NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Sandra Johnson
18 April 2006
Today is April 18th, 2006. This oral history with Milt Silveira is
being conducted in McLean, Virginia, for the NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project. This session is a continuation of an earlier
session conducted for the NASA Headquarters History Office, NACA [National
Advisory Committee for Aeronautics] Oral History Project, on October
2nd, 2005. The interviewer is Sandra Johnson.
I want to thank you again, Dr. Silveira, for joining us today. The
last time we talked, we were discussing your involvement in the Little
Joe II Project, and we were going to move on from there into your
next duties, so if you want to start there, we can talk about those.
Okay. When we completed testing at White Sands [Missile Range, New
Mexico] on Little Joe II, we had completed our [initial] part of the
Apollo Program. In other words, the aerodynamics was developed, and
we had done most of the aero-heating tests, so we were winding down
as far as Apollo was concerned. Matter of fact, we had taken a good
portion of our manpower—I had about fifty-two people at that
time—we started to look at advanced missions.
One of them that became interesting to look at was a mission that
we would fly to Mars. We would use a mission model where we would
have a manned vehicle go to Mars. You go by Venus to get the acceleration
to go to Mars. It would launch a smaller vehicle that was a sample
return vehicle, and it would go ahead, go down, land at Mars, pick
up a sample. Then it would come back up and recontact with the manned
flyby vehicle, and then we’d bring the sample back to Earth.
Well, that was most of the activity in the branch, other than maybe
a couple of people that still looked after Apollo. [That] carried
on until we had the [Apollo 1, AS-204] fire at the Cape [Canaveral,
Florida]. After that happened, Dr. [Maxime A.] Faget came to me and
said, “You’re coming back and work on Apollo again.”
So we started looking at some things with a system engineering [view]
at various portions of the Apollo Program. We were rechecking a lot
of things. Matter of fact, because of the fire, there were a number
of changes in the spacecraft. One was that the Command Module went
from about 9,250 pounds, being recovered, now to [a design of] 13,500.
So we had to go back and look at things like increasing the parachute
capability. We also looked at now what performance we still had in
the abort vehicle.
Somewhere after that, George [M.] Low—he now became Program
Manager for the Apollo Program—came to Dr. Faget and said he
wanted someone to look at the manned recovery [of] Apollo; in other
words, look at all stages of the program to see what we were doing
as far as recovering the manned capsule. So it became a study [of]
the abort off the pad, normal ascent, any aborts during the launch;
actually, the return from the lunar surface. Then looking at normal
recovery, the parachute performance; also the landing of the vehicle
in the water. Also, [in] the pad abort case, we had to look if we
had a landing on land, what was the survival capability [of] the crew.
So we had to run additional testing [of] the capsule; what happens
to the structure if it did return and hit on the land. Would the crew
still survive something like that?
Also, we wanted to do some testing even on the normal mission to find
out if the capsule [landed] water; whether it would land straight
up or upside down. Also, if we took some of the worse-on-worse cases,
where the wind was high and the waves were high and the vehicle hit
at the worst attitude, would [it] exceed the structural capability
of the vehicle.
I remember I was doing the presentation of the summary of the study,
about the capability when the Apollo vehicle would land in the water.
We had done a Monte Carlo analysis of the various conditions [when]
it impacted the water. We had drawn a [structural capability] boundary
around all these points. There were some points outside of this boundary.
So George [E.] Mueller, who is the Director of Manned Space Flight
in Washington [D.C.], asked a question [during a briefing]. He said,
“Well, what happens if I land at one of those conditions out
there outside of the boundary?”
I looked at the chart, and I looked back at him, and I said, “You
George sort of sat back in his chair; didn’t say a word for
a period of time. The room had astronauts and engineers and operations
people [there]. Finally George [asked], “Does that bother anybody
here?” Nobody said a word. It was just sort of funny. He said,
“Okay, go ahead.” [Laughs] But there were cases where
indeed if you did the worse-on-worse case, then that was a possibility.
Of course, maybe 95 percent of the cases would be all right.
But we did go back—been like, oh, a year and a half between
the fire and the time that we were able to get Apollo 8 successful,
to redo [some of] the testing. We dropped a [number of boilerplate
vehicle] tests in the Cape area to see what sort of soil that the
vehicle would [encounter]. Then finally we did [some] tests back in
Houston [Texas] where we used actual Apollo vehicles that had already
flown in test flights, and then saw whether the structure would be
all right. We got fairly decent results from [those tests]. We still
considered the land landing capability of the vehicle to be similar
like you’d been in an airplane crash. You might get hurt a little
bit, but you wouldn’t get killed.
When we started the testing with the Apollo and the Saturn vehicle,
we flew the first vehicle, and it was all up. I remember Dr. [Wernher]
von Braun was making a presentation again to George Mueller, and he
was describing their test program, where they would fly three vehicles,
initially with the first stage, and the upper stages would be dummy
stages with water. Then you do three more with two stages, and the
upper stages would be water. Then finally after doing three for the
third stage, we came to the tenth vehicle, and it was all up at that
point. Dr. Mueller leaned back again in his chair and said, “Wernher,
why don’t we go all up the first time?”
And I thought Wernher was going to faint right then and there. But
the [plan] was pretty good as far as George Mueller was concerned.
He said that’s the way we ought to do it. He had confidence
that it would work; and that’s what we did. We did first launch
all up [the first time], and it worked. It saved an awful lot of time
and resources and money to be able to do it that way. We did the first
flight and had a second unmanned test vehicle on [AS] 502 [Apollo
6]. That flight went fairly well, [but] we ran into a problem with
a pogo, the vertical oscillation in the vehicle. Also, we had a problem
with one of the engines on the Saturn S-2. Unfortunately they shut
down [an] engine, but they shut down the wrong engine, so that made
it a little more exciting.
Then after the flight, maybe, oh, several weeks after the flight,
we had an individual, Tom [Thomas J.] Grace, look at all the photos
that we got from the flight, and Tom noticed that there was a little
white dot next to the vehicle in one of the frames. He looked further,
and lo and behold, it was still there in a number of the pictures.
When we finally examined that dot, we found out that a large portion
of the shroud over where the lunar module would be failed, and it
separated from the vehicle. We didn’t realize it until several
weeks after the flight. It was a honeycomb panel that at that time
we didn’t vent, and as a result, when the pressure built up
between the two surfaces of the honeycomb, it blew off the side of
So we’re in examining what would cause the pogo and why the
panel failed and all that, and we’re arguing about whether the
third vehicle would be manned or unmanned. We were still in the midst
of that study when I guess there was some information that was found
that maybe the Russians were going to do something around Christmas
of ’68. Now instead of arguing whether we ought to fly the
vehicle manned or unmanned, we were going to fly around the Moon in
Christmas at ’68.
So it turned out that to many of us Apollo 8 was the most exciting
flight in the program for us. It was the first time that we were going
to fly the vehicle manned, and then we were going to fly the vehicle
manned and around the Moon. You would sit in Mission Control, listening
to the communications, and you realized that these guys were on their
way to the Moon. It was just hard to realize that this was happening.
Matter of fact, the mission was like, I believe, six days, and I think
out of six days, I got to spend about four hours in bed. I would just
catnap, but you’re just so keyed up about the mission and the
vehicle working and things like that that you couldn’t relax
Of course, the mission was successful. We knew that maybe the spacecraft
was in pretty good shape, because when the briefing was done by the
crew, they complained more about the food than they did about the
vehicle, so I said, “That’s pretty good.” Maybe
everything worked the way it should.
After Apollo 8, then we had a couple of flights where we flew to the
Moon and got close to it, and then, of course, the biggest flight
was [Apollo] 11, and flying it to the Moon and the successful landing.
I remember just before the flight we had run a test where we were
concerned about what happens to the descent engine on the LM [Lunar
Module] if you’re firing it against a solid surface. The shock
gets swallowed by the engine, and then the engine would blow up. So
we ran this test. We got close to the plate that we’ve simulated
the LM [engine approach], and sure enough, the engine blew up. So
I went to George Low and I said, “We’ve got some bad news.”
George listened to the results of the test, and he said, “Well,
you ought to go talk to Neil [A. Armstrong] about this.”
I said, “Okay,” so I went and had a one-on-one with Neil.
Neil was always a funny individual. You weren’t sure whether
he was listening to what you were saying or not. I said, “You’ve
got to be careful. This thing might blow up.”
So when the actual landing was occurring on the Moon [on Apollo 11],
they had to move the landing point because the exact spot had some
boulders that they wanted to avoid. Everybody was very, very concerned
about they’re going to run out of fuel. And I was thinking,
“Neil’s not going to shut down that engine. I hope he
runs out of fuel.” So everybody was worried about if he was
going to run out of fuel; I was worried that he would not run out
of fuel, and then the engine would shut down before he landed.
It turned out that the simulation of landing that we did was not exactly
right, I think maybe as a result of blowing up some dust or [the surface
was not like a solid plate]; that actually he didn’t have the
problem with the engine. So at least that was good news. [Laughs]
But it was also interesting, I always noticed that when we became
NASA, President [John F.] Kennedy said to go to the Moon by the end
of the decade, so all our badges that were issued to us [at] NASA
would expire on December 1969. So I said, “Well, that’s
a message for you.” [Laughs] “Either you do it or you’re
not employed anymore.”
We always had a support room in Building 45 outside of the Mission
Control Center, where we had the engineers that were responsible for
the design of the hardware. We would man that operation twenty-four
hours of the day. I [managed] one of the three shifts. I had my choice.
So, on Apollo 8, I got the shift from eight in the evening till four
in the morning, mainly because that’s when all the high activity
on the mission occurred. I can remember I got home about four-thirty
in the morning Christmas morning. At that time we had three [small]
children. Three children met me outside of the house in the driveway.
“Is it time to open our presents now?” [Laughter] I remember
that very well with them.
But we would support the missions with maybe as many as a hundred
engineers during the missions. I did that until Apollo 12. In the
time period around March of 1969, and we’d landed on the Moon
in July, we had already started looking at Shuttle at that point.
So after Apollo 12, I had to spend all my time looking at Shuttle,
other than when Apollo 13 occurred. Then I went into Building 45 and
then stayed with that at least for a day or two until we felt that
we were, barring another failure, then we probably had a good chance
of bringing back the crew. So after that it was nothing but the Shuttle.
We started in March of ’69, thinking about the Shuttle [with
a piece of paper]. Dr. [Robert R.] Gilruth had gone to a presentation
at [NASA] Marshall [Space Flight] Center in Huntsville [Alabama],
and the Air Force talked about this reusable launch vehicle. Dr. Gilruth
had come back to Houston, and he approached Max Faget, and he said,
“Max, these guys are talking about a crazy thing. Why don’t
you look at it and see what it’s about.”
So Max, in his usual way, started playing with it and went back to
Dr. Gilruth and said, “Bob, you know, it may be feasible.”
And a matter of fact, he had built a balsa wood model of a straight-wing
Orbiter that he would [use as a] demonstrator. He would launch it
as a normal glider, and then he would also show that it had a second
trim point that it would be at a very high angle of attack. This would
be the entry [high] angle [of attack] that you’d use [to defuse
the] heating [during entry]. So it was sort of [an] interesting [approach].
After he had talked to Dr. Gilruth, I was the second person that he
demonstrated [the model flight]. It was in his office, and Max got
this balsa wood model, and he stands up on the conference table, and
he launches this glider. I’m just trying to figure, “Well,
the boss finally had it. He lost it.” [Laughter] Then he showed
the second point, and I said, “Oh, I understand.” So we
started talking about it, and we started the paper studies. After
a period of time it looked like it would be an interesting program.
At that time the Center, and I think NASA, was headed towards building
a Space Station. We had, in Houston, had thought maybe it’s
a better thing to get a reusable launch vehicle that would be more
economic [in] launching payloads. We would be able to actually do
things in Earth orbit cheaper, and we would do maybe some things that
you wouldn’t do otherwise unless the cost was brought down.
So we started on that theme. By this time, George Low was now Deputy
Administrator [at NASA Headquarters] in Washington, so we went to
talk to George and said, “George, rather than a Space Station,
we think we have a better idea.”
So he listened and actually got the Agency to turn around and say,
“What we really need to do is to build the Shuttle initially.”
We were concerned that the general public was concerned about “What
benefits am I getting as a result of the space program.” They
weren’t interested in rocks and things like that. So we were
looking at what could we do in space to improve mankind’s situation
here on Earth. Doing the satellites as far as weather is concerned,
communications, and all of the things that we do in space nowadays.
So the Space Shuttle became the major program as far as NASA was concerned
Well, Shuttle was very different, of course, than any spacecraft before,
Mercury, Gemini, or Apollo, so we decided that what we needed to do
was to get a [design] group together. We used Building 36 to get a
group of engineers together to actually design a vehicle. For instance,
Apollo and the other vehicles didn’t have hydraulic systems,
so we found out that we needed to get some expertise in that [area].
To either get some people trained or get some new hires in to [design
hydraulic systems]. As we got into some of the [design], we realized
that it was very difficult to get a center of gravity on the vehicle
that wasn’t at the back end of the vehicle. The engines were
so heavy [it was difficult] to get the airplane to be [aerodynamically]
We called [the exercise] the DC-3 study. We thought it would be the
DC-3 of commercial space. Like the [Douglas] DC-3 was the birth of
commercial aviation, we thought this would be the beginning of commercial
space. [The study] turned out that that was a good starting point
to get engineers trained, to understand the requirements of the program,
to really be able to be intelligent as far as when we issued a request
for a proposal from the industry. We would be able to evaluate these
proposals much more intelligently than we would otherwise. It turned
out to be a good exercise from that point of view. I think we learned
a great, great deal.
Sort of jumping ahead, we’re now using that same approach forty
years later when we’re looking at the Exploration Program at
NASA at the present time.
Then, of course, we went through the normal preparation of a proposal.
Before we issued the proposal, though, there was a group of maybe
eight or ten of us that went around to all the major aerospace companies
at that time. We would get in an airplane, go to Grumman [Aerospace
Corporation] or Boeing [Airplane Company] or Martin [Marietta Corporation]
or Lockheed [Aircraft Corporation] or North American [Rockwell Corporation]
or Convair [Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, a Division of
General Dynamics Corporation], to see what their capabilities were,
because when their proposals came in, we at least would know somewhat
about their capabilities.
I can’t recall the time period when the proposals came back,
but we got involved in going through the evaluation, and then actually
finally selecting the contractors. We initially issued two major contracts
to study the vehicle. There was a team that was McDonnell [Douglas
Corporation] and Martin Marietta, and there was another one that was
Convair and North American. They got what we call Phase B studies.
In addition to that, they thought that rather than eliminating some
of the contractors, we decided smaller studies would be given to a
team that was Boeing and Grumman, and then a little different approach
was used by Lockheed, so we had a smaller contract, also, to Lockheed.
These studies went on for—I can’t recall exactly, but
went on for maybe a year, year and a half, or something like that,
to look at the details of the design.
The contract that was let to Boeing and Grumman was run sort of outside
of the mainline Shuttle Program that Max was responsible for. Both
that and the Lockheed study was done by JSC [Johnson Space Center,
Houston, Texas]. [In addition to the major studies] I got very involved
in the Boeing-Grumman study. You had to go to the contractor about
every month or so to check on their progress. I found out that when
you’re going to Seattle [Washington] and New York, you go to
New York first and then Seattle. Don’t do it backwards; that’s
too hard as far as traveling was concerned. It almost killed me to
do it that way. But a lot of good things were done in the study phase
by the contractors.
Then at the evaluation of the end of the Phase B studies, we changed
[the design] because of fiscal constraints to rather than having a
reusable Orbiter and booster, we would only have a reusable Orbiter.
We would use solid rockets for the first stage. We’d be able
to recover the solids, but they wouldn’t be like an airplane
type of booster in [the ordinary] case. So that kind of dropped out
the booster contractors, like that would drop out Convair on the North
American study, and then Martin Marietta in the McDonnell study. Then
the studies went into Phase C, then we down-selected to North American
to be the prime contractor to build the Shuttle.
Any of these very large programs you outsource maybe as much as 50
percent of the effort. North American was responsible for the entire
vehicle, but you’d have people like Grumman would build the
wings. The main portion of the fuselage was built by General Dynamics.
Lockheed built the thermal protection system. I’m trying to
think what McDonnell did, but they were involved in the—oh,
they built the OMS [orbital maneuvering system] pod on the back end
of the vehicle. I’m trying to think now what—my memory—what
Martin Marietta was to do. Can’t think of it right now; I will
But I think we had contractors in almost every state in the United
States, and of course, all these pieces come together. We decided
the place that we would assemble the Orbiter was at the Palmdale [California]
Air Force plant and took that over. But before we would go into the
plant, we modified the plant. One concern was Palmdale, at that time,
had what they considered the Palmdale bubble. It was an area where
the ground was about a foot higher than it normally; they were concerned
there was going to be an earthquake.
So we went back into the facility and reinforced the building that
the Orbiter was going to be built in. We caught the building on fire
one time when doing some of the work on it. [Laughter] Of course,
it was a small fire, so we were able to handle it. But, a lot of times
these are the problems that you have when you’re building hardware,
the little everyday problems that you never expect are occurring,
but they’re there. They’ll be there all the time.
We, of course, had a lot of individual tests. We used a very different
approach on the thermal protection section; did a lot of testing at
[NASA] Ames Research Center [Moffett Field, California]. [NASA] Langley
[Research Center, Hampton, Virginia], also; did some testing there.
The development of the main engine was assigned to Huntsville. They
chose Rocketdyne, a division of North American, to build the engine.
The idea of building the Shuttle, we determined that there would be
three major technologies that we would pursue, maybe not any more
than three, because we figured if we ran into problems with any of
the three, then you had enough money to solve them, whereas if you
tried to do everything new and you got into trouble, then it would
be too expensive to be able to complete the program.
So we chose the thermal protection system to be different. It really
was a different concept, and it would increase the performance of
the Shuttle a great deal. The other was the main engine, which was
a high-performance hydrogen-oxygen engine that, as I said, Marshall
would do. Then the third technology we took on that we thought was
a big payoff was the matter of the integrated avionics on the vehicle.
In other words, using computers and fly-by-wire [systems, and] flying
the vehicle unstable. We figured that was a big payoff. Those were
the three technologies we thought would be the biggest payoff as far
as investment into technology.
The main engine was, again, really an advanced technology. We had
a number of firings that failed. Unfortunately, when the engine was
so high-performance, the pumps on the oxygen side of the engine pumped
like a ton of liquid oxygen a second, so anytime the engine had a
failure, it was total. It would just tear itself right out of the
The TPS, the thermal protection system, was also a development that
had a lot of failures. You’d put [a tile] in the test arc jet.
It would come back and look like a burnt marshmallow. It would be
all crumbled up. We initially thought that we would make the tiles
twelve-by-twelve. After much testing, they would crack in half, so
we decided, “Well, we’ll make them six-by-six rather than
twelve-by-twelve.” That seemed to be what it wanted to do, so
we’ll go along with it. So that’s how the tiles got to
be [that] size.
The avionics, the idea of having a digital flight system with a fly-by-wire
was, in my opinion, one of the big advancements in airplanes. Nowadays
all your major airplanes use that system as their flight control.
So that was particularly a big payoff [in commercial programs] as
far as the investment that we made into the Shuttle Program. It took
like, I think, maybe twenty, twenty-five years before airplanes were
to adapt the system. Unfortunately, the French were the first to use
it rather than an American company. But nowadays, every modern [commercial]
airplane uses that system.
One of the goals of the Shuttle Program [was] whatever we would build
would not take any more than about seven or eight years. We figured
if the development time is too long, then people won’t support
it. You want to go through [no more than] two presidents, two administrations,
not any more. If you try to go through the third one, by that time
they’d find better things to do, and you’d probably get
the program cancelled. So we said, “Whatever we’ve got
to do, we’ve got to do it within that seven-, eight-year time
Also, to keep the interest of the general public and the Congress,
we thought the earliest demonstration you can do is good for the program.
You said, “You know, there goes the Shuttle. I saw one recently.”
And that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to do the Approach
and Landing Program at Edwards [Air Force Base, NASA Dryden Flight
Research Center, Edwards, California]. We decided to use the [Boeing]
747 with an Orbiter on it and do some initial unpowered flights off
of the airplane. That was good, because we were able to do those tests,
like about two, two and a half years before we were able to get the
Orbiter to go to orbit.
It was sort of interesting that we had a lot of skeptics about [the
separation of] the airplanes and that was a very dangerous thing to
do. In reality, we didn’t drop the Orbiter off the 747. What
we really did is we put the configuration in a situation that the
lift on the Orbiter was greater than the 747, and it actually had
more drag by having flaps down and gears down. So actually the Orbiter
dropped the 747. It dropped below the Orbiter, and then it flew off
We thought that was a neat idea until we got a paper that was written
by a gentleman, [Major R. H.] Mayo, in England, where they didn’t
have the range on an airplane to be able to fly across the Atlantic
[Ocean], so they mounted a smaller airplane, seaplane, on top of a
flying boat, and they did the same thing [Short Mayo Composite Aircraft].
The approach that they used, again, was that the little airplane would
drop the big one. It also was neat from the point of view that when
the little airplane developed more lift than the larger flying boat,
they had a light that would come on and indicate that it was all right
to release. We did the same thing on the Shuttle. So we weren’t
all that smart after all. [Laughter] Somebody had done it years before.
But Mrs. Mayo is still alive and sent us copies of his reports that
we were able to read.
So we indeed were able to do some additional testing of the avionics,
the flight control system. We [made] a number of changes. Of course,
writing the software for just the landing stage was a lot easier than
the entire flight program, so we gained an awful lot of experience
in it. So we took sort of these little steps in the program before
we had to go all the way to orbit.
[On] the Approach and Landing Program, we didn’t have to have
the thermal protection system. That was an advantage. We could spend
another two years or something like that [to] determine whether we
had got the proper [analysis of] heating over the total vehicle. Basically
it was a matter of studying the test results, making sure that we
were designing the vehicle properly before we had to go to orbit with
We did, I think it was, four approach and landing tests at Edwards.
Initially we used the Orbiter that had the tail cone that we had built
when we were going to ferry the Orbiter on top of the 747. To start
with, I know that on the first time that the 747 took off with the
Orbiter on its back, a lot of people were concerned. Matter of fact,
we had a great deal of trouble even with Boeing, convincing them that
it was all right to put an Orbiter on top of a 747. They said, “The
 tail [was] going to fall off.”
“Well, what do you mean?”
“Well, it’s going to fail.”
“Well, what do you consider a failure?”
They said, “Well, if we get a crack that’s more than three-quarters
of an inch in a major structure, we consider that to be a failure.”
I said, “Oh, well, you know, we fly a lot of things with cracks
in it, so we’ll try it and see what happens.”
They were very concerned that if we had an accident with the 747,
it would reflect on the commercial airplanes, and they would lose
customers. I said, “Well, you know, this 747 is different than
any other airplane that you’ve ever built, so it shouldn’t
relate to those at all.” Well, [we] were standing by the runway
at Edwards when the airplane was ready to take off [for the first
time], and I remember Aaron Cohen, who was the Project Manager for
the Orbiter—I was his Deputy—came up to me, and he was
wringing his hands and pacing back and forth. He said, “Milt,
you think this is going to work?”
I said, “Aaron, I don’t know, but we’re going to
find out real soon.”
Of course, it took off, and Fitz [Fitzhugh L.] Fulton [Jr.] was the
pilot on the airplane. We had a ground voice loop to him, and he said,
“Everything’s smooth. Everything is smooth.” And
it just went very, very smoothly from that point on.
To more realistically characterize the Orbiter’s gliding capability,
we decided to take off the fairing, the tail cone, and fly it on top
of the 747 without it. Then Boeing really got excited about doing
that. They said, “You’re going to knock the tail off,”
I said, “Well, let’s go fly it and see if it will.”
We did, and of course, everything went pretty well, too. We were able
to do those two tests, and really had a good characterization of the
Of course, the first flight is always, to any airplane, any vehicle,
is always very exciting. You’re wondering if that was a decimal
point or a fly spot on the [blueprint], and you want to make sure
that everything’s going [well]. I was under the vehicle one
day looking at the large area that was the thermal protection system.
Apollo is just 12.6 feet or something like that, and here is this
huge thing that we’re now going to bring back through entry
heating. I thought to myself, I said, “Do you really know what
you’re doing?” and I wasn’t sure that the answer
But I remember the day we came back. It was the 12th of April that
we flew. First flight, for the first time we had it manned, because
we were very concerned about we had four flight computers and another
that was the backup to the four, and we were very concerned about
having a software problem or having the flight computers getting locked
up, that you needed a man to be there to handle the situation. So
we decided to man the vehicle. John [W.] Young and Bob [Robert L.]
Crippen flew the first flight. We had left these ejections seats in
the vehicle that we used in the Approach and Landing Program. Matter
of fact, the first four flights were flown with ejection seats for
just the pilots, seeing there were only two people on the vehicle.
The vehicle came back through all this heating and did well. We landed
at Edwards. The day we landed in the morning of April 15th, I remember
the day well, because after the landing we’re going to celebrate,
of course. A group of us, Dr. [Christopher C.] Kraft [Jr.], Dr. Faget,
Aaron, myself, and our wives went to a late lunch at one of our favorite
restaurants out in Alvin [Texas]. We used to go all the time. [We]
celebrated all afternoon. [I] went home that evening and finished
my income tax.
That was not a good idea. After a period of time I got a letter from
the IRS [Internal Revenue Service] and said they had examined the
return and I owed them $300 more. Well, I looked at it, and I couldn’t
understand a lot of things that I did. Well, it ended up that they
paid me $3,000, and I didn’t have to pay them any more. There
were so many mistakes that had been made in the return that I made
after celebrating all day. [Laughter] So it was pretty good.
So then we went on from that and had a relatively successful program.
I think the thing is that technically we did what we were supposed
to do as far as the Orbiter is concerned. I think the program maybe
wasn’t the success that it was supposed to be from the point
of view that the payloads didn’t develop to get the flight rate
up to the point that we had envisioned to get the cost per launch
down. Of course, if you fly fewer flights, indeed the cost is going
to be higher. So I think that the objective that the Shuttle originally
had in reducing the cost of launching payloads was not realized, mainly
from that point of view. Also, the mode of flying the vehicle, I don’t
think we ever achieved that we would use Mission Control like an air
traffic center rather than as a ground station for the flights.
Do you think those original objectives of flying it so many times
a year that they originally talked about, was that realistic, from
the point of view you had during that program?
We had to justify the Shuttle. They did a number of studies where
it would economically be feasible to do that, and then it came out
that if you flew it about fifty-five times a year, then you would
be able to reduce the cost of launching. Of course, we never even
got close to that, something like that. So that was one of the reasons
why to do it.
But there are a whole bunch of studies, some saying that it wasn’t
feasible, others that said, yes, it was something to do. Like a lot
of times, your vision of what is going to happen gets changed by a
number of things, and indeed, the utilization of space didn’t
develop as we thought. A lot of the vehicles, the satellites that
were developed, had a great deal more capability per vehicle than
we thought. So the demand for launching [did not develop] particularly;
the big success in space in satellites [was] in the communications
It did make communications a lot cheaper; a lot more capability; a
lot of capability as far as communicating around the world. Probably
one of our problems nowadays with the outsourcing [work] now is because
we have better communications. The world is getting smaller all the
time because of [better communications]. Of course, being able to
forecast weather, that’s worth a lot of money as far as being
able to understand whether you need to irrigate or demand water or
whatever, depending on weather. There’s an awful lot that has
happened to change our lifestyle, really, because of the development
that we’ve used and the capability that we have now in space
at the time.
Also, in those earlier studies, those early-phase studies, one of
the things, as you mentioned, was the thermal protection system. I
know that there were a number of lost tiles when they were moving
the first [Space Shuttle] Columbia from California to Florida, and
they lost a number of tiles. Then again after STS-1, they lost some
tiles. Do you want to talk about that for a minute and those decisions?
Yes, when we were going to move it over from Palmdale to Florida,
they did, of course, a flight test, and as a result, a lot of the
tiles came off the vehicle. We found out that the way we were bonding
the tile was not adequate. What we had to do, what we did, was to
densify the bottom of the tile. It’s actually bonded to a felt
pad, and we’d get a better, stronger bond between the felt pad
and the tile by densifying the tile at the very bottom of the thing
under the coating.
The thing that you always still have this question about when you
look at a vehicle is you’ll have flows that are different, depending
on little vortexes that form here or there. So the pressure [and heating]
on certain of the tiles are different. So the tile—actually,
there is a number of different tiles. Some of them have higher density
than the other ones, and what you look for is the flow field around
the Orbiter, to maybe put these higher density tiles in those areas
where the [heating from the] flow is stronger. So it takes a certain
amount of testing, analysis, to determine where these higher [heating
areas] are and to be able to handle the application of the tile. So
it’s always a worry.
Like I was making a presentation to the Administrator about the [thermal
protection] system we were going to use, and he said, “How many
of these tiles are there?”
I said, “Well, you know, there’ll probably be around thirty
He said, “How are you going to put them on?”
I said, “We’re going to glue it on.”
He said, “You sure you know what you’re doing?”
I said, “I hope so.”
It took a lot of work, and indeed, we had a lot of problems. We had,
of course, even more recently, the concern with filler in the gaps
between some of the tiles, and we had a couple of those that moved
up, and we were concerned about whether they would disturb the flow
that would cause the heating to increase. They pulled them out [on
abort on an EVA].
But I think, with all the things that could go wrong with the tiles,
I think that we get away with an awful lot; that we’ve been
successful. The thing is when the Russians decided to build a shuttle
[Buran] also, they used the same approach. They’re using tile.
Matter of fact, I got a tile that’s a Russian tile, and it looks
exactly like one [of ours]. You couldn’t tell the difference
of them, other than what’s written on the thing; it’s
in Russian rather than English. [Laughs]
One of the advantages we really had, as far as using a surface insulator,
was that it would allow us to build an airplane out of aluminum, which
we knew the industry knew to build. It also would allow you to build
the airplane early, which we did for the approach and landing system,
while you’re still sizing the thermal protection system to determine
what thickness at what time.
Of course, the tiles vary in [thickness] from the front of the vehicle
to be much thinner near the end. So it allowed you to, even if you’ve
got some data that indicated you needed to increase the thermal protection
system, you didn’t have to rebuild the airplane to do that.
So it sort of unlocked the thermal protection system from the structure
of the airplane itself. So it made it a lot easier to be able to build
the vehicle that way, than having to do the whole thing at the same
time. We looked at hot metals and we didn’t have to build them
that way, because it would have been very, very difficult to do that.
You mentioned that you were in the Houston area at the landing. Were
you there also for the launch? You didn’t go to Florida?
No, both the launch and the landing, we were at Mission Control, because
that’s where all our engineers were [in Houston]. Matter of
fact, I think it was like the twentieth or thirtieth flight before
I saw a launch of the Shuttle. I don’t think I’ve ever
been at a landing, even now. But that has been the case, because even
in the Apollo Program, I never saw a launch. You were always at the
[Mission] Control Center rather than being at the launch.
Did you ever have any dealings with the Aerospace Safety Advisory
Oh yes. I used to work with them quite a bit, and they were good friends.
Matter of fact, there was one member of the panel that was very much
into wines like I was at the time, so we used to drink a lot of bottles
of wine together through that time period. [Laughs] So, it wasn’t
all work, and it was a little fun every once in a while. But they
had a lot of people, a lot of the individuals had a great deal of
experience, and were helpful as far as things.
I know that I remember one time I was walking through the plant in
California at Downey [California] with Bill Hamilton. Bill was Vice
President in charge of engineering at Boeing, Boeing Aircraft. He
commented to me, he said, “You know, Milt,” he says, “your
people got a lot of confidence in what they’re doing.”
I said, “Yeah, Bill.” In the airplane business, you only
make a small change from one airplane to another, because you’re
worried about the liability thing being sued. Bill would say that
about 30 percent of his staff were legal people, lawyers, to make
sure that the design wouldn’t be liable as far as Boeing is
concerned. So they do changes very, very slowly to make sure that
they’re exactly right.
So we were making a big change from, say, Apollo now to the Shuttle
Program, and I said, “Yeah, Bill, they’re confident mainly
because you’ve got to understand these guys just went to the
Moon.” And it was true that when we started the Apollo Program,
like when Kennedy announced that we were going to go to the Moon by
the end of the decade, I said, “He doesn’t understand
the problem. There’s no way in hell that we can do something
We sat down and started work, and sure enough, we were able to do
it in the time. But when we started the program, we didn’t have
the slightest idea how to have an entry from the Moon through the
thermal environment is concerned. We didn’t know how to build
material that would go through the environment. So we did all these
things. We made a great deal of progress during that time period,
and so, yes, we became confident of ourselves.
Maybe overly so, but again, the thing that’s interesting, later
I, in my career with Dr. [Hans] Mark, wrote an encyclopedia on space,
and we had a number of the papers were contributed from the Russian
people. They would comment; they said, “You Americans were really
something, because you said you were going to do something, and you
When you look at the Apollo Program, we said we were going to go to
the Moon by the end of the decade, and we did it. We did something
as complicated as the Saturn V, and we flew it successfully the first
time. When you look at the Saturn V Program, with the exception of
[AS] 502, it appeared that every launch was successful. There was
an awful lot going on to get one of those things to—you know,
it’s 317 feet or something like that long, and it was really
a major accomplishment. And you have to understand that most of us
were like in our late thirties or early forties time period, and it
really was a great team to accomplish what we were able to do at that
time. That’s like I sort of laugh when people say, “Well,
you know, so and so is too young to do this.”
I say, “Hmm. That’s not the case. Not anymore.”
As you mentioned, I think in Mission Control, the average age was
twenty-six, and so many of the engineers were so young. There was
another engineer we were talking to recently, and he said that he
was there as a student first and then later hired on as an engineer.
He said they were given projects, and they were expected to figure
—to figure out that outcome, and the whole atmosphere of if
they needed advice or help they got it, but they knew they had to
come up with a solution.
These young people were given a lot of responsibility. They really
were. I look back at my group was responsible for looking at the landing
dynamics of the Lunar Module, landing on the Moon. When you just stop
to think, that’s in front of the world. If that thing fell over,
it would be a bad day. [Laughs] But those were the kind of responsibilities
you were given. Indeed it would land, and then you’re able to
fly back off of the surface of the Moon.
I remember one time we were in a meeting with Dr. [Kurt H.] Debus
from the Cape, and he was commenting on—he said, “You
know, I look at what all the equipment that we have at the Kennedy
Center to launch a vehicle, and yet, you know, here you are all by
yourself on the Moon and launching from there.”
And I think it was Chris or somebody that said, “Yeah, Kurt,
we’ve been wondering about why you have all that stuff.”
[Laughs] “Because, you know, we’re launching a vehicle
from the Moon just with two guys and a lot less equipment than we
do with a launch vehicle.”
But it was a good time. I think basically we, at the time period that
we were in the Apollo Program, the attitude of a lot of people in
other countries wasn’t as favorable to the United States as
it had been. I know that a lot of people that we have met since that
time in foreign countries really look to the Americans as really being
able to do something and do it well. We have the technical capability
of doing whatever we decide we want to do.
Well, I think we’re going to stop just for a second, and I’ll
change the tape before we go on to your duties at [NASA] Headquarters
When we stopped, it was about the 1981 time period after the first
Shuttle flight, and you were appointed as the Assistant to the NASA
Deputy Administrator, Hans Mark, during that time.
Yes, the thing that I figured after the Shuttle Program, it was now
time to maybe go outside, particularly to go out and earn some money,
because NASA’s an exciting place to work, but the salaries are
not the greatest in the world. So I thought that would be the proper
move. Well, Hans Mark was a friend. He was Director at Ames when we
first started the Shuttle Program. I had told both Dr. Gilruth and
Max Faget, I said, “We need to go to Ames and make him a friend,
because we’re going to need to use his wind tunnels in the Shuttle
So, indeed, we became good friends, so much so that when Hans—Hans
had just finished being Secretary of the Air Force when he was appointed
to be Deputy Administrator at NASA, and I was telling him that what
I was going to do was leave NASA and go to industry. He said, “No,”
he says, “I want you to come to Washington and work for me in
Of course, at that time we had a lovely home in Nassau Bay [Texas].
You’d walk to work in the morning. The community was really
a neat place to live, near the water. I said, “Why would you
ever leave for something like that?”
Well, [we] left to go to Washington, where—of course, the cost
of housing was very, very great, compared to [Houston]. But anyhow,
I did. What we were trying to do, of course, is to get the Space Station
Program, going, because even though the congressman who had asked
us, he said, “Well, the reason you want to build a Shuttle is
so you can build a station to [use] the Shuttle.”
We said, “Oh, no, no. Shuttle is to make payloads cheaper to
go to space. It’s not related to the Space Station.”
Well, when we had to go back to the Congress, we said, “Hey,
you’re right after all. That’s why we need to have the
Shuttle is to go back to the Space Station.” [Laughs] So we
started to get that program [started]. Initially, like, we had in
the Shuttle Program, we ran a technology study program to look at
what technologies needed to be developed to build a Space Station.
Of course, in the meantime, we were still involved from Headquarters
in the Shuttle Program and watching the development of a lot of the
satellites they were using.
We had a particular satellite. It was called the Solar Max satellite
that had failed. When it was designed, it was built with the idea
that if it failed, you could go up and repair it. So we developed
that program, and we went up and we fixed it, and still [continued
to] work. What we were trying to do is to get a solar cycle, which
is about, I think, over an eleven-year time period that we wanted
to get data, so we needed to have that satellite working over a period
We also had a case where we were launching a couple of communication
satellites out of the Shuttle, and the solid rocket that was to take
them from the [Shuttle] orbit to the Station to be geostationary failed.
We had two of them, and both of them failed. So we had to develop
a mission that would go and recover them and bring them back down
and then repair them.
Later I became Chief Engineer at NASA, and then you now had a bigger
view of everything that went on, because you not only had the manned
program, but you also had the unmanned program, and there were some
differences between the way an unmanned vehicle would be launched
as compared to a manned vehicle. I think in many cases what we were
trying to do is to indicate to the unmanned people that it was worthwhile
to use the high quality that you used in the manned program, because
you get a better success rate in doing that. So it was a matter of
getting that philosophy across to the engineering world.
Of course, the Station Program developed. Then, of course, in ’86
we had the [Space Shuttle] Challenger [STS 51-L] problem. Of course,
it was a very, very bad time, and you got a great deal of pressure
to understand what happened, try to find the fault. When the accident
happened, I happened to be in Washington. I had a terrible, terrible
cold that day. I thought that because of the ice on the launch platform
and everything else, we weren’t going to launch, and actually,
I was getting ready to go to lunch when the secretary said, “They’re
going to launch.”
I said, “Oh?” and walked into the Deputy’s office
to watch the launch.
Because of feeling bad as far as the cold, I didn’t realize
what was going on. I just couldn’t believe what was going on,
anyhow, to start with, and then I was told, “You’d better
get to the Cape right now.” Well, it so happens that our plane
was down for maintenance, so I was told, “Find an airplane.”
So I called the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and talked to
the Director, and his airplane was inbound. He said, “You can
have it in about an hour.”
I said, “Okay, we’ll take it.”
In the meantime, I was told, “There’s a change.”
We were going to go out of [Ronald Reagan Washington] National, and
instead there was a change made. “Go to Andrews [Air Force Base,
Maryland] now, because the Vice President’s going to go to the
Cape.” So we went down to the Cape on the Vice President’s
airplane at night.
We told George [H. W.] Bush at the time that what we thought, that
it was a failure in the external tank, because we could see a glow
on the side of the tank, and it looked like that’s what failed.
Of course, it took a while to find out that, no, it was a solid [rocket
booster] that caused the problem. We, of course, had a presidential
appointed committee, unlike—when we had the fire in Apollo,
we kept the committee in-house, within the NASA organization. [In
that case] everybody understood what we were doing and how we did
it and things. So that investigation went a lot smoother, and we were
able to get back to flying again faster.
We got the commission from the presidential level. We got a lot of
people that weren’t familiar with the way the Agency worked
and how we designed hardware and built hardware and flew it. So it
took a little education and also a little more time to do, and as
a result, it took a lot longer to correct the problems. We thought
initially that we had a fix that we could use that would get us maybe
back flying within six to nine months. Of course, it took, what, about
two and a half years or something like that to finally get it.
One of the interesting members of the panel was Dick [Richard P.]
Feynman, who was a Nobel physicist, and he and I got along very well.
I think Dick didn’t get along with the rest of the commission
at the time, but I think we understood each other pretty well, and
I think he understood what was going on a lot faster than anybody
else in that.
But it was just a very, very difficult time, to think that you lost
a vehicle and lost people. All of them, of course, were very, very
good friends, I think, particularly Judy [Judith A.] Resnik was a
very close friend, and was badly missed. But I guess that’s
the thing that, with some of these high-risk programs, that every
once in a while you miss it, and we sure did on that.
I thought that I would get through my lifetime, but—I worked
almost all my life on reentry flight, like, and I thought that we
would be able to always do that successfully, and then, of course,
[Space Shuttle] Columbia [STS-107] came along, and it was a difficult
thing. Of course, I was not with NASA when that happened, but my daughter
and my son were working in that program, so I was very close to what
they were doing and the team was doing. I was called by the [Columbia
Accident Investigation] Board to talk to them about some of the design
features that we had on the Orbiter. You don’t really like to
have failures, but I guess if you’re doing it, then you’re
going to have that happen. Every once in a while, it will occur.
The Challenger accident actually affected some other projects and
programs. The Centaur-G Rocket Project, I think, was terminated after
the Challenger accident because of some problems that it was having.
Do you have any recollections of that, in particular—or any
other—of that termination?
Well, after the Challenger accident, then we would be much more detailed
as far as what we were doing to make sure that these other programs
would work. I think that it made a lot of the programs much more expensive
and it look a lot more time to make sure things were correct before
doing it. It probably increased, maybe more than it should have, things
like the traceability of hardware, the paperwork that’s involved
in the quality programs and the like, the amount of people that you
would have looking at things at the same time, and just using a lot
more care than you would otherwise.
But about a year after Challenger is the time period I felt that the
job wasn’t fun anymore. I had about thirty-six years in, and
one day I mentioned to the wife that whether I went to work or didn’t,
the difference was about $12,000 a year, and she said, “You’re
nuts! You’re going to quit.” So I left the Agency at that
point. I decided it was time to do a lot of things you never had time
to do. Still did some consulting, but for a period of time just did
all those things. I wanted to improve my cooking skills, so I started
taking cooking lessons, and then I ended up teaching cooking. Then
I wanted to learn about art, so I became a docent both at Corcoran
[Gallery of Art] and later at the National Gallery [of Art], because
I never had time to do that before.
But after a period of time I got bored with all that, and when again
Dr. Mark came back to Washington to be DDT&E [Deputy Director
Test and Evaluation] at the Pentagon, he said, “You’re
coming back to work.” So I went back to work and been doing
it ever since. Because when you look at all your life you trained
to be an engineer, that’s what you wanted to do, and actually,
that’s the most fun you can have. So that’s where I am.
Now I’m again, after about six years supporting DoD [Department
of Defense], I’m devoting most of my time with NASA again, because
we’re going on a new program.
You mentioned that after Columbia, you were asked to come back and
talk to the Board about some of the design aspects. Can you talk about
any of the details or anything about what you discussed with them?
Yes. The point I wanted to make with them is that the Shuttle was
designed in the 1970 time period, more than thirty years ago, and
how many things around the house are thirty years old and still working?
It was time that we need to develop a new system to replace the Shuttle,
because the technology was getting old, particularly you’re
starting to run into a lot of problems with things not being available
anymore as far as spare parts were concerned and the like, and it
was time to go on and do things differently. It seems to me that we
tried to stretch out the Shuttle Program a lot, lot longer than we
should have; that it should have been retired a lot, lot earlier.
Indeed, some of the airplanes that we use nowadays have lifetimes
that we never expected to have, and they’re still flying and
still useful. But I think there’s a better and safer way of
doing things than using the Shuttle now.
During your career you’ve worked with a lot of very important
people with NASA. [Bob Gilruth,] Max Faget, George Low, George Mueller,
Aaron Cohen, Hans Mark, are just some of the ones you’ve mentioned
during your oral histories. And then you yourself, of course, were
in management positions for a number of years. Is there anything about
any of these people in particular that you admired as far as their
style of management or anything that you ever patterned your style
of management after?
I think that in my career that probably the one individual that I
would more model myself after would be George Low. George was very
smooth, very smart, handled the program, and the way he did things
was very good.
I, of course, was closer to Max Faget. I found him to be a very brilliant
individual. I guess I think one of the big privileges in my lifetime
was to be able to work as close with Max as possible. Matter of fact,
we developed a lifetime friendship that even after he left NASA and
I left NASA, we would still get together whenever he came to Washington
or I went to Houston. We’re very, very close, and like he was
just a brilliant mind to work with. I know a lot of times we might
be in a meeting, and he would come up with an idea, and I could look
at people and feel that they didn’t really understand what he
was saying. Fortunately, I had that kind of relationship with him
that we understood each other pretty well.
Another one with Hans Mark, again a brilliant individual. One time
I was at a Board of Regents meeting at the University of Texas [Austin,
Texas], and I asked the head of the board, “Well, how are you
getting along with Hans?”
He said, “It’s mind-boggling to deal with a genius.”
I said, “Yeah, I understand that.” [Laughs]
But these people were just very, very sharp and very interesting to
work with. Chris Kraft, Bob Gilruth, just having known those people
is just an opportunity that you can’t ask for anything better
than something like that. They always had great ideas. They always
instilled good ideas in yourself. I think you accomplished a great
deal because of your association with them.
I know Hans had a—matter of fact, his father was a teacher to
Edward Teller, who is, you know, the father of the hydrogen bomb,
and Hans would come down from Ames to visit JSC to see what was going
on there, and he’d bring Edward down. In the morning he would
tell me, “Milt, how about taking care of Edward for the day
and show him around?”
The difference between the minds between Edward Teller and myself,
I was worried that we could even talk. But it was very interesting,
because he would come up with some great ideas and some things that
you hadn’t even thought about on something like that, and it
just turned, a lot of fun to be with these people.
I think now, too, at the present time I’ve been working with
a lot of the young engineers at NASA. We’ve been going through
a design for the advanced spacecraft, and it’s very interesting
to work with these younger people that they’re a lot smarter
than I was when I came out of school. I think they’ve got the
stuff that they’ll be successful in what they’re doing,
and it’s just a lot of fun to watch them solve problems. Really
a great, great opportunity this late in life. [Laughs]
And you’re still working, you mentioned before we started, with
the Constellation Program?
As a consultant?
No, what they decided to do is to do an in-house design again, very
much what we did in the Shuttle Program. They put together a team
from all the NASA Centers. Then they got about ten of us that were
involved in the Apollo Program, and they would use us as mentors to
the younger people so that there are various disciplines in various
groups. We work with them to give our experience that we would go
through, or like in many cases, we would tell them, “Go look
for this report, because we did these tests, and you’ll see
what the results were from them.”
People like—one of them was John Young. Ken [Thomas Kenneth
“T.K”] Mattingly [II] is another. Bob Sieck from Kennedy,
Bob [Robert S.] Ryan from Huntsville, Tom Modlin, Jim Jacks. I’m
trying to think of all the people. Oh, Warren [L.] Brasher, who was
head of the Propulsion Division.
We worked with these people and sort of guided them into—our
experience before, there’s a number of things that, “Don’t
do that, because we tried it, and it didn’t work. Try something
like this.” It was a good experience. I think it was good for
the youngsters and also for us to be able to talk to them and pass
on to them the experience that we have.
Were they generally accepting of your experience?
Very much so. Matter of fact, it got to the point where they would
keep coming for you for information, to the point that, like right
now, I’m in the process of reviewing some reports, and they
send me a report on Friday afternoon. “We want your comments
by Monday morning.” It’s like I spend all weekend working
on reports. [Laughter]
Your hours haven’t changed a lot since those early days. [Laughs]
No. They were very receptive as far as the things that you said. They
seem to listen and they seem to absorb what you’re talking about.
No, it’s very good.
And quite a benefit for them to have all those years of experience
behind—you, as you know, didn’t have that advantage when
you were doing Apollo.
Yes. Well, the thing that I hope that this program will be successful,
because we do have that background, and what we’re trying to
do is to have, again, a small increase in the capability that we had
before, and I think it will make it successful, and the schedule will
be quicker, and the cost will be less as a result of that, so I’m
really hopeful that it will be successful. I really do.
Well, as you look back on your career with NASA, and as you say, it’s
still going on, what would you consider to be the most challenging
aspect of that career, either a program or an incident or a time period
or a position?
Well, there’s no doubt about probably the most exciting and
the most challenging part was the Apollo Program. You still look at
that as—you look back at what we did, and you still wonder,
“Did we really do that?” Because it was a big step. There’s
no doubt that because of the demands by the program, you continued
to try to get more education. You worked hard at that to get new knowledge
to keep up on the technology of the time.
As you moved up into management, you suddenly felt like you were losing
your capability, but you sort of understood that now it was time to—the
capability you really needed to have was to get people to work together
and solve problems, rather than your sitting down and solving the
It’s an interesting thing to try to get a large group of people
to accomplish a single goal. A lot of people don’t have that
capability to be able to do that. You take, in a lot of cases, like
in our programs, it takes a single strong leader to make the program
work, and then to get some strong people behind them to be able to
do things. When you look, like Microsoft [Corporation], when you take
a single individual to do what they’re doing, it’s just
hard to understand. But that’s what it takes is some leadership
and the motivation to make a team to do something. It really does.
Is there anything that you’re most proud of, any accomplishment?
Well, I have to admit that probably having four children that are
fairly successful is a big accomplishment, as far as I’m concerned.
I have three out of four are engineers, so I figure that’s pretty
And working for NASA, a couple of them, right?
Yes. I think that it was gratifying that they thought that what you
were doing was important and they wanted to do the same thing, too.
But I still stay very close to where I went to school, the University
of Vermont [Burlington, Vermont]. I’m on an advisory board for
math and engineering, again with the idea to get these younger people
to get the best opportunity they can to be able to go out and do things.
I think that’s pretty rewarding to do. I found out that this
position on this advisory board is supposedly for three years, and
then I figured out the other day that I’ve been on the board
for twenty-five years now. [Laughter] So I guess it’s working.
You’re doing a good job. [Laughs]
I guess they like what I’m doing or whatever.
Something like that. But it’s rewarding to have people come
along behind you and be accomplishing things.
Is there anything that we haven’t talked about or any specific
projects? Any anecdotes that you’d like to share? Anybody, any
person that you’d like to say something about before we close?
No, there are just many, many people that you’d like to talk
about, and how they helped. I think the first experience that I had
in program management with the Little Joe II Program that I worked
with their program manager at Convair, Jack Hurt. He was very helpful
to teach me [about program management]. I think during the Apollo
and the Shuttle Program, again, an individual at North American, or
Rockwell now, Charles Feltz, was very useful to me. With the development
of the thermal protection system [for the Shuttle], Jack Milton at
Lockheed was very helpful along that line.
When I came to Headquarters, in addition to Hans Mark, the Administrator,
Jim [James M.] Beggs, was very useful as far as learning things from
Jim. We’re still very, very good friends.
I go all the way back to college days, and I had one professor that
taught a single course in aerodynamics, [Howard Duchacek]. We only
had one semester course. He’s dead now, but I’m still
close to his wife, and I used to kid him about based on that one course,
I became Chief of Aeronautics at JSC, so I thought that was a pretty
An effective course. [Laughs]
Yes, and I’ve been blessed [to work] with a lot of good, interesting
people in my lifetime, and it’s been a lot of fun. It really
Well, I thank you for coming today and sharing your career with us
Thank you. It was a lot of fun.