NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Columbus, Ohio – 28 May 2009
Today is May 28, 2009. This oral history with Kathy Sullivan is being
conducted for the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project in Columbus,
Ohio. Jennifer Ross-Nazzal is the interviewer. Thanks again for making
time for me all day today.
Always a pleasure.
I thought we’d start with a contemporary topic. That is Charlie
[Charles F.] Bolden [Jr.], who has been nominated as [President] Barack
Obama’s choice for the new NASA administrator. You spoke so
highly of him last time, I thought maybe you’d like to talk
about his selection.
Nothing has changed since the last time we spoke in how highly I regard
Charlie Bolden. From the beginning of the speculation and rumblings
on the blogosphere about who might be chosen by the new administration,
I frankly was hoping that Charlie might a) come under consideration
and b) be willing to consider it. It’s not a small consideration
to shift from whatever you’re currently doing to take on a service
role like NASA administrator or any such presidential appointment.
As you know, there was lots of to-ing and fro-ing in the blogosphere
starting probably around January 20 at 1:30 in the afternoon. I’m
delighted. I just think Charlie is such a superb package overall for
the job. His personal qualities, his integrity, his character, his
leadership capacity and style, his manner of leadership I think are
well suited. It’s a tough job. There is both the authoritative
clarity of being in charge of the agency and directing things, as
well as the realities of working in the congressional environment
and with the White House environment. You have so many stakeholders
and so many competing viewpoints. It’s not a small thing at
all, and I think Charlie’s competencies and approach to leadership
suit him to that really well. So I’m hopeful.
I’m pleased the nomination came out when the new Augustine panel
was still just forming. I think in the end it serves the agency and
the country better to have a designated administrator, if not fully
confirmed yet, able to see and be part of and follow that process,
given that it will in the end turn into some degree of his charge
to carry out. I’m glad for that. I’m delighted. I think
it’s all to the good for the country and the agency and wish
him well. He knows I’m on his list of able and willing foot
soldiers any time he needs me.
We were happy to hear that. We’re hoping it means good things
for JSC and for human spaceflight in particular.
Yes. I hope that too, although we all recognize the charge of the
administrator is not just human spaceflight. I think we’re in
for some interesting times, to say the very least.
Especially given the economic situation that the nation is in at this
Current economics will not make any of this any easier. That is for
You spent so much time working up all those plans for servicing missions.
What are your thoughts on STS-125, the final Hubble servicing mission,
as it comes to a close?
I adored watching the final servicing mission for lots of reasons.
I guess I didn’t feel quite the same twinge of sadness that
some folks seem to feel. Hubble has had its designated service life
and then some, and even the full mission run that it was set up to
have, if you start the counting after the first servicing mission
restored the optical performance.
I understand the nostalgia of seeing this spacecraft end, but I’m
also excited by the ones that are coming in its wake. There were some
obviously very fun bookends to me, being on the first Hubble flight
and now watching the final one. Everything that’s happened and
all the great scientific and flight operations accomplishments in
between just lent a nice glow to the experience of watching it.
There’s a fun little personal story embedded in this last flight,
part of which had escaped my memory for quite some time and was brought
back to mind through Christmas card correspondence earlier in the
year. I’ll start at the end of the story and then back up to
it. A couple of years ago, I designed, with a jeweler here in town,
a variant of the astronaut pin that was a little bit larger and suggested
Earth orbit. This was the kind of piece of jewelry I could imagine
wearing with great delight on business suits and even formal wear.
I copyrighted the design so that no one would just glibly use it,
and let the folks down in the Astronaut Office know that we’d
let any of the full-time CB gals [female astronauts] that wanted one
have it just for cost of reproduction. Contact the jeweler or let
Something around a year went by, and I finally heard back from the
jeweler that they’d been contacted by an astronaut who wanted
the pin. I asked who it was. He said, “Oh, it’s [K.] Megan
McArthur, do you know her?”
I told him Megan came well after me and I didn’t really know
her. Then I hopped online, dropped her an email, saying, “Delighted
you’ve found the pin, know you’ll enjoy it, and let me
know if I can help in any way with the interfaces.”
She quickly came back asking if my pin had ever been flown. Of course
it hadn’t. I told her that. She asked if I would like it to
go up with her. She’d be pleased to take it on STS-125. Those
personal item and memento slots are terribly limited, as you well
know. This is Megan’s first flight, and certainly on my first
flight, I was mindful of a lot of people. So I was delighted, but
frankly a bit amazed that she would offer such a generous thing. We
never worked together, we didn’t really overlap, so I’m
thinking this is an awfully nice thing to do, out of the blue. I figured
she was offering as a nice courtesy to the gal who came up with the
pin; fair enough. “Yes, please,” I said, and sent it down
That was something around early ’08, I think. Comes Christmas
time, and I get a card from a friend in Virginia who used to work
with the Secret Service as a special agent and aquatics guy. He collaborates
with some other mutual friends on a student design engineering competition
called the International Human-Powered Submarine Races. In his card
to me, Jim remarks that he’s going to go down and see the STS-125
launch. Megan McArthur has invited him. “You remember her,”
he says, “that young student that you talked with on the beach
at the sub races back in 1993? The one who had wanted to be an astronaut
forever, who I asked you to spend some extra time with? Boy, did you
make a difference! Isn’t it fun to see where this has all come
I’ve done hundreds of such appearances, with brief counseling,
and inspiration sessions on the side. I’m always happy to do
them, but they do quite honestly become a bit of a blur. So I remembered
being at those sub races, but any particulars about one team or one
young gal had long since vanished in the blur of memory.
I laughed out loud. Now it all made sense. Now there were at least
two reasons that Megan might have been moved to offer to take something
of mine along on her first flight. I quickly hopped on email again
and sent off just a fun, “Hey, you’ll never guess what
I just realized,” and recapped in two lines that Jim had pointed
this out and closed with something like, “a) now you’ve
done enough of these, I’m sure you can appreciate how it could
have faded into memory and been lost from my recollection, and b)
I sure hope I said something useful and intelligent on the beach that
Her email came back like instantly. “Are you kidding? I quote
you all the time,” and filling in a little more of that. That
was terribly fun to realize that that thread ran the way it did, and
that I had played a small role. Megan was already well on the track
in terms of motivation and technical skills to end up an astronaut,
and I was fortunate to get to meet her at one of those moments where
a bit of inspiration or a bit of confirmation could add to the equation.
The rest speaks for itself, including the fabulous performance of
the crew overall on the flight. So that was a very fun bookend that
also ran through my mind as I watched this all go by.
I thought back to the early days, or least my early days, when I joined
Bruce McCandless [II], who’d had his hand in this for a fair
bit before me, and Ron Sheffield and others. We kept scratching our
head and sharpening our pencils about what really is the full set
of items on Hubble that one ought to want to be able to service if
this thing really gets up there and starts performing. When I joined
the effort and we were just eighteen or twenty months from flight,
there was a limit to what you could do. In the aftermath of the Challenger
accident, that time window expanded. Without even much conscious discussion
among Bruce and Ron and I and others, we just kept using that time
to refine and deepen the repair capability that could support Hubble
for a long run.
In that phase of things, we did actually think ahead and do some fair
amount of preparation for the eventuality of needing to fix a Power
Control Unit, which of course happened on Servicing Mission 3 [STS-109].
The level of breaking open boxes and doing integrated circuit card
replacement on this last flight was another horizon beyond where we
got to. So another other thing I found fun and really gratifying about
[STS]-125, was that it represented both another really great confirmation
of the strong foundation that all our early work had set and a new
horizon to boot. We’d built a team that was very thoughtful
and intentional about capturing and passing down lessons. We started
that in the early predeployment phases. That’s clearly been
continued by Ron Sheffield and others, because the conveyed wisdom,
the carried-down knowledge, the propagation of lessons learned and
even tacit knowledge, has clearly been done well enough and strongly
enough to support high performance by each of the subsequent servicing
crews. That’s very gratifying to see. We got all this started
on a really sound footing, and folks have come in and kept that going.
On the other hand, as a counterpoint, it was equally gratifying to
see that the team was still up to a pushing-the-frontier challenge,
both from the management and the technical side. It’s a real
testament to the discipline, the competency, and just the mindset
and the confidence of lessons really learned and ingrained to be able
to continue to move the bar on what is now feasible without prior
planning, without preflight on-the-ground preparation; what can you
step in and say, “I need to change my mind. I now need to be
able to do this. So, we can do this, and here’s how.”
That’s a simple thing to say, but that’s actually a really
important capacity philosophically, culturally, and technically in
I do feel a little bit of bittersweet regret that the hiatus is coming
up. The program design that’s coming forward at us seem to me
to pose a lot of likelihood that this very hard-won competency and
capacity at spacewalks and complex servicing will be lost. I worry
about that frittering away in the however many years that may lie
ahead that are consumed with PDRs [Preliminary Design Reviews], CDRs
[Conceptual Design Reviews], and PowerPoint meetings. Everything but
bending metal, everything but actually getting out and doing the work.
My history with the program starts before STS-1, goes through the
hand-wringing of the very first spacewalks and the nervousness about
suits. Even in [STS]-41G when we did our spacewalk, the program was
still really awfully nervous about spacewalks being very risky. You
didn’t have the sense that spacewalking was really a tool and
capability the program comfortably used—not cavalierly—but
comfortably used in a comparatively routine task. It’s a tool
you use. It’s not a difficult scary thing you do only when you
have to. The Station assembly approach pushed on that boundary. The
early satellite servicing missions, we did Solar Max and the PALAPA/WESTAR
retrieve. We then had a hiatus before the INTELSAT retrieve. I thought
we lost some lessons within collective memory just between those clusters
of servicing missions. I thought there were some glitches in the planning
and preparations just by the time INTELSAT came around that to me
represented a failure on our collective part to really carry all those
lessons forward and keep them in active use and convey them to each
other so we were progressively building.
The Hubble experience, I think it fed into and supported a lot of
aspects of how Station preparations and EVA [Extravehicular Activity]
cadre training was done. All of that worked together and has really
created a very robust capacity now. I just worry about that atrophying.
If we’re serious about doing extended zero-G work or planetary
surface work, that’s not a capacity I think we can afford to
let atrophy, or to have it once again fade back to being infrequently
used and we’re a bit nervous about it. I think that has to be
an integral part of the toolkit that we know we’re competent
at and we’re smart but comfortable about using.
How do you think you can keep that up without flying the Shuttle?
I don’t know. I’m not arguing to do frivolous spacewalks
for training purposes, necessarily, but I just worry about bridging
Station assembly. Physical Station assembly is almost complete. That’ll
go back to indoor sports and science, as it should. That’s the
right thing to do. The need for lots of EVAs in that domain is going
to go away. Shuttle and EVA capacity will go down. We’re going
to go to a more encapsulated system if, presumably, the current architecture
stays in place. The next real need for extensive suited operating
experience may well not come until you’re back on the surface
of a planet, unless in the process of getting there you decide that
you do need to use orbital flights on whatever platform as your training
and preparation or for engineering tests. There are ways to do it.
I think it has to start with key program officials higher up and down
at the operating level being very mindful of the challenge, the concern,
and acting intentionally to do what they can to avert it.
I thought we would turn to STS-31. One of the things that we didn’t
talk about last time was the press interest in this mission. Do you
want to talk about that some?
Well, we can. My recollection of the press interest surrounding STS-31
is not a whole lot different than around either of the other two flights.
[STS]-41G had a certain amount of press interest because it was still
early days and a bit rare. This idea of women flying in space was
still a little bit new. Two on one flight was certainly wildly new.
Then we had a Canadian and another visiting scientist. There was kerfuffle
around those aspects. The astronomy community’s and the scientific
community’s interest in Hubble and what it would do post-deployment,
I felt removed from. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by that. I didn’t
really register the press interest as affecting me in any meaningfully
We got down to thirty-one seconds with an APU [Auxiliary Power Unit]
problem on the first launch attempt and scrubbed at thirty-one seconds.
It pretty quickly became clear that we weren’t going to turn
around within the time span of our quarantine window so we got sprung
loose from quarantine so we could go to the beach and at least visit
some of the family and friends who had come all that way to see us
go. The thing that was different to me about that flight was that
it was the only one of my own flights where I got a sense of the energy
and activity level on the beach around family and friends. Of course
a huge swarm of Hubble relatives and extended family had gathered
themselves, or been gathered by NASA. I don’t honestly know
which, but they were staying at the same hotel complex that my friends
and family were at. I remember that very vividly. There was this huge
whole gaggle and party over there. “Those are the Hubbles!”
There’s this mass of excited and eager people. Slightly disappointed
that they hadn’t seen the fireworks, but glad to be there for
this great exciting evolution.
It’s interesting that you raise that point, because that’s
not really on my radar screen at all.
I was curious. I think Loren [J.] Shriver talked a little bit about
the press interest, not much. Loren doesn’t say a lot, but I
was curious what your thoughts were.
My perception was that it was not notably different, from the point
of view of my role on the crew. Loren may have been fending off. I
think that was also Loren’s first command. So first command
where you’re triaging and making all the go/no-go decisions,
how much exposure, how much of this stuff will I put on my crew, maybe
that played a role in his sense of it. Certainly I would think there
was probably more interest in Hubble than some generic cargo at that
time, but I didn’t have to deal with those things. We had a
press event on the schedule, so we’d go to the press event.
Interview rounds on the schedule, we go do the interview rounds. Back
in the simulator.
You had talked a great deal about your work in California. Did you
want to talk some about your work with the European folks? In particular,
going over to England and working with solar arrays?
That was pretty significant and was one of the memorable parts of
the preparations. The original HST solar arrays, the curtain rod ones,
were designed by British Aerospace. The arrays plus contributions
to some of the science instruments constituted the European share,
which in turn earned them a share of the observing time. When we came
to deployment, we were going to have mission control in Houston, the
Hubble Ops Center at Goddard [Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland],
the Telescope Ops Center at Johns Hopkins [University, Baltimore,
Maryland], and the various European Space Agency elements, some on-site
at US Centers and some still back at home. A larger lash-up in that
sense than I had seen on my first flight.
The solar arrays of course consisted of two solar arrays with three
different mechanical functions. Unlatch them, pivot them down, and
then unfurl them. All three of these had manual backups through EVA
tools. I guess it would have been ’89 when the solar array flight
hardware was finished and undergoing test at British Aerospace Bristol.
Our approach to all these tools was, in every case, whenever humanly
possible, take the actual flight tool to the actual flight hardware.
This let us verify that it fit on every fitting, that all that we
expected was there. We could verify that the tool extension clears
the things that we were aware of it needing to clear; get a visual
confirmation that the way underwater mockups are built jives with
what we’ve seen here in the flight hardware, gather any annotation
that we need to take back to the training facilities to update the
training. Then there’s the tactile experience of, if you actually
end up out here cranking the solar array out, what does the running
torque actually feel like? What are the visual observations you should
be watching for? You’ve got the experts there that built it.
They can give you commentary and cue you to the behaviors they’ve
learned from running it through earlier tests.
That flight hardware experience is really valuable to prepare you
to recognize what’s expected, what’s not expected, and
make sure that the simulators have not been lying to you in a bad
way. My operating philosophy was that every simulator is lying to
me. They can’t be perfected. That’s a silly standard to
try to set. They’re inevitably lying to me. The challenge is
to get very sharp and aware of where are they lying to you, and how
significant is the miscue or the lie, and mentally correct for that.
Bruce and I got things set up, grabbed the tools, and rendezvoused
at the facility over in Bristol. It was a really fascinating combination
of technical and cultural experience. We traveled independently because
of preceding commitments. I went from Washington all-day meetings
onto a plane. I landed at [London] Heathrow [Airport, England] around
7:00 a.m., and they had sent a car to drive me to Bristol, because
I knew I was going to be so exhausted I wouldn’t dare drive.
We were going to go right into a test, and I needed to be fresh.
I slept most of the way to Bristol and was taken to a management briefing
room when I arrived. It all seemed very formal. I was ready to just
throw on my flight suit and get out on the test floor and get at this.
Instead we found ourselves in these rather more formal “welcome
the flight crew” events, which I hadn’t expected. Eventually
we went onto the shop floor and did an initial walkthrough overview.
They had the solar array suspended in a rig. It’s not meant
to move itself in a gravity field, so you had to orient it in the
G field and suspend it so that the pull-down curtain part, the extension
of the arrays out from the central spool, was essentially unconstrained
by gravity. They had it rigged so that curtain rod would go sideways
in each direction. I think that was the way it was set up.
We got an overview brief of all that. Again we’re rubbing our
hands, about ready to dig in and get the tools out and go, and they
We looked at each other like, “Lunch? Let’s do the test!”
but they hauled us off to lunch. It was a seated lunch in, again,
what looked like the management dining room, with senior company officials
and linen tablecloths. To our complete astonishment, several folks
were having a pint of ale or a glass of wine. I know this is more
common in the European culture, but this is the middle of the workday.
I remember they offered Bruce and me something to drink, and we just
looked at each other in amazement—we didn’t say anything
out loud, but you could tell, just by eyeball contact, that we each
were thinking, “Who in their right mind would think I would
have even a sip of alcohol when I’m about to go out and manipulate
flight hardware? You’re kidding, right? Not in a million years.”
So there were just some of those interesting “and now for something
entirely different” moments.
Every other piece of Hubble we had ever dealt with was in a Class
5 Clean Room facility. Here are the solar arrays in a rather different
clean room. It was a clean room, but a couple of guys didn’t
have anything on their hair. Nobody was bunnied up like you’d
see in a Class 5 facility, with gloves taped on and booties. It was
all just rather less rigorous than certainly what I had seen of Class
5. I thought, “Well, this is interesting. We’re going
to prepare this all up here and button it up, and then ship it over
and bolt it onto the telescope in a Class 5 clean facility. I wonder
what how that’s going to work out.”
There were those bits of comic threads that may have felt larger at
the time because I was perhaps a little bit sleep-deprived, but the
test went fine. It was very informative to get that feel of things
and watch things. Then, of course, not too many months later one of
the arrays balked during the original deployment. Bruce and I bolted
down to the airlock, and Charlie came with us to button us up and
get us ready to go out the door. Given the geometry of the telescope
out in the payload bay at that time and the array that had stuck,
it would in fact have come to me to crank it out, if the software
command hadn’t worked.
I was, at that point, extra grateful for that trip to Britain, the
experience that I had there. That was a very busy time. We went over,
did the test, and right after the test headed back to Heathrow and
came home. I remember hearing from KT [Kathryn C. Thornton] and some
of the SM1 [Servicing Mission 1] crews about going over to get the
training at Bristol, getting the whole Stonehenge tour, and all sorts
of great things. Maybe that’s what you get after you’ve
successfully fixed their solar array. We didn’t get that. We
just went over there, worked, and came home.
The documentary that recently aired on Discovery, When We Left the
Earth, made such a big deal out of your mission, about how there was
a possibility that you might have used too much propellant going up
to put the Hubble into its altitude.
The deployment altitude for Hubble was quite high for a Space Shuttle.
I’m pretty sure it’s the highest altitude civilian flight.
Every time I say that, KT squints at me as if she went higher than
that at some other point in time. Her first flight was a Defense Department
flight, though, so if she did, she can’t say anything. We were
pretty high, 340 nautical miles. The standard design orbit is 160,
so we’re over twice as high. The altitude was driven by the
pointing stability requirements of the telescope. It’s a big
vehicle with a lot of cross-section. You need to get it into a very
low-density region, very high. Its control systems, they’re
all they need to be for the task they’re designed for, but they’re
wimpy in a sense. Magnetic torquers and control moment gyros are not
high impulse things. So you want to get it pretty high so that the
pointing systems can keep it very still for long observations.
The year 1990 was at or close to a solar maximum year. So the envelope
of the atmosphere is bigger, physically larger, in a year like that.
There was a long time watching the solar activity and doing all the
calculations to determine when we will actually be at a solar max.
Because if we’re on the down side—it’s a fifteen-year
life—if we’re on the coming down side of a solar max cycle,
then you could go a little lower, because the atmosphere would be
deflating. This would give you more performance margin for the deployment
flight. You’d have more margin for every servicing flight. As
the flight slipped, moved off the original 1985-86 date into the 1990ish
timeframe and was being juggled around the manifest, it was a very
extended period of time of tracking all of that and running calculations
around various target launch dates.
The end of all of that extensive work, with a March 1990 launch near
solar max, was a target deploy altitude of 340 nautical miles. When
you put all those numbers together and run it against Orbiter performance
and consumables, it turned that when you arrive on orbit about 50
percent of your onboard propellant will already have been consumed.
So you’re less than an hour into day one of a five-plus-day
flight. You’ve got to release the telescope and back away, you’ve
got to station-keep nearby in case there are any infant mortality
failures. If one of those happens, you’re going to have to rendezvous
and capture again, service it, release, and back away again, then
deorbit. You need margin for all of that, and half your propellant
is already gone.
That’s a lot lower initial level of propellant day one than
you typically see on a Shuttle flight. That had everybody’s
attention. The artistic license the film guys took in When We Left
the Earth was implying that in real time on the day we launched we
unexpectedly found ourselves with such low fuel remaining. That’s
invention; it just juices up the story. But there is consequence,
obviously, to working on those fuel margins.
One of them that we put a lot of energy into was how to respond to
propellant leak alarms. If you’ve got fatter fuel margins and
you get a leak alert, a first prudent step is to find indications
that confirm it’s not a false alarm. If it’s not a false
alarm, then act on it. For STS-31, just the risk that it might genuinely
be a leak had to trigger action, because the risk that it could deplete
fuel needed for deorbit was too high. So for any indication of a leak,
we needed to launch parallel paths of action. We had to start out
on the assumption that it is going to turn out to be a leak, and that
we’re going to button the heck up really fast. I’d rather
burn the propellant lowering my orbit than spew it out the side, so
I want to quickly get ready to do a deorbit burn. It may be a complete
deorbit burn, it may be a lower the altitude burn, but I need right
away to be ready to do the burn and change the orbit. I might be going
home right away, so I’d be starting to button up the cockpit
and the cabin. Someone had better be checking is it really a leak,
and what part of the tank system is leaking, so how much do we have
to burn off? All of that has to get acted on in parallel.
We got awful darn good at that. For the telescope guys, the consequence
was a little different. I actually tell this tale sometimes in talking
about leadership, communication, and training, and what it sometimes
takes to get people to see and move past mental models that they’ve
created. If you’re the telescope guy, you’ve been waiting
more than a decade for this, and your view of the world is that the
Shuttle crew is going to lift me up, hold me above their heads while
I properly, thoroughly, and carefully unfold everything and check
that everything is working. Then we’re going to get everything
perfectly positioned with the Sun angle and communications and all
of that, and then we’re all going to say, “Is everybody
ready?” When everyone’s really ready, then they’re
going to let me gracefully go and back away, and it’ll be like
a nice smooth handover of a baton at a track meet. That is exactly
what we intended to do, and at the end of the day exactly what we
However, if anywhere in that little dance a leak alarm goes off, all
bets are off. We spent a lot of effort trying to explain to them that,
if that happens all of the niceties are OBE—done, gone, overtaken
by events. “We are punching you off the arm ASAP. Have a nice
time; we’re getting out of there.” This was just incomprehensible.
“No, no, no, no, you can’t, we need this and this.”
They’d start back through the rehearsal of all the deployment
constraints. Just in conversation, you’d go back and forth.
“Yes, we understand the deployment constraints. We intend to
do that, but if this circumstance arises, forget it.”
“No, no, you don’t understand. You have to—.”
It would just be this endless circular argument.
Finally, in consultation with the flight director and sim [simulation]
supervisors and others, we scripted a full team international integrated
simulation that was deploy day with a leak scenario. It’s very
unlikely to happen, but if it does happen we have to be sure the team
is as ready as possible and not have it risk the Hubble mission. So
the telescope is up on the arm, and they’re working through
pre-deploy stuff on the ground. Well, not many minutes into that simulation,
just when everybody’s getting in the groove, here comes the
propellant leak. They set it up to be a real one, not a false alarm,
so we went into “button up and get down” mode. I think
we had a deorbit burn done within twenty, twenty-five minutes. So
something in the space of about an hour, the flight crew’s role
in this eighteen-hour integrated sim was done. We’re gone. We’re
down. We’re home. The rest was mission control Houston, the
Telescope Ops Center, and Europe figuring out, “Oh my goodness,
now what?” Well, they did figure it out. They worked themselves
through that. They solved the problems. They regrouped.
That exercise obviously forced them to think and come up with new
insights, and dig deeper into what do we understand and how can we
help each other, all those kinds of things that you would imagine.
That process revealed some greater smarts, some better approaches
to normal ops for the telescope. So the program got two good things
out of it. It got a telescope flight operations control team that
had learned some important lessons that would let the telescope mission
go forward and succeed even if we had to throw it overboard and get
out of Dodge, and they even learned some improvements to the normal
course of business. They deployed with better operating skills than
they would have had otherwise, and they were ready to cover that contingency
if it happened, but it was pretty funny at the time.
It has struck me as I’ve thought about in years since. We had,
happily, a simulation-rich environment. We could create a circumstance
that forced people to actually sit at their consoles and live with
a scenario they couldn’t bring themselves to contemplate, and
at a level of detail that would really change their practice. You
could set up that constraint, and people engaged those simulations
very constructively in good faith. You rarely see someone just gaming
or BSing a simulation in that environment. The learning value is likely
to be high when people engage that kind of exercise so genuinely.
It was a humorous event at the time—still humorous, for that
matter—but also a truly illuminating experience. “Oh no,
you can’t do that!” “Oh, yeah? Just watch us. I’d
rather be safe with you yelling at me about wrecking your telescope
than die in orbit.”
You did mention, and this is something that Loren had mentioned as
well, that you watched the Hubble for a few days. You mentioned there
might be a possibility of going back and servicing it if there were
We didn’t station-keep very nearby. The Shuttle is a comparatively
dirty vehicle, plus you want to be safe enough away that there’s
zero collision likelihood. It would have to be intentional to go back
to the telescope. The elements that needed to work, that you wanted
to be concerned about, were that both high gain antennas deployed
successfully and were operating satisfactorily. That the solar arrays
deployed successfully and were operating satisfactorily.
The final moving piece of this was the aperture door, the big barn
door on the front of the telescope. That was closed. It had been kept
closed on the ground 99.99 percent of the time, and it was closed
in the payload bay. Before you opened this, you wanted to let the
Shuttle and all of its propellant effluents get away. You wanted to
let whatever little tenuous cloud of this that surrounded the telescope
dissipate. You also wanted to let some initial off-gassing of the
telescope itself happen before you opened the aperture door, to prevent
depositing any contamination on the mirror, or as little as possible
contamination on the mirror. So the aperture door was really the key
driver. It was the one mechanical function that, under normal operating
procedure, would not be known and verified before we released the
telescope. You get up there, and everything is fine. Then the Shuttle
comes home, and then you discover after landing that the latch on
the aperture door won’t release. It’s latched shut, or
the hinge motor won’t drive. Those were the two final critical
functions. If it won’t unlatch or it won’t hinge up, then
no light gets in the telescope and you may as well not have done this.
So the door would have been the main thing that could have brought
What did you do between deployment and landing? Were you in charge
of any experiments?
We did not have a lot of other experiments aboard, just because the
combination of upmass and altitude that we needed to reach really
pressed the performance. Hubble itself effectively totally filled
the payload bay. It’s not like you had a lot of room. We had
room for a cargo bay IMAX camera and a little gas can on the aft port
sill, but that was about it. I don’t think we had anything in
the cabin other than DSOs [Detailed Secondary Objectives]. I’d
have to go look at my payload log. I don’t even remember something
any other of payload class. Smaller experimental objectives of the
DSO class is all that I remember, mainly with us as test subjects.
Bruce and I were test subjects on the intraocular pressure experiment,
tracking that through time. We were higher than many crews, so we
had some additional more sensitive radiation dosimetry type measurements
to check the shielding. Just take more measurements inside the Shuttle
cabin with that radiation exposure, that sort of thing.
We had a Linhof camera. Bruce came up with this idea. It was an interesting
one. Since we were going to be in a pretty stable orbit, mowing the
lawn for those days in a relatively stable consistent attitude and
because we didn’t have pointing constraints, we took the Linhof
camera, mounted it in a bracket in W1, W2 so it could look pretty
well straight down. We did swaths for the Earth observations guys.
Contiguous swaths across all the major continental areas, because
any image frame would cover a larger area at twice the normal Shuttle
height. We figured we should take advantage of that and help fill
in some of the gaps that they get in the point-and-shoot observations
that are more typical of what operating crews can do. That was kind
You mentioned that you were the IMAX operator, I think, last time,
but that you weren’t able to operate it because you were in
Neither Bruce nor I was the primary IMAX camera operator for just
that reason. If we’d been out doing spacewalks, you would have
wanted to record the spacewalks. I’d operated IMAX on my first
flight, not the cargo bay-mounted, but I’d been fully trained
on the camera, even the film changing and stuff that wasn’t
relevant for 31. I think I trained. I think Bruce had trained on it
before. We all got some training on it. That really would have been
Charlie and Loren commanding it on and off. That’s all you can
do. You set the f-stop and command it on and off through a little
hand controller. That would have been the prime thing to do for any
of the key deployment and other scenes.
The one time I really stepped into the fray was after deployment.
They wanted a specific shot. They were aiming our footage towards
two films. One they had already envisioned, a film about Hubble, that
became Destiny in Space so they needed that footage. Plus they were
trying to fill in some final gaps in the storyboard for Blue Planet.
With our high altitude and cargo bay-mounted camera, we could get
some great overview shots for them. That was our main assignment for
Blue Planet, a couple of key regional framing shots, a great limb
of the Earth; one is the great Caribbean panorama. That’s a
31 shot. The particular gap they had in the storyboard for Blue Planet
was that they didn’t have a good shot of any of the great mountain
ranges. There’s several you could have, but the preference they
expressed was to have the Himalayas. We were the last guys that were
going to film for that. It would have been Himalayas first or Andes
second, probably just because of the prominence of the mountain ranges
and the snowcaps.
They had found one pass that was the only time our orbital geometry
gave a shot at the Himalayas. We were at 28.5 degrees. The Himalayas
were going to be north of us. We had the rollover point of the orbit
looking right up at the Himalayas. The problem was it was smack dab
in the middle of our sleep period. They’re not allowed to task
anybody in the sleep period. The editor, Toni Myers, who I’d
worked with on the first flight and had up a social rapport with,
took advantage. Not undue advantage, but used that to her benefit.
She sidled up to me during the training sessions, sketched out this
problem, and said, “I don’t know what to do about this.
Is there anything I can do about this?”
I said, “You have just done the only thing you can do about
it. Understand?” “Got it.” We took the map out.
We looked a little bit. “Okay, got it. This is all you can do
about it. I’ll do what I can. That’s the only commitment
I can make. You’re not allowed to hold any of us hostage or
beat on our heads if it doesn’t work. Don’t say a word
to anybody. You didn’t task us. We can do what we want voluntarily
in our sleep period. I’m willing to give this a go, but you
don’t get to beat up on us if something doesn’t work out.”
Fine. That was all good. She appreciated that. The problem was she
needed to know if we got that shot. That was going to be like the
third night. We had maybe two more days in orbit. If we got that shot,
then she would go one direction with the rest of her film usage. If
we didn’t get it, she would take a different pathway. It would
matter pretty quickly. Do I have this shot or not? She said, “Well,
since I’m not allowed to have asked, how are we going to do
this bit? How am I going to know?”
I said, “Tell you what. Flight day four, when you come on shift,
if you hear me say or if Payload says, ‘There was a great pass
over the Himalayas last night,’ that will mean I got your shot.”
We left it at that. I woke myself up during the sleep period. I was
sleeping on the flight deck. It was very interesting. I went mentally
dyslexic a bit about the viewing angle. We’re inverted and the
camera is pointing up out of the payload bay and the horizon is here.
[Demonstrates] Now I’m trying to envision more carefully how
much of the snowcap and how much of the darker background will be
in the frame. “What f-stop do I need to set this at? Boy, I
hope I set this at the right f-stop. Oh, well. I think it’s
f/11.” Set it up and shot it. It was pretty forgiving broad
latitude film. It all worked out fine, but it was one of those is
it this way or is it this way dyslexic things. The camera is pointing
this way and the Orbiter is pointing—oh my goodness, “Shoot
the scene! Shoot the scene!”
It ended up being in the film?
It ended up in the film. I always have fun when I watch that. I like
the film in general. There’s this wonderful lead-in narration
about, “And the great Himalayas.” This whole little story
of Toni skulking around trying to figure out how to get the shot and
our code phrases back and forth through mission control all comes
to mind every time I see that.
I’ll have to check it out. I was thinking, in comparison to
your first flight, this flight had fewer crew members. There were
only five. You had seven on your first. Was there any major difference
that you noticed other than there was more room?
A whole lot more room. Meals and everything went by more quickly.
It was easier to get that organized. It was not a big deal or a huge
inconvenience to have seven. That all worked fine. It was interesting
to have a bit more room. We ended up with about the same amount of
clutter. You unstow so much gear for any such flight, and we had a
full EVA set up in both cases so the general operating environment
wasn’t notably different. We did not have an in-cabin IMAX camera.
That and all the film canisters and changing accessories was like
having at least a half an extra crew member on the seven-person flight.
Not having some equipment of that scope around routinely deployed
was about as noticeable as not having the seven people around.
Not really a big deal. I think all of the crews that I was on interacted
well enough, communicated well enough, built such strong shared awareness
of the whole flight plan and the interacting parts of it that the
orchestration, whether through meals or through the head in the morning—it
flowed. It worked smoothly and just went without a hiccup, whether
it was five or seven. On my three flights, it was seven folks, one
single shift, five folks single shift, and then seven folks split
shift. I noticed the seven folks split shift change more, because
it was different to have so few people on the flight deck through
an entire shift. It was different to have two such different things
going on. You’re eating, doing your notes, or marking up your
flight plan, while other guys are working. So two different realms
of experience, and then combine them in stories rather than everybody
largely in the same flow of experience, that was interesting. “What
are you guys doing down on the middeck? Never mind, never mind.”
Whole separate things could be happening on your spacecraft, which
had sort of not really happened in the same way before.
I just have to ask. I know that you’re probably going to say
no, but for this mission you’re the only woman on flight. Any
No. I was the only woman on my third flight as well, and it was really
a complete no big deal either way on both flights. Again, I think
all the individuals on all those crews, to first order, we were of
the same general mindset and comfort level with respect to issues
of privacy. People have to change clothes. People are in the head.
It was just kind of a no big deal. Nobody felt a big compulsion to
say, “Go into the airlock if you’re going to change your
undies.” Those were just nonissues. On one of the flights I
remember—I guess it might have been [STS]-45, where it was just
a little more crowded, and again one group would be working while
one was changing or doing presleep or postsleep preps. It was completely
just an aside of no real consequence. You’d hear someone say,
“I’m going to change my drawers now” or “I’m
going to change my shirt now.” It was as if that announcement
created a sufficient bubble of privacy and was just enough of an alert
to “I’m taking a private moment.” No one did anything
very overt. It’s not like everyone fled the middeck, but it
was just that easygoing, that mutually respectful, that matter-of-fact,
and that much of a nonissue.
I just had to ask. We have so many people that have so many questions
Well, no claim there that the way it worked out on my crews is everybody’s
way. The astronaut corps, especially as it becomes more heterogeneous
and international, it’s not all uniform. Someone might feel
more particular about privacy, so maybe they do use the potty screen
or the airlock as a bit of a changing room. Fine. That works pretty
simple. It’s not a big deal. Pretty well do what you needed
to do. Again, maybe some crews tease more or jostle each other more
and poke at that. The crews I was on, if you announced, “I’m
going to change,” or if you felt you needed to go into the airlock,
there was nobody on any of my crews that would have played gotcha
games or joked with you that way. Couldn’t have been that consciously
programmed, but it was a pretty copacetic group from that point of
I told you the story of when Dave [David C.] Leestma and I were first
doing our suit-up training in 41G. Did I tell you that story in the
I don’t remember that one.
It’s this exercise during EVA training, where they stowed the
one-G trainer fully. The middeck is fully accurate with respect to
all your locker labels and then all the EVA stowage. Everything of
your EVA stowage is there as it’s going to be in flight. EV1,
EV2, and the IV [Intravehicular Activity] guy go out, and you start
with the day before preps. You time-compress everything, but you go
from initial unbuttoning of the airlock to staging the equipment the
day before. You walk through the cabin depress procedures. You do
every single thing of the EVA timeline from the very first preparation
step to the final restowing of the gear to come home. You time-compress
In the middle there, you reach the point where the checklist says,
“Don LCVGs [Liquid Cooling Ventilation Garment].” Dave
and I are both standing there in slacks and shirts. It’s Dave,
me, Jon [A.] McBride, and three or four EVA trainers, all of whom
I don’t remember this story. It’s not ringing any bells.
I remember we pulled the LCVGs out of the locker. I recall Dave standing
on my left. I’m standing here. We’re just facing the lockers.
There just suddenly is this notable pause and notable silence. I have
this fleeting sense that everyone has just realized that we’re
about to go boldly where no man has gone before—there’s
a woman in this mix. You have this sense that every trainer there
is going, “Okay, so I always knew how this worked when it was
just guys in the locker room and they peel down to their skivvies
and on we go. What happens now that she’s here?” Blank.
No idea. So I looked over at Dave and said, “Dave, let me tell
you my philosophy about modesty in circumstances like this.”
He shifts a bit and says, “Okay.” I said, “I have
none.” He said, “Fine.” We start peeling off clothes.
The trainers dove out of the mockup head first. We got in the LCVGs
and said, “You can come back in now.” That was just how
we seemed to do things on our crews. “Good. Right. Never mind.
Probably worked out better.
This mission was using a new system of brakes. There seemed to be
an almost longer landing pattern. Any recollections in terms of landing?
No, nothing stands out. Other than you remind me of the other bookend
that I chuckled about with STS-125, because STS-31 launched from Florida
of course, and had a weather wave-off and landed in California. I
don’t think we got an extension day. I think it was just a couple
of revs’ wave-off, and we landed out there. So I thought it
was intriguing that the very first Shuttle flight and the very final
Shuttle flight to Hubble both waved off for weather and then ended
up in California.
Any major differences you noticed?
My first and third flights landed in Florida, the middle one in California.
Not a huge difference. The mini-moment of thanks and press at the
landing site before you get on the airplane to go home stands out
more on the Edwards [Air Force Base, California] landing than the
final flight. I really don’t recall a post-landing, pre-Houston
media moment on 41G. I recall runway to crew quarters to airplanes
and home, and all the media was in Houston. So the second flight’s
landing site events stand out more, because it’s unusual to
get to Edwards. Edwards, of course, is manned up to deal with this,
but it’s a pretty big deal for a Shuttle to actually end up
there. There was a little mini-moment on a bit of a platform of saying
In the STS-31 countdown, we had a problem with—I think it was
the inboard fill-and-drain valve on the ET [External Tank] that was
showing that it had not closed. This cropped up around the nine-minute
hold. GLS [Ground Launch Sequencer] software sees that and sets a
flag, so the countdown clock stops. This was on the second launch
attempt; an APU malfunction scrubbed the first STS-31 launch attempt
ten days prior. We sat there listening to the loops of the Launch
Control Center [LCC] as the propellant and main engine guys are sorting
through the different parameters that they can see in that crisp cadence.
It was a fabulous thing to listen to. It was just absolutely amazing.
Absolutely crisp, absolutely together. NTD [NASA Test Director] is
talking to the guy, “What have you got? Where are we?”
You’d hear the launch controller thinking out loud, “I
see X, but I see Y also. I see A, but, I see B. Therefore I conclude
it’s a false indication, and the valve is fully closed.”
There’s another explicit question from NTD. “Is that your
firm conclusion? Are you prepared to override?” “I’m
prepared to override.” Then you hear the controller go through
his steps. “I’m issuing the GLS override, MARK.”
NTD just (claps) says without even missing a beat, “This is
NTD. Pick up the count on my mark. Three, two, one, MARK.” The
count starts again and (claps) off we go.
We radioed down to the mission management guys, “That team of
people needs to be at the landing site when we come home, because
there wouldn’t be a landing if there hadn’t been the launch
they pulled out of the bucket. Those guys need to be at the landing
site, because this whole mission went off because they were sharp,
on the money.” Sure enough, somehow somebody arranged that those
couple of launch controllers were out at the landing site. It was
really pretty cool to look out over the audience at two key people
and say, “Thank you for making sure this happened the right
way, for the right reasons and safely.” Tough call, tough call,
got to be made quickly, got to get it right, and they did.
I asked someone to get me the tape of the LCC loops from that event,
because I love to witness those kind of really crisp moments of absolute
expertise in action. Big risks, tough issues, a lot of data to fuse,
the world is about to be moving at 17,500 miles an hour—we’re
fundamentally dealing with bombs. If we do this all right, it’s
a fabulous dramatic spaceflight, a tremendous scientific accomplishment.
If we do just a few things even slightly wrong, people die. You’ve
got to make the call, and you’ve got to make the call now. Teams
of people that can come together and do that, and those microcosmic
moments—“GO for launch” calls, “GO for deploy”
calls, things like that—those are just pretty amazing things
to be a part of. That tape’s one of my favorite souvenirs.
Very soon after you guys returned, they noticed that there was some
trouble with one of Hubble’s mirrors. What were some of your
thoughts when you heard that?
Unfortunately it was with the primary mirror, the big one. I had already
been assigned to STS-45 when we learned that. So even before that,
immediately after our core debriefs were done, I was already jumping
in with the ATLAS [Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science]-1
training team. Actually, I had done a couple of evolutions with them
before we launched on 31, just getting things organized and moving
forward. I was payload commander. We had the PSs [payload specialists]
and MSs [mission specialists] assigned, but hadn’t yet added
in the rest of the crew. That required me to detach from the Hubble
story pretty quickly and go off and get buried in the ATLAS-1 story.
Bruce stayed much more closely engaged in all that and was able to
support the tiger team that came together to start figuring out what
on Earth can we do about this, or, more appropriately, what off of
Earth can we do about this.
I remember hearing it on the news and just being flabbergasted, just
worried and disappointed. Not for myself, and not really for our crew,
but the entire story and all of the planning and effort and scientific
potential and everything else that had already been invested in getting
to the point of having the telescope in orbit. It had been decades
since 1949, if you want to start counting when Lyman Spitzer [Jr.]
first thought about it. To have all of that work, and all the persistence
and perseverance and dedication it had taken to culminate with an
astoundingly complex and gorgeous vehicle in orbit that couldn’t
see right was just heartbreaking.
I followed it through the news and the technical sources that I could
get at through the agency. The first little bit of heart I took—and
this part seemed to elude the press and the general public—was
that it didn’t completely incapacitate the telescope. It was
a severe problem, and it really would have compromised severely the
telescope’s scientific production, but the telescope wasn’t
dead. It could still perform at close to original performance specifications
on targets that were sufficiently bright. That really reduced tremendously
the range of things that Hubble could have done and, quite critically,
it probably would have made impossible the deep field and Hubble constant
studies which were at the core of some of the highest priority scientific
objectives. But there was some good scientific productivity coming
out earlier than many people recognized.
I was only able to vaguely track from afar the progress of the regrouping
team—the “what do we do now” team. I was delighted,
of course, when Bruce first told me they thought they had figured
out a reflective optics correction, because, my God, they went through
everything. Well, the first thing they did was set the rule: “No
one laughs, no one snickers—anything anybody can imagine goes
up on the wall. Then we’ll start doing puts and takes and combining
and rejecting and so forth.” It ranged from the “wildly
impossible and violates the laws of physics besides” to “you
have just got to be kidding me.” I mean things like “We’re
going to send astronauts down the barrel of the telescope with polishing
rags and reshape the mirror.” Throw everything out there. As
they worked through it all, they realized, “The bad news is
you did indeed screw up the mirror by an amount that is significant
and should be avoidable in figuring astronomical mirrors. The good
news is you screwed it up very precisely.” This meant you knew
the actual mirror shape very precisely and could do a precise difference
calculation of the actual versus the desired and determine the needed
correction out of that.
When they realized that and figured out that you could correct that
via reflective lenses instead of transmissive ones—I don’t
have to make all the light come through a lens, I can bounce it off
of several mirrors and, through a couple of steps basically restore
it to the focus that it should have had—that just struck me
as fabulously clever. Finally, to figure out a way to engineer an
optical bench that can unfold a set of small arms and position the
mirrors precisely enough to do that correction, and that can be built
inside of an instrument enclosure—that was just cool.
The engineering behind the COSTAR [Corrective Optics Space Telescope
Axial Replacement] was just fabulous. Absolutely wonderfully clever.
I followed all that very keenly, but from the distance of being busy
on the ATLAS flight. ATLAS flew in April ’92, and SM1 flew in
December of ’93. All of those final ramp-ups and preparations
were being done while I was busy with my own final flight and then
transitioning to Washington. I followed them rather at a distance.
Except for, obviously, following the servicing mission very closely,
and being thrilled at the success and the validation of all the servicing
and repair procedures and tools that were taken along with it, which
was personally gratifying.
More importantly, it was confirmation that we really had set up the
kind of robust, accurate and reliable platform of knowledge, tools,
and procedures for the telescope teams to build on going forward,
and that was what mattered most. That was a pretty extensive bunch
of repairs, and it really gave me great confidence that we had built
the quality of foundation that we had aimed to build. We had succeeded
in doing that.
Did you have any chance to go on any PR [Public Relations] tours,
or were you pretty busy with your next mission?
I didn’t do very many PR tours. We were rolling in pretty fast
because it was a multipayload Spacelab flight. One that had been delayed.
It was the reflight of Spacelab 1, in a sense. I joined that effort,
I probably joined it for real, fully, in late April early May of ’90,
and we flew in March ’92. That’s a pretty quick turnaround
for bringing a Spacelab crew, all the international linkages, and
science teams back up to speed.
Talk about that. You were the payload commander. For people who don’t
know what that is, tell us what it is.
Payload commander had a couple pieces to it. Payload commander was
the NASA mission specialist who would oversee and organize the typically
two mission specialists and two payload specialists who work back-to-back
shifts operating complex multiexperiment Spacelab flights. I think
several factors went into conceiving of the payload commander role.
One is you’ve got a very complex Spacelab mission with a dozen
to three or four dozen experiments. The training time that the responsible
mission specialist should put into that needs to be longer than the
pilot and commander probably need to put into the basic orbital operations.
So you’re going to want to slot in mission specialists eighteen,
maybe twenty-four or thirty-six months in advance so they can build
the relationships that are necessary with the scientific team and
the payload operations team, get out to the factories, laboratories,
engineering facilities, and see the flight hardware. To the degree
that the mission simulations are going to represent those payloads—sometimes
they do. Sometimes it’s built into the Shuttle Mission Simulator.
Sometimes the preparation is done differently. The payload crew is
going to play a really substantial role in helping the simulation
teams know how to model the payloads correctly.
To provide a long lead time for the mission crew, to be sure that
one of the NASA mission specialists is considered and recognized as
authoritative in all those early planning decisions, you want that
group to be able to make effective decisions and move the flight preparations
forward, not have various people on the team saying someone doesn’t
have the authority to do this or we need the commander to make this
final decision. Naming a mission specialist as payload commander gave
that authority. You’re also counting on that person to use smart
judgment when different payload operating or crew issues do impinge
on larger flight ops constraints that do eventually need concurrence
by the flight director or by the commander. You’re not going
to step in and overrule those or supplant those. You need someone
who’s representing CB [Astronaut Office] and JSC and able to
keep the ball moving in those early lead phases. Help the payload
specialist folks who sometimes have had prior flight experience—one
of our payload specialists had flown before—but often this is
their first time. Giving them some guidance about, “This is
how it’s going to get done,” or, “This is the way
things normally go.” Being that training voice about life aboard
the Shuttle, with some authority backing that up.
That was the whole idea. Later, closer to launch, when you combine
the payload crew with the Shuttle crew, that balance shifts around.
The Shuttle commander is the Shuttle commander, there’s no two
ways around that. You help the commander in that sense, because you
know the mission teams. You know the experiment teams. You have a
little more insight about the personalities, cultures, backgrounds,
mindsets that the payload team brings to bear and can help jump-start
the overall crew’s understanding of that by the time investment
that you’ve made. That was the idea behind it.
I got slotted in with Mike [C. Michael] Foale on his first flight.
At the time, Byron [K.] Lichtenberg and Mike [Michael] Lampton were
going to be the payload specialists. Let’s see, that would have
been, like I said, May ’90 pretty well I jumped in. I think
I knew I was on the flight from something closer to January of 1990,
somewhere in the first quarter of the year. Charlie, Brian [Duffy],
and Dave Leestma, the flight deck crew, got slotted in somewhere in
1991, I think. It might have been as early as very late 1990, but
I recall it being more like early, mid ’91.
This was a payload that had been promised as a reflight to the Spacelab
1 guys. That reaches back to 1983. It had then been bouncing through
all the different remanifesting exercises for quite some time. They’d
been trying to keep the experiment teams together and keep some connective
tissue across the team and keep things moving along. Now we really
seemed to have a track towards a fixed and firm launch date. So that
was that challenge. Get Mike and me into the game, start us up to
speed, and see where are all these procedures stand, that have largely
lain untouched and not been frequently exercised for almost six, seven
years. Get that back up to a more proficient footing and see were
we really ready to intersect it with the Shuttle team. There was a
lot of time at Marshall [Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama].
All the Spacelab simulators are at Marshall. I was spending most of
my time going back and forth to Marshall and learning the experiments
and the payloads.
We had spectrographs and a couple of in-cabin experiments that complemented
the ones mounted in the payload bay. It was jump right back into about
a dozen instruments and prewritten procedures. The Spacelab guys had
taken a fundamentally different tack on how to structure and organize
checklists. We combed through those and reoriented them to align more
with Shuttle approaches just to help lower the risks of misunderstandings
across segments of the flight team. Off we went, finally.
Would you describe the ATLAS payload itself and what it consisted
I’d have to haul out one of my reprints to remind myself of
all the instruments. This was a Spacelab pallet missions, so we did
not have a pressurized module out in the payload bay. Again, were
going to have seven folks working on the flight deck and middeck.
The difference here for me was that we were going to split up into
shifts so that we could do twenty-four-hour operations. There was
not enough automated interface to operate all the experiments from
the ground if you put the whole crew to sleep at the same time.
We were going to go with Dave Leestma, Mike Foale, and Byron Lichtenberg
on one shift, me, Brian Duffy, and at the time Mike Lampton on the
other shift. The idea there was Byron had flight experience and of
course Dave Leestma had flight experience. Mike was a rookie. We had
experienced Orbiter crew and experienced payload crew, and that was
the Red shift. Charlie of course, you don’t put the commander
on a shift, the commander does what he wants to do, but Charlie was
going to favor towards the Blue shift as his main operating shift,
because that worked properly into the landing timelines. Brian was
the PLT [pilot], and so he’d have the extra backup of his CDR
[commander] being around. I had flight experience. Mike L. hadn’t,
he’d been a backup on Spacelab 1.
We moved towards flight somewhere around—this must have been
Christmas of 1990. Mike Lampton got life-threateningly ill and had
to be taken off the crew. That moved consideration to the two backup
payload specialists. One was Dirk [D.] Frimout of Belgium, and one
was Rick [Charles R. Chappell], from Marshall. Who had both stayed
with the team since Spacelab 1 days. The Spacelab guys made the decision
after some months. We did a little bit of a cross-evaluation. “Let’s
start feeding both of them into more simulators. Everyone take a look
at them, bring them up the curve a little bit, and see if we find
any grounds in performance that argue one way or the other.”
Both very competent. There wasn’t really any high level distinguishing
factor there. The Spacelab team went with Dirk for the prime, for
Mike’s replacement. He was going to be with me on the Blue shift.
The top priority experiment was one called SEPAC, and that was something
like Space [Experiments with] Particle Accelerators. It was about
the physics and plasma behaviors of the space environment. It was
really cool. We were all pretty jazzed about this. What this thing
was, it was basically an electron gun. In a sense, a large capacitor
in the payload bay that would build a charge up to a certain level
and then release a bolt of electrons.
The idea was to have the Orbiter oriented so that the aperture of
the instrument would inject these electrons roughly along the magnetic
field line down towards the atmosphere near the polar regions. You
can think of it basically as a dose-response experiment. In medicine
or other experiments, you put in a dose, you see what happens. Dial
the next dose up or down, and see how the response varies. The idea
here was to try to better understand the physics behind auroral phenomena
by injecting a known dose of electron energy into the upper atmosphere.
Then with a camera out in the payload bay and one in the cabin, measuring
the brightness of the aurora type glow that that dose of electrons
induced. If I know I put in this many kilovolts of energy, and I measured
that luminosity, maybe I can start to get a clearer understanding
of how the energy of the incoming solar particles couples into the
atmosphere and creates auroral luminescence.
That was pretty exciting. It had failed early on Spacelab 1, and so
this was a prime driver for the reflight, one of scientific life’s
tragic little ironies. An experiment like this takes electric power
from the Orbiter into the pallet and then distributes it to the different
experiments with an electrical bus on the pallet. There’s a
fuse, of course, between the Orbiter primary payload bus and the pallet.
If really dumb stuff happens on the pallet, the fuse blows and the
Orbiter is protected. There was also some fusing within the distribution
bus on the pallet, in fact, which probably came from all the littler
experiments saying, “If this sucker fries, it’ll kill
all of us.” They probably insisted that NASA fuse SEPAC so it
doesn’t take all the rest of this down. I might be recalling
the rating of this fuse incorrectly, but I think it was like a twenty-amp
fuse between SEPAC and the other. It was fifty amps between the Orbiter
primary payload bus and the pallet, and I’m sure it was a lower
rating, like twenty amps into SEPAC. We, to a one, all squinted at
the European guys and said, “Oh, isn’t that awfully low?”
They sort of agreed it was awfully low, but the fuse was buried deeply
enough inside the housing unit that nothing really was to be done
about it. Hold that thought. It comes back later.
So there was SEPAC. There were a couple of spectrographs measuring
solar spectra at different altitudes and latitudes, via solar occultations.
The instrument would acquire the Sun far above the Earth. The Sun
has a known spectrum. You’re measuring that spectrum. As you
go around the Earth, what happens is that the Sun effectively sets.
The Sun disappears behind the Earth because you’re moving away
from it. As that geometry changes, your line of sight to the Sun effectively
knifes down through the atmosphere, so you see changes in the spectrum
of the Sun in every second that you’re sampling that amount
to measuring the composition of the atmosphere at all those different
levels. Fun clever stuff. It was particle physics, it was atmospheric
composition, that was the suite of them, and I won’t remember
the whole list of experiments off the top of my head. SEPAC was the
The complexity in the cabin was we had a handheld camera with photomultipliers
and different filters that was the adjunct to SEPAC, and you wanted
to get auroral photography, Earth limb photography, and shots of these
patches that we had fired the electron gun into. That became a pretty
elaborate ensemble of dark shades so you could shield the window,
not have any glare, get yourself all dark-adapted, stack up all these
filters and diffraction gratings, and get these photo observations.
It was still photo. We were still talking photo observations back
then. We’re talking film and film changes, just complex photographic
assembly and disassembly.
SEPAC was going to fire, finally, a day or so into the flight. The
first firing was going to be on the Red shift, not long after they
had taken over. Us Blue guys were all down below mucking around with
dinner and starting to get changed for sleep. We knew it was coming,
and we were eager to see it, but we thought we should get out of their
way, let them get set up for this, and get into it. It’s the
first of several firings. Some will come on our shift. We’re
all going to want to see this. So we’re staying out of their
way, being considerate crewmates. We hear them going through the checklist.
Then we hear this, “Oh my God, look at that!” and four
other bodies come flying up to the flight deck. There’s a cardinal
rule on spaceflights, or at least on all my crews, which is “there
shall be no sentences from the flight deck ending in ‘that,’”
as in “What the hell was that?” ‘Cause you’ll
terrify the guys down below, who can’t see anything. So they
had violated that rule and had all four of us come flooding up to
the flight deck just in time to see.
The SEPAC looked like—out in the payload bay it would remind
you of a house paint canister. You could see a little bit obliquely
into the top of it. It’s about to go into the second firing,
there are now seven noses pasted up against the window. This odd blue.
It felt like I’d stepped into a science fiction movie. This
oscillating blue blob is accumulating vaguely in and around the can,
as if some luminescent blue creature is about to ooze out of this
can. It’s getting a little brighter and larger. Then suddenly
this parcel of blue energy leaps away from the Orbiter, just jumps
out of the can. You actually could see it—obviously at the speed
of light, so it goes by quickly. It was starting to curve away. You
could see the curvature of the magnetic field line. You could just
see it begin to spiral along, like all this material you drilled into
your head in college physics you’re now seeing in front of your
eyes: the curvature of the magnetic field lines, the electron gyroradius
as this thing spirals around it. “Wow, fabulous!” Then
the fuse fried.
So it was the end?
End of SEPAC! They got like two or three doses off. We all each managed
to see at least one. We joked around a lot, and I still joke sometimes,
that I’m sure we are the only Space Shuttle crew to ever fire
photon torpedoes, because that’s what this was. It was like
firing photon torpedoes down towards the atmosphere. Then it died,
and we were distraught.
Oh, it was terrible. It was terrible. We told them it was the wrong
fuse. Our photon torpedoes were much better than George Lucas’s
This as I understand it, was the first Mission to Planet Earth.
The first Spacelab Mission to Planet Earth.
Oh, it was the first Spacelab Mission to Planet Earth.
Yes, the whole Mission to Planet Earth Program thrust had already
come out. It was somewhat teed up by the Paine Commission report,
really crystallized and taken by the agency I think first in Sally’s
report, the Ride Report, in the rather early days after the Challenger
accident. Remember, this mission actually had been planned and committed
as a reflight back in 1983. This was not a mission originally conceived
of as a Mission to Planet Earth, but the nature of its scientific
work really genuinely did align with the purposes of that new program,
which was gaining momentum and clarity. That was appropriate, but
it was a late addition of a moniker.
Your crew, as you pointed out, was broken up into two shifts. Was
there any competition between the two teams?
No. No, there really wasn’t. Not really. None of us were really
of that sort of personality, “Got to prove to the other guy.”
I was just looking around to see if I had any of those reprints. Charlie
didn’t ever really use a device like that to drive performance.
Commitment to each other, commitment to the mission, the intrinsic
factors that he exemplified and reinforced. You want to do right by
the mission. You want to do right by the opportunity you’ve
been given. You want to certainly do right by, live up to, and deliver
on the expectations of a leader like Charlie. He wouldn’t have
needed to set up some fake game for me to make me do anything better.
One of the things Charlie pointed out in regards to this mission that
he did that was unusual, I think, was that he had the crew participate
in some sort of Myers-Briggs or personality type testing. Did you
find that helpful?
I actually did. The operational psych guys I think always made that
option available to commanders if at any time they felt that some
better understanding of a crew member or the whole crew would help
make sure that there was good cohesion and group performance. We were
going to fly two out of four guys who’d been sitting around
for a decade waiting. We had a four experienced Shuttle crew members
and three rookies. Quite a different mix of folks around. I think
Charlie knew he wanted to look at everybody to have a sense of how
best to move them and drive them, support, encourage, and propel them,
and suggested to us all—and it was a suggestion, and I think
we all felt fully free to say what we wanted, not have to go along.
We were all going to take it, and he wanted us to know he would see
everybody’s. The optional part was whether we would share our
profile with all the other members of the crew. He recommended that
we do this and have a group discussion around who are we, what factors
are making us tick. If strain goes up, pressure goes up, or anxiety
goes up, what do we need to understand about each other so that we
will have a greater likelihood of performing just as effectively in
an anxious or stressful circumstance as we can when things are easygoing?
Because everyone has got sort of a home base or default response pattern
that they tend to move back to when things get strained. When things
are not strained, you’ve got some more flexibility and more
latitude in your ways of interacting with people. That’s just
normal human nature. So we did that.
It was very illuminating. I think I’d seen the early psych profile
that they do on all of us somewhere back years before that. It was
interesting to see a new snapshot and look across the whole group.
The guy who did that with us had some stats on the kinds of personality
modes. His model has, I think, six different personality modes. It
was Myers-Briggs-like, but it wasn’t that model. The normal
distribution of those modes across the population, and the way the
Astronaut Office is constructed. My recollection is the two very mission-
or purpose- or goal-oriented types out of the six constitute typically
on the order maybe 15 percent of the general population, but those
two types constitute 95 or 98 percent of the astronaut population.
Whereas more dreamer or salesman type folks are very underrepresented
in the astronaut population. Not an altogether unexpected thing, but
I didn’t know that mixture of distributions. It was interesting.
I found it helpful. I think it did open up a couple different avenues
of conversation across the crew. Byron Lichtenberg had been a candidate
for the mission specialist selection back with our group and had not
made it into the class. He ended up with the Spacelab 1 team and had
flown as a payload specialist on Spacelab 1.
There’d been some bit of tension around, “Scientists are
flying. We gave up our careers and came over to become astronauts,
and then these guys are flying before we are.” There was a little
bit of that in the astronaut/ESA [European Space Agency]/Spacelab
world in the early ’80s, I hadn’t known Byron well. I
just only had sort of an impression of him out of Spacelab 1. I think
he and I, in particular, got an interesting different angle each on
the other, and went off and had a beer and talked about it some. We
live in different worlds and haven’t worked together since the
flight, but we became much better able to support each other, understand
each other, and really work together as colleagues driving both shifts
because of the exercise that we did there, than if we had just gone
in with whatever stereotype or bits of impressions we had of each
other from back in the early ’80s. So it was really helpful.
Any other thoughts about the mission itself? I know you worked on
SAREX [Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment].
Yes. The ham radio stuff was very fun. We all got into that. We used
Dave’s call sign. Although several of us got a no-key amateur
license just as part of making sure we trained well. I wasn’t
quite sure what to expect of that as we were training, but once we
got up there, it was quite fun.
Some of my more amusing recollections come out of that. I think Dave
and I in particular got into this. Dave was the key SAREX guy on the
Red shift and me on the Blue shift. I figured out pretty quickly that
it wasn’t going to be hard to talk to people on every continent.
Ham radio guys have all sorts of little milestones that they notch
their belts with, and one of them is, “Worked all seven continents.”
So sitting in your backyard in Columbus, through the magic of ham
radio antennas, you talk to someone on every one of the seven continents.
Well, there’s not a lot of people in Antarctica to talk to.
For a lot of reasons getting Antarctica is not a trivial thing to
do, but we had some passes, especially on the Red shift, where our
high latitude southern passes were near the Antarctic Peninsula, where
places like the US Palmer Station is. So it was becoming pretty fun
to look out the window. I remember one pass where I could see all
of New Zealand at night.
As you go by, you’re hearing call signs from different people.
It’s very quick. It’s not really conversation. So many
people are eager for the opportunity to say they reached the Shuttle
that if you threw out your call sign and the code word that says,
“Anybody out there,” you would just have a flood of voices
coming back. You’d pick a call sign and say, “Whiskey
Charlie Alpha Roger,” and they could now write a little card
that says, “I got a two-way exchange. That counts.” You’re
just traffic-copping a lot of these things, but it was quite fun.
I particularly liked at night when you’d see a whole continent
lit by light and be talking to people. Just imagine, it’s after
dinner. They’re spending some time on the radio. They know you’re
overhead. You’re probably a satellite in their sky. They’re
really keen to be talking to you.
I worked some passes across Australia one time where we had three
successive passes, each one several hundred miles further west because
the Earth rotates underneath you. One was offshore, one was probably
right about over the Sydney coastal area, and then one was inshore
from that. On the third pass, I picked up a call sign and acknowledged
it. A man’s voice came up quickly pleading, “Could I talk
a little more?” He’d been working all three passes, an
hour and a half between them. It was now pretty late on the ground
in Australia. He had his six- or seven-year-old daughter there who
he really had wanted to connect so she could say hello to someone
on the Shuttle. So I told all other frequencies stand by and spent
a couple minutes talking with his little girl. I thought it was just
kind of neat.
Dave woke me up one night. He finally reached Antarctica and connected
with someone at Palmer Station. He’d already been telling me
about how he was going to try to do that, because it’s only
a tiny window of time. “If you catch them on one night, ask
them if they’ll commit to man the radio the next night. Wake
me up for that one, so I can talk to Antarctica and chalk that one
off.” So the second night he gets me up. It’s all set,
and I make the contact with Antarctica.
Duffy has been a bit above all of this for a while. He had his license,
but he’s busy. He’s got lots of things to do. So Dave
and I are down after that evening when I connected with Antarctica,
and we’re both celebrating at the shift handover that we’ve
now both talked to all seven continents, that’s very cool. Suddenly
I see Duffy counting on his fingers and racking up how many he’s
gotten, and he realizes—I think he needed Asia, and then he’d
get Antarctica the next night with David. So he needs Asia. We had
some night pass coming up right along just offshore parallel to the
islands of Japan. Duffy has got this figured out in his head.
I remember he takes the antenna, stuffs it in the window, picks up
the handset, throws out the call sign to Japan. There’s rabid
ham fans in Japan. He throws the call sign out. Honest to goodness,
it sounded like 100,000 voices came back. He grabbed one call sign,
said, “Roger, got you,” turned off the radio and pulled
out the antenna. I said, “Duffy, you are cruel. There are 99,999
really disappointed people on the ground there.”
You were talking about Brian Duffy and shutting off his radio.
Yes, absolutely cruel. The other fun thing I remember—ham radiowise—is
that when we landed, in all of the postflight milling about, waiting
for people to regroup at the welcome back event, I had a second to
chat with Jan [Janet M.] Duffy. Duffy’s son Shaun—who
would have been something around seven, fairly young at the time of
this flight—while Daddy was in orbit, had gone and gotten his
ham license. Jan was looking forward to having Brian discover when
they got back to Houston was Shaun was now a ham radio operator. I
just thought that was going to be a neat little bit of homecoming
Yes, very cool. Anything else stand out about that mission in terms
of experiments? I’ve got some other questions, but I wasn’t
sure if you wanted to talk about them; no one really has shared those
sort of details with us about that flight.
The rest of the experiment ops were pretty benign, pretty vanilla.
It was notable to have an in-flight press conference with the king
of Belgium, because Dirk, the first Belgian citizen to fly, was aboard.
We will soon have the first European commander of the Space Station
[Frank De Winne], who will also be Belgian. Set up the cameras and
all that preparation, and all seven of us mustered up with Dirk right
at the middle. It was going to be Dirk and Charlie, of course—the
commander and the guest of honor, with the rest of us clearly and
properly as window dressing.
Dirk, bless his heart—as we were preparing for it, he said,
“Well, no. We’re going to want the microphone here so
I can pass it to you for other questions.” We said, “No,
Dirk, this is not going to be necessary. The microphone is going to
start here with Charlie, and then it’s going to go to you.”
“No, no, no, but he will want to speak—.” “No,
trust me, your king is not going to need to speak to any of us. We
are window dressing. This is just fine, don’t worry about it.”
So that was fun.
Any challenges on that flight other than the fuse?
Other than the fuse blowing, no. No real significant anomalies. Experiment
ops all went standardly pretty smooth. No spacewalk issues of course.
We were doing some filming for one of the first Johnson Space Center
efforts at educational videos. That did generate one of the funnier
moments. I’m a pretty good photographer and can be fairly finicky
about composition and lighting. I’m sure my crewmates could
say I would be outrageously, obnoxiously, and foolishly finicky about
some of those things. Duffy is trying to film something on the middeck
with the camera way over by the WCS [Waste Collection System]. I’m
two thirds of the way towards the starboard side up by the front.
The idea is I’ll be floating free, not attached to anything,
with an inflated Earth globe spinning next to me. That’ll be
the fun visual cue that “No, no, really, we filmed this in orbit.”
We’re trying to get the angle right and the lighting right,
because you almost couldn’t get far enough away with the camera
to get the shot we want. We had these funky little cage-protected
lights that would mount on top of the Arriflex camera to brighten
a scene. They had cages around them because they would get so hot.
We’re back and forth, we’re tweaking, I’m being
finicky and obnoxious. Duffy is probably just about ready to kill
me. Finally he says, “We’re going to do this.”
So I go over, get in position. He starts the camera going. He goes
to flip the big on-off toggle switch on this light. The light was
never really quite designed to mount to an Arriflex camera, and so
everybody had been cobbling it together with tape and other things.
Duffy gets the camera going. His jaw muscles were just about giving
up. He’s got his teeth clenched so tight trying not to snap
at me. He flips the switch on the light. The switch is so stiff that
in flipping it he undoes all of the tape and the light just launches
from the camera and goes spiraling up towards the ceiling. This look
of combined astonishment, rage, and utter frustration flashes across
his face. I completely lost it and just let go of the bulkhead and
just started cracking up. The scene is this flashing strobe as the
light goes by and me floating in a ball of laughter drifting off.
We didn’t get that scene. We stopped right there.
Needed a moment, huh?
Yes, we needed one. Yes, and I also remember Dave and Duffy doing
a golf tournament. Balling up a sock, and tying it up with gray tape—they’re
both avid golfers—taking the inspection mirror out, and Dave
did a little chip shot across from one side of the middeck to the
other. Then he tried to get clever and calculate how many seconds.
They made the cup. They took a roll of gray tape and put it on the
galley wall with a pencil sticking out of it, as if that was the hole
and the greens flag. So just monkeying around and having a bit of
a good time.
Charlie told us that he agreed to have the crew taken off on gurneys.
Do you recall this? Were you one of the participants?
I wasn’t taken off on a gurney.
No. Walked into the crew transfer van and sat on the brown Barcaloungers.
He had mentioned that there was some study. Somebody wanted to study
the impact of zero G on the human body, and that it would be better
if people came off in gurneys rather than experiencing too much gravity.
That did not happen. One of the experiments that I participated in
was basically a kinematics, body mechanics. Preflight they get you
to a little studio, put on gym clothes, put little luminescent dots,
IR [Infrared] dots, on different key joints, so they could film you
in low light with IR and do stick mapping of your body mechanics as
you walked, trotted, and ran, running through different speeds on
a treadmill. They’d get a couple baseline data takes before
flight. That was one of the groups. There’s always several that
would like to catch you ASAP [As Soon As Possible] after landing without
much gravity influence yet evident and see if they can map the readaptation
back to one G. That was one of the groups that was eager to get you
back into the lab as quickly as possible after touchdown so they could
see if there was any residual change in your gait or behavior. We
did that. I got there within forty-five minutes or an hour after landing.
Minor but not very substantial differences from the preflight routine.
We didn’t get off on gurneys. That was the only time I got off
on a CTV [Crew Transport Vehicle], the Dulles Airport transporter
vehicles that NASA got several of so that you could bring it out on
the runway, raise the cab to the height of the hatch so it’s
a level, no one has to go up and down stairs, which is both a balance
concern and a trip and fall concern. From the medical guys that want
experimental data, the mechanics of going down a stair are certainly
going to be probably inducing more gravity effects faster than just
walking on a level surface. The CTV had, like I said, the Barcalounger.
Same kind of recliners that you would have at Kennedy [Space Center,
Florida] before you got on board that can accommodate you in a pressure
suit and can lean back. So if someone is having any orthostatic issues,
or if they’re just tired, or if you want to minimize the readjustment,
you can put them close to horizontal in the loungers and just drive
them off the runway right to the O&C [Operations and Checkout]
building, right to the flight clinic, or right to wherever your postflight
biomedical facility is, if there’s a special area set up, and
go at it.
The only other question I had about this flight is did you go on the
PR flight to Belgium.
I did not go on the PR trip to Belgium. I was either about to go into
confirmation hearings or just confirmed at NOAA [National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration], when that came along. I ended up
having to stay behind.
When you were working this flight, were you considering leaving NASA
at that point?
Yes. A friend of mine had been serving as NOAA chief scientist from
something like 1989 or ‘90. Around Christmastime of 1991 or
early part of ’92, she got in touch with me and said that a
variety of family factors—aging mother and things like that—she
had realized she needed to step down from the chief scientist post.
She wanted to put my name in to the White House or in to the secretary
of commerce as a candidate replacement. Was I interested? Would I
let my name go forward? If I was, could I get up to Washington in
the next three to six weeks for a courtesy visit with the under secretary
of commerce that runs NOAA.
I thought about that for a while. The turnaround between 31 and 45
had been reasonably tight, ’90 and ’92, and I was happy
for that. It had been a long gap from the first to the second flight,
so I was pleased to have a quick turn. I’d realized in the run-up
to 45 that I was feeling I would really be ready for a bit of a downtime,
some kind of shift, a little bit of certainly a timeout in terms of
not a quick turnaround to another flight. Coming up on fifteen years
in the program I was probably at a point where I really ought to do
a personal review, taking stock, and consider. Either reconfirm that
yes and yea verily this is still exactly where I want to be, and the
outlook of things that I can see to be a part of, and opportunities
in this arena are just what I want for a goodly ’nother five
to ten years as far as I can tell. Or, are interests and desires for
personal growth and professional development, are they shifting at
all and beginning to argue for some readjustment.
I had found for a couple years, I guess, that I was enjoying more
and more the chances I had to really get more deeply into educational
program design, museum advisory work, all done on a volunteer basis.
I’d really loved the creativity and the challenge of designing
the Challenger Center Program for June Scobee and getting that launched
for her. That had really been fun. As I followed the general progress
of things in oceanography, satellite remote sensing, and environmental
science, I was finding that was claiming more and more active interest
compared to my earlier years in the program.
Those two things alone had me questioning, “Do I want to see
if there’s a way to craft a different mixture of those things
into being an astronaut, or are they early signs that there’s
another direction that’s worth considering for the next phase
of my career?” That was as far as I’d gotten. Good moment
to take a bit of a timeout and do a rethink and consider where you
are and what the next career phases are that are important to you.
Then this offer came up, and, NOAA, there’s not another agency
that captures so many of the things that I’ve always been interested
in. It’s geography, information systems, and geographic mapping.
It’s coastal survey, it’s ships, it’s spacecraft,
it’s airplanes, it’s weather, it’s everything. Just
on first principles, well, the first answer ought to be certainly
I’d like to have that next conversation. The secretary is going
to have a slate. It’s not a foregone conclusion. I talked with
Charlie about it. Told him it was at least intriguing enough that
I’d like to work our schedule so that I could pop up to Washington
and have a courtesy meeting with these guys and see, just take at
least that step. He worked with me to arrange that. That would have
been probably sometime in early February. Just went up and came back
Then put my head back into flight and went off and flew. The guy who
was heading NOAA at the time was John [A.] Knauss from Rhode Island.
He actually reached me by phone in the crew quarters on landing day.
My thinking in the weeks after meeting with him, as we ran forward,
headed in the direction that this would be a really interesting thing
to do. It’s a presidential appointment. It’s not a career
civil service slot. It left lots of opportunities to consider crafting
it as a leave of absence from the agency, not necessarily a one-way
street. It could be a really pretty interesting thing to do, to get
regrounded in the sciences, get a closer look at the industry and
academic side of things, and just for general education and general
information. Maybe that would add up, if I did it, to a decision that
it was time to move in other fundamental career directions. Maybe
it would just be a breather and refreshing pause, and I’d end
up back in NASA or staying in NOAA. Couldn’t foresee all of
that, but it had become more and more interesting to have a two-to-four-year
stint in something like that.
John reached me, actually, in the crew quarters before we got on the
planes and came back to Houston. I’ve always wondered if he
waited until we landed to be sure I was going to get back. Said he’d
made his decision, and I was indeed the person whose name he would
like to send forward to the White House, if I would confirm that I
was still interested and give him some sense of when I might be able
to get up to Washington and take some next steps. So off we went.
When did you officially accept that position?
I decided to sell my house, and move to Washington, and just take
it as a blank slate whether I would end up doing a long time in Washington
or come back to Houston. Just free up everything and be open to whatever
came next. I packed up and moved to Washington in July of ’92.
My nomination had already gone over to the Senate. It went over to
the Senate in April. I’d asked NASA to detail me to NOAA so
I still had my career status and was a NASA person on loan to NOAA
for that window of time between nomination and confirmation.
Well, it was a Bush 41 [George H.W. Bush] nomination, so of course
that went OBE in November of ’92 when he lost the election to
President [William J.] Clinton. I, in the meanwhile, had decided this
really did look like an interesting thing I’d like to do so
I set about trying to figure out how to make the case that I should
be the new group’s nominee. I’m about as apolitical as
you can get, thanks in part to the Hatch Act. I’m a competent
safe neutral choice for any administration. I can serve either administration,
and I would like to serve as the chief scientist. I managed to figure
that out and make that case, and so got renominated by the Clinton
team in early ’93 and finally confirmed by the Senate in like
March of ’93.
Did you have to testify?
How did that go?
That was pretty funny. The three presidential nominees who were tapped
to head NOAA all testified at the same hearing. So there was the under
secretary for oceans and atmosphere, who’s the administrator
of NOAA; there’s the assistant secretary, who’s also the
NOAA deputy. Traditionally that’s the guy that handles all the
coastal zone management and fisheries regulation issues. Then there’s
the chief scientist.
We did all the briefing books, murder boards, and things that you
normally do. We had one session in particular where Jim [D. James]
Baker, who was going to be the head of NOAA, wanted to get more intense
on, “Now what are the things they’re really going to roll
in and chew on us about?” I said, “Jim, these are great.
We’ll do all the murder boards, but here’s how it’s
going to go. You, they’re going to roll in on and chew on, because
they need to make the point, at least the gesture, to you, about the
executive-legislative branch tension, the checks and balances, and
plant the message with you that you dare not think that you unilaterally
control this agency.” They have strong say over it, and their
constituencies matter. “Doug they’re going to wire-brush
because he’s going to be the guy working fisheries and coastal
zone stuff that gets directly to resource usage, coastal development,
and fisheries income. They’re going to want to make doggone
sure that he knows that their voices and concerns matter and is suitably
respectful to them. Then they’re going to turn to me, and you
know what, people don’t jump astronauts.” So there’s
a couple things. “A) I’m an astronaut. I haven’t
done anything political to be attacked for. Couldn’t have. I’d
be in jail if I’d done it. Frankly, no one quite knows on the
Hill what the chief scientist does.” Baker and I had been talking
about a much more significant portfolio for the chief scientist than
some of the preceding administrators had wished to have happen, so
that was intriguing.
Sure enough, we sat there and there was Q&A [Questions and Answers]
and a little bit of posturing, wire-brushing for Dr. Baker; and then
there was testimony, Q&A, and a bit of wire-brushing for would-be
Assistant Secretary Hall; and then I read my statement. I’m
blank on who the committee members were, but the first guy rolls in
with a mini-speech of, “The nation is just so lucky that people
like you will serve.” It was just applause. Another guy rolls
in with a question about the Law of the Sea Treaty, and should it
be resurrected, should the Senate take it back up again, something
like that. He had asked Doug about it. He was following up with me.
I said, “Senator, frankly, the last time I paid close attention
to law of sea deliberations was when I was in graduate school as an
oceanographer. I’ve, as you know, been busy with other things
since then so I’m really not able to give you a good answer
to that question.” I was about to say, “But I’d
be happy to look into it and get back to you.” Another guy down
the row on the bench slaps the table and says, “she’s
not afraid to say when she doesn’t know something. I like that
honesty. We could use some of that.” End of hearing. That was
the end of my hearing. End. Done. “Thank you for serving, Dr.
Sullivan.” “Yes, sir, happy to do so.” That was
You were sworn in then?
Soon after, by the secretary of commerce.
Who was the secretary of commerce at that point?
Ron [Ronald H.] Brown, who later died in a plane crash in Yugoslavia
a couple years later.
What were your duties as chief scientist? You mentioned that there
might be this expanded role.
The NOAA chief scientist job actually has line authority over the
agency in the absence of the head of the agency. The structure of
the agency is: the administrator is first, the assistant secretary
is the deputy, and the third ranking political appointee is the chief
scientist. Then there’s a person, usually a career or political
civil service person, called the deputy under secretary, who’s
kind of the chief operating officer.
So NOAA’s chief scientist is a post that has line authority,
but its mandate is carved out in the statute to oversee the laboratories,
research, technology, and development programs that support the agency’s
mission work. There’s a slew of labs in the atmospheric sciences,
a number of oceanography laboratories, physical and coastal oceanography
labs, a slew of fisheries laboratories, and a variety of university
cooperative research programs. So what is that whole mix? How is it
structured? How is it operating? What are emerging needs? What are
the coming scientific issues? Just general oversight of those things.
You’ve got line managers running the day-to-day aspects of any
of those, but from a strategy and policy point of view, the idea was
that the chief scientist could be the one person on the senior leadership
team who, by statute and by internal decision, is not so tightly coupled
and driven by the day-to-day political issues or contract and budget
administration issues. The scientist can help the administrator have
that longer more strategic view over how the agency is positioned
in science and technology.
We, the administrator and I, had talked about the fact that no one’s
ever done a comprehensive review of NOAA’s labs to really take
a look at what is the portfolio, what’s really there in some
depth. That could be a good thing to do. There were a number of shifts
or potential shifts in university relationships that were burbling
around. How should we position for those? There were a number of things
like that. NOAA is the US signatory for a small array of bilateral
scientific agreements in oceanic and atmospheric sciences. The chief
scientist could take the ball on those. So it was looking pretty fun.
I did indeed serve as acting administrator of the agency for about
a forty-eight-hour period. It was an amusing forty-eight-hour period.
NOAA specifies contracts and funds the national weather satellites.
NASA acts as a delivery agent, integration agent, and launch agent.
People get very confused about whether they’re NASA weather
satellites or NOAA weather satellites. They’re NOAA weather
satellites. It’s on our budget authority. One of them had just
gone lost on its way to orbit, hours after I took over. I got the
fun of having the, “Excuse me, we’ve lost a satellite,”
phone call, of starting to stand up the incident team, and having
to do a little bit of jousting with my former colleagues at NASA.
“Excuse me, this was your launch responsibility and your launch
vehicle. I’m chairing the anomaly team, not you. This is our
incident team, because it’s our money, and it was our satellite
that we now don’t know where it is.”
What happened to it? Did you eventually determine?
It was just a launch bus malfunction. It was fun, fun times.
Did you formulate any sort of new policy or create any sort of new
programs while you were in this position?
We’re all watching the confirmation process. With a relatively
new administration, the rate at which nominations and confirmations
percolate through all the different positions can be slow. I actually
was confirmed fairly early relative to the Department of Commerce.
Another branch of Commerce, the Technology Administration, had been
asked by the White House to take a fresh look at environmental technology
export policy, cleanup, remediation kind of technologies. The under
secretary for technology was already confirmed, but no one else with
real technical background was confirmed in that branch or frankly
anywhere else in Commerce.
My first big assignment, once the confirmation came through, was to
head up the interagency group that was going to review, for the White
House, United States environmental technology export policy, which
we did. We did hearings. We did all the interagency meetings, all
the data gathering. Generated a report, recommendations, and the draft
presidential decision directive.
The net result of that was a presidential decision directive that
was announced by Secretary Brown and EPA [Environmental Protection
Agency] Administrator [Carol M.] Browner in a big ceremony at the
Department of Commerce. Within about five months of getting aboard,
I’d written new US policy. We had a renegotiation somewhere
about within that first twelve to eighteen months. It was a US-Russian
bilateral agreement on ocean sciences and exploration. That was all
being worked through the policy and renegotiation process rounds and
coordinating rounds. I monitored that, and took the last stages of
it, and actually was the US signatory at a meeting in Seattle [Washington].
Led the lab review. That was a big long undertaking that we completed
in late ’95 early ’96. Yes, so there were a number of
What about global climate change? Was that a big issue while you were
Yes, NOAA was a pretty key player in the US Global Climate Change
Research Program [USGCRP]. That was then steered out of FCCSET (the
Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology).
That’s a White House body to try to make sure that there’s
some integration and coherence across all the activities of all the
different agencies. Baker, I, and others followed the FCCSET and the
USGCRP pretty closely. We had a guy named Mike. Losing another name.
I can see his face. I’m losing his last name, but there was
a NOAA senior scientist who’d been in on USGCRP from the beginning,
and in particular our oceans and atmosphere research arm administrator,
the equivalent of the NASA AA [Associate Administrator], who kept
close day-to-day charge on that. We were informed and involved, but
it had really not reached the policy point yet that it’s gotten
This was the early days of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change] reports so we had a lot of NOAA folks from our labs on different
IPCC panels. In fact, Susan Solomon, from one of the NOAA labs out
in Boulder [Colorado], led the key working groups on IPCC IV, which
is the effort that recently received the Nobel Prize.
Oh, very cool.
Yes, it’s a good group. What else did we do? Oh, let’s
see. We signed the first policy decision and funding steps towards
what is now a new US scientific station at the South Pole. That started
on our watch. We were guiding those reports, another Norm [Norman
R.] Augustine effort. Weighing and making the recommendations to OMB
[Office of Management and Budget] and others. Do we try to renovate
the current station, or do we shift and make a new station? A couple
new research vessel commitments that got started that have since been
launched and commissioned that are in the NOAA fleet, even before
I was confirmed actually.
In August ’92, Hurricane Andrew came slamming ashore. NOAA had
long had on the shelf an emergency backup plan for the National Hurricane
Center, which was located right in the bull’s-eye of what was
projected for landfall for Andrew, but they’d never actually
activated or really even rehearsed it. One of the things I’d
done at NASA, like ’88, ’89, I’d been part of the
group working in and with mission control to develop the emergency
mission control center plan [EMCC]. In fact, we’d decided to
activate it in backup mode, in shadow mode, in a pretty full-up exercise
in association with a flight late in ’88, I think. I went out
to White Sands [Test Facility, Las Cruces, New Mexico]. I was driving
to California for Christmas holiday. Met everybody else that scrambled
out there with the aircraft activation plan we’d written and
ran a dry run on our whole EMCC plan. This was back in the days when
you couldn’t guarantee continuity of communications to and from
an airborne airplane with the Shuttle. You can do that now. Cell phones
almost didn’t exist then. It was how do you deal with the coms
gap, but it was very relevant experience to walk in the door at NOAA
with a hurricane about to hit the National Hurricane Center.
The first thing John Knauss asked me to do was get that backup plan
off the shelf and review it and get over with the NOAA guys in Maryland,
which is where that the backup would be, and be sure we were ready
to step in for the National Hurricane Center if the center got knocked
out. We did that whole thing. Then I ended up on the ground in South
Dade [Florida], about ten days after Andrew went through, with our
disaster response teams, looking after the Commerce Department personnel
in the area. We had about seventy-five people in the whole Miami area,
in our fisheries labs, the hurricane lab, and the hurricane center.
Most everybody had lost their homes. Any institutional capacity to
deliver payroll was pretty well knocked out. It was an incredible
mess. I wasn’t even confirmed yet, but I went down there and
checked on our folks, helped get a disaster survey team going, and
helped set up the site visits for the secretary of commerce and the
head of FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency].
Let me clarify. I made no official decisions. We took our then assistant
secretary down with me, so we had someone duly and properly authorized
to make decisions and act on the part of the agency. I didn’t
do any of that, but I was certainly able to help, advise, and guide
some things informally.
Was Al [Albert A.] Gore [Jr.] a player at all when you were working
at NOAA? Did you do any work with him?
I did very little directly with the vice president. Towards the latter
time of my tenure, he was getting started on Project GLOBE [Global
Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment], this grassroots
program for kids across the world to make environmental observations
and take advantage of the still emerging Internet capacity. This is
1994 and 1995, so you have to remember the Internet experience then
wasn’t anything like it is today. The notion back then that
kids in any country across the globe, from the First World to the
Third World, could make some observations and have some computer or
handheld interface that would let them convey those observations to
some global repository where they could feel they were a part of contributing
to a global understanding was unthinkable. That was a fair bit of
technological stretch for more remote parts of the world. I worked
more with his staff and the group that he started building around
that project than with him directly on that project. I was a mere
Why did you decide to leave the government in ’96 and move to
I stole a device from a friend who I’d met in Washington to
help shape thinking about the future. I guess what was happening was
I was really having fun at NOAA. I was getting a fresh look at the
corporate sector and another look at academia. But I really wanted
a chance to shape, design, and lead something. I’d come to two
conclusions about opportunities to do that within NASA or within the
government in general.
From what I had seen within NASA at the time, even very capable women
who I thought very highly of and respected quite a lot seemed almost
never to get above deputy. They could do incredible work, save programs,
you name it, and they’d be offered a lateral move to be somebody
else’s deputy. There’d been one female Center Director
for a brief tenure [JSC Center Director Carolyn L. Huntoon]. I looked
at that and said, “It looks to me like this is not yet an avenue
where there’s high probability of leading a Center or leading
a major program. It doesn’t look very likely.”
Secondly, when I really thought more carefully about the leadership
challenges I’m really interested in taking on and developing
in myself, I realized that you don’t have the same kind of latitude
in most government programs that you do if you’re actually creating
a product, running a business, conceiving of a program, and having
to conceive, design, formulate, organize, deliver, muster the resources,
the whole thing. I found, bigger challenge though that is and more
daunting in some ways, I actually wanted to have a shot at getting
my arms around the whole of something like that.
Then just considering my age at the time and the career point I’m
at, because I was just forty, forty-one, something like that, if you
want to add a really different next chapter in your professional life,
the early forties is a good time to do that. You’ve got good
running room ahead of you. If you decide to stay another five to ten
years in government or back at NASA, it’s not that that’s
closed off by any means, but it’s just different. You’re
at a different point in life. It seemed like the right, still-fertile,
vibrant point in time to launch. If you’re going to launch a
whole new chapter, jump in now at this still-fresh vibrant phase and
go for it and see what it becomes.
That was the first conclusion. Then my consideration was, well, so
where does that mean I want to head to? I realized, well, the astronaut
experience and the presidential Washington experience, if there was
ever a pathway for someone trained originally as an academic to end
up working in industry, this would be the juncture to look at that
opportunity. I don’t actually know anything about living and
working in the corporate environment. I’d never done it. So
how would I get some information? That’s where this approach
that a friend had used was informative. It boils down to: look around
your circle of colleagues and acquaintances. Find people who are at
a position of accomplishment and seniority that gives them a broad
field of view or really insightful perspective across a sector, a
field, or a domain of work, and who know you well enough that they
have a good sense of your strengths and weaknesses, and also will
be candid with you about their assessment. Ask them if you can take
them to lunch and understand how their world works. It’s not
asking for a job.
I made a list of people I knew, mainly in the corporate world, because
I figured that’s the next plausible choice. Academia or the
museum world—both had some interest, especially the museum world—could
more logically come after a corporate stint than if I went back to
one of those fields and then tried to come back into the corporate
I made a list of people I knew who were successful and well positioned
in different companies. I actually started this relatively early after
I was confirmed, because it was not about looking for a job. It was
about adding food to my thought banks so that I had more to work with
as I evaluated, “What am I really interested in? What really
matters to me?” I bought about a dozen people lunches. “How
does this world work? What are the greatest things? What are the best
parts of it? What are the ugly parts of it? What are the huge challenges?
What drew you into it? What keeps you in it?” If at the end
of this term, two or three years from now, I were going to parachute
into this world, “What’s your sense of what the emerging
really interesting challenges and opportunities would be? That if
I decided over time that I wanted to parachute in here, those would
be cool things to aim to be involved in.” Preview of coming
attractions. What do you think that’s going to be?
Nice lunches. Would make some notes afterwards. Then let about six
or eight, nine months go by just thinking about it. Eventually went
back to a couple three of them and said, “I think I am going
to leave government, and this might be the direction I’ll go.
Who can I have a next conversation with?” That fairly quickly,
quite gratifyingly led to some nice, notable, make your banker very
happy type of corporate offers. I kept finding that I could analyze
the daylights out of those offers, but there was just nothing in my
tummy that convinced me I would leap out of bed as eager for the next
day as I had up until that point, from—shucks, high school onwards.
I’m just used to that. “Oh, a new day, good.” This
was going to be, “Oh, God, another day.” I said to myself,
“This is probably a sign here that something isn’t jibing
Right around that time, a headhunter approached me, in part about
corporate board opportunities, but also it was probably a little bit
of a bait and switch. We’ve remained good friends since. She
was leading the search for the new CEO [Chief Executive Officer] at
COSI [Center of Science and Industry, Columbus, Ohio]. I knew of COSI
from my other museum work. I had been aware through the grapevine
that the CEO slot was open. It was just out of my field of view enough
I hadn’t ever really given serious thought to the position.
I didn’t know anything about Columbus or Ohio, so it was just
not on my radar screen. We met, and we talked about it. COSI was at
a very interesting point in its evolution.
They needed someone to run the museum, plus they were building a new
building. There was going to be a complete move, and the transformation
of everything about the organization that goes with a move of that
scale. They clearly had not yet done most of the detailed work and
creative work around the education program. “What should the
new suite of programs be? How do you transform the ones you’re
going to keep? What new ones do you need? What are the new exhibits?”
None of that had really been done.
So I agreed to go out and have at least a first meeting with them.
I did that, I guess, in about October of ’95.
Meanwhile, during the latter part of ’95 I had a very eager,
almost frantically insistent senior corporate guy wanting a quick
answer. “I need to know. I’ve got to have you here.”
So I have this still rather vague prospect with a group of people,
in this odd place out in Ohio, who are probably still looking at the
state of four to six candidates, and I don’t know if I would
even be their final pick. But I was ducking the corporate guy’s
phone calls, I realized. So all that was swirling around during the
last couple months of 1995.
It really was an interesting contrast. The corporate opportunity was
a pretty typical next step for an astronaut to take, but the COSI
prospect was one that even I had not been thinking of at the start.
I could imagine some of the reactions from my family and friends.
“You’re doing what? You’re moving where?”
As opposed to, “Oh, VP technology for the umpty-fratz corporation,
wow!” That probably would have read as a better press release,
and undoubtedly would have made more sense to my banker. Was a lot
more comfortable probably. Challenging but in some ways comfortable
to go the corporate route.
But the COSI gig had good people. It was a big challenge. It was community
and a board. The interview visits let me see enough people to know
that this was a community and board that does not micromanage their
nonprofit CEO. Your authority will be real. Your responsibility will
be real. Your latitude to shape the organizational culture, process,
performance targets, strategy: it’s all genuine. Make or break,
it’s your ball. As we sorted out the details on this end, we
basically pulled several jobs together. When I came out here, I was
charged and had agreed both to run the current museum and to serve
as CEO of a separate entity; set up a separate entity to raise the
funds and oversee the design and construction of the building and
the exhibits and the procurement of all the systems. I did both of
those jobs. Bid, built, equipped, and opened a $125 million new building
a couple three years later, on time, under budget. It’s today
humming along as the named number one science center in the country
by a national magazine. So good stuff.
How did you get to Ohio State University [Columbus, Ohio], then, from
I ran COSI from ’96 to essentially 2006, just a couple months
shy of ten full years. We built the building. We opened. We ran through
all the shakedowns and challenges of getting everything in order.
Your first draft operating budget is never really fully correct to
how the system actually works. It takes a couple years to shake that
out, get all the guest service operations smoothed back down and rebuild
cash balances. Draw your donors back in. Rebuild the membership.
We really had all that work done, with all the unit vectors lined
up in the right direction. We did a final restructuring of the budget
and the operating structure to be able to use this gigantic facility
as a multipurpose platform. So it hosts today the science museum,
the public radio and TV station from the university, and some university
laboratories and a family research center. It’s a community
platform, if you will, for public outreach, especially science and
technology-oriented public outreach, and education. It’s got
a much more multifaceted character than COSI had before. That was
kind of all done.
We were at a plateau where the next step really is to restart a new
conversation with the community about now, “How are we sustaining
this and what direction are we taking it in.” As I looked, I
could see that coming, and forecast the main blocks of activities
for about another five or ten years. I realized one day that felt
an awful lot like a replay of the planning, strategy, and building
of relationships work of the preceding ten years, without the extra
gratifying challenge of the same amount of design work and creative
work that we got to do when we were conceiving of the new exhibits
and programs. I just realized—it just struck me very clearly
one day. “I’ve done my phase. Time for me to shift gears.”
The board and I had talked the whole time I’d been there about
trying to emulate a model that our zoo uses and uses to great effect.
There’s a symbolic leader of the zoo named Jack Hanna who over
twenty-some years has become quite a media personality. He really
is the popular public face of the zoo. Then there’s a CEO who
runs the zoo day to day and is comparatively less known in the public
sphere. We had talked frequently in the ten years that I was running
things that, while it was good—things were fine, and we’re
performing well—my being so close to all the operations and
business processes was at the expense of using, in a more highly leveraged
way, my national standing or the kind of media profile I could develop.
When I realized I don’t particularly want to do the next round
of just the same planning as we did in the last ten years, I brought
that conversation up again with the board, and we agreed now we were
at a point where we could start to discuss how to separate roles so
that I could have that broader strategic public persona. We went back
and forth about, “What are we going to call it.” They
call Jack Hanna director emeritus, because he actually was director
for ten or fifteen years before shifting to the media role. We settled
eventually on the title of science adviser. They were going to go
off and search for a new CEO to replace me. We figured when we get
that person aboard, then we’ll start really crafting the role
and finding out what’s the interplay of inside and outside roles.
In that period of time, just as the search completed and the new guy
came aboard, Ohio State had been given a major gift to start this
new Center of Math & Science Education Policy. The full constraint
of the gift is contained in the sentence I just said. “Here’s
X million dollars for a new Center of Math & Science Education
Policy.” “Well, so what should it do?” “We
don’t know.” “Pre-K-12?” “If you like.”
“Undergraduate?” “If you think so.” So it
was very unconstrained. The university president at the time, who
I had known since she arrived and whose husband actually way-back-when
in an indirect way had reported to me as chief scientist at NOAA,
grabbed me one day. She told me about the gift and how broadly unconstrained
it was and said she had decided the best way to figure out what it
ought to do would be to get me and let me figure it out. So stand
by, I plan to come recruiting you. I expect to have to recruit you
hard, but I want you at the university. By the end of 2006 that’s
what had happened.
So what stage are you at in terms of this new center?
Well, I shifted over in late ’96, in the middle of writing a
book on leadership in education. Not ever really having thought carefully
about how do you make an impact on the science education issues of
our day from the policy side of the equation. My modus operandi before
that had been working from the platform of a science museum. I can
develop exhibits, field trips, overnights, teacher support programs,
a lot of things that can take a pretty good shot at improving some
outcomes for kids currently in the pipeline, because kids currently
in the pipeline are the core of our audience. We can engage with them,
and we can do something. We can give them some enrichment. We can
give them some motivation. We can improve their teachers’ comfort,
fluency, and content knowledge. That was one approach.
Now, if you’re not going to design and operate programs, but
you’re still trying to in a sense get to the same objectives,
what are the levers? What are the tools? What are the avenues that
you can have an impact on? I’d never really given that careful
thought. Our agreement for the first year was “I need to finish
this book, and I’d like to spend the first year learning, digging
into literature, doing basically an environmental scan. Getting myself
oriented in this policy landscape and start to answer questions about
how do you gain some leverage, and what niches appear to be the ones
that are worth going into,” with a very creative opportunity
here. The way the gift to the university was structured includes some
very patient capital. Some available for speculative wild leaps kind
of money that we can play with and try to spark some things. So how
do you use that? My take was what kinds of things can you do that
would amount to using that in innovative ways, novel ways, not just
join the fray and become another lobbyist pacing the halls of the
Ohio General Assembly. That idea struck me as a) completely uninteresting
at the personal level and b) such a waste of an innovative opportunity
that this gift represents.
So 2007 went to the book and the environmental scan. We settled on
a couple of lines of initial research that we wanted to start developing
in late 2007 and worked on those through ’08. We’ve turned
three of those from seeds into seedlings. Now we’re in sort
of the tend-the-seedlings phase of things and beginning to grow those.
Bring in some partners and some external funding. Also still looking
for what should the next couple seeds be that we put into place. It’s
moving along pretty well.
The center lives in the John Glenn School of Public Affairs, which
I should clarify means public policy and management; it doesn’t
mean public affairs in the NASA sense of public affairs. We’re
not the media shop; we’re the public policy and management shop.
The Glenn School is developing a real core strength in science and
technology policy so I also have that opportunity to contribute there.
Over the last year, I worked with a colleague to design, in fact,
a graduate level course in science and technology policy, which we’ve
been teaching for the first time this spring quarter. We’ve
got two more class sessions left before it’s all done. It’s
turning out to be very fun. It’s such a completely different
pace, culture, and structure to things than anywhere I’ve ever
worked before, which is pleasantly relaxing, occasionally mildly disorienting,
and frustrating, but interesting to navigate through.
Well, you’ve had such a varied career. It’s very much
like the Joe [Joseph P.] Allen career.
Yes, the explorer career. As someone once said to me, in anybody else
yours would be too wide-ranging a curiosity, but you seem somehow
to manage to back it up.
You seem to do everything very well. Are you partnering with your
former colleague Sally [K.] Ride in her science camps?
I have supported Sally in some of the science festivals and TOYchallenge
judgings. Her program design for both of those programs explicitly
involves matrixing in scientists, women scientists in particular,
from the regions around where the events are held, which is a great
thing to do on a couple of counts. It lets the scope of what the company
can do be bigger than just the capacity constraints it would have
if it was all dependent always on Sally. Also it’s actually
helping make local school enrichment organizers, local science festival
organizers more aware of relationships they can be taking advantage
of right nearby them. It increases the chances that, instead of a
one-off event when Sally shows up in Dayton [Ohio], that you’re
helping foster relationships that will continue and keep the Dayton
region more active in between grand festivals. It’s been fun
jumping in on some of those.
I thought we’d talk about some of your awards. You’ve
gotten countless awards. I don’t know if you want to pick a
few. We were talking about your Lone Sailor Award at lunch or if you
want to talk about being inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Girl Scout Award. Those were some of the ones that struck me as maybe
more important than the others.
Sure. I’m happy to talk about them. Some of them really have
meant a lot to me and touched me. Sometimes just in the course of
getting acquainted with an organization or all the events around receiving
one, I meet people who I find a lot of value in. There’s a pleasure,
obviously, a bit of satisfaction, sometimes some real interesting
learning, and some neat new friends and colleagues out of these things.
That’s what appeals to me about them.
I guess I would actually reach a little further back than the ones
you mentioned for the first one that really fits some of those criteria
for me. I hadn’t known about the award, a US Jaycees Award.
I had, and have still, actually, no idea how its nomination or selection
processes go. A person I didn’t know at all called me up, said
congratulations, and told me I had been named one of the Ten Outstanding
Young Americans. That sounded fairly wild. It’s an amazing label
to apply to anybody. “Will you come to Tulsa [Oklahoma] and
accept the award?” Looked it up, and it was an interesting award.
You could really resonate with and appreciate the kinds of things
it was trying to celebrate and feature in people. Looked at some of
the accomplishments and names of folks who’d gotten it before.
It seemed legitimate. There didn’t seem to be large mismatches
between the statements made about the awards and the kind of people
listed as honorees. It was not just headline or celebrity, well-known
people. It was, in many cases, grassroots unsung activists who were
doing great things.
As I looked at all that, I liked that. I liked that it’s not
just people whose path through life happens to put them on a media
radar screen. That’s not the only group of people, by any means,
that’s doing meaningful work, and certainly not the only group
that’s doing all the important work. I like and really respect
award programs that get below that easy, obvious level of titles or
press releases and help lift up, propel, or celebrate the kind of
works we all need happening around us. So this seemed like one of
I was more than a little bit amazed. It was kind of wild. Went up
to Tulsa. Turns out a couple who was active in the Jaycees leadership
had nominated me. I don’t know them at all. This was entirely
their doing to decide that I, with the spacewalk and other things,
was worthy of acknowledgement. It was a great event. It was a lot
of fun. The group of five or six of us that were getting the award
that year jelled, bonded, and had a really good time together in the
day and a half at Tulsa. Everybody’s story was really interesting.
The kind of work they had done and the circumstances they were working
in just was against much harder odds in many ways than anything I
I don’t say that in some cavalier way to minimize my own skills
and the work I’ve put into my career. That’s all well
and good, but if you’ve been in abusive families or come up
from poverty, and you’ve oriented and got yourself on a track
that you’re actually making something happen for others, that’s
against a lot more daunting set of odds than anything that I had ever
faced. Being an astronaut is a big opportunity, a big challenge, a
big responsibility, and you’ve got to hold up your end of the
bargain as an important cog in a big team, but you are an element
in a team. You’re not doing any of this stuff solo. Some of
these folks were really pulling notable accomplishments in civic or
social advances, really very much on their own.
Once I met them and saw the award—it’s this really fabulous
piece of sculpture that I still quite like. It’s a brushed silver
hand from just below the wrist on, reaching up from out of a marble
base, and another similar hand just touching the fingertips from above,
which captured nicely the values of the award, of one hand helping
another hand, lifting, moving people along. That was probably my first
experience being given an award or named to an award that I had in
no way aimed at, I didn’t even know about. You aim at a college
degree, you work hard, and you get it. You aim at a PhD, you work
hard, and you get it. You aim at a competition to get a position like
astronaut. That was my motif. I’m used to setting a target,
going, and getting it done, but the fact that suddenly now I’ve
done something where other people are going to reach out and bestow
things on me without my consciously having done anything, that was
a very different experience than anything I had ever encountered.
It has happened subsequently too, but that was just so novel to me,
that someone who never even knew me would do that. That same group
put my name forward to the International Jaycees. In 1987 that group
named Ten Outstanding Young People of the World, and I was named to
that. All of what I just said about how impressed I was with the kinds
of challenges that other fellow awardees had overcome, multiplied
by a factor of ten. One of the recipients that year of the international
award was one of the maybe very first innovators of microcredit in
Bangladesh. So here’s just the whole scale of the problem he’s
trying to contribute to, and the character of the lives that he and
the people around him were living. That was just mind-boggling, and
it was just plain humbling to be on the same stage getting the same
award as someone tackling such a fundamentally different huge social
So those are two good first examples of my first foray into that kind
of an award. I just always learn something and get some inspiration
from the other people around me on something like that. On those kind
of cases, man, I always accept the award on behalf of all the people
I worked with, because I’m fine and I’m proud to be an
emblem and an ambassador for the whole group, but it’s a national
undertaking. I didn’t have to invent the undertaking. It’s
a national commitment, and it’s a tremendous team of people.
I just have never felt right getting up on a stage for an award like
that and pretending it was all me. “Thank you very much. You
finally recognized how fabulous I am.” It’s just not quite
how I look at the stuff.
I was commissioned into the Naval Reserve in 1988. It was a direct
commission as a lieutenant commander in the Oceanography Reserve Program.
I’d gone that way because I just loved the sea services, loved
being at sea. I thought two things. I thought at the moment I have
the world’s absolutely coolest ops job, but that probably won’t
always be the case. Second, I’d been trying to figure out some
way to retain some really active currency, not just reading the scientific
literature, with oceanography. The Navy Reserve had organized a program
centered on oceanography and meteorology not too many years before
I joined the astronaut corps. So those two threads came together,
and I thought this could be a really intriguing way. A National Guard
or Reserve commitment was a side activity that required some time
periodically away from the office that the Astronaut Office understood.
They seemed not to quite have the same conceptual framework around
research, of taking time to just go back and do some research somewhere.
Plus academic oceanographic research is harder to intersect with in
terms of ship schedules at sea. It seemed like a practical and intriguing
way to stay current with oceanography in a more applied sense.
I got the commission in 1988 and served nearly a full career. Didn’t
quite get the full twenty years in. I finally resigned my commission,
was discharged as a captain in 2006. I never served active duty. This
was Secretary John [F.] Lehman’s tenure, and the pathway I got
in on was designed to admit scientific specialists at advanced pay
grades to the reserves, to augment the Navy’s active duty personnel.
All was great. In 1996, not even ten years in, I get a call from someone
who’s representing the Navy Memorial Foundation.
Now, I’d been in DC when they built the Navy Memorial out on
Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenue right at the corner near the
Canadian embassy. I love the space. The way they’ve done the
layout, the map, the panels, the friezes that commemorate the major
naval battles. Have always found the nine-foot-tall statue of the
sailor in his pea jacket and his Dixie cup hat with his seabag at
his feet—I just have always loved the space. One of my sailors,
while I was commanding a unit in Washington in the reserves, he wanted
me to do his reenlistment ceremony and wanted to do it at the memorial.
It was a place that really meant a lot to me, and I liked to go down
and listen to the summer concerts there. So, back to the Memorial
Foundation. This guy calls up and starts talking with me about the
Lone Sailor Award.
I listened for a couple minutes, and I was 99.999 percent sure—in
fact I was completely sure—that the reason he was calling was
because he was thinking I might know of some good candidates for the
award. I heard him out a bit and started responding in that vein.
He stopped me pretty abruptly and said, “No, I don’t think
you heard me right.” It took him a couple of go-arounds to finally
get through my head that, just like the Jaycees ten years before,
they actually had already met, thought, nominated, and decided. He
was calling to let me know that I was the recipient of this year’s
Lone Sailor Award, which struck me just as much as the Jaycees call
in 1987. I thought, “My goodness. I’ve got eight years
of direct commission Naval Reserve experience. What about women in
the Navy Nursing Corps? Surely you haven’t honored all of those
sorts of people so fully that you’ve now got room for an eight-year
naval reservist who never even served active duty time.”
They had decided, and that was it. I was delighted. Just amazed that
any combination of who I was or what I had done was deemed of high
enough visibility and value to the Navy. This award, their language
says, “A Lone Sailor statue is presented to sea service veterans.”
I’m still only eight years into a reserve career so I’m
still not even sure I should be entitled to call myself a veteran.
“Sea service veteran who has distinguished themselves, drawing
upon their sea service experience, to become successful in their careers
and lives while exemplifying the core values of honor, courage, and
commitment.” I’m pretty good on honor, courage, and commitment.
I’m confident of that. All of that just was flabbergasting.
Really cool. I liked that a lot because it was in a sense a signal
of confirmation by Navy peers—unsought, unsolicited, unlobbied
for—that meant a lot to me.
That was to be bestowed at a fancy black-tie dinner, out at the Richard
[M.] Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California. I went
out there in 1996. President Nixon had been given the award posthumously
the year before. His brother Donald was going to accept for him at
this event. The Naval Heritage Award is another award that this outfit
gives, and they were giving the Naval Heritage Award that year to
Bob Hope. So that was a very, very fun evening. An interesting setting.
The trophy, the memento that awardees get, is about an eighteen-inch-tall
miniature variant, but really heavy, of the same Lone Sailor Award,
which I always keep fairly prominently around my office, because I
just still love to look at it. I love the statue. I have a fun picture—against
a solid wall of US flags—of Bob and Dolores Hope flanked on
one side by me and on the other side by President Nixon’s brother.
That was a pretty fun evening. I cherish that one. I like that one
a whole lot.
Halls of fame are interesting. Some of them, not to trivialize any
of them, because I can’t think of one where the folks making
decisions are really being either crass or trivial about it, but in
some cases there’s a mixture of genuinely wanting to honor the
person you’re inducting and also wanting to burnish the standing
of the hall of fame by being able to persuade someone of that caliber
to accept the honor. I always look at any award with a bit of that
in mind. Honorary degree is another one that’s very nice, but
sometimes it’s very clear that the school is at least as interested
in being able to say that you have one of their honorary degrees as
any interest in honoring you. You hang around the awards circuits
enough, you learn that giving and getting awards serves many, many
purposes in a lot of cases. Not just the substantive purpose of truly
marking accomplishment. They get a little wild about those things
The first hall of fame I was inducted into was the Ohio Women’s
Hall of Fame. There’s pretty solid substantive folks in that.
I know enough now about the panel and the process that that’s
a pretty solidly determined group. I then later was inducted to the
Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, and obviously, given my commitment to
service and my delight at being in the Navy, I liked that an awful
lot. Fellow astronaut Suni [Sunita L.] Williams was inducted to the
Hall of Fame the same year, actually so we did that ceremony together.
Just a couple months ago, I was downtown here in Columbus in our state
office building. Another professor and I were going to meet some officials
in the state’s Department of Development to get some background
on a technology development program that we’re featuring in
the class we’re teaching. Since the last time I was in there
they’d made a big installation with wall plaques, flags, and
service medallions of the members of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame,
right at a key juncture where all the stairways and escalators converge.
Wow, that’s a neat layout. I drug him over and said, “See
anyone you know?” “Oh, wait! Oh, you are? You were in
the Navy? I didn’t know.”
Then in 2004, I was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame. That’s
very much a meaningful one. Astronaut is a small club to start with,
astronaut, cosmonaut, all labels, all nations. I haven’t checked
the numbers recently, but it’s probably still just under or
around 500 human beings ever in the course of time that have had that
experience. It’s a very tiny club to begin with. The US Astronaut
Hall of Fame [Titusville, Florida], it’s not just a one for
one, if you flew you get in. There’s a subset. It’s probably
running about 10 percent or 15 percent. It is a vote of your peers
who were admitted before. The folks that stand up and get Academy
Awards and make their speeches about “when your peers vote,”
there’s a real dimension of truth to that, if you really count
the motives that people are bringing to a vote like that. In the Astronaut
Hall of Fame, that’s a group of solid folks and a meaningful
vote. So that was neat.
Then I also was nominated, by one of my oceanography friends, Sylvia
Earle, to the Women Divers Hall of Fame, and was inducted into that
in 2005. A flying friend, Patty Wagstaff, several-time US aerobatics
champion, nominated me to the National Aviation Hall of Fame [Dayton,
Ohio], which I discovered when the certificate arrived in the mail
saying, “We nominated you.” The astronauts being inducted
to that this year are Eileen [M.] Collins and Ed [Edward H.] White
[II], which is a very good pair of picks. I don’t know if I
get looked at again. I have no idea. I honestly have no idea how these
Quite the sampling of awards there.
Yes. It’s fun stuff. They’re neat. The events are sometimes
very fun. Like I said, oftentimes they really introduce you to someone
who comes to matter to you or teach you something really neat in the
long run. That’s the real benefit out of it. Bullets on resumes
are okay. So what?
Have you donated any items that they’ve used in any of the museums
for any of the hall of fames?
The Astronaut Hall of Fame is the one that had requested things. I
haven’t. It’s partly just not having gotten around to
it. I did a pass through some of the stuff I have. A) I am not a great
packrat, so I’m just not the person that’s going to have
every little thing I put my fingers on while I was getting ready for
41G. Of course early Shuttle is a different era than Mercury or Gemini,
the range of things that we as crew members were allowed to take with
us as personal mementos is way smaller. John [H.] Glenn’s hand
controller, the rotational hand controller from the Friendship 7 capsule,
is above us here in this building. It’s a one-time-use capsule.
It’s unequivocally his. When he says, “I had to steer
this thing, I’d like that hand controller,” they carved
it off and they gave it to him. You try to take one of the hand controllers
out of the Space Shuttle sometime, you’re not going to get the
Maybe when it’s retired.
Maybe when it’s retired. I think there might be a fight for
Is that something that COSI is considering once the Shuttle retires,
putting in for one of the retired Orbiters?
I haven’t really asked the current board chair or CEO directly.
There’s a pretty steep price tag to get ahold of one of those.
COSI’s charter and approach is really all sciences, multidisciplinary,
not space per se. The priority in COSI’s world of vying for
just that artifact would be different than, say, the Reuben [H.] Fleet
[Science Center] in San Diego [California] or the Seattle [Washington]
Museum of Flight. Places like that, it’s much more on their
core mission, maybe even the Cosmosphere [and Space Center] out in
Kansas. It’s much more on their core mission to collect things
having to do with space than it is for COSI. So I’d be surprised
if they’re bucking for that.
I had a list of general questions that I came up with. Some relate
to items we talked about earlier, and I thought you might want to
expand on. Then some are just general questions we ask everybody.
We ask everybody what they think their greatest challenge was while
they worked for the space agency.
I think I started in the program at age twenty-six, straight out of
grad school. I think probably the greatest challenge I had was really
learning personal and interpersonal skills. I had been a grad student
working towards my degree. I’d worked on ships at sea, and that
generates some of the same sort of mastering interpersonal skills,
behavioral challenges of spaceflight, but nothing like the same close
quarters and intensity level that the speed and pace and hazard levels
of spaceflight do. It really almost was a cultural mapping of figuring
out how the squadronlike culture of the Astronaut Office works. What
are the behaviors and approaches that really make you an effective
performer is the easy part, that’s the intellectual competency
part. Effective communications, interacting with crewmates and colleagues,
managing that. There’s an interesting mix of colleague, compadre,
and competitor that creates the dynamic of the Astronaut Office. Some
of that was quite familiar to me. Some of that was alien to me.
I think some of that early transition at that young age, coming back
from five years in Canada and into such a different setting, that
was a big challenge. It was a great challenge. Some first lessons
that became my own building blocks of how I look at and think about
leadership. What does it take of you to be an effective leader? What
methods and techniques and insights do you need to actually effectively
lead and engage others? I think I really started building those more
consciously there as I became aware of those factors and thought about
them and reflected on my own practices and behaviors.
Can you share some of those details on tape?
On one level on any team, but in high performance teams, each individual
needs to be fully known and highly predictable to the others. On another
level, the team needs some creativity and flexible adaptability. I’ve
always been a person that liked lots of variety and will often come
at even the same thing sometimes in fairly different ways just to
explore and experiment how does a different way work. Sometimes that’s
fine, and that was helpful. Sometimes that seemed to bother people.
They were expecting you to do it just this way, and you try it a different
way. Everybody was a little disconcerted. I had somewhat of a tendency
to, if I spotted a problem, just dive in individually, fix it, and
then step back out.
One that comes to mind is we were coming back to Houston in a formation
of a couple of three T-38s. I forget now what the particulars were,
but I was in the lead aircraft, which was to contact base ops or hop
off frequency and check weather or something like that. I went into
my, “Okay, I’ll fix this mode,” hopped off frequency,
checked it. I was managing the radios. The other two airplanes experience
a moment of, “What are they doing? Where’d they go?”
Just for the lack of either my saying, “Okay, I’m going
off freq,” or my using effectively the other airplanes in the
formation and saying, “Hey, number two, we’re leading
the formation. We should stay in contact with our main flight control
frequency. Hey, number two, hop off and check the weather. Come back
and tell me.” I recognized there seemed to be an existing habit
pattern and expectation pattern I hadn’t picked up on. My tendency,
“I can fix this,” and just go off independently and come
back, worked at cross-purposes with the group expectation. Things
Is that some advice that you would give somebody entering the Astronaut
Office, or just in general in terms of working at the space agency
It’s I think a general lesson about group communication. It’s
a general lesson about using properly the role and the purview of
leader and using all of the resources. In that case, that little formation
episode, I hadn’t absorbed that me and the guy I was flying
with, we are formation leader. These guys are resources for us to
use. That was just a different way of thinking. That just hadn’t
really crystallized that way in my head. My reaction was I hear it,
I fix it; not, I hear it, and I assign it to be fixed.
That also was part for me of shifting from being an independent agent,
where anything I need done is largely my responsibility. As a grad
student I didn’t have staff. I didn’t direct staff. I
didn’t have that kind of resource. You need it done, you get
it done; not, you need it done, you assign it, and then you manage
the assignments. That shift to recognizing and understanding how to
use your prerogatives and your resources when you are the leader,
they are your resources, use them, and what monkeys to put on your
back and what monkeys to put on other people’s back. Those are
pretty straightforward basic lessons of leadership, and in some pathways
through life you probably learn them going through worker to supervisor
and up the chain, or from recruit to ensign on up that chain. You’d
learn it in smaller steps. My pathway had popped me in the side door
at an advanced stage, and I was learning them on the fly early in
my days in the astronaut corps.
What do you believe to be your most significant accomplishment while
working for NASA?
Boy, I got to be part of so many amazing things during my fifteen
years, it’s just incredible. But the thing I would hang on my
wall, and that makes me proud at a really deep level, is that I played
some fairly meaningful roles in the Hubble saga, and was in on the
early end, working with Bruce McCandless, Ron Sheffield, and that
squad of people. Again, it’s not a solo act, but to have been
able to really make some meaningful contributions at the front end
of establishing the capacity to service and repair Hubble, that is
the essence of why it has generated the scientific results that it
has. That would be a true statement even if we hadn’t had to
go through COSTAR to get there, but in particular, with the primary
mirror flaw, the servicing capability, the robustness, and the preparation
that our little cadre built from 1984 to 1990 just paid such dividends.
I say sometimes, especially to students, that you won’t see
my name on any of the servicing mission patches, but my fingerprint
is on every piece of Hubble success that has ever happened, along
with hundreds of other people who also don’t have names on servicing
mission patches. But it feels just as real and just as meaningful
to me as if I’d been on every one of those servicing missions.
I don’t mean in saying that to take anything at all away from
the servicing mission crews and flight crews. Each of them is an incredible
challenge to master and deliver, but it’s really gratifying
to have given them the building blocks that we did, and to see the
evidence that we built those building blocks really well.
I know I had emailed you about this maybe a month or so ago, and I
thought it might be interesting to explore how women and women’s
networks have helped create your career. We talked to Ivy [F.] Hooks,
for instance, I think in March, and she talked about how when you
first came down she sort of adopted you for a while and made you a
She did. It was great.
So I was curious if you could talk about some of these women and their
relationships and how they’ve helped you over the years.
Yes. Ivy was serving on Dr. [Christopher C.] Kraft’s staff when
our group interviewed. Interview week was such a mind-boggling blur
to me. It was just incredible, chock-full of things, highly scheduled.
These big figures in the space agency who were going to eventually
make the decision, they were icons in the background. I’d interviewed
in November. We didn’t get the word till round January. Not
very long after that, I think maybe we had been down to Houston for
the public introduction ceremony.
I’m home and back in Halifax [Nova Scotia, Canada], still in
grad school. I get a note or a call from this lady named Ivy Hooks.
It’s not really ringing a bell as I look at this. She reintroduced
herself, reminded me of where she was in that blur that had gone by.
Just was tremendously generous and gracious. She said, “We live
right near the Center.” It’s hard to move from Canada.
I’m a grad student, am broke, haven’t been in the States
in five years. All those kind of factors. Not a small thing to uproot
and move to a new city and get everything squared away. A house might
not be ready. She said, “If it would be helpful to have a place
to just land without worrying about things, feel free, we’ve
got a spare bedroom.”
I took her up on it and ended up spending four or five weeks in their
upstairs bedroom and forming a really fast friendship with Ivy and
her partner Bruce [G.] Jackson. They were both longtime NASA hands.
Bruce, who worked for the NACA [National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics],
moved to Houston after it had become NASA to help set up the new Manned
Spacecraft Center—back when they were in a funky old building
way up on the Gulf Freeway. They had great stories. Ivy had played
some pretty significant roles in the aerodynamic engineering associated
with the ALT [Approach and Landing Tests]. It was just a really neat
fun first toehold.
They quickly became real true, genuine, who cares about the space
agency, we’re just person-to-person friends. Over the years,
a safety valve if I really needed to just dump and vent. The friend
who’ll come scrape you up off the sidewalk when life has whacked
you one, and pat you on the head, and send you back in for the next
round of the battle. We’re still in touch. It’s episodic
these days at this distance, but still in contact and good friends.
Carolyn Huntoon was also a notable figure for all six of us in those
early days. She was on the selection panel. In the course of planning
for this odd new class that was going to include these strange people,
probably Ivy as well, but Carolyn, in particular, I think became I
would say the voice of sanity and reason, as the otherwise all-male
groups and teams of people would try to figure out how is this having
of women around going to actually affect things. Sometimes on crazy
funny levels, like gosh, “We’re going to have to divide
the locker room in the astronaut gym so there’s two locker rooms
in the astronaut gym. How big do you think theirs needs to be? How
many of them do you think there’re going to be at the beginning?
How many of them do you ever think there’s ever going to be?
What do you put in the ladies’ locker room? It’s probably
pretty simple to say I bet they don’t need urinals in there,
but beyond that, what do you do in a ladies’ locker room?”
Carolyn now and then would tell us great stories, like going out for
the walkdown to do the sanity check on what they’d come up with.
Finding ladies’ side locker room towels that were fourteen inches
by fourteen inches square and saying, “Maybe not. These are
people who have hair. These are people who wash their hair.”
What was it? The part of the locker room they carved off, fronted
the building so they put some frosted kind of glass in there. They
kind of forgot the fact that lots of times people are probably going
to be in there either way early in the morning or way late in the
evening dressing and changing, so we’re going to have all these
silhouetted naked female figures. We probably don’t want to
have that shadowbox show operating on the back side of the Space Center.
There were some great stories like that.
When we showed up to get ready for these big public announcements—some
of the gals had been the target of some media spots in the interview
to selection announcement. Folks who were living in the US received
a lot of interest and were featured on local outlets. Sally, and I
think Anna [L. Fisher] had been. I was lost in the woods up in Canada,
so no one had found me. None of us had done a tremendous amount of
media, and certainly none of us had the kind of focused attention
that we were about to become. Carolyn gave us some really good advice
before we got thrown to the media even that very first day.
She was a great den mother. We formed a bit of a group identity. It
was not highly organized or orchestrated or anything else, but she
jump-started us towards a recognition of some of the kinds of issues
on which we might really all and each be best served by knowing we
were operating from a group consensus. That really stood us in very
good stead, and we carried that on well into the ’80s. Just
the number of things we really felt we wanted to cross-check with
the other gals and know if we were in alignment, or get into alignment
if we’re not. It went down over time as we each established
our own track record and established our own flight records. In those
first couple of years, it served us well to have someone with Carolyn’s
wisdom helping us anticipate some of those things, be smarter than
our years at how to deal with them.
There was not really a very explicit women’s network of any
sort that I recall around the Space Center. Everything was pretty
coed, from softball teams to flight assignments. I’ve never
much been one for just hanging out with the gals groups. I never joined
Ninety-Nines, because I sort of get that kind of thing, but I’m
a pilot. My interest is in being a pilot, not just being a female
pilot or a woman pilot.
When I went to Washington I had two different circles, one an organized
one and a more spontaneous one. A fairly large number of the science
and technology posts, cabinet and subcabinet, in the first Clinton
administration were filled by women. One of them, arguably the highest
ranking, was one of the associate directors in the Office of Science
and Technology Policy, M. R. C. Greenwood. Another in a prominent
position was Anita [K.] Jones, who was DDR&E, the director of
Defense Research and Engineering in the Pentagon [Washington, DC].
Anita and M. R. C. took the baton on just starting a pretty informal
periodic set of gatherings, usually dinner, sometimes a breakfast
gathering. It was M. R. C. in the White House; it was Anita in the
Pentagon, Sherri [W.] Goodman was in the Pentagon, Martha [Krebs],
the Office of Science, the lab director at the Department of Energy.
Carol Browner at EPA. So there were eight or ten folks in these different
We didn’t know each other from before. It would be good if we
came to know each other at a personal level and established some trust
and confidence that if we ever needed to, as interagency issues moved
through, we could with real comfort pick up the phone and come back
channel and say, “We got an issue coming from our side that’s
going to hit your side soon. Heads up.” Or “Can you give
me any sense of how you’re going to need to respond to it?”
Or if you’ve got two interagency teams for your respective agency
working, and they’re not getting somewhere, to be able to go
up to a near peer and say, “My guys are telling me X, and is
that really what your guys are needing to do? Can we untie this knot
so it gets moving, and get around the food fight that’s about
to start, or prevent the tie-up that’s about to start?”
We would just get together and do that periodically. That eventually
included France [A.] Córdova, who became NASA chief scientist
and is now at Purdue [University, West Lafayette, Indiana]. Cathy
Woteki, who’s now a leading scientist with the Mars Company.
Quite a fun group of folks who’ve gone on but stayed connected
in the decade plus since.
Then the International Women’s Forum, a much more organized
group, which came out of many of the same motives that I’m hinting
at obliquely here. This goes back to Bella [S.] Abzug and some of
the early women in politics, who realized they needed to be more intentional
about constructing the kind of forum where women in leadership positions
in government, nonprofit, for-profit sectors really could, just like
the story I just told, get to know each other and build some relationships
in which they really gained confidence that they could trust. If they
were encountering some issue from HR [Human Resources] to finance
to personal career transition issues, they’d have an association,
a network of colleagues from many, many disciplines, many, many fields,
even many nations and cultures that they could draw on for experience.
I joined that in DC in 1997, am still in that, and get a lot of value
out of that. It’s senior accomplished professional women in
a remarkable rich range of walks of life from sixty nations around
the world. A fabulous group of folks. I always learn something, always
get something out of talking with them.
I’ve never been in an all-female professional group that’s
got that much variety and that capacity to really focus on the shared
common interests, and come together really for learning and growth
and supporting each other. Huge meetings on the international scale,
and no one’s just shilling their stuff or in sell mode. It really
is in a very rich interesting exchange mode. It’s quite good.
So I like that a lot.
In our first interview you talked about Sally Ride coming to get you
for the female toiletries kit, which needed another view. I was curious
what was included in that kit, and what sort of advice did you give
her on what was in there, what needed to be changed, or added.
This is the little spring-top toiletries kit, the dopp kit that would
have your toothbrush and your toothpaste, comb or brush, the basic
take it into the head with you to do your daily toiletries. Of course,
the crew equipment guys had been packing those back since Mercury
and Gemini days with a razor and guy stuff. This was another one of
those instances where there was this whole new odd set of questions
to be dealt with. “What goes into the female one?” I think
there were two such kits. One was the basic toiletries. I’m
forgetting what the particular distinctions were. Everybody had like
a personal hygiene kit, and a personal preference kit I think is what
they were. The personal hygiene kit would be toothbrush, toothpaste,
comb, or brush, etc. A personal preference kit was other items. I
think it was the personal preference kit where if we wanted, we could
have makeup. It might matter to you, if want makeup. Or if it might
just matter to you when you’re getting off the Orbiter and there’s
going to be cameras. We don’t know, but if you want it.
Was that manufactured in house? Or was that Cover Girl or something?
I’m sure it was commercial cosmetics. I’m making a wild
and unwarranted guess here, but of the six of us in that first group,
I would say with high likelihood we would probably break close to
three on three, with three likely to be possibly interested and three
utterly not. That’d be my bet. I would certainly be in the utterly
not. Pretty sure Sally is in the utterly not camp—or was then.
So off we go. They’ve packed up both of those for her. As I
recall, it was in the personal hygiene kit, and I don’t know
whether she had an explicit concern or issue in mind when she invited
me along. I think she would have grabbed whichever one of the several
of us she saw at the time. It was a moment of convenience thing. I’ve
always suspected it was just on general principles. “Let me
grab another one of the gals along and make sure there’s a second
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at what must have
been agonizing uncomfortable meetings as this probably all-male group
tried to figure out what feminine hygiene things do we need in this
kit. There were a number of women techs [technicians] around; they
probably consulted with them. I would just have loved to have figured
out how these conversations went, because when we opened this up we
found tampons. That makes good sense. They were laid out in that famous
NASA in-flight pink plastic for packaging flight crew equipment.
I could just imagine that they would have laid out an eight-inch-wide
band of this stuff, a hundred feet long, and laid a tampon down every
however many inches, and then laid another strip on top of that, and
heat-sealed every tampon into its very own little thing. Probably
because the paper that they otherwise came wrapped in was deemed flammable
by the flight safety guys. That would be my guess. So one by one,
heat-sealed in a row, in Lord only knows how long the band of red
Sally opens it up and looks in, and looks up at me with this rolling
of the eyes that I had come to know as her “you have got to
be kidding me” look. She reaches in and picks up this edge of
this band of pink plastic, and now I can see tampon, tampon, tampon,
tampon. Then she reaches the bottom of the string and pulls again,
and it was like a bad stage act. There just seemed to be this endless
unfurling of Lord only knows how many tampons. I’m watching
this. We’re both starting to laugh, and mathematics is flashing
through my mind. There are some things we know about this. This is
a simple physiological process.
It runs on the monthly lunar calendar. It is typically only a certain
number of days. These flights are going to be four to seven days long.
We got some really smart math and engineering people around here.
I would imagine we could do a probability calculation that says, “What’s
the probability that any given number of flight days goes right on
the middle of any woman’s centroid of the period, and then what
do you actually think is a plausible number of tampons anybody actually
needs in a day?” The number we found didn’t seem to bear
any resemblance to any such correlation. I don’t quite remember.
It was her feedback to give. It was her bench check. I think I just
fell on the floor laughing. I think we managed probably to be reasonably
civil and respectful about it. That was pretty funny. “Not quite
so many, guys. It’s just a bit overkill.”
Over and above the fact that another well known point, is that many
women at high fitness and exercise regimes, which most of us were
keeping up, menstruation eases or sometimes even stops, just as a
function of the exercise and fitness level. Clearly, no one had thought
Doesn’t sound like they had asked anyone. You’d think
most of them had wives.
They’d sure not ever asked us. They had never asked us. They
just put them in there. A lot. Put a lot in.
That would have been an interesting conversation, to explain, “We
don’t need so many.”
That was interesting.
Another question that I had thought of. I don’t think you had
mentioned this. I think Jeff [Jeffrey A.] Hoffman had mentioned that
Judy [Judith A.] Resnik had done an interview. The media had asked
her if she thought that the feminist movement had played some role
in her being where she was today, being an astronaut. She had thought
that maybe it was her accomplishments that got her where she was.
The headline read something like, “Women’s Lib Did Not
Get Astronaut Where She Was.” What are your thoughts on that?
Do you think that the feminist movement had some impact upon your
opportunities in the space program?
I’d say probably some. I’d maybe go a bit larger than
the feminist movement. We got our opportunity in part because of the
point in time at which we all came along, and that point in time in
American history was certainly shaped by the Civil Rights Movement.
It was shaped by the ’60s in general, and shaped by the feminist
movement, absolutely. Someone smarter than me might be able to peel
those strands apart and make more specific attributions of “these
opportunities came from that part of the movement and these came from
another part of the movement.” I don’t know how to pull
those things apart. “Why is it so that Kathy Sullivan, Sally
Ride, and Judy Resnik got the opportunities we did in the late 1970s,
and Wally Funk and Jerrie Cobb and those gals didn’t get them
in the ’60s?” Well, it’s both.
It is both. I think this is probably what Judy was maybe responding
to or pushing back on in her response. All of us, the Mercury 13 and
all of us, we had skills and talents. We’d worked hard to develop
them. We’d gained the certifications and accomplishments that
we had. If the implication in that question was there’s no individual
merit in your being here, you’re just riding a wave, well, I
reject that. What I’ve invested, and the skills, talents, and
abilities I’ve got, is certainly an important factor in why
the opportunity is coming to me, but it’s both. If I’d
come along in the timeframe of the Mercury 13, I suspect my course
through life would have been much more like theirs. Not because I
lacked skills or talents, but because the point in time culturally,
socially, and civically didn’t allow that door to open at that
When we came along, those factors had evolved, and the door was open.
In fact, when we came along, if NASA had conducted a selection for
astronauts that explicitly acknowledged needing scientific and engineering
talent and then had come up with a roster that was all and only white
male, I think there would have been a terrible outcry. It was not
a tenable proposition in the late ’70s that there are no people
of color with the skills that you just mentioned. There may not be
as many as Anglos, but it’s just a nonstarter to assert that
there are none that have reached high levels of accomplishment. It
would have been a nonstarter to say, “I can’t find any
women that can perform at this level.” The times were different.
That was certainly a factor. That doesn’t erase the individual
talents and accomplishments. Claiming and demanding some respect for
your individual talents and accomplishments is not synonymous with
totally rejecting that social change teed up opportunities that you
were able to take ahold of. I think Judy was probably damned either
way she answered that question. It’s a much juicier headline
to assert that she denied the feminist movement than to say she insists
that you also respect her credentials. She more than deserved to have
her credentials respected.
You’ve mentioned many times throughout the interviews that we’ve
done about having a pilot’s license. When did you get that license?
Was that before you came to work for NASA?
I grew up flying little airplanes with our family, but mainly my dad
and my brother, starting when I was about thirteen. My dad was not
a licensed instructor, so he just coached us and let us handle the
airplane, do the flight planning, learn it all as we grew up. Our
high school graduation present would be to get turned over to a proper
flight instructor with Dad paying for the flying hours, get any of
his rough edges buffed off of us, authorized for solo, and continue
on and get our pilot’s license. That worked for my brother when
he graduated in 1968. I graduated a year later, and the aerospace
industry was going into a pretty big slump at that time. So with industry
uncertainty and family finances, we put my plan on hold.
I went then up to Santa Cruz [California] to start my undergraduate
degree and shifted into the sciences. The campus at Santa Cruz was
fairly far removed from the one and only airport. I was working on
a budget that wasn’t going to have a car. As soon as I changed
majors, I also had a totally crammed class schedule trying to catch
up and complete my science major. What I’ve left out is the
industry outlook and work outlook for my dad stabilized by something
like the middle part of my freshman year, and so he encouraged me
to get back up to Scotts Valley Airport. “Start back in. We’ll
get it done.” My circumstances just never really made that practical:
my own money, cars, all that Santa Cruz weather, coastal fog. It never
happened through undergraduate. Then I continued my habit of going
to coastal universities in foggy places with airports far away and
no car when I went to Dalhousie [University, Halifax, Canada]. I spent
five years there. Much of the good weather season in Halifax, I spent
at sea. It never happened there.
I finally got to Houston in June of 1978, and fairly shortly afterwards
got through the T-38 flying syllabus with “Bud” [H.E.]
Ream and those obligations, and asked Bud to point me towards a civilian
flight instructor. I wanted to get it done now that I had a car. I
actually had a little bit of money. I was right near a whole lot of
airports with pretty good weather. Now I want to get this done. I
didn’t finally get the ticket signed off until I was twenty-six.
I might even have turned twenty-seven by the time it got done up at
I was curious if you had had that when you applied for the astronaut
In some of the previous interviews, you also talked about working
with spacesuits before STS-41G. I was wondering if you could expand
on that a little bit more.
The first step of that would have been I guess my first so-called
technical assignment, I think right after we finished our candidate
year. “Pinky” [George D.] Nelson and I were assigned to
work with the WB-57F high altitude research aircraft program. That’s
a pressure-suited environment. Suits used there were the orange David
Clark suit that, after Challenger became the LES (the Launch and Entry
suit). Pinky and I both got full pressure suit-certified by the Air
Force. Guys running the chamber out at Edwards tell me—I’ve
actually never followed this up—but if they were right, they
tell me I’m the first woman ever certified in full pressure
suit by the United States Air Force. Go figure.
So we got certified in that. In ’79 and ’80 I think were
the two years that we had that assignment and flew both Earth remote
sensing and atmospheric sampling missions around the continental United
States. I did a couple of stints up with a land mapping mission in
Alaska. We both went on a long deployment down to the tip of South
America for the Southern Hemisphere air sampling. That was my first
exposure to pressure suits.
My next assignment after that was STS-2 chase. The media assignment
for STS-1, chase for STS-2. I worked at the Cape [Canaveral, Florida]
as a Cape Crusader for STS-3 through 6. I worked the IUS [Inertial
Upper Stage] payload on 6. STS-6, I’m pretty sure was my last
flow as Cape Crusader, and I got switched over to being the general
spacesuit person on EVA and spacesuit issues for STS-7. I would go
stow the suits and rig the airlock. I had done the airlock closeout
and stowage for STS-5 and 6 as well. Picked up the general suits,
tools, EVA issues tracking assignment for the office around STS-7.
I did that through I think 7. I got the STS-41G flight assignment
in late ’83.
I was working suits, got the 41G flight assignment that had the spacewalk
on it, and rolled into training. It was a relatively short stint of
being the EVA guy before I rolled into the flight assignment. Then
on from there.
Were there any issues with the suits that you dealt with in particular?
Well, at that stage, there were always issues. Story Musgrave had
been the primary engineering design evaluation office representative
for the suit from its design days into operational status. STS-5 was
going to be the first Shuttle EVA. Bill [William B.] Lenoir’s
suit had a problem. There’s a sensor feedback loop in the fan
of the suit that is driven by a Hall effect sensor, which magnetically
can track the blades moving through and measure the fan speed. That
problem that made the speed control circuit on the fan unstable. NASA
proceeded with prudence and caution on the very first spacewalk with
a new suit; they discovered that when everybody was buttoned up in
the airlock, that there were problems with the suit and decided, “We’re
not going to go ahead. We don’t know if it’s a flaky fan
or a flaky sensor. We’re not going to do that.” They waved
off that EVA. That moved the first actual EVA to STS-6 with Story
and Don [Donald H.] Peterson.
Those were the first two. The other big issue came before STS-1. It
was one of the phases when Pinky Nelson was the suit guru. The event
was during bench check, they take the torso portion of the suit, the
life support system, and they plug all the ends, so they can pressurize
it and run the suit at pressure and check that everything is working
on a bench in the flight crew equipment clean rooms. They were doing
that. One step of the procedure is you take the mode controller, just
like you would do in flight, and you move it from the IV position
where all the fans and pumps are running—and the suit is pressurized—you
move it to the EV position, the go outside the door position.
The main thing that happens from IV to EV is a valve is opened that
enables the emergency oxygen bottle. The isolation valve that shuts
it off from the system is opened so that that 6,000-psi [pounds per
square inch] oxygen flow is sitting on a regulator, ready to go flowing
into the suit if the suit’s pressure drops. If you rip something
on the suit, you don’t have to do anything to start flooding
the suit with emergency oxygen. As soon as the pressure gets low enough,
the bottle will start to flow. They moved the switch of the mode controller
from IV to EV, and the suit exploded. The whole torso just exploded
in a huge big oxygen ball fire that needless to say severely burned
the suit tech that was working on it.
There was obviously a detailed investigation to figure out what had
really happened. Boiled down to some subtle but significant factors
in the shape of the channel that that high pressure oxygen flows through,
and the likelihood that there was a little bit of residual organic
matter. The suit had not been really fully properly cleaned. You slam
a bunch of oxygen on there, increasing pressure heats things up, and
there’s just enough organic stuff there to be volatile, and
kaboom. Needless to say, any of us working on suits were saying, “That’s
the same thing I do inside the airlock in orbit right before I go
out, and we just blew a suit up doing that?” If you’re
doing some weird test that’s unlike anything that you normally
do in suit operations, it would still get your full attention, but
this was like saying when you step on the gas of your car it’s
going to explode. Highly discomfiting.
Those were the big things going on. The other issues that would come
along were more the operation and procedural issues, and helping guide
efforts to think ahead about what tools you might need. If you ever
needed to unbolt an entire payload assist module cradle from the payload
bay and throw the whole thing overboard, what would it take to get
the launch bolts undone? Trying to think those through, and run the
evaluations to make sure can you do that. Can you develop a tool that
lets you get at the interface and work it? And then are there torques
or forces involved that are going to need an astronaut to put so much
full body strength into it that you might overstrain part of the suit.
Were you ever working any sort of issues in terms of body size in
the suit? Some of the astronauts were rather small. Or Ox [James D.A.]
van Hoften was rather large.
Yes. The issue of building an extra large HUT [Hard Upper Torso] to
accommodate Ox got folded into things pretty early on. I’ve
always suspected that management’s decision that he was going
to slot in on a spacewalk must have been premade fairly early on,
because that went by just quick and early, and was really entirely
a management and program configuration issue.
The small suit issues had really not come much to the fore. Anna Fisher
had done some fair amount of work in the suit. Now this may have been
in Shuttle EMUs [Extravehicular Mobility Unit]. It may have been in
leftover Apollo A7L-B suits. My first underwater engineering work
was done in Apollo suits because the Class 3 Shuttle EMUs had not
been produced enough yet. So we were still doing the work in Apollo
There was a fair amount of engineering development work around tile
repair in the run-up to STS-1 and 2, with Bill Lenoir, Anna Fisher,
and other folks in the old little coffee can, the WET-F [Weightless
Environment Test Facility] out on the back lot at JSC, before we all
started going over to Marshall and using their WET-F. Anna had done
a lot of work there. I honestly don’t recall any significant
discussions or gripes about suit size coming out of that work. That
was the same time that I was off flying WB-57s, so that may be an
artifact of my having been engaged in something so different and not
really tracking the conversations that closely. I don’t recall
big, fraught discussions or high level issues about suit size from
I get the nod for the 41G EVA, and they start fitting me up for the
suit. There were some points of the suit that just never fit. The
one that’ll make anybody unable to work effectively really is
the hard upper torso. The two key factors there are your shoulder
width compared to the placement of the shoulder bearings, and the
depth really of your chest cavity compared to the front-to-back dimension
of the suit. The scye bearings, as they’re called, that let
the shoulders move are pretty large bulky complex assemblies. Physically
there’s only so close you can put them on the hard upper torso
before they’ll start to impinge on each other and not work.
Secondly, the front of that hard shell is the acreage to mount the
display and control module on. If you pull those shoulder bearings
too close together, you don’t have anyplace to bolt the controls
Then the front-to-back dimension, that may be one issue of body size.
It is argued that the problem of front-to-back dimension is only something
that will affect you in training, where if you roll on your back to
do a task, and if the suit doesn’t fit you firmly tight front
to back, you’ll fall back in the suit so that your back is physically
contacting the back of the suit. Well, that means your fingertip is
going to pull back away from the glove, and you won’t really
have your hand in the glove and be able to do something. There’s
no reason to think small frame people can’t perform well in
zero gravity when that falling to the back of the suit phenomenon
wouldn’t happen. The issue is it can make it impossible to perform
effectively in training. It can make it impossible or extremely hard
for you to demonstrate top competency at EVA tasks in training if
every time you reorient your body, your hand may come out of the glove.
You can’t grip and work effectively. That’s where some
of the complexity of the argument comes in.
Some folks—not many, but some people would say, “Since
it’s just a training issue, you should certify and fly small
frame people anyway. It’s an aberration in training. They’ll
be fine in orbit.” The counterargument would be, “We’re
placing a lot of responsibility for delivery of outcomes on an EVA
crew.” You are or are not going to have a properly configured
Space Station at the end of this EVA. You are or are not going to
have successfully repaired Hubble at the end of this EVA. If I’m
training six people as candidates for that task, and I can see five
of them perform it superbly under water, and I never get to see one
of them perform it well under water, you’re asking me to risk
the program on the guesstimate, bet, that the fifth person who I have
never seen them do it super well. That may be because of the suit,
but the fact remains I have never seen them do it super well. I have
five other candidates who I have seen do it super well. How can you
expect me responsibly to pick the person I haven’t seen perform?
I wouldn’t. You have to live up to your responsibility to the
The torsos fit me well. I was almost getting bruised getting in and
out of the suit. If I inflated my chest really fully, I would feel
the hard points on my ribcage, on the sides, and could feel it front
to back. So it’s a good incentive to keep your breathing nice
and even. My ring finger and pinkies seem to be—especially my
pinkie—unusually a notch shorter than the other three fingers.
Could never quite get the pinkie tightened down. You want to size
the glove so that your thumb, index, and middle finger are snug in
the glove, and if your ring finger and pinkie don’t quite fit,
that’s okay. You lose some grip strength, but it’s the
three that make up your lobster claw that you need. We could get those,
but I could get floppy fingers on the other two.
The placement of the mechanical elbow should be right lined up with
your anatomical elbow. Mine was always about an inch and a half or
two lower. When I wanted to bend the suit arm, I wasn’t actually
pivoting it. It was like bending a balloon. I had to force the lever,
so it took some extra strength to bend that. I adapted to that. Then,
the section of the lower torso from the body seal closure to the hip
bearing has a particular name, but I’ve just forgotten. It’s
that first slice of the suit from the body seal closure down to the
hip bearing. That comes in a couple of different sizes. They put the
one in there they thought ought to fit for me, but it actually didn’t.
The result of that was my knee also never actually lined up with the
suit knee. Same thing. The joint of the suit was below my anatomical
knee. So it wasn’t a nice easy bend here. The suit would actually
hit my calf, and I would have to push around the corner to make the
knee bend. I reverted to my notorious tendency of, “It’s
your problem, so deal with it.”
Secondly, I made a considered judgment with respect to EVA flight
rules and with respect to suit fit that the first thing we needed
to do was just get to a point where we did a successful EVA and demonstrated
this all works just fine. I reckoned the wrong thing to do was to
turn the first evolution of a woman doing a spacewalk into controversy
over, “We need different flight rules and oh, see, now she’s
asking for more equipment.” I just sucked it up and dealt with
it. The guys recorded that things never quite fit. Order a new lower
torso assembly? “No, we’re just going to deal with this.”
I was actually training up for I think 45. A new round of suit techs
was in and looking at the fit. Somebody actually commented to me,
“Is this the fit you’ve always had?” “Yes.”
“Your knee doesn’t fit right.” “Yes.”
“We don’t have your elbow fit right.” “Yes.”
“We ought to do something about it. It ought to fit you right.”
I said, “We can start that conversation now, but if you think
I was going to make that the conversation on the first EVA you’re
crazy.” So I just dealt with it.
I’m glad you said that. I’m glad that that came out. You
did talk a little bit about being a Cape Crusader. Who came up with
that term? No one’s ever told us the history behind that phrase
I don’t know that I know the history behind it. I don’t
It makes me think of Batman.
Yes, but I can’t tell you. I only know it in the Shuttle context,
but I wouldn’t be able to guess. I never heard anybody say,
“That’s what we always used to call the support crew at
the Cape in Apollo.” I guess I’ve been operating on the
assumption that it was something that popped into existence in Shuttle
days, but don’t know.
Yes, I think so. Is there anything more you want to say about that?
You talked about Don [Donald E.] Williams and the issue that you had
with the condo and the key, but you didn’t say much more beyond
that. I don’t know if there’s anything more you want to
No. The whole condo thing, after that little bit of episode back in
the Houston office, it evaporated pretty quickly. It was no issue.
Again, it just worked fine. We all parked gear there. We came and
went as we needed to. STS-3 was the first one. I worked STS-3 payload
integration and STS-4 payload and crew equipment integration. Loren
Shriver and I were the exchange crew out at Edwards. When TK [Thomas
K. Mattingly] and Hank [Henry W. Hartsfield, Jr.] got off, we got
on, saluted those two guys, they got off. We babysat the Orbiter as
they towed it back around to the lift, put it on the 747.
STS-5 was integrated spacesuit stuff. STS-6 was the first flight of
an integrated upper stage and payload. The other thing that I was
doing through the STS-4 and 5 flow was working with the IUS team.
We had a dummy payload that we were walking through the whole processing
cycle just to make sure all the lift structures worked correctly,
all the access platform clearances worked right, all the test equipment
that had been built to do the preflight test and integration on that
upper stage actually worked right. We ran a complete dummy payload
through the VPF [Vertical Processing Facility] processing flow, finishing
far enough ahead of STS-6 that we could debrief and incorporate all
that and then bring the real payload in. No one had ever written those
procedures, dry-run them, checked them. That was a pretty big body
Then launched and flew that. That flight slipped and bounced around
quite a bit. I think it was originally set to go in something like
October of ’82. When it eventually went, it was April of ’83.
Got it all launched, all the late hours and things that that involves.
I think I stayed out at the IUS side of the control center to watch
the deploy and I think the initial burn, and finally went back to
the condo and crashed in bed. I remember I got up the next morning,
and Ox van Hoften was in the living room. I walked into the living
room, was still bleary-eyed. He made some comment like, “What
the hell went wrong with your spacecraft?” “What?”
Something had gone wrong. I think the upper stage didn’t fire
full duration, and they had to use more of the payload propellant
to get to an operational orbit. That had happened on the second burn
after I was dead asleep in my bunk thinking, “Oh thank heavens
it’s on its way! It all worked. It’s just fine.”
I get up in the morning and Ox goes bam, “Nice payload! Lost
a satellite.” “What? Oh, that’s not what I needed
to hear first thing in the morning.”
Do you want to say anything more about mission development? I think
when we started talking about some of your early career we skimmed
the highlights, but I don’t know if there’s anything more
you want to say about that. Like I said, I went through, noticed a
few things that we hadn’t talked a lot about in depth.
Yes. Nothing really stands out of the mission development stuff. The
Astronaut Office fanned so many people out to support assignments
to make sure that the technical support and intelligence gathering
operation is really working. That we’ve got the right issues
moving, fostering the right communication so we’re getting heads
ups to crews or spotting emerging issues that need a broader consideration
at a policy level. So it’s fun. You get a broader overview of
the many, many things going on than when you’re just tracking
a payload or just working at the Cape. So that was fun, but I don’t
recall any particular standout issues that came up in that timeframe.
Again, I’d have to go back and remind myself what the years
were and where that sits in the flight sequence.
One other question that I had relates to in-flight clothing for the
women in particular. How was that handled? Was that an issue like
that in-flight toiletries kit?
Obviously you wore the polos.
Yes, the outerwear standard stuff. I’m just trying to remember
if this was the way it was the first time Sally flew; I think it headed
down a different path and then got adjusted. Maybe informed by their
success with tampons—bra and underwear things, it’s just
different. People have certain preferences, styles, and comforts.
Even when there’s six of us, much less when there’s going
to be more than six, it’s silly to go make a standardized decision
for women’s lingerie.
I think the program started first to go down the, “We will order—like
we do for the guys—briefs or boxers. What more is there, we’ll
order this or that, you guys pick.” This is really a bad idea.
So what came back around by the time I flew was a set of specs [specifications],
restrictions, on basically the kinds of fabric and designs that were
acceptable from flammability and other point of view. Then it became,
“You go buy what you want, charge it back, and it will be yours,
what you want, your fit. Then we’ll stow it, as long as it’s
cotton and this and that. Just stay in those bounds, go get what you
want.” Fine. We’ll do that. That sounds a whole lot better.
Much better than a NASA engineer or tech coming up with their own
Oh yes. Oh, it’s a frightening thought.
That could be something you could put on eBay. Looking back over your
class, you just had your reunion here, what do you think are some
of its accomplishments?
Oh, wow. [Daniel C.] Brandenstein and company actually pulled some
of that together. Shame on them. They haven’t gotten a summary
of it all back out to us.
That’d be nice to have.
Yes, that’d be fun to have. Boy, a lot. Just such a lot. Starting
with we got there before even STS-1. A number of us in various ways
got to play some pretty intriguing and significant roles in helping
the final stages of that happen: CapComs [Capsule Communicators] and
engineering support. It was pretty neat. I always thought we got an
unusually good deal to get to be there. At the time I think we all
thought, “You told us this was flying in a year. Is this ever
going to fly?” Once you get past that and look back, that was
a really neat part of the experience to get to be there at the final
stages of the dawn of the program.
Some of them are just obvious straightforward things: first American
woman to fly in space, first African American, first Asian American,
first woman spacewalk, Space Congressional Medal of Honor to Shannon
[W. Lucid]. At various times, duration distinction. Shannon for a
while had the longest US duration. That’s one of the records
you hope will fall quickly because the durations will grow, but a
nice thing. Satellite rendezvous, release, capture, regrapple, free-flying
payloads. Satellite repair and rescue: the Solar Max stuff, the PALAPA/WESTAR
stuff was on our watch, a bunch of our guys on the crews. Hubble Telescope.
Spacelab. There’s a lot in there. Then if you track what folks
have done since then in various program assignments, whether it’s
[Richard O.] Covey on the Covey-Stafford Commission. There’s
been so much of that, you lose track. I served on the National Commission
on Space. Sally had a task force report assignment that became the
Ride Report. Covey with the Stafford Commission. Sally a key front
of the table role on both of the accident commissions, and a number
of others of us on technical teams feeding into those processes.
I guess if you look at FCOD [Flight Crew Operations Directorate] leadership,
you see that has evolved. It evolved from the Apollo/Skylab era in
anticipation of Shuttle, and our group coming along and through the
lifetime of the Shuttle program. As you see Station and Russia and
other things coming at those kind of junctures where the office is
shifting again, shifting towards a more conscious focus on the real
factors that affect long term flight, shifting to a more conscious
focus on the political, cultural and other realities of close international
collaboration. That kind of evolution started and much of it happened
with our classmates sitting at FCOD, sitting at CB, sitting as deputy
center director, now sitting as JSC Center Director [Michael L. Coats].
We’ve had Center Directors. Our class has directed Kennedy.
It’s directed Johnson. There’s a lot there. There’s
a lot there.
Yes. It was a pretty good group. It’s a pretty good group.
Did you get a chance to go down for Eileen Collins’s flight
when she was the first female commander on STS-93?
I went down for the big administrator’s women in spaceflight
get together and for the first launch attempt, the one that scrubbed.
I was there for that. I did not get back for the actual flight. Not
too many weeks after landing, there was an event at the White House
that Mrs. [Hillary Rodham] Clinton put on. It was an interesting event.
Eileen was the main focal point. But she also interestingly—and
I railed against this initially—paired Eileen Collins and Kate
Mulgrew, the actress who plays the Starfleet commander in the Star
Trek. Paired them as both a real and a public imagination icon of
women in command on the space frontier. Then had other notable female
scientists and engineers.
It turned out actually to be a pretty interesting event. The pairing
of the fictional and the real commander actually was built better
and worked better than I initially thought, I’d say in large
part because Kate Mulgrew was pretty eloquent about what she had gotten
out of the day. She had a really insightful and anchored kind of perspective
on what she’s learned and what her challenges have been of trying
to represent this character who’s commanding a major vessel
and all the circumstances that the show brings, when she in fact hasn’t
got a technical training and hasn’t been in those kind of leadership
roles. The effort she’s put into it, the glimpses, and things
she’s felt she had learned through the character about those
challenges. Then to have the day to meet these women who have commanded
naval vessels. It was a really interesting soliloquy on reflecting
back and forth between those two experiences. Very humbly, modestly,
and sincerely full of, I think, effusive respect for the actual real
women who do this who she had a chance to meet today. It really was
kind of neat. I had a chance to see Eileen there, but didn’t
get to see her go. If she’d left on time! We were there. We