NASA Headquarters Oral
Edited Oral History Transcript
Ronald C. Woods
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Washington, D.C. – 26 June 2008
Today is June 26, 2008. This interview with Ron Woods is being conducted
in Washington, DC, for the NASA Headquarters History Office. Mr. Woods
is in Washington this week to participate in the NASA Program at the
Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall. Interviewer is
Rebecca Wright, assisted by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal. Thanks again for
coming over and talking with us today. Let's begin with you sharing
with us briefly about your background and how you got involved in
the spacesuit business.
Woods: Well, right now I work in the
GFE [Government Furnished Equipment] Office at KSC [Kennedy Space
Center, Florida] as the JSC [Johnson Space Center] Resident Office
representative for all the hardware that is flown in the crew module,
air lock, and also items in the payload bay such as the cameras, foot
restraints and tools.
Prior to this job, I worked at JSC and KSC as a NASA suit technician
for the early Shuttle flights. Prior to that, I worked for ILC [ILC
Dover, Inc.] at JSC and KSC as a suit technician. I worked for ILC
for eleven and a half years. We did maintenance and pre-flight testing
on the Apollo, Skylab, and ASTP [Apollo-Soyuz Test Project] space
suits. You could volunteer and work with a specific crew as a suit
and insertion technician, a three mission rotation if you were lucky.
I was very fortunate that I got to work on [Apollo] 8, 11, 15—all
three Skylab missions—and also Apollo-Soyuz as an ILC technician,
and then as a NASA technician for [Space Shuttle] missions 1 through
I never had my life planned out after the military. As I got close
to the end of my three years in the Army, I received a call from my
mother who lived in Houston at the time, stating that a NASA contractor
(Brown & Root-Northrop) was looking for Survival Technicians.
One of the requirements was that you had to know how to use various
types of sewing machines, so my job in the Army as a parachute rigger
was perfect. I took a few days off and went to JSC for an interview.
The personnel manager at Brown & Root-Northrop sent me on site
for an additional interview with the supervisor over the Survival
Lab. He asked me to make a box with a lid out of fabric. He left me
at this table, I drew out a sketch on the fabric and sewed the box
together, then showed it to him. To my surprise, he says, "Wow,
that's pretty nice. Good sewing." He said, "Come back and
see me when you get out."
I got out of the service early on a Thursday morning, flew to Houston,
went to NASA that afternoon, and was hired on as a survival technician.
On Friday I got my badge and started with a great bunch of guys, learning
about NASA survival equipment.
The survival lab was located in Building 7, Crew Systems Division
where they built all various kinds of survival equipment for the Apollo
program. This was after the Apollo  fire , and they were
working with fireproof material, so everything was changing. It was
an interesting time, new designs, new material and a time to learn
from engineers that experienced the Mercury and Gemini programs. I
got in on the ground floor of working with the newest survival gear.
Also, Brown & Root-Northrop had a contract with NASA to provide
suit subjects for all kinds of testing related to the every changing
spacesuits. Suit subjects got time off in the late afternoon to exercise,
to keep in shape for the suit testing we supported. We were used in
place of the astronauts for testing that didn’t require their
technical evaluations. We performed in the suit for mobility studies,
cycle testing of suit components, or did stress on a treadmill with
sensors installed to collect data.
Suited work is a lot of fun, but I never considered it work. When
you first get your foot in a spacesuit, you're hooked. Working as
test subject, I met a lot of the suit technicians, suit engineers,
and their supervisors. They knew that I could use different sewing
machines and had a knowledge of manufacturing/fabrication of soft
goods. So this was an opportunity to change jobs and become a suit
technician. I didn’t have any of the experience working with
the suits, as some of the other technicians did that had previous
military suit experience.
We worked at night performing maintenance on Class III training suits
with a supervisor and quality [assurance] looking over our shoulder
all the time. It was an excellent way of training, breaking down hardware
to its lowest component level (wrist rings, neck rings) and sewing
on suit components (using machines and hand stitching). After months
of this type of training, you would get certification to work on Class
II and Class I flight hardware. We worked on suits for underwater
tests (to simulate Zero G), altitude chamber testing (to simulate
the vacuum of space) and supported the Zero G aircraft (weightlessness).
While working with the suits, I met a lot of interesting people, some
who would eventually become my mentors and boss. Joe [Joseph W.] Schmitt
was one of those special individuals. He said, "You look like
an energetic guy, Ron. How would you like to strap those guys in the
spacecraft?" So under Joe’s guidance, he showed me many
times over how to perform the crew insertion (Command Module and Lunar
Module). It took a while to learn all that was required and the techniques
that Joe wanted you to know. Joe was the best instructor, the first
NASA suit technician. Like I said, Joe was a very thorough person,
so any time things didn't go exactly right, the crew would always
ask for Joe or Al [Alan M.] Rochford to take over and complete the
insertion and give us additional training. I finally got it right
thanks to Joe and Al. I paid close attention to all that Joe told
us verbally and also in writing. Like I said, Joe was so confident
at what he did and all the crewmen respected him.
Joe asked, “How would you like to work Apollo 8?" That
was my first crew assignment and that meant you worked with a specific
crew member through all his suited activities while at KSC. Each crew
member had three suits for each mission: one for training, one prime
flight suit, and one backup flight suit. We really kept busy supporting
suited events in the flight simulators, training modules, altitude
chambers at KSC and JSC, plus the water tank and the Zero G aircraft.
Prior to being assigned to the Apollo 8 mission and still at JSC,
we traveled to KSC to support crew suited events. When the travel
got to be a bit overwhelming, ILC decided to add more personnel to
the KSC field office. My boss came in one day asking, "Would
anyone like to move to KSC and work there? Anybody want to volunteer?"
I said, "Yeah, I'll go." He says, "Well, when can you
go down? We've got some tests next week, and we need some technicians,
and we don't want to send people TDY (temporary on travel)."
I replied, "Well, I'd probably leave this afternoon." He
said, "Are you sure?" I said, "Sure, I'll go home and
throw my clothes in the car and head east." So I went home, got
my clothes, told my mom goodbye, and headed for Florida. I stayed
in Florida until we temporarily closed the facility after Skylab in
1973. After Skylab, three of us (one engineer and two technicians)
went to Houston, and returned to KSC only to reactivate the suit lab
for Apollo-Soyuz on a TDY basis.
At JSC after Apollo-Soyuz, we were working on Shuttle suit prototype
hardware, lots of interesting fabrication work. Then came the first
working Shuttle spacesuit, called SP1. It was a very interesting time
in the suit business, transition from one type of suit to another,
adding more personnel and finding a new way to process a new type
I was assigned to the SP1 suit, which meant support to lots of manned
testing at JSC and on the road again. I remained with ILC until 1979
when they were looking for NASA Suit Technicians to support the ejection
seats/suits that would be used on STS-1 through 5 in Columbia. So
I left ILC for NASA.
Wright: Could you talk about some of
the innovations that you saw with the suits?
Woods: One big difference was from custom
sizing of the Apollo suit to almost custom sizing for the Shuttle
suit. With the start of the Apollo Program—like Apollo 8, they
had the intra-vehicular [IV] suit (two gas connector design) and the
extravehicular [EV] suit (four gas connector design). With only minor
configuration changes, the IV suits remained the same during Apollo,
Skylab, and Apollo-Soyuz. With only minor changes the EV suit configuration
stayed the same until Apollo 15. Then came the A7LB Suit for lunar
surface work with the new Lunar Rover. Hardware mounting, zipper routing,
and additional cabling at the waist area for mobility were the major
changes. The new zippers design, pressure sealing, and restraint were
separated, creating a floating pressure sealing, and not sewn in place
like the A7L. The zipper configuration went from the right side of
the chest, around the back, to the left stomach area. By doing that,
they were able to put cable systems and pulley systems at the waist
area, which allowed the crew member to bend over and move from side
to side more freely. This allowed the crewman flexibility to get in
and out of the Lunar Rover. When we first saw the A7LB, it was like
seeing the most radical change in spacesuit design ever. A little
frightening from a maintenance point of view, but in all reality,
it was less maintenance that the earlier EV model. At least the zipper
change-out was easier.
I am still amazed at the level of work, the quality of work we were
able to accomplish without computers. All the work papers (work authorization
documents) were hand written, or typed. I was taking art classes at
the time, and engineering would ask me do drawing sketches of changes
that we had accomplished in the field so that these changes could
be air mail’ed to ILC Dover for documentation updates. It was
a very good art experience.
Of course, the suits at the time were all classified so everyone at
ILC had a specific classification to work on the suits. Any time we
had to support training events or take the suit components for corrective
action at locations across the country, we had to hand carry the hardware.
By this I mean, we placed the hardware in hard suitcases, place government
locks on the cases, and kept our hands on them as much as possible
throughout the trip. We carried the cases from the shipping point,
through baggage at the airports, underneath the aircraft while they
were loaded, and stayed there until they closed and secured the cargo
doors on the airplane, before we could get on the airplane ourselves.
If we had a layover in route, we would get off the plane and go underneath
to insure that the flight hardware was not handled for any reason.
It was a lot of extra security and logistics to move Apollo flight
With all the extra handling we had to do, it was nothing for them
to call you in the middle of the night and request that you come to
work to support a hand-carry to Delaware or Houston due to a problem
with the hardware that couldn’t be resolved at KSC or a change
in the crew schedule that we had to support. Most of the time you
stayed at the test site or repair site for the return hand-carries
back to KSC.
I recall one trip that took me from Florida to Philadelphia. I dropped
off a pair of gloves at the airport to a guy from the plant, and he
signed for them, then I went on to Ling-Temco-Vought [Inc.] outside
of Dallas/Fort Worth. They had to correct a problem with a visor assembly.
It was a week of observing the corrective action. Then on the return
trip, I returned to Philadelphia, received the gloves and returned
to Orlando. I drove straight to KSC and got the hardware received
for a test or flight stowage they were doing as soon as I returned
with the hardware. A very tight schedule. We were on-call, 24/7, for
Wright: While we're talking about Apollo,
would you like to share some of those memories of preparing for Apollo
8, and you mentioned Apollo 8, Apollo 11, 15. Also, receiving the
suits back. Did they come back to you with the Moon dust?
Woods: I was not assigned to process
the returning suit hardware from the Moon. That was done by the JSC
ILC technicians. Because we were so busy at KSC getting hardware ready
to fly, we never got a chance to go to Houston to watch the disposition
after flight. It would have been interesting to see the condition
post-flight. Karen [Woods] and I were in Washington DC a couple of
years ago, and we were fortunate enough to go to the Smithsonian [National
Air and Space Museum], the [Paul E.] Garber [Preservation, Restoration,
and Storage] Facility. I worked on a couple suits with Amanda Young,
the curator. We got to see the difference in the coloration of the
lunar boots, [Harrison H. Schmitt's boots]. The Moon dust on everything
was just incredible because I'd never seen that post-flight condition
To support the astronaut’s suited exercises before flight, there
was a lot of training required to complete before you were certified
to be on the close-out crew at the pads. Some of that training included
basic fire fighting skills. There was a fire fighting training area
at KSC and we spent time there every year (yearly certification).
The area had fire pits and tunnels with fire pits at various locations.
They would open different areas on the side of these tunnels next
to the fire pits, light the fire pits, close it up to smoke out whatever
might have crawled inside the tunnel before we had to crawl through
them. We would wear our breathing systems and take the fire extinguishers
and actually crawl down through the tunnel, putting out the fires
as we crawled, as if we were escaping from an accident at the pads.
Emergency egress training was very physically demanding. We practiced
with suited subjects, pulling them out of the spacecraft like we were
rescuing astronauts on the pad. After the Apollo 1 fire, a lot of
changes were made to make it safer for not only the astronauts but
the close-out crew that supported the astronauts on launch day.
In the O&C [Operations and Checkout] Building, we had the two
chambers, one for the Command Module, one for the Lunar Module. We
first would support the suited Command Module [CM] sea level test
and then an altitude test. Then on Apollo 11 and subs, you had the
additional Lunar Module [LM] sea level test and altitude test. This
was to certify the CM and LM prior to move to the VAB [Vehicle Assembly
Building] and stacking. Other suited events that we supported were
training for the Command Module and Lunar Module in simulators. We
used a one “G” Lunar Module (actual size), where the astronauts
would practice suiting up (like they would on the Moon). This was
a very difficult event for the crewman, cramped quarters and lots
of hardware to put on before opening the hatch. S0017 was a simulated
launch countdown with everyone supporting the launch; we would go
through a dress rehearsal for countdown. The crew would dress as they
would on launch day, go to the pad, and get inserted into the spacecraft.
During the suit training activities, there still remained the day-to-day
maintenance of the training and flight suits. Once used, the suit
liners had to be removed, un-zipped at the lower legs and detached
from the hook/pile fastener tape at the neck ring and wrist disconnects.
We then hand washed the liners in Cleaner C, which was a solution
of Ivory liquid soap and distilled water, rinsed them several times
and placed on a rack to dry. Once dry we vacuumed them and reinstalled
them in the suits. The suit bladders were also swabbed with IPA and
D water. The flight suits were then purged with oxygen and a particle
count was taken. The Millipore [Corporation] filters were removed
from the exhaust ports and ILC quality [assurance staff] would [under
a microscope] check how many particles were present. If you failed,
then you'd clean it all over again. So the suit maintenance was no
When we got close to flight, the suits, the primary suit for each
crew member, went through a process for flight that included removing
TMG (Thermal Meteoroid Garment) from the pressure garment, so that
it could be x-rayed. All the connectors (neck ring, wrist, electrical,
water) were disassembled, cleaned, inspected, lubricated, reassembled,
and installed on the pressure garment for testing and final crew sizing.
Some to the pressure sealing zippers had to be changed due to damage
during use by the crew member. This was a very time consuming task,
usually two weeks. After final suit sizing with the astronaut, the
gas connectors were once again removed, the Thermal Meteoroid Garment
reinstalled, and then the gas connectors reinstalled. Prior to final
testing all the reassembled hardware had to be cycled tested, which
meant the connector interface hardware was installed and the lock—locks
cycled at least three times. The complete suit with helmet, gloves
installed, was then tested and certified for flight with a leakage
rate of less than 140 cc a minute. The fastest turnaround for a flight
suit was for Apollo 13. When we found out that Mr. [Jack] Swigert
would fly instead of Mr. [T.K.] Mattingly, we had only two full days
to flight certify his suit.
Prior to close out of the Lunar Module in the VAB, we would take the
lunar suits inside the LM, and interface the oxygen, water, and electrical
connectors to the suit. This was to insure that no changes had been
made to the spacecraft connectors since they were connected to the
suit in the altitude chamber. We also did this same test in the Skylab
Module prior to it being closed out and stacked in the VAB.
Wright: You mentioned you were assigned
to a crew, but were you assigned a specific crew person?
Woods: When working a mission, you were assigned to a specific crew
member. For every suited event, you were there to take care of his
suit and help him get suited. Each crew member had options on where
they stowed certain accessories in their suit pockets and what sequence
they donned the hardware. We made sure that they were comfortable
during suiting operation. We always followed a checklist to insure
that the final configuration was as the crew member wanted. We always
had a NASA suit technician as our lead, the primary insertion technician
for the mission who would check the final configuration after the
suit-up was complete.
I was very fortunate to have worked with Jim [James A.] Lovell on
Apollo 8, Buzz Aldrin on 11, and Al [Alfred J.] Worden on 15, and
then Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz. So it was a lot of fun and very interesting.
Some of the crews would give us a signed Beta patch for helping them
with their suits. I got a really nice letter of appreciation and a
signed beta patch from the Apollo-Soyuz crew.
A few years ago, Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford—General Stafford,
rather—was at KSC and with family members. I was to give him
a tour, so I brought the framed letter and patch to the lab with me.
I said to him, "General Stafford, I don't know if you remember
me or not, but I was one of the suit techs for Apollo-Soyuz."
"Oh yes, I do," he said.
I showed the framed letter and patch to him and he showed it to his
grandson, and said, "I gave them this after Apollo-Soyuz."
He said, "By the way, that is archival glass, isn't it?"
I said, "I believe so." He said, "I just don't want
my name to fade."
Wright: That's nice of him to pass that
Woods: It was. It was just really awesome. I mean, you do a lot of
work, and it's not that you expect anything like that, but for somebody
to sit down and write a personal letter thanking the suit technicians
for their work. It just made you feel like you had been in space with
Wright: They meet so many people on
that path to the rocket, don't they?
Woods: Yes, right. That's the last thing you would think would ever
happen. Another thing I'm really proud of, and that was the [Silver]
Snoopy [Space Flight Awareness] Award that I got for working—it
was on Apollo 15—for working on spacesuits.
Wright: Did one of those crew members
award the Snoopy to you?
Woods: Well, the letter of appreciation was from Al [Alan L.] Bean.
Then, we were presented the Silver Snoopy pin by Astronaut Robert
Parker. There was like six or seven of us from ILC that got the Snoopy
on the same day.
Wright: That's exciting.
Woods: Yes, it was. Very exciting.
Wright: Share with us what it was like
to be on the launch pad, the day of the launch, and being part of
getting them ready to go.
Woods: During Apollo, the only time that I ever went to the launch
pad to support the launch countdown was on Apollo 11. I was Joe's
backup insertion technician. So that I would miss all the traffic,
I went to work the evening before the launch, stayed in the suit-up
area most of the evening, going over the schedule of events of the
next day. Of course, I couldn't lay anything out because the suits
were all locked in a secure room.
I was able to go out in front of the O&C Building and look at
the launch pad lights from a distance. That was so impressive. A chance
to relax in the same recliner where Buzz would get suited the very
next morning. Once everyone arrived, we started the suit lay out and
preparing the ventilators and prepared the astronaut van for the trip
to the pad. Joe, our lead NASA technician went through the checklist,
to make sure we were ready to suit each astronaut.
There was a lot of excitement because we knew these crew members were
on their way to the Moon. But it was a typical suit up, you knew exactly
what you had to do, and you had all your test procedures, everything
laid out the way that the crew wanted. When Buzz came in, he went
to the bio-med prep area of the suit room to put on his bio-med instrumentation
and constant wear garment [CWG] (long johns). This area was blocked
off from the rest of the suit room by a drawn curtain. CWG were modified
long johns that had button holes for routing the bio-cabling with
a bio-belt and some comfort padding at the shoulder. We did a lot
of customizing for crew comfort.
Then the crew would get checked out at the bio-med station by the
bio-med engineers. When they completed check out, each crewman would
start the suiting process at his designated area of the suit room.
Mr. Aldrin’s suiting location was the last one, located at the
east end of the suit room. I went over the suit accessories that would
be stowed in his suit pockets once the suiting and manned testing
was completed. Once Buzz was in the suit and prior to zipper closure,
you'd stop and connect the electrical from the suit console to the
suit communication and bio-med connector. Buzz then donned his “Snoopy
Cap” Comm Carrier and I donned my head set, then another bio-med
check was accomplished. If that test was successful, the zippers could
be closed and locked. Next the comfort gloves, IV gloves and the helmet
were installed. At this point we performed the manned suit testing,
then installed all the hardware that went into the suit pockets and
strap on pockets.
At this point you can relax a little bit; each crew member would be
relaxing in the recliners, talking with the chief of the astronaut
office or suit engineers.
When we received the word from [D.K.] Deke Slayton or [Alan B.] Al
Shepard that it was time to proceed to the pad, we installed the helmet
protectors and transferred from the console to portable oxygen ventilators.
Connecting the ventilators for the CDR [commander] and LMP [lunar
module pilot] to the correct set of gas connectors allowed that when
they arrived at the pad for insertion you could connect them without
I grabbed the extra ventilator and followed Joe and the crew down
to the van. That was exciting, walking down the ramp out of the O
& C Building, with all the press, flashing lights and applause.
Knowing all the time it was for them, but exciting for me. We had
a portable communication systems in the van so Deke could talk to
the crew, until he got out at the LCC [Launch Control Center]. At
A-11 roadblock, just past the LCC, we changed to the second ventilator.
This would give the crew enough oxygen to last them until they were
connected to vehicle oxygen.
At the pad, a small elevator took us up to the base of the LUT [Launch
Umbilical Tower]. We proceeded through a hallway to the elevators
that took us to the 320 foot level. On that particular day, I stayed
back at the elevator with Buzz. He was flying in the CMP [command
module pilot] position (center seat) for launch. I had to stay by
the telephone and wait for the NTD [NASA Test Director] to give us
the ok to proceed to the White Room. I can’t begin to tell you
how exciting that was, watching the Saturn IV, venting, ice falling,
and Buzz checking it all out. Fully suited he couldn’t hear
what I was hearing, probably only the sound of O2 flowing from his
Once we received the call, I tapped Buzz on the shoulder and pointed
towards the exterior walk way around the outside to the LUT to the
White Room. You had the rails to the outside and the LUT structure
to the right. It is not a long walk, but it sure seemed so that day.
One part of it sloped down so you wanted to make sure he was safe.
In the White Room we removed the yellow protective booties. So that
we could get them on and off with ease, we cut out the top part above
the toes and would sprinkle a little baby powder on the inside to
keep it from sticking against the soles of the suit boots. Once you
were strapped in and had no chance of anything scratching your helmet,
off came the helmet protector.
When Joe was finished, I started taking the ground support equipment
[GSE] out of the White Room and back to the elevator. Eventually we
would place the GSE in the trucks stationed at base of the pad. We
would all wait at the A11 road block until after launch. But before
we left the White Room, we sat on the floor and Guenter [F. Wendt]
passed around the candy. A job well done.
We all departed the pad and remained at A-11 roadblock until released
after flight. It was exciting sitting up there thinking, "Well
boy, in a couple hours these guys are actually going to the Moon."
The next time I went back to the pad was on STS-1. Again as Joe's
backup. Then on STS-2, I got to do the insertion of [Joe H.] Engle
and [Richard H.] Truly, with Ellison [S.] Onizuka .
Wright: Talk to us about the transition
into Shuttle and how that affected your team.
Woods: Well, it was sad that [Apollo]
was coming to an end. We had a great team, good friends, people you
worked with for a long the time. There was one point in the Apollo
Program we had a total of 60 people processing suits for ILC at KSC.
Our ILC, KSC site consisted of a field manager, engineers, logistics,
technicians, documentation clerks, and a secretary. One of the logistics
reps still works in Houston, Building 7. He is responsible for supply
hardware that flies on the Shuttle, so we do have an opportunity to
correspond on a weekly basis.
But the transition was difficult at times. We had to secure the facility
at KSC, knowing that we would be back to support Apollo-Soyuz. Everything
that was not required was either returned to JSC or had a disposition
Knowing this would probably be the last time we would see each other,
we had a big going-away party. Myself, another technician and an engineer
moved to Houston. After supporting Apollo-Soyuz, we closed the suit
room and sent the remainder of the hardware to JSC.
It was some very difficult times at JSC. At one point we were down
to 10 people at ILC, Houston. We kept busy helping with the new Extra-Vehicular
Activity [EVA] suit design and also the launch entry hardware for
the Shuttle crews was being developed. We were working with the launch/entry
helmet configuration, safety harnesses with flotation, and ejection
seats that would be in Columbia. We were doing a lot of design and
pattern making as well as sewing. Astronaut Ellison Onizuka was the
crew rep and our interface for the astronauts. Everything that we
designed and built in-house was fit checked and shown to the other
astronauts by El for their approval before it got turned over to the
contractor for manufacturing.
The Robertshaw [Controls] helmets are a good example. The same basic
helmet was used by the Apollo chamber technicians at KSC. This type
of helmet with some configuration changes was used by the early Shuttle
crews for communication and breathing during launch and landing. It
was interesting that as NASA suit technicians we got to help with
the design and certification of this hardware.
Of course, the new shuttle suit was on the horizon. During the Apollo
program, ILC had the suits and Hamilton Standard was responsible for
the remote control unit and portable life support system. Two separate
contractors—the only connection was when you mated the hardware
for a spacewalk training event or in space.
With the new Shuttle suit design the entire separate contractor world
came to an end. ILC/Hamilton Standard technicians had to work hand-in-hand
because the suit now had the computer and life support as an integrated
part with the hard upper torso and soft goods of the suit. Our first
real Shuttle suit, designated as SP-1 was a real joy to work on. And
it did get a workout. Astronaut [F.] Story Musgrave was one of our
suit subjects. We flew in the Zero G airplane for mobility studies,
sized the suit for one crew member in the morning to support the Neutral
Buoyancy Tank and resized the suit at lunch for another crew member
in the afternoon. It was non-stop. Then we would take the suit out
to LM [Lockheed Martin] in Colorado to support the Manned Maneuvering
I transitioned from ILC in 1979 to NASA. NASA needed additional suit
technicians to support the Shuttle and some of the NASA technicians
were getting close to retirement, so they hired Troy [M.] Stewart
and myself. Troy and I had worked Apollo 11 together, so it was great
that we became NASA Suit Technicians on the same day.
Once we were with NASA, Troy worked the ejection seats and suits that
would be used for STS-1 through 5 and I got assigned to work with
the MMU project for about a year. I worked the suit interface with
the MMU. Working with Ed [Charles E.] Whitsett and the MMU team was
a real education. I was the gopher for a lot of the projects, like
the MMU decals and lap belt.
When we were close to flying again, I transferred back to the Launch
Entry Suits. We supported crew training, which required a lot of travel.
I worked the launch/entry suits until STS-5. Then an opportunity opened
at KSC for a Flight Crew Rep for all the government furnished equipment
that is supplied from JSC for Shuttle flights. That's when I transitioned
to KSC and have been doing the same job since 1982.
Wright: The suits, of course, changed.
After [Space Shuttle] Challenger [STS 51-L accident], did you have
a lot of changes in what and how you did things?
Woods: Yes, we went from the street clothes to a launch/entry suit.
The Challenger Crew wore the Robertshaw Helmets, two piece coveralls,
Danner boots, and other accessories for launch and landing. The program
decided to go back to the additional crew protection with a launch/entry
Suit, similar to the STS-1 configuration with some additional improvements.
Basic changes were the orange outer suit material and a liquid cooling
garment. Modification was then made to the suit room. The contactor
responsible for the O & C Building verified cleanliness of the
oxygen lines, and changed the supply from oxygen to breathing air.
Breathing air consoles were installed to support the seven-suit donning
station required for a Shuttle crew.
The support required for the launch/entry Suit dramatically changed
our processing at KSC. Additional personnel were added at JSC and
at KSC. Bill Allen, our suit engineer, developed new work authorization
documents to support the new crew requirements in support of Shuttle
Training Aircraft suited flights, of S0017/Terminal Countdown Demonstration
Test and of course S0007, launch countdown and scrub turn-around.
The suiting process is supported by at least 6 suit technicians and
2 suit engineers from JSC.
S0017 is a full dress rehearsal for launch day. The crew arrives at
KSC for suited Shuttle Training Aircraft flights; suit fit checks
and then suit up, a ride to the pad in the Astro Van. They are strapped
into the Shuttle seats just like launch day, perform communication
checks with the firing room, and even inflate the suits. Once the
clock stops, the crew exits the vehicle, and goes over the emergency
The suits are then cleaned, inspected and tested to insure they are
ready for the launch countdown. Any discrepancies with the suits are
corrected prior to securing them until flight. The crew and suit technicians
return to Houston for additional suited training.
The suited exercise is repeated for launch. Hopefully there is launch
the first attempt. If not the suit goes through the same routine for
cleaning, inspection, and testing to make sure the integrity of the
suit has not been compromised. There are lots of additional duties
when suiting astronauts for launch with a pressure suit.
Other additions to the work load have included the crew escape pole
and the annual controlled deployment, the parachute inspections and
pyro checks, plus the additional shipping requirements. Taking all
that into account, it's a lot more work than what we had pre-Challenger.
Wright: Do you have more team members?
Woods: We do have a few more team members. One is a backup for Bill
as far as the suit area goes. We did add some people to cover the
Closed Circuit TV system pre-flight work and the laser operation for
the OBSS [Orbiter Boom Sensor Packages]. The Sensor Packages Sensor
System was added as a requirement post-Columbia to inspect the wing
leading edge and the tile. Once again, you not only have the cameras
in the A, B, C, D, elbow and wrist positions, you also have the Sensor
Packages 1 and 2. Each orbiter has a set of cameras and sensor packages.
Wright: Are there still additions that
you're making even though the Shuttle has now been scheduled to be
discontinued in the next years? Are you still making additions and
improvements as you go along the line for the crews?
Woods: We continually make changes to
our processes, ground support equipment and flight hardware. LEAN
changes are exciting—changes where we can save time, money and
keep flying safely. That is the key as we proceed down to the last
Wright: Looking back over all those
years and all the processes and all the checklists, how many of the
items in your processes were started with the Apollo days and have
Woods: We process the flight hardware
the same as we did in Apollo. The changes that we see in the Shuttle
and ISS programs are additional certification and traceability documentation
for the hardware. Our parts’ tags and shipping documents remain
the same; it’s the use of computerized tracking of hardware
and decisions that are made by committees as opposed to top down management
that have increased our processing systems and time. Our success is
due to very competent, disciplined space workers in our facility.
The amount of hardware we process is greater than ever and we continue
to create a better way to do business.
We stow hardware by the Crew Compartment Configuration Drawing which
was started during the Apollo and is a product of JSC. As the representatives
at KSC for this hardware, it is our job to make sure that all the
hardware is verified at receiving at KSC and is a completed end-item
prior to stowage in the orbiter. We review and make changes all the
way to hatch closure. Depending on mission requirements, some missions
are a little easier than others. Overall, we have only missed one
cable for flight since 1982 and we stow thousands of items each mission
(7,000 to 8,000 lbs of hardware).
Color code of hardware is from the Apollo Program. The commander in
Apollo had the color red, the CDR on the Moon had red stripes on his
suit and now in the Shuttle Program the CDR has the color red on flight
Wright: You are moving on to the next
program and helping develop the processes. Can you tell us about what
all is being done and how far you've gotten?
Woods: So far we have provided information
to the new program on what and how we did business during the Apollo
program as compared to the Shuttle and ISS programs. JSC is looking
at it from the hardware perspective and KSC is looking it from a final
processing and launch perspective. A lot of information passing hands
and hopefully it will be interpreted correctly as not to reinvent
I am writing a revision to the JSC/KSC Inter-Center Agreement on the
Handling of Flight Crew Equipment. This is my second revision of this
document; the first added the Shuttle Payload and ISS element to the
original document. The document was originally written in 1979, several
years before we flew the first Shuttle mission and it was right on
the mark for processing. The document covers all the elements of pre-flight
processing—Crew Equipment Interface Test, S0017 and S007 Launch
Countdown, and post-flight processing of all the hardware that is
flown in the crew module and payload bay.
Wright: Kind of exciting for you to
see that again? To see another lunar suit go up?
Woods: It's exciting to me just to see
all the new people, new engineers and technicians, and try to share
the history with them. Kind of like what Joe [Joseph W.] Schmitt did
for all of us technicians as our lead NASA Suit Technician. I was
very fortunate to have Joe as a teacher all those years. He was always
there, and any questions you had, Joe would find the answer. I am
trying to do this for the next generation of space workers.
Wright: I want to talk to you about
your interest and your talents of bringing your craft to canvas, the
fact that you paint and capture what you do and share that through
your artistry. Tell us how you got interested in that.
Woods: It all started in high school,
where I always had the interest, drawing, technical drafting. I never
really decided to be an artist until I was in college and working
in the Apollo program. We had an opportunity to do some suit drawing
changes for the engineers. By doing that I decide to get a degree
in art. Certain classes ILC would pay for, but not my art classes,
even though I did drawings for them. That was ok, it was fun. When
I moved to Houston, I continued my education at the University of
Houston-Clear Lake, which was a small school at the time, but they
did have a budding art department, great teachers.
Then I started photographing subjects that I wanted to paint. After
the Apollo Program, I had a lot of opportunities to photograph the
reference material for paintings like, Hanging Around After a Walk
on the Moon, and I Don't Think We'll See Flight Again,, because it
really was a sad time to see all that hardware placed on display instead
of continuing the journeys to the Moon.
Like I said, when you first get into a spacesuit, you're hooked on
space—like wearing your favorite pair of jeans. It's a great
program. You start looking at it from that artist standpoint. And
you see Al Bean develop a great body of work, just outstanding. He’s
just so fortunate to have been able to fly, walk on the Moon, and
now he can share that experience with the world through his art. He
does such a wonderful job of it, an excellent artist.
But I have also been in the right place at the right time. I had an
opportunity to pose for Bob [Robert T.] McCall. I used to go over
to [JSC] Building 2 and watch him paint the mural [The Next Giant
Step, 1979] in the lobby. I'd go over at lunch and just be amazed
at what he was doing. "Wow, check this guy out. Here he is up
there painting on a scaffold." It was just incredible. He is
part of the NASA Art Program, where they select artists to paint major
events of NASA.
Wright: So are you in the mural?
Woods: Not the one at JSC but the one
in the Smithsonian [National Air and Space Museum]. It was interesting.
Joe and I were asked to support a photo shoot for Mr. McCall, at [JSC]
Building 8. I got in the A7LB to pose, and Joe was holding the flag.
We did not know that Bob was still taking photographs when Joe and
I were taking a break; Joe talking with me on the headset, and I leaning
over to rest my back.
Bob painted over some of the black and white photos to make it look
like a lunar surface around Joe. Joe was in street clothes and I was
in the suit on the Moon. The inscription on the note about the painting
stated, "Joe, you never thought you'd walk on the Moon."
He signed it, Bob McCall, and gave that to Joe. Then, we got to see
Bob McCall down at KSC in the suit room for STS-1, and he signed some
of the caches, the envelopes that he had produced. He was just a really
interesting man to work with. I don't know him that well, but it's
just those events that I did see him at, he was just incredible.
Wright: Tell us about yours, and maybe
one of your favorites.
Woods: The Hanging Around After A Walk On the Moon, I think it's just
to see that kind of—that's why I did those ones on the gloves,
and I got an opportunity to show that one to Neil [A. Armstrong] with
his name on the glove, and also to Gene [Eugene A.] Cernan. I always
mark his as 30 Years, Still First at Last. It was like I always said
to him [Cernan], “You're the first guy to be the last guy on
the Moon,” first and last.
My favorite one was on the brochure that NASA had about Apollo 17.
The photo of Capt. Cernan touching the flag. I did a watercolor of
the image, my first real good size watercolor. I took it into work,
a friend/suit engineer looked at it and commented, "God, Ron.
That's pretty good." As a self-taught watercolor painter, I was
in shock. I've done eight originals of that, and the last one was
printed as a Giclées before I sold it. I am truly amazed at
the printing qualities that are available now.
Captain Cernan has one of the originals in his home. During some of
his interviews, you can see that in the background. He is just an
incredible person. When I did the first one; I had prints made of
it. I had given one of the prints to a friend in Houston, who framed
it and hung it outside of his office. On a visit to JSC, Captain Cernan
saw it and commented on it. He got my name and number, called my boss
looking for me. My boss called one day and said, "Captain Cernan's
office called and wants you to get in touch with them." I’m
said to her, “Yeah, right, I’m sure." A few days
later, she called and asked, "Did you ever call Captain Cernan's
office?" I said, "No, that really is a big joke." She
said, "No, it's true, they want you to call."
So I did, and his office manager says, "We were trying to get
in touch with you because we want some of these prints." I’m
just like, "Oh my gosh!" So I got some of the prints to
their office in Houston. I was going through there on a trip one time,
and I dropped them off. Like I said, he's such a tremendous person.
He said, "Did you ever see the painting in the Smithsonian?"
I said no. He said, "Well, I've got one of the prints signed
by Bob McCall." He says to his assistant, "Would you print
up one of those letters that tells about that print?"
Here's this long printout of the painting on his desk and it had the
Apollo 17 patch on it. But the one in the Smithsonian couldn’t
have any patches on it; it had to represent all the astronauts in
the program. He said, "That's me in the suit,” and pointed
to the print on his desk. I said, "Wow, that's me in the suit
too because I posed for it at JSC." That was interesting, how
we had both been a part of the original painting before Bob did the
mural. He was so kind to sign it, thanking me for continued support
of the space program.
I have had several opportunities to do commission work for other space
workers and astronauts. A friend’s wife asked me to paint something
related to his work for his birthday. So I painted an EVA glove and
a decal with a tether that would be attached to the [International]
Space Station. The decal read, “Made in the USA by Dave Moore".
The image also contained a note with a listing of things that Dave
had accomplished while working at KSC. That’s what I like to
paint, images with a personal touch.
Wright: Well, our time is coming to
a close. Before we do that, I wanted to ask you if you had some thoughts
or any special component of what you've done through your life that
you'd like to share that you haven't had a chance to share yet.
Woods: The best part of the all the jobs that I have had was working
with the best people in the business, the space workers as Al always
called us. It just doesn’t get any better than this. I couldn't
have gone to college and had a better adventure than what I have had.
How it all fell together, it's hard to explain. But I think a lot
of it was hard work, and to work with guys like Joe and Al, what an
education they gave me. I am really proud of the US Space Program,
what we have accomplished.
Wright: We thank you for your time today,
and we'll close so that you can get back to your other responsibilities.
Woods: Thanks for having me here.
Wright: We really enjoyed it.
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