NASA Johnson Space Center
Orion Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Houston, TX – 19 July 2016
Ross-Nazzal: Today is July 19th, 2016. This interview with Paul Marshall
is being conducted for the Orion Oral History Project. The interviewer
is Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, assisted by Sandra Johnson.
Thanks again for taking some time. We definitely appreciate it, know
you guys have a very busy schedule these days.
Sure, my pleasure.
So tell us how you became involved with Orion.
I had been working on Space Station for quite a number of years, in
one form or another, for actually 22 years before that. It was late
in 2005 when I applied for—at the time it was called Crew Exploration
Vehicle (CEV)—one of the CEV integration jobs and was selected
and came over in November of 2005 as just a career move out of Space
Station and into this new and burgeoning part of the human spaceflight
I read in your PP&C [Program Planning and Control] interview that
you were working on establishing organizational structures and working
on relationships with the contractors. Can you elaborate on that?
One half step behind that, I originally came over into an SE&I
[Systems Engineering and Integration] role within the organization
that existed at the time. It was shortly after Skip [Caris A.] Hatfield
became Program Manager that he asked me to come join him on the staff.
In that role one of the things that he was doing was shaping the organization
and aligning it with some of the other organizations that were forming
up. The Project was actually created and developing before the overarching
Program was created; it was called Constellation later on. There’s
a little bit of reshaping that was required there. Plus, there was
an administration that actually was trying to drive different kinds
of relationships around the Agency.
There were a number of things that the Agency and the Program were
asking of this organization, and that’s one of the things that
Skip needed, my help in helping to create some of the structures but
also shaping some of the expectations of how the organization would
look, how we would interact with the industry, which came online about
a year later in August or September of ’06 with the prime contract.
That’s one example of what I was asked to do in this Assistant
Program Manager role, staff role to the Program Manager. It’s
a pretty broad role with no definition, and it changes from day to
Sure, yes, and a very new Program as well.
Yes, at the time, that’s right. It was a brand-new Program,
so it was relationships. It was processes. It was communication within
the Agency, and obviously as I said with this new Program that we
fell underneath as Constellation started emerging. It was a lot of
forming and storming of making the organization come together.
You mentioned communication. I’m wondering how did the Columbia
[STS-107] accident impact the type of communication that you were
looking at at that point. Did it impact that in any way?
I’m thinking about the context of your question.
Probably not, based on the way you’re looking at me.
I can’t think of an example of how we deliberately shaped our
communications. As far as communicating with the Program, with [NASA]
Headquarters [Washington, DC], that was ’03, this was ’05,
’06. A lot of what was asked of the larger organization was
already in place, I would say. Clearly as an organization shaped with
highly refined safety culture and that sort of thing, we were very
much already sensitized to the need for organizational communications
with the Program Manager for decision making that was intentional
about drawing in all sides of a discussion, working with dissenting
opinions. I really actually can’t think of an example of how
we changed things based on the Columbia accident by the time we were
standing up a Program Office.
How much did Station influence your ideas about how the organization
should be structured, having worked for Station for 22 years?
That’s a great question. Station is a very large, very complicated
organization. Obviously a prime contractor, lots of international
partners, so there’s some key differences. One of the things
that was instinctual to me is how important it is to build a Program
organization that truly is an integrated workforce. My experience,
and maybe it wasn’t fully experienced at the ISS [International
Space Station] level completely, but my experience was we had a lot
of process separation between the NASA part of the organization and
the prime contractor part of the organization in ISS, which served
us well in a lot of respects, but it also created a cumbersome decision
process. Things moved from one side of the street to the other and
back again as decisions were being made. Things took a long time.
It was an expensive, slow process in many respects, very deliberative.
Skip, coming from Space Station also, one of the things that was important
to him, important to all the Program Managers, is we had an opportunity
as we brought on a prime contractor to create an organization that
was tightly integrated between the NASA side and the contractor side.
We were deliberate about setting up teams, about as much as we could,
common processes, such that NASA and contract teams were interleaved
and made decisions together, [where] we didn’t have a lot of
duplicative processes at equal levels of organizations. When we set
up IPTs [Integrated Product Teams], they were IPTs that were jointly
I think we were intentional about establishing close relationships,
a partnership with the prime contractor that served us well actually
as we got into the Program, and particularly into the stormy waters
that we got into in ’10. Which is probably more of where I drew
from my Space Station experiences. When national policy here changed,
that affected us in 2010 with the proposed cancelation of Constellation,
a lot of things were very hard on this organization. Going back to
that last conversation, we had a strong relationship with the contractor
that actually was very important in helping us navigate through the
complexities of that, because it’s real easy for an organization
to spin apart if you hadn’t really invested in relationship
by that time. I think it served us well, and it’ll probably
come up again in this discussion.
For me personally, it felt a little bit like the second act of the
same play. I was a senior member of the Program Management organization
for Space Station Freedom in Reston, Virginia, at the time that the
Freedom Program was canceled back in ’92, ’93 timeframe.
Similar circumstances, change of administration, change of party within
that change of administration, a major executive branch government
change. Very similar point in our developmental life cycle, in other
words Freedom had just finished its PDR [Preliminary Design Review].
It’s a vulnerable time in a program anyway, because costs are
going up. The process still hasn’t fully committed to building
hardware. They’re still doing the engineering aspect. A lot
of similarities. Lo and behold, the decision process on the executive
side made a similar decision where in 2010, it’s the second
year of a major change in executive branch within the administration.
We had just come off the tail end of a presidential commission and
in a very surprise move, with the delivery of the budget in 2010,
the President proposed canceling Constellation, which obviously the
Orion CEV was part of at the time.
That had a very familiar look and feel to me, having experienced it
in much the same way on the Freedom side. As the Space Station was
going through a similar upheaval in policy, it overall found a way
to navigate through the complexities and still proceed into development
and actually obviously now is very successful in serving its mission.
In a senior role in this organization, I drew a lot from my experiences,
my observations from those days. I think we were able to in some respects
draw from that to help guide some of our thinking about how to navigate
through the politics and the storm and the policy that had a different
light shined on it at the time. What we as a Program could do to one,
serve—we serve our bosses—but also to see that we, with
the most control of this Program, can keep the least amount of wasted
activity if you will from occurring while still keeping the thing
moving, even though it was all uncertain.
That was our role at the time. I know personally I felt like I’d
already been through a very similar catharsis and probably didn’t
experience it exactly the same way a lot of the Orion folks did at
That must have been quite challenging for so many of the people. When
we spoke with Carol [L. Webber], she talked about how a lot of people
just stopped coming to meetings over at Lockheed. It was really challenging
to keep things going.
Sure. It’s a trauma. There’s an enormous amount of human
energy that goes into these things. It’s true on the NASA side;
it’s very true on the Lockheed side. It’s not a stretch,
it’s not hyperbole, to describe Lockheed’s efforts as
spanning way more than a decade actually in preparing to compete to
do this kind of work. Those are very dedicated, creative people that
are putting a lot of themselves into this, and we were well into it.
We were marching forward. We were doing great things, putting a lot
of energy into it.
Just like in the Freedom Program, it is a major-league sucker punch
to have that pulled away from you. It’s very personal. It’s
very personal. It’s hard not to experience it that way. For
the first several days there was an awful lot of margaritas drunk.
Again, it’s people experiencing adversity, and through that
having ideas percolate that we actually started drawing from and used
to start navigating through the way the policy was being articulated
again. [I give Lockheed Martin leadership enormous credit in leading
both the industry team and in shaping our perspective (on the NASA
side) in envisioning what was possible in the choices we still had
available to us.] So there’s a lot of things to be said about
how it came about.
My personal perspective on that was from afar. It was a surprise.
Everyone who was in a position where they should have known didn’t.
There was a lot of things about it that were unsettling far beyond
just our level of the organization and those of us helping to make
this Program go. It was just much larger in terms of how the decision
came about in 2010. Our part of it was responding to that and deciding
do we stop or not. We clearly decided not to, while the uncertainty
was resolving itself. It spoke a lot to the resilience of the organization,
the leadership of Mark [S.] Geyer and [Mark A.] Kirasich as his Deputy
The broader organization really did have to find a way to compartmentalize
what we were seeing in the news or otherwise in the aerospace debate
versus what we chose to do in response on a day-to-day basis.
You had Pad Abort 1 coming up. Would you talk about the idea and the
percolation leading up to the idea for EFT [Exploration Flight Test]-1?
How did that come about, and what role you may have played in that?
Pad Abort 1 is an interesting thing, because just as soon as these
decisions were made—[a decision] has a way of making an Agency
like NASA choose sides, and factions form. There was an awful lot
of pressure on us to stop, to not fly that flight, to literally not
keep going. There was a lot of pressure on the other side for us to
keep going. I’ve forgotten exactly the timing of some of these
things, but we were able to keep the team focused and moving forward
for that flight. It became a really really important moment for the
Program, to have that level of success on such a complicated test
flight, at a time when our progress wasn’t altogether welcomed
by all parts of the Agency.
It tests our political skills, and yet it was very clear that we were
moving forward towards an objective that the new narrative was talking
about. We were building a spacecraft fundamentally for human exploration
beyond Earth orbit, which is what the administration was talking about
in 2010 with the proposed cancelation and the new budget and the policy
moving forward. It took a while for us to rationalize and for us to
demonstrate that what we were doing is really what the policy is saying
it needs to do. That’s a process that took the better part of
a year and a half actually. I think there were reasonable minds that
prevailed about the flight test in May of 2010. It was a very important
moment in time for Orion. That was a big deal.
With the changes that occurred in the national space policy—again
it was focused on beyond Earth orbit exploration. It was about cislunar
or lunar orbit missions, missions to asteroids, mission to Mars. It
was about finding new ways of doing business; it was about driving
cost out of the system. It was talking about the necessity to draw
in the international partnership and extend the relationships that
we’d built through Space Station with the international partnerships,
all of which were things that we could do and that we were doing.
For me fundamentally, our strategy for reformulating the Program but
also for EFT-1 emerging out of the dust cloud was really just listening
to the words, listening to what was important, and showing how we
addressed those things.
It was about finding new ways of doing business and driving towards
lower costs. We were laboring under heritage expectations of what
program management inside NASA [looks like]. All of us knew that there
are more efficient ways of doing things. Change is very hard. Change
is very hard in human spaceflight. In some respects it’s a gift
to have a crisis thrust upon you. At some point, you never want to
let a good crisis go to waste, in doing things that are possible anyway,
and sometimes are enabled by the uncertainty that a crisis brings.
It challenged some of our engineering expectations, our organizational
expectations, how we relate to the prime contractor, and the things
that we felt that we had to demand of the contractors that maybe were
lower priority, and we could find different, less expensive ways of
doing things. It created an opportunity and challenged a lot of things.
That was a time where we could greatly reduce the number of civil
servants that were involved in the Program because that flight test
was over. There was a lot of civil service that was part of that,
and we were able to draw down the numbers.
On the contract side they were being forced to draw down their numbers.
Turns out in 2010, think about February, and then nothing quickly
happens, especially that traumatic, in the federal government. We
were halfway through the fiscal year before we knew what hit us. Part
of what hit us was they’re taking half of our annual budget
away. We’re halfway through the year, and half of our money
went away. We had a real problem to get through 2010 and into 2011
given what was thrust upon us. We were all working to get smaller,
Of course the majority of that pressure fell on the contract side.
It was very, very traumatic as people were laid off and work had to
stop. We had to make choices about what work was the highest priority
to keep going forward. That’s the dust cloud. What we chose
to keep going forward is really the core of what turned into EFT-1.
We knew no matter what the country decided to do with the policy,
to whatever extent we are going to do human exploration of the solar
system, we were going to need a spacecraft that was fundamentally
There was a number of critical systems that represented the highest
safety risks. We knew through the maturity of preliminary design review
where our highest safety risks were; what are the things that are
hardest to test and prove on the ground. Those were the things that
we kept going at the component level of development if you want to
think about it that way: the separation systems, the heat shield,
the parachutes, the computer systems, software, the things that are
the core of any spacecraft. We were able to keep those things moving
Part of that was intentional that says somewhere down the line, even
while there’s still uncertainty, these things really can be
cobbled together as a spacecraft and as a first level demonstration
of the most critical systems that the spacecraft needs to have well
proven before we can fly people. That ended up being the core of EFT-1.
The things that we were forced to do actually put us on a path to
create an argument for EFT-1 based on those safety-critical systems
that ultimately we demonstrated on EFT-1. If that makes sense.
What was your role in ensuring EFT-1 would actually occur?
I don’t know how you really put [it into] words. It was always
a new day. A lot of it was maintaining a close tie to our Lockheed
partners, to the senior leadership within Lockheed. We all spent a
lot of time together that gave us the tools to know what was possible.
We were able to formulate how we talk about the programs through the
various channels that we all had to talk, within the Agency, within
the companies, the discussions inside the Beltway, have a number of
different pathways. I’d say a lot of my role was to help keep
that strategic focus on the communications. We spent an awful lot
of time performing trade studies again in that reformulation of the
Actually [let’s take] a step backwards. When we were operating
under Constellation we also operated under a Headquarters organization
that ended up also being dissolved eventually, ESMD [Exploration Systems
Mission Development] under Doug [Douglas R.] Cooke. Again I don’t
have the timing fresh in my mind, but in the course of 2010, 2011
there were a number of study groups that were created at Headquarters
to study different aspects of the policy. A lot of the challenge in
the architecture studies were focused on the rocket, because that’s
where the battle really was. We also needed to articulate how the
spacecraft was compatible with different rocket options but also was
compatible with these mission definitions that were being discussed.
We had to establish, if you will, the acquisition strategy for playing
the Crew Exploration Vehicle forward both as a spacecraft but as a
contracting mechanism and as an engagement with the industry.
We had to reestablish the best interest of the government with this
new formulated Program. That’s the 18 months it really took
to get through some of this, 12 to 18 months depending on which decision
you might be talking about. We spent an awful lot of time doing these
studies and then writing it all down, and then spending time up with
the Administrator and the senior leaders of the Agency talking about
this. They called it the Analysis of Alternatives process. That was
the core of the reformulation of the exploration enterprise if you
will. Late in 2010 there was an authorization bill that gave the spacecraft
thing a new name, the MPCV, the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.
Our challenge was to establish that everything that was expected of
this MPCV is what this Orion CEV was doing, that we were fully compatible,
that it was in the best interest of the government to keep it moving
forward, etc., etc. So that’s what we did for quite a number
What did you do once Charlie [Charles F.] Bolden came in May of 2011
and said, “We’re moving forward with MPCV”? What’s
your day-to-day role in seeing how we move forward on EFT-1 from there?
Again, my role is a grab bag of things that amounts to giving the
Program Manager a little bit more wingspan. We didn’t change
our organization very much. We ended up getting agreement that our
contract organization was much the same. We had a different enterprise
structure as ESD [Exploration Systems Development Division] now, the
new organization within HEO [Human Exploration and Operations], came
I recall spending a lot of time on those issues. How the relationships
of these three new programs played together, and how they related
to this overarching organization at Headquarters called ESD, which
ultimately was led by Dan [Daniel L.] Dumbacher and now is led by
Bill [William C.] Hill. In that was part of this discussion of finding
new ways of doing things and less expensive ways of doing things.
In the—gosh, I guess ’11 and ’12 timeframe we spent
a lot of time together as an enterprise talking about how the programs
can integrate. Within Constellation the integration was this monolithic
autonomous integration organization that spanned over a number of
projects. It was also an organization that cost a couple hundred million
dollars a year, and it had many hundreds of people that were in the
role of performing a rigorous systems engineering process and integration
process of all forms.
Such a large integration organization ultimately has to draw from
all of these projects. We had to invest all kinds of people and hours
to feed such a large organization. Of course that cost us a lot of
time and money. It was a very large, in many respects inefficient
integration process that stood over us. Having gone through this crucible
of being told how slow and ponderous and costly we are, some of us
had some passion to say, “Well, it doesn’t have to be
There’s a certain opportunity that I think a number of us at
SLS [Space Launch System] and GSDO [Ground Systems Development and
Operations], and at ESD, saw to address the fact that at some level
integrators within the programs ought to be the front lines of integration.
We saw the opportunity of having a much smaller number of people even
within the organizations, within the programs, involved with integration.
We certainly wouldn’t have to create a large autonomous integration
organization on top of us when we could start with the fact that we
had very capable integration skills within each of the programs where
we could realize the synergy between the integration you need to do
within a program and the integration you need to do across programs.
I think we’ve been very successful with that. That’s one
of those areas where we were very nontraditional in the way we ended
up formulating our integration process across programs. It raised
an awful lot of concern within the oversight bodies, the Aerospace
Safety Advisory Panel, and the standing review boards, but also the
Chief Engineer within the Agency, and a lot of folks with deep deep
Shuttle heritage and Space Station heritage. Change is hard. It’s
We had to put a different [approach for] doing this into the context
that it’s still rigorous, it’s still complete. We are
doing all aspects of integration. We’re doing it differently,
and we have a different way to make the organizations relate. Of course
that’s evolved over the last four years, but it’s still
pretty much intact.
Can you give an example? An example of, this is something we would
have done for Shuttle or Station, and here’s how we’re
doing it differently with MPCV.
I’m sure you’re interviewing some folks in the Vehicle
Integration Office. Those folks live it all the time. One example
is integration teams. Pick a subject: interface definition, environments
controls. We as an Agency know how to do those things. In Shuttle,
the Shuttle Program had an SE&I organization. They had teams set
up that reported only to them that had all the right skills for controlling
interfaces or controlling environmental requirements.
Each of the programs have environmental requirements imposed on them.
We all have skills that do that. Instead of setting up separate teams
with different people, we actually established teams that have representatives
of every program. We chose by mutual agreement who made the most sense
to be the leader of such a team within the program representatives
that were part of it. That was the team. These were people that were
all being paid for by the programs. Typically, ESD chose also to have
an individual from the group that they were supporting also become
part of these teams. So they typically were supported by four parties,
one or more from each program, and a representative from ESD, all
comprising these integration teams. Together there’s some 25,
30 of these teams for all different topics, all different aspects
of the integration, drawn from representatives of the programs largely,
as opposed to separate organizations altogether.
The savings come in that largely we tried very hard to start with
the skills that we were already paying for that were doing integration
within the programs. We have a relatively small fraction of the budget
that we have to dedicate to integration, and that means together across
all the programs we have more money to buy hardware. We found that
it works. It works partly because people experienced the trauma of
the proposed cancelation, and folks feel a real motivation to make
this reformulated process work. There’s a lot at stake in our
success, and folks are motivated by that.
We’re getting close to time, so I’m going to have to ask
Rachel [L. Gauntt] if maybe we can schedule another half an hour.
I’m curious what you thought was your most significant challenge
as you were working through all of these changes that were going on.
We’ve talked about them. Keeping an organization motivated in
light of the enormous pressures. The disturbing language of cancelation
within the political realm, it’s very hard on a workforce. We’re
engineers. I had the benefit of spending seven years in DC, so I have
the benefit of having some direct experience about how the game is
played. But most of us don’t have that experience. To have the
barn door shut on you like that is hard on an organization. It’s
hard to then redirect the attention back to the job of doing the already
hard work of building a spacecraft with some confidence that we really
are leading to an outcome that’s going to bring this thing to
That’s the biggest leadership challenge that I think we’ve
faced and proven that the organization is very resilient when it’s
motivated by a clear vision of doing something great, even in adversity.
I think that might be a good place for us to stop today.