NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Houston, Texas – 21 October 2009
Today is October 21, 2009. This interview with Ronny Newman is being
conducted at the NASA Johnson Space Center [JSC] for the JSC Facilities
Oral History Project. The interviewer is Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, assisted
by Rebecca Wright. Thanks again for taking some time to meet with us
Newman: My pleasure.
certainly appreciate it. Would you start by telling us about your career
start a little before that. I’m a native Houstonian, one of the
few I know around here. I went to all the regular grade schools in Houston.
Didn’t feel like leaving for college, so I stayed here and went
to Rice University. After coming out of Rice, I was interested in working
for NASA. It wasn’t a childhood goal. I watched the Alan [B.]
Shepard flight and the early Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights. I
was always fascinated by it. It always seemed so distant from me, as
far as I never thought that I would be part of it, until looking for
a job coming out of college. I thought that a good source of jobs was
NASA. It was a fascinating thing to work for.
I did apply for NASA proper in the electronics area. I talked to some
people in Building 44. At the time, this was in 1977; it wasn’t
a hiring time because [this was] post-Apollo and before Shuttle hiring
really started building up, so NASA didn’t have any openings available.
My placement office got a notice of a need for a spacesuit engineer
for ILC [International Latex Corporation]. ILC Dover is the name of
the company. I applied, interviewed, was hired, all within a week and
started the next Monday. I was hired to work in Building 7. During my
interview, I walked into the high bay area where they have the chambers,
and my interviewer told me, “That’s an astronaut over there.
He wanted to test the spacesuit.” It was just all overwhelming
and very cool.
A week later I was working here. It was all in a haze. I wasn’t
here in time for Apollo, but I was here with a lot of people who were,
the suit techs like Joe [Joseph W.] Schmitt—I know he’s
in your interview database—Alan [M.] Rochford, they were the NASA
techs; also the ILC techs like Ronnie [Ronald C.] Woods. When you see
the Neil [A.] Armstrong walking out of the suit room into the van on
the way to the pad, Joe Schmitt is right behind him, but Ronnie Woods
is already in the van. Working with the people that were part of history
is always fascinating.
At the time, they were still developing the Shuttle suit, so I was here
to witness a lot of the development of the Space Shuttle suit. The company
doing it was in Dover, Delaware, and that was my home plant; the company
I worked for was ILC. ILC built the suit itself. Hamilton Standard built
the life support system backpack. We were subcontractors to Hamilton
Standard; they’re now Hamilton Sundstrand. Both of those items
were being developed. The spacesuit functionality, how well you could
operate it, all the evaluations happened here because this is where
the astronauts were.
I started in 1977. In 1978, the first class of Shuttle astronauts was
hired, the group of 35. One of my jobs was being the sizing expert on
the spacesuit. The group of 35 would come through, and we’d measure
them all and see what kind of suit they would take. They made spacesuits
in different sizes, and based on whichever size was made first, a certain
number of astronauts would be selected to come through, do evaluations,
put the suit on, and see how well it worked.
To summarize the rest of my career, I was a spacesuit engineer and eventually
became a manager of the field group supporting the spacesuits. I worked
for ILC for 12 years. I got an opportunity to join NASA. After the [Space
Shuttle] Challenger accident [STS 51-L], they were hiring flight safety
engineers, and I joined NASA as a civil servant and as a flight mechanical
systems safety expert on the spacesuits and on spacewalks.
I was in safety for three years, the last year of which I spent on detail
to the mission director’s office for the first Hubble [Space Telescope]
servicing mission, STS-61. A special mission director appointed by [NASA]
Headquarters [Washington, DC] came down [to] take a special overview
and look at all the work that was going into that mission, because it
was such a publicity risk if we didn’t fix the telescope. They
appointed a special office down here. It was a Headquarters person running
a JSC mission; there’s a little bit of tension there. They needed
a safety person, and I was going to be the Hubble mission safety lead,
especially for EVA [Extravehicular Activity], spacewalks.
Because I was in that slot and they asked for a safety person for this
mission, they detailed me for a year. Randy [H.] Brinkley was that mission
director. Once that mission was conducted successfully, then he was
given the control of the Space Station Program. I moved with him to
the Space Station Program. I was there for a few years, and then they
decided to reorganize slightly, and my functions were moved over to
MOD [Mission Operations Directorate].
When I was in the Space Station Program, I oversaw the development of
the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. I was one of the people on the operational
readiness inspection team. I became fascinated with that facility. When
I got the chance to come to MOD, I started working at the Neutral Buoyancy
Lab. Was there for about six years, then was put on a source board for
a year and a half. I’m now in Building 9, and Building 9 is a
sister facility to the NBL. My division chief knew that they needed
help here, and coming off the source board I came here. This is my second
quite a diverse career.
I’ve been has something fascinating about it. It’s hard
to avoid at NASA.
you could, tell us about Building 7 and what its purpose is and how
it was used to support the Space Shuttle Program.
a little ignorant of all the organizations that are in the building
right now, but it’s traditionally the home of the Crew Systems
Division. There’s an office area, and there’s the high bay
industrial area. Actually, Building 7 I think is the high bay and 7A
is the office. May need to verify that.
Crew Systems is responsible for developing the spacesuit, including
both the suit itself and the life support system. They’re responsible
for crew equipment, just simple things like tools they’re going
to need for spacewalks. I think they work on the tools also inside the
spacecraft, the Shuttle or the Space Station. They’re responsible
for the life support system on board the Shuttle. They are, I believe,
responsible for the toilet on board the Shuttle. So anything environmental
involving the Shuttle, the environmental control system, both the Shuttle
and the spacesuit, they’re involved.
The high bay area, when I first started, included actually a 20-foot
vacuum chamber, which was used for some isolation tests before my time.
They would put people for a month at a time or three months at a time
to just practice living away from anybody else for all that time to
see how people reacted to Space Station-like conditions. They also had
an eight-foot chamber. Any time I use the word chamber, it implies vacuum
chamber, where you take all the air out. There are parts of the spacesuit
that only work in a vacuum. The cooling system requires a vacuum because
the cooling water, when it sees vacuum, it wants to immediately evaporate,
but if you restrain it physically, it won’t be able to evaporate,
it’ll just get cold. It’ll form ice. It’s that ice
that actually cools the spacesuit inside.
A vacuum is essential to make the spacesuit work, and so they want to
make sure that it will work in a vacuum before they launch the systems.
The eight-foot chamber was used for testing just the backpack. They
also had an 11-foot chamber. Each of these chambers is basically a cylinder.
When I say an eight-foot chamber, that means it’s an eight-foot-diameter
cylinder. There’s room for a person to get into it, but not move
around. There’s a larger 11-foot-diameter chamber where they would
have a treadmill so the person in a full spacesuit could get on the
treadmill and work up a heat load. Walking on a treadmill is a lot of
work in a spacesuit, and so they wanted to make sure that the cooling
system is strong enough to handle the heat load of a person working
at the workload they expect on the Moon or in the Shuttle or outside
the Shuttle. Vacuum chambers were used to test the parts of the spacesuit
that only work in space.
While I was there, they installed the ECLSS Test Article. ECLSS is environmental
control and life support system. It’s a Shuttle system, but I
think they just changed it later to Environmental Test Article [ETA]
to simplify things. The test article included a Shuttle airlock; on
the real Shuttle astronauts put their spacesuits on inside the airlock.
After they put the suits on, then they’d drop the pressure in
the chamber. They went through the entire procedure that they would
do in space; they went through those procedures here on Earth to train
the astronaut and also let the astronaut really feel what it’s
going to be like inside his or her suit before they go out on a spacewalk.
It’s an important part of their training that once for each astronaut
in their suit, they would go through that process to feel what it’s
like and to hear the sounds, smell the smells, and to know what to expect
once they get into space. As they put their suit on, drop the pressure
in the chamber around them, their suit would then keep its pressure.
It would stay at 4.3 pounds per square inch of pure oxygen before they
would go outside. They would experience all that in a vacuum chamber
in Building 7 after they got in the ETA.
They would do similar things inside the 11-foot chamber, but they weren’t
inside an airlock mockup. The airlock in the Shuttle has switches that
you have to be able to reach, and you need to know where they are, which
switches to flip when, and what umbilical connections to make. All that
training happened after the ETA was delivered. I understand there’s
now a different kind of chamber, the SSTA or SSATA [Space Shuttle Airlock
Test Article] or something like that, but that was after my time so
I’m not going to do that.
you describe for us one of the tests that you might conduct on a spacesuit,
the MMU [Manned Maneuvering Unit], or the primary life support system?
Who was involved? How long a test might take?
Newman: The ones
I’m most familiar with would be in the 11-foot chamber and in
the ETA. The 11-foot chamber, for example, one of the design criteria
would be that a spacesuit has to support a certain workload from the
astronaut for eight hours at a time. The normal length of a spacewalk
is six hours. There’s an emergency tank, two tanks in the backpack,
which will supply emergency oxygen in case the fan breaks. The spacesuit
recirculates your gas, your breathing air. It replenishes your breathing
air. Well, actually in a spacesuit it’s pure oxygen. It supplies
pure oxygen, but you breathe out carbon dioxide. The spacesuit has to
filter out that carbon dioxide to keep it from building up, because
if your CO2 level builds too high, then you get headaches, you get sick,
and eventually you will die. It’s painful first. You’re
trying to avoid any kind of buildup, so it extracts the carbon dioxide
from the breathing air and replenishes with pure oxygen.
It keeps you cool. There’s a certain amount of cooling water that
circulates through plastic tubes that run around your body. The tubes
cool you off. You can adjust the amount of or the mix of the water,
warm water versus cold water, you can adjust that temperature to your
liking. In fact, you have to do that. I’m going in several directions
here. When you’re in orbit, you’re in the sunlight, your
suit temperature can be 250 degrees Fahrenheit. When you’re in
the shade, your suit temperature can be -250 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s
physics so you know sunrise is coming up pretty soon, just before sunrise
comes up you tend to turn your cooling high, get maximum cooling, because
it takes a little while for the cooling to take effect because it’s
got to cool your entire body basically. There’s heat there that
it’s got to take care of. When you’re in the Sun, the Sun
very quickly makes your suit warm, so you have to anticipate that a
little bit ahead of time. You get cold first, and then you get hot.
Like I said, because it’s physics, you know it’s going to
happen, you know sunrise is coming up in five minutes or three minutes.
You know precisely when that’s going to happen.
So the cooling system has to work in the spacesuit, and the air system
has to work in the spacesuit, and both of those things have to last
for at least six hours. There’s always margin they build in the
design, because astronauts want to do more things than they originally
had scheduled or because something takes longer than originally scheduled.
There’s some margin. You can go a little bit longer than six hours
for a spacewalk. In fact, most Space Station spacewalks lately, they’ve
sort of changed it to a seven-hour normal time span as the suit got
a little bit better and as they know better how to handle the recharging
of the suit. They stretched the normal working time for that.
You want to make sure that every suit that flies has been through an
11-foot chamber run where they test for however many hours the test
profile calls for—nominally six hours, but they’ll probably
test it for seven just to give you some design margin—to make
sure that the cooling system works for that long, make sure the fan
works for that long, make sure that there are no leaks that would deplete
your oxygen sooner than the six hours. It’s impossible to make
a suit that doesn’t leak. There’s an allowable very small
You have suit bearings. If you’re just in a cloth tube that’s
pressurized, it’s very hard to bend, very hard to operate, so
they sew in special joints in the cloth so that you can bend your fingers,
that you can bend your elbow. Your shoulder works in a certain direction,
and in fact it works in several directions—you can turn and move
your arm up behind you, in front of you—so your shoulder has to
go in several directions. So they helped shoulder mobility; they installed
a ball bearing around your shoulder so that it spins. One of the difficulties
in designing a bearing that’s supposed to hold the air tight is
that you have a seal that rubs up against a ring. You have a 30-inch
perimeter, circumference around the bearing, and every point on that
seal has to be touching in order to hold the gas inside. It’s
hard to design. Any time you move something, to try to keep perfect
contact, it’s impossible, so there’s always going to be
some little amount of leak. The allowable amount of leak is small enough
so that all your gas will last for the eight hours it takes you to do
your spacewalk. All that gets tested when you’re doing an 11-foot
To test the heat control, the thermal controls, you have to do physical
work. In the 11-foot chamber they have a treadmill for the astronaut
to do physical work. You can build up a lot of heat using your arms,
but your arms get tired very quickly when you’re under heavy loads,
so it’s your legs that build up most of the heat. They have a
treadmill to do that kind of workload.
So an astronaut would be inside the 11-foot chamber. There would be,
I think, typically two emergency technicians. They’re considered
chamber technicians. I don’t remember the names of the contractors
who provided the chamber support people. I’m sure Lockheed was
involved at one time, but I don’t remember some of the other contractors.
With the main chamber being as close to total vacuum as we can get it
in the facility, there’s an anterior chamber that would be at
a middle altitude, equivalent to 18,000 feet, where it’s partially
depressurized. A technician would be there on a breathing air mask,
so that if there was an emergency he would be the first person to be
able to go inside. They would repressurize the chamber, and because
he was partially there, the chamber didn’t have to come up to
full atmospheric pressure for him to be able to go in and render help
to the crew member if there was an emergency. I don’t remember
if there’s one or two of those technicians in that intermediate
pressure, but there’s at least one.
There would be suit techs on station. The suit techs would go in and
suit the crew member up: put the suit on, close everything up, make
sure there was no leaks. They would leave, but they would stand nearby
in case of emergency, so that once the pressure of the chamber reached
normal atmosphere pressure for us, they would be able to go in and render
any aid to get the crew member out of the suit quickly if they needed
Test conductors would be in the control room calling the procedures
and giving orders on how things were run. The typical control room would
have—this is not my area of responsibility, but this is just from
my memory—maybe eight people inside the control room. There would
be other rooms where you could monitor what was going on. The doctor
would be in one of the back rooms. I as a suit engineer would be in
one of the back rooms also. The medical and the safety people would
be on communication loop, but not necessarily in the same room, just
for space limitations, and to try to keep a certain amount of order.
There’s a lot of side conversations in the room you don’t
want, so keep the number of people small so the normal amount of noise
There would be people operating the vacuum pumps. I’m sure there
were technicians on duty to make sure those were operating properly
and that they kept operating when they needed to. Also in the control
room, there’d be a person whose job it is to hit the button to
repressurize the chamber, if they needed to, for an emergency.
quite a lot of people.
Newman: Yes, and
there’s all our bosses over in the offices.
you think about maybe 20 or 25 people involved in a test for the 11-foot
about for the ETA?
Newman: The ETA,
it would be very similar. Again, I don’t remember how many techs
were in the intermediate altitude pressure. Pretty much the same, other
than the fact that you don’t have a treadmill operating. You still
have all of the same safety concerns, so pretty much the same amount
of people for that too.
simulations run the same way? Were there simulations done in the chambers
and the ETA?
Newman: It was
rare for the chamber runs to be connected to mission control, for example.
Other than every ETA run would have a little bit of malfunction practice.
They’d say, “Pretend your fan just stopped operating. Your
suit pressure is still okay. What do you do? Now pretend you’ve
got a suit leak. Your pressure is dropping at such a rate. What do you
do?” So they would do malfunction training. But as far as simulations?
You can’t induce a leak on purpose for safety reasons. They would
just tell you, “Pretend right now.”
The spacesuit would have a checklist on the arm. For a certain emergency,
you’d flip to that page and go down those steps to do to first
of all isolate the problem and then solve the problem. They’re
wearing physical cards on their wrist because you can’t depend
on communications because that might be your problem. You may lose com,
so you have your physical emergency response checklist right there in
front of you. So they would practice. Over the com loop they would tell
you, “Okay, now you’ve lost com, what do you do?”
You flip to the right card and go through the steps and turn your radio
off and then back on and see if that fixed it.
you ever a test subject yourself in the chambers?
Newman: Not in
chambers. I have the slightly embarrassing problem of my right-sized
upper torso was a medium, but the neck area was too small for my head
to go through it. I would have been a chamber subject, but I couldn’t
fit in my suit because my head was bigger than my body.
us if you would about getting ready and testing for STS-5. That was
supposed to be the first Space Shuttle walk and then there were problems
with the suit. Can you tell us about all that?
Newman: It was
supposed to be the first spacewalk. For every Space Shuttle mission,
there are at least two people assigned to do spacewalks, even if there’s
no spacewalk scheduled for that mission. Every mission has to have the
ability to go out and close the payload bay doors, or there are other
contingencies. For example, after the external tank separates from the
Shuttle, where it was connected—they had to have a connection
there and the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen flowing through the
connection—you can’t have it covered with tile. After the
ET separates, that opening there has a door which will automatically
close and seal. One of the big concerns was if the latches don’t
work, if the door doesn’t spring closed properly, reentering could
be fatal because you need the tile protection right there.
So that door had backup mechanisms to help make sure it would close,
but everybody was wondering, “Well, sometime we may have debris
in it, or maybe some other reason that it just doesn’t close.
We have to get astronauts out there to fix it.” They had some
ideas on how to get the astronaut to that spot on the Shuttle, but the
robotic arm on the Shuttle couldn’t reach that far to get the
astronaut over there. One idea everybody had in their back pocket was
you take a laundry bag, just something with some mass but soft. You
tie it to a tether, throw it around the Shuttle, let it wrap around
the Shuttle, catch it as it comes around in the payload bay, and then
you tie both ends that way. Then you can have a little cord that you
can pull yourself over and hopefully get close to the external tank
There were other emergencies that had known fixes. If the payload bay
door latches don’t work and close securely, there are mechanical
overrides that you can perform. The astronaut would then go out in the
payload bay, and they’d have their own special wrenches and other
tools that they would ratchet down the doors and close them.
In fact, after reading Jim [James W.] McBarron’s interview recently—knowing
that I was going to do this, I looked at some of the ones that you already
had—his interview reminded me that if it weren’t for concerns
about closing the payload bay doors, we probably may not have had EVA
capabilities on the first Shuttle flights. A lot of people, including
Chris [Christopher C.] Kraft, were skeptical of the safety. They didn’t
want to make spacewalks an everyday thing because of the safety concerns,
but because of concerns on what might go wrong, every Space Shuttle
flight has always had at least two spacesuits on board. Two astronauts
were always trained to use those suits, and also because the suits had
to be sized for those particular people, you named those people ahead
of time, you trained them in what they needed to perform. Sometimes
it was just emergency repairs, but other times they actually scheduled
spacewalks. Whether they had any scheduled or not, there were two suits
For STS-5, the two crew members were Joe [Joseph P.] Allen and Bill
[William B.] Lenoir. I don’t have all the details of the malfunction
of the suit. I know one suit had a problem where it just wouldn’t
start. There was a fan speed sensor that didn’t work. The sensor
would sense either a fan operating at too slow a speed, which means
it wouldn’t give you enough circulation to clear out the CO2 from
your breathing gas, so it’s unsafe to operate. It wouldn’t
let you operate; it would shut off. If your fan was going too fast,
it might be an indication of an electrical problem, and so it would
shut off. The fan speed had to be a certain rate for the system to keep
operating. That sensor itself didn’t work, so it wasn’t
sending the right signal to keep the system operating, so that suit
didn’t work. I think it was Joe’s suit that didn’t
start at all.
Bill Lenoir’s pressure regulator was slightly maladjusted. I don’t
remember if it was vibration— somehow it maintained the suit pressure
too low. I don’t remember the numbers, but it wouldn’t let
the suit pressurize fully, so it was unsafe for him to go out. Plus,
we always want to send people out two at a time just for the buddy system.
If there’s an emergency, you want somebody out there to help you,
so we never sent anybody out just one person at a time.
So both of the suits weren’t operating properly. There was thought
of just leaving the one suit that almost worked, put that just in the
airlock, and just to experience, to say we actually did open the door
and did our spacewalk. They eventually decided that wasn’t the
right thing to do. STS-5 was supposed to be the first spacewalk, but
was not, which made STS-6 the next target of opportunity.
STS-6 crew members had been assigned already. It just happened to be
Story Musgrave, who happened to be the suit representative for the Astronaut
Corps, so he was somebody that we knew and had worked with a lot. It
was kind of like one of our own got lucky and got his break to do the
first spacewalk. It was Story Musgrave and Don [Donald H.] Peterson.
They ended up doing the first EVA for Space Shuttle Program. I remember
one of his talks that Story gave to us later. He talked about funny
things happen in life, and sometimes the tide takes you out, sometimes
the tide brings you back in. It’s his way of saying that circumstances
fell to him. He would have been a good choice, period, of being the
first spacewalker, because every astronaut has a technical assignment,
and Story’s technical assignment was the development of the Shuttle
suit. He knew it probably better than any other astronaut. It was one
of those lucky things that the person who knows most about it was the
first person that got to use it.
there any missions while you were working at Building 7 that you were
ever called upon—say there was a mishap or malfunction in space—to
work on in the chambers or the ETA?
Newman: I don’t
think so. There were suit problems that happened, and we would get together
sometimes in our labs to try to recreate the problem and to better understand
it. It was suit-specific. I don’t remember a chamber run. There
may have been some I don’t remember.
there any missions that you supported when you were working in that
building that really stand out in your memory that just boy, that was
Newman: Yes. STS-5,
STS-6 was obviously very big to us. I was the lead engineer for the
flight suits, the suit portion, for ILC. Bringing the suits back from
the first spacewalk was important. We wanted to make sure they were
taken care of, and they were carefully transported, carefully packed
so that we could study them to see what happened to them by being in
space. I was assigned to go out to Edwards [Air Force Base, California]
for the landing to oversee the packaging of the suit to bring it back.
While I was in my hotel room, I got the phone call that we weren’t
going outside; we didn’t do that spacewalk. So I got a free trip
to California, but I still had to bring the suits back.
Let’s see. I’m going to talk about STS-4 right now. STS-4
included the first time anybody put the suit on in the Shuttle. It was
not planned to go outside, they just wanted to make sure that you could
do the procedures. There was always a question. Because of the way the
suit is built, there’s a waist ring that is a big circumferential
ring in the middle of your body where these two rings have to come together
and latch completely, front and back, all the way around, in order to
make the seal. After a person climbs into the upper torso, which is
holding the backpack, then you’ve got your pants on already, but
you got to attach the pants to the upper part of the suit. It’s
a ring with around 12 latches, it might be eight latches, all the way
around. Each of those latches has to close.
They had to test them in zero-g missions to make sure the astronauts
were able to close it without gravity, and close it by themselves ideally,
even though the other astronaut was there to help if they needed to.
They always trained to try to be able to do it by yourself. It was important
that we know that once you’re actually in space that a person
can put it on. Ken [Thomas K.] Mattingly was the commander of STS-4,
so it was his assignment to get in the suit and put it on.
When you’re in space, you grow taller than you are on the Earth,
just because when we’re here our weight compresses our spine.
There’s a certain amount of zero-g growth that you get just immediately
when you get to space. You grow a fraction of an inch just because your
tendons and ligaments are relaxed, and they’re no longer compressed
by gravity, so they’ll stretch a little bit when you get to space.
Also, your spine is compressed by your weight here on the ground, so
some of the fluid goes out of your vertebrae. When you get back into
space, fluid seeps back into the vertebrae and you start growing. In
the morning while you’re still lying down you’re a little
bit taller than you are at the end of the day. You get up, but very
quickly the gravity will then make you your normal size when you get
out of bed. In space, you’re longer.
There was a design feature early on in the Space Shuttle suit where
there’s a bracket where you could just push a button and the suit
would get one inch longer. That bracket was heavy, expensive, hard to
make. In spaceflight, every pound you add is going to be lots more pounds
of fuel. There’s a big cost to adding any kind of weight. Because
of the money, the design complexity, and the weight, they decided to
get rid of that feature. I guess it was decided that people would still
be able to close the suit without a problem.
As a spacesuit engineer, I knew that astronauts like to have a tight-fitting
suit because it gives them more mobility. So if you have a tight suit
and you’re growing an inch, are you going to be able to close
it? I did a little bit of research on my own using the NASA data from
Skylab. One of the astronauts who was in charge of that experiment,
they measured how much you grew in space over a period of time. After
a couple days, you grow as much as you’re going to grow, but you
do grow. If you have a tight-fitting suit on the ground and you get
up in space and you’re bigger, it kept worrying me that you weren’t
going to be able to close the suit.
I recommended to my NASA technical monitors that we really needed to
accommodate that somehow. I brought the data to them and convinced them
that actually we do need to allow for that. We no longer have this capability.
The way we fix that is we fit the suit to them properly on the Earth,
then just before launch we add anywhere between an inch and two inches,
to the length of the suit, to be able to make sure they can close it.
We ended up deciding at the time to add one inch to everybody’s
suit length to allow for the spinal growth.
When Ken Mattingly put the suit on, it was a nervous time for us, because
no one had ever done this before. It was a big deal for him to put the
suit on. He put the suit on. He was able to close the suit. Over the
com loop he said, “They were supposed to make the suit longer,
but it feels just like it did on Earth.” It was one of those things.
It was a problem averted, it was no big deal, but I know that it could
have been a problem. So actually, my most concrete contribution to the
space program is to add one inch to the suit. I was glad nothing happened.
It was good. Again, it’s one of those things. I don’t know
if that counts as a Building 7 thing, but since I lived there, I’ll
sounds good. You had mentioned STS-4, so I was curious. Did the building
also test the pressure suits for the first four test flights? Was that
included as well as the spacesuits?
Newman: Yes. There
was another branch of Crew Systems Division that did the launch and
entry suits. Now the Mail Code XA [EVA Project Office] folks control
or are responsible for all the EVA developments, but still it’s
Building 7 that handles the design of the launch and entry suits too.
Yes, they did. I know Jim [James O.] Schlosser was the NASA manager
over that program for launch and entry suits. Yes, they did train the
astronauts and did the functional tests there. There were also test
facilities at the Cape [Canaveral, Florida] before launch so they could
test them the morning of launch and that kind of thing, and also after
the astronauts donned the suits they would test and make sure they were
mentioned that STS-4 was the first time someone had put the suit on
in orbit. Did you have to have all of your testing of the suit done
and ready for that first flight of STS-1 in case something happened
with those payload bay doors?
Newman: Yes. The
STS-1 suits had to be tested the same way, just make sure they were
running. John [W.] Young and Bob [Robert L.] Crippen went through their
chamber tests in their own suits and made sure they worked, made sure
they fit right.
did you start using astronauts to test the spacesuits? Was there a break
when suit techs were testing and then you moved into astronauts?
the development period, typically a prototype suit would be made in
Delaware. They would have their own set of suit technicians up there.
The most grueling job is to do the endurance testing for the suit, which
means every joint, the elbow, the knee, the ankles, and the gloves,
they’d all have a certain number of cycles that they had to be
tested to. They would designate a special suit as a certification cycling
test. The test subject’s job would be to wear the suit out, keep
bending those elbows until the suit breaks or until they saw signs of
wear, and they would know that’s when they should stop. There
would be people in Delaware whose job responsibility was to be a suit
subject. They would typically have other responsibilities because there
were other things going on; a test is run and then it’s done,
then you have other things to do in the meantime before the next test
comes along. They’d be technicians who had other jobs too, but
they were designated subjects there.
They’d send it down here to Houston. The design was still being
evaluated, but the key users would be the ones you would want the opinions
of, so astronauts would test prototype suits here, too, to evaluate
the comfort and mobility and how useful it was.
that testing done in the chambers?
Newman: Only when
you’re also testing the life support system. There’s a lot
of development of both independently, both the suit itself and the backpack.
A lot of the evaluations of the suit itself would happen—there
are other rooms in Building 7, a suit lab where there was a special
separate room where astronauts would go through the motions. For example,
there was a glove box where you were testing just gloves to make sure.
You put the tools and things for them to pick up inside the glove box,
where they would evaluate only the gloves to make sure the fingers bend
right and they fit you properly.
One of the hardest things to fit precisely is a hand, because not only
is your size different from your neighbor’s, but the proportion
may be different. My ring finger is longer than my index finger, and
that’s not true for everybody. It started off every glove was
custom-built. Then once we had a big enough inventory, well, sometimes
an astronaut would come in, and they’d happen to be the same size
as the previous astronaut, and they’d go, “Close enough,”
so they would reuse some gloves that way. It was normal for people to
have custom-built gloves.
Other design changes would be developed and be sent down here to Houston
and the astronauts would go through. We’d schedule a number of
astronauts to come into Building 7 and our suit fit room and just have
them evaluate things not in the chambers.
you ever do any endurance testing here at JSC? Or was that all done
Newman: I think
it was all Delaware.
the chambers do any thermal testing, or is that done in another facility?
Newman: The Building
7 chambers were only vacuum. All the thermal testing was done in Building
32, the SESL (Space Environment Simulation Lab). They have Chamber A
and Chamber B. Chamber A is the four-story-tall huge door movie feature
vacuum chamber. Their eight-foot chamber is the smaller one, but they’re
both thermally capable.
the chambers used for anything else for the Shuttle Program besides
Newman: I want
to say yes, but not that I can remember. Sometimes they just want to
expose something else to vacuum, could be just another Shuttle system
maybe, not that I was involved in. Since I was a suit engineer, there
were a lot of things that happened that I wasn’t part of.
you have any involvement with the manned maneuvering unit?
when I was a safety engineer, that was one of my systems. As a suit
engineer, we were concerned with the interface with the MMU, make sure
the suit clearances would be good so when they put the MMU on they had
room, they were able to reach the controls, that kind of thing. So I
was aware of it. I’m trying to remember where the testing happened
for the MMU, because there’s no place on Earth that would let
you fly it just because it had such small jets.
As a safety engineer, it was one of my systems. I did go out to Colorado,
where the Martin Marietta plant was, to do design review. But also,
unfortunately, it was on my watch that they canceled the program. So
the MMU was mothballed in front of my eyes.
must have been disappointing.
testing of the spacesuit change at all as a result of the malfunctions
Newman: Yes. First
of all, once the required design changes were made, there was something
new to test just to make sure that those new design fixes worked. They
added another kind of test to the fan speed sensor, but those were more
laboratory type tests as opposed to chamber tests.
the facility over at Building 7 ever have to reconfigure for a new mission,
or is it pretty much static for every mission?
their main purpose is to test the suits and the suits don’t change,
it’s pretty much static. Sometimes they’ll do new procedures.
For example, when we first started doing Shuttle-Mir missions, we had
the new docking compartment and the external air. When they moved the
airlock from inside the Orbiter cabin into the payload bay, the configuration
of our chamber had to change a little bit just because the controls
were a little bit different and the opening of the hatch was a little
bit different. But once the Orbiter configuration was known, then there’s
not much to change.
anything change over time as the Shuttle flights grew much more advanced
or complex? Anything maybe with the Hubble Space Telescope?
because they’re just testing the suit, not much changed based
on that. But the things they use the suit for, for example, when we
did take the suits over to Building 32 for the thermovac test, they
would have different tools to evaluate. For example, on the STS-61 mission
they would evaluate the touch temperature of the tools and make sure
that the gloves were good enough to protect you enough from cold temperatures.
Unfortunately, one of the astronauts for that mission pushed himself
so far that he ended up getting frostbite, so had to recover from that
before he could fly.
there any other unusual equipment that was over in Building 7 that we
haven’t talked about, other than the chambers and the ETA?
Newman: There were
several things that weren’t used during my tenure there. There
was a drop tower there for a while, but we didn’t use that. We
were right next door to Building 29 when they put the WET-F [Weightless
Environment Training Facility] in, the swimming pool there. I wasn’t
there when the centrifuge was still in Building 29, but again it wasn’t
my building, but I was a neighbor. There may have been some things in
the various smaller labs not related to the spacesuits that I’m
not aware of.
guessing this didn’t have any impact on your facility, but did
the flying of DoD [Department of Defense] classified missions have any
impact on your facility?
Newman: No. We
were aware of those missions, but since the suit is a publicly known
item, they couldn’t classify that. My part of the building was
never under any special conditions for secrecy.
you give us a listing of some of the main contractors who provided support
in Building 7 when you were working over there?
start with the suit. The Apollo suits were made by ILC. The Space Shuttle
suits were all made by ILC. Hamilton Standard all made the life support
system for the spacesuits for both Apollo and Shuttle. Those were constants.
David Clark made the launch and entry suits, but I don’t think
they maintained a presence in Building 7. The chamber support, again
it changed some, but I want to say Lockheed was one of the contractors.
I’m not the authority there. I can’t remember clearly enough.
it’s been a while. Is there anybody that you would recommend that
we talk to about this facility?
Newman: I can help
you, yes. To me the group of people that would know the chambers best
would include the test directors for those tests. I know there was a
test director named Steve [N.] Martin.
one of three Steve Martins I’ve worked with here at NASA. Before
we met today, I was hoping to bring an old phone book I have. I’ve
got at least a 1989 phone book. I’m hoping an earlier one would
have some of those names and job functions listed there. When we break
here, I’ll go get that for you. Steve Martin was a test director.
James [M.] Skipper was highly active. Again, I can’t tell you
for sure if these people are still with NASA or not.
I didn’t work with him much, but I was aware of him, I want to
say Reagan [S.] Redman. I know he went over to Building 32 later, but
I think he would be knowledgeable for Building 7 chambers also. [Walter
W.] Guy just retired, but he was the boss there for quite a while in
we turned on the recorder this morning, you had mentioned that you did
some work with the suits in the KC-135 and some other locations. Do
you want to share those details with us?
Newman: When I
joined ILC, they were just starting to hire the force to support the
Shuttle suits. The first zero-G flight I was aware of our suit supporting
was the one I was on, because I didn’t have much of a learning
curve. One of the questions I mentioned earlier: “Can a person
on his own or her own close the suit, climb into the backpack, the upper
torso, and pull your pants up and latch closed, latch connected?”
The first zero-g flight I was on was the one where Young and Crippen
tried their suits in zero G for the first time. A typical flight is
40 parabolas. It’s a 10,000-foot drop. The airplane flies up,
I don’t know what the total flight altitude is, but the airplane
will free-fall for 10,000 feet. During that 10,000 feet, you have about
30 seconds of apparent weightlessness. Everything in the plane is falling
at the same time. So if you push away from the wall, then you’ll
float away from the wall just almost like you’re in orbit.
For those 30 seconds, it’s all very well choreographed. You know
exactly what you’re supposed to try to do. On this next parabola,
you’re supposed to just climb into the upper torso. Then you’ll
wait. Then as the airplane pulls back up to 10,000 feet again, you’re
actually twice your normal weight, the two-G load. It’s a lot
of choreography in order to get little snippets of weightlessness. Eventually
both astronauts were able to get in the suit, able to close it. They
were very relieved.
I was very sick. At about the middle point of the flight, it’s
called the Vomit Comet for a good reason. Getting sick is common on
board. I think later they changed the rules, but when I flew they wouldn’t
give you the motion sickness medicine until you proved that you needed
it. The first flight, I proved that I needed it for the second flight.
Our flight was 40 parabolas. You fly basically out over the Gulf of
Mexico; you fly out for half a trip, then you turn around, fly back,
and do the other half of your parabolas. My body waited until that level
time between turning around to let me know that it was sick. I threw
up. Actually, I threw up a total of five different times on the flight.
Because it was my first flight, I didn’t know I had the option
of quitting my job or not doing my work anymore, so I stayed on station
and kept on taking my notes and making my observations, not knowing
I had the option of not doing it. It wasn’t that big a deal, but
I ended up throwing up five different times on that flight. At the end
of the flight Bob Crippen comes over to me and said two things to me.
Said, “Ronnie, you okay?” I said yes. He said, “Ronnie,
your suit worked great.” So it was a good experience.
that must have made you feel good.
Newman: Yes. At
various stages of procedure development, not every astronaut flew in
the zero-G plane to put their suits on, but as much as we could we tried
to get them to do that just for the extra training, extra experience.
So astronauts would fly just to do the suit donning verifications. I
ended up flying a total of eight different zero-G flights.
had mentioned you were doing the spacesuit sizing for the ’78
class. How did that work? You had some very petite women in that class,
and then you had [James D.A.] van Hoften, who was I think one of the
largest Shuttle astronauts.
Newman: Yes, nicknamed
Ox. The smaller women were hard to fit just because the physics of a
long thin balloon is a lot easier to bend than a short thick balloon.
Because of the backpack, our upper torsos were constrained to a certain
diameter. They couldn’t be made much smaller. Because the structural
interface between the upper torso, which is made of rigid fiberglass,
and the backpack, their mounting points were set in design. It was very
hard to make a smaller diameter suit to fit smaller people. Small men
or small women both had trouble getting fit. The smallest of the women,
we were never able to get a good mobile suit to fit them very well.
Even though the design goal was to fit everyone, well, there were some
people that we wouldn’t have been able to fit for EVA suits.
do you think is the significance of Building 7 in relation to the Shuttle
Newman: One of
the Shuttle missions was building Space Station, and the only way you
could build Space Station was through EVA. You can’t build modules
that will automatically reliably attach themselves, so you had to go
out there and actually help out with the people present. EVAs are a
common thing now. Every mission has four or five EVAs now. I’m
embarrassed to say I don’t know how much testing goes on in Building
7 now for the Shuttle suit prep, but I’m sure they still must
use the airlock trainer every mission. They still must do that.
It was essential; it was core. The functions that happened in Building
7 would have to happen, or else the rest of Space Station wouldn’t
just wanted to check with you and see if we’ve talked about all
these different facilities that they had listed. Did we talk about the
Shuttle EMU/Airlock/Life Support Test Facility? Is that something that
we had talked about?
Newman: To me,
I don’t know of anything other than the ETA that would do that,
but yes, I would think that would be the same thing.
system component vacuum test facility? Is that the various chambers?
Newman: They added
another vacuum chamber after my time there, a two-foot chamber. I’m
not sure what they do in there. The eight-foot chamber is for just the
backpack itself, so that would qualify as a small system test vacuum.
last question that we’ve been asking everybody: do you have any
documents or any memos, letters, anything like that, about the facility
that might be helpful?
Newman: I don’t
think so. I’m still looking through my stuff. I’m trying
to think if I ever had any pictures of Building 7. Other than pictures
of just people, I don’t have good representative pictures of the
facility. There was a parade going through JSC, and we had a float.
So we have a picture of that, but that’s not relevant to the test
facility. I will keep looking, but I don’t think I’ve got
we thank you very much. Unless there’s anything that you would
like to add about Building 7 that we might not have covered, or your
work with suits?
sure I’ll think of something, but no. I can’t think of anything.
thank you very much.
Newman: My pleasure.
[End of interview]
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