the election was going on. Immediately,
there was criticism over the selection of a teacher. The NEA, National
Education Association, was supporting Mondale, and felt this was a
ploy by Reagan to get the teacher vote. “This was a publicity
stunt, and there was nothing good going to come out of this.”
Thankfully, some journalists thought it was wonderful. I’ll
always remember an op-ed [opinion-editorial] by Joseph Kraft that
was very meaningful to me, because he really got it.
The next day I went down to [NASA] Kennedy [Space Center (KSC)] because
there was a launch going on, and we had a press conference to talk
about the selection of a teacher. NBC reporter, Jay Barbree got up
and complained, “I think this is horrible, this is an insult
to journalists. We were on the beaches [Florida launch sites] in the
’60s, sleeping in tents, and this was stolen from us.”
I’ve never liked Jay Barbree ever since then. My response was,
“Well, teachers must be doing something good, because look at
all the great journalists in the room.” Then he shut up.
We went through the process, we got the . They all came to DC
for a national conference. We held it at the L’Enfant Plaza
Hotel [Washington, DC] and we gave them briefings on all of NASA’s
programs. We didn’t want this to be just a beauty contest. We
wanted to get something out of this, and we wanted the teachers to
get something out of it. Even if they didn’t win, they’d
go back home a winner. Again, this was in the Office of Space Flight,
but we picked a teacher, so there was a lot of collaboration with
Dr. Robert [W.] Brown, Frank [C.] Owens of the Educational Affairs
Division. “What are we going to do? How do we make this work?”
We had all these briefings for them, we had astronauts come up and
talk about the risk involved. Dick [Francis R.] Scobee was one of
the people that came up, Judy [Judith A.] Resnik and Michael [J.]
Smith also came up and spoke to them. Scobee was pretty straight about
it. “This isn’t something to screw around with, this is
serious stuff.” One of the finalists later was quoted in a book
saying, “Yes, they talked about safety, but that was like reading
the safety instructions on a bottle of oven cleaner.” I thought,
“Boy, am I glad you didn’t make it to the top 10.”
[The main focus of the week was the judging process to narrow the
114 state winners down to 10 finalists. For this task, Terri Adams
of CCSSO established a diverse National Review Panel that included:
former Apollo astronauts, Gene Cernan, Ed Gibson, Harrison Schmitt,
and Deke Slayton; academic representatives, Dr. Richard Berendzen
of American University, Dr. Virginia Smith of Vassar College, former
Senator, now President of Duke University, Terry Stanford, Phyllis
Curtin, Dean of Fine Arts and Music at Boston University, Dr. Sidney
Marland, former U. S. Commissioner of Education, Dr. Anne Campbell,
Vice President, National Parents Teachers Association, Hortnese Canady,
President Delta Sigma Theata, and Leroy Hay, 1983 Teacher of the Year.
The business community was represented by Dr. Dennis Carey of The
Hay Group, Ralph Caulo, Executive Vice President, Harcourt, Brace,
Jovanovich, and Dolores Wharton, President of the Fund for Corporate
Initiatives; professionals from the science and engineering research
community, including former NASA engineer, Dr. Konrad Dannenberg,
Estaban Sorian from Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, and Dr. Robert Jarvik
of the artificial heart fame; and from the celebrity community, former
Washington Bullet’s player Wes Unseld and actress Pam Dawber
of the Mork and Mindy TV show. The latter two were included to help
assess how the selected teacher might handle celebrity status.]
I was really impressed with the group of people we came up—they
did a great job. They interviewed all the teachers and recommended
the final list of 10. The NASA committee had to approve that list,
and they did, then the education folks and I got together. At the
national conference, Mr. Beggs appointed all the teachers as Space
Ambassadors to further expand NASA’s educational message. Many
of them ended up being the representatives of their state to the Aerospace
States Association, which was an organization from all the states.
They weren’t all involved; maybe 31 states or so were members.
Usually it was the lieutenant governor that represented their state
on ASA, but in many cases the winning teacher ended up that assignment.
Then NASA decided that they would hire all 10 finalists to work at
NASA Centers. I took them to each of the human spaceflight Centers—JSC,
KSC, Marshall—to give them a tour. So they had that experience
going for them, which by the way is the same thing we did for the
student winners of the SSIP; we took the students to KSC so they could
The tour of the Centers also gave me a chance to observe them unofficially.
Again, I didn’t have a vote, but the NASA committee wanted to
know what did I see, what did I think. That group of 10 got along
together famously, they just instantly clicked. We had a birthday
party for Christa McAuliffe at my house, and everybody got along really,
Then the day comes to announce the winner [July 19, 1985], and Ann
Bradley brought the 10 into her office. The White House didn’t
want us telling them in advance who won. Since Reagan had made the
original announcement, they wanted to bring it back to the White House
to make the announcement of the winner. Reagan was in the hospital
at the time undergoing an operation. So, we met with the Vice President
[George H.W. Bush] in the Roosevelt Room [West Wing, White House].
The 10 teachers united and said to Ann Bradley, “We don’t
want to go over there and not know who the winner is. It’ll
feel too much like a beauty contest in that we’ll be put on
the spot. They’ll look at our reactions, and we want to be supportive.”
Ann said, “Okay.” She announced Christa was the winner,
and Barbara [R.] Morgan was the backup. Hugs, kisses all around, tears.
We go over to the White House, go into the Roosevelt Room. The 10
lined up and it just so happened that Christa ended up standing next
to the Vice President. It was just happenstance.
He announced, “And the winner is Christa McAuliffe.” He
then looks to his left and says, “Oh, it’s you.”
She gave this lovely response. To this day, I get a little choked
up when I see her telling the story about how she would be one teacher
but she would be going with nine other souls. She was in tears. It
couldn’t have been more genuine had we planned it, but it was
Despite the spontaneity, a female staffer from the White House came
and grabbed me. “You could tell they knew. They knew, you told
them. You’ve embarrassed the Vice President of the United States!”
I go, “Well, what can I say? We told them.”
“Listen, buster, this is Ronald Reagan’s program, and
you had no right.”
I said, “Excuse me?” She’s berating me. So I said,
“Let me have you talk to my boss, Ann Bradely. Ann, in turn,
referred the irate staffer over to Mr. Beggs, to whom she started
He said, “Well, if the vice president has any problems with
it have him call me.” I thought, “God bless Jim Beggs,”
because he didn’t back down on it. That was a funny moment.
It was a little irritating that we couldn’t get the White House
to allow the spouses of the teachers to come along. It was like “No,
no, only the 10.” Then we needed to get back to Headquarters
right away. We had a station wagon waiting out front, and we all piled
into the car to drive away from the White House. Running after us
was a journalist from the Concord Monitor [New Hampshire newspaper].
Christa said, “Oh, can we please let him come along?”
So he jumped in the car and got the immediate story. It was probably
not the right thing to do, but it was her moment and I wasn’t
going to say no to anything.
From that moment, the program shifted from the Office of Space Flight
to Education. They worked with Christa on her lesson plan. Thankfully
to George [W. S.] Abbey [director of the Flight Crew Operations at
JSC] and Dr. Carolyn [L.] Huntoon [Deputy Center Director] approved
Barbara going through the same training that Christa did. That was
unusual, because at that time, when corporate payload specialists
went through the program, the backups didn’t get to go through
the full training; they only got to go through bits and pieces. Barbara
got to do the KC-135 [reduced-gravity aircraft], she got to go to
the classes, she got the same experience that Christa did. Meanwhile,
the other eight were hired to work for NASA for a year.
know you met a lot of them, and then it got narrowed down to that
10. Were you surprised at the ones that were chosen, and then ultimately
when Christa and Barb were chosen?
wasn’t at all surprised by Christa and Barb. To me they really
stood out of the 10. There were some other good ones in the 10, and
I think there were some other good ones that didn’t make the
10. I’m still in touch with these people, a lot of them on Facebook,
on Twitter [social media]—we’ve had reunions.
There was a reunion last year for the 30th anniversary of the [Space
Shuttle Challenger STS-51L] explosion. We must have had 60 of the
teachers show up. Some have died, some we can’t find, but that
group has kept in touch for over 30 years. They were committed and
they are still. I would say 80 percent of them are still committed
to the NASA mission and to the Teacher in Space program. We did bring
them back to Barbara’s flight when she finally got to fly [STS-118
in August 2007]. That was neat. We had a good turnout for that as
To me, I wasn’t surprised about Christa. We got a little criticism
from some people that she wasn’t a science teacher. She was
a social science teacher and Barbara was an elementary teacher. “What
could she possibly know?” But they both came through like champs.
They were accepted by the crew.
By the way, I think it helped a lot that Dick Scobee’s wife,
Dr. June Scobee—now June Scobee Rodgers—was what they
called a master teacher. I never quite understood what that meant,
a really good teacher I guess. She was very supportive, and I think
put the bug in Dick’s ear to “let’s make sure this
works.” We were always very thankful for that. The crew couldn’t
have been nicer to work with. That hadn’t been my experience
necessarily with all the student experiments, because the crew, “Oh,
we got to do this for this kid.” I won’t generalize, but
there were certain flights where they just wouldn’t do it.
I had another program going on simultaneously called the nonscientific
science payload program. Up to that point, you could only fly scientific
things on the Shuttle. Then there was this concept “What if
we flew some nonscientific things?” Again, broaden the interest
of people. We put a call out and we got some interesting replies.
Doug [Douglas J.] Henning, the magician, submitted some ideas. He
was going to do these magic tricks from Earth on the Shuttle. David
Letterman, from his [late-night TV talk] show, sent in some things.
He wanted to put on a decal of a fake gas tank that showed “Empty,”
he wanted to put something on one of the windows that showed an alien
looking in, some silly stuff.
But we also had an artist named [Dr.] Lowry Burgess. At that time
he was at [Massachusetts College of Art] in Boston, today he’s
at Carnegie Mellon University [Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania]. He had a
concept for a work of art called “The Boundless Cubic Lunar
Aperture.” It was a five-inch cube that contained a hologram
of nothing, including water from eight sacred rivers of the world
that he distilled on a solar cooker in the Grand Canyon [Arizona].
When this came back it was [placed in its own magnetic field in a
400-million-year-old rock outcrop beside Sandy Pond in Lincoln, Massachusetts].
It was very esoteric. If Lowry explained it to you, it made perfect
sense. But it was out there.
All we wanted to do was fly this cube in a middeck locker, have the
astronauts take it out, let it float, take a picture, put it back.
They wouldn’t do it. They were embarrassed by the whole thing,
they thought they’d have to explain it. They couldn’t
explain it. We never got a picture of the frigging cube, but that
was the first. That program was eventually abolished, and there has
been art and things flown since then, but that was the very first
one. That was another side job I had.
While the teacher thing is going on, the NASA committee decided, “What
about the second opportunity?” The second opportunity was decided
for a journalist. Both broadcast and written journalists applied,
so we didn’t go with the task force committee only selecting
one or the other. For that we picked the Association of Schools of
Journalism and Mass Communications. They were headquartered in [Columbia]
South Carolina. They helped develop the criteria, because again we
didn’t want to touch that one. That was a losing situation.
They made the criteria for what kind of journalist you had to be.
We ended up with 1,700 applications. I forget how many requested the
application, but the journalist was going to be a much different deal
than the teacher, because the journalists were journalists. It was
like “Well, we’re not coming to any kind of NASA briefing,
or some conference. We’re going to be independent when we’re
on board, we’re not going to report to the commander.”
We’re like, “Oh yes, you are.”
We got through it, but it was ticklish because a journalist is a different
profession entirely than a teacher. The teachers would do anything.
They loved the recognition for their profession, they loved NASA.
Journalists were a little more skeptical. We narrowed the list to
I was not at Kennedy the day of the Challenger accident. I was there
for a conference with all the teachers, all the winners. However with
the [launch] delays I had to get back to a meeting on the Journalist
in Space program. So I was here at Headquarters for that. Of course
after the accident nobody wanted to talk about a journalist in space.
That got shoved to the side. We would get letters every now and then,
phone calls from the journalists, especially the ones on the list,
that said, “Hey, what’s happening?”
But it wasn’t going to happen, it was clear that things had
changed. Every subsequent Administrator until Dan [Daniel S.] Goldin
kept kicking that can down the road. Even NEA, which had started out
as a critic of the Teacher in Space program, became one of its greatest
advocates. They would write to NASA Administrator, NASA education,
“When are you going to fly Barbara Morgan as the backup?”
Nobody was willing to touch that one. Richard [H. “Dick”]
Truly, on his last day as Administrator said, “Yes, I think
we should probably fly the teacher.” Dan Goldin was very upset,
because it was like “What, he could have made the decision.
Now he’s going to put it on me.”
It languished for several years until John [H.] Glenn’s 
flight [STS-95]. John Glenn, former hero of NASA, astronaut, wanted
to fly on the Shuttle. He’s in his 70s, hadn’t been in
a space environment for 35 years, but he was a Marine. The Deputy
Administrator, General [John R. “Jack”] Dailey, was a
Marine, and the chief of staff, Mike [Michael I.] Mott, was a Marine.
So guess what, a Marine was going to fly on the Shuttle, because he
At that time I was back [at NASA]. I had left NASA in 1990 because
I just got burned out. I came back as a political appointee under
[President William J. “Bill”] Clinton [in 1994]. I was
in a meeting where they were going to discuss “Should they fly
John Glenn?” My problem with it was not that he wasn’t
a wonderful hero and that people loved him, but I didn’t like
it when they said he “deserved” it. How do you determine
who deserves to fly on the Shuttle? I thought that was opening a huge
hole, because then were all the Apollo astronauts going to come and
say, “Hey, I deserve to fly”? Certainly I always expected
Buzz Aldrin would be on the phone. Others might.
Then they said, “Well, we’re going to do this for medical
reasons.” They came up with that cockamamie one-off medical
experiment. In that meeting it was Goldin; Fred [Frederick D.] Gregory,
who was the [Associate Administrator for the Office of Safety and
Mission Assurance] at the time; George Abbey; Mike Mott; General Dailey;
and I forget who else was in the room.
They said, “Okay, we’re going to allow John Glenn to fly.”
I said, “What about Barbara Morgan?”
They said, “What’s this got to do with Barb Morgan?”
I said, “Well, you’re flying a non-astronaut.”
“He’s an astronaut.”
I said, “He hasn’t been an astronaut for 30 years. People
are going to ask.”
They hemmed and they hawed. Fred Gregory, God bless him, came up with
the perfect solution. If people were nervous about flying a civilian
again, let’s make Barbara Morgan an astronaut. So boom, that’s
how she then joined an astronaut class. Barbara had to go through
all the astronaut training, waited her turn, eventually got her flight,
and flew. I felt vindicated.
the most patient astronaut we’ve ever had.
Let me just step back for a minute. After the accident, certainly
the Journalist in Space program was put on hold. I didn’t have
a job, so now what? Sally [K.] Ride had come to Dr. [James C. “Jim”]
Fletcher, who was the head at the time, and said she wanted to do
something to help get NASA back on track. “How do we recover
from this accident?”
That’s when they came up with the notion of this long-range
planning study she did that became known as the Ride Report [“NASA
Leadership and America’s Future in Space: A Report to the Administrator”
(1987)]. I became affiliated with the study because of Dr. Carolyn
Huntoon—who I had met through the Shuttle Student Involvement
Program when she was the head of [Space and] Life Sciences [at JSC].
She helped us with a couple of the students from that first year that
did food-related experiments, and we became great friends.
Sally didn’t know Headquarters, she had been an astronaut down
at JSC. Carolyn felt that Sally was going to need somebody to run
interference for her at Headquarters, and take care of all the administrative
crap that Sally wouldn’t want to do and help her out that way.
Carolyn arranged for Sally and me to meet. I had known of Sally, but
I had never met her before. In fact, initially, as I said at one of
her memorial services, I really didn’t like Sally Ride at first,
because I had been told that on her flight [STS-7] she had specifically
said she didn’t want to fly any student experiments. I thought,
“What’s that all about?”
After we met, I said to her, “What did you have against student
experiments?” Because she seemed like somebody who’s really
for young people, interested in education.
She said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
I said, “I was told that you specifically didn’t want
student experiments on your flight.”
She said, “Absolutely not true. I never knew anything about
it.” We backtracked later and found out sometimes if people
in the [flight] integration office didn’t want to do something,
they’d blame it on an astronaut, because who’s going to
argue with an astronaut?
With that behind us, we became great pals. We worked together on her
long-range study. Four different groups were formed: one on a human
mission to Mars, mission to the Moon, mission to a comet with a penetrator,
and Earth science. That’s where the title for Mission to Planet
Earth [Earth-observing satellites] came from.
One of Sally’s the great things that she did, I thought, was
to involve young people in that effort. Up to that time, all the commissions
and studies that had been done at NASA were always full of older middle-aged
white males. She thought, “We’re going to keep getting
the same answers, because we keep going to the same people.”
She called it the Task Group 1A. I can’t for the life of me
remember what that referred to; I think she just pulled it out of
the air. She went to the directors of every Center and said, “Give
me one of your best people to be on this committee.” Each one
stepped up, gave us a rep [representative] from each Center. They
met on their own, kicking around ideas.
This is at the beginning of email. None of the other people were doing
email, but these kids, they networked. They were in touch with each
other all the time, their emails. That’s how I learned email,
watching them. It was really neat to see them get involved and get
enthused and get some young perspective.
By the way, a lot of those young people ended up in senior NASA positions
here later. Brian [K.] Muirhead out at [NASA] JPL [Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, California], John [F.] Muratore down at JSC.
Nancy E. Swila from [NASA] Langley [Research Center, Hampton, Virginia]
who—I don’t think became Center Director, but Deputy Center
Director. They were really standout young people.
At the end we come up with a report. I helped do some of the writing
and editing. Sally did a lot of the writing. We had an SAIC [Science
Applications International Corporation] contractor named Terri Ramlose
who worked with me on editing and writing the report. When it was
completed, she [Sally] didn’t want to recommend any one of the
four initiatives. She made a case for each of the four, and then felt
it was up to the senior management to make that decision.
For the report, normally you would do a press conference. She said,
“I’m not doing a press conference.”
I go, “Sally, you have to do a press conference, we have to
talk about this.”
“No, I don’t, I’m not going to.” She ended
up calling Craig Covault from Aviation Week [& Space Technology
weekly magazine] and pretty much gave him the story. “Here’s
what we did, here’s what we’re recommending, have a nice
day.” All the other journalists got really pissed off. To her
credit, she said, “I don’t want this to be about me, because
it’ll invariably be about well, would you ever fly in the Shuttle
again, would you train again, would you do this, would you do that.”
Instead, she resigned from NASA after the report came out.
One of the recommendations was to establish an Office of Space Exploration.
My next job became setting that office up, and I became the Director
of Special Projects. I did that until 1990, and then I got burned
out. We’re talking about going to Moon and Mars, and there’s
no money, and it’s all bullshit. I just couldn’t go out
and give that speech anymore. I would go out and give a lot of speeches
and get everybody revved up. “We’re going to Mars.”
I was like, “Hmm, probably not.” So I left.
I initially was going to write a book—of which I’ve written
quite a bit, but all these years later it still is just sitting there—called
See You in Orbit? It’s a question mark at the end of that. I
was going to tell the story of the dream people have to fly in space.
It was a two-level story. There was “Here’s what was happening
historically about what we thought of spaceflight and our dream to
fly in space.” I went back to the letters people wrote to Robert
[H.] Goddard in the ’30s saying, “I want to volunteer
to fly in your rocket to the Moon.” They’re just precious,
Then in the ’50s when [Wernher] von Braun spoke at the Hayden
Planetarium [New York City, New York]. They did a program and Hayden
put out a form, “Interplanetary tour, sign up! Where do you
want to go? Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, the Moon. Expected departure 1975.”
That thing went viral, viral at the time. They got 22,000 applications
from people around the world that wanted to sign up for that, and
people got little cards that certified they were signed up for this
Then Pan Am [Pan American World Airways] comes in the late ’60s
with the First Moon Flights Club. They get 90,000 people signed up
for the Moon Flights Club, and they get cards. People used to send
me those cards, copies of them, from Hayden and from Pan Am for the
Space Flight Participant Program [Teacher and Journalist in Space
projects]. “Can I turn in my card now?” It was great.
That was that one level there.
The other level was “Well, here’s what’s really
happening.” It started off with Christa on the launchpad, the
explosion. The question is how did we get from test pilots to a teacher
in space? Then it goes back and tells—the Mercury Program and
only pilots, and then science astronauts, and African American astronauts,
and mission [specialists]. I went through that history, even telling
some of the stories from Gemini and Apollo of near catastrophes.
But then, at the same time, “We’re going to live in space,”
[according to] the stories being told in the general public. Then
it was going to end with looking to the future. At that time the [Ansari]
X Prize [for Suborbital Spaceflight] was just starting. That’s
how I was going to end it.
I couldn’t get a publisher at the time. When I finally did get
a publisher, I had a job, I couldn’t work on it anymore. I keep
thinking maybe now that I’m retired I’ll try to salvage
it somehow. I’ve used it a lot in speeches, I’ve used
it for other things. I still may tell it, because it’s an interesting
story. If you lay down the letters that Robert Goddard got, next to
the Hayden Planetarium letters, next to Pan Am letters, next to the
letters I got for the Space Flight Participant Program, you could
not tell the date they were written. If I covered up the date you
wouldn’t know. The dream is the same, has been the same forever.
(Since the time of this interview, I have finished the book with the
title, See You in Orbit: The Long and Winding Road to Private Citizen
Spaceflight. It will be published through a Print on Demand company.
I hope to have it on the street in time for the 50th Anniversary of
Apollo and/or the first commercial suborbital flight of Richard Branson.)
was reading something when I was doing the research. You had mentioned
that even the teachers that had been selected for that group of 10—when
the explosion happened they were contacting NASA saying, “I
still want to fly.” I think that dream, like you said, is there
in these people.
I left, then I needed to make money, so I worked for SAIC for a few
years as a contractor. That was interesting because here I had been
at NASA, a civil servant, then I’m a contractor. Those are different
worlds, as you may know, altogether. The way you’re treated,
the way you’re looked at. I hope that’s not the case for
you guys with history. But who knows?
think it’s universal.
Sally comes knocking at my door again. When Clinton won the election,
she became head of the Science, Technology, and Space cluster for
the transition team. She called me up and said, “Do you think
SAIC would lend you to me? I’d like you to be my assistant on
I said, “Absolutely.” SAIC was thrilled to let me do that.
I worked with her for the next several months on that effort. Then
that allowed me to throw my hat in the ring for a political appointment.
It took until October after Clinton was sworn in—so that would
have been in October of ’93 when I finally returned to NASA.
It was a gruesome personnel process to go through. I kept a list of
all the calls and times I sent packages in. It was three pages long,
but I finally got in.
I worked directly for Mr. Goldin, and he decided he wanted to reestablish
the Office of Policy and Plans, which had not been in existence for
a number of years. In setting that up I really utilized the history
archives [NASA Headquarters Historical Reference Collection]. I came
downstairs and they helped me. We went through all the previous Policy
and Plans files; we saw how it was set up. I’ll have to look
it up somewhere, but it seemed to me at the time that in the 25-year
history of NASA the policy function had been reorganized 18 times.
It was just ridiculous.
We tried to learn “Okay, well, why didn’t it last? What
was the flaw?” We went and we talked to the former people that
were heads of those offices. We came up with this idea for a new Policy
and Plans Office with an Associate Administrator leading it. Goldin
then put me in charge of that office.
It worked pretty well. That office lasted until 2000 when [President
George W.] Bush came in, so it lasted to the end of Clinton’s
tenure. I thought we did a lot of good things. We developed the first
strategic plan under the Government Performance and Results Act [GPRA,
Public Law 103–62]. We developed the Strategic Management System,
we had booklets made. We were the main conduit to respond to the Government
Performance and Results Act to make sure we did all those things.
The first strategic plan we got done, and it was not an easy effort.
You had to get the approval of all the program offices, all the Centers.
Everybody wanted to write their own section, but there was no continuity
to it. We put our best foot forward and said, “Look, we’re
going to take your input but we’re writing this thing.”
General Dailey wouldn’t let us use any photographs or color.
I said, “Are you kidding me? NASA is a visual agency. We got
to have pictures.”
“No, no pictures.”
When I was at SAIC, one of my tasks with space science was to develop
a brochure on each planet. At that time, NASA did not have information
on each individual planet. We wanted one of these accordion brochures
that listed all the missions that had gone to the planet, which ones
were successful, what was planned, information about the planet—all
on the front part. Then you opened it up, and you had the best picture
available of the planet, so it’d be a nice little poster for
We got Jupiter, Saturn, and I think Mars completed until General Dailey
discovered it. He was against the fact that they were all full-color,
and the project got canceled. It wasn’t till years later, with
the introduction of lithographs, that you could actually get a pack
of lithographs from the [Office of] Space Science that showed all
the planets. What a concept, in color.
it the cost that he was objecting to?
don’t know, maybe it was the cost. It wasn’t that much,
give me a break. Anyway, we got the first one done, and we got very
good reviews on our strategic plan. I think we were in the top five
that were rated by whoever rated those things back then. I can’t
remember if it was that one or the next year—the next year the
plan looked very much like the first one, only we got to use blue
ink. I don’t know, was it that one or even the next one?
One of them, I’ll never forget, there was a senior management
meeting and there was a debate going on. I didn’t feel that
our plan had satisfied all the instructions of the GPRA, specifically
about goals and budgets. There was no budget in the strategic plan,
and the program offices for some reason were reluctant to call out
goals. They said, “Well, the purposes are—.” I said,
“They asked for a goal, we need a goal.”
General Dailey said at the time, “Sometimes getting a C-plus
is okay. We’ll just get a C-plus.”
I said, “I never thought I’d be in a meeting of NASA senior
managers and be told a C-plus is okay.” I said, “This
is an outrage.” Then I was told to shut up, and that was that.
I can’t remember—was I still in charge? I think so—when
we finally got a strategic plan that was in color and had photos.
Nobody paid any attention to it, so it didn’t matter. I was
very proud of the strategic plan. The Strategic Management System
we set up with a lot of other offices, we weren’t the only ones
on the Strategic Management System.
The other thing I was proud of was being NASA’s rep on the National
Space Policy discussion under Clinton. I represented NASA, then they
had a civil group and a defense group and a commercial group. I was
also in charge of the civil group within OSTP [Office of Science and
Technology Policy] that was looking at that.
We came up with the space policy in 1996. It took a long time, because
you had all these agencies. There’s a lot more agencies involved
in space than people realize. Words mattered, so there’d be
a lot of argument over individual words and sentences, “What
does this mean, what does that mean?” But we finally got it
signed in ’96, and shortly after it was signed some astronauts
from down at JSC—and I think maybe even George Abbey. I don’t
want to take his name in vain, because it’ll always come back
to bite you—they thought that NASA should be allowed to fly
commercial payloads again.
After the accident, we weren’t allowed to fly commercial satellites
anymore. That had to go to the private sector. I said, “Well,
you can’t do that. The space policy forbids NASA from doing
They said, “Well, can’t we just change that?” This
is after a two-and-a-half-year period of writing this thing.
I go, “No, you can’t.”
I’ll never forget this—I forget specifically who the astronaut
was, but he said, “Well, I may just be a dumb astronaut, but
I don’t see what’s so hard about it.”
I said, “Well, that’s because you’re a dumb astronaut.”
I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Look, I won’t try
to fly the Shuttle. You don’t tell me what to do in space policy.”
That faded away quickly, but it was indicative of how little some
people understood space policy, or appreciated it, or even thought
they needed to know anything about it.
I did that for several years, and good stuff came out. We started
collaborating more with commercial people. One of the things we did
was invite the business reps from the aerospace companies in for briefings
every now and then. We gave them a briefing before the budget came
out. That was all new.
Then in 1999, in the summer, Sally Ride called me up and said, “I’m
going to become the president of Space.com [space and astronomy news
website]. I’d like you to come with me.” Space.com was
this new portal that was being established. Lou [Louis C.] Dobbs of
CNN [Cable News Network] fame was the CEO [chief executive officer].
He had gotten money from investors to set it up, and he wanted to
create a portal that was all things space. She was going to be the
president and she wanted me to work for her. I was going to be here
in DC as a liaison with NASA and other aerospace companies.
I set up an office in the corner of the very far end of this building
on the corner of 4th [Street Southwest] and E [Street Southwest].
That office space is now used by NASA, but had been empty for eight
years. I was able to get a lease, and we had Space.com’s office
in the NASA Headquarters building.
It was great. We had a cappuccino machine, people came down, spilled
their guts. It was wonderful. Sally and I worked together. She was
especially big on a kids’ portal for Space.com, SpaceKids she
called it. Her interest was to do education things. But Space.com
in the early days struggled finding “Who is its target audience?
Where’s the market? How are you going to make any money out
They ramped up way too quickly. They hired over 125 people in the
first six months. Then the dot-com crash [of speculative internet
ventures] hit. Sally saw the writing on the wall and she got out early.
She went to the University of California, San Diego. I remained in
the DC office. We had three people working here, Leonard David was
one of them. Then, on New Year’s Eve of 2000-2001, that afternoon,
the general counsel showed up at the front door. I said, “Oh,
this can’t be good,” because I had survived the first
He said, “No, we’re closing down the office. You’ve
got two weeks, goodbye.” That was my short-lived experience
with the dot-com world. Initially I was given some stock options.
It was funny because Dan Goldin heard about it, and Goldin said to
Ed [Edward] Heffernan—who was my good friend and his chief of
staff—“Eddie, Alan has options.”
Ed thought he meant options for a job. Ed goes, “No, he doesn’t.
He’s already gone through his options, he’s going to work
“No, I mean he has stock options.” Dan was so impressed
with that. That ended up never amounting to anything, but it was an
interesting experience. I worked for Lou Dobbs, who was a very unusual
character to work for. I loved, of course, working with Sally. We
tried to do some good things, just didn’t work out.
Then I went and hooked up with Charlie [Charles M.] Chafer. He’s
runs Celestis [Inc.], which is the ashes-in-space people [cremated
remains launched into space]. But he had a separate project called
Team Encounter [LLC] where he wanted to send a solar sail the size
of a football field into the solar system. On it, he was going to
have this little capsule that had DNA [deoxyribonucleic acid (genetic
material)] of people. People wrote in their message to the future
and sent us a lock of their hair, and this was all going to be sent.
Then that ran out of money.
While I was doing that though, I had free time. Sally hired me as
a consultant with her back at San Diego to work on what became EarthKAM
[Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students] and some other
things she was doing. The beginning of Sally Ride Science [at UC San
Diego] started then, so I was involved in that a little bit.
Then Zero Gravity Corporation, Peter [H.] Diamandis, came to me. He
had been working for 11 years to try to get approval for parabolic
flight. He brought me on board to be his chief operating officer,
so I was there during the start-up phase when we finally got certification
from FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and started flying. I was
there for probably the first 27, 28 flights. Then they ran into a
cash problem and it was “Well, can you work for deferred salary
and someday money?” and I said no. I had a mortgage, I had a
wife, it wasn’t going to work.
Then Northrop Grumman [Corporation] picked me up to work on their
CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle) proposal. This is in the 2004, 2005
timeframe. I was on that team, again in DC, working for them with
[The] Boeing [Company]-Northrop team. We bid on that and we lost to
Lockheed [Martin]. Northrop wasn’t quite sure what they were
going to do with human spaceflight. It had never been a big thing
for them. My supervisor advised that if I could find another position,
I should probably start looking because the layoffs were coming.
Then I ended up with WBB [Whitney, Bradley & Brown, Inc.], a consulting
company in town that mainly did defense consulting, but they wanted
to start space consulting. So I started their space consulting, and
our first contract was with Space Florida [aerospace economic development
agency of the State of Florida] down in the Cape Canaveral area.
we go back just for a minute, back to the ’90s? When you were
still with SAIC, you were a coauthor on the Space Station redesign
task group final report [Final Report to the President: Advisory Committee
on the Redesign of the Space Station (1993)]. A lot was going on in
the ’90s, especially with Space Station and Shuttle-Mir [Phase
1 of the International Space Station, ISS] and then beginning the
ISS. You were also, later when you were back working with NASA, the
primary alternate for events and media interviews for the Administrator.
Talk a little bit about that Space Station task group.
At SAIC, in addition to the space science task I was on, they got
the contract to work with the task force that was looking at the Space
Station. It was Space Station Freedom, but what should it become?
That was a committee led by Charles [M.] Vest, the president of MIT
[Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts].
We worked as contractors for a guy that was the executive director
or secretary of that task force. I’ve long since forgotten his
name, but it was one of those instances where we were put in our place.
“At the end of the day, you’re a contractor, we don’t
really care about your ideas.” But we helped write the final
report. Again, Terri Ramlose, who I had worked with on the Ride Report—then
when I was at the Office of Exploration, we did a follow-up to the
Ride Report called “Beyond Earth’s Boundaries [Human Exploration
of the Solar System in the 21st Century” (1988)]. She and I
worked on that together, and then we worked on this International
Space Station task force report.
They took a hard look at what should they do with the Station, because
it had been voted on many times up to that point [Congressional votes
for funding]. The purposes had changed, the direction had changed.
At one time it was going to be two keels, and it was going to be used
as an assembly station to go to Mars, then it was different.
This task force was supposed to set out, “What are the options
that make sense that we could do?” I think they had three different
options in that report of different complexities. They didn’t
necessarily give a specific recommendation, but said, “Here
are the three options, you all decide what you want to do.”
Out of that grew the International Space Station and the change in
direction in the architecture.
It was an interesting time because that was going to be the next big
leap for NASA. The Shuttle was still of course flying, but people
were already looking to the next thing. “What was going to come?
What was the next big thing?” The Shuttle was becoming routine
for people. Even some of the engineers didn’t want to work on
it any more, they wanted the next cool thing. A lot of them moved
over to the Space Station Program.
I felt really fortunate to get to work on that. Then somewhere in
there was Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford’s project, the “America
at the Threshold [America’s Space Exploration Initiative”
(1991)] report. I want to say that was in ’91.
was ’91, the Vest report was ’93.
that was another one. I got hired as a consultant to help with that
final report as an editor, and worked with that group. They were set
up over in Crystal City [Virginia]. I would go over there and get
all the input from people and work with their art director. There
was another contractor that had the responsibility to put the report
together, but I was one of the editors. I got to work with that group,
and again that was a forward-looking thing. “We’re going
to the Moon, we’re going to Mars.” The whole time I’m
thinking like, “Well, maybe this time. Maybe this time we’ll
do it.” Of course, that report went no further than most other
of that is the administration, because that was the initiative the
first President [H.W.] Bush, and then in ’92 we got a new President
[Clinton] and initiatives changed.
In ’89 it was “Oh, we’re going to go back to the
Moon, we’re going to Mars. We’re going to build a Space
Station, we’re going to do all this cool stuff.” Oh yes,
by the way, it’s going to cost $500 billion. They said, “Rrrr,
I don’t think so.” That was the worst thing that ever
happened, that number getting out. It should have never happened.
Number one, somebody licked their finger and stuck it up in the wind
to try to figure out what it might cost. It included a cumulative
cost over time, it wasn’t just to make the launch. It just was
a stupid number, but it became a real deterrent at the time. That’s
all anybody wanted to talk about. The Stafford Report was to try to
figure out, “How do we implement the Bush Space Exploration
Initiative?” That’s what that report was all about. Then
Clinton comes in, “Station is a mess, over budget, behind schedule.”
The task force comes out, “Here’s what you should do.”
I give Dan Goldin a lot of credit for saving the Space Station Program,
because there was a lot of opposition to it. It was, as I said, over
budget and behind schedule. Nobody knew what it was supposed to do.
There had been many votes in Congress to kill it. He convinced Congressman
John [R.] Lewis to cast the deciding vote in favor of the station.
Goldin caught him going into the vote and changed his mind, so we
won by one vote [June 23, 1993]. Also a great story if you could ever
get Mr. Goldin to tell it. I’ve tried to encourage him to do
it, maybe somebody’s got the story, I don’t know.
But the story of the NASA delegation over in Moscow during the overthrow
of the government [1993 Russian constitutional crisis], when they
were there discussing the Space Station partnership—this is
when Clinton decides we’re going to have Russia as a partner.
They’re off-site somewhere talking about all this. Meantime,
this is the whole [Russian president Boris N.] Yeltsin thing and tanks
are firing into the Russian White House. They had to make a decision.
Were they going to get the heck out of town while they could? Or were
they going to see it through?
Mr. Goldin took a vote of everyone. I guess everybody voted to stay,
and that was all the difference in the world for the future of that
program as far as I’m concerned. Of course I’m hearing
the story secondhand, but it seemed to me to be pretty genuine. I
heard the story from enough different sources that it sounded like
a pretty heroic act on the part of those people that were there. I
think it could be a beautiful story sometime.
There was that report, “At the Threshold.” I really hated
that name, “America at the Threshold,” because threshold
had been used numerous times. It’s like, “Let’s
get past the threshold, let’s go do something.” Then,
as I said, I was doing those things and then finally got to come to
NASA as a political appointee.
as it always does, affects a lot of things. During all that time was
that Clinton-[Vice President Albert A.] Gore [Jr.] initiative to reform
and streamline the federal government. With the Space Station going
on, and as you said that number that got out, it was an interesting
time to be in your position.
was also during the [Lockheed Martin] X-33 [suborbital spaceplane]
activity. I want to say Gore presided over a major event related to
the X-33. Unfortunately it didn’t quite pan out, but for a moment
there it was like, “Okay, here’s the replacement for the
Shuttle.” A lot of “Let’s all go towards that.”
It was a fascinating time because there was all this churn going on.
Then, under Dan’s entire 9-year period that he was there, the
budget was flat the whole time, no matter how hard he tried to get
more money. Boy, Dan Goldin could talk. He was a visionary. He had
some social issues with people that are a different story, but boy,
when he was up on stage, he could paint a vision like nobody. But
he could not crack OMB [Office of Management and Budget], he could
not get more money out of Congress.
I think he did the best he could. That’s when he came up with
the notion “Okay, if they’re not going to give me more
money, let’s do it faster, better, cheaper.” I always
felt that that didn’t quite get the support it should have.
There were a lot of cynics. It was like faster, better, cheaper—pick
two. But he really did, I thought, a great effort keeping things together,
keeping the Station going.
Following it was the Mars Observer [Mars Geoscience/Climatology Orbiter]
that we lost [on August 21, 1993]. That’s when he really focused
on—he called them “Battleship Galactica” missions.
We just can’t afford these billion-dollar spacecraft that if
you lose them you’re screwed. That’s when he started going
towards a series of smaller things.
He got very interested in the whole Origins Program [missions to study
origins of universe], he was a big supporter of that. He got that
to be a major event at the White House that Vice President Gore led
with people from different walks of life that came over to participate
in that meeting. Unfortunately, and I’ve never understood this,
OSTP didn’t record it, didn’t want notes on it, and never
had any release of information afterwards about it. You had these
brilliant minds in the room talking about the origins of life, and
I’m going, “God, we got to talk about this.” I don’t
know, it was some weird thing. They just chose—I don’t
know if they thought it was going to be laughed at or what.
Dan Goldin had another great idea. He brought together a bunch of
theologians in Chicago. We had a priest on the NASA Advisory Council,
Father [Rev. John P.] Minogue, who was the president of DePaul University
[Chicago, Illinois]. He gathered people from different religious denominations.
We had Catholics and Lutherans and Baptists and Muslims and [Jewish]
rabbis—there had to have been 10, 11 different religions represented
to talk about the subject, “What if we found life in the universe,
what would that mean to religion?”
There was some uncomfortableness and some preconceived notions that
religious organizations didn’t want to hear about life in the
universe, that this would somehow go contrary to their doctrine because
God created life. The discussion was fabulous. At the end of the day
they were like, “Well, it’s okay with us.”
But Dan was a little nervous about that topic. Couldn’t record
it, couldn’t take notes, no publication came out of it. I’m
going, “Jesus.” I was fortunate I got to be in the room,
but I couldn’t take notes, and that was a long time ago, I can’t
remember everything. Then all of a sudden some foundations started
funding things about science and religion. It became the thing. Dan
was ahead of the curve on it, but he was a little nervous about that.
That was fun.
Clinton did decide to support the Space Station design that was finally
picked, then of course the Shuttle-Mir program. Do you want to talk
about that? Did you have anything to do with that?
wasn’t all that involved with that, unfortunately. That was
all done in the Office of Space Flight. There weren’t many policy
issues connected with that, it was a done deal. It was more handled
at the international affairs level.
International affairs and policy always had a curious relationship.
One, because we took The History program away from them, and two,
they felt that “Well, when it comes to international policy
we’ll handle that. You don’t have to worry your pretty
little head about it.” I never got to go on any of the international
trips. I seldom met my counterparts from other countries. I think
I finally got to meet Jean-Jacques Dordain when he came to visit Headquarters.
He was the [European Space Agency (ESA)] head of policy [associate
director for strategy, planning and international policy] at the time,
and he later became the director general of ESA. All that stuff—Mir,
most of the International Space Station stuff—was handled elsewhere.
We didn’t get real involved in that.
I did like the fact we were involved in commercial stuff, and we did
try to get NASA more engaged in that. I’ll never forget the
late Jim [James W.] Benson, who started SpaceDev [Inc.], which evolved
into the [Sierra Nevada Corporation] Dream Chaser [Cargo System],
the winged spacecraft. He came into my office in the mid ’90s
and said, “I want to know what the policy is about mining an
asteroid. Can I go out and mine an asteroid if I want to?”
I said, “Good question, nobody’s asked that before.”
I mean, hadn’t asked me.
We went and looked at treaties. He said, “Well, how’s
anybody going to stop me? If I want to go and bring something back,
who’s going to stop me?”
I said, “I’m sure some federal organization will try to
stop you.” But it was cool because he came to us to try to get
that discussion going. We ended up being on panels talking about “What
are the mineral rights to places? What’s the Moon Treaty [Agreement
Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial
Bodies (1979)] implications if somebody goes back to the Moon?”
Of course back then, in the ’90s, that was all smoke. Nobody
really thought it’d happen. Now today you’ve got two companies
out there ready to mine asteroids. You’ve got the Google Lunar
X Prize ready to land commercial robots on the Moon, and you’ve
got Elon [R.] Musk saying he’s going to send two people around
the Moon, do space tours.
All that stuff—in the ’90s we were in our office, and
nobody wanted to talk about that. That was all the snicker factor.
Space tours, “ha ha ha ha.” Commercial spaceflight, “No,
not going to happen.” It was a fascinating time to be there
and see some of those people in their beginnings of all this stuff.
John [C.] Mankins and I became great friends because he was a NASA
employee, but he was big on solar-powered satellites and space tourism.
Because of my experience in the ’70s with FASST on solar-powered
satellites, we became joined at the hip trying to promote solar-powered
That one never quite went anywhere here—too much opposition
to it, too expensive. But mark my words, it’s being discussed
again now and it will come back at some point. The concepts that were
promoted in the ’70s were too grandiose. They were solar-power
stations the size of Manhattan Island [New York City] requiring 400
astronauts to assemble. Really? I don’t think so.
The Clinton administration was an interesting time to be there. I
got to be involved in the [National Partnership for Reinventing Government]
Golden Hammer Awards. I would go out and present hammers to agencies
that had won them. I was part of that group, and that was always fun.
was that given out for?
finding some way to save the government money. I went out one time
to Utah to [Hill] Air Force Base [Ogden] that had invented something
that saved $1 million, “Here’s a hammer.” That was
The Clinton administration liked space. He was a supporter, they liked
space. They didn’t come through with a budget for space, but
they liked it, they were always receptive to stuff. Couldn’t
ever get him to a launch. White House staff was always like, “Well,
we don’t want to be at a launch, because what if it blows up,
we don’t want the president there.” My response was always,
“What better place for the president to be to reassure the nation?”
He never made it down.
Gore was a big space guy, loved space stuff. I got to brief him once.
It was something on the Mars Pathfinder I think. It was getting ready
to launch [December 1996]. Everybody from space science, Administrator,
everybody’s out of town. I’m the only one left. The White
House calls, says, “Vice President Gore needs a briefing on
Pathfinder, get over here.” I’m a policy guy, I don’t
follow the technical details all that closely. But by God, in a half
hour I became an expert. I got to go over and talk to him about it,
because he was going to be on CNN. I had to take him a model. He did
a great job, it was fabulous.
It was crazy things like that. There was another time, I think probably
back during the Office of Space Exploration time. There was some event
at the White House that they were having, and they wanted models of
rockets. I’m not talking about desk[-sized], I mean like 10-foot-tall
rockets. We scrambled, but we found a couple. I think a Delta rocket,
maybe an Atlas—I forget what kind they were.
They were these huge boxes, and I get this station wagon from the
carpool to go over to the White House. This was before 9/11 [terrorist
attacks of September 11, 2011], of course, and all the gates. But
still, I pull up to the gate of the White House with these two rockets
in the backseat. They’re going, “Huh?” Everything
was supposed to have been cleared, I was going to come right through.
Didn’t happen. That German shepherd [police dog] was all over
that car. That was funny, taking that in.
The Clinton years were good. I did get to meet President Clinton once
down at JSC. He was there to tour with his science adviser, [John
H. Gibbons]. I literally ran into him in the space station mockup.
He was coming down one module and Dave [David K.] Alonso and I were
coming down another. And boom, we met him right there. He was very
friendly, he chatted us up a little bit. Of course his handlers kept
him moving on. Very nice guy.
Hillary [Rodham Clinton], I met her at a couple receptions. She was
a lovely person. When you were with her, she was talking to you. She
wasn’t looking around the room of where else should she go,
she was on you. I was always impressed with that. Too bad she was
such a lousy campaigner [in 2016 presidential race].
Also, by the way, the Clinton administration was very good to its
political appointees. A lot of good events that they allowed us to
come to. You could always get tickets for the White House garden tour,
and I got tickets to sit in the president’s box at the [John
F.] Kennedy [Memorial] Center [for the Performing Arts] one time.
They would have special briefings for us every now and then. Really
took care of the care and feeding of political appointees, made you
feel like you were a member of the team.
My experience with the [President Barack H.] Obama administration
was somewhat different, and that actually started out from the beginning.
The Clinton transition team were all in the same building over on
Mount Vernon Avenue [Alexandria, Virginia]. You intersected with the
other clusters, you got to know a lot of people, you went to a lot
Obama was much different. We were a small group, and we were headquartered
here at NASA Headquarters. We had offices, the four, five of us. Lori
[B.] Garver was the head of the team for Obama, and she was the only
one allowed to go to the main transition office over near Judiciary
Square [Washington, DC]. She interfaced with the other heads, but
you didn’t have that camaraderie, you didn’t have that
discussion with your peers in other sectors, which I thought was a
little odd. They were—not secretive exactly, but very closed
in their bringing people in.
you think that came from the top down?
oh yes. Lori got me on the transition team. I left WBB, came to be
on the transition team. We had a guy on the transition team that had
been a high-level guy in the campaign, had great connections at White
House personnel, and he had it arranged for himself, George [T.] Whitesides,
and I to all begin on the day after Obama was sworn in. Last time
it took me nine months to get in, this time I was in the day after.
But the administration was much more hands-on, especially in communications.
Press releases had to be approved by the White House, and we never
used to have to do that. They had a meeting for political appointees
at the White House, and they broke us into groups. They were all young
people. They were from the campaign, full of themselves and their
victory. They had this one young guy sit at the end of a long table,
and there are a bunch of us from different agencies. “This is
how we’re going to do things with the White House.” Everybody
in the room is in their 30’s or 40’s, probably. He says,
“So are there any questions?”
I said, “Yes, I have a question.” I said, “I’ve
noticed that so far there seems to be much more hands-on for communications
than we had with Clinton. So I’m just curious, is that because
we’re getting started? Or is this going to continue?”
Everybody’s head nodded up and down around the room.
He said, “That’s a very good question. We found that our
communications team was excellent on the campaign. Most of them are
now here at the White House, and we like the way that worked, so if
I were you I’d get used to it.”
I said, “Oh, okay.” There was much less interaction with
political appointees. I did get to go to one event that he spoke at,
but nobody was allowed to take pictures. They did have some ice cream
socials and things, but it was for 6,000 people and it took forever
to get in. I never got the sense that they valued political appointees
as much as the Clinton group did. That was a difference.
Initially, I was in the Front Office of Headquarters because I was
one of the only ones here, along with George Whitesides and David
Noble. Eventually I was assigned to the [Office of] Communications
as the head [Deputy Associate Administrator] of Public Outreach. The
Associate Administrator for Communications was let go not very long
after getting there, for a long, involved stupid thing he did.
Because I was the deputy as a political appointee, and Bob [Robert]
Jacobs was the deputy as a civil servant on the communications side,
I should have become the acting [Associate Administrator]. But I didn’t
because I did a boo-boo that was the beginning of my demise, if you
will, and we don’t have time to tell that story.
I was going to tell you it’s about time for us to close down.
But I appreciate you talking to us today, and when we come back maybe
we can pick up on that.
it happened over at the International Space University in Strasbourg,
France. In a speech I gave, I made a smart-ass comment that I thought
was a joke, and it didn’t go over well with certain people.
Ended up being mentioned at a congressional hearing with the Administrator.
definitely gives us something to talk about.
Return to JSC Oral History Website