NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Kevin M. Rusnak
3 October 2000
Rusnak: Today is October 3, 2000. This interview with Bob Thompson
is being conducted in the offices of the SIGNAL Corporation in Houston,
Texas, for the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. The interviewer
is Kevin Rusnak, assisted by Carol Butler.
I'd like to thank you once again for coming back to talk with us today.
You're welcome. We'll pick up, I guess, pretty well where we left
off last time. In getting into this time period today as I personally
made the transition from Skylab to Shuttle, I think it'd be good to
go back and sort of set the national picture, because, again, you
don't get approval for major programs to develop new vehicles and
develop new capability without the right situation existing in the
You're using resources out of the Federal Treasury, so the people
responsible for spending the taxpayers' money have to be willing to
spend those funds for something they think is worthwhile. You clearly
have to have some purpose in mind and you have to have some capability
within the government to spend those resources and accomplish those
So the time period that we're picking up on today is 1970, which in
April of 1970, I finished my activities in Skylab, which we discussed
last time. We had pretty well evolved Skylab from not really understanding
what it should be, to having a pretty clear definition of what was
to be now, and they were on a very clear path to go and commit to
a flight with a dry workshop launched on the Saturn V supported by
the Apollo command module launched on the S-1B. The objectives were
to fly three times, one set of three people for twenty-eight days,
the second flight for fifty-six days, and the third flight for ninety
The real objective then of Skylab was to take essentially residual
Apollo hardware with some new development and begin to fly and longer
periods of time in low Earth orbit to understand how to live and work
in space a little bit better, how to make it habitable for people
to stay up to ninety days, how to work and live and eat and exist
properly, how to carry on certain experiments.
Also, at that time, I think the national thought process and the national
commitment for manned spaceflight was to shift the emphasis away from
the Moon, where we'd been focused for the previous ten years. From
the time the commitment to the lunar landing was made in the early
sixties, until we flew to the Moon in '69, the major national
effort was on the lunar landing and safe return. Skylab then was sort
of a little filler on the back end of that.
The country had gone through in the late ‘60s some fairly serious
studies of where we should go post-Apollo. It was pretty clear that
Skylab was a one-shot venture, because the hardware that existed would
only support, basically, one flight. There was no real desire to continue
to build Apollo hardware. The country had gone through a fairly serious
set of studies and had made a decision that it didn't want to go on
to a Mars trip. That would be an extremely large commitment, probably
extended beyond the technology we had. And you couldn't develop a
big rationale that said you ought to spend resources out of the Federal
Treasury to take on something like that right on top of major commitment
like Apollo had been.
So there wasn't much interest in Mars. Even today, in my opinion,
in the year 2000, there's not a tremendous interest in mounting an
effort to Mars that would sustain taking money out of the Federal
Treasury. You can find zealots that want to go to Mars that will talk
to you by the hour about how they want to go, but there's no real
national purpose of going to Mars right now. You can say the same
thing about lunar follow-on, there was no strong desire to continue
flying to the Moon or to colonize the Moon. That was a fairly costly
venture and so forth.
I think it is fair to say there was not a strong desire to completely
get out of the business. There were a lot of people who argued we
should stop flying the people in space, it wasn't worth it, but within
the Congress, within the majority of the Congress, within the executive
branch of the government, and certainly within the agency, because
any agency, any bureaucracy wants to continue itself. Very few agencies
plan to kill themselves and take themselves out of business. Certainly
those at NASA who'd made a career of this sort of thing felt that
manned spaceflight should continue.
So it left some kind of a low Earth orbital program. It was talked
about and it's the terminology phrased "low Earth orbital infrastructure,"
that we should continue to spend at a reasonable level and develop
a capability, the vehicles and the capability, of going into low Earth
orbit and essentially flying the old space station kind of things
that people have been talking about for years.
Now, space station had been existing in people's minds, I guess, for
several hundred years. If you go back and look at the history books,
people were going build brick space stations in orbit. The [Wernher]
von Braun Collier's [magazine] articles in the ‘60s
had these great big rotating wheels where you could spin the wheel
and create artificial gravities so you had an Earth-like environment.
It had space planes flying to and from, every hour or two. It was
pretty well agreed that some kind of low Earth orbit infrastructure
would be the right thing to do.
There's been a lot of discussions on how to build a space station.
Should it be a great big thing launched with a huge booster, or should
it be modular taken up by a smaller vehicle and assembled in orbit,
built up in segments or modules? Well, by then, the practical thing
that had a reasonable chance of being funded and supported out of
the Congress was a modular space station that you could fly into orbit
with something like what we finally got to call a space shuttle. So
you could take the modules in low Earth orbit, and if you had something
like the shuttle, you could transport people. You could transport
modules, you could maneuver in orbit, you could dock, you could work
and so forth.
So the practical program in 1970 that you could fund and support for
a period of time, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years, was this low
Earth orbital infrastructure around something like the space shuttle,
followed by something like a modular space station. Then you could
wrap around that a lot of arguments that we'd like to go into space
and do medical research, developing new types of medicines, new types
of vaccines. You could maybe separate things pure in the zero-gravity
environment than you can on Earth with electrophoresis and things
of that nature.
So it was very easy at that time to put together a low orbit Earth
structure built around things like space station, experiments in space,
even something as grandiose as a large solar-powered electrical generating
So NASA was pushing very hard for a space shuttle and a space station
program in 1970. Well, the funding in the country in 1970 was such
that we still had the Vietnam spending, there was a lot of deficit
spending going in the country. At the time, peak spending in Apollo,
I think NASA's budget was, it approached 3 percent of the federal
budget at the peak in the ‘60s. The [Richard M.] Nixon administration
was in power in 1970 and wanted to pull the NASA budget down. They
still wanted to do manned spaceflight, but they didn't want to do
it at 3 percent of the national budget. They wanted to do it at some
lower level, because they wanted to cut down on the deficit spending.
We still had the Vietnam spending going on and so forth.
So as we came out of Phase A, the early conceptual designs for the
Space Shuttle, NASA still had hopes of building a fairly large completely
reusable two-stage winged vehicle, wing booster and winged orbiter,
and as I think I said last time, this was a good program for NASA
in that there was a large booster for the Marshall Space Flight Center
[MSFC, Huntsville, Alabama] to build and there was a large orbiter
for the Johnson Space Center to build. Everyone was very happy with
that great big two-stage fully reuseable system and it was the front
end of the Space Station Program, or a low Earth orbital infrastructure.
You certainly don't want to build a space station first, because there's
no way you can get it there, get people to and from it. So it was
pretty obvious you build the shuttle first, if you can't afford to
build them simultaneously. No one was interested in keeping the funding
at the level that would let you start them both simultaneously. So
it was a very logical set of A, B, C, and Ds that finally led to a
commitment at the national level to build a space shuttle, but a commitment
to build it at a funding level somewhat less than the agency would
like to have seen.
You can read in the history books about that it was too funded-constrained
and this sort of thing, we should have been more visionary and built
a bigger, better vehicle that cost less to operate. Well, I think
that's a lot of nonsense. That's a lot of argument about he should
have married some other girl, he'd been much happier. You don't know
how happier he'd been if he'd done that. It just wasn't practical
to take on a very large spending program at that time.
Also from my standpoint, the two-stage fully reusable system that
came out of Phase A was not a very practical system. It was extremely
large, it carried the cryogenic propellants internally, which complicates
the vehicle very much. It required funding beyond what you felt you
could keep the nation committed to give. Any program that takes more
than about eight or ten years to bring to fruition is a sick program.
If you have to go ten, fifteen years before anything significantly
happens, with the Congress changing every two years, and the President
maybe changing every four years, and the Senate changing every six
years, if you embark on a fifteen- or twenty-year program and try
to sustain it without very much happening, you're beginning to fail
before you get started. So we felt we'd like to have something that
could come on line in no more than, say, seven or eight, nine years.
So when you put together the funding issues, you put together the
practicality issues, and what kind of vehicle to build, and particularly
when you have the feeling that it's going to be your responsibility
to cause it to happen, it's one thing to sit around and be a visionary
and write things and postulate things when you don't have to go do
them. But when you have to go do them, you look at it a little bit
So as we came out of Phase A going into Phase B, where we got serious
about building a space shuttle now, with all this background I've
just been going through, I was most anxious to see the vehicle simplified.
Now, we first of all had to decide what it is we really wanted to
do, because when you get ready to build a vehicle you can no longer,
as I said, just draw cartoons and draw big winged vehicles doing things.
For example, if you asked [Leonardo] Da Vinci what he was trying to
do with his helicopter, he was just trying to show the physics of
flight, probably. The same way with some of the early people who conceived
space shuttles and so forth.
But we had to decide in a more pragmatic sense what it is we wanted
to do. How big a payload did we want to take to orbit and why? How
many people did you want to take? What kind of capability do you want
the vehicle to have once you got on orbit?
So we went through a period of time where we were arguing what size
of modules to take to Earth orbit. We went back and forth, and we
finally settled on a fifteen-foot diameter, sixty-foot-long module.
So that set the size of the payload bay.
Now, you can read in the history of the thing that people were looking
at ten-foot diameter, thirty-five-foot-long payloads. We looked at
different-sized payloads, but we never were very serious about anything
other than the fifteen-foot diameter, sixty-foot long, because modular
space station, if you get the modules too small, aren't very practical.
Plus, when you looked at a reasonable vehicle, making the payload
bay shorter didn't really help very much. The fineness ratios of the
vehicle and the reasonable-size wings, making it short and stubby
didn't do that much for you. So the fifteen-by-sixty payload bay came
out to be the practical thing to do.
The 60,000 pounds, there was a lot of argument about whether your
payload should be 60,000 pounds. The payload is very critical to you.
Anytime you're trying to accelerate from Earth, sitting at zero velocity
on the surface of the Earth up to the 25,000 feet per second you have
to do to go into low Earth orbit takes a lot of energy. So you have
to be careful what your weights are going to be, and you have to be
fairly confident that you can achieve those weights, because if you
start off to build a 60,000-pound payload vehicle and if the weight
of the vehicle grows 60,000 pounds, you've got a vehicle but it can't
do anything. So you can't allow your weight margins to kill your program.
You then had to decide how many people and how. If you want to dock
with something, where does the docking mechanism go? If you want to
maneuver in orbit, how much maneuvering propellant do you take? You've
got to have attitude control propellant. You have to have a manipulator
arm to help you do work when you get up there. If you're going to
build a building, you need a crane or something of that nature.
So we settled, first and foremost, on what it is we wanted to do.
We settled on a 60,000-pound payload, fifteen-by-sixty, ten people,
an arm or a crane, maneuvering propellant. So those things kind of
fixed what it is you wanted to do.
Along that line, if I can interrupt for a second, what role did the
Air Force have in establishing these requirements?
At the time NASA said they would like to build a space shuttle, they
went over and invited the Air Force to participate in the program.
The Air Force said, "We would be happy to. We will not help you
in the funding, because we think you should get the funding for that.
We'll be happy to give you our desirements or our requirements, and
if the vehicle meets that, we'll consider taking some of our payloads
off of the unmanned vehicles and taking them to and from space with
Now, they were doing a lot of things with satellites in Earth orbit,
and a lot of the satellites wanted visual looking down at the Earth.
They wanted fairly long optical path links. So they wanted something
like the sixty-foot payload length, just like we did at NASA. You
hear a lot of people say we did it strictly because the Air Force
wanted it. That is not true. We did it because we and the Air Force
both wanted it, "we" being NASA.
Now, the Air Force said, "If you build it too short and stubby,
we can't put our payloads on." So we were really happy to build
it to where it would accommodate their payloads, but it also accommodated
the payloads we wanted. So it was a mutual friendship. Now, some people
pushing their own pet ideas said the Air Force forced us to do something,
we would have done something different. That's not true.
Let me make sure you know where I'm coming from. Whenever you get
ready to go put a program like Shuttle together and actually literally
go build it, an agency like NASA then has to put together a program
structure. In other words, there has to be someone there to run the
program every day. There has to be a manager who's there every day
to run that thing, and he has to have an organization. He has to have
a staff around him, he has to have a bunch of project people to go
build the major parts of a program.
So you can sit down and have the classical organization chart of people
in Washington [DC] who have to interface with the Congress and get
the money and make sure the overall picture fits what the agency wants
to do, but somewhere there has to be some guy with a "program
manager" title on and he has to work twenty-four hours a day
and make sure everything happens.
People like to run around and find the person who designed the Space
Shuttle on his kitchen table, and all of a sudden, well, that's not
the way it happens. The design evolves over a period of time with
this organizational structure within the government making little
bitty decisions every day, every week, not little bitty decisions,
fairly significant. Fifteen by sixty, 60,000 pounds, ten people, EVA
[extravehicular activity] arm, docking capability, delta V, decide
what you want to do. Within the government there is this program organization.
Then you plug industry in to do certain things, like you contract
with a company to build an Orbiter or you contract with a company
to build an Orbiter and provide integration support. Another company
would build a tank. Another company would build booster rockets. Another
company would build rocket engines. The program manager sits at the
head of this government organization and works hard for ten years
and the money comes out of the Federal Treasury and feeds into this
system, you'll have a Space Shuttle that you can take to launch pad
some day and it will go to orbit. But no one sits at home at his kitchen
table on a napkin and sketches a Space Shuttle and all of a sudden
it appears. That ain't the way it happens. So if you go looking around
for who invented the Space Shuttle, you won't find it. The Space Shuttle
evolved out of this organization I'm talking about.
Now, as we came out of Phase A going into Phase B, the phased program
planning that NASA had then, and we picked that up primarily out of
the way the Defense Department managed their weapons system programs.
They had a conceptual phase, preliminary design phase, Phase B, and
Phase C/D, is the design, detail design development and evaluation.
That's when you really start spending money at significant levels
and start building something, getting down to real detail design.
I joined the Space Shuttle Program at the start of Phase B, when we
moved from conceptual design to detail design. At that time we had
a program group in Washington leading the overall program. There was
a fellow named Charlie [Charles J.] Donlan, was an assistant to the
Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, who was Dale [D.]
Myers at that time. Charlie Donlan was essentially leading the Shuttle
Program effort out of Washington. They wanted the Johnson Space Center
to set up a program office. They wanted Marshall to set up a program
office to manage, too, apparently, all Phase B studies.
That's when I left Skylab and came into the Program Management Office
at JSC to manage the Phase B study. There was a similar office at
Marshall. We wrote some RFPs [requests for proposals], let some contracts,
selected some contractors, and JSC selected Rockwell [International
Corp.], Marshall selected McDonnell Douglas [Corp.], but both contractors
were going to study both the booster and the Orbiter for this Phase
B preliminary design with this two-stage fully reusable vehicle that
came out of Phase A. The government's RFP requirements specified the
two-stage fully reusable vehicle, and so the contractors—if
you pay the contractors and give them reasonable directions, they'll
do what you tell them or ask them to do. So they started developing
But as we began to, or at least certainly as I began to look at the
vehicle, there were things about the vehicle I did not like. As I
said, it was too big, too complicated. I didn't see that much need
for a big booster just to help you get on your way. The staging velocity
was too high. The problem of lighting the Orbiter engines off on the
back of the booster, the whole reason for the booster didn't make
a lot of sense.
So while we were studying the ongoing mainline program, we also had
some studies going at looking at ways of simplifying the vehicle.
The studies of the vehicle that was in mainline were coming in at
too high a funding requirement. To build the vehicle in a reasonable
period of time, seven or eight years, the funding had to go up over
$2 billion annually. The discussions between the executive branch
of the government and the headquarters of NASA, the executive branch
of the government was telling NASA, "You can't really have more
than about a billion dollars a year peak annual funding for the Shuttle."
And you'll hear a lot of people saying that was a big disappointment.
That wasn't a terrible disappointment to me, because I was happy to
see the vehicle under that kind of pressure because I didn't like
the vehicle we had at two billion. It just wasn't the right vehicle.
So we began to look at some things, well, if you can't have $2 billion
and build this big thing, what can you do for a billion dollars within,
say, six or seven years? Well, one of the first things we looked at
was to put cryogenic propellant inside a vehicle, it's one thing to
build an airplane and put aviation fuel in it, which is reasonable
to manage at normal temperatures and pressures, but to take hydrogen
where you have to cool it down to minus 400 and some degrees, or oxygen,
where you have to cool it down to [minus] 300 and some degrees before
you can liquefy it and get it at a reasonable volume, and to build
that tankage in a shape that would make a flying vehicle, which means
you can't just make it a cylindrical tank, you have to shape it, and
to insulate it properly and to pre-cool it and to get it loaded properly
and to get all of that integrated in the vehicle is extremely complicated.
So if you can get that cryogenic propellant outside and put it in
a tank, similar to what we'd done in Apollo, just build a nice cylindrical
tank and put some spray-on insulation on it and build you, it also
had a simple vacuum bottle, you can get a lot more efficiencies. As
I said earlier, if a vehicle gets too heavy, you can't fly up to orbit.
There's just a certain—at that time our propulsion was pretty
well limited to what we were going to get out of the hydrogen and
oxygen, because that was the best propulsion system this country had
at that time. It was only practical with certain materials that were
available to you to operate that engine at certain temperatures and
pressures, which means it has certain performance. We use fancy terms
like ISP [specific impulse], but that's how much thrust you get per
pound per second propellant you can use, kind of like the mileage
on your car, miles per gallon.
So to design a vehicle to go to the orbit, you're in sort of a box.
You're in a box of what your propulsion system can do. You're in a
box of what kind of weight margins you have to have, what kind of
dry weight of the vehicle compared to propellant weight, the so-called,
we use a fancy term called mass fraction. That's how much a vehicle
weighs as opposed to the weight of the fuel in the vehicle. You have
to have a pretty high mass fractions. You have to have pretty high
ISPs in order to get a vehicle to fly to orbit.
Also if you're going to fly with a one-stage vehicle to orbit, you
have to have extremely high performing propulsion and high mass fractions.
But if you could stage, if you could help get yourself along a certain
distance and drop some of that weight off, then you can get much more
So by evolving from the two-stage fully reusable vehicle to the stage-and-a-half
partially reuseable vehicle, like you see the Space Shuttle, we were
able to greatly simplify the cryogenic propellant issue, we actually
picked the higher performance Orbiter engine because it went to high
internal pressures. Apollo we'd operated 1,000 psi [pounds per square
inch], we went to 3,000 on the Shuttle, we went to hydrogen/oxygen
and we also went to a stage combustion cycle where all the propellant
that you burn goes through the main nozzle and ends up as propellant.
The propellant that runs the turbo machine, where you could pump the
propellant, also is burned again in the main combustion chamber to
give you thrust, where in Apollo we used a gas generator engine, where
we used part of the hydrogen and oxygen to run the turbo pumps and
then we exhausted that in an inefficient manner, rather than run it
through the propulsion system.
So we went to very high, we went to three times as much internal pressure,
we went to a stage combustion cycle engine. We used hydrogen and oxygen.
So we got the engine performance about as high as we knew how to do
at that time. We got the mass fractions we wanted by going to partially
reusable vehicles, rather than everything reusable, because we got
the propellant count and got it in a simply module where we could
deal with it.
Then it didn't make sense to push the Orbiter partway without its
engines running, so we put the Orbiter down on the stack and light
the engines and then all we needed were some big JATO [jet-assisted
takeoff] bottles, just like we had in World War II to help heavy airplanes
take off. These big JATO bottles turned out to be the most practical
thing we found for the big solid propellant boosters.
So we evolved in Phase B from the vehicle that came out of Phase A,
the vehicle I've described to you, over—I don't remember, less
than two years. Actually, the last six months of that was a very rapid
conversion of that vehicle, because we finally then were able to get
the funding projections to where you could support them. You could
get the vehicle to where people like myself, who had to go get it
done, felt it was a practical thing to do. We still had the fifteen-foot
diameter, sixty-foot-long payload bay. We still had the 60,000 pounds
of weight. We still had the number of people we wanted in there. We
still had all of the capability on orbit. So, a pretty damn good program,
looked to me like, so we were ready to go.
Now, people look back today and say, "Oh, yeah, but you didn't
do it right. If you build a two-stage fully reusable, it would be
one-tenth this cheap today to operate." Bull. How do you know
that? I tell the people when I see them on the street, I say, "Do
you know the Space Shuttle is the most expensive vehicle that man
has ever built to do what it does? It's also the cheapest vehicle
man's ever built to do what it does. It's the only vehicle man's every
built to do what it does." So people who say I can build one
to do the same thing for a tenth the cost, I just laugh at them. They
don't have any idea whether they could or couldn't. Had we attempted
to build a two-stage fully reusable vehicle, the program may well
have spun in, and we wouldn't have had anything today. No one knows.
I know this, it would have been significantly more difficult than
what was done, and what was done took a lot of national effort just
to get it done, get it done within the funding you could sustain and
within the capabilities we had, and I think it's proven to be a hell
of a good vehicle.
So having gone through that evolution in Phase B, we were now ready
to fulfil it. Now, by having evolved to the vehicle we evolved to,
it gave us some other fairly significant advantages, because we could
time-phase the start of different elements of the program so that
the funding didn't all stack up one right on top of the other. Because
once you start to build something, you bring people on, you get schedules
that push you, costs go up. Once you start that spending, it's there
every day, it's chewing on you every day. So what you want to do is
take the things that are more difficult and more complicated and start
those first, and not start everything one right on top of the other
one and get your funding way up high, because once it's up there,
you can't get it down until you're finished. If you start the tank
early and it gets up here, you still have to keep the tank people
around, because you haven't flown yet.
So we started the engine first. We were pretty sure the engine was
the most difficult development. We started the engine first, and I've
already told you a little bit about the technology in the engine.
Some details. We got a protest. The engine technology at that time,
a lot of it had been supported by R&D [research and development]
funding at different places around the country. In fact, the Air Force
had done a lot of the funding with a company called Pratt & Whitney.
But when NASA decided to build the stage combustion cycle engine with
3,000 pounds pressure at the combustion chamber throat, the turbo
pumps and a lot of work had been done by Pratt & Whitney, and
Pratt & Whitney felt that they were in catbird seat to win the
Well, Rocketdyne [Division of Rockwell International], who had been
doing the engines for Apollo, the low chamber pressure engines and
the gas generator cycle combustion cycle engine, but they also had
a lot of experience in building rocket engines. So you had a company
like Pratt & Whitney was very heavy into R&D, you had a company
like Rocketdyne very heavy in the practicality of doing things, and
they were throwing competition, and lo and behold the government selects
Rocketdyne. Pratt & Whitney didn't like that, so they protested,
and that held up the start of the engine for about six or eight months
while that protest was resolved. But then it was resolved. Rocketdyne
then went to work to build the engine.
We had had a lot of debate on what the thruster engine ought to be.
Collectively we all wanted to have a thrust level that would give
us the ability to have at least three engines on the Orbiter, so if
you had one engine out you could still most of the time go to orbit.
Kind of like a four-engine airplane or a two-engine airplane today.
So we sized the engine at 460,000 pounds of thrust with three engines
in the Orbiter. You can look in the history books, we looked at two-engine
Orbiters, we looked at the 460,000-pound thrust engine for the fly-back
booster. I think they had to have eight engines in it or something
like that. But in any event, the engine program we started first.
It then came time to pick a contractor for the next start-up, and
the next most complicated part of the vehicle is the Orbiter. So out
at the Johnson Space Center we released an RFP and we also, at the
start of Phase C/D, NASA set up a program management structure with
the program manager located at the Johnson Space Center using the
resources at Johnson Space Center. That's the job that I was put into
that started in 1972, coming out of Phase B. Then when we decided
to go to C/D, I was made the program manager for the total program
working here out of the Johnson Space Center. So we prepared the RFP
for the Orbiter and for integration support.
The government was going to integrate the program using civil service
resources and using the program manager, his staff and his organization.
We were going to decide what the Shuttle was, program manage it and
program integration. But we realized that we had to have a fair amount
of support from the contractors, because the people designing an Orbiter
and the people designing a tank or people designing an SRB [solid
rocket booster] has to contribute to that. So in each contract we
put some integration support work. So if you bid on the tank, you
also bid to do some integration support work. But if you bid on the
Orbiter, you bid a bigger piece of integration support work.
So in my office at JSC in the latter part of 1972, we prepared a request
for proposal to build an Orbiter and provide major program integration
support, those two things, and we ran a competition. I chaired the
Source Selection Board for that competition. We got four bids. We
got bids from North American [Aviation, Inc.] or Rockwell. We got
bids from McDonnell Douglas, from Grumman [Aircraft Engineering Corp.],
and Lockheed [Aircraft Corp.]. Out of those four, after we evaluated
them, graded them, we selected Rockwell as the Orbiter integration
support contractor, and we led a design, development, testing, evaluation
contract to them to build us an Orbiter and provide integration support.
At that time I set up—I already had an engine project office
located over at Marshall, now we have an Orbiter project office located
at JSC. We would later on have a tank and an SRB project office located
at Marshall. So three of the development offices at Marshall, one
at JSC, and, of course, we had a launch site development office at
Kennedy. So I had an office that had those, plus I had integration
support groups within my program management office.
The lead technical systems integrator was a fellow named Owen [G.]
Morris that ran an integration office. We also had an operations integration
manager. We had a program control and budget and cost and schedule
integration manager. We had four major offices, we had the technical
systems engineering, we called it, program control, operations and,
gee, what is the fourth one? I'll think of it in a minute. But anyway,
the fourth major integration activity. That's the organization we
started Phase C/D with.
Then I had a staff program director that I reported to in Washington,
who was Charlie Donlan to start with, and then he reported to the
Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, Dale Myers. But it
was my job to run the program on a daily basis, using staff and support
out of the Johnson Space Center.
We selected Rockwell, they started on the Orbiter, and they started
on the integration support contract to us. We had the engine going,
the Orbiter going, integration activity going. About eight or ten
months later, we competed for a tank contractor and picked a tank
manager. A fellow named Jim [James] Odom was picked as the project
manager at Marshall. He and his people released an RFP for a tank
and they picked Martin to build the tank out of Michoud [Assembly
Facility] in Louisiana.
Then about several months later—we left the sizing and the final
configuration of the booster rockets open for several months on the
front end of the program, and we left the final size of the tank open,
because we wanted to get a better handle on how heavy the Orbiter
was going to be, how heavy the engines were going to be, what kind
of propellant load we wanted to carry before we finally sized the
tank, and then we wanted to have all that sizing under reasonably
good control before we committed to how big the booster rockets ought
to be, because we didn't want to box ourselves in, make some early
judgments and find ourselves wrong and have to come back and change
We also needed to get some integration work going so we could tell
the tank what kind of heating parameters it had to design for, and
how much propellant it had to carry, what kind of loads it had to
be designed for and that sort of thing. Same thing then, we kept the
booster rocket back so we could finally size the booster and how big
a JATO unit you needed, because then you could get the weight under
Now, these are things you do when you really have to go build a vehicle.
So we spread the selection of the contractor base over probably the
better part of a year to a year and a half. Also Marshall undertook
the preliminary design of the SRBs in-house, because they got contractor
support to build it. So they did a lot of the early engineering design
work on the SRBs in-house at Marshall using their civil service resources.
We're now in the '73, '74 time period. We settled cleanly on the vehicle.
We settled cleanly on the organization that's going to run it. We've
got a program that Congress is willing to put money up every year
and keep funding. When we started on this Shuttle vehicle, the one
that we now know when you look out and see it, when we finished our
Phase B on that vehicle, we said that we thought we could build that
vehicle for $5.15 billion in the purchasing power of the 1971 dollar
over a period of about seven or eight years. But we also said we,
the people internal to the program, my data that I took to Washington,
said we want to plan the program on a success path, that we know exactly
what we're doing, we'll do everything just right and it will fit together
nicely, we'll build it for 5.15, but good things never happen that
way, so you need to have a contingency plan for another billion dollars
and another eighteen months' delay in the schedule. We had what we
called a green curve theory. We'd put this funding profile versus
time for the success program, then we'd put a curve with green coloring
under it for just 1 billion dollars of additional funding and the
other eighteen months and said, now, that's the total, the outside
boundary is what you should tell Congress about.
When [NASA Administrator Dr. James C.] Jim Fletcher and George [M.]
Low took that one sheet of paper that described the Shuttle and described
the funding out to San Clemente [California] to talk to Nixon to get
the final commitment on the Shuttle, that's what they took, and that's
what their discussion with Nixon was all about. When Nixon said, "Okay,
fine, we'll go with it," then they came back and submitted that
to OMB [Office of Management and Budget] as the NASA commitment on
Well, the best of intentions are just so good. When that got to OMB
and NASA Headquarters put that budget in the 1973 budget, they didn't
escalate from '71 to '73 dollars. So they took the '71 dollars and
put them in as if they were '73 dollars. So we lost two years' worth
of inflation. OMB says, "Oh, we never give contingency funding.
We'll just make that after a while." So they lopped off the eighteen
months and lopped off the 1 billion dollars and said, "You, NASA,
have committed for 5.15 billion and the purchasing power is '73 dollars,
and here it is. Let's go to work."
Well, we weren't going to say, "No, that's all wrong, we won't
do it." We took that and went on down the pike, but we got clobbered
for two years of escalation right off the front end over the whole
program. The eighteen months of scheduled contingency that anyone
needed was taken out and a billion dollars of regular funding was
taken out. But that didn't really matter, because once it's all over,
it's eight years later, the people who made the commitment have all
gone and died, have gone on somewhere else. So what. In fact, we kept
a constant measure of ourself, how we were doing against the 5.15
plus the billion plus the eighteen months, and I can generate a good
story that says the program was brought in right on cost or even under
cost, because inflation in some of those years was as much as 18 or
20 percent, and we would typically get 7 or 8 percent allowed.
So if you come back and put what we were arguing with all the real
things, I can show you the Shuttle was developed close to cost, pretty
close to schedule. But, so who cares? And who you going to talk to
at that time? Because the program had already been identified as "You
said you'd do it for 5.15. Now you've spent 8." So you're way
over, right? No one takes the 5.15 and escalates it and does that,
they just take the 5.15 and compare it to the actual spending and
put that in the newspaper and paint you with it. That's part of the
game, and you get used to that after a while.
But in any event, by 1972 we were ready to go, we got the engine under
way, the Orbiter under way, integration support under way, we got
some preliminary design going on on the tank, and some early thinking
going on on the booster rockets, and the program is moving along pretty
good. One of the things that I think that I'm pleased about on the
Shuttle Program is that the program management structure, the person,
myself, who was picked as the program manager, the integration managers,
the Orbiter manager, the tank manager, the SRB manager, and the engine
manager, those people all stayed there for the whole ten years it
took to develop that vehicle. So the management continuity was extremely
good during Shuttle.
I think that's important in that as I look back now at Space Station,
the way Space Station happened, they changed managers every three
months, they changed configuration every time someone dropped a pencil.
Next thing you know, the Space Station Freedom design is thrown in
trashcan after a lot of time and effort was spent, and we get up on
this political kick with the Russians on the Space Station that exists
today. The next thing you know, two or three or four or five years
is dumped down the drain. Once you get the program going, the spending
is there whether you accomplish anything or not.
Now we've got this highly politically integrated program that I'm
sure glad we didn't get Shuttle wrapped up in that kind of thing.
We kept our management stable, we kept our design fixed. Now, by fixed,
we had to evolve a lot of things in design. When we first started,
we thought we would maybe want some escape rockets to lift the Orbiter
to clear the pad. As we looked at what those would cost, what they
would weigh, the complexity of them, and for what it did for you,
it didn't work out, in my judgment, to be worthwhile, so we took them
We had air-breathing engines on there to give the Orbiter a fly-around
capability. When we looked at the weight of those engines, the cost
of those engines, the complexity of carrying that propellant all the
way to orbit and back just to give you a one-time go-around capability,
it didn't make any sense. We thought we could navigate, put the Orbiter
in a position where we wanted to and put it on the runway the first
time, so we took them off.
Once we took them off, we then had to find a way to fly the Orbiter
around, so we put it on the back of a [Boeing] 747. We bought a 747
from American Airlines, used at a very good bargain, and spent some
money to convert it to carry the Orbiter on its back. We were able
to shorten the landing gear on the Orbiter and save weight. So we
made those kinds of decisions.
Now, those things, they don't happen, again, by someone sitting at
his kitchen table sketching on a napkin. They happen by a program
manager and his organization of people worrying about, "Why do
we have those abort rockets? They really don't do that much for us.
Let's look at taking them off." So you go study that. You come
into a meeting and the people who want to keep them argue for keeping
them. The people who want to take them off argue for taking off. You
sit there and listen to both those arguments, and then you say, "Keep
them or take them off," and put out a paper and say, "Take
Then someone says, "But to take them off, you have to go buy
an airplane and do this with it." So you take them off and start
people to go buy an airplane and put it on the back and figure it
So from '72 to '74 we went through all of those things. We took off
the abort rockets, we took off the fly-back engines. We started off,
we didn't have a good plan of where to dock the Orbiter. There were
people who wanted to dock it up on the nose, you know, ought to take
the nose and dock like that. Well, we looked at sticking it up in
the nose, and if we were going to fly the Orbiter back and land it
on a runway, complicating that whole front end of the Orbiter with
a docking cone didn't make a lot of sense. So we finally decided to
put it in the front payload bay and put a set of controls up in the
back of the cockpit so you could dock it the way it's docked today.
Those kinds of details evolved in the day-to-day working and functioning
of the organization. So who designed the Space Shuttle? The Space
Shuttle was designed by government-led organization evolving over
a couple of years, and, again, not because some early physicist sketched
something on a piece of paper a hundred years ago. It evolved because
you wanted to build something that would carry a fifteen-foot by sixty
payload, 60,000 pounds, ten people, do certain things, and the knowledge
base of how to fly a vehicle in the atmosphere and land it on a runway
came out of a lot of other people's work, and you put that together.
The launch things come out of other people's work.
So you collect all this information and you evolve it over a period
of time. If the people in Congress and the people in Washington keep
feeding money in the program at the tune of $5 million a day peak
spending, then the next thing you know, if you do that for seven,
eight, ten years and keep a good stable organization, you got a vehicle
you're ready to go to the launch pad with.
Do you think the previous programs at NASA were designed the same
way, or was this the first for Shuttle?
Well, this particular organization and this particular vehicle creates
the first. As I think we talked earlier, if you look at the Apollo
vehicle, where you've got a launch vehicle in a fairly clean interface
and with a spacecraft up here, you can work by having people at Marshall
go do the thing that's fairly independent from the people at JSC.
A small group at headquarters can kind of keep order. That's the way
we worked up until that time.
Mercury and Gemini were essentially all located at JSC. We just got
boosters from the Air Force or boosters from the Army to do certain
Skylab was a little bit more integrated, and I talked to you last
time about how long it took us to really decide what to do and how
we argued and scrapped over Skylab. Once we got to Shuttle, now you've
got a highly integrated vehicle. You couldn't just hit it with a meat
cleaver and say, "Marshall, you go do this," and, "JSC,
you go do this," and expect it to go together. Because the loads
that the tank had to be designed to were influenced a lot by the loads
the Orbiter fed into it and the aerodynamics around the Orbiter. So
you have a lot of integrative kind of issues. So you had to have a
program manager leading the activity at those centers and also at
KSC [Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida].
So that's when Charlie Donlan and Dale Myers decided to set a “lead
center” concept, which means they would pick a program manager,
they would give that program manager a piece of paper from Headquarters
saying, "You've got the overall job, but you will locate at the
Johnson Space Center where you can use the resources." The structures
engineers, the flight control engineers, the operations engineers,
the integration engineers, the budget managers, those kinds of people
out at the Johnson Space Center to staff the program and use those
resources in this lead center concept.
Now, what that does with the program manager, that gives the program
manager two bosses. But my feeling, having two bosses is a great thing.
It could be bad, it could be good. Then you've got a center director
who is your administrative boss and you're using his resources, by
"his resources," the government resources, but that he's
responsible for justifying and getting budget to use. You're also
managing project managers at Marshall where they're using Marshall
resources where the center director over there is getting budget.
So this center director is essentially ending up at headquarters on
a board of directors, if you will, overlooking what you do.
But you have a program boss that goes right straight to Washington
and a center boss right in the center you're working on, and you can
do anything you want to as long as you keep them both happy. That's
really the program manager's job to do. But the program manager at
NASA has a lot of power, but he also had a lot of people watching
what he does every day. So you can do most anything you want to, as
long as people are happy with what you're doing and you have a lot
of resources to call on.
Then you can also call on—we got a lot of help from other NASA
centers. Got a lot of help from Ames [Research Center, Moffett Field,
California] in high-speed wind tunnel work. We got a lot of help from
Langley [Research Center, Hampton, Virginia] in structures and structural
dynamics kind of work. You can call on universities. You can honestly
call on all the contractors that are working for you. So you end up,
I've often argued, there's nothing better than a good bureaucracy.
There's nothing worse than a bad bureaucracy. If you put together
a good organization, structured properly and you go there and work
every day and work to where people know what you're doing and why
you're doing it and so forth, you can accomplish pretty remarkable
things. That's where I found myself as the program manager from 1970
to 1981, come on through with the first flight.
Now, as we got into developing the Shuttle, as you would expect, we
ran into a lot of difficult things we had to ultimately solve. Early
on, we decided to build the Orbiter as a basic aluminum airplane.
Simple build, build it very much like you're building the other airplane,
and the industry knew how to go build aluminum or aluminum and titanium
airplanes. But then you had to protect it from the heat of entry with
an insulating thermal protection system that was not so heavy that
it took all your payload. So to pick the hot spots on the Orbiter
and put one kind of thermal protection system, say, on a nose where
it gets real hot, another kind on the wing where it doesn't get quite
as hot, but still pretty hot, compared to the back of the Orbiter
where it's relatively cool, say in the first place it's 3,000 degrees,
here it's 2,000 degrees and here it's 700 degrees, so you had to figure
out what kind of protection you have in those different areas and
stay within the weight budget. The thermal protection system ended
up weighing somewhere between fifteen and 20,000 pounds. We used at
least three different, three to four different kinds of thermal protection
system in different places. First time we'd ever put that kind of
thermal protection system on a vehicle as big as the Orbiter.
The Orbiter, even cut down to the size that we cut it down to, it's
still a pretty big vehicle. You go look at it, it's not a little tiny
thing. It's still pretty big. Now, you can imagine how big it gets
if you put all that cryogenic propellant in it, right? It gets to
be real big.
But in any event, we covered it with the thermal protection system,
and to develop the materials, prove to yourself the materials would
do what you wanted them to do, called material characterization work,
figure out how to attach them to the Orbiter in such a way they would
stay there, and then do the test program to prove to you that they
would stay there, was a fairly significant development program.
We got a lot of help out of industry. Lockheed had the contract as
a sub to Rockwell to build the lightweight thermal insulating tiles.
Other contractors built the carbon material that's on the nose cap.
Rockwell developed the blankets that go on the after part of the vehicle.
So we called and we got a lot of help out of Ames in thermal protection
work. So we had a lot of people around the country doing a lot of
things, and that's just the thermal protection system. We could talk
for hours or days on all of the engineering issues in the vehicle.
Structural dynamics was a big issue.
Before the Space Shuttle we would have generally built launch vehicles
that I call stacked like telephone poles, they were all in line. The
reason you do that is you get the efficient aerodynamic efficiency,
you pushing the thing through the air in a pretty efficient way. You've
got a good thrust vector that goes right up the center of the backbone
of the vehicle. You can drop off parts of the vehicle as you stage
and go on pretty clean there. So an axial-oriented vehicle is a pretty
There were lots of people who wanted to have the Shuttle as close
to that as they could. So people wanted to put the booster rockets
behind the Orbiter and push it along the axis, but that wasn't very
practical if you wanted to burn the Orbiter engines at liftoff. See,
the Orbiter engines were efficient engines and we very much wanted
to turn those engines on before we lifted off to make sure they were
working, plus they were the most efficient engines. So we wanted the
Orbiter down in the fire pit there where we could light off the engines.
So then you could put the tank in front of the Orbiter, but that didn't
make a whole lot of sense because we wanted the tank down, just part
of the structure backbone to put the booster rockets on. You had to
have the booster rockets so they could light off for you. So we ended
up stacking it in a way that you see for the Orbiter now.
But now that brings—when you hang those four big masses together,
you get a lot of low-frequency vibrational modes. It shakes and rattles
like a bowl of jelly. In other words, it's got a lot of structural
modes that can fed into the propulsion system or can fed into the
flight control system.
One of the things you really worry about in a launch vehicle is a
thing called pogo. Pogo is just a name, pogo stick. You've seen them
jump on pogo sticks? Well, if you've got a rocket engine pushing on
a vehicle and you got the vehicle shaking so that it's interrupting
the flow of propellants or causes the flow of propellants to be like
you're walking with water, a pail of water. If that propellant gets
to sloshing and the vehicle gets to shaking and that influences the
thrust, they can feed on each other and they can cause this thing
to build up and it can destroy a vehicle. It can shake itself apart.
So there was a lot of worry, if you take and put these four masses
this way and you got the SRBs burning and you've got the Orbiter burning,
you got the propellant sloshing around the tanks and those big things
structurally tied, it's going to shake itself apart and people would
come, "Oh, you can't do that, it'll tear itself apart. You can't
have the Orbiter down there in the fire pit, it'll burn itself up.
You've got to get it up here," and so on.
As program manager, what you'll really doing is you sort of sit there
and say, "Well, what set of problems do I want to live with for
the next four years? Do I want to stack it like a bunch of telephone
poles and take on all of those problems, or do I want to stack it
in parallel and take on all those problems?" So you have to make
a judgment call, what do you want to do. You then decide based on
your experience or based on what people tell you, "I'm going
to stack it this way and take on these problems, and I will keep that
from being a problem by doing certain things." So you sit there
and kind of put the program together and buy into whatever problems
you're going to have for the next four years.
Stage combustion engine. "Oh, you can't have two burners on an
engine. You can't have a bunch of free-burners and their pumps interrelating
with a bunch of other burners and their pumps. You'll get propulsion
instability and they'll tear themselves apart." Yes, but if I
can do all of that, I get the highest ISP out of the engine, so I'll
just take on those problems, even though we've never done it before,
and get the higher ISP out of the engine." But now I have to
start a development program and make sure that I don't get any propulsion
instability because of the structural modes of the engine.
So we embarked on what we called a pogo prevention plan, put together
some key systems engineers, got help from industry, got help from
universities around the country, did a lot of analytical work, a lot
of test work, made sure we understand the structural dynamics. We
found we had some marginal problems, we put some accumulators in certain
places to keep it from being a problem. Probably the most pogo-susceptible
vehicle we've ever built is the Shuttle and it's the only vehicle
we ever built that's never had a pogo problem. And it didn't because
we went in and solved all those things and put some accumulators where
they belonged and kept it from pogoing.
There are fifty of these things I could talk about here for X hours,
and that's probably not very productive. But we were able to pick
the set of problems we wanted to live with, thermal protection system,
pogo propulsion dynamics, flight control. We decided that the Shuttle
was the kind of vehicle—when I first went to work at Langley
right after World War II, I went into the stability and control group
there. At that time, NACA [National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics]
had to have two stability and control subcommittees because there
was so much disagreement. There were people who wanted to have artificial
stability and control by putting gyros on airplanes and thinking that
I'll put the gyros and feed them in the control system and so forth.
Then there were people who said, "You never do that. You give
the pilot a stick, hook a cable to the aileron, and he sits there
and flies the vehicle. You're not putting a dumb gyro between my aileron
and my stick." So you had the people who wanted a plain natural
stability and control system, and the people who were willing to hook
up a bunch of electronics and computers and so forth.
Well, we looked at the Space Shuttle and it didn't make any sense
to do anything other than what we call a control-configured airplane.
That is, you put the pilot in sending signals to a computer. That's
all a pilot does; he sends signals to a computer. The computer takes
those signals and mixes them with signals it's getting from sensors
located around the vehicle, gyros that are helping him navigate, or
sensors doing different things around the vehicle coming into this.
Within the flight computer you've got a set of software that's flying
the vehicle. It's got a bunch of software and memory and they're telling
you where to guide the vehicle. A pilot's sitting here putting some
commands in, but he's put them in at the outer loop and in the inner
loop the vehicle is flying and stabilizing itself based on its sensors
around the vehicle.
So we had to put together what we called a control-configured vehicle.
Now, that's great, but it means you've got to have a highly reliable
set of computers and flight control systems, because a computer, if
it breaks down, the pilot can't fly the vehicle. So we did a lot of
work early putting a highly redundant avionics system on the Shuttle.
Then we got around the problem of having some generic software problems
by putting a relatively simpler, not simple, but a relatively simpler
backup flight control system in a fifth computer that would give the
ability to fly the thing if these four bombed out. These four worked
by comparing what each one of them was doing with each other, so if
you got three of them doing one thing and one of them is doing something
wrong, you'd throw the one out and take the three. Every now and then
you'd get two on two, and you had to have a way to solve that as well.
In fact, the first time we got ready to launch, we started the computers
and lo and behold we got two on two. It had only happened on very
rare occasions. We'd seen it a few times in the avionics development
lab. But we had to scrub the first launch for a day while we went
in and set a way for the computers to start so they wouldn't get two
on two voting right up front. But we put a lot of effort in the avionics,
a lot of effort in thermal, a lot of effort in structural dynamics,
a lot of effort in all of these kinds of technical things.
Got a good set of contractors. Ultimately, Marshall went out on a
bid and got [Morton] Thiokol [Inc.] to build the boosters and got
a different contractor to help them integrate it and put it together
down at the Cape. There was a lot of debate about whether it would
be a solid propellant booster or a liquid booster. We finally settled
on a solid propellant from a cost and late development and a recover
and reuse we figured.
Another thing that's fairly interesting, in looking at the Shuttle
and justifying the Shuttle to the Congress and to the country, and
when you looked at everything the Air Force wanted to do and everything
that NASA wanted to do, you could look around and, gee, we're going
to fly this thing forty, fifty, sixty times a year. Every two weeks,
maybe. Lo and behold, the more you flew, the cheaper it got per flight.
So all of the budgetary kind of stuff that went between the agency
and the Congress always biased toward a high number of flights. Now,
no one really got serious about asking where all the money was going
to come from to create all the stuff to do all that stuff, because,
you know, people are hoping for bigger budgets in the future.
But internal to the program, we never structured anything that gave
us any capability beyond twenty-four flights a year. That's what sized
the tank fabrication capabilities that we put together. So if anyone
ever wanted to go above twenty-four flights a year, they would have
had to up the tank production capability of what we put in in the
fundamental program, and they haven't gotten anywhere near twenty-four
Another thing we had a fairly significant debate on was whether to
make the first flight unmanned. There were a lot of people in the
agency that grew up, including myself, in the time period of Mercury,
Gemini and Apollo where we always went unmanned. Put an animal in,
then put the people in. I personally felt that by the time we got
to Shuttle, it was as much an airplane as it was a launch vehicle
or an orbital vehicle. We had a lot of experience under our belt of
how to build things. It made it a lot more straightforward and a lot
more simple just to build a manned vehicle, not build an unmanned
one and then build a manned one, or build an unmanned one and have
a manned overlay or unmanned overlay. It just complicated it. I felt
that it justified risking a couple of people to make a test flight,
that the country knew how to spend the money and design and build
it and man it right up front. You never had any trouble getting people
to go fly. The astronauts fought each other to see who would go first
and so forth.
So very early on I favored going up manned. Some people I have a lot
of regard for still wanted to go unmanned. So we made a judgment that
says, "We're going to baseline it for manned. We're only going
to build a manned configuration. If, as we approach a first flight
we make a thorough review of it, if we aren't comfortable with it,
then we just won't go. We'll shift back over and try to go unmanned
at that time," which we did. We went manned all the way. We held
a review, we were comfortable going manned. A lot of the people that
didn't want to go manned had either retired or gotten tired of arguing
or finally agreed with it, and we went right on manned and went on
We did go through an approach and landing set of tests where we launched
the Orbiter from the back of the 747 and tested the tail end of the
glide slope and the touchdown on the runway. Historically, airplanes
had had taxi tests, where you would take an airplane out before you
fly it and run up the engines and run up and down the runway to make
sure you didn't have any shimmy on the wheels and so forth. People
came in and wanted to taxi test the Shuttle, for example, the Orbiter.
After listening to all that, I felt that that really wasn't necessary,
that we knew enough in this country to design a vehicle that probably
would land all right, and the cost of putting jet engines on this
thing and trying to taxi it didn't make a lot of sense, but that putting
it on the back of the 747 and air-launching it and gliding it down
and landing on the runway was a worthwhile thing to do. First of all,
it gave us a look at the landing gear and the controllability of the
vehicle and the approach and landing tests. It satisfied a lot of
our taxi test requirements. It also gave our operational people kind
of a thing to get back used to doing something before we went to orbital
flight, because it was about an eight- or ten-year period where we
weren't flying very much. Between the time we finished Skylab in,
say, '73 or '74 until '81, the Ops [Flight Operations] people hadn't
been doing a lot. So it gave us a chance to force the Ops people to
face up to planning some things and putting some people in the vehicle
and doing some things.
So we decided to make four approach and landing test [ALT] flights,
two of them with a tail coming on, which reduced the drag the Orbiter
made a little bit more shallow glide slope, and then, too, with the
tail coming off, which gave us a steeper glide slope. I think that's
the way we go. I'm beginning to get a little fuzzy in my memory now,
because I'm going back. I think we made two of each, but I can't remember.
The approach and landing tests went quite well, except for we had
one major glitch that came out. We found some flight control problems
with the last, and they manifested themselves in the last flight.
The Orbiter is a relatively crude aerodynamic vehicle in the landing
mode, crude in that it doesn't have high lift to drag, like a glider
lands pretty controllable and it's kind of hard to make sit down because
it wants to fly. You don't have any trouble getting the Orbiter to
sit down, because it's relatively low L over D [lift over drag]. But
you're coming in fairly fast and fairly steep compared to traditional
airplane kind of things, which means that good news, bad news.
The good news is, it's not very sensitive to gusts and that sort of
thing, because it's not a good aerodynamic vehicle. So if a gust hits
it, it doesn't respond a whole lot. It's got fairly high wing loading
and fairly low lift to drag ratio. So if you set the Orbiter up at
the right place up here, it's a fairly simple task to glide it down
and then change some of the kinetic energy of the glide slope to what
we call flare, to change it so you can flare and kind of kill your
vertical velocity so that you're within three or four feet per second
vertical velocity when the wheels hit the runway and you run out.
So if you set it up carefully up here with fairly limited boundaries
and fly it nice and gentle down through here and flare it gently,
it'll fly in and land real nicely. In fact, if you watch all the landings,
they look pretty good. It flies nice and steady. But a lot of people
worry about that, because they were used to building and flying airplanes,
which have a lot—this is kind on the end of—We didn't
go as far as the lifting bodies, which are even worse than the Shuttle,
because their L over D and aerodynamics is worse than the Shuttle.
So Shuttle's a little bit better than lifting bodies, but not nearly
as good as an airplane.
But on the fourth approach and landing test, the pilot flying the
vehicle, sort of unbeknownst to us, had made some bets with his buddies
that he was going to hit the numbers on the runway. Well, where we
launched him up here and where we set him up and the glide slope he
followed, he shouldn't have put it on the numbers, he should have
glided on past the numbers and let it do its natural thing and set
it down. But he decided he was going to win the bet and he wanted
to try to force it on the numbers, so he tried to make it land before
it was ready to land. So he put some pitch control in.
The control system we have in the Shuttle is a rate command system,
so you put some pitch in, it says pitch at a certain rate. Then you
take that rate command off when you want to stop that rate. We had
a logic in the flight control system that if you put a lot of pitch
in, the hydraulic system and the controls would give you the pitch
you wanted, because at the same time you put some roll in, a little
bit of roll and a lot of pitch, it would try to meet your pitch rate
before it picked up on the roll rate. That was the logic we had in
the software in the flight control system.
We also had the flight control system relatively high gained, and
that means that a little bit of motion of the control stick gives
you a lot of response in controls. That's a high gain kind of a high
response. So we had the gain set fairly high, because that's the way
the astronauts had argued that they wanted it. The people who designed
the flight controls went to moderately high gains. Then the logic
between pitch and roll was such that if you were asking for a whole
lot of one, the system gave you that before it gave you a little bit
of the other one.
When Fred [W. Haise] tried to set the thing down on the numbers, he
called for a lot of pitch. Well, in the Shuttle you're way up above
the principal axis and the only pitch controls are those trailing
edge flaps. They also give you lift, in addition to pitching moment.
So when you ask for pitch, your first sensation is you go up, then
the nose comes down. Well, he asked for pitch and he started going
up, said, "I'm not getting enough," so he asked for more
pitch. Well, then the wing dropped a little bit, so he's asking it
to roll, but he asked for so much pitch he wasn't getting his roll.
So next thing you know, he's putting more in there and he gets into
a classic pilot-induced oscillation [PIO].
Anytime you're trying to fly a vehicle and the control system is such
that there are some adverse time lags between the time you ask for
something and you get it, then you start asking for too much, and
then when you get it, you pull back. The next thing you know, you're
doing this [gestures]. Well, he started pitching and wobbling and
was beginning to build up some attitudes and some rates that looked
like he was going to really prang the vehicle, because he was getting
pretty close to the runway.
Well, fortunately the co-pilot knew that if he'd just take his hand
off of the control, the computer, which was running the inner loop
control system, would quickly stabilize the vehicle and bring it back
to a reasonable glide slope. So he told him to turn the control loose.
He turned the thing loose and the thing settled down and then it came
on down, got on the runway and made a good landing. Everything was
all right, but we had some scary moments there.
Well, we got on top of that, look at it, decided we could degain the
flight control system a little bit, change the logic between pitch
and roll, run through some simulators. At Ames they have a motion-based
simulator that you can do a lot of that kind of work. We didn't do
another ALT test. We just fixed the flight control system and took
the pilot out of the loop a little bit by degaining the loop and changing
the logic and went on the flight and it's worked fine.
So the approach and landing tests gave us some things we wanted, plus
gave us the confidence that from 10,000 feet on down we knew what
we were working with. Of course, once we went to orbit, we had to
then manage from orbit down and pick up the top glide slope here at
about 30,000 feet. As long as you got it all set up in the right place
there, we put a lot of capability in the Shuttle for being in the
right place. We put a very accurate microwave system on the runway
that upgrades where you are, so between the onboard system, the TACAN
[tactical air navigation] system you use once you get down farther
in the atmosphere, and the microwave landing system we put on the
runway, we were pretty sure to have the Orbiter in the right position.
If you have it in the right position and if the pilot didn't have
too many bets to try to make it through what it's not supposed to
do, he's going to be on the runway every time.
So the landing, even though there were a lot of people nervous about
the landing capability of the Shuttle, as you compare it to an airplane,
we stuck to what we started with. We stuck to the aerodynamic configuration
we started with. We didn't try to get real fancy with the shape of
the vehicle to get aerodynamic stability all the way down through.
We just put a reaction control system in it and brute-forced it and
made it just take a muscle to make it stabilize.
If you look at a lot of the configurations in the history books and
so forth out at Langley, you see these fancy contoured-shaped HL-10s
and M-2s. These are all vehicles where the aerodynamicist is trying
to make them fly bare bones stability and control all the way from
orbit down. But in a practical sense, you don't have to do that, you
just put muscle on there. You put a reaction control system and a
navigation and control system and just brute-force your way through,
because the aerodynamics up there at that high, the air densities
aren't so high that you can just—you can take some poor aerodynamics
and just force your way through it. And that's what we did on the
Shuttle. We didn't try to get too fancy all the way through. Made
a lot of aerodynamic friends unhappy with us. They said, "That's
a crude-looking vehicle," and we said, "We're not trying
to be fancy aerodynamically. We're just trying to go to orbit and
But it was an interesting time period. We got through the ALT Program.
As we got down close to first launch, if you'll remember the eighteen
months and the billion dollars, it turned out we needed the eighteen
months and the billion dollars. So we had been talking about 1979
as the first launch period, and that's what a lot of the newspaper
people and so forth had been counting on. When we got to 1979, we
weren't ready to fly. We still had some thermal things to do, some
engine things to do, some avionics things to do, the typical things
that we knew would build up. We needed about a billion dollars and
about eighteen months.
So people began to get a little bit nervous. A lot of the newspaper
people that had been running around waiting, that hadn't flown since
Skylab, they were ready to fly. Skylab was up there getting ready
to come back down. They wanted to hurry up the Orbiter and go up and
save Skylab. Well, that was a bunch of crap. No one was ever serious
about taking the Orbiter up. The Orbiter couldn't do anything with
Skylab. We weren't at all configured to go up there and take a hold
of Skylab and save it. I don't know why anyone would want to save
Skylab. It was useless. We designed Skylab to do just exactly what
But anyways, we got down to the late 1979 time period and we began
to get a lot of pressure. "Gee, is this thing going to ever fly?
Will it do this? Will it do that? Will the tiles stay on?" And
so forth. We ran into a problem on the tiles. We had done some reasonable
development work, but in retrospect, we had not characterized the
material as thoroughly as we should have. By characterize the material,
let's say you're trying to build these lightweight insulating tiles.
What you really need to do is build several thousand of them, test
the strength of several thousand of them, statistically get all of
that data, draw a statistical boundary around it, and then pick a
number off of there to make sure all the tiles are at least that strong.
We'd also decided to put the tiles on the aluminum surface by putting
some rubber glue, RTV—room temperature vulcanizing—it's
a rubber glue, aluminum rubber glue, a felt pad, rubber glue in the
tile. We'd done limited testing to make sure how strong that was and
the characteristics of the material, but when we got ready to put
it all on the Orbiter and begin to test the tiles, we found some tiles
coming off at less pull weight than we thought. So it wasn't as strong
as we thought it was.
We began to look around, well, maybe we hadn't characterized the material
as well, and maybe there was something about that bond we didn't understand.
So now we're already down at the Cape with the vehicle and we were
gluing the final tiles on and finding they were not as strong as we
thought they were. So now we're in a big scramble.
We found out that this felt material that we put on there, the way
in which it was manufactured caused some little short strings of felt
to be put in the vertical plane rather than the horizontal plane.
So that when you glued it on there, when you thought you were pulling
a long string parallel to the structure, we put a little short string
that stuck right up into the bottom of the tile from the aluminum.
So you'd pull that little string and that little bit would pop loose,
and the next little bit would pop loose. So it would come off at less
[unclear] because the way we made the felt with some needles to glue
these long strings of rayon together, ended up these little short
strings that had a little short pull, that would pull a little section
of the tile out at less weight.
So we had to go in and take the tiles off and densify. We took liquid
glass and densified the lower layer of the tiles to make that little
string stronger, and then glued them back on and then went through
a very elaborate pull test to make sure they were strong enough to
where we got ourselves in a boundary of the strength of the tiles.
Well, people were impatient while you were doing all that work, because
they wanted to go fly. The newspaper people said, "Gee, you don't
know what you're doing." Well, we knew what we were doing, but
we just had to put up with all of that.
In the meantime, we were doing some testing in our avionics development
laboratory to be sure we were comfortable with the flight control
system, the avionics system. All of that hadn't completely matured.
The engine, we were still doing some of the final certification testing.
So even if the tiles hadn't been a problem, the software wasn't quite
ready, the engine wasn't quite ready. In fact, the tank, even though
we started late, it ended up ready early. The SRBs, we started those
late, they were ready early. The thermal system, the avionics system
and the engines were the things that really paced the program.
But we didn't get the program too badly out of balance. The tank was
ready maybe six months before we were ready to fly, the SRBs more
than three or four months. So it all came out on the back end pretty
well. Had we been able to stick with our original eighteen months
and one billion dollars, we could have been heroes, but no one was
interested at that time anyway, because the people we talked to had
long left office and gone on to somewhere else and so forth.
If we can take this opportunity to stop and change out our tape.
…part of 1970, when we were dealing with issues like the thermal
systems, is it ready to go? The engines, are they ready to go? The
tank, is it ready to go? SRBs, we'd had three or four static firings
of the SRB by then. We're now getting ready to bring this thing all
together and have a couple of people get on board and fly it to Earth
There were several things that were unique to the Shuttle that we
had to worry about. One was, we worried a fair amount about icing.
We were worried about the ice that would build up on the cold hydrogen
tank and come off in the early part of the flight, maybe in chunks,
and do some damage to the thermal protection system on the way out.
I always felt moderately comfortable with the thermal protection system
in that the way we designed it, it was pretty forgiving for any one
entry. Even if you knocked a big chunk of tile off, it still worked
fine. In fact, you could lose a whole tile in many, many places and
the glue and the felt and the aluminum, you'll get some local damage,
but you can still come in and land.
It was just a simple enough system and a crude enough system to where
it had a lot of forgiveness. In fact, I remember an early test on
the thermal protection system we were doing in either a tunnel at
Langley or Ames, I can't remember now, a blow-down tunnel, and one
of the copper heating elements in the tunnel failed and melted, which
meant they put a bunch of copper pellets in the air stream that hit
this test sample, looked like you'd shot it with a shotgun.
They brought the sample in my office and said, "Look what those
pellets do to this thing." I looked at it and, sure enough, here
the thermal protection system is all chewed up. But then I asked them
what the temperatures were back in the thermal couples where they
were made, and the temperatures were such that it would have survived.
I said, "Well, gee, okay, there's a huge amount of damage, but
on one entry it's fine and we'll just figure out a way to repair it
and go fly again."
So the fact that you had that failure on that test was great. That's
the kind of test that told me what I'd like to know. So if something
does that kind of damage, the chances of losing a vehicle are still
pretty low. But we still worried about stripping off large segments
of the tiles, of course, the first time we'd flown, and you may have
had some kind of structural response you didn't understand or some
aerodynamic loading you didn't fully allow for, even though we'd put
pretty good margins in all of our design.
We had the usual number of design reviews where you would bring experts
in from academia or other companies and do design reviews, flight
readiness reviews and these kinds of things. We were able to work
our way through all of the concerns that people had and all the issues.
We were able to satisfy ourselves that we were comfortable flying
the thermal protection system, because we took a whole bunch of tiles
off and densified that lower level and glued them back on and tested
them. It was time-consuming, but it got done.
In the meantime, we did a lot more testing in the lab of our avionics
system to where we were comfortable with that. We got some more engine
tests under our belt to be satisfied with that. One of the issues
as we approached first flight, we had had the Orbiter at the Cape
for a fairly long period of time and we had done one flight readiness
firing. But then we ran into this thermal protection system and it
was several months before we were ready to go again. So the issue
came, do you need another static firing of the engines? Well, as typical
on a major issue like that, you had a bunch of people who said no,
and a bunch of people said yes.
So we had a lot of soul-searching. I took the position we should do
another static firing. A lot of the folks at Marshall said they didn't
need it. I said, "Well, I know you don't need it, but we're going
to do it just to make sure everything's ready. You've made a lot of
changes to the engine since last time. I know they've all been carefully
looked at, but we're just going to do it. If nothing else, it will
make our ops people a little bit ready." It's kind of like the
scrimmage on Thursday before you play the game on Saturday.
Well, that got bounced around quite a bit, a lot of argument, but
we finally decided to do a flight readiness firing, so we had the
second flight readiness firing, and everything went fine. A lot of
the people said, "See, we told you everything would go fine."
I said, "Sure, I knew everything would go fine. We've had that
practice. Now let's go fly." So those were the kinds of things
you had to deal with as you approached that first flight.
We did everything that we felt we wanted to do. I hear a lot of people—it's
amazing how many people you bump into that had nothing to do with
the Shuttle that know something about it. People say, "Oh, gee,
if they had more money, they would have done something different."
I don't know of a single thing that money forced us not to do, that
we really wanted to do. Now, I phrased that maybe where you couldn't—money
was no excuse for anything. We did the things that our judgment said
needed to be done, or we wouldn't have flown. We didn't do a lot of
things that people had done historically because we didn't think it
was cost-effective or worthwhile or necessary to do that.
So when people say the Shuttle is a dumb design driven by dollars,
I don't think that's right. It's a dumb design, if you want to call
it dumb, driven by common sense to how you like to go build a vehicle
to put fifteen-by-sixty, 60,000 pounds in Earth orbit in a practical
way, with something that's reasonably affordable to develop. Is it
expensive to operate? Yes. But any vehicle you build that's going
to fly to Earth orbit and back is going to be expensive to operate.
It's pretty interesting to me that all these people coming out, they
say, "I can build one that's an order of magnitude cheaper to
operate." When anyone tells me something's an order of magnitude
something, I knew right away he doesn't know what the hell he's talking
about. All he can remember is some algebra class somewhere where some
professor told him, you know, there's a factor of ten here. It's a
nice term, "order of magnitude." So if all he knows is an
order of magnitude cheaper, he doesn't know what he's talking about,
because he hasn't done anything other than pick an engineering term
and throw it out there. So I say, well, that's kind of like naming
your restaurant the low-cost restaurant. Every meal is low cost, right?
It's a low-cost restaurant.
So what is practical today, in today's technology, twenty to thirty
years after the Shuttle? The Shuttle started in 1972, thirty years
ago, roughly. I would venture that if you were to start off today
to build a Space Shuttle, you'd meet some of the same kind of things
I've talked about, and I think it would end up being very close to
the vehicle you see today, if you wanted to do the same things.
You'd want to put a fifteen-foot diameter, sixty-foot-long payload
into Earth orbit, I mean, fifteen-by-fifty or whatever, sixty. Same
payload size, same payload weight, same orbital maneuvering capability,
the same crane capability, the same passenger capability, the same
docking capability, I think it would end up looking a whole lot like
what we've got, because we don't have anything better than hydrogen
oxygen, and the ISP out of the Shuttle engine is pretty high, even
today. I don't know how you'd build one much higher. The practicality
of putting the cryogenics in a throw-away tank is still there. The
staging efficiency you get are there, otherwise you're fighting a
terrible mass fraction problem.
All these people who go around saying, "I'll build a single-stage
to orbit that will be an order of magnitude cheaper to fly,"
are napkin designers running around.
I think the experience with the X-33 that they're having bears that
The X-33, in my opinion, is silly. The X-33 is a little bit like eating
a watermelon before you go to a watermelon-eating contest. I mean,
why would you set out to build a scale vehicle to prove you could
do something? We didn't build a scale Shuttle to prove we could build
a Shuttle. Why would you invest two or three billion dollars to build
something that can fly 400 miles? That's what X-33 is. X-33 can fly
400 miles from somewhere in New Mexico to somewhere in Utah. That's
all it can do.
Now, they say, "Oh, but we're testing technology." The place
to test technology is not in building a flying vehicle, in my judgment.
First of all, that aerospike engine is extremely integrated into the
airframe of the vehicle, so you complicate two very difficult things,
where we separated them purposely so we could get a design path that
can go on effectively. We put a computer on the engine so it could
go off and do its own thing independent of the computer on the Orbiter.
We went off and could build the Orbiter as a basic airframe, insulate
it, have its own avionics system, and here's the engine, and those
two development programs can go on, then you can bring them together.
Because once you start the program and you start spending five million
dollars a day, boy, the costs go up in a hell of a hurry.
Now, if I'm going to stick that engine inside the Orbiter, now I've
complicated two very difficult development paths. Now, with that aerospike
engine I don't have any idea how much controllability you got over
it. On the engines we built, if you want the yaw out of the thing,
you tilt the damn nozzle over there and you get a lot of yaw. Here,
you have to move the whole base of the engine, whole base of the vehicle
So they've stuck the engine into an airframe that's very complicated
in a scale model that doesn't do anything but go 400 miles. They've
tried to put cryo [cryogenic] tanks inside this thing and shape it
like an airplane. The very things I said and made judgment calls that
I don't want to mix that and that, I don't want to complicate this
and this and separate them so you could get at something you could
go build and fly to orbit, they've put them all in one great big hodgepodge
and stirred them up and gone off here and built a little scale thing
to go play with for a while. I'm off on a tangent. But it's silly.
It doesn't make any sense to me.
Now, should we be doing R&D on a cryo tank? Nothing wrong with
going in a laboratory somewhere and seeing how to take a tank shaped
like a wing and see what it takes to insulate it, to handle liquid
hydrogen, what it takes to condition it and load it. But then to try
to integrate that into a single-stage orbit vehicle for the mass fraction
problems you have, propulsion problems you have, all the problems
you have, and then you call up a station and say, "X-33 is the
replacement for the Space Shuttle," that's nonsense. X-33 is
nothing but a little toy that people want to go to play with and try
to do research and development and, in my judgment, that's not the
way to do research and development.
There's nothing wrong with doing research and development, but to
pick a program manager and put all that stuff and start funding it
like a program, and then start getting the vice president and the
head of the agency to pull a little cartoon off of a table, or a little
model on a table, and say, "There's the replacement for the Space
Shuttle," that's nonsense. This country ain't going to take money
out of the Federal Treasury and build anything like the X-33 tomorrow,
the next day, ten years from now, in my judgment. But maybe when some
people like myself pass on, maybe you smarter, younger people will
do it better, quicker, cheaper, better. [Laughter]
That's right. [Laughter]
Don't want to get off on that tangent.
No, I didn't mean to misdirect you, I guess, from your original line
The things leading up to the first flight were fairly straightforward.
I said we had a date, finally got ready for launch date, fired up
the four computers, and damn it if two of them didn't vote one way
and two of them vote the other way. We had to shut it down and separate
that out. It took us twenty-four hours. Came back the next day, loaded
up again and flew.
The first flight was relatively trouble-free. Flew in orbit. What
did we stay, a day? I can't remember. About a day, I guess. Came back
and landed at Edwards [Air Force Base, California]. There had been
a lot of worry about the landing, as I talked about. We could have
improved the landing capability vehicle by putting canards on it,
for example. We'd have made a little better aerodynamically in landing,
but the canards were really terrible for launch. You didn't want them
there for launch. To stow them somewhere and put them out was complicated.
I always felt if we put the vehicle in the right position and flew
it properly, it would land very well, so we didn't do anything to
try to make it a whole lot better aerodynamic vehicle. So we very
carefully landed out on the dry lakebed [at Edwards Air Force Base,
California] where we had plenty of room.
We built a nice big runway at the Cape. We built it 300 feet wide
and 15,000 feet long, with a couple thousand foot of overruns on either
end. It's only a single strip, though, so you had a little bit, maybe
if some cross-wind problems. But as I say, the Shuttle is heavy enough
and less responsive enough to things aerodynamically that if you set
it up right, it's going to come down and land pretty well.
But the whole flight, the launch into orbit, I was getting ready to
talk a little bit about our icing concerns. We were a little concerned
about ice building up on the tank and shedding off when you launch.
There was a school of thought that says it's really not going to be
ice, it's just kind of frost, but we ran some tests and we could get
some weather conditions where you could get clear ice. Most of the
time at the Cape you would not get those conditions. But we had an
ice review team very carefully structured and took visual, went up
and down and looked visually at the vehicle, places where ice would
build up and made sure we didn't have any ice built up on the vehicle.
They still do that to this day.
There were a lot of arguments, maybe we should build a big structure
that covers the whole vehicle and keep it conditioned. But we could
never quite convince ourselves that that expense was worthwhile or
necessary. Later on the Shuttle got into some trouble on that flight
where we lost the vehicle because of cold weather. I'm not sure to
this day how much of it was purely cold weather. It turns out that
the joints we designed for the SRBs were not as good as, in retrospect,
they should have been. We should have been smart enough to have sorted
that out and found it without a major accident, but it didn't work
out that way. That didn't occur until, what, twenty-five, thirty flights,
something like that. In fact, that's the one design weakness that
has really hurt us. I guess we had to shut down a year to fix that
and so forth. It really was not that complicated a design issue. We
should have really done a better job of worrying about it earlier.
But in any event, the conditions on that April when we got ready to
fly at the Cape were good. No icing problems that worried us. The
launch was a clear, blue day, and the thing went off in great shape.
Good crowd there looking at things and cheering things on.
The landing, we landed out at Edwards, went very well. Went out and
looked at the vehicle and you could see some heat effects in certain
areas, but all the tiles were pretty well in place. The whole thing
flew quite well.
I had decided to retire from NASA sometime earlier, so that June I
retired from NASA and did nothing for a few months and then to work
with McDonnell Douglas.
Before we move on to that point, I did have one or two questions,
particularly about the first Shuttle launch. I guess the first four
flights, really, had ejection seats for the two pilots. I wanted to
ask you about the inclusion of those.
We decided to put ejection seats in for those flights, particularly
for the ALT approach and landing test, where with only two people
on board, and with a fairly reasonable expenditure, and when you weren't
worry so much about weight yet because you weren't flying to orbit,
you could take almost existing ejection seats out of military airplane
programs and put them in the Orbiter in such a way that you gave the
crew a capability of getting out. It made no sense at all to put ejection
seats on there for ten people. It made no sense to put ejection seat
for the pilot and co-pilot when there's eight people in the back that
didn't have seats. In fact, I didn't want the pilot and co-pilot to
have ejection seats if the eight people in the back didn't have ejection
seats. It didn't make any sense.
So is there a risk in flying the Space Shuttle? Yes. You can't fly
to Earth orbit without incurring some risk. There's a certain amount
of risk when you get in an airplane and fly from here to Dallas. Those
risks are generally managed in such a way they're acceptable for what
you want to achieve. You make the judgment that the risk of flying
from here to Dallas is acceptable, because you want to be in Dallas
and you know that the odds are one in several million that you're
going to lose your life in it. Well, if you want to fly in the Shuttle,
there are some odds that says you can get hurt or you can lose your
life in it. Is it worth that risk to fly? There's no way you can guarantee
100 percent of the time that there isn't some risks somewhere.
When you look at the envelope the Shuttle flies, the ejection seats
cover a very small percentage in some highly selected areas. Now,
on the approach and landing tests where you were horizontal and you'll
pop off here and glide down, you were at a pretty good attitude, if
the vehicle started doing something funny, it wouldn't get upside
down or do too much before you could get out of it. It was reasonably
cost-effective to put the seats in, but it was never our intention
to have an escape system for the ten people that we'd launch separate
from the Orbiter. Once we put those people in there, they were going
to stay in the Orbiter until the Orbiter landed. That's the way we
designed it. We took the calculated risk. You have to make those judgment
calls, and that judgment call was made, and I still think they're
going to do it again today. If you want to get to orbit with any kind
of payload, you won't put an escape mechanism, other than the basic
vehicle you've got them packaged in.
The same thing when we first designed the Space Station. We didn't
insist that everyone on the Space Station had a way to come home all
the time. Subsequent to that, when they got the connection with the
Russians, they keep some kind of escape module up there, and I notice
they're working now with an escape module to bring people down. There's
nothing wrong with that, but I would point out that today we, the
United States, has operated a research program in Antarctica for fifty
years now. They've had people staying over down in Antarctica for
several months and they can't leave there. They get a fire down there
that burns their building, they can't get in an airplane and come
home. The weather is such, there's no airplane down there. You have
to go down from Christchurch [New Zealand] and get them and bring
them back. You can't go down for six months.
So people are willing to take those kind of risks, and we felt that
if you want to go and live and work on a space station, you didn't
have to have an Orbiter there all the time, that most of the contingencies,
if your food got low, you could send an Orbiter up and get them. We
had four or five vehicles, and the odds of having an Orbiter grounded
to where it couldn't go in some reasonable contingency time and get
people, and if you've got an explosive decompression up there, you're
dead in thirty seconds anyway. Why do you have to have a transport
vehicle to come home?
Now, if you can afford it and if it's fairly straightforward to do,
do it. But I didn't see that we were taking that much of a risk to
not have ejection seats in the Shuttle, and I didn't think we were
taking that much risk to not have a come-home vehicle docked at Space
Station all the time. But ultimately that's the judgment call of the
people that run the program. The people putting the money up out of
Congress, the people in the agency at the head, in the administration
level, and at the people at the program level are running it. That's
a judgment call as to what they want to do. But you don't do these
kinds of things completely risk-free, and if you set out to do them
risk-free you'll find sooner or later you just can't do them. You
can't cover everything.
The spectrum of problems you're dealing with to escape from the Orbiter
over the whole launch spectrum, a few tens of seconds after liftoff
you're going too damn fast to get out of the vehicle anyway. Best
thing you can do is stay with that Orbiter and try to turn it around
and bring it back. You can't turn it around in all cases. If you've
got a couple of engines out at a critical time, you're going to end
up in the water somewhere. Or if you have something happen like the
Challenger [51-L] accident, even if we'd had had ejection seats on
that thing, the odds of those people getting out of that thing were
nil. I can't even envision ten ejection seats coming out of that Orbiter.
Years ago when I worked at Langley, we did a lot of work on escape
pods for airplanes. When airplanes first started going at real high
speeds, people would design ways where you'd bring the whole front
of the airplane off and then you'd pop out some stabilizing veins
to keep it from tumbling, then you'd pop out a couple of stages of
parachutes to slow it down. They were borderline practical. To my
knowledge, we've never really built an airplane where you tried to
bring a pod of people out and save them.
I think the F-111 has a crew compartment, I guess, for both the two
people in the front that pulls them out as a unit, but not quite the
whole front end of the vehicle, though.
That's sort of a derivative of some things we looked at years ago.
They just decided it's better to package the two people and get them
out, rather than bring them out in a series.
But escape seats for a vehicle like the Space Shuttle, the more we
looked at it, the more I was convinced it made no sense. We considered
it, and we had a lot of people argue to do it, people that would come
in very emotional. "You can't put people in there and not give
them a way to get out." I said, "Sure you can. If they don't
want in there, they'll know it. They don't go." But those are
things you have to deal with as the program manager every day as this
Certainly the men who are flying these, the astronauts who used to
be test pilots and such, are used to taking a risk of some sort. As
you said, they were standing in line to fly this thing. Do you remember
if the astronauts had any reservations about the vehicle or any particular
input in any regards?
Well, I don't recall any serious disagreement. All through the design
evolution of the Shuttle, the Flight Crew Division had an individual
who came to all of my major design meetings where the decisions were
made that we've been talking about, and this individual was a person
I had a lot of respect for. He was an ex-NASA test pilot that was
assigned in the Flight Crew Division, and he came to all the major
Shuttle Program meetings and represented the crew and the crew's thoughts
and would take things back and discuss it with individuals or groups
Some of the things that they argued for that we never put in the vehicle
for them, this particular individual at least, I don't know how many
of the astronauts felt the same way, but he always felt that we should
have a thrust termination capability on the SRBs. He argued—in
fact, he's retired. He would still argue that you should have thrust
terminators on the SRBs, which would give you the ability to kill
that thrust so that if some problem developed somewhere along the
way, you could thrust-terminate those, which would maybe help you
separate the Orbiter a little bit, although I was never convinced
of that, because the way you terminate the thrust of SRB is you blow
the nose off of it. So you've got this cylinder with all this solid
propellant burning. You can't snuff it out, can't turn it off. So
you've got a bunch of hot exhaust coming out this end. I could never
convince myself you were that much better off to blow the nose off
and have exhaust coming out both ends in kind of an uncontrolled fashion.
Then I was never sure how you'd make the judgment you wanted to blow
the nose off. Where do you get the data that tells you? Would you
do it because your attitude started skewing? Maybe that would be the
dumbest thing you could do.
So when you take those things and study them, and what we would do
typically if this fellow came in and argued, say, for thrust terminators,
because we'd baseline, the way I had the program going is we had a
baseline, and what the baseline said, "Unless someone convinces
me to do something different, here's the way we're going to build
the vehicle. Now, everyone's invited to come in and recommend any
change they want to at any time. But until I make a change and put
out a written directive, this is the way we're going to build it.
This is the way we're spending our money and this is the way we're
going to build it."
So people from time to time would put in a change. They'd say, "Put
the thrust terminators on the SRBs," and they would submit that
to my office.
I would say, "Okay, we'll send it out for a comment."
So you'd take that recommendation and send it to all the pertinent
people in the program, give them an appropriate amount of time to
decide the pros and cons of thrust-terminating. You'd have the structures
people study the structures issue, you'd have people study how you'd
decide when to use it and that sort of thing.
Then I would schedule that subject for a design meeting on a Friday.
I'd have those meetings every other Friday and we'd treat fifteen
or twenty items. So thrust terminators on SRB would come in. We'd
send it out for study. It would come back, it'd get on the agenda,
and at two o'clock on a Friday afternoon that agenda would work its
way to the top, and so now for the next forty-five minutes we all
discussed thrust terminators. "Warren [J. North], you've recommended
it. You get up and tell us why you think it ought to be done."
So he'd get up and give you an impassioned argument for thrust terminators
for five minutes.
So then you would then start talking to the SRB people, or the flight
control people, or the system engineers and cost people, and you'd
sit there and say, "Well, but suppose this happens. It won't
do you any good. Well, suppose that happens. It won't do you any good.
Suppose it goes off accidentally. Now, you've really shot yourself
in the foot."
So you'd sit there and listen to all that pro and con, and you'd then
turn to Warren and say, "Warren, I hear your argument. I understand
where you're coming from, but for this reason, this reason, this reason,
this reason, we aren't going to put thrust terminators on it. No change
in the baseline." And we would dispense that recommendation with
Three months later he'd come back again if he wanted to and put the
same thing in the system again, and you'd deal with it the same way.
If something changed, you'd change it and put it in the baseline,
or you'd throw it out again. And you'd just sit there for eight or
ten years and grind along that organization that way, and, lo and
behold, the vehicle comes out the other end, and it doesn't have thrust
terminators on the SRBs. Was he wrong? Not necessarily. He had some
good arguments, he had some bad arguments.
Canards to make it land better. The people who knew a lot about canards
knew a lot about landing, and we did the flying qualities and evaluation
and this thing was a relatively poor landing vehicle. We knew it was
going to be a poor landing vehicle. So they'd come in, "Put canards
on it, make it land better."
So you'd go out and study it and come back, "Well, if we put
canards on it, you're going to have them on out at launch or not?"
"No, let's stow them."
"Where you going to put them?"
"Well, let's just fold them in the nose of the vehicle."
So you'd go off and do a rough design. They only weigh 1,000 pounds.
We'd have to take something out of the nose and move something around
and move some structure to make a place to move them in. Then we'd
have to have a mechanism that pops out. That mechanism has to be reliable
enough that they come out together. We don't want one out on one side
and not on the other side. It makes the vehicle fly this much better.
You had to quantitize that because it's not a very measurable thing.
So you'd sit there and listen to the arguments, the pros and the cons,
the pros and cons, and maybe about after thirty, forty-five minutes,
if it was properly staffed and people have had plenty of time to understand
it, you're on telecon [teleconference] and people all around the country
are listening to you, because we didn't bring all the people into
one big meeting, we hooked them up a telephone. We had the people
we wanted in Rockwell, the people we had in Martin, the people at
Marshall, the people at Langley, the people at some university somewhere.
I ran the meetings that way so that we could bring the people in for
that subject, and then they could go back to work, and bring the other
people in for another subject. That's the way we ran the program.
So I'd sit there and listen to all that and then say, "Well,
I understand, but we're not going to put canards on it."
So the directive goes out and says, "This recommendation to put
canards on is—"
And then I'd go to a monthly meeting in Washington and I'd explain
to them, to the center directors all around, and the Associate Administrative
in Washington, and all the people in the staff in Washington, say,
"We had a recommendation to put canards on, but for the following
reasons we're not going to put canards on." And they sat there
quiet and we didn't have canards on.
Or if they'd say, "You dumb son-of-a-bitch, get out of here,
you're fired," I was gone. [Laughter]
Which seemingly they never said.
When it came time for the first launch, STS-1 is going to go up, where
were you for that, and what were you thinking as this was about to
Well, first launch I was over at the Cape in the launch control center.
The Associate Administrative for Manned Space Flight, a fellow by
the name of John [F.] Yardley, who had taken Dale Myers' place, he
was there. He's my immediate boss in Washington. The launch people,
Bob Gray, who was the launch project manager from Kennedy, was there,
and the launch director, the people at Kennedy who got the vehicle
ready for launch. You're all in a cubicle during the launch. You've
seen it on television.
So you sit there with a headset on at the console, and when the computers
didn't match up just right, and we listened to a discussion back here
in Houston on the computers and so forth, and made decision to scrub.
We made the decision to meet the next morning and review everything,
see if we were ready to go that afternoon. So I was down there doing
that sort of thing in the launch control center, and had my immediate
boss in Washington, they were with me. Johnny Yardley was there in
the seat next to me. Deke [Donald K.] Slayton by that time was on
my staff as the ops coordinator. He was there. So I was at the Cape
I went out a few minutes before launch and met with the ice team when
they came down off the gantry and said, "Well, what'd you find?"
"Nothing. Ice looks fine. We've looked at this, this, this and
this, no ice."
So then you get on and say, "No icing problem. We're go for that."
Any little issues that came up during the countdown, most of them
are handled down in the launch organization, but occasionally a policy
kind of thing would come up and you'd be sitting there taking care
of that. Like the scrub and whether we go the next day, whether we
had time to sort out the computers, and for that launch the people
who were second-guessing me in Washington were sitting right there
with me, so we were there together.
Then after the launch, we got on the airplane and I came back to Houston
here and we stayed in the control center here at Houston during the
flight. I went home that night, had a good night's sleep, came up
the next morning for the landing.
After landing, I went out to Edwards to look at the vehicle, but I
didn't go out there for the landing, I stayed in the control center
here, because this was a better place, really. If you go to Edwards,
all you do is see the final flare and touchdown.
So went through that, and then, of course, you go to the press conference
and tell them all the great things that happened and answer all the
questions. Then packed them up and left.
As you said, you left only a few months afterwards and you went to
work for McDonnell Douglas.
So if you could tell us some about your experience there.
Okay. I left after the first Shuttle flight, and John Yardley also
left at that time. I decided not to talk to anyone about going to
work in the aerospace business for a few months. I didn't want any
conflict-of-interest kind of problems. So I moved up north of Houston,
built a house up there, and considered going into business with my
daughter and son-in-law. They were in the home building business up
there. But the home building business was having a down cycle at that
time, plus I didn't know anything about the home building business.
After a few months of inactivity and golf, you can only play so much
golf, I decided I'd still go on and work some more. I was, I think,
fifty-seven at that time. So I talked to a few of the aerospace companies,
and McDonnell Douglas decided they'd like to have me come on board
and work with them, particularly if Space Station became a real program,
to then manage their Space Station activities within the company.
So I joined McDonnell Douglas. John Yardley was the president of the
company within McDonnell Douglas that had the responsibility for Space
Station, the space part of McDonnell Douglas.
When NASA decided to release an RFP for Phase B Space Station studies,
I moved out to California to head up the Space Station bid and proposal
activity out there. So that was my first real experience within the
industry, looking at it from the other side. So I was really on the
receiving end of an RFP coming from NASA, where prior to that I'd
been on the sending end of RFPs going to industry.
But it helped quite a bit to know both ends of the business, to know
what the government is looking for when they release RFP, how they
go about evaluating it, how they go about grading it, how you go about
communicating with them, what you put in the document, what you don't
put in the document and that sort of thing.
So we bid on the Phase B studies and we won one of the studies. We
conducted those studies from probably '82 and '83 is when that
bid and study time. I can't remember when they released the RFPs for
C/D on the Space Station originally, '84 or '85, somewhere in that
When they did, they released RFPs for four work packages. NASA decided
then to break Space Station into four work packages and they decided
to manage them out of Washington, although they set up a lead center
here at JSC somewhat similar to what we had on Shuttle originally,
but for several reasons that never did quite work out very well, partially
because the people in Washington didn't want it to work out, and it'll
only work if the people in Washington want it to work.
Then secondly, I'm not sure the people at JSC knew quite how to make
it work, so it was kind of rough. The work packages were somewhat
complicated, but no more complicated than the four projects we had
in Shuttle. In fact, I would argue the Shuttle projects were probably
more complicated to integrate and put together than the Space Station
was, because you had more difficult things to deal with. Space Station
is in a fairly passive environment. You don't have to launch it. You
don't have to protect it from entry and all that sort of thing, but
it's not without its complications.
One of the work packages was mainly things that fly on the Space Station
experiments, so really there were only three work packages. A management
structure similar to Shuttle would have worked quite well, but they
never quite got into that mode.
But in any event, at McDonnell Douglas we decided to bid on the work
package out of the Johnson Space Center. Rockwell bid against us,
so there were two bidders. It was a fairly comprehensive RFP. RFP
was well done. We worked hard and submitted a proposal that was the
winning proposal. So we were awarded the contract for work package
two, I believe it was called. Work package two had a lot of the critical
elements of the Space Station on it. It had the avionics system, the
propulsion system, the electrical power distribution system. The generating
system was in Cleveland, nothing out of that work package. But it
was a very good package of work.
We put together a good team of engineers that bid on it and a good
team of people to implement the program once we started. We went into
Phase C/D for what was called Space Station Challenger. It was a modular
space station with an EVA-erectable truss. One of the issues that
had been worked for several years at NASA was as you went into this
low Earth orbital infrastructure, what should you do about big structures
on orbit. People at Langley did a lot of work, people at other places
did a lot of work, and a lot of work was how to go into Earth orbit
and assemble a truss to give you a big structure.
I always used to argue that the truss was a little bit like if you
were going to build a factory here on Earth, you'd go buy several
acres of land, right? Well, you're going to build a space station
in orbit, the first thing is to go up there and build a big truss
structure to hang everything on. You hang the electrical power generator
out in the boondocks on either end, you maybe put a thermal distribution
system in the center somewhere to take the heat and radiate it out
and so forth. Then you put your house in the middle of it somewhere.
So I think the EVA-erectable truss made a whole lot of sense. Not
only that, but it developed a national capability of taking the Orbiter
and going into Earth orbit and opening the payload bays and building
nice big structures, because we'd worked out the details of how you
build the joints and how you snap them together and how you build
graphite epoxy structures to make it lightweight and you can just
put in a bundle in the payload bay and don't have to worry about launch
loads. You just put it in a box, take it in orbit so you can put together
a nice big structure up there, and then here's a place to put your
solar panels for generating electrical power, here's a place to put
your radiators, here's a place to put the house you live in and so
Frankly, I think it was a great design. We spent probably the first
eighteen months on the EVA-erectable truss Space Station Freedom
design, NASA changing program managers and changing things a lot.
Somewhere along the line they decided the EVA-erectable truss was
too risky. Someone came in and proposed putting ejection seats in
and they bought it. So they came out with a direction to go away from
the EVA-erectable truss. We'd already finished all the design work,
all of the work of going into orbit and doing that, had contractors
building truss elements and so forth.
So we had to cancel all of that and go to an integrated truss, where
you had to build a truss here on the Earth within the sixty-foot length
of the payload bay, mount all of the stuff on it, mount them in such
a way that they could stand a launch load, so the weights went up.
The complication, you had to release a lot more drawings and all this
kind of thing.
So the program begins to go through these bumps in the road. Once
you kind of start that, next thing you know, you've opened a real
can of worms, because this thing leads to that, and that thing leads
to something else. So the program began to run into concerns about
whether they could meet their cost, meet their schedule, meet anything
along. But in the meantime, they were still struggling along.
Going to the pre-integrated truss, per se, would not have necessarily
killed the program. It just slowed it down and made it cost a little
bit more, where you had to release a lot more drawings. You had more
weight and all of these kind of things, but the program was still
stable going along in that regard.
NASA attempted to set up a program management and program integration
function in Reston [Virginia], right outside of Washington, that had
a job similar to the job I had on Shuttle here at the Johnson Space
Center, but where when I got the job I had a mature center to draw
from, when I wanted structures engineers, they were there, and they
were in a laboratory where they could do structural test work and
they could integrate what the contractors were saying and they had
capability. If you're in a shopping center in Reston, Virginia, with
people you're just picking up and hiring here and there, there's no
real capability there. They were trying to start from scratch and
build that up.
So the next thing you know, the detail kind of things that we handled
here every Friday began to be problems. They'd hang around. No one
was doing anything with them. People would say, "We want to do
this," and they would just sit there and hang. So the program
began to stall out, or not move as effectively, and next thing you
know, we had a change in this manager and change in that manager.
So the program was drifting along, but still doable. Still Space Station
Freedom was a credible design. The work packages were still going
along. And lo and behold, [President] George [H. W.] Bush loses the
election. We got a new President in. Well, next thing you know, we
got a new Vice President. And next thing you know, they're reviewing
what NASA's doing. "Gee, that's a Ronald Reagan Space Station.
The Republicans did that. That can't make a lot of sense. We've got
to be able to do something better."
So the next thing you know, the Russians are in the picture. "Let's
join up with the Russians." Then you've got a new Administrator.
He wasn't there when this Space Station was conceived, so he didn't
have any real feeling of commitment to it.
So in the meantime, I'm sitting, running a group of people, releasing
drawings and building things. We're actually, we have the propulsion
modules built and then hot-fire test out at White Sands [Test Facility,
Las Cruces, New Mexico]. We've got the avionics system ready to go
in test out here at the new facility we built at Ellington [Field,
Houston, Texas]. Program's moving along. Space Station Freedom, whether
you like it or not. The only big change is to go from the EVA-erectable
truss to the pre-integrated truss, which we got through that hump
without major damage.
But the next thing you know, there's a big stir with the new President,
big stir with the new people in Congress, big stir with getting in
bed with the Russians. The next thing you know, Space Station Freedom
isn't very popular anymore. The next thing you know, you throw that
in the wastebasket and now we're off, it's going to be cheaper to
have the Russians do this propulsion module, right? So the Russians
produce the propulsion module, so they canceled the one that we're
building and the Russians now are building one.
So to help the program along, the Russians volunteered to build a
module. The next thing you know, the fellows in Congress ask NASA,
"Well, how do you know the Russians are going to build that module
and get it to you on time?"
"Oh, we'll go away and study that." So they come back and
say, "Oh, we'll tell you how you can do that. We'll pay for it.
That way we're guaranteed to get it."
"Oh, that's a good answer." So NASA sent the money over
there. Does the money go to that module? I don't think so. The money
goes somewhere else. The next thing you know, they look and there's
no module there, and NASA says, "Well, hell, we're going to build
one ourself." They canceled a perfectly good one for Space Station
Freedom two years ago.
The next thing you know, they're off building a propulsion module.
I don't know where it stands today. So next thing you know, I look
around here and it's the year 2000, I think, and there ain't no Space
Station up there yet. There will be one there some day.
But in any event, McDonnell Douglas had a policy that if you're at
the VP [vice president] level at sixty-five, you're supposed to leave,
which is a good policy, I don't have any quarrel with that. But they
were generous and asked me to stay on for a couple more years. When
I got to be sixty-eight, I decided that there were too many people
that were leaving at sixty-five, they were being asking questions,
"Why is he staying till sixty-eight?"
By then we'd moved here and built a facility out at Ellington, they'd
moved Space Station activities here from McDonnell Douglas. But now
they're beginning to take the program and turn it topsy upside down,
so it was time for me to retire. So I left the Space Station manager
job at McDonnell Douglas in '93 and I worked part-time with Eagle
Engineering here locally for a couple of years, just to phase down.
But I really haven't worked actively since '93.
But I wish Space Station a lot of luck. I think eventually, as you
see, we're getting it up there. We've got triple modules up there
now. Give them enough time, enough effort, it will end up being a
good thing to do. I wouldn't want to argue whether it's been effectively
done, cost-effectively managed. What we get out of our relationship
with the Russians I'm not in a real position to evaluate. I think
certainly we need to work with the Russians in some way in space.
I personally would have liked to have seen this program structured
in such a way they were not in too critical a path.
I think if the Russians would have been willing to take a position
somewhat like the Europeans or the Japanese, and NASA had stuck with
something very close to Space Station Freedom and left them putting
a module somewhere toward the center of the thing if they want to
spend some money on the space, or let them use maybe their unmanned
carrier to take some things up and back, put them in that role, and
then if they found they couldn't afford it, just not have it show
up, but leave NASA controlling the main core.
I can recall when the Europeans decided to build the vehicle or the
pressurized module that goes in the payload bay. I forget what they
call it now. Spacehab. Not Spacehab.
Spacelab? When they decided to Spacelab, the program manager from
Europe came to see me and said, "We're going to now take our
money and build Spacelab. You people are taking your money and building
the Shuttle, and these two things have to interface. You and I need
to be joint program managers." In other words, you don't change
anything on your side and I don't change anything on my side till
we both agree.
I said, "Thanks, but no thanks. I mean, you're a payload. We're
under way. We're building a vehicle. We have Volume Thirteen that
tells what all our interfaces are. That's all you need to design your
Space Lab. I don't need you in a single meeting I'm having from here
on. I don't need to come to Paris [France] for a single thing, and
you don't need to come to Houston for a single thing. These things
are manageable if we keep them apart. We put them together like this,
I'm not sure they're manageable and I'm not interested in getting
in a voting society." And that was the last meeting we had of
I frankly think that some of those kind of things should have been
done on Space Station as well. Having joint meetings in Moscow and
Houston and joint flight control centers and joint this and joint
that, I don't see how they get anything done. But I said I wasn't
going to get into that very much. You can climb a mountain many different
ways, and they'll eventually climb the mountain.
I enjoyed my ten years in industry. It was very rewarding to see how
you work on that side to interface with the government. I wasn't as
frustrated as I thought I might be. It's one thing to sit on the government
side and do things, it's something else to sit on the industry side
and do things. There is obviously a very effective role for both sides,
and as long as both sides understand what their roles are, it can
be very productive.
Frankly, taking money out of the Federal Treasury and building something
like the Space Shuttle, the responsibility has to lay in the hands
of some people with government badges on, and those people have to
have the capability to make very detailed day-to-day decisions to
make things happen. I don't believe you can turn those kinds of things
over to a contractor and expect him to do them.
First of all, the contractor's in business to make a profit. He's
got a board of directors, he's got some shareholders, and he has to
do things in a responsible way, but still turn a profit. It's unfair
to ask him to make some of the decisions that affect that profit mode
with taxpayers' dollars. Someone with a taxpayers' badge on has to
make those decisions. Therefore, you have to put together a management
team in the government with enough technical capability and enough
management capability to run one of these things on a daily basis,
and you have to admit that's what you're doing and insist on that's
what you're doing. You can't say, "I'm turning it over to the
contractor and I'm going to beat him up if he doesn't do it right."
It's a joint thing and you don't want anyone to get beaten up, because
when you're beating up people, you're wasting taxpayers' dollars.
If you have to beat up people, you're wasting taxpayers' dollars.
So what then do you think of the greater role of contractors in running
the Shuttle Program, for instance?
Again, I'm not that close to the details of the way it's done. Now,
you can fragment contracts too much. For example, when people around
here were talking about taking forty Shuttle contractors and making
it one, I said, "No, you're taking forty Shuttle contractors
and making it forty-one." And in many cases that's what happened.
All you did was give that integrating contractor part of the government's
role, but it's not clear how many of these other forty went off the
payroll or what was changed. Now, some of them may have fallen off,
and there may be some efficiencies that finally emerge. I'm not saying
you can't fine-tune these things, but it's an oversimplification to
say, "I'm going to take forty contractors over here and I'm going
to make it one." The one contractor has got to be the government,
and I think it is extremely important that the government understands
it and the government recognizes that and the government's willing
to say that and the government's willing to be held accountable for
I don't believe it's in anyone's best interest to turn the detailed
day-to-day responsibility to run the Shuttle over to a contractor.
I'll bet you if you get behind the closed doors and look, it's not
happening. I'll bet you there's some government people right in the
middle of things, and they should be, and they should be in enough
number and enough technical and operational and management depth to
really feel responsible for what's going on.
So when I meet some guy on the street and say, "We're going from
forty contractors to one," I say, "No, you're going from
forty to forty-one." And I'm probably not all right and he's
probably not all right.
Taken to the extreme, you can ask yourself what's the purpose of NASA.
You see, the money comes out of the Federal Treasury under the supervision
of the Congress and the executive branch of the government and comes
over to an agency working for the executive branch of the government
called NASA. There's an Administrator up there. An Administrator has
to have in place, if he's going to spend a big part of this money
for something like Space Shuttle, he has to have in place a management
team of government people that can really be held accountable for
what goes on in Shuttle. Every dollar spent on Shuttle, someone in
the government ought to be held accountable for it.
That means that there has to be enough government people in place
and enough capabilities penetrating deep enough to do that effectively.
Now, you can overdo it, but very few government people sat at drafting
boards and drew structure for the Orbiter. Rockwell had structures
people used to designing wing layouts and picking material thickness
and so forth. But I guarantee you we had someone in the government
who knew those drawings were being made, who knew what kind of load
factors it was being designed to, who knew what kind of safety factors
were being put into that design, and who could come to my meeting
and argue about whether that was a reasonable weight bogie or not
and argue about whether that was a reasonable design factor to be
designed to, or could argue about whether that wing was going to give
a reasonable lift characteristics.
That's what we had in place in the organization I've been trying to
describe to you that had a government program manager and a staff
of 300 people in these four integrating offices and an Orbiter project
office with two or 300 people in the project office, and then had
over here a Structures Division with a couple hundred structures people
and a lab out here to play with, as we watched structurally what was
going on in the total program.
Now, you can argue how much of that government is needed. You say,
"I'll give [The] Boeing [Company] a job and pull all of this
back." Someone ought to be careful. When they give Boeing a job,
if you don't pull this back, all I'm doing now is spending money twice.
I'm paying for this over here and I'm paying for this over here. So
instead of one contractor, I've got forty-one contractors, and NASA's
still doing it. I still see a hell of a bunch of cars parked over
at the Johnson Space Center. If they're parked there, they ought to
have a very responsible job, they ought to be doing something. I'm
not saying they aren't. I'm just saying they should be.
So I think the management structure that evolved around the Shuttle
would have worked extremely well around the Space Station had people
in NASA at that time, from Washington right on down, understood it,
put it together, supported it and made it work. They didn't do that.
So they had a lot of starts and stops and trials, and then the political
events overtook it. I think had Bush won the election, Space Station
Freedom would still be on track. It would not have been run as efficiently
as it might have, and I think the EVA-erectable truss would have been
a better long-term investment than the pre-integrated truss, but that's
The McDonnell Douglas role in Space Station when they went to the
one they have now with the Russians, I'm not even sure what they call
it, the role was eroded to some degree. The things that they were
doing, some of those things were taken and "given" to the
Russians, because the Russians would do it free. The pre-integrated
truss is still a part of the McDonnell Douglas contract, owned by
Boeing now. Boeing has overtaken that. The propulsion system, I guess,
went to the Russians. A lot of the avionics and software went to the
Russians, but a lot stayed here. That all happened after I retired,
so I'm not sure how that finally broke out.
Boeing, when they picked up the lead contract on Space Station, they
moved a bunch of people here, and they're over here in an office building
with probably several hundred people. We didn't have that sort of
thing in Shuttle. We did that with civil service people, although
we had some support, either support contractors or we had the prime
contractor bring some people in.
For example, when I would run a Friday meeting and deal with these
fifteen or twenty items, and you had to write up the directives and
collect the data, what was done, that was a combination of government
people and Rockwell people working in an office that put those packages
together that I would sign on Tuesday and send out. So we brought
the contractor in at that kind of way and jointly did the integration
and the management. So I'm not trying to say the government does everything,
but by the same token, the contractor doesn't do everything. There's
got to be a very well thought out and a very structured way of working
effectively together. You'll have a tough time finding that one guy
sitting in his kitchen and designing Shuttle. [Laughter]
I'm not sure what else I can—it's five o'clock, I guess, and
I think we've maybe run it out, unless you've got some more questions.
Let me cut a deal with you. I'll be very happy, because I don't play
golf that often, anytime you want to sit down and have a follow-up
for a couple of hours, if you make up a list of questions, I'll be
happy to come over and sit down. I don't know whether you do anything
to write this kind of material up.
If there are any other people that I've mentioned that you want me
to describe to you, if you haven't talked to these people, they'd
be a valuable asset to you. They're people like Owen Morris. I don't
know whether you've talked to Owen Morris, but Owen would be a very
valuable person. Aaron Cohen. [R.] Wayne Young. If you haven't talked
to Wayne Young, Wayne was essentially our cost and budget and schedule
man, integrator. Reg [Reginald M.] Machell was essentially our program
control or management integration. He was the fourth box I couldn't
think of a while ago.
We had four boxes. Management integration was Reg Machell and a fellow
named Bert [James B.] Jackson [Jr.] that worked with him. Bert was
his assistant and Bert had the unholy task of doing all of the staff
work for those design meetings that occurred every other Friday where
we'd deal with the subjects I've described to you. He had the job
of getting all the minutes written up and all of the preparation to
make sure everyone was ready to argue their case, and then write it
all up and get it ready for me to sign by the following Tuesday. We'd
have a meeting on Friday and the directives went out the following
As far as the management integration, what does that involve exactly?
Management integration was that configuration management. In other
words, you baseline a vehicle. We had a documentation system. It was
called the 07700 Series. There were eighteen volumes in that thing,
all of the requirements of the program, all of the this is what it's
supposed to do, this is how it's built, this is all the safety requirements
here, the schedules, the whole hierarchy. Bert Jackson in the management
integration office was the deputy there.
Reg, his background was mainly EVA. So we had things like the suits,
pressure suits, and all the food and all of that was managed out of
that management integration office. Reg ran that, and Bert ran the
program control, program management scheduling kind of things.
Wayne Young ran the budget schedule. It was Wayne's job to make sure
we got all the dollars out of the system that you needed every year
to run the program.
We had an Ops Integration Office that was a small office that interfaced
with the Flight Ops Directorate at the Johnson Space Center. The Flight
Ops Directorate actually did their thing of doing the mission control
and mission planning and flight planning and flight control, all this
kind of thing, but had a small office that made sure all of the things
around the total program, the things that the contractor had to do
to support that, the things they had to do at Kennedy to support that,
and the things they had to do at Marshall to support that. We had
people in our control center at Marshall to have that integrated with.
So I had a group that integrated that.
Then once we got the ALT, we brought Deke Slayton in and put him into
that area. A fellow named Don [Donald C.] Cheatham had it for a long
period of time. Don is dead now and Deke is dead, so you can't talk
to any either one of those, I guess.
I'd say Owen Morris, Wayne Young, Reg Machell, and Bert Jackson would
be four key managers to talk to at the integration level, if you haven't
talked to those. Bert Jackson left the government, went out and went
into private industry, then went back to work for the government and
was working over at the Cape last time I knew anything about Bert.
He may still be working over at the Cape, although he's probably getting
close to retirement by now. Reg Machell lives up north of Houston,
you could get him.
He's on our list to talk to.
Okay. Owen Morris you say you've talked to. My deputy through those
years is dead, Homer [W.] Dott. Scott [H.] Simpkinson, who was one
of the key staff people I had, Scott was a kind of—he was a
trouble troubleshooter. Scott was the kind of a guy you didn't really
put in charge of too many things, but as a one-man band to go out
and work a problem and bring you a good concise report on it. So I
used him and he did a lot of the—if you had some issue that
the system wasn't working very well, you could set Scott on that issue
and give him an ad hoc group of people and he'd go work it a couple
of weeks and bring it back to you with the pros and cons of it pretty
well. But he's dead, too, now, can't get to him.
We had a bunch of committees. We had an Aerospace Safety Advisory
Committee made up of people from outside of government. That was set
up after the Apollo fire, and they were active all through Shuttle.
They used to come every quarter or so, and I had to spend a day telling
them what we were doing. They'd ask you each time, "Why don't
you have ejection seats?" Or someone would key in and say, "Why
don't you have canards?" [Laughter] Scott was my representative
to that group when they would meet somewhere else outside and I didn't
want to spend the time going to the meeting. Scott went to that all
the time with me. They were very valuable.
Now, there are people—if you're going to do this thing right,
there are people at Marshall you ought to talk to. There's a fellow
named Bob [Robert] Lindstrom, Jim Odom, J.R. Thompson. When we brought
J.R. in as the engine project manager, he was known as Bob Thompson
at Marshall. I told him, "Look, I'm Bob Thompson in the program,
you're J.R. in the program from here on." So he got to be J.R.
and I got to be Bob. He ran the engine program. He ended up being
a Deputy Administrator of NASA at some point along the way. I think
he's still in Huntsville. I think he worked for Space Hab or one of
those companies, or he did for a while. And George Harvey, the SRB
Marshall did a hell of a good job. They took on the task of being
integrated into the program office out at Houston without bitterness.
Bob Lindstrom had the job of looking over the three projects at Marshall,
kind of a pseudo program manager. He showed on the organization chart.
If we wanted to do some budget, play around between the three projects
at Marshall, I'd give him that job and he'd go do that. Much better
to have him do it than to have me do it from over here. He was extremely
valuable. He'd be a good person to talk to on Shuttle if you're going
to document those levels of details.
Jim Odom's still around. J.R. is still around. George [B.] Hardy's
still around. So I'd say a trip to Huntsville you could justify here
in the future if you wanted to find those three people. Bob Gray,
who was the project manager down at Kennedy, is still around. He was
very valuable, because we had to take all these facilities down there
and get them ready for Shuttle and get their organization ready to
accept the vehicle and build the new facilities down there we needed.
For example, late in the program we found that we were getting too
much reverberation off the launch pad structurally on the back of
the vehicle, so we decided to put a water barrier. We had to, late
in the game, build a big 300,000-gallon water tank. If you look at
the launch structure, you'll see that water tank there. That dumps
water down and puts a water shield at the base of the Shuttle so that
pressure waves don't bounce back and do some things on the back of
the structure we didn't want to have done. Then you had to do a late
Then also the icing thing you remember, worrying about the cold hydrogen
exhaust coming out and mixing with the air and icing up the front
of the vehicle and put that little beanie cap, we called it. You see
the thing they take off the top, the rotating structure for payload.
At one time in the program we had people arguing that you don't want
the capability to put payloads in at the launch pad. Make them go
in the Orbiter back in LNC, don't let them open the thing.
In fact, our Deputy Administrator, George Low, who had been the Apollo
program manager, he argued very much to not put a payload change-out
capability to pad, but I never did buy that. I said, "You can't
force the payload people to finish whatever they're going to do thirty
days before you launch and lock themselves up. If they've got animals
or something like that, you can't do that." So we put in the
rotating structure that rotates around, you can put payloads in and
rotate that out of the way to launch.
You go down and talk to Bob Gray, he'd bend your ear for a while,
and that history probably ought to be gathered. Certainly the history
at Marshall ought to be put together. I'd certainly recommend you
going over and talking to Bob Lindstrom. If you call him, he could
lead you to Odom and Hardy and J.R.
One of the things, as I reflect, NASA was in a good position to take
on the Shuttle in 1970, because it had a bunch of people that still
had ten or fifteen years of work ahead of them, but they had worked
ten or fifteen years in the business. We had a bunch of support organizations,
like the Johnson Space Center with all of their divisions, Marshall
Space Flight Center, Kennedy Space Flight Center. Those things still
exist today. What capability is there today compared to twenty years
ago, I don't know. Thirty years ago now, I guess.
But coming off of the Apollo Program in 1970, within NASA there was
a lot of capability that if you would put it together in a reasonable
functioning organization and you were pretty careful about who you
put where, it had a lot of capability, and, I think, allowed us to
take on building something like the Space Shuttle in a reasonable
time period for a reasonable investment that has worked quite well
with that one exception.
If NASA were to take on building another Shuttle or a Shuttle replacement
tomorrow, I'm not sure just what exists there today that you could
put together to do that. A lot of the people today that are in key
management positions did not come out of the research environment
or the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo environment that most of the people
I've been talking to you about came out of. There are people that
have come in from other walks of life, military, other places. I'm
not sure what kind of a team you would be able to put together today
within NASA to take on that kind of a technical development job.
Things like the X-33, I was invited several years ago now, three or
four years ago, to go to a meeting out on the West Coast and review
some of the things they were doing on the X-33. I did that. They weren't
at all pleased with the things I said to them. I knew they wouldn't
be pleased when I said them, and they obviously didn't do anything
with what I told them. But I found them to be a different breed of
people than I was used to working with. The training, both the formal
educational training and the experience, didn't match with what I
was used to seeing. As I recall, the key man in Washington had some
kind of a non-engineering degree and his experience base had been
a staff member over in the Congress somewhere. Well, I don't criticize
those roles, but that's not necessarily the person to take on a job
of being a major technical development.
When you ask them, "Why are you doing the X-33? What is your
objective?" they weren't able to answer that very effectively,
except, you know, "We're going to prove we can build a vehicle
I said, "Well, what kind of payload are you designing the big
vehicle for? Because that affects the mass fraction of the vehicle
and affects what you have to scale down to this one."
"Well, we don't know yet."
"If you don't know that, how can you decide what you're doing
"Well, we'll solve that problem later."
"Why do you want to use a single-stage to orbit?"
"Well, it's cheaper."
I said, "Well, are you sure you can get enough performance and
you can get the mass fractions to take a reasonable payload to orbit
without the benefit of staging?"
"Oh, yeah, we can do that."
"Show me your numbers. Show me your calculations. What kind of
mass fraction do you have down?"
"Oh, we'll figure that out."
Again, it's easy for a person like myself to come in and one day throw
a bunch of rocks in the machinery. They didn't want to hear that.
They had their program approved, the administrator that held up the
box, "There's the replacement for the Shuttle, and it's cheaper,
quicker, better, and it's going to work great." So you just shake
your head and go back to playing golf.
If you had to build something to do what the Shuttle does, I'm not
sure you'd build it a hell of a lot different. I'm sorry they didn't
stick with the original design on the Space Station, and I hope whatever
we finally get out of what they're doing now is reasonably worthwhile.
I wish the Russians well. I really think they ought to be building
roads and sewers and infrastructure. Maybe I don't see the whole picture.
Will there be a manned mission to Mars? Probably not in my lifetime.
Will there ever be? Yes, I think probably, maybe fifty, a hundred
years. I don't know what the answer is. It's going to take something
I don't see right now to even motivate 250 million people to put up
that kind of money and stick with that kind of thing for ten or fifteen
years. The motivation that sent us to the Moon was unique. The Shuttle
and Space Station are kind of living on that commitment of doing manned
space flight, and it's probably the only practical thing to be doing.
Colonizing the Moon isn't something you can really justify. Going
to Mars with a couple of astronauts is hard to justify, in my opinion.
Something to stimulate the technology. I'd say the number-one stimulus
to technology we've had up to now is our military programs. Probably
the number-two stimulus is NASA's programs, although a hell of a lot
of the electronic things and so forth are stimulated by commercial
products, you know, kids' toys. They put pretty good requirements
on electronics these days.
But I think, in my mind, you can certainly justify NASA at somewhere
close to 1 percent of the national budget. It's gotten down to where
it's now three-quarters of a percent, about three-quarters of the
annual budget. As I say, at the peak of Apollo, it was nearly 3. Most
of the time we were in Shuttle it was 1. It's dropped down to maybe
The infrastructure, the bureaucracy that demands money is as big as
it's ever been. If you go back and look at the start of Apollo, the
infrastructure to run NASA on a daily basis was a hell of a lot smaller
percent of the budget. Now the bureaucracy is there, so any program
has to be over and above what it takes to have the Johnson Space Center
or have the Marshall Space Flight Center. The real problem of squeezing
down the overhead as you make room for new program dollars is tougher
every day in the agency, much tougher than it was thirty, forty years
The concern that the Russians were doing something we couldn't do
really motivated us through Mercury and Gemini, and then the gauntlet
that [John F.] Kennedy chose to thrown down got us through Apollo
and Skylab and got us into, "We don't want to quit, so we'll
do low Earth orbital kind of things with shuttles and space Stations."
But, boy, what would bump us back up to 2 or 3 percent of the federal
budget and off and running to Mars and that sort of thing, I don't
know. I don't see it anytime soon.
The promise that you can do things better and quicker and cheaper
will only go so far. If you can do things radically cheaper and better,
then the previous people must have been doing something radically
wrong. You know, to just come in and blatantly say, "I can do
it quicker, cheaper, better," is in some respects saying, "Those
people before me were stupid and I can do things a lot better."
Well, that's not a very good way to start. If you want to postulate
technology has allowed us to maybe make a paradigm shift of a sort,
experience base in previous programs allow us to learn and do better,
if you really learn to do better. But just to build a model and put
it under a box and lift it off and say, "There's a replacement
for Space Shuttle," that just tells me those people don't know
what the hell they're talking about.
Will the Congress support a new Shuttle? You ought to have a reasonable
answer to that before you say that's a replacement for Shuttle. To
just arbitrarily say it's going to be a single-stage to orbit kind
of begs an understanding of eighteen layers of issues that you have
to be prepared to deal with. So I'm at the point in my life and career
where I think I'm going to go play golf. [Laughter]
I hope it's been some help to you, and I don't know what you really
want to do with all of this. Put it in the archives somewhere. Right
now I'm not motivated to write a book, mainly because to really write
a book that does honesty to all of these kinds of things is a real
challenge. It'd be tough to do. You'd get into so much detail. And
people are looking for the glamour things of, you know, astronauts
write books, flight controllers write books. Program managers that
run detailed programs don't write too many books, I guess. I'm not
sure they'd sell. Only people like you will sit and listen to all
People with certainly an interest in the historical aspect of all
these are not just looking for a good story. There are people who
would be interested in that.