Space Center Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
by Rebecca Wright
Alexandria, Virginia – 7 November 2006
Today is November 7th, 2006. This oral history is being conducted
with Granville Paules in Alexandria, Virginia, for the NASA JSC Oral
History Project and for the NASA Headquarters History Project. The
interviewer is Rebecca Wright, assisted by Sandra Johnson.
We thank you for allowing us to visit with you today and gather your
history. We’d like to start out by you sharing with us how you
first became interested in space.
This is an exciting opportunity for me, too, because I’ve always
wanted to have this sort of experience. I’ve got kids and grandkids
and so on, and you never quite tell the whole story in any one way,
but when I was really young, this was in the mid-40s, late 40s,
when the TV was just beginning, and something called Tom Corbett,
Space Cadet was the thing. The first black-and-white TV, and
I got really hooked on it. This friend of mine built a three-story
wooden rocket, and we ordered all this stuff from Tom Corbett,
Space Cadet; had consoles, how the space capsule would be laid
out, all that stuff in this mockup, this wooden spacecraft. That was
just fun, kind of like a playhouse, when we were kids.
I stayed very interested in it. I got involved in the Astronomy Club
in junior high school, and that just pushed even harder. Had a very
energetic and enthusiastic teacher who took us out many nights when
it was cold. We lived in central Texas, and you’d really get
to see them. Got to see the planets. He had an eight-inch telescope
that he had built. It just continued to make us feel really excited
about space. So I thought, “Well, in my lifetime I want to be
involved in going to the Moon.” Well, it was really a funny
time, because I went to college, an electrical engineer, and stayed
involved and interested in the space program activity throughout the
college time. I was in the Naval ROTC [Reserve Officer’s Training
Corps], so I would be commissioned, spend my time on active duty,
and I could make a career out of it, or I could change and do some
Well, somehow, I always wanted to be involved in space no matter what
my career would do. I graduated in 1960. Well, ’57, Sputnik
[Russian satellite] went up in October. I had stayed fascinated with
all that, and during that period I collected articles from newspapers
and magazines, and taped them all together on the walls, kind of like
a chronology. It ran across the wall from the first few days after
it went up, and all the front-page articles we could find from the
Austin [Texas] papers, and taped them all together, and then as things
changed, and how the program was going. It went around the wall and
up over the ceiling. It was throughout my three years there from the
time it happened until I graduated; it was fun to keep track of.
I wrote papers on inertial guidance, technical papers, while I was
a student. That was just becoming an important concept at that point,
in the late 50s. So I paid a lot of attention to what was going
on in the space program.
I went on in the Navy; became a missile officer, which was what I
wanted to do, and that was a really good technical background for
getting in the space business. I made a career decision to actually
resign my regular commission, which is the same as you’d get
out of the Academy, so they assumed I was going to stay for a career.
So I had to resign my commission, and I left the Navy from active
duty after four years. I resigned in 1964.
The real reason I did is because the space program was—they’d
gotten through Mercury, and I was a naval officer on the ship down
in Australia when [John H.] Glenn [Jr.] flew over in the first Mercury
capsules, and we were over by Perth, Australia, where the tracking
station was, and we saw some of the NASA support people and astronauts
that went out to that tracking station. That just kind of got me more
So I stayed real interested all through the Navy. I resigned my commission,
and then as I was going to make a transition, I started interviewing
in the last few months before I left the Navy. I didn’t really
want to stay on the West Coast. I wanted to be really involved, and
I got offers from several industry organizations, and an offer from
NASA, ultimately, in that it was kind of close. This is part of a
I stayed in touch with a friend of mine that graduated a year before
me at the University of Texas [Austin, Texas]. He went on down and
went to work in Houston [Texas] at JSC [known then as Manned Spacecraft
Center, Houston, Texas]. It hadn’t even opened up. JSC was still
spread out at that point around the town. He was a mathematician,
I stayed in touch with him while I was in the Navy, and because I
knew a lot about telemetry and missile systems and so forth, I just
wrote up a description of what I’d like to do. There wasn’t
a job offer that I saw out there, so I just wrote up this position;
it turned out to be a position description almost. I sent it to this
friend of mine, and he passed it around, and ultimately, to Glynn
So I’m here in the middle of late February. I’m getting
ready to resign in summer. So in late February Lunney calls on a Sunday
morning. I’m out washing the car, and my wife yells out the
window that, “There’s a Mr. Lunney on the phone from NASA.”
I didn’t know Lunney; “Okay.”
So it was a phone call interview, and he said, “Well, we’ll
get you an offer,” because he had my write-up. The write-up
turned out to be really close to what became a Guidance Officer’s
position, a lot to deal with analysis, real-time analysis, command
and control. I’d done a lot of that as a Missile Officer. So
it was a good match. I left the Navy as the ship sailed back to the
Pacific, and went to NASA in the middle of August.
It’s a great time to move to Houston, isn’t it?
It was. We had relatives down there all along, but I still had forgotten
how warm it gets, how hot it gets in Houston. The day I was going
into the employment sign-up; you go sit in the Employment Office and
check in—there were three of us together at the same time checking
in. One of them was Jay [H.] Greene, and the other one was Chuck [Charles
We all joined that day and started work. Each of us—it’s
really funny—all three of us ended up working in the “trench.”
Jay was a FIDO [Flight Dynamics Officer], and Deiterich was a RETRO
[Retrofire Officer], and I was a GUIDO [Guidance Officer], the three
positions that make up the trench. Lunney had hired all of us, and
we all showed up the same day. It was just a coincidence.
Gemini launches had not started by that time. Mercury was over, and
we were in that gap between Mercury and Gemini, and so I went directly
to Apollo. I never worked on Gemini. They had already started all
the flight control procedure development, getting the position—what
you had to do, you had to sit down and system-engineer the way your
console would be laid out, and all the way you wanted data portrayed
The advantage, the real clear advantage to doing that, if this is
a lesson learned for anybody, is having the flight controllers, the
people that are very involved on the ground side of understanding
what’s going on out in space, is having them involved from way
earlier in the program when the systems are being designed and implemented
on the spacecraft. You can’t assume. It turned out any time
there was an assumption that the engineering development people, spacecraft
builders and so on, got out ahead of what would be a potentially important
flight control concern, you would spend a lot of time going back and
reengineering it often.
So the idea of having flight control people and people involved in
mission support involved very actively up front, and that was really
important to us. We were able to do that, and it made a big difference
in the way the crew interfaced with the spacecraft systems work, the
kind of telemetry data that was important; when you synchronize so
you’ve got data about this at the same time you’ve got
data about that system. It was a valuable system engineering expenditure
by everybody involved. Most of the flight controllers were engineers.
You didn’t have scientists or anybody else in there; you had
engineers. The vast majority of them were electrical engineers, because
most of the time you’re doing electrical systems of some sort.
So it was a good experience through that period as Gemini was starting
You mentioned that there was more than just you, so can you share
with us the process of how the engineers were able to share their
information and come up with a final product, and what that process
was of mixing and matching your ideas together?
Okay, yes, and you probably got an earful from Lunney on how this
worked, but everything was done in a very teaming arrangement, like
we had each of the functional responsibilities, the Flight Dynamics
Officers, the Retrofire Officers, the Guidance Officers, all were
in branches functionally aligned, not mission. They weren’t
aligned by mission; they were aligned by function.
So our boss at the time I was there was Charley [Charles B.] Parker.
He was there from way back, just at the end of Mercury, all through
Gemini and all through Apollo. He was extremely valuable in terms
of teaming us and getting us very comfortably working as pairs. The
guys with the most experience would be on a mission, and you’d
have the next most experienced guy working with him as a teammate
on the guidance console.
So we had a Guidance Officer and a Yaw, those two positions. Guidance
was primary and did the talking on the loop, and Yaw looked at certain
other parts of the guidance area and developed the command loads and
that sort of thing. Then they worked together as a pair.
New people—in the old [Mission] Control Center, there was kind
of a ledge that supported the next row of consoles up; they were stair
step. But there was a ledge about this big, and the people in training
could walk in, plug their headset in, sit behind the two guys on the
console, and listen to all the conversation, and see where you get
comfortable and where the tough spots are in a flight plan and the
hard things about commanding which you’ve got to be aware of,
how you interface with all those flight controllers that are out of
sight down in the computer rooms, off-site, out in [NASA] Goddard
[Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland].
The telemetry folks and the command system, the communication system
folks, were all headquartered at Goddard. Half the time we didn’t
know what they looked like or who they were until there would be a
sort of a postmission team gathering. Sometimes they’d all gather,
and then you’d meet some of these folks that you’d worked
with. But it was very team related, and it was a very mentoring kind
of process all through the whole effort of being a flight controller.
Then when you became a mission participant, like Apollo 11, you became
very tightly involved and closely associated with all your other teammates,
the other kinds of functions, the EECOMs [Electrical, Environmental,
and Consumables Manager] and the fellows that work on understanding
the actual systems on the spacecraft. We worried about trajectory
control. The whole trench focused on getting the spacecraft from where
it is right now to where you want it to be next.
If that meant going to the Moon, landing, all those maneuvers you
had to do, all those were—in talking with [Jerry C.] Bostick
and Lunney, you probably got a good story how the trench works, but
it’s important to understand that all three positions in the
trench, again, were yet another team, but now you were cut in a mission,
sort of crosscut. Now you’re focused on a particular mission.
You take your function, and you match that with the Flight Dynamics
Officer and the Retrofire Officer, and you become a really tightly
knit team again. You had shifts, like three or four shifts, depending
on how it was set up, but your shift, you stayed with your shift all
the way through, generally, all the way through the mission.
The really important thing in building a relationship on teaming was
through the simulation process, another major learning experience.
Simulations are extremely valuable to everybody, just to develop your
confidence that you weren’t going to be concerned about any
kind of a problem that would show up. You just got comfortable that
no matter what happens, don’t overreact. Take your time. Make
sure you’ve got the data right. You’ve got the people
that are most effective on the team and the flight control team all
involved in helping solve the problem. That’s how the Flight
Director just kind of orchestrated the whole process, and that’s
why you had such great Flight Directors. The ones that were really
good were the old flight controllers that had worked their way up
and became Flight Directors. They were extremely good at teaming,
real-time analysis capability, and that sort of thing.
You worked closely, again, with these back room support, like another
training experience was as a new person learning the ropes, you’d
actually sit on a support console in the back room and feed information
to your lead out in the front. So in our area, where you were doing
a lot of data analysis, we had a number of relationships set up with
different support groups off-site at the contractor teams.
In our case, the GUIDOS worried about the guidance system performance,
that the computer was working right when you put computer loads in,
it says, “This is your next maneuver,” and it had to learn
the platform correctly so the spacecraft would be pointed in the right
direction when you fired the engine, and all the trajectory calculations
to make sure that you loaded those into the computer on board. All
the maneuvers were done by a computer on board, in Apollo. So they’d
effectively authorize it by the crew for the computer to take control
of the spacecraft and send it on its way, and these would be because
you had sometimes really short little burns, ten-second burns, and
sometimes they were three- or four-minute burns.
But the team activity between the FIDO and the Guidance Officer were
critical. The FIDO said, “I know what the trajectory is, and
I know where you need to go next in terms of the trajectory.”
So they would do all the trajectory analysis work, and then through
the computer guys down in the Blue, the IBM [International Business
Machine] monster computers, they would convert all that into command
loads for the spacecraft, and then we would send those actually from
the console. You would send it. It would be as simple as having a
load all set to go, and you punch a “Send” button, and
it would be sent straight to the spacecraft through the ground loop.
You would always have to make up a backup in case the command loop
went down and you had to read it to the crew, so in Apollo 13 all
of that kind of stuff became extremely critical, because they didn’t
have a command loop. They had to do everything manually.
So you had to have worked all these kinds of details. Any one bit
would be extremely important in making sure the spacecraft went where
it belonged, or the platform was aligned correctly so that the maneuver
was done right. So you didn’t want any errors in that command
load, and so if they had to do it manually or on orbit with punching
it into that computer with a keyboard, a very basic sort of keyboard,
the most primitive sort of thing. But the idea is you had to read
them this very detailed list very carefully, and then they would hand
put that in, and then we’d have a very careful readback and
make sure it was right before they punched “Execute,”
and the spacecraft would take off and do its thing.
So very close personal ties. You knew the crew personally. You knew
the guys that worked the computer downstairs personally. You knew
the guys on your console on your right and further down. The Retrofire
Officer was always effectively over the shoulder, watching, and he
had to compute maneuvers to get the crew back safely from any point
in the orbit. So from where they are right now, he always had a maneuver
that would get them back to Earth on this free-return trajectory.
Did you all ever hear that term in some of your stuff?
It’s a technical item, but it was really important for safety
purposes. When they were heading for the Moon, the very first maneuver,
coming out of Earth orbit, would put them on a trajectory that would
loop around the Moon. If they could never start the engine again,
it would just make a loop and come right back, and the angle would
be just right to hit the atmosphere, and they could return to Earth.
So that was called a free-return trajectory, and the Retrofire Officer
was constantly computing free-return trajectories for any maneuver
you were in the middle of. So if something happened right then, he
would have a backup maneuver for them to do, and sometimes you had
to do it with backup systems to get them back safely.
The whole issue is we’re going to the Moon, and we’re
going to land safely and return safely. So safety in return and getting
the crew back was always a really major issue, and the trench worried
about that a lot.
It must have been an interesting time for you to go to work, because
you walked in with a job description, or I guess you could say a job
objective, of something you wanted from a child, that you were going
to send men to the Moon.
Exactly, and then got to do it. [Laughs]
And you got to be put in with the trench, which kind of took on a
personality of its own, didn’t it?
Oh yes, I have a jacket that I got when I left Houston after the Apollo
missions I’d worked on, and they put one of the seals from each
of the missions I’d worked on, and it was a very important thing.
I keep it. I drag it out when we go to all the Apollo reunions; I
You mentioned about the training and how as part of the evolution
that people could train by watching, by sitting on the ledge. But
Apollo was a new phase that you had just walked into. Did some of
you train by watching Gemini?
Yes, I did. They started the Gemini missions, and actually the Control
Center was still at the Cape [Canaveral, Florida] when we started
the Gemini first training missions. So I would go down with Will [William
E.] Fenner, who was one of the GUIDOS then. He was a senior kind of
guy; worked for Charley, too, but he was my mentor for me to look
over his shoulder and follow along with everything he did. So I learned
basically the protocols and the things that were important to worry
about, and from watching the Gemini experience and actually going
to all the technical meetings they were holding on details of command
and control, I effectively developed a lot of the procedures and protocols
and techniques we used in Apollo for guidance.
I was the Lead Launch Phase Guidance Officer all through Apollo. I
developed all the procedures, all the displays. I was lead for the
major interface with [NASA] Marshall [Space Flight Center, Huntsville,
Alabama], the booster developer, for what we call guidance switchover,
where if the booster guidance system failed, the spacecraft can actually
take control of the booster and keep it from going awry, and that
was a real big political issue with Marshall. They didn’t want
anybody touching their guidance system.
But it was one of those experiences where you again work with a lot
of people that are not directly aligned with your function, but support
it, like the booster console was down at the end of our row, and I
became an honorary BOOSTER, they called it, because I worked so much
with the Marshall guys. It was, again, an experience of working closely
with the Gemini people, and mission after mission you’d go sit
through; like if Fenner was on, I’d go work through some of
the key phases of his missions, the ones he was active on, the rendezvous
missions and so on.
So it was really a very close, personal training program. You didn’t
have a school you could go to on this stuff. You could go to some.
The builder of the flight computer would have training courses on
how the computer worked and all the internal vagaries of the where
the bits shuffle around. So you had some formal training; it was very
systems level. It was not at the procedures and techniques level.
You had to build those from scratch, and then you pass that on to
the ones that would come behind you.
You got a chance to see all of your procedures and all of your work
come to fruition. Talk to us about the experiences with those first
unmanned launches and how you prepared.
Yes, an unmanned launch; those were some of the most exciting launches
that I was involved in, because there was no crew on board to save
the mission. You had to do it all from the ground.
We started with fairly simple missions, the basic [Apollo/Saturn,
AS-] 200-series launch vehicle rather than the Saturn V. The first
two or three missions, 201, 202, 203, were all unmanned, and because
of delays in getting the launch vehicle ready and a few other hiccups
along the way that were systems delays in getting ready for the launch,
we got to simulate 201 125 or 130 times with Lunney and John [D.]
Hodge as the Flight Directors.
So you had plenty of experience, and the idea on 201 they didn’t
have a sophisticated guidance system on the spacecraft, and the spacecraft
is basically a heat shield test. They just wanted to make sure all
the spacecraft systems would work properly on reentry. So they lobbed
the spacecraft way up in a big arch on the vehicle, and it turned
around, and it would come back in. But the problem was they had such
a basic, simple little control-guidance system on the spacecraft that
we were worried about the gyros being affected by this really high-G
[gravity] launch phase, and they were in the real mission.
But all during simulations—this is the advantage of simulations—they
would pick different gyros that would behave badly. So by the time
you got to the point where the spacecraft was kicked off the launch
vehicle, you knew how well it compared with the launch vehicle, because
that was a really good platform, and so we designed our displays and
so on to compare spacecraft guidance performance against the booster
guidance performance. Then if things started drifting and everything,
we’d know exactly how much error there was in this cost-effective
Then I had to transmit that difference information and turn it into
something usable by the guy behind me, who physically controlled the
spacecraft to get it in the right attitude. They had programmed it
to go to a certain attitude with this simple little program on board,
so if everything worked, we didn’t have to do anything, just
watch and say, “Yeah, it’s a go.” But it drifted
far enough off that the fellow behind me had to actually make a correction
to the attitude for reentry so that it captured correctly in the return
to Earth, where it didn’t bounce out.
So those are the kind of things that got to be exciting, and the simulations
were extremely valuable in building our confidence when you had to
do that. And then it actually happened. So that was good. That was
an interesting mission.
The [AS-] 501 and 502, they were the unmanned Saturn missions, and
that was a whole step up in complexity, because we went into Earth
orbit just as if you simulated going to the Moon and you did the big
maneuver that put it on a go-to-the-Moon trajectory. Then you’d
do a maneuver. What they did is they just turned the spacecraft around
quickly. Instead of going to the Moon, they’d turn it around
and do another maneuver that would slow it back down and it would
come back to Earth. Then you’d get these real high-G—the
reentry corridor is like a little narrow window that the spacecraft
has to come back in and get captured in the atmosphere.
Well, on 501 everything went very well. We didn’t have any problems
of any kind. You just were amazed, and I have a tape that may be useful
to you all some way that it’s a recording of Walter Cronkite.
He was down at the Cape sitting in the Launch Center when the Saturn
V took off, and all the ceiling tiles fell out of the roof, it just
shook the building so badly. The big window with all the windows that
open up, if you remember seeing that place down there, well, the roofing
tiles, all these soundproofing tiles, started falling down. Cronkite
was going crazy, talking about all this stuff falling out of the ceiling.
“The building is falling down!” [Laughs]
Saturn V was just amazing, because it’s such a complex vehicle.
Everybody was sitting there on their toes, because we really didn’t
know if it was going to work just right the first time. Well, it worked
great, and everybody’s confidence was just unbelievable. We
were so happy, and then 502 came along. Well, on 502—now, it
was unmanned again. Have you heard the 502 stories?
Oh, 502 was amazing. What happened there is launch phase was going
well, and then after—there are three stages that you launch,
the big Saturn V bottom booster, and then there’s a middle stage,
the S-2, they call it, and then an S4-B, which is kind of the last
major booster stage, and then the spacecraft is all stacked on top
Well, the first stage went fine, and the launch is perfect. We’re
just rolling along. It gets to the second stage. Well, all of a sudden,
several seconds—we can check all the data and get the numbers
right, but in the second stage two engines went out. It has five engines.
There’s a center one and four around it. Well, two adjacent
engines went out simultaneously, just quit a third of the way up in
Well, several things happened because of that. In our mission rules—you’ve
heard of mission rules. Well, there’s a mission rule for the
BOOSTER that says, “Two adjacent engines out is an abort.”
So he has an abort switch. So he sat there, and Cliff [Clifford E.]
Charlesworth was the Flight Director. We were sitting there, and I
was looking at the data, and I could see the nose of the spacecraft
tip up quite a bit, because it had to adjust for this two adjacent
engines out. It was burning with three engines, so it was kind of
flying like this into orbit instead of like that [gestures]. So the
engines all corrected right around the center of gravity, and it just
So there was this quietness in the Control Center for several seconds,
and then Charlesworth said, “BOOSTER, isn’t two adjacent
engines out an abort?”
The BOOSTER at that point, [Frank. L.] Van Rensselaer said, “Flight,
it looks okay,” and they asked me, because I was looking at
the guidance system, if it was going way off track or anything.
I said, “No, it looks stable. We’ll just watch it.”
So we sat there and watched it.
What happens is the fuel is in one set of tanks, and so the engines
just burn till all the fuel is gone, and so it just burned longer
and longer and longer, because usually it’s burning with five
engines. Not this time; you only had three, so it took another couple
of minutes to burn out the fuel. So we were in a reasonably good place
on the trajectory. If you ever go back and look at this trajectory
plot, you know it lofted and did some funny things.
Well, now the third stage takes over automatically, okay, it turns
out, and everything looks good, except now the trajectory—the
guidance system on the booster had a time-out at a certain point,
that it would shift the sensitivity of some of the equations that
were controlling it. The booster designers had never expected this
second stage to last so long, and so they had a time-out that occurred
much earlier than it really needed to. When this third stage took
off, it was extremely sensitive to trajectory off—it wasn’t
in the right place. It knew where it should be, and it wasn’t
there. So it kept trying to work real hard to get it back where it
thought it belonged.
What happened, if you go back and look at the movies of 502—and
that ought to be in somebody’s history—out the window
they had a camera mounted in the spacecraft so that you could see
the attitude of the spacecraft and what was going on, and see the
horizon of the Earth. Well, what happened is the trajectory control
guidance equations would, first, get the altitude right; get the insertion
altitude, so many miles. It would get you there.
Then it would sit there and adjust the trajectory so you had a perfectly
flat—you’d go into orbit—a perfectly circular orbit.
That meant tuning the attitude at the end a little bit. Well, it got
real close to the end, and all of a sudden it just, “Hey, we’re
not at the right altitude,” so it lofted too high, and it went
up above the 100-mile altitude and had to be brought back down. When
it did, the whole booster guidance equation started pitching the spacecraft
around real fast to get the nose down somewhere right at the very
end of the burning sequence.
What you’d see, you’d see the spacecraft—I’m
seeing it pitch over. I can watch the attitude going like this [gestures].
It’s going to take a dive back toward the Earth, and then it
cut off. It ended up in the right orbit. It was offset quite—the
What happens when you’re fiddling with an orbit on this side
of the Earth, the other side of the orbit is what gets changed a lot;
180 degrees away is where the big effect shows up. So it ended up
in an elliptical orbit that wasn’t quite right. It was okay,
but it had caused so much trouble, and when they looked at the movies,
they saw that the spacecraft was settling into the right attitude,
and then all of a sudden it just started pitching over and it just
went through about a 100-degree pitch maneuver down over several seconds,
which it never should have done.
Nothing broke. They separated the spacecraft and the booster at the
right time, and we went on. But everybody was scared to death that
something really had happened that we couldn’t recover from.
But once we looked at the trajectory—then the next thing that
happened was we didn’t have all the big satellites with the
communication system tracking the spacecraft like you do now. You
can track it all through the launch phase in orbit and everything.
You never lose contact with the spacecraft.
Well, in this case, there was a gap, which we expected, and they had
a ship. Remember, they put ships out in the ocean when it would fly
over to critical phase to where the telemetry would come down, and
you’d see that it was going through the right maneuvers, and
the flight controller had a control panel. He could actually turn
things on or off if they needed to.
Well, it comes over, and what happened is the flight controller—now,
this is going to be a story about the FIDO next to me, and me. So
what happens is it comes over and comes in sight of the ship, and
then we hear the guy on the—I guess he was effectively a CapCom
[Capsule Communicator] on the ship. He was talking to the Flight Director,
and everybody could hear his loop, and he said that he had commanded
the spacecraft engine on for this very, very long spacecraft burn.
It had been lofted into a big orbit on the second booster burn, so
it was way up high. It was turning around, and it was going to come
back and do this really fast reentry to get up to what would be effectively
a lunar return test of the heat shield on the spacecraft. That was
Well, anyhow, the thing goes around. It comes in sight of the ship.
The ship says the engine is supposed to be on at this time; it didn’t
come on. So he punches a button to turn the engine on. Well, that
was just the telemetry delay, which we had never seen before, and
it was like six or seven seconds of telemetry delay. He got nervous;
thought the engine was supposed to have been on. He even corrected
for some of the telemetry delay, but it wasn’t enough, so he
pressed the button. I’m hearing all this in the loop, but the
guy next to me should have been listening more closely. He wasn’t,
Lunney was the Flight Director. He said, “Well, the thing’s
been commanded on,” and what happens is once you command it
on, you have to command it off, because you have taken control away
from the computer. Now, the computer is aiming it right, but it has
given up the right to turn off the engine at the right velocity.
So what happens is—this is the flight controller story—so
what happens, the thing has turned around, and it’s burning
away, and Flight says, “Okay, Guidance.” That’s
me; I was Guidance at that time. He says, “Can you get us the
correct time to cut it off?” So I was watching all the velocity
stuff, looking at the spacecraft data. We figured that we had about
a six- or eight-second delay, and so I was going to have to adjust
for that, looking at the data, correct for about so many seconds,
and figure out when they should cut the engine off.
So I did that. We had it all figured out. Then when we got to counting
down, I counted it down. Everybody was sitting there waiting for this
to work, because we had to yell over the loop, and the guy out there
had to sit on the switch, because he couldn’t tell when to turn
it off. So I was going to it, and did the “ten, nine, eight,
seven, six,” all the way down, and by the time I got to “one,”
everybody said I was yelling so loud it blanked out all the voice
loop, so you couldn’t talk in the [Control] Center. [Laughs]
Oh, the other thing was, here’s the important difference. The
guy at the ship didn’t turn it off. The FIDO was the only guy
that had an engine off switch on his console. He actually had an engine
off switch. He had an abort switch, too, but the engine off switch,
the FIDO was supposed to turn it off.
So we’re sitting there, and I look over here at the FIDO. I
look at him, and I said, “Did you turn it off?” Because
it was like three seconds after I yelled “zero.” I looked
over, and I expected to see him just—and he looks at me, and
it just all of a sudden dawns on him he was supposed to turn it back
off. So the thing burned about eight seconds too long, and I don’t
think he ever sat on a console again. But it was really a stunning
thing for a—they got it turned off, but what it did is the engine
burned so many seconds longer—it had plenty of fuel—that
the reentry was so hot that it was a real heat shield test. It really
was a heat shield test. Poor guy that was sitting next to me; he never
lived that one down.
That wasn’t a simulation, either. I don’t know that we
had ever simulated it. You never, ever simulate exactly what happens
to you in a mission. You simulate a lot of other things so you say,
“All right, I’ve got this problem. How do I fit what I
learned into solving this problem?” I can’t recall ever
having, of all these anomalies that we had and different things that
would go on, I don’t remember anything being like you actually
simulated. But you could patch together things out of simulations
and go, “Well, back then we did this, this, and this.”
That’s what happened to Apollo 11 with the alarms going off.
Did you have much attrition or substitution in the Control Room because
of people not fulfilling what needed to be done?
No, never. We never had, even in real time. We had one case where
somebody got really ill, and after launch in the first phase you stay
on and you do the first several orbits. I’m sure it was nerves.
But that was the only case where I know of anybody that the backup
had to help him get through that first phase.
But the rest of the time usually you simulated enough that the Flight
Directors knew who to put on different missions, and they would have
their big caucus and decide who was going to team on the next flight
and who the backups would be and that sort of thing. So you always
had backups in case you—you could always have an automobile
accident or something and lose people.
But we never had attrition of any significance in the trench, for
sure; in fact, any of the flight control teams. I never remember much.
The only time you ever had a problem is if somebody got sick, usually.
Usually you do enough sims [simulations] that things like this case
that I told you about wouldn’t happen. That was the only glitch
that I recall that was kind of a flight control glitch. I’m
sure there were lots of others, but that was the one I remember.
And you got good data out of it.
Yes. Oh, we did. We got really good data. Nobody was concerned. I
think I have copies of all my flight control postflight reports of
what happened during the mission and all that stuff. I’ve still
got all those. I don’t know that those would be useful to anybody.
They must be in the archives somewhere.
But they aren’t easy to find. I went one time and tried to do
some research on one of the missions to be sure which mission some
things happened, and I couldn’t find anything in the history
files about that. So I don’t know that people—they were
in the record. You always had files. You had to turn it in, so it
Well, we’ll ask about that and see.
If they’re interested, I think I still have some of the ones
for the guidance position, anyway.
That would be great. But while the unmanned testing was going on,
of course, there were tests with the first crew, and the nation lost
the Apollo 1 crew. How did that affect what you were doing and impact
the morale of the controllers?
Well, yes, it affected everybody. You know all the crew, and you had
a lot of meetings with the crew. That, again, wasn’t designed
to be team-building; it was designed to be sure we had the procedures
and the techniques and the flight mission rules right, and everybody
in that room understood them clearly. So there were a lot of team
meetings, and the crew was always there. The backup crew was always
there, and the lead for each mission team, on the flight control teams,
were all there, and then selected other people that were going to
be critical in the analysis during the mission. They were there.
You’d end up with rooms full of 110 or 15 people going through
detailed mission reviews, mission rule reviews, mission procedure
reviews, and the MPAD [Mission Planning and Analysis Division] guys,
Carl [R.] Huss and crowd were all there to diagnose what would happen
and looking at alternate missions if you had a problem. So big room,
big meeting, but you got to know everybody, and it was really like
family. When we lost those three guys, that affected everybody. It
I was on the console. This is the one where [Virgil I. “Gus”]
Grissom called the spacecraft a lemon, had a lemon hanging in the
spacecraft. There are a lot of ways to look at the outcome of that.
We were all affected, of course, by the thing, but the whole attitude
was you’ve got to go forward, you’ve got to keep moving.
I just left the console and handed off to Will [Willard S.] Presley,
who was my relief on the shift that was coming up after we were doing
all the prelaunch tests down at the Cape at that time.
I left the console and had gone and met my wife. She’s a teacher,
a schoolteacher over at one of the schools; she taught all the astronauts’
kids, by the way, a lot of the astronauts, so she’s got a story
of her own. But we were driving out to get something to eat real quick.
It was late afternoon, and I heard on the radio that there was a fire
in the spacecraft. There weren’t any details. They said they
were still checking on the status of the crew. So we just turned around
and went back over there to see what we—because I was just off
the console and knew kind of what was going on and the state of what
So we went back, and it was clear we had lost them. Then you lock
up the teams that’s on the console quickly so you can debrief
and make sure everybody knew exactly what was going on; reconstruct
as much as you can from the—it’s like CSI [Crime
Scene Investigation] or something here. You’re really trying
to get all the data while it’s still fresh in everybody’s
mind. It was a tough, tough time for everybody. It was a big setback.
You’d think it would have been a really major setback, but what
was interesting for us down in the “trenches” is how management
dealt with it and [Christopher C.] Kraft [Jr.] and [George M.] Low
and all the major players up in the front building had to make decisions
if they really wanted to meet [President John F.] Kennedy’s
goal of going to the Moon in that decade. The delays were going to
be pretty significant in some missions, and so they replanned the
way we structured the missions, based on the outcome of that thing,
like doing Apollo 8 with no LM [Lunar Module]. If we had had Apollo
13’s problem on Apollo 8, we may never be here having this discussion
if we’d lost the three crew going to the Moon.
Anyhow, the thing that was important, it did affect everybody, but
it just made everybody more serious about doing it right and making
sure we got there and didn’t lose the picture of where we were
going with the program.
The thing that was an outcome, and it was probably significant and
beneficial, is that it gave the LM guys time to go back and fix all
the problems. They had been on such a fast track to get the LM ready
to go that, in discovering all the wiring harness problems and all
the things that created the fire in the atmosphere and so on, that
they changed on the spacecraft, it gave the LM guys, the engineers
at Grumman [Aircraft Engineering Corporation, later Grumman Aerospace
Corporation], time to go back, and they were forced to do a major
safety and quality review on their spacecraft to make sure there weren’t
any similar kinds of problems coming up.
Well, they found thousands of things that they had to go back and
fix and do better in more quality ways, handling the wiring and so
on. In that sense, we probably got a much more reliable and trustworthy
LM because of the sad lesson learned out of the spacecraft problem.
So we never had problems like that with the LM, and never did again
with a spacecraft, till we got to [Apollo] 13, and that was a different
kind of problem.
Before we get to 13, you actually got to use all your procedures and
all your practice for a manned flight on Apollo 7. How did you prepare
differently, or what was the mindset as you moved on?
It was my first experience, of course, with a manned program, a manned
flight, and it was different, because you had to deal with a crew;
the interface and all the training stuff. [Walter M. “Wally”]
Schirra [Jr.] was kind of an interesting guy. He was kind of a hardnosed
guy; the “my way or no way” sort of Schirra, a little
bit sometimes. Now, that’s not fair, actually. He was, all those
guys were, really bright, bright guys, and if they didn’t like
the procedure, there was probably good reason for changing it, because
they had to make it work.
But anyway, our first experience there was we were on a flight, and
we had to do some realignment. There was concern about being able
to see the stars with the optics because of the backglow, and we’d
never flown out in the Apollo. This was Gemini experience, and so
now we’re in the Apollo world, and we’re trying to see
if we can see stars with the Apollo optics, because they’re
critical for realigning the platform, the inertial platform, so the
spacecraft can be pointed in the right direction to do maneuvers.
We were in the middle of several experiments there to realign the
platforms and so on, and then there were some procedures that had
to be changed for the crew. They had to send up new procedures and
so on. One of the crew got a head cold, and they were having a hard
time communicating, and he was not feeling well. It was just a mixed
bag of not a very good day on the spacecraft, and the crew starts
just chewing out the flight control team in real time on the thing.
Lunney is one of these unflappable guys. You just can’t upset
him, no matter what. And nobody can talk to the crew except the CapCom;
that’s the deal. So the CapCom is trying to calm the crew down,
and this went on for several revs [revolutions]. Finally “Deke”
[Donald K.] Slayton has to come over there, sit down on the console,
take the headset away from the CapCom, and chew out Schirra in real
time, and just get him to calm down and be quiet. “The ground
crew is doing a wonderful job of trying to keep all these problems
straight and everything, and you guys need to work,” and he
just read him the riot act. I’d never seen him do that before.
It never happened again.
Anyway, Schirra, who had always—he and Grissom were the two
fighting over who was going to the Moon, landing on the Moon first.
That was the deal. But we lost Grissom in the fire, and I think that
incident with Schirra must have cost him his opportunity to really
be in the front edge. But down where we were at the working level,
you’d kind of witness some of this stuff going on, and it was
all part of the experience. Everybody learned, “Okay, well,
we’ll get all this set of procedures straightened out again,
so we don’t have this happen.” That was the first manned
mission. Everything else went fine.
This guy that was the telemetry command fellow at Goddard would have
to tell us when we were going to have acquisition of signal and loss
of signal if you’d go around the Earth, because you didn’t
have total coverage all the time. So some of the command loads were
fairly long and complex that we had to get up to the spacecraft, and
I was really fast at commanding. I could really get commands through
the system, up, and verified that they were right and good to go.
We had one pass, I guess it was over Bermuda, where we’re kind
of at the edge of the Earth, and so you got really short little look
at Bermuda there, and you had to get off. So we were getting tight
on—this was the same mission. We had to reload a load of stuff
in the computer. I said, “When’s AOS?” acquisition
of signal. He told me exactly what minute and second it would be,
so I started commanding.
The way the command system worked, it would send until it got a MAP,
what they call a Message Acceptance Pulse, back that the spacecraft
had received. So I started sending the signal before it actually said
we had acquisition, because we had a long load, and it was not clear
we were going to get it all in. Then got it all in, and just as it
dropped out of sight and the spacecraft went over the hill, I was
able to verify the whole load got in. So this guy called me “the
fastest gun in the trench.” [Laughter] Anyway, that was the
excitement of the first manned mission for me. Everything else was
pretty nominal on that mission for me. Some others had different other
problems, I think, that they ran into.
There were other missions that were really exciting, when we got the
500 series. Apollo 12, have you talked about Apollo 12, the one that
got hit by lightning?
Yes. We can talk about that one now, but I was curious about what
you thought after Apollo 7 and learning that you were going to go
behind the Moon with Apollo 8.
Oh, with Apollo 8.
Yes, that whole decision, and your work with that.
Yes, see, that was all really a hype and very exciting. I was on that
mission when they went behind the Moon. But again, I’ve been
on several of the very interesting first-of-a-kind missions. I was
the guy on the mission when they went behind the Moon, so there was
a little fine-tuning maneuver we did. The understanding of the gravity
effects of the Moon, we’re still learning about those, and so
you weren’t absolutely, perfectly clear about how, when you
go looping around the Moon, exactly what the effect on the vector,
the spacecraft vector, would be.
We had done enough simulations. You had enough math models. They’d
had the unmanned spacecraft try to land on the Moon. So we were pretty
clear, but the main thing is doing it the first time, and these guys
on that Christmas Eve go zipping out there. Everything is perfect.
We had no problems at all with Apollo 8 all the way out. It’s
just that eerie feeling when the guy goes behind the Moon that first
time. That’s the first time that humans had ever been out of
sight of Earth. There was this quiet period while they’re behind
the Moon the 20-some minutes or so that you don’t talk to them.
The procedure is as soon as they’re supposed to be in radio
contact, the CapCom starts calling them. Well, they call and call,
and it seemed like at least a minute after they should have been in
view before we ever heard from them. So, the place gets quieter and
quieter while you’re waiting for that first voice contact back
from those guys. Then they went through all the little comments that
made all the history. It was a very exciting time for all of us. That
was pretty unique for a few of us.
Then, of course, [Apollo] 9 was the trial of the separation and taking
the LM out.
Yes, taking the LM out. I was involved in the launch of 9. By then
we were really working hard on [Apollo] 11, and I was on the mission
team for 11 then. I had two roles in 11, the launch phase, and then
I was the Yaw on the landing phase.
[Apollo] 9 was a nightmare of many unplanned experiences from the
guys that were involved in that, because you were really trying a
lot of new things, a lot of new things, and they all had to work.
If they hadn’t been able to bail out a lot of the problems they
had in 9 and validate that it would work right, I’m not sure
we’d have done [Apollo] 11 when we did, 10 and 11. [Apollo]
10 was the real test, because you had to separate and do the maneuver
and then come back together.
But [Apollo] 9 checked out a lot of things. That got a lot of people
sick. That was the one that one guy got real sick on the console in
the first phase when we had to do all the complex maneuvers and separation.
That was the only time I ever saw anybody that really—it was
too stressful on some people, but they got it all pulled together.
That was a good mission. I wasn’t involved so much in the details
of that one. I was over the shoulder, because of the LM protocols
that we were learning. That was another learning mission. That would
be one to talk to guys like, well, [John S.] Llewellyn [Jr.]. You’ve
done Llewellyn, right?
I saw his name on the list. And you’ve done Deiterich. The RETROs
got very involved in the alternate mission problems with [Apollo]
9. Dave [H. David] Reed, have you done Dave Reed?
He retired. He resigned from NASA and went to work when I did up at
the Transportation Systems Center. But he was pretty stressed out
on that particular mission. He was a real cocky guy. It really was
a humbling experience for him, because it was tough for the FIDO.
He’s a FIDO.
Although you weren’t directly involved on [Apollo] 9 and 10,
as you were preparing for 11, how did you learn the lessons that they
had learned on these missions to incorporate into what you would need
for 11? How did you all share information and know that that information
was distributed to all who needed to know?
I did two things. I always created my own personal console position
checklist for all the key events and the things that we had to do,
in order chronologically. So that was something that was outside the
flight plan. You had the flight plan to give you general guidance,
and then you’d update it if something changed. The flight plan
was pretty detailed on maneuvers, details about maneuvers, but not
procedures. Procedures, you had your own console book.
I had developed all the ones through the unmanned missions for all
the launch phase, and they were used by everybody as we moved into
the missions and other guys would start taking on launch vehicle positions
and Yaw. The Yaw position was always kind of a learning position to
move up into the guidance position. I was the Guidance Position Officer
for all the unmanned, and all but a couple of the Apollo missions
up through [Apollo] 13, I was the lead, the Launch Phase Guidance
Officer. That took you through translunar injection, so you were the
lead all the way through getting them on the way to the Moon.
Then things would change as we got into the rendezvous phases near
the Moon. I was Yaw, supporting [Stephen G.] Bales. He was the Guidance
Officer, and I was Yaw, in that case. But what we’d do is, like
in Gemini or in the earlier Apollo missions, you always had your procedures
meetings with everybody in your functional group, your Guidance Office.
So everybody went to all the procedures meetings when you were developing
a new set of procedures and review them with you, because who knows,
you may get called in to sit down there and do that job.
There was a lot of mentoring and involvement of people. When you were
developing new procedures, you’d dry-run them with folks, mostly
guys that were likely to have that position and do that function.
Learning the LM guidance system, technically, it was the same protocols,
but in terms of the specifics of the programs for lunar landing and
all that, very different, very different.
So you had to learn all those, and you spent a lot of time learning
those with the guys who designed the software up at MIT [Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts]. So there’d
be a lot of trips to MIT, and you’d sit down and go through
all the software with them, and you’d talk about “what
ifs,” all kinds of “if it fails here, what if it fails
there, what do these alarms mean,” and all that stuff.
Then you’d go through simulations, and when you do simulations,
there would always be this person that could be a backup sitting on
the ledge with a headset plugged in following all the details of the
simulation. So you’re learning by OJT [on-the-job training]
more than anything. It was purely an on-the-job training process.
Those procedures that somebody else had would be used in a procedures
book, and so you’d make your copies and adjust them the way
you wanted them, so they were very personal.
I had something I was going to bring. I couldn’t find it last
night. It was on Apollo 7. We didn’t have all the computer programs
for calculating backup procedures if the computer failed, for getting
the crew in the right attitude to reenter safely. They were in a circular
orbit, so there shouldn’t have been any problem.
When you’re going around, and if they had to go to alternate
sites around the world because of a problem, you need the computer
to calculate the correct attitude of the spacecraft so it comes in
right and it does all the right yaw maneuvers. You needed to align
the platform, the inertial platform on board, correctly so that it
would handle the spacecraft, and it wouldn’t get in a position
where it was what we call gimbal lock. This inertial platform can
only go so many degrees in different axes, and so you align it to
get the most reasonable midpoint of where any extreme would occur,
rolling and rocking around, pitching.
You always had to align the spacecraft platform, depending on where
you were going to come in, and we didn’t have a computer program
to do all that, so in terms of these procedures we all developed,
I had a great big wheel. It was made out of cardboard with plastic
and stuff on it that had all the key stars that they might see. I
put them in the right star field orientation, and then if they were
to see a certain star and they could identify it, we could tell them
what angles they needed to put into the spacecraft backup system to
reenter properly. That was all a handmade thing. It didn’t depend
on any computers. And that was [AS-] 204.
Astronomy Club came in handy?
It did. Oh yes, and we learned a lot about stars. The Guidance Officers
knew a lot about the stars, because you had to know what stars they
were talking about, or if they had to have a backup star, they’d
say, “I’ve got this or that. What do you think it was?”
The crew knew stars, too. You needed it. They were very dependent
on those stars so you knew where you were in inertial space.
But 204, that was one of my manual techniques that I developed. I
only needed it for 204, Apollo 7. They got the computer programs working
right on the ground for the next cycle, so we didn’t need it
again. But that was just one of those things you do as a backup procedure.
We had a lot of backup procedures.
In fact, one of them that was very useful, we did it because we weren’t
sure you could see stars in deep space. They reported seeing a lot
of little speckles and stuff, so it was very confusing in the early
stages of Gemini. When they looked out into deep space, they’d
see these flickery things, a lot of starlight, and it was just reflections
off of space stuff floating around Earth. Once you got far enough
away from Earth, you didn’t see any of that. But we didn’t
know what was going to happen, so we made another backup procedure,
and this is one Charley Parker did. It was really clever.
When you look at the Moon and it’s not full, it has a shape
to it, so if it’s in a crescent shape, you get this kind of
horned effect. So the two points on the Moon turned out to be very
good, easy-to-see points when you couldn’t see stars. You could
look at the Moon, and what we had is this backup procedure where they
would turn the spacecraft physically and use that one-power telescope
out the center. It was boresighted and bolted to the top of the spacecraft.
They could boresight that, and they would rotate it so these sort
of crosshairs in the telescope were lined up on the tips of the Moon,
and it was centered in the center of the Moon.
Then we said, “All right, if the spacecraft is aligned that
way, your attitude in inertial space is, roll, pitch, yaw, these numbers.”
They would punch that into their computer, their little hand computer,
because the assumption was that the platform and the spacecraft computer
had failed, so they had to do everything manually, and this little
eight-ball thing, they could control manually. They could set it.
We’d give them the readings in pitch, roll, and yaw to put in.
“You’re sitting at pitch, roll, yaw zip.” They’d
punch those numbers in, and the ball would go to those angles. Then
to do a maneuver, they had to do a maneuver, they’d light the
engine, and it would burn for a minute and a half. Then they would
go to all zeros, zero pitch, zero—they’d fly the spacecraft
around to where it was all zeros, roll, pitch, and yaw, and then do
the maneuver. It was real simple for the crew, but it was a very clever
backup procedure, and it allowed us to get them back safely if you
lost this computer and the inertial guidance system.
A real deep backup, but that was used on—we did that on Apollo.
We checked that out on Apollo 8. We did it for Apollo 8, because we
really weren’t sure what they were going to be able to see when
they got really far away from Earth. The Apollo 8 backup procedure,
but it was used on [Apollo] 13, and we had to reconfigure it for 13
to use with the LM.
It was a very aggressive schedule.
The day that you walked in the door to the day that we landed on the
Yes. I made it my whole lifetime to be dedicated to getting to the
Moon by the year 2000. That was what my goal was. I figured we could
probably do it, and reading all of the Willy Ley and all of the science
fiction guys, they figured you could make it by 2000. Here we were
back in the early 60s. “Yeah, we’ve got 40 years. We’ll
make it.” Made it by ’69. [Laughs] But it was a really
But I was critical. You know, everybody would ask how it was. Well,
I don’t know how many people have talked with you much about
it, but it was hard on families. We had four people announce they
were getting divorced in Lunney’s branch at the Christmas party.
It was the one around Apollo 8, I believe. Four of them, and that
was a huge percentage. So it was always hard on people. You were gone—when
you did simulations, the prime upcoming mission had daytime prime
time, but the follow-up mission, the next mission, had all the nighttime.
We’d do simulations. You’d get over there at midnight,
and you’d sim till eight or nine in the morning.
But then we got to play golf in the daytime. [Laughter] [Philip C.]
Shaffer and Bales and Charley Parker and a couple others of us, I
think Gary [John G.] Renick, we’d all go out and play golf,
because you were still hyped after you got off of sim. It was too
early to go to bed, but you had to be ready for the next night shift,
so we’d go out and play golf for a few hours and settle down
and then go back; finally get some sleep and go back to the console.
But when you had a lot of tight things going on, or you got in some
critical situation, you had the bunkroom upstairs. They had a men’s
area and a women’s area, although almost all the flight controllers
at that point were men. They’re like bunk beds, and they had
restrooms and showers. They had lockers, and if you needed to, or
if you lived a long way away and you didn’t want to leave like
[Eugene F. “Gene”] Kranz, the senior Flight Directors,
half of them stayed there most of the time, because you never knew
what might happen. Kranz, he didn’t live that far away, but
it was just his style.
Well, you had worked five solid years, from 1964 to ’69. Share
with us what it was like being in the Control Room for the launch
and then, of course, for the landing on the Moon.
Oh, for the landing on the Moon? Well, the landing on the Moon, now,
we’d gone through [Apollo] 8, and that was really exciting,
so you were kind of past the really hype of the first time around
the moon. [Apollo] 10, everybody was pretty confident that the LM
was going to work well, so you weren’t as nervous about things
not working well. But there’s nothing like that first time when
[Neil A.] Armstrong goes down to land, you know.
I had launched it. I was the lead Launch Guidance Officer, and I was
really paying a lot of attention all through the phase till it got
to the Moon, making sure when they did comparisons between the spacecraft
guidance system and the LM guidance system that they were still working
well; we didn’t have any problems with the LM, and it was going
to work well when they took off. Then when you separate in orbit,
after you get to the Moon and they separate and you start doing maneuvers
with the LM, you’ve got a lot of chances to look at it and make
sure the systems are going to work right.
Well, I was on with Stephen Bales for the actual landing cycle. I
was what was called Yaw then, and again I worried about the commanding
to the LM, the loads, the landing site information, all that sort
of stuff. As they started landing, the alarm—you’ve probably
heard about all the alarms going off and so on. Kranz has probably
talked a lot about this. It’s been documented in many books,
the sequence of details.
But what happened is we had run into this in simulation where the
computer software actually behaved the same way in a simulation similar,
not exactly, but similar. What happened is the computer is trying
to do too much, and it gets overloaded in this internal minor loop,
and it got locked up, and it sends off this alarm, which says, “I’m
too busy. I’m going to do this.” So what they had to do
when that happened—it actually happened on Apollo 11 as you
were coming down that a similar alarm went off.
So what we had checked out with the simulation, and we’d done
a lot of work after that sim kind of blew up on us in the second week
of June, we had MIT run a whole lot of other checks to see if we had
to fix the software on the spacecraft or do something differently.
Well, by that time it was too late to really make any changes that
anybody was going to be confident you’d get in and get right
without screwing something else up. So we flew with it that way.
What happened is the alarm went off as they were coming down; they
had the same thing. The radar was trying to do this, and the com [communication]
system was trying to do something else, and so all they had to do
was flip a switch that turned off the search for a particular function,
and that relaxed the computer, constrained the computer settled down
and was doing the right thing. So everything was going real well as
they came in.
Now, the really exciting difference was, of course, the actual landing,
but what I always remember when I’m sitting there—and
now by this time I’ve been through a lot of missions and was
feeling pretty confident that you can get through anything. But Armstrong
comes down to land, and you’re sitting there and you’re
listening to it, and the guy behind us is counting out the number
of seconds of fuel left before abort.
Now, there’s something as they’re coming down where their
velocity coming down toward the Moon is so high—it is at a certain
level or higher—that if they were to abort at any point in that
stretch, if they had to abort at any point in that stretch while they’re
going this fast, then that fuel left in the spacecraft to take them
back up—they abort and drop the bottom part and fly back up
with the LM module—they don’t have enough fuel to actually
make it back into orbit, and so it’s called a little stretch
of the “dead man’s curve.” You really don’t
want to get down into that stretch. So you really want to slow down.
It’s just kind of a curve. You try to keep them above that curve,
so their approach velocity slows them down, and then they sort of
hover. They’re not really supposed to hover much. They’re
supposed to go down and slow down and stop.
Well, Armstrong goes down, and he sits there, and then you hear him
just hovering. He’s wandering around the spacecraft just above
the surface of the Moon, and afterwards it turned out there were boulder
fields and all kinds of things. He wasn’t sure he wanted to
put the wheels down on that and have it tip over on him or something.
So he just hovered around; it’s like he’s humming away.
You didn’t hear him humming, but you could just sort of sense
that must have been what was going through his mind after it was all
The guy behind us is counting the fuel down, and it was down to the
point now you’re past all this threat of dead man’s curves
and everything else, but he hadn’t landed, and we were down
to like eight seconds of fuel left—eight seconds. Well, it turned
out when they finished measuring it, it was like more than that. It
was thirteen or fourteen seconds, which seems like an eternity when
you’re doing some of this stuff. But it didn’t seem like
much to all of us in the Control Center while we were listening. So
the only voice you heard was the guy behind us counting the thing
In that Control Center there’s usually a background hum of voices
talking, people talking, you’re talking to the guy behind you.
Not on the loops, but it’s just kind of quiet talk between people,
flight controllers, while you’re doing things. Or somebody talking
on this loop to a guy, not the Flight Director loop, but to one of
your support guys in the back room. So there’s always the hum
of voices; not loud, but there’s something going on.
Not during this phase. When he was landing, it got so quiet in there
that it was just like they had turned off all the electricity and
all the people, and everybody was holding their breath, literally.
Everybody held their breath; I did. And Charley Parker was sitting
behind us at that point. He was our Branch Chief, and he was sitting
behind us, and we were all sitting there in that last probably 20
or 30 seconds. I’ll bet you nobody breathed, and this guy, the
only thing you heard was this monotonous, “22, 21, 20…”
Finally when he said, “Touchdown,” you could hear everybody
breathe. [Laughs] It was really funny, like a big inhale. [Demonstrates]
It was a real experience. So that was really important to all of us.
Then you go through the quick countdown to make sure that the LM’s
working right. You don’t want to abort right then if you don’t
have to. They got settled in, and everything went fine after that.
That was a pretty straightforward mission. That was a good mission.
Enjoyed it. And, what do you for an encore after you do that?
That was the thing Bales and I, we looked at each other when it was
over and said, “Well, Jiminy Christmas, what do you do for an
encore?” Because all the rest were going to be pretty similar.
We just laughed at it, because the hype was so high at getting us
from ’64 to ’69. I mean, your whole life was dedicated
to being a part of that, and everybody was committed. That’s
why there were so many family problems; you just really spent more
time with the flight control team than you did with your family, almost
all the time, literally. So that stretch was hard on a lot of people,
but everybody was committed to doing it well. It was an interesting
Very historic that you could come back with [Apollo] 12 in just a
few months and do it again.
Do it again.
After a lightning strike.
Right. Well, the lightning strike, I was on the console when we did
that one. That was an exciting thing. It got hit twice. We didn’t
know it got hit twice till later, but that one did cause some trouble.
It turned off all the electronics in the spacecraft. So here the booster
is working fine; it seems to be immune to anything. It puts them in
the perfect orbit to go do the next maneuver, but we all agreed they
shouldn’t take off for the Moon unless we were absolutely sure
that computer on the spacecraft was okay and the platform was okay.
So we did another one of these “fastest gun in the trench”
things, where we had to dump all the memory on the spacecraft computer
to the ground, and then do a bit by bit check of the memory to make
sure nothing was amiss. We had to get all that done in a matter of
minutes, because they were like one rev away from heading for the
Moon. We’ll probably have to check this, but I think we did
delay one rev, and then let them go a second rev later, and not on
the first opportunity, just to be sure.
Then they had to realign the platform. The platform—all the
electronics shut down, and the platform kind of rolls over on its
side, and so they had to get the star shots out and get the whole
platform realigned. That is something that you had simulated something
like that at some point; not in that point in the mission, but they
had done it before. So the crew was pretty adept at getting it back,
and then we confirmed that they had the alignment right and gave them
all the stars they needed to use to do the alignment.
We had to calculate those real quick and give them a list of stars
to go after. That helps them get the right stars so the platform was
easy to align and that with those stars. Then they, based on the command
load we sent them about going to the Moon, they always aligned the
spacecraft guidance system perfectly with the booster guidance system,
so that if you have a problem with the booster system, they could
take over. That was this guidance switchover stuff. So that was part
of the protocol that you had to do. It was the sort of a procedure
they would do an alignment check in orbit anyway, but when it dumped
over on its side, they definitely had to do it.
That was a pretty tense little couple of hours there, but after that
Apollo 12 just went really well. There were some other things that
other flight controllers had to worry about, but not the trench so
You talked earlier about working so closely with the crews, and these
two crews were totally different.
Did that have an impact, or how did that work with you guys?
Well, it would impact you, I would think, if you walked in as a flight
controller, knew your business real well, and you were handed a new
crew. You really do need to know one another well, even though the
flight crew would know all the console position guys, the working-level
guys in all the whole console, know by name, because we had been in
so many meetings together.
That was very valuable. They would say, “Well, check with Bales
again.” Now, Bales didn’t talk to them. The CapCom talked
to them. But if they were questioning something about the guidance
activity or something, they knew who to talk to. And even though the
crews were very different—and they were really different—you
got comfortable with them. You know what their sensitivities were,
and where it would get to [Buzz] Aldrin [Jr.] would certainly react
one way, differently than Armstrong would.
[Charles C. “Pete”] Conrad [Jr.], Conrad is an old white-scarf
guy. He was just right out of this school. It was a shame he got killed.
But probably if he had to be, getting killed on a motorcycle is the
way he’d want to do it. [Laughs] But he was one of these—nothing,
nothing scared him. He’d do anything, and he loved sims that
would go to hell in a handbasket, you know. [Laughs] Anything that
would break, he loved to fly it out. But he was very different.
Now, Armstrong, we just knew Armstrong was going to get picked for
that mission, because he was really cool. I didn’t know him
personally very well until the Gemini VIII experience, where they
docked [with the Agena target vehicle] and then the thing went totally
out of control, and he had to pull it back. The attitude control system
wasn’t working correctly because of a wiring interface mismatch,
and whenever you do the hand controller, it would fly the spacecraft
in the wrong direction. So what he had to do—he was spinning
around. They had pictures, again, out of these overhead cameras, and
you’d see the spacecraft spinning right at one rev per second.
So it was click, click. It was really going fast.
They had this little panel, those little tiny banana switches; they’re
about this long [gestures], and they’re not designed for what
he used them for. There’s a little switch for each jet; there’s
two switches. One is to thrust it in one direction, and so you turn
it on or off, and it’s a little quad of four jets in four different
places around the spacecraft. He had to turn each one of those jets
on manually while he’s spinning around like this until he got
the spacecraft motion stopped, and then they could—they came
back and said that—nobody saw any of this, because it all happened
over the Atlantic, the South Atlantic and coming around past Australia.
So nobody knew what happened until they came up on the other side,
and here they were all shut down, and nothing was working right. They
said, “What happened?” [Laughs]
Armstrong comes on, and, “Dah, dah, dah, dah, well, we had to
do this, blah, blah, blah.” [David R.] Scott was so shook. He
was his partner on that one. I didn’t think Scott would ever
fly again, but he recovered. Armstrong was so cool in pulling it off
and then working his way through. They had brought them back early.
They landed in the Pacific. They weren’t supposed to, but they
got them back early. But the next thing that happened is he’s
flying this little LM test thing [Lunar Landing Research Vehicle,
LLRV-1] out at Ellington [Air Force Base, Houston, Texas]. Did you
see pictures of what happened there?
He stayed with it. It lost another one of those side jets; it had
four jets, one on each of the sides of this to balance it when it’s
flying, for attitude control, and when he did his maneuvering, it
would feel like a real LM. Well, one whole quad quit on him, and so
the thing went out of control, and he tried to rotate it around in
the axis it was rolling over on, rotate the spacecraft around so he
could correct for that motion, and land the thing.
It was clear after a while this wasn’t going to work, so he
finally decides to abort, and the spacecraft is tipped over about
probably 30 to 40 degrees off the horizon. When he aborts, he shoots
out to the side, and his parachute opens, and his feet hit the ground,
and he walks away. He never got shook or anything about any of it.
He stayed with it a long time. Most of the guys would have gone to
abort immediately and get off that thing. [Laughs]
Well, speaking about accidents, this leads us to Apollo 13. After
two successful launches and landings, you were somewhat a part of
Apollo 13; not really at the first, but I believe that you became
a big part of the recovery.
Well, I actually launched it, and then I was already—I had a
group that was starting to work on Skylab, and I was chosen to lead
that group because we were dealing with major interfaces with Marshall
again. We were going to use their S4-B as the lab. So all the interfaces
I had developed quite a good reputation of working closely with those
engineers at Marshall over the years of trying to get the guidance
system interfaces worked out.
So, a similar kind of problem. We were going to be controlling the
Marshall booster from manned spacecraft interfaces. We had a group
that was working on how to develop software systems to manage resources.
There’s a lot of things to deal with, like power and air-conditioning
and crew timelines and so on, so we had started working on the procedures
and the interfaces with the control systems on how you’d manage
all that. That was becoming my major function already by that time.
I did the Apollo 13 launch, got it on its way, and then was off the
console. I figured I was done. Then, they had NASA Select, which was
always either a radio channel or a TV channel you could watch or listen
to, and I always had it on when I was home. Well, I was home when
I heard that something had happened. Then I listened to it for probably
20 minutes, maybe, as soon as something had happened.
They usually had the public affairs guy talking about what’s
going on, and I was listening to what—they actually played the
crew loop. You could hear part of it. Then I would hear the interpretation
of, “Well, the crew was asking are we going to be able to go
to the Moon,” and “Well, we’ll get back to you.”
It was clear from what I was hearing there was no way. These guys,
it was serious, and quit worrying about going to the Moon, guys. You’d
better start worrying about getting back, seriously. You could tell
if you’d been in the business at all, that there was a really
serious problem. So I called the console over there. They have an
outside line, and you can call. I called over, and Charley Parker
answers the phone. He said, “Why don’t you just come on
So I came over, and then by that time they had pulled Kranz’s
shift off, and they were all locked up, starting to debug what they
thought happened and figure out—he just created that standalone
team that stayed with that, that sort of offline team, throughout
the whole mission, for the rest of the mission timeline. Bales was
on that group; John [W.] Aaron; the usual—Kranz’s first-line
team was already pulled off to do that.
So they took all the flight controllers and put them into the three
other operating teams. So you were mixed with people you’d probably
never worked on a particular mission with, necessarily, although generally
the procedures and all that sort of thing were identical. You knew
what to do, and you knew what they were talking about when they talked
about this, that, or the other. So it didn’t matter. It was
just a matter of you’d end up with—I think I ended up
with [Milton L.] Windler’s team as the Flight Director. We ended
up with different phases, each of us working—you’re always
worried about making sure they stayed on a safe return trajectory.
On the trench; that was our worry.
Other people worried about systems problems, things that would run
out of resources. You probably read the book or saw all the specifics
of how people came up with very creative ways to extend life support
systems and that sort of thing. Well, just the way I remember it,
I guess maybe I put it in here. People ask me a lot after the Apollo
13 movie came out, “Well, how close was that to what really
To me, the movie was really well done, in terms of being factual about
things, but I said the only reaction I could have if you asked me
that is, “It did a really great job of recreating what really
happened on the mission, but in the case of when you’re sitting
there, we just didn’t know how it was going to turn out.”
Nobody wanted it to go badly, but you just didn’t know. You
thought, each time you got something fixed, “Ah!” But
then something else happened. It was just amazing how many strings
of things caused a problem.
But one that didn’t show up much in the movie, that I thought
was really important, was the fresh water situation. Remember, a couple
of the crew got sick. Well, one of the problems was they had bladder
infections, and the doctors were really after them to drink water.
Well, it turns out water is also the coolant for the electronics,
and when they turned all the electronics off to the bare minimum,
where you had one radio that was turned on, but all the rest of it
was turned off, so the spacecraft starts cooling down, and it gets
colder and colder and colder.
Because the electronics are usually on, and there’s’ enough
electronics going on that it keeps the spacecraft warm. So that was
part of it; it was kind of a closed cycle. What happened, they were
getting cold, and they couldn’t talk. Now that was pretty well
done in the movie, I think, but actually, they had to bite their tongue
because they couldn’t talk. Their teeth would chatter. I could
hear [James A.] Lovell. You could just tell he’d just bite his
tongue so he could talk without having his teeth chatter. They were
down in the low 50 and high 40. They were all really cold. But they
refused to drink water. The doctors started saying, “Look, guys.”
They were preserving the water, because they knew as soon as they
turned the electronics on, they only had so much water. The fuel cells
created water, and when the fuel cells were gone, you lost all your
water supply on the spacecraft side. On the LM side, it was only designed
to handle two people for a shorter period of time. Well, they stretched
it out into days of living there. So they knew, Lovell and the crew,
knew that as soon as they started turning things on to warm up, they
were going to boil off the water, and then they wouldn’t have
any more water to cool the electronics so then they really needed
them. That water normally would have been their water supply to drink
and mix food.
Well, they weren’t drinking it; they were preserving it. What
happened is—that’s why I think the movie didn’t
really pick that up very well—is the doctors got on it. Dr.
[Charles A. “Chuck”] Berry, he actually got on the loop
and was chewing out Lovell that they had to drink more, because as
soon as you get dehydrated, you start getting delirious, and then
you can’t do anything. You’re really in trouble. So he
really had to lean on Lovell to get him to drink water.
They finally agreed to drink more water, and that turned out to be
a good thing, but everybody was—they were looking at the water
profile. How much water is left, and are they going to have enough
to do what they had to do? So that never showed up as much of a big
deal, but it was a really big deal. Everybody in the Control Center
knew that if that water level kept going down, they were going to
be in trouble with the electronics or they were going to be in trouble
with delirium or whatever. So water was a real problem, and it didn’t
show up that much in the movie, I don’t think. But everything
else was pretty well done.
One of the big unknowns was why the spacecraft kept changing orbit.
It would move, and we’d have to do some simple things. We had
them turn on some systems and do a little simple maneuver like this
to get them back on the free-return orbit, and it turned out that
leaking gases and other things were the problems that they ran into
that kept pushing the spacecraft a little bit this way or a little
bit that way. It moved the trajectory, so pretty soon they were off
that free return again, and in some cases, in fact, several cases,
it would raise the point where they would come close to Earth above
the atmosphere. They’d just shoot on by, and you’d never
see them again. They’d go to a Mars trajectory or something.
They’d go into a big, big elliptical orbit around the Earth,
and you’d never get them back.
So you always had to do a little maneuver to get the spacecraft slowed
down where it would hit the atmosphere right. They had to do two or
three of those, which were unplanned. You probably talked to Jay Greene
and you probably went through some of that stuff with him, but anyway,
the thing that we did last that everybody felt good about was we decided
that the maneuver to get rid of the LM at the end—remember,
you’re coming back to Earth, and you weren’t supposed
to have the LM on there; it was supposed to be just the spacecraft.
Well, the spacecraft Service Module, the big engine part, was useless.
The “Gumdrop” could only last a few hours, an hour and
a half or something. After you turn everything on, it’s like
a battery; it just runs down. You use up all of everything. So you’ve
got to wait as long as you can to do that. We always had a plan for
getting rid of the LM, but they delayed that too late, and everybody
was starting to get really nervous that the timeline was really tight.
Getting rid of the LM, get everything reconfigured, get rid of the
Service Module with the hole in the side of it, and then turn the
thing around for reentry. So they decided, well, it’s got enough
water left in the LM that they said, “Turn the electronics on
So they turned it on about an hour and a half earlier than the original
timeline was, and the thing starts warming up, and then it was really
good, because the procedures—remember I told you procedures,
normally you just send the commands and load the computer with everything.
Well, the procedures were so non-nominal they had to create, through
manual entry, a whole set of software routines that didn’t exist
on the LM software. So even our commanding wouldn’t have done
the job. They had to manually enter pages of stuff.
Remember, these guys are hardly able to talk. It was all read up manually
to them, and they had to read it back to make sure they got it written
down in the right order. You talked to them about keystrokes, and
do this, a dozen keystrokes with numbers and then there’s a
break, and you’ve got to do this kind of entry. It’s like
manually loading software, pages of stuff. They just got frustrated
halfway through it trying to get it all written down, but they got
it all done and then loaded it in.
But the thing that helped was at the end we turned the spacecraft
on earlier, and all the electronics started warming up. They start
getting to feeling good. Lovell was feeling real good by the time
we finally got to the point where they had the computer loaded up.
It was a good thing we started early, because it took them a lot longer
to configure everything. You had to load the LM computer up, because
you had to turn the whole spacecraft around; do a certain maneuver.
Then you had to align the Command Module properly, go inside the Command
Now, everybody’s in the LM, all cramped up in the LM. They opened
up the thing, go into the Gumdrop, reconfigure the spacecraft electronics.
That’s the one that has the short fuse; it runs out after so
long. So they had to align everything with the LM in a certain direction,
and the spacecraft’s here in a backup procedure. Got everything
right, and then the guys in the LM came in. We shut the LM down and
closed it up, and you pressurized the gap between the two spacecraft.
Then when they pushed the button to separate, it just popped off,
because there was pressure in it. They took pictures of that.
Then they looked at the spacecraft when they popped this. You had
to now turn around and get rid of the spacecraft, and you’re
in a different timeline than you normally would. So they turned around
then, and they kicked it off, and you saw the big hole in the side.
That’s the first time they really knew how badly the spacecraft
was beat up, the Service Module. Everybody was still wondering, has
there been any damage to the heat shield? Are all the systems on the
spacecraft going to work? Because the explosion was a pretty big shock.
It blew up. And everybody was nervous about spacecraft systems.
But everything seemed to be working fine, and I was on the shift where
they got it down to reentry. Then they turned it around, and they
did the reentry maneuver. They separated it, and they’re coming
in like nominal now; everything seems to be working right. And the
thing goes into blackout, because the heat shield just generates all
this ionospheric plasma, it cuts off communication so you can’t
hear anything. So they come in, and all of a sudden, again, it’s
like going behind the Moon. You figure out when they’re going
to the blackout and when they’re coming out of blackout.
Well, they went into blackout about right, but when they were supposed
to come out of blackout, it was easily a minute, and I think the record
probably shows it was probably like a minute and a half, and the CapCom
had been calling and calling and calling, and never heard anything.
So people were really shook up.
Then all of a sudden [imitates sound]. About the same time everybody
saw all the chutes, they called in and said, “Hey, we’re
fine. Everything’s fine.” And you saw on the camera right
there in the Control Center, you could see the chutes coming down,
so it was a good time for everybody. Everybody felt really good about
People said, “Well, why didn’t NASA make more of a big
deal of it at the time?”
Well, I told them probably because it was a screw-up way back at the
Cape that never should have happened. The probe that came loose and
fell down into the tank, they thought it was a sensor that had failed,
and they just waived it in the Cape tests. They knew it happened.
In all the diagnostics, when they went back and analyzed what happened,
it turned out that a probe that senses, when it senses the temperature
changes and all that, actually is sort of pushed up and sort of press-fit
into a fitting, well, it came loose and just fell down into the tank.
And there’s a little sensor thing that’s kind of a transducer
that gives you the telemetry information you need to tell you what’s
working and what the temperature is.
They thought the transducer failed, so they just waived it. And what
happened is it really had fallen off, and so when the pressure built
up, there was nothing telling you there was any problem, and it just
blew up. So the goof was in waiving that kind of sensor problem. You
always have problems, and you’re waiving all kinds of things,
but just using good engineering judgment, you try to decide whether
that’s the right thing to do or not, and you’ll be okay.
Well, that was one that it wasn’t right to do.
So NASA felt like—internally, I just feel like they felt that
it wasn’t a good engineering decision, so it was our fault;
it shouldn’t ever have happened. So you never got a good sense
from anybody that you really want to talk a lot about it. But when
you look at the way Kranz and everybody behaved and how the whole
team pulled together and pulled it off, that was a good story to tell,
and when Apollo 13 came out, I think it kind of reawakened
everybody to what really happened and how hard it was to pull it off.
We’re very fortunate that those guys came back at all.
All that you were doing in those years from ’64 till, actually,
Apollo 13, there was a lot going on in the country as well. How much
were you aware?
Well, more than a lot of people, because I was still in the Navy Reserve.
I stayed in the Navy Reserve and retired as a Captain with 30 years.
But during that period I’d had these monthly weekend drills,
and we would know. We were kept pretty much up to date on how serious
things were getting over there.
We had guys that were in the Air Force. The Air Force had put them
in for training. One of the guys that got divorced in that Christmas
break, his tour at NASA had ended. He’d worked some of the unmanned
missions with me; he was a guidance guy. Then he goes off to fly [deHavilland
C-7] Caribou in Vietnam for two years, and he comes back a really
different guy. He’s back about three or four months, and it’s
clear that things just went south on both of them. So he announced
the day that the party started—I guess it was a New Year’s
party when this all came out. We combined Christmas and New Year’s
parties into kind of a break in between. He announced that they just
couldn’t reconcile anything. He was so thin. He lost a lot of
It affected people in ways that you—we had our head down, and
you didn’t even know things were going on. Most of the guys
didn’t have a full appreciation of anything going on over in
Vietnam, but we had had things like the submarines, when the submarines
got lost, and they were lots of—the Cold War was still going
on with Russia, and there was just a lot of stuff in the background
that most of the flight control team probably never paid any attention
to. I would hear about it and be involved in some of the stuff where
we had to react on the Navy side.
But guys like John Llewellyn, Llewellyn was a Marine in Korea, and
I think everybody in his platoon was lost but him in Korea over the
offensive up north where they really pushed hard to beat them back,
and then he never had much—[Douglas] MacArthur wanted to go
forward, and [Harry S.] Truman wouldn’t let him do it, and so
he had to back off. Llewellyn never forgave him for that. [Laughs]
Llewellyn would stay real close to it, and he paid real attention
to everything going on over there. He’s the old ex-Marine. He’d
come in, wave the flag, and stir up all kinds of trouble about what
was going on this week.
But generally, most guys I would say were pretty sheltered from that,
mostly by their commitment in what they were doing. They didn’t
have time to look around much. So that was my observation of it.
A lot of other things were going on. Everybody was getting anti-Vietnam
by that time, so there were all kinds of flag-burning things going
on then. Again, guys like John Llewellyn would go out and stomp on
the flag burners. [Laughs] There are a lot of Llewellyn stories. I
hope you have somebody collecting Llewellyn stories.
I don’t know if we have that much tape.
Yes, that’s right. There are lots of Llewellyn stories. Yes,
really funny stories.
Well, after [Apollo] 13 did you go back primarily to working on Skylab?
I had made my decision to move over to the Department of Transportation
[DOT] in ’71, and [Apollo] 14 was launching before I left,
so I went in and supported the launch of 14, and that was pretty much
my last involvement with that. It was interesting; I followed it for
a while. I was very involved when I was doing this research group
I was with up in Cambridge [Massachusetts], so I didn’t get
to follow the space program as closely as I probably normally would
But, you know, it was my goal as a kid to go to the Moon, and I’d
gotten there, as close as I’m going to get. I’d never
be an astronaut or anything. You never know; you try to figure out
why would you change, why would leave, why would you do stuff like
that, but I had sort of met the goal that I had set to do. I could
see Skylab being so much calmer and more tranquil and less exciting,
say, than Apollo was, that it was probably a good time to change.
One thing about being a flight controller, you cannot let your guard
down. You can’t get complacent about anything, and we always
all talked to one another about that. When you get to the point where
you’re feeling complacent about anything, it’s time to
move on. You really don’t want to be putting anything in jeopardy
by not being really attentive all the way through everything from
design to execution.
That didn’t particularly enter my mind, but when I talked with
Lunney, other times later, Kranz. They marched me through the list
of guys to go up and talk to, Kraft and so on, about why I was leaving.
“You’ve got all this experience. It’s time to stay.
We’re going into new programs,” and so on. And I agreed
with all that, but I wanted to get into new research at that point
and work on these real high-tech, kind of Buck Rogers-y transportation
systems. I have all those pictures, too, all these ephemeral kinds
of guideways that carry people, move us all around. It’s sort
of hypothetical stuff.
I went to work at DOT working on these really advanced systems, and
that was exciting. I enjoyed doing that for years.
You followed one of your mentors, is that correct?
Yes, John Hodge talked me into coming up there, because he had left.
Cal [Calvin H.] Perrine [Jr.], who was in engineering, I didn’t
know Cal—I knew Cal because of guidance system work. He worked
the systems side, and we worked the software and the protocols and
procedures and everything; but I didn’t work closely with Cal.
But I worked directly for him when I went to Cambridge, and Hodge,
we spent a lot of time. We’d get together. Everybody played
bridge. We all played duplicate bridge, and so guys like Harold [G.]
Miller—he and [Carl B.] Shelley were—Harold Miller ran
the simulation facility, all the computer software. He worked at [NASA]
Langley [Research Center, Hampton, Virginia]. He was there as soon
as they started up Mercury. So he’s got a lot of history, and
he retired after a certain stretch in Space Station. He came back.
He went away and came back to the Space Station with Hodge when Hodge
So I followed. Hodge was one notch above Lunney all through Apollo,
and then he moved up into the Advanced Programs area, and Kranz took
over. So effectively, it was working for Lunney and then Kranz for
the end of my time in Apollo. Then I went up and worked for Hodge,
with Perrine in the middle, for three years, and then the work I was
doing for the Department of Transportation in urbanized transportation,
the guy that ran that R&D [research and development] program here
at [NASA] Headquarters [Washington, D.C.] kept trying to talk me into
coming to Headquarters.
So I did, and so we moved here in ’74. Then I was working
here for 10 years, and you’d hear things about people moving
around, and the Space Station Program was starting. They were starting
studies. Then I heard the big announcement in I guess it was January;
[President Ronald W.] Reagan made the announcement in January of ’84.
Then in about September of ’84, Miller has gone back to work
for Hodge. Miller comes over and says, “Hodge wants you to bring
all that analytical experience on cost-effective, life cycle costing,
and all this back over here and come to work with Space Station.”
So I did, and I stayed with NASA right up till a couple of months
ago. I worked Space Station from ’85 all the way up to ’94,
and then I switched over to be the Chief Technologist for the Earth
Science Program at Headquarters. I was at Headquarters all that time,
from ’85 all the way. Very different world from being out in
a Center. [Laughs]
We look forward to hearing about that. And before we close today,
as our time is getting close to the end, I have two questions I think
I want to ask you. One is that all the years that you sat at Mission
Control for launch, I understand you actually got to see a launch.
Tell us about Apollo 17.
Well, gee, you did do your homework. I had left NASA by that time.
[Apollo] 17 was the last mission, and it was a night launch. I’d
never seen any launch, Apollo launch. I’d been out to see the
vehicles being crawled out to the launch pad and went up in the VAB
[Vehicle Assembly Building, NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida] in
the very top, and got to look in the spacecraft after it’s been
all assembled and everything, but I’d never actually seen a
So I said, “All right, I’m retired.” Let’s
see, our daughter was born in ’71, so it was December of
’72, I guess it was. So we all went, and I took the family.
We were going to go down and watch the launch. Well, we had it all
set up, and remember, it slipped a couple of days, and our flight
and everything was all set up; we had to go back. But on the last
day with the last minute of the last hour or something, they finally
got the thing off, and I have all these movies of it. I took still
35mm shots while my wife was taking movies of it.
It was really exciting, because it’s kind of a great way to
end your career and that particular notch in your career, because
you got to see the thing really happen. There’s nothing like
being at a launch, even though you’re not really close to it.
The launch vehicle looked about this high [gestures] out at arm’s
But when you see it lighted and the engine light at night—you’re
not expecting the shock wave actually to get all the way over to where
the viewing areas were, but all of a sudden you can see all these
birds take off. Flocks of birds take off, these seabirds between you
and the launch vehicle, as this shock wave comes rolling toward you.
You can see that the brush and the trees all wiggle. You’re
still not expecting this thing, and it all of a sudden [imitates noise].
It’s really very, very exciting. It just rumbles, and it’s
a really deep rumble.
I went to a [Space] Shuttle launch later when I went back to work
for Space Station, and the Shuttle, I compare them in the Navy to
like a 16-inch gun firing—which is a real deep [imitates sound],
and the whole ship shakes and everything—to a 5-inch gun. This
is the size of the bullet, 16 inches across versus 5 inches across.
The 5-inch sounds like a really sharp crack. It’s just a crack
[imitates sound], really different, and the Shuttle sounds the same
way. It crackles when it takes off. The Saturn V would just kind of—you
could feel it in your bones. It [imitates sound] all the way through,
even where we were standing. [Laughs]
So our son—we didn’t talk about that, but our son was
growing up during this period, and one of the things I’ll always
remember, he could draw all the orbits, all the trajectories, and
the stuff about how these things would fly out around the Moon and
make the loops, and all the various key sequences that occur. We’ve
still got all this cartoons he drew when he was six, seven, eight,
during that period. He remembers it really well.
He got into model rocket building. We went out and launched all our
model rockets all through that period. We got into a club that built
model rockets. So he was very involved, our son was. My wife, like
I said, she would teach school at the high school, and the kids, almost
all the kids around there went to that high school, so all the astronauts’
kids, Schirra’s, and a whole bunch of them would go up through
the teaching process with her in Spanish. She taught Spanish.
So one of the things that happened is when Armstrong had flown [Gemini]
8, and they were doing a world tour after that was over, and they
went down to South America. They wanted to get a little familiarity
with some key Spanish phrases they could take with them, and so Schirra’s
son mentioned, “Well, get Mrs. Paules. She can teach you all
So Armstrong and Dick [Richard F.] Gordon [Jr.], they came over to
the house two or three times, and they’d sit in the evenings,
and Dinah would teach them key phrases in Spanish they could do. Armstrong
took off. He just learned it all, flat out, and when he got down there,
he had learned a number of dialects for like Ecuador and some of the
others so he could tailor what he was saying when he would speak to
the crowd. All this was kind of—he just real-timed it. He was
really a sharp guy. A very analytical guy, but bright, bright, bright.
So she got very involved in the space program, and the one thing that
you always remember, I was in the Navy, and we were in the Navy together.
The Navy is very close-knit. Your ship goes to sea for six months
or eight months, and the families all take care of one another. The
officers’ wives all congregate. They do a lot of things socially
together, and the kids, they kind of take care of one another for
So we got really used to that kind of environment where everybody
was close that you work with, and it was the same when you went to
the space program. We did everything together, almost all the socializing
with people you worked with, and the wives knew other wives. Everybody
knew everybody, and you did a lot of stuff together.
That was the biggest shock, although we knew it would happen, when
we left NASA and you went away, there’s never an environment
quite like that that’s so closely knit as the flight control
groups. That was the biggest thing we missed, and still miss that.
We get together for all the reunions, whenever they have those things,
and stay in touch, but it’s not like you live together almost
for years at a time.
It was important, because the wives, they went through a lot of trauma
in the process. They were out of synch with daytime; your schedules
were all screwed up, but they supported one another very well. The
kids all grew up together, and it was a really good experience from
a personal lifestyle thing for everybody, even though it was hard
on some people.
One other thing I wanted to ask you, too, while we’re still
on the Apollo era, you mentioned a few minutes ago that in ’84
President Reagan announced about the Space Station. Well, in 2004
President [George W.] Bush said that Americans are going to return
to the Moon and then go beyond. If you had some lessons learned or
some advice to pass on from one lunar landing era to the next, how
would you suggest that the people that are now creating this program,
Constellation, that’s going to take us back to the Moon—what
lessons learned could you offer, based on your experiences, that would
help them get there?
Well, it’s like we talked about kind of at the beginning. The
thing that’s important in flight operations is really knowing
the systems well, know how they behave, what works well, what doesn’t
work well, how they interact with one another, and the human interface
for those systems, either the crew or the ground. The only way you
really have a way of mastering that and having some influence is to
have your flight control and flight operations teams sort of a concept
of operations built into the management of the design and development
of the whole program. So you’ve got flight operations very heavily
influencing—not just the ground crew, but the flight crew—very
heavily influencing the design as it moves forward through the development
You can’t just go off to—like tends to happen sometimes,
especially in the unmanned programs and military programs. You spend
a lot of time designing things, and you hand it over to an industry
guy. They build it and then hand it back to you when it’s all
built. With these kinds of systems, where you’ve got human lives
always on the line and long-term quality control and viability, where,
really, mission success depends on these things lasting for long,
long periods of time, being maintainable, and all that sort of thing,
the only way to do that is have the operations people, people with
experience in operations, very involved in the design right from the
get-go. That’s the biggest advice I can give them, because that
was so valuable to us when we were doing Gemini and Apollo.
They tried to do that with Shuttle, but they’re trying to make
Shuttle, I think, probably—and I think everybody agrees with
that—is they tried to be too many things for too many people.
Tried to solve DoD [Department of Defense] problems, and a lot of
things for one vehicle. It makes Shuttle really complicated.
Do you have anything else you wanted to add today about your Apollo
times or looking back over this?
No. It was a wonderful experience. It’s just something you can’t
ever recreate. There will never be another first landing on the Moon.
Thank you for today, and we’ll come back and talk more about
Station and beyond.
to JSC Oral History Website