NASA Shuttle-Mir Oral
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Houston, Texas – 13 August 1998
Rebecca Wright, Frank Tarazona, Summer Bergen
Today is August 13, 1998. We're speaking with Al Holland, with the
Shuttle-Mir Oral History Project. We thank you for taking time out,
and if you would start for us by explaining to us what your roles
and responsibilities were with the program.
Holland: Well, like you said, they changed. It started essentially
as a psychologist, or as the only psychologist. I did everything,
including get the water and pick up kids from school, for crew members
and stuff. Basically, what I was employed to do was to do all things
psychological, which includes selection, psychological selection,
the psychological aspects of training for long-duration flight, in-flight
support. We had a full in-flight support program. In-flight monitoring,
and post-flight debriefs for all the crew members and also their families,
tracking their families throughout pre-flight, in-flight, post-flight
phases, and making sure that the flyers reintegrated well, back into
the office and the families.
We also were in charge--I say "we" because it was a team,
it wasn't just me. I had two people, a lot of the time, who were helping
me--Kelly Curtis and Steve Vanderark were really doing a lot of the
legwork here. Basically, the selection was pretty minimal, what we
did there. What I do normally for all the astronauts that come in,
is I do astronaut selection, the psychological parts, so I do all
the psych testing, I do the psychological interviews with them.
We have a psychiatrist, Chris Flynn now, who came on partway during
the Mir series, who does all the what we call "select outscreening."
I do the select in, which is looking at a person's normal personality
traits and their suitability for long-duration flight. During the
course of the series, it evolved so that Chris, especially now, has
the in-flight monitoring tasks, and so toward the end of the series,
I had less of the in-flight monitoring. So basically, that was it.
I had the opportunity to interview some of the cosmonauts as well,
post-flight and pre-flight.
In terms of the training, we did cross-cultural training, Russian
cross-cultural training, for the flyers and for their families that
wanted it, and we trained even some of the dependents, like Danny
Thagard, on teen stuff, because he was a teenager at the time, on
teen stuff in Russia, because they were going to live in Russia.
So we do the cross-cultural part. In terms of the training, we do
psychological lessons learned from previous flights, and from what
we learned from the Soviet long-duration flight experience in the
Soyuz era and the Mir era. We bring in lessons learned from the polar
winterovers, polar traverses that people have been on, undersea, in
submarine environments, and there are lots of common lessons that
apply for long-duration psychology in the space environment. So that's
essentially what I did in terms of training.
Let's see. In monitoring, it was communicating with the crew members
periodically, not frequently, just periodically, mostly over ham radio,
and also following the air-to-ground transmissions and keeping track
of the families. So we'd bring the families in for their weekly com
sessions, and we would set up the weekly communication sessions between
the flyer and their family, or between the flyer and friends on the
ground, or like Shannon [Lucid]--we were talking about Shannon earlier--if
she wanted to be patched through and talk to Grandma in Oklahoma City,
we would patch her through on the ham set or on the formal air-ground
channels, and take care of all the com from the family point of view.
In-flight support involved the team sending up care packages on the
Russian Progress rocket, so we put those together. We put together
a five-kilogram package from the family, and a two-kilogram package
from ourselves, from the psych support team and their co-workers,
manifested those up on the Russian vehicle. Let's see. What else?
We did the ham radio. We made sure they had the usual stuff you'd
want on board, like music and videos and Twinkies. We tried to get
Twinkies up for Shannon. The Russians wouldn't allow us to send Twinkies
up. I think they thought they would offgas too much or something.
[Laughter] People don't eat these things. M&Ms and stuff. Just
make sure they have what they wanted. So that's what we did in the
In post-flight, we did debriefs, and what we learned from the early
flyers we'd plow back into the subsequent flyer. So Norm [Thagard]
gave us lessons that we plowed back into Shannon, and Shannon, plus
Norm, went in to John Blaha, and so forth. So it was quite an experience.
And personally, it was quite an experience. I learned a heck of a
lot. You know, I thought I knew something before this series of flights,
and so I realized how little I knew, and just loved learning all the
things that we were able to learn.
Wright: How did you set about planning and preparing for all this
in the beginning?
Holland: The Russians provided a template, basically. They didn't
say, "Here's the template," but I mean, they had prior experience,
and so we went out and tried to comb their knowledge banks for, how
do you handle this situation, that situation. And our support program
essentially mirrored the Russian support program, because we tried
to, since it was a Russian vehicle, in Russia, and they were the host
country, and everything went through TsUP, the Russian control, we
had to integrate with their program, so we created a program which
was a mirror of theirs, I would suppose. If they were sending up a
Progress rocket, it had support items for their people, we supplied
care packages for our person, but they would review the contents,
tell us what could go, what couldn't go, that sort of thing, and just
show us how to do that. So the Russians were very helpful in terms
of psychological support.
In terms of selection, there wasn't that much to do, because we didn't
have a big pool of people who were knocking on the door to go fly,
like we do knocking on the door to get in the astronaut corps. So
essentially it came down to program management asking us--and that's
usually the astronaut office or the program management--asking us,
"Do you think this person can go the distance? Is this a good
candidate, or is that a good candidate?" And then us sort of
signing off on this person being able to go, or advising the program
management if they had no one else to send, what the ups and the downs
might be of sending this particular flyer.
So we had learned how to do selection pretty well, but we didn't have
the wiggle room to perform selection, so we mostly went back, in a
Bandaid approach, and said, "Okay, if you're going to fly this
person, Person X, here are the things that we need, to be able to
assure you that this person's going to make it to the end of the run."
And so then we'd go back and we'd do Bandaid work and support work,
to ensure that that person made it through.
Wright: What type of traits were you looking for, or did you find,
that proved to be successful?
Holland: We found all sorts of traits, because you have the gamut.
Every flight's unique. Every flight is unique. Not only what they
do, but the events that occur, the stage the program was in, the stage
of the infrastructure at the time that was supporting them during
their deployed phase. All of these things were in flux, so each flight
was different, and of course you had a different personality on each
of the flights, and that American personality also drew a different
crew, so the crew members, on the Russian side, had very different
personalities, and, therefore, each crew had its own color to it.
So every one was different. And so it's really probably good that
we weren't allowed to do selection in our usual manner beforehand,
but we had to work with the people that were assigned to us, to fly,
because in that way we learned a lot more. We saw a much wider range
of personalities than we would have if we had done a rigorous selection.
So you're looking for the usual capabilities that you would assume
for all long-duration missions, which are, what you want in an astronaut,
which is your usual things like good judgment and experience in crisis,
being able to handle crises or threat [unclear] situations, you want
someone with good teamwork skills, you want someone with the ability
to step in in a leadership capacity if you need it, someone with a
sense of humor is very important, etc. But when you get to long-duration
flight, you're looking for, and particularly weighting the qualities
like social skills, teamwork. Those are very heavily weighted, and
humor. So if you're able to negotiate the social landscape--it's a
very odd social landscape that our flyers were put in on the Mir series--if
you're able to negotiate that, then you have some pretty good skills.
They were quite pressed, and from a psychological point of view, all
these flyers were quite pressed. It was quite an achievement for each
one of them to complete the mission in the way that they did. They
did a good job.
Wright: How were you able to help them from the ground, make it through
Holland: Very little. They have to do it themselves. I would have
loved to have helped them more if I could have, but lots of times--and
that's a feeling I think you get used to, for not just my discipline,
but all the people on the ground, is that you can't intervene. There's
nothing you can do to make it better, easier, different, solve the
problems like this [snaps fingers], come up with the answers rapidly.
It's a frustrating feeling to be back at home when someone's out in
the field, having a tough time, so there's very little you can do.
On occasion, we did intervene and were able to be successful. My intervention
was usually behind the scenes. If there was an issue with a flyer
or there was an issue within the crew that was on orbit, between the
Russians and the Americans, that sort of thing, I would hear about
it, either from the flyers themselves, or through TsUP, the Russian
counterparts, or more frequently from the flight surgeon. If it was
indicated, I would then work with management, program management,
and say, "You may want to consider this, that, or the other,
as far as tweaking the mission a little bit and changing conditions,
so that next time you go to the table with the Russians, you may want
to bring up the following issues," or, "Please insist on
the following changes." So I would do that frequently. So I would
advise Frank [Culbertson] from what was coming over air to ground,
and just bring him up to date on the psychological situation of the
individual flyers and the crews.
Also another way to intervene was through the Russians. We have now,
and always had, a really close relationship with my counterparts over
there. They've been to my house, I've been to theirs. It's quite close,
and they've been quite gracious about giving us their knowledge, their
experience. If an issue came up, since they were the host country
and it was their vehicle, they had the most control over the conditions,
I would go back to them, and I'd say, "Is there anything you
can do in this issue?"
At the same time, I may go to my own program management and do the
same thing, or my own people at TsUP, and there may be a little bit
different strategy at each, but we would all try to bear down on the
same issue. So we did that a few times, and one or two times were
successful at improving the situation.
Wright: How many times did your job take you to Russia? Were you there
Holland: I went about fifteen times, perhaps. Maybe somewhere between
fifteen and twenty times, from about 1989 on, because I got involved
before there was a Mir Program. I was involved with the Russians when
it was just going to be a one-time shot. Norm Thagard was going to
go up, he was going to be a one-time flyer, and if we were lucky,
maybe other opportunities would show up, but Norm was not part of
a series of flights. It was not part of a phase one of anything. There
was no Phase One.
At that time, it was the Soviet Union, it wasn't Russia, and so going
over there was real different than it is now. It's pretty easy now.
Things have opened up. But at that time, it was quite closed, and
there were no resources at all, including copy machines or interpreters,
or even a van to get in and out of Star City with. Once you're in,
you're in. The door was closed. It was very difficult getting in and
out of the military compound.
So at that time Norm was a real pathfinder. He and Bonnie [Dunbar]
and their families basically cut a path between Houston and Moscow
and made this thing work and laid the groundwork for this. So I started
going over there as a science person, because there was no operational
psychology group. I was the head of the psychology science side, and
so I went over there negotiating to put together a science package
for Norm to do.
At the same time, I was trying to negotiate the more operational issues,
but when it was certain that he was going to be going, once there
was a commitment, then I hopped over from SD-5, which was science
at that time, to SD-2, and I helped form the operational psychology
unit, so that we had a counterpart to the operational psychology unit
in Russia, and were able to negotiate on a level playing field with
those folks. So we had a mechanism to do that. But that wasn't until
Norm had deployed, so we were always playing catch-up with Norm.
There was no infrastructure over there, there was no office, there
were no vans, there were no secretaries. It was just Norm, Bonnie,
and a SAT phone, and they gutted it out and did everything in Russian,
learned Russian, got around by themselves and their flight surgeon.
That was basically it.
So I went over there from time to time to see how things were going
and to negotiate with the Russians. We put together a psychological
support plan, which was, like I say, a mirror of the Russian plan,
which was in place for Norm's flight, which is the same plan that
was in place for Andy's flight. But Norm couldn't access it. That
is, it was negotiated, we signed the documents, etc., with our counterparts,
IBMP, but when it came time to implement it, once the flight was under
way, the Russian Energia organization wouldn't honor the agreements
that NASA had made with IBMP, because at that time, during Mir 18,
there was no central Russian space agency. There was, but it existed
with two or three people. They had no power, either.
So the Russian space effort was run by Energia primarily, because
they owned the Mir station and the hardware, and Krunichev Works [phonetic].
There was IBMP over here, then there was Gagarin Cosmonaut Training
Center over here. They were different organizations and quite competitive
for resources, competitive of one another.
So Energia wouldn't honor agreements that had been made with the IBMP
people, even though Energia didn't have any psychology people there.
So once the flight started, and it turned out that they wouldn't allow
communication uplinks, they wouldn't allow news uplinks, they wouldn't
allow lots of things, we had to go back and scramble and work with
IBMP people, to try to change their Russian internal political situation.
So we were only partially successful with that, found some back-door
activities like the ham, which was a back-door channel for communication,
was able to post news up to him after we got that up and going, and
was able to smooth out some of the com problems. But that was a very
rocky flight for those reasons.
Then in the year between Norm's flight and Shannon's flight, there
then became a Mir Program, and so there were high-level agreements
made, which validated the lower-level ones that we had already made,
and which created a centralized or a stronger Russian counterpart,
a Russian agency. So everybody sort of pulled together, and then our
agreements were validated. When Shannon came on board, by that time
we had not only refined what we were doing, but we had agreements
in place that would be honored. It was the same agreement that would
be honored by the whole Russian side. So Shannon was able to avail
herself of more of the resources that we had, whereas Norm really
wasn't. So there was lots of evolution in the whole program, as you've
heard from other people, I'm sure, and it affected our discipline
Wright: Yes. It sounds like no day was ever a routine day.
Holland: No, it wasn't, and that was the exciting part about it. That
was the exciting part about it, is that you were learning constantly,
and it was a very difficult situation. This was the mission, these
were the conditions, which were not good. It was done under the worst
of conditions, in a foreign language, and you were going to have to
work across the continents to make this happen, and you had to make
it happen by a certain time. And it was all those constraints and
the high stakes which made it very exciting and, I think, got the
incredible response from all the ground organizations that I saw,
people working long, long hours, weekends, and just through the night,
for no compensation, no tangible compensation, but certainly there
was a lot of sense of being involved in something that was hard to
do. I was a challenge, and that's why they liked it, and they were
learning, too. So it was a good experience.
Wright: Feel like things became more routine when Andy [Thomas] was
Holland: Yes. Yes, by the time Andy got up there, they were more routine,
but there were still situations that we could not control, that we
wanted to control, one of which was the fact that the American crew
member never, in my opinion, never was a fully integrated crew member
with the other two flyers. When Norm flew, the whole month of May
that Norm was up there, he didn't have his science equipment, so he
had nothing to do. He just twiddled his thumbs, and the situation
of work underload is one of the worst situations you can ask a high-achieving,
bright, interested astronaut to subject themselves to.
So he's up there, and because of the way the roles were structured
for Mir 18, he wasn't allowed to touch any of the Mir systems, so
he wasn't able to do anything. He wasn't able to help maintain the
station, he wasn't able to turn wrenches. It wasn't in the job description,
and so what we did after Mir 18, and before Shannon's flight was,
we were successful at changing the definition of the--what do they
call it, cosmonaut researcher, at that time, for Mir. Changed the
definition of that job into one of a board engineer, too, so that
this person could actually be a member of the crew and to turn wrenches
and have things to do in case there was an underload again.
But we never achieved, even though we were able to do some of the
formal changes that provided a context by which you might expect integration
to occur, we were never able to overcome the actualities of a person's
work, an American's work on station, which was mostly as a laborer,
when they weren't doing U.S. science. In many of the flights, after,
let's see, I guess, with Jerry's [Linenger] flights, it started where
there were lots of system problems, with the thermal system, you have
the gyros, and the whole thing is basically falling apart, and so
to keep the thing glued together required lots of work.
We were never able, I don't think, to have the American be on par
with the Russian crew members, in the way that Americans think of
the concept when they think of being on par. It was always that the
American was at the bottom of the barrel, and did many of the menial
tasks--not that they didn't want to do menial tasks--but a huge amount
of their time was in menial tasks that fell to them, because they
were not able to do the more advanced tasks on the systems.
Secondly, because their Russian language was not sufficient to allow
them to integrate socially or technically with the Russian crew members,
more time should have been spent on language, because that's really
the door to integrating across multinational crews. So we were never
able to do that. There was always a rub--not always--there was frequently
a rub adjusting to the leadership style of the Russian commander as
So you put these pieces together and you never have a fully integrated
Russian-American crew. You've always got these cultural differences
working as well. So it was a hard row to hoe for the U.S. guys, and
frequently they expected one thing before launch, and they got up
there, and they were bowled over by not just the physical environment
and the hours and their role, but by their inability to change their
situation and to improve their status, vis-a-vis the other crew members.
So that's just something we never were able to overcome, and that'll
be the challenge for ISS [International Space Station].
Wright: Was there one increment, especially for you, that seemed to
be more challenging than the others, other than Norm's? I'm sure that
was the ultimate challenge, because that was the first one.
Holland: That was the ultimate frustration. It was certainly the ultimate
challenge, I think, for the seven flyers, but there were lots and
lots and lots and lots and lots of challenges along the way, and many
stories and events that occurred that I'm not at liberty to talk about,
but certainly each one was unique for different reasons, and had its
Norm's, we talked about. Shannon had a wonderful crew. She had wonderful
personality traits that--and she pulled two wonderful cards out of
the deck to be with her, and even though her language skills weren't
exceptional, all their values and their attitudes and their intent
were lined up, and it worked out very well. The challenges there were
just keeping her connected with her family and to provide enough books
for her to read. She's an avid book reader, so we were always trying
to get that, and M&Ms.
And then, let's see, as far as John [Blaha] goes, again, one of the
big challenges there was keeping the connection between he and his
family, particularly his wife, Brenda. We got very adept at tracking
people all over the world. When they would go on vacations while the
crew member was up, we patched com sessions through all over, to little
trucks tops in the Midwest, pay phones, to cruise ships on the Mediterranean.
Wright: Was this a new adventure for you?
Holland: Oh, yes, yes. It was fun, though, working with the technical
guys to make this happen, so that we were able to keep people in contact.
But that was a big challenge.
On Jerry's flight, of course, the systems started breaking down. And
then all the environmental challenges really came to the fore, particularly
with Mike Foale's flight. I guess Mike's flight was one of the big
challenges there, with the depressurization. We were involved, or
had input, into the decision process, which ultimately led to their
not conducting an IVA, or an internal EVA, into the Spektr module
with that particular crew.
So we were also involved in assessing the performance readiness of
the Russian crew members, as well as the American. So we became quite
involved during Mike's flight in that process and had an active role
in the decision to swap out Russian crews prior to doing an IVA. So
that was extremely active.
Wright: How did you get to know your international partners? You mentioned
you got along well with your counterparts, but there's always a first-time
meeting. Can you share with us some of those first days of you, as
professionals, getting to know each other, and then personally?
Holland: Well, it was over the negotiating table, was the first place
I met my lead counterpart, who's still the lead over there. At that
time, it was the Soviet Union, and we were real cautious of one another,
I think, and it took some time to get to know each other. During that
process, I took some Russian cultural training, and I'd had some Russian
language training in high school, and I tried to resuscitate that,
and so I think in making those efforts and trying to understand things
from their view, and understand how they negotiate and what was important
to them, and what the history of their flight program was, and their
way of doing business, that that paid off, and he did the same. So
we were able to cross the table, so to speak.
But when you're dealing with Russians, like many other internationals,
the way you really do business is in off hours. It's informal, and
you must have a social relationship in order to get anywhere in your
work relationship. It's essential. It's the way things are done. So
I learned lots of ways to establish rapport and establish a relationship
with my counterparts, and I enjoyed that. I really value their friendship,
as well as knowing them workwise.
And of course, I did lots of foolish things, in lots of cultures,
which help break the ice a little bit. I remember one trip in a van.
We were crossing Moscow one winter morning, going somewhere, and it
was a Russian van and I was in there with several other of my Russian
counterparts. We were crossing Moscow and we were trying to make a
meeting time, and we were slushing along, you know, through the crowds
and the jam. There was a big traffic jam up ahead. I was in the front
passenger seat with the driver and my counterparts were in the back.
They couldn't see what the issue was, really, and so they were asking,
in Russian, what it was. "Schto eta? What's going on up there,
and why are we delayed?" We were sitting in traffic.
I said, "Eta Bolshoy Proka," and I was very proud of this,
because I found an opportunity to use the word that I thought meant
traffic jam, which was proka, not polka. And so I screwed it up. Proka
means derriere. And so they were saying, "What's up ahead?"
and I would say, "It's a giant rear end, and that's why we're
not--." So I succeeded in making an idiot out of myself in that,
So I think that whole process of getting to know each other and seeing
the frailties and foibles on both sides was very good. So we had each
other over at houses, and got to know kids, and watch weddings go
by and grandkids be born, and that was very helpful. I think when
you talk to Frank, you'll see that he had similar relationships with
Wright: How was it for your family when they came to visit here?
Holland: It was great. My kids--my son and daughter--I mean, they
were young when we started, and now they're in their teens, and so
they were able to have visitors come in from other countries and sit
and eat and hear about it, and sit for hours afterwards, talking about
differences, and getting to know the habits. It was just a wonderful
education for them. They became very comfortable with that. Good hostesses
Wright: Were you able to bring your family to Russia at any point?
Holland: Never could afford it. [Laughter] Always wanted to, couldn't
Wright: So at least they had an international friend.
Holland: They did. Yes.
Wright: You listed, a while ago, all the different areas that you
made a significant contribution to, everything from the selection
to the post-flight debriefings, as far as your area.
Holland: Well, we did them, yes.
Wright: Was one of these areas more difficult than the other one?
Holland: No, I don't think so, but there were a lot of lessons learned
in training and selection, of course. We learned a lot about personality
traits for long-duration flyers, those that are very good, those that
don't work out so well. But in terms of training, we did start with
whatever personalities we had, and then tried to bring up to speed
the capabilities that we understood were needed on board, pre-flight.
Invariably, the crew member would say, "Yes, okay, thank you.
These are lessons learned from past flights. I understand. Okay, this
is probably going to occur in the first couple of weeks, and then
this will probably occur, and I might feel this way, and yes, okay."
They'd understand at a cognitive level, and then they'd get up there
and they'd be rocked back on their heels by the emotional impact of
these conditions and the daunting social challenge of integrating
themselves into the crew and negotiating their place, with respect
to the commander. So I feel like we were not able to get to the point
in training where we were able to convey the emotional condition well
and prepare them for that at a gut level. So we learned the deficits
I was able to get out and see other training programs, not in the
space industry, but other industries, that do prepare people that
way, and so now we're trying to import and emplace those techniques
for our ISS flyers. So I think training, psychological training, will
change a great deal and be a little bit less didactic and a little
bit more hands-on experiential.
Wright: In your post-flight briefings, was there a common thread that
came through from each one?
Holland: Oh, they were great. Oh, yes, lots of common threads. [Laughter]
Wright: Can you share some of those with us?
Holland: They comprised the briefings that we now do on long-duration
psychology, and the lessons we learned, basically, they're many, they're
just hundreds, but basically they're in three categories: individual,
that is, things pertaining to the individual crew member, him or herself;
things pertaining to the whole crew, as an entity; and then things
pertaining to the relationship between the organization and what it
does, and the crew member's psychological well-being. And we saw lots
One of the things that was astounding to me was that, traditionally,
we had this focus on the individual, almost an exclusive focus on
the individual, pre-Mir, thinking that that's where you need to put
your effort. In the Mir series, what was so striking was the influence
of the organizational policies and the organizational context on the
individual's psychological health and well-being and performance levels.
There were just so many organizational lessons that were learned,
that the organization can do differently, in terms of policies and
procedures, many of which were not in place. NASA just didn't have
in place policies and procedures to deploy people and their families,
and make sure that people got back and forth without a lot of problems.
NASA's not like the military. It never had before deployed people
for long periods of time in foreign countries, so there was no infrastructure
at all to do that. We just gave them a ticket and sent them over there.
So we learned about how the organization, or the organizations, including
the Russians, that field people into space, the impact that the ground
team's relationship with the crew member, and the policies have on
whether or not you launch a tired, exhausted crew member, or whether
or not you are launching someone who is angry at the organization
or who feels that they understand their role on board. I mean, just
getting these things clear are huge things, which have very little
to do with the traditional couch-diving view of psychology. So, lots
of lessons there.
Lots of lessons at the individual level, in terms of adaptation and
how an individual pursues different strategies to adapt to difficult
environmental and social conditions, under conditions of poor, say,
high heat, sleep deprivation, poor language skills, lack of communication,
crowding, inability to find tools and equipment because it's so crowded,
working in the dark for months. So we've seen those conditions and
we've seen how individuals, different types of individuals, adapt,
which I think will play back into the way we train ISS crew members.
That will be very beneficial. It won't be for nought.
We also understand better how to support them. I think the psychological
support program worked pretty well. I think, of all the aspects, it
probably worked better than any. Once it was designed and up and running,
although I was involved in it, really these other two people, Vanderark
and Curtis, were principal people in that.
Then, of course, the psychiatrist, Chris Flynn, came in partway through
the Mir missions, I think about either at the latter part of Shannon's
mission, I think, perhaps, and really got involved with Dave Wolf
and was the flight surgeon with Dave Wolf. Of course, being a flight
surgeon, and being over there for months, he was able to bring some
behavioral lessons that we could incorporate back home from that vantage
point, that we didn't have before, so that was very valuable at the
Then at the team level, we learned a whole lot about international
teams and the importance of, you can't copy tools from one culture
to another. You can't use the same tests, you can't use the same criteria,
but you must first have corresponding concepts, understand, across
the different nations, and involve definitions and the implications
of these definitions, of the different concepts you're trying to select
for or train for or support, and then see if your tools correspond.
So the integration issues are huge when you add more than countries
together into a pot. They become quite, quite large, for psychology.
Wright: What about personally? Did you find out anything about yourself,
going through these last years, working on this project?
Holland: Oh, gee. How much water can a sponge absorb? I mean, you
know, it's just been fantastic, fantastic, and I wouldn't have traded
it for anything. I see it as a piece of work, although crude, a piece
of, like a sort of a rough, rough out of a sculpture or something,
a piece of work that I can look back on with a sense of satisfaction,
and say, "Given the conditions and the constraints from my organization
as well as the conditions of working in Russia, we did a good job."
And we learned a lot, so this will be worth something, beyond me,
if we can take the lessons that we've learned in psychology from the
Mir series and flop them forward into future extended space flights.
If they don't cross that barrier, it's for nought, but we're trying
to cross that barrier.
Wright: When you went over to visit, of course, you left your family
here. Was that a help to you to understand how the families might
have felt, that their family members were inside the Mir?
Holland: It was, but it really wasn't a counterpart, because I was
only over there for a few weeks at a time. People were apart for months.
Maybe you've been apart from your family for long periods of time.
That's really more of a counterpart, even right here in the U.S. That's
more the feeling of, "Gee, I've got a two-year-old at home, and
I wonder what he's doing now." You know, because they're changing
so fast when they're young. So there are different experiences for
people with younger kids versus older kids. Very different experiences.
Wright: And how were you able to help the families here?
Holland: Well, we, the team, the psych support team, like I said earlier,
did everything from giving them cross-cultural training, helping them
understand the stresses that the crew members were going through,
and the stages of flight, bringing them to their communication sessions,
help them understand what's happening there. The family packages,
the ham sessions, also to things like going out and fetching a spouse
when she has a dead battery on Highway 3.
Wright: They knew who to call.
Holland: Yes. Or picking a kid up from Montessori school, because
the wife's tied up over here. So we did just whatever was helpful,
tried to do whatever was helpful.
Wright: Well, it had to be a good feeling for them to know that somebody
Holland: Yes, and we feel like for the flyer, it helps the flyer sort
of keep their head in the game up there, which is the mission, because
there are so many stressors right there, and there are so many things
they have to deal with that are very difficult psychologically, that
if they're always having to worry about what's happening down at home,
nobody's keeping track of that, then that's just one more thing, so
we wanted to free them up from that, which I think we did.
Wright: Was there an impact on them, knowing that some of their communication
was not private?
Holland: Oh, yes. Yes, the whole issue of no private com is a big
one, because their was no secure com at all from Mir. Even the private
medical conferences were not really private. But everyone went up
understanding that. In some cases, we would work with the flyer and
the family to work out a code, whereby it was their personal family
code, and they could say more personal things to each other. And so
that was helpful at times. But no private com is a big impact, and
that's one of the lessons we'd like to pass forward to ISS and change
that, and I think that will be. I think there will be some encrypted
e-mail and encrypted com, which will help a lot. Technology advance
has really helped out. Just in the five or ten years, you can see
all the resources we have now that we didn't have then, so we're going
to capitalize on all of those, hopefully on behalf of the crew member
and their families.
Wright: You mentioned that in some of these care packages it was everything
from M&Ms to books to movies.
Holland: Hockey pucks, shirts, calendars.
Wright: Hockey pucks?
Holland: Yes. [Laughter] Calendars, videos, videos from home, things
that occurred, you know, like backyard things, and we'll send those
up. You name it. Children's drawings, diskettes with photos that have
been digitized on there. We sent up a photo album, initially on flight,
of photos that the crew member had not seen of him/herself plus things
that workers put together, and surprise things that the family put
together, and then we sent up not only digitized pictures, but audio
clips and video clips, and digitized all that into a package that
they could sift through as they were up there. So we would replenish
that also through the care packages. So all kinds of stuff.
Wright: How often did you get to send them?
Holland: Once every couple of months.
Wright: And it was like Christmas every couple of months, then.
Holland: Yes. And they get fresh fruit and candy, and they love that.
The inside of the Progress would smell different than the station,
so they liked the smell of fresh fruit.
Wright: Fresh air.
Holland: Yes, right, right.
Wright: Anything more unique than others that you can share with us,
that got sent up? I mean, hockey pucks. I still haven't got over that
Holland: Yes. Well, there are all sorts of things like that. Toys
for holidays, Christmas and Halloween. We supplied TsUP with Halloween
masks so that they could uplink a Halloween skit. Just all sorts of
things went on like that.
Wright: How did the Russian culture accept some of these suggestions
that you all sent across? For instance, the Halloween masks.
Holland: Oh, they were okay with it. They were okay with it. There
was a lot of flexibility in the Russian system for that, and that's
one of the things that I hope we don't lose for ISS. There was a whole
lot of flexibility. We were able to get something up at the last minute.
If a crew member said, "Oh, wow, the Progress is going to launch
in four weeks. Gee, I wish I'd brought my calendar, just a hard copy
calendar. I forgot that," or, "I forgot the patches,"
or, "I forgot something," then we could get it into our
package, hand it to our Russian counterpart, and they would put it
on the rocket, without a lot of paperwork. That's one thing the Russians
do very well, is they don't have a lot of paper. They have a different
view of information, and they don't have those kind of controls.
So that had the flexibility that I think we'll miss in the ISS, is
the ability to get things up to crew members at the last minute, that
they'd really like. Also, we sent up some things that maybe didn't
fit precisely into the rules and definitions and operating procedures
of traditional flight, for the Russians or the Americans, and so I
think that flexibility aided us in doing some of those things that,
with more paperwork, we might not be able to do in the future. But
the conditions warranted that.
Wright: When you had an opportunity to visit with the cosmonauts,
were you able to learn from them? Were they experienced cosmonauts
that had already been in the Mir, or were they cosmonauts that were
trained to go to the Mir? What did you learn from them?
Holland: Generally, a mix. A mix. And of course, you learn more from
the experienced people, always. I learned something from everyone
I don't see how you could contact somebody that works in the program
without learning something that has some relevance on what we did.
Going over to Star City was very important, and living in Star City,
off the economy, so to speak, is very important. I used to very much
enjoy riding the metros, getting myself around, with my rudimentary
Russian, and being able to do that to a level where Russians would
approach me for directions or something like that. I knew that I had
been able to sort of understand the way they trust, the way they fit
in, the way they live, and that was very helpful for me to understand
so that I could convey that back to crew members or other ground support
people that were going to be going over there. This was on a personal
level. I didn't do this on a wide level, but I learned a great deal
about flexibility and the way you integrate yourself into other cultures.
Wright: We've talked a lot about crew members, but you made an interesting
point when you said, to help the ground support people as well. So
you were there for them?
Holland: Yes. As much as we could be, and there were constraints on
that, too. But certainly we established a two-way video com link,
eventually, with Star City, and I think that probably started up around
John's flight, maybe Jerry's flight, where the ground people at Star
City could communicate back here. We also provided that channel to
Russians who were here, so we would tie up with Russians who were
at JSC [Johnson Space Center] and let them talk with their families
back in Star City. I think that was a really important thing. It's
important to have the visual aspect of communication when you're far
away and trying to keep in contact. So that was good for both sides,
the U.S. ground people there and the Russian ground people here, or
crews in training here.
We also had a video library that we established over in Star City
for the folks over there, which had a hundred or so videos, and we
called it "Blockbuster East." And magazine subscriptions
and that sort of thing. But the real positive, or very effective support,
most effective support, was hard to get, which was policies and procedures
from the part of the organization, on the U.S. side, that controlled
how long someone worked, how much support they had, how often they
would come and go. That was difficult for our management to put together,
because they had to negotiate with Russian management to do that,
and the Russian economy, the political situation being what it was
during the Mir series, always changing, very poor, it was very difficult
to get those changes in place, and then to get them to stick. So we
still have work to do on those issues, those organizational issues.
Wright: Out of all these issues and all these years, is there a point
during that time that you almost wish that you hadn't been a part
of it, like a low time, or the most frustrating time, where you felt
that this was it, you were ready to walk away from it?
Holland: No. I was never ready to walk away from it. It was a unique,
once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I knew that. I was learning
a lot, which was real important, and it was hard to do, which was
real important to me. So those things were very appealing, but I also,
personally, was not going to walk away until the last guy was back,
and that was just a personal thing that I had established.
I was going to see it through the end, because I realized how hard
they had it, much harder than we did. And we had nothing. You know,
we suffered nothing compared to what they went through, their psychological
achievements, their personal achievements, and so I felt that they
were out there, they were putting themselves out to the very end of
the rope, with lots of constraints, lots of obstacles, that impaired
them, just learning their job, that I certainly wasn't going to quit
before the end of the series.
Wright: I imagine your support continues today, even though the missions
are completed. Your work hasn't stopped?
Holland: Yes, but it's radically--you know, here it is, August 13,
so it's radically tailed down. We had the good fortune to see Andy's
landing, ride back with him on the Gulf Stream, and spend some time
with Andy, and that was over and above our debriefs, and that was
a nice way to sort of wrap things up for the whole team. I took the
whole group over there, so I thought that was important, but it feels
like a work done now. It feels like a completed work done, even though
there are still some science activities being performed by the Russian
cosmonauts on board, they're not my charges, and so my charges are
Wright: You also had charges in your own team, were responsible for
these other guys and directed their activities, and so I imagine there
were challenges involved with that as well.
Holland: Yes, there were a couple of knuckleheads, but I've shaped
them up pretty well. [Laughter]
Wright: Well, I'm sure glad to hear that. Did their roles evolve as
well, from when they first came on board with you?
Holland: Oh, yes. Yes, yes. We were a bunch of greenhorns, wet behind
the ears, and they were even greener than I, and so they're now quite
seasoned and they're very good at psychological support. Their primary
job is psychological support, and they could carry it on without me.
Did, during the last mission, basically ran the operation themselves.
So they've done a great job.
Also, with the addition of Chris Flynn, and we gradually expanded
our group from three--let's see, we started with two, I suppose. Well,
with myself and then Roy Marsh, and then Roy Marsh left, and then
it's myself and Steve came on, both from science, and then we added
Kelly, so we gradually grew over the course of the Mir flights, so
that we were able to just sort of keep treading water. We could have
used two or three more people, easily, and now we continue to expand.
We've added another psychologist on board. In fact, Monday's her first
day, so we're getting there.
Wright: Was there a high point, something that if you had to stop
and think about one thing or two things that really made the whole
time that you've been in this worthwhile, or that you feel like you
really made a significant contribution to the program, or just a great
time that you remember, or a great feeling?
Holland: There are lots. Got all those. [Laughter] Got all those.
But they're in one big package, and when you start pulling all the
little threads, it just goes on for hours. I really, though, felt
lots of high moments. It was just very good. It wasn't always easy,
but I really enjoyed it overall. I think after good meetings, of course,
when you feel like you've gotten something in writing that you really
needed and you're making progress, as long as you feel like, you know,
you've got this big rock out there, so you've been hitting your head
on this rock, so you hit your head on this rock and you see this little
chip fall down, you feel real good about this, you feel like you're
making progress. So there were a lot of those little chips falling,
I really enjoyed going to Russia. I like the Russian culture and I
like the Russian history. I find it fascinating and interesting. I
always enjoyed being embedded in that culture, thought that was interesting.
I feel like psychology, in general, did a good job in psych support,
in particular, and my hat's off to those folks.
I think that we also earned our stripes when it came to Mike's flight,
and in being involved in some of the decisions after the depress,
and being involved in some of the activities that led to change in
the Russian crew, because there was a lot of anguish about some of
those decisions. The Russians were under a lot of pressure to keep
that crew up there, and we had very little--it's hard to get information
about the actual capabilities and status of the Russian crew members.
We were able to do that, and we were able to weigh in, and I think
it was the right decision. It was the right decision for our crew
member, his safety, his health, as well as for the Russians, and it
worked out well, so I feel like that was a plus. I feel like we sort
of earned our stripes with the program there. We did something that
Wright: That's great. Well, that covers what--
Wright: Do you have anything else you'd like to add, or any more you'd
like to say?
Holland: Not that I can think of, no. I appreciate the opportunity
to speak about it.
Wright: We appreciate your time. We certainly have learned a lot,
and hopefully we'll be looking forward to hearing how some of the
lessons learned that you have seen will be put together.
Holland: Hopefully they're institutionalized, because all this can
pass, and in ten, fifteen years we can reinvent the wheel. So hopefully
we'll get some of this stuff into documents, that it has a life beyond
the individuals that were involved in this particular series.
Wright: We look forward to hearing about that, too.
Holland: Yes. I look forward to hearing some of these other stories.
Wright: We'll help you do that. Thanks, Al.
Holland: Great. Sure.
[End of interview]