NASA at 50 Oral History
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Washington, DC – 20 March 2007
is March 20th, 2007. We are at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.,
to speak with J.T. Jezierski, who serves as NASA’s Deputy Chief
of Staff and as the agency’s White House Liaison, for the NASA
at 50 Oral History Project. Interviewer is Rebecca Wright. In preparation
for the space agency’s fiftieth anniversary the NASA Headquarters
History Office commissioned this oral history project to gather thoughts,
experiences, and reflections from NASA’s top managers. The information
recorded today will be transcribed and placed in the history archives
here at NASA Headquarters, where it can be accessed for future projects.
Are there any questions that I can answer before we begin?
Thanks again for providing the time in your schedule. In your position
you coordinate events and communications between NASA and the White
House and other agencies within the executive branch, as well as serving
as Deputy Chief of Staff of the space agency. If you would, would
you share more information about the scope of your responsibilities,
and how you came to this position?
Absolutely. Thank you for the opportunity to do this. It’s an
honor to work at NASA and to talk about what we do and my small contribution
to our overall agency mission. I came to NASA in July of 2003, from
the Office of Presidential Personnel at the White House. I was at
personnel, started there in 2001, and my position there was Deputy
Our job was placing political appointees at the various agencies,
and in our portfolio was NASA, which was called the National Security
and State Department portfolio. I worked with Courtney [A.] Stadd,
whom I consider a mentor and a dear friend, and he informed me that
he was going to be leaving his position as White House Liaison. He
was also the Chief of Staff. We had talked and thankfully supported
my shifting over to NASA. I had informed him, and I think he knew
immediately upon our meeting, my love of this agency and the history.
So I came over in July of 2003 as the White House Liaison. The role
of the White House Liaison is to coordinate, as you mentioned, all
activities between the agency and the White House and all of the offices
of the executive branch, including the various departments. It’s
also a personnel function, in that I coordinate and work with all
of the political appointees at NASA. There are not many. Right now
we have about twenty-five, and that includes the Senate-confirmed
appointees (the Administrator, the Deputy Administrator), the nonconfirmed,
the SESs [Senior Executive Service], the Schedule Cs, all of them
are under my purview to bring in and work with. I’m their liaison,
So I came onboard. I worked with then-Administrator [Sean] O’Keefe
and Chief of Staff John [D.] Schumacher, worked with them and then
when Administrator [Michael D.] Griffin came onboard in 2005 I stayed
on as the White House Liaison. Then in the fall of 2005 I was fortunate
that Administrator Griffin asked me, working with Chief of Staff Paul
Morrell, to add the Deputy Chief of Staff role.
That allowed me to get more involved in the inner workings of the
agency. My job includes other duties as assigned, of course, but then
I’m also someone who likes tasks so that the Chief of Staff,
the Administrator, the Deputy Administrator can focus on the big-picture
items, things they need to do.
So I’ve been doing that now almost four years here at the agency,
and have learned a tremendous amount from individuals, but also about
our government, and what our agency is trying to do, our mission.
It’s been quite a learning experience for me.
share some of those experiences with us. Although you’ve had
a short time here, share with us some of the lessons that you’ve
learned and can already apply to your job.
Certainly. Well, when I came over to NASA I came in as I mentioned
in July of 2003. The [Space Shuttle] Columbia [STS-107] accident,
of course, was February 1st, 2003, so I came to the agency in, obviously,
a very dark time for the agency, and a lot of uncertainties abounded
within the agency of what we were going to do and what our mission
was going to be.
When I came over I remember one of my first projects, one of the first
meetings that I was sitting in on was how NASA was going to respond
to the CAIB [Columbia Accident Investigation Board] Report, which
was going to be coming out in the August/Labor Day/September timeframe
of that year. So we went from focusing on that, that was the first
thing. So it was truly baptism by fire to come in here and be facing
the CAIB Report coming out, and then to see the development, to witness
the policy discussions that were going on that led, to me, the red-letter
day, the wonderful announcement in January of 2004 of the Vision for
Space Exploration by President [George W.] Bush here at NASA Headquarters,
in, as I say, January 2004.
So then when you see the back and forth, the discussions, the debate
going on post-Columbia throughout the summer of ’03, to the
announcement of the vision in January of 2004, then the question throughout
2004, just the back and forth within Washington and across this country
about the merits of the vision, whether it was sustainable, aspects
to which we’re still dealing with, and then also the political
environment that was going on, whether it would have legs beyond the
presidential election, after the presidential election to then start
seeing the budget fights that went on, seeing all that and how it
related directly to NASA was fascinating.
The other aspect of that for me, I’ve been very fortunate to
work with two incredible individuals and mentors, Administrator O’Keefe
and Dr. Griffin, Administrator Griffin, both with different leadership
styles, but I learned and respect them both tremendously. Obviously,
everyone knows their biographies and their backgrounds were different,
and those were clearly reflected in the way they managed the organization,
and pros and cons to both, I’m sure.
But to be able to witness and see how they managed and how they dealt
with people, I’ll be able to look back at that for a long time
to come. Administrator O’Keefe had such an amazing challenge
post-Columbia to bring this agency through, and the things that he
was able to accomplish were admirable in terms of leading up to the
vision, and now for Dr. Griffin with his incredible technical expertise,
to harness that and put this agency on a foundation for years to come,
it’s just been incredible to watch that.
So those are the things that, very generally speaking, that I’ve
been able to see, and also throughout the agency, how you get an agency
of 18,000 civil servants across ten Centers to coalesce around this
Vision for Space Exploration, and that’s been, obviously, a
challenge, but just to say, “This is what this agency is going
to be doing,” and everyone to get involved. It’s been
we could stay on that subject for just a minute -- You mention the
different leadership styles, and then both had a shared vision but
not really, because one was trying to get back on a path, and then
one is trying to take us to another path. Could you give us a little
more insight of what you witnessed, especially through the transition
of how one leadership style melded into another, [and share with us]
what you saw watching these two administrators, and then even possibly
how you helped shape the new vision that was coming through?
Certainly. Well, Administrator O’Keefe was given the kind of
task of being—they talk a lot about this between the President
and First Lady about the role of the Comforter in Chief, as well as
some of the management and leadership qualities they have to have,
and that’s what Administrator O’Keefe did, too.
He led us through one of the darkest periods of our agency’s
history, and he had to prove and show that NASA was still competent,
that NASA was still important, and the NASA family could rally and
bring us through that dark time. And I believe he did so, so much
so that that allowed the President to have the confidence in the NASA
workforce to give us the challenge to implement the Vision for Space
When Dr. Griffin came onboard, he brought the technical expertise
and the passion, and the absolute firm belief that the vision, technically
and specifically, was the way this agency needed to go, and spoke
not just to the big picture of space exploration as important and
those kind of general themes, but really was able to connect deep
with the engineers, the scientists, to say, “Look. For many
reasons, not just the pie-in-the-sky, this is what America should
be doing, but for many reasons this is the path. As he often says,
“If America is going to have a space program; this is the space
program we need to have.”
And they just relate to people in different ways. I’d see that
personally in their dynamics, they related to people differently.
Their leadership styles are different, but they’re both effective,
and that’s what’s admirable to me. What that has taught
me and what I’ve been able to learn is that really when you’re
a leader, it really is about the people you’re leading, and
how you relate to them, and what you bring out in them, and to know
who you’re leading. That’s the most important thing, I
think, and I think they both have that ability to do that.
Mr. O’Keefe knew that everyone needed to rally around what this
agency stood for, its existence. Dr. Griffin knows them because he’s
been in their shoes, and so it’s a different perspective. But
they both were able to rally and lead people, so that’s been
One of the greatest honors—I consider it an honor, an opportunity
I had—was to be able to stay onboard with this transition of
administrators, and I was with Dr. Griffin during his confirmation
hearings. Just to be able to spend time with him, and see the vision
that he had for NASA. He had been at NASA before, so to say he hit
the ground running is an understatement to the nth degree. So he knew
what he wanted to do, and we really got going quickly because he didn’t
have—thankfully, actually—because he didn’t have
the time. We had a return-to-flight mission that we had to get going,
had to fly.
So he was ready, and that was amazing to see that, and I will cherish
the two or so months that he and I worked throughout his confirmation
process. To see someone lay out, and when I say vision I’ll
use that vision as the lower-case v, as opposed to the capital-letter
V, Vision for Space Exploration, to then see Mike Griffin’s
lower-case v, vision for how he was going to implement. I don’t
mean to confuse folks, but that was inspiring to see, and something
that I needed to, because after you’re in D.C. you need to recharge
your batteries after a while, and to see him come onboard and just
really guns blazing was exciting.
he promoted you to Deputy Chief of Staff he was quoted as saying that
he appreciated your dedication to the task of reengaging the agency
in the business of exploration. Can you define that for us, what you
feel like you have done, and tell us what is your strategy from your
position of being the Liaison to the White House, as well as the Deputy
Chief of Staff? How do you help reengage the agency in the business
of exploration in the position that you’re in?
My job is to, in the communications I have with folks at the White
House, particularly with the White House but also at other agencies,
is to make sure that NASA’s on the radar screen, and to make
sure that what we do is understood and valued. That’s not to
say that it’s not, by any grand design, but just having worked
in the White House I’ve seen this, that when you have issues
of large significance, meaning the war, the war on terror, economic
considerations, or in Washington the daily scandal de jour, if you
will—I shouldn’t say scandal, but just the latest headline
of the day—that in that environment you have to just be a constant
drumbeat for what we’re doing, and to remind people that we’re
Because what happens is, NASA doesn’t have as big a challenge
at this as other agencies do, because we, as we’ve seen, for
good and bad, NASA can get in the headlines very quickly, sometimes
at will, but to say that what we’re doing is important, and
it’s not just—you know, it’s interesting, because
on the one hand NASA has an ability to get on the front pages, which
is good. On the other hand, you don’t want to overlook the significant
things we’re doing, because people only see just the quick hits,
“Oh, I saw you launched this last week,” or, “I
You say, “Yes, but let me explain what that means, and let me
explain to you how this fits in the overall picture of things.”
So it’s a blessing and a curse. In terms of getting folks in
the business of exploration, just to remind folks, and also one of
the challenges we faced, continue to face, not as much, but we face
is just to get people inspired in the building, in the building meaning
within NASA, “This is what we’re doing.” And we
faced that challenge in 2004 when the vision was announced, through
to today, although hopefully less and less, but just to make sure
that folks know this is where we’re headed.
times people think of exploration as being just human spaceflight,
but as we move along toward setting this foundation for the Vision,
there’s also very much interest in what part robotics will play.
What do you feel, or how will you communicate over the next years
that there is more than just the human spaceflight element of NASA
to those that you communicate with?
Well, we communicate that through heralding our successes. When you
talk about the continual operation of the rovers on Mars, and I forget
the exact quote that they use, but, “This is day whatever in
the ninety-day mission.” I’m sorry, I don’t know
the exact number of the days, but just to say, “Look. Clearly
it’s significant to us,” and again, we rely on our successes.
That’s what people know about, and so that’s kind of the
way we do it.
One of the things that Dr. Griffin has said is that exploration is
not just activities, it’s a mindset. This is what NASA should
be doing. We should be always moving forward and exploring, doing
the challenging things, and whether that be manned or unmanned it
falls under that category.
And also, part of it, going back to your previous question, is to
make sure that—and it also goes back to something I was talking
about before that is unique to NASA, in that you have people who work
here, and this is so fascinating about NASA, you have people who’ve
wanted to work here their entire lives. This is their life’s
ambition. But those people are not necessarily astronauts. Those people
are not necessarily shuttle program managers, engineers even. These
are people that work in HR [Human Resources], these are the people
that make this building run, who’ve wanted to work at NASA,
and that who are every day, you know the old cliché about working
to put men on the Moon, that’s what they’re doing in their
And that’s an interesting challenge that management faces, too,
because folks here have more of a vested interest, because this is
their life’s work, this is what they’ve always wanted
to do. And so people are very involved in what the agency is doing.
They have a stake in what’s going on.
I tease my friends, my other colleagues in the White House Liaison
world to say, you know, although they may not have that at the Department
of Labor, or at HHS [Health and Human Services], but there’s
the “cool factor” here that NASA has that we talk about,
that is important and we have to recognize that. Whereas we can use
that to inspire folks and get people to work really hard, you also
have to be careful because you don’t want to dampen that, and
you don’t want to do things that, not to be cliché, but
it’s true, you don’t want to trample on somebody’s
dream. That’s why they’re here (working at NASA), so that’s
part of the management challenges that we have at NASA that I, frankly,
don’t think a lot of other places have. That’s always
history, as you and I talked earlier, is very vast and it’s
full, and before NASA it was NACA [National Advisory Committee on
Aeronautics], and its primary focus was aeronautics. What is your
vision of keeping aeronautics as part of NASA, or is that part of
the strategy from your area, to keep the aeronautics a vital part
of the future years of NASA?
Absolutely. I think you see under the leadership Dr. Lisa Porter,
and in the President’s statement in December announcing the
National Aeronautics Policy, first time a presidential policy directive
has come out on this issue. I think it’s definitely, absolutely,
a part of what we’re doing, and she’s (Dr. Porter) the
right person to lead us into the future, definitely.
talked about being excited about working here, and after four years,
you’ve gotten a more fully day-to-day understanding of how NASA
works. What do you feel its role to be in the nation, its impact?
What do you feel [NASA’s] role is in today’s society,
and what kind of impact do you feel that NASA should have on the American
NASA should show, and be the leader in showing, the best of America
in terms of the ability to define a mission, the ability to complete
a mission, and the ability to inspire individuals of all backgrounds
to be able to participate in that mission, and to say that at our
best, this is what America and Americans can do. I think people are
proud of NASA and people are proud of our achievements. We can’t
take that for granted, and we have to continue to not rest on what
happened before I was born, in 1969, to be frank, and move forward
and say, “This is the agency that you should be proud of, and
hopefully will continue to be proud of, because we’re moving
NASA should be a symbol of what is right about America, and also,
about American government efficiency, results, productivity, those
kinds of things. We’re a part of the government. We also shouldn’t
forget that, and recognize that we should be always a good steward
of the taxpayers’ money, resources, and trust. That’s
what NASA should symbolize. It should symbolize to the American people
on a very technical level that we’re money well spent, and also
it should be an example to other government agencies of effectiveness.
NASA strives to achieve the vision of exploration, in your position
what challenges do you foresee as far as budget and fiscal support
to accomplish those goals?
Our challenge is the same as any other agency, and that is to demonstrate
our, relevance is not a fair word, because we are relevant, but this
is a weird phrase to use, our relative relevance compared to other
issues. We are one of several federal agencies fighting for limited
resources, and in an economic environment where budgets are being
cut across the board, and while there’s a war going on that’s
going to be going on, this war on terror is going to be going on for
a while, and so that’s our challenge.
When you look at our budget and our requirements over decades, that’s
the challenge. The challenge is simply just lack of money, lack of
money at NASA, but lack of money in the federal government (although
that is not to say we aren’t spending enough, but that there
is considerable competition for the funds that are available). So
we don’t want to be an undue burden to the American taxpayer
generally speaking, because we know there are other things within
the government that need to be done. We just have to show that what
we are doing is important.
you’ve been here your responsibilities have expanded, because
you’ve taken on a new position. You also mentioned about working
under two different administrators. Do you expect your position to
evolve over the next years that you’re here, in different ways?
Well, I do because of a couple of reasons. One, because I deal with
political issues and I’m a political appointee of the Bush administration,
proudly so, knowing that our time, the sand is running through the
hourglass on the Bush administration, there will be a lot of challenges.
So as this administration winds down, and thus my tenure and a lot
of our tenures winds down, that’s going to change the dynamics
But also, my job day today has always been day to day. I have one
of those jobs in Washington that is not—I don’t have the
luxury to be able to set out a plan, you know, “I want to do
this in two months.” My job by definition as Deputy Chief of
Staff has always been day to day, not in terms of the status of it,
but in terms of my assignments and things. I do things as they come
and as they’re assigned, which neither good nor bad, that’s
what I do.
tell me about some of the events and episodes that you’ve encountered
since you’ve been here.
Oh, certainly. Well, as I mentioned before, working the transition
between administrators was definitely one of the highlights. But also
it’s just—really, I can’t think of anything offhand,
forgive me, in terms of specifics, but just things within the building
that happen. Whether it be personnel issues or “Go cover this
meeting”; but I’m here to provide support, and in my role
it trickles down, meaning that it’s not really about me. If
the Administrator can’t do something and if it gets bumped somewhere
else, I’m standing by ready.
know that you’re basically on call here to do job duties and
tasks, but does your position also give you the opportunity to be
on call to the White House as well?
Well, yes. But that is more of, “Hey, we need this information
really quick.” It’ll come at odd times, too, to say, “We’ve
got this issue coming up. Can you confirm this for me?” That
happens pretty frequently, actually, and it’s usually in response
to, say, “Hey, we heard this, is this true?” that kind
of thing. That’s my job.
you’ve been here have you been able to perceive NASA’s
culture. Especially after Columbia there was a lot of discussion about
culture issues within the organization. Can you share with us what
your perception is of NASA’s culture at this time, and where
you think it will be?
Well, one of my great—I shouldn’t say great regrets, but
I would be so fascinated now being here for four years, I really wish
that I could have been here pre-Columbia, to be able to make that
But the culture, I don’t know whether it’s the difference
between the NASA culture or just the bureaucracy, culture of a bureaucracy,
not even NASA, but what that means, and there’s the culture
between NASA Headquarters and the other Centers and those challenges,
but then also kind of what I touched on earlier about the pride factor,
and how pleased and excited people are to be working here.
As far as what CAIB mentioned, as far as our culture, again I wasn’t
here so I shouldn’t talk about that. I don’t know anything
about that because I wasn’t here. But I did see definitely a
united sense of purpose after that. No one wants Columbia to have
happened in vain, and people still feel that way, we have to remind
ourselves of that.
do you see as the most challenging aspect of what you’ll be
facing during the rest of your tenure?
Well, I’ll speak to the agency first, and obviously budget is
number one. Also, just the technical aspects of launching successful
Shuttle missions, obviously as we’ve seen, the victim of hailstorms
and such. The challenge here for me, will be to keep people engaged,
keep people focused when individuals are on different timelines. We’re
talking about, and it’s a small number of people, but it’s
the leadership of this agency, that as I mentioned earlier the sand
is running through the hourglass, that we’ve got a year and
six months left.
So we’ve got a year and six months left to set the foundation
for a vision that is going to last for ten, twenty, thirty years.
So when you have people talking about setting program timelines that
are decades long, presenting those plans to leadership that are only
going to be here for a year and six months, that’s going to
be a challenge, and it’s not unique to NASA, obviously. The
President himself has to go through with this, but that’s going
to be a challenge, no doubt about it, and it’ll be a question
of what steps we take to alleviate that. So that’ll be our number-one
just curious -- when you said you came in in July of 2003, were you
aware that the Vision for [Space] Exploration was going to be announced?
No, not at all. No. The only policy statements that had been made
at that time, quasi-policy statement, was when the President made
his remarks to the nation after the Columbia accident, saying that
the Shuttle would fly again, we would return to flight. That was the
only one that kind of you could hang your hat on, as far as then the
discussions really kicked into—well, first of all, everyone
waited to see what CAIB said, and then I know that the policy discussions
really kicked in in the fall of ’03.
And then I wasn’t privy to these meetings, but I heard that
over the Christmas holiday of ’03, and then the announcement
in January of ’04, but it was not at all a foregone conclusion
that the vision would be announced at all, let alone when, when I
great timing for you to be here as that announcement was there.
Well, very fortunate in that regard, yes. It’s just been, when
I came onboard to go from CAIB, to the vision announcement, to helping
on the [Edward C. “Pete”] Aldridge [Jr.] Commission [President’s
Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy,
June, 2004], to Administrator O’Keefe leaving, to Dr. Griffin
coming onboard, it’s just been a lot of events occurring, so
I’ve been very fortunate in that regard.
your tenure may be affected when this administration is moving on,
why would you encourage someone, or what are your thoughts if someone
would come to you and say, “I’m thinking about starting
a career in NASA.” What would you say to them?
To absolutely try, absolutely do it. I think that the greatest thing
about this agency is that you never know who you’ll meet and
what you’ll learn in the hall, because there are so many amazing
people. Some of the best conversations I’ve had, because I’ve
tried to use my lack of experience, technical experience as an advantage,
to be able to just—actually, it’s not playing, it is ignorance—to
go to folks and say, “Can you tell me what you do? I don’t
understand it. Could you explain this to me?” And some of the
best conversations I have had are with people about that.
That’s been inspiring on two levels, because first of all I’m
able to learn, which I love. Secondly, in doing that, the people get
excited, and you see their passion, and with that it inspires me,
so that’s been incredible. NASA is full of people like that.
In every Center and every office there are people like that. I say
that to answer your question, because that’s the kind of environment
Plus I think that I would definitely encourage a person to join the
history of the agency, and to contribute to that history. It’s
a good place to be. And here, as opposed to—I was going to say
opposed to the private sector—but you’re serving your
country here as well, because of our status as a government agency.
looking back through my topic points I think we’ve gone through
most of them, and you’ve kind of talked about this, though I’ll
ask you again so that you can make sure that we have the points of
emphasis. What do you believe to be NASA’s most important role
for the nation?
Well, NASA should be the agency that Americans look to when we talk
about exploration. That’s what we do, we’re in the business
of exploration, and Americans should be able to be proud of our country
and of our government by looking at NASA’s achievements. That’s
what our role should be, really, to be the agency that exemplifies
that for the American people, the American taxpayer, I should say.
That’s the most important thing.
share with me any other information you would like to about your experiences
here, and your thoughts about NASA.
Sure. Well, I would like to add as far as the history goes that there’s
a lot of talk about, and some people have preconceived notions about
political appointees and who they are and what they do. Political
appointees are individuals who are only here for a short amount of
time, appointed by the President or his administration to work at
agencies, and I am proud of the people who have served here and currently
serve here as political appointees, and I hope that people will not
look down upon political appointees, but know that we serve at the
pleasure of the President, but we also want to work here at NASA.
I’ve not had to twist arms to get any of our political appointees
to come here. There’s always been a double interest to serve,
because, one, they want to serve this President, but then also work
here at NASA, and I hope that people see that. We may not all be engineers
or scientists, but we have a passion for what we do, and want to work
together and learn, and I just hope that people recognize that.
I’m very grateful too, as I say, both administrators that I’ve
worked for, who have been incredible mentors to me, and friends. It’s
been—I’ve learned so much from them, it’s beyond
any tape that you have here today. And people like Courtney Stadd.
I want to say this for history’s sake—that I couldn’t
do my job without my friend Scott Pace, who is one of the smartest
individuals I’ve ever known. I would say to Scott, and also
to Dr. Griffin but particularly to Scott, to say that he’s taught
me everything I know about space, but he hasn’t taught me everything
he knows about space.
I met Scott and Courtney the first day I came to NASA Headquarters
when I was working in Presidential personnel and did a visit to NASA,
and I’m thankful now to call them both colleagues and friends.
But people like that that I’ve worked with, that are just incredible;
I won’t be naming names. But one of the things I wanted to add
if I could, we were talking about just to get for the record the activities
since I’ve been here that the President has been involved with.
Do you want me to do that?
Okay. I’ll try and keep this as interesting as I can, and go
through it as quickly as I can, but also just to get the facts out
there. President George W. Bush is a fan of NASA, but also a fan of
space. He definitely likes what we do, and it’s noticed at the
White House. So we’ve seen that in a lot of the things that
he’s done, and one of the ways that he’s done that is
by making time for NASA.
One of the things we do is we take crews over to the White House when
they come back (from their missions). The first activity I was involved
with was in 2003. In October we took over the [International Space
Station] Expedition 6 crew, [Kenneth D.] Bowersox and [Donald R.]
Pettit, and their Russian counterpart [Nikolai Budarin] over to meet
with the President, and Administrator O’Keefe went over. These
are just brief photo ops [opportunities], but the pictures are released
to the press and I think it’s exciting for the astronauts, and
it’s good because it shows that the President’s involved.
It also gets us in front of him and in front of his staff, so that’s
good. That was in 2003.
Of course in 2004 everyone knows about the January announcement. Oh,
excuse me, I’m sorry. Before that, in January of 2004 the President
made a call to JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California]
in January, I believe it was January sixth. He called JPL, Dr. [Charles]
Elachi, and the Mars Rover Team upon the successful landing of the
first Mars Rover, talked with them, congratulated them on the successful
mission, so that was exciting. He called from the Oval Office.
Then, of course, in mid-January, January fourteenth he had the vision
announcement here at Headquarters. That was exciting because I had
not been involved in a presidential event before, and just all the
work that went into it. Glen Mahone was the head of Public Affairs
at the time. He and his team did a terrific job of actually preparing.
There were questions about where the event was going to be held, and
it was decided to be held at NASA Headquarters. They built the stage
up, set up the room, and all the preparations for it, it was pretty
exciting to see.
The President came in, he met with a group of folks beforehand. Actually,
he met with a group of astronauts beforehand, including John [W.]
Young was here, Gene [Eugene A.] Cernan was here, because the President
quoted him in his speech of the Apollo era, and then some Shuttle
astronauts and [International Space] Station. He talked with them
and he said, I’ll never forget, he said, “I’m really
excited to be here. I’m really excited to be announcing what
I’m going to be announcing today,” and that was exciting.
But then he also added sort of a, “Let’s keep our focus
also on winning this war on terror,” which was not prompted.
He just sort of said—I was telling you because it added, it
combined the two. I don’t want to say combined the two, but
showed that it was not mutually exclusive that, yes, he was excited
about what he was going to be doing, but that we were still focused
on winning the war on terror. So it showed that it was definitely
And then afterwards I believe it was Dr. [Edward J.] Weiler, and I
think Orlando Figueroa showed him a model of one of the Mars Rovers.
We presented him a Mars Rover, a model of the Mars Rover, which I’m
told is in his personal study.
Actually, a funny story. I was called, I think it was last year, from
the President’s personal secretary, who said that they were
doing some renovation in the Oval Office and in the West Wing, and
they dropped the Mars Rover model. So went and picked it up, got it
fixed, took it back. [laughs] And so it shows that he—usually
some of those things, those presentation items we call them, just
go to the library or into a file, but that one is significant, that
he’s proud of.
So, of course, the vision speech was just an incredible day, never
forget that. He was down in Headquarters and now there’s a plaque
downstairs where he announced the vision, and that was just tremendously
exciting for NASA.
Later that summer, obviously in July we celebrated the thirty-fifth
anniversary of Apollo 11, and we were going to just take the crew
of Apollo 11 over (to the White House), and it ended up being—that
was when we had the event over at the [National] Air and Space Museum,
awarding the Ambassador of Exploration Awards with the lunar samples,
and so then it ended up being that they had invited all of the Mercury,
Gemini, and Apollo astronauts and their spouses to the White House.
I think we maybe had about twenty, twenty-five Apollo-era astronauts
go. That may be a little high now that I think about it, maybe no
more than twenty. But we had [Neil A.] Armstrong, [Buzz] Aldrin, and
[Michael] Collins go over with several other—Senator [Harrison
H. “Jack”] Schmitt was there, and Mr. Cernan, and John
Young. I don’t remember all the names at this point, but just
seeing the three of them together, Apollo 11, was very exciting. They
all went into the White House to meet with the President, and then
afterwards the three Apollo 11 they did a few interviews.
They did a White House chat, and there’s a picture of Mr. Armstrong
with Barney the dog that’s kind of interesting. But just to
see those three and the history, and was told they hadn’t been
together at an event like that for quite a while. So that was very
exciting, to be a part of that, and again, that was great.
At that time I mentioned, part of the vision was the creation of the
Aldridge Commission, which looked at where we were going with implementing
the vision. I was a staff member as the White House Liaison, on that
commission, and at the end when the report came out they presented
it to the Vice President. That was in the fall of ’04, late
summer, early fall of ’04, presented to the Vice President in
the Roosevelt Room. I helped coordinate that meeting.
In 2005 we took—it’s very difficult to get on the President’s
schedule, obviously, and so we took a set of Expedition crew members
over (not each one after their individual mission). It’s easier
that way, particularly when there’s only one American crew member
(per Expedition). I feel it’s difficult, but also feel it’s
not a good use of the President’s time to be continually requesting
for one person, so we combined the visit of Expedition 7, 8, 9, and
10. So they went over. I believe there was Ed [Edward T.] Lu and Leroy
Chiao, I think Mike [C. Michael] Foale, they and their families went
over to the White House and met with the President in the Oval Office.
Then we got to July, the launch of 114, STS-114, return-to-flight
mission, and the first mission when they had a lot of congressional
interest and congressional delegations going. That launch was scrubbed,
which was disappointing, but good in another aspect in that the day
they rescheduled it for, the First Lady was going to Orlando [Florida]
to give a speech, and [Florida] Governor Jeb [John Ellis] Bush, apparently
his office mentioned to her, said, “Well, you know, this launch
is going on. I want to go to the launch.”
Which led to her attending 114, and I was able to help facilitate
a little bit of that, and to watch it was just incredible. We watched
it from Banana Creek, and then she spoke to the launch team afterwards.
I had heard also that she was very moved by it, to see it, and it
was very powerful. And that was my first launch as well, to see, obviously
since I came in in ’03. So that was exciting.
I helped with the President calling the crew of 114 in orbit, while
they were on orbit, he called them. There was a video telecon between
the two, the crew and him. That was fun to help kind of coordinate
as well. Of course our folks at JSC [NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston,
Texas] did the work on that, but again, that speaks to what I do in
my job, just kind of help facilitate paperwork.
It’s usually two waves (for these visits to the Oval Office).
One is when I put the request in, which is a lot of paperwork and
background, which is fine. But then the week before and the day of,
is just all about that, and it takes up all my time, because it’s
back and forth between (me and the White House.) “Does [E.]
Michael Fincke want to be called Mike?” It’s all those
little things. It’s just all encompassing, which is fun because
hopefully it pays off in that everyone has a good time and that goes
In February of 2006, the 114 crew went over to the White House for
their visit, first Shuttle crew we had taken over, obviously, since
Columbia, and I think that went well, Commander [Eileen M.] Collins
and her crew and their families.
Then for the [STS] 121 launch in July of last year, of ’06,
the Vice President showed interest, and he was going to be at Daytona
[Florida] that night for a (NASCAR) night race, and so he was going
to come down. I went down early to help with Pam Adams, who I have
to mention is an angel and is one of the best people at this agency
at what they do. She’s one of the best people at what her job
is. Worked with the advance team and he (the Vice President) came
and walked around some of the facilities. Scott Thurston was his tour
guide. He and his wife, Dr. Lynne Cheney and some of their grandchildren,
and that was very exciting. You could tell he was excited as well.
He enjoyed it. Unfortunately there was a scrub, but he came and showed
his support for NASA, so that was good.
The President called 121 as well, but that call was not video, that
was just—and it wasn’t actually a public call, either.
The 114 call was on C-SPAN, it was on the news, it was covered live,
everyone got to see it. The 121 call was just personal, it was just
a, “Hello, keep up the good work,” kind of thing.
Then in October, we had a bunch of crews, a back log of crews to go
over to the White House for their visits. So it was 121, 115, and
Expeditions 11, 12, and 13. Jeff [Jeffrey N.] Williams, Expedition
13, I think, had just come back maybe a week before, because he couldn’t
really stand for long periods of time, so he had to sit and we had
to keep an eye on him and make sure he was okay.
That event was so large because it was so many crews and their families,
that instead of being in the Oval Office it was in the East Room of
the White House, and so unlike the other visits I actually was able
to kind of peek my head in and watch as the President greeted them,
and he’s just very enthusiastic and really enjoyed talking with
And then in 2007 they requested astronaut presence at an event for
Black History Month, and so Joan [E.] Higginbotham and Robert [L.]
Curbeam [Jr.], who had just come back from [STS] 116, went over to
represent NASA. They were recognized during the event. So those are
kind of the presidential White House involvement of things that I
wanted to share.
And then I wanted to add one other thing that I’ve been involved
with. I’m extremely honored to have been a small part in helping
with the Congressional Space Medal of Honors, presented by the President
on behalf of Congress. I think there were only—I’m trying
to remember the number now. I think it was thirteen had been presented
when I came onboard, and one of the things that Administrator O’Keefe
told me in my first meeting with him when I was onboard, he gave me
a list of things and he said, “I want these things done.”
And one of them was working the paperwork to submit for the Congressional
Space Medal of Honor. It was for the crews, posthumously, of the Columbia
and [Space Shuttle] Challenger [STS 51-L], and we worked—I’m
sorry, I forgot about this visit actually, but it will come now when
I talk about this—we took the Columbia families, they went over
to see the President. We took them over on the one-year anniversary.
They were back in town, and at that ceremony they were told that the
crew would be receiving the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and
so that was very moving that we were able to do that. We actually
then presented it here at NASA Headquarters, which was very, very
Then I was truly honored in July of that year that we did the same
for the Challenger families. Personally, that was very moving to me
because when I was growing up I was a big NASA fan, and I remember
in school, where I was when the Challenger accident happened, and
that kind of was one of those events in all of our lives that shapes
you, and I think my generation, we’re a Shuttle generation,
and that was truly a defining moment for my generation, and to then
see the family members.
We had a TV showing video clips of their training, of the Challenger
training, and to be able to be a part of that was incredibly moving
just on many levels. It was just very touching, and I was very honored
to be a part of that, and honored to be in an agency that takes care
of our own like that, remembers our history and learns from our history.
That was exciting.
Then finally we got another one approved and signed off by the President
for Robert [L.] Crippen, for Bob Crippen, and presented at the twenty-fifth
anniversary of STS-1 in April of last year. That was exciting, too,
because I remember he’s kind of a personal hero of mine as well,
the pilot of STS-1, a true pioneer.
I look up to so many folks that I’ve read about, and then to
see them in the halls and have conversations with them, has been quite
an experience and quite an education. I think I got them all, as far
as the President goes, in my role as White House Liaison to make sure
that history remembers that.
glad you did. It gives a great understanding of that aspect of your
job. I wanted to close with one more question. You’ve certainly
explained your passion and your drive to do this job as well as you
can. Are there some aspects of [the job] that you hope that you can
accomplish before you leave this position, something that you are
hoping that you can do that the person who walks in your shoes next
will remember that you did and that they can carry on?
Well, I hope that I’ve put some—this is very boring, bureaucratic—but
I hope I’ve put some processes in place that it would be an
easy transition for someone to come in and see what I’ve done
and put plans and procedures in place that things can just happen
on their own.
On a personal level, I’m one of those people that I prefer to
be in the background. I’m a staffer, I’m a staff person.
That’s what I like to do. And whether this is good or bad, I
think I’m one of those folks that probably, hopefully this says
more about my work, that I’m more noticed when I’m gone
than when I’m here, and I think that’ll be something,
I should add, by the way, on a personal level, that being a part of
NASA is an honor. I’m from West Virginia. There’s not
a huge space contingent there, but there was a children’s book
that a lady from my hometown wrote called No Starry Nights. It was
about the fact that where I’m from, this is a steel-mill town
so you never could see the stars, because there’s just the haze
in the air. But I come from a family that says that you can see them
even though they’re not there. They’re there.
That kind of thing is important going forward. I mention the support
of my family, it’s helpful to me, because as I mentioned, a
lot of times I’m very nervous going into meetings, because I
could get eaten alive, because I don’t know the technical stuff,
I don’t know the engineering, but you’ve got to go in
there and say, “This is what we’re all about, so let’s
work together. Don’t try to overwhelm me with theories and stats,
because you’ll get me, but let’s just figure this out.”
So that’s the challenge and the thrill of it all.
certainly appreciate you spending time with us today and sharing all
this great information.
Thank you for doing this. It’s my true honor. Thank you.