Space Center Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Houston, Texas – 1 July 2015
Today is July 1st, 2015. This interview with Terry Wilcutt is being
conducted in Houston, Texas, for the JSC Oral History Project and
for JSC’s Knowledge Management Office. The interviewer is Jennifer
Ross-Nazzal, assisted by Sandra Johnson. Thanks again for taking some
time to meet with us today and talk about your career.
I wanted to ask you about your interest in aviation as a child.
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in aviation.
When I was really young they were starting to break the sound barrier
publicly. Many times when we were playing baseball, standing out in
the outfield, we’d hear a boom and look up and see a silver
jet streaking across the sky leaving a contrail. I used to think that
must be the most exciting job in the world. That bug was planted in
me then, I think, because I really don’t remember a time where
I didn’t think that that would be something that would just
be the most fun job in the world. I just didn’t know any pilots,
had never been next to an airplane outside of seeing one flying. That
Then eventually I was lucky enough to have one of my younger brothers
join the Marine Corps and send me a note back. I graduated with a
math degree and was teaching math in Louisville, Kentucky, and Kevin
my brother sent me a note saying, “Hey, Terry, the Marines have
got this guaranteed aviation program. So if you join the Marine Corps
with this contract they’ll send you to flight school. If you
flunk out they’ll give you a rifle and send you to the woods.
But if you make it then you’ll fly.”
That was all I needed. I left teaching and took my chance, and fortunately
it worked out. When they flew me to Memphis [Tennessee] to take the
flight physical for indoc [indoctrination] into the Marine Corps in
this program, that was the first time I’d been in an airplane.
I used to joke that that commercial flight worked out okay, so I thought
I would do well in flight school. Like I said, it all worked out just
So was there a base near where you grew up?
Knox [Kentucky]. It wasn’t really near. They used to fly out
of Fort Knox at the time. I think now there’s helicopters there,
but there used to be some fixed-wings that went in and out of there.
But that was it. My only introduction was looking up and seeing that
streak across the sky. So that was it.
Did you have any interest in the space program?
Of course we, like everybody else my age, we watched the Apollo landings
and were fascinated by that. But that came afterwards when I was working
as a test pilot. My desire was to get back into what we called a gun
squadron or fighter fleet, [McDonnell Douglas] F-18 [Hornet] squadron.
The Marine Corps wanted to send me for a one-year unaccompanied tour
to Okinawa as the Assistant Admin [Administrative] Officer, because
I’d done nothing but fly in the Marine Corps, and it was my
turn to push paper. I disagreed with that, and that friend of mine
that was already in the Astronaut Office, another marine fighter pilot,
he talked to me and said, “Hey, Terry, instead of getting out
of the Marine Corps, why don’t you consider putting in an application
Once I spent some time thinking about how great that would be—because
when you work as a test pilot you’re working with some really
really sharp engineers and I was going to miss that. I thought gosh,
you would do the same thing with not just exceptionally sharp engineers,
but scientists, project managers. That seemed pretty attractive to
me. So I did put in that application and was fortunate enough to be
Was that Bryan [D.] O’Connor?
it was Andy [Andrew M.] Allen. Of course I met Bryan later in the
Office. But I think he got busy doing management jobs soon after I
came to the office.
I was looking in your bio. Fairly quickly you were accepted into TOPGUN
[training]. Can you talk about that opportunity?
squadron that I was sent to after learning how to fly [McDonnell Douglas]
F-4s [Phantoms] was VMFA-235 [Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 235]
in Hawaii. I think they had lost something like 21 pilots and backseaters,
naval flight officers. They’d come back from a cruise and now
they had a huge turnover in experience.
So our skipper, Jed [Jeremiah] Pearson, and the OPSO [Operations Officer]
were interested in getting as much experience for us new guys as possible.
Fortunately I did well enough for them to put my name in the hat when
they got a TOPGUN slot to send me there. If you perform well and they
get an opportunity to send someone, then you’ll be on that short
list. I was fortunate enough to get selected along with another guy.
We sent two pilots and two backseaters through TOPGUN at the same
time, and it’s as much fun as what you would think, you’re
getting to daily go against the very very best, and it’s quite
And then you went into test pilot school later on. Can you talk about
why you decided to move in that direction?
flying the F-4, I converted to the F-18 in California as part of the
training squadron as one of the instructors. A couple of naval officers
that were interested in test pilot school were discussing it in the
office with me, and I knew I was qualified because of my math degree.
It sounded like a really exciting tour. It was just as simple as that.
They knew a lot more about it than I did. Once they finished talking
to me about it and I spent some time thinking about what it would
be like to be a test pilot, and knowing I was qualified, it was just
a matter of turning in the application.
It was an extraordinary thing to do really. It’s a pretty demanding
and risky tour. But along with that comes a tremendous sense of accomplishment
and it’s a very rewarding tour to make. Plus, your understanding
of how and why airplanes fly and do the things that they do just grows
by leaps and bounds while you’re there. I was lucky to be selected
and I’m very very appreciative of everything that I learned
Of course that opened the door to eventually coming to NASA. It was
pretty fortuitous to have done that. But I would have to thank those
two gents in my office for spending the time to talk to me about it,
because I never would have done it. Again my ultimate goal was to
get back into the fleet. That was a detour from that for certain.
But it was a worthwhile one.
Talk to us about applying for that 1990 [astronaut] class. Was that
the first time that you had applied?
I was enjoying my test pilot tour, and a lot of that has to do with
timing. If you’re there when there’s a lot of test work,
then it’s a very enjoyable thing. If you’re not then you
wouldn’t have as exciting a tour as I had as a test pilot.
Again my goal had always been to get back into the Fleet Marine Force.
After talking with Andy Allen who I just mentioned and thinking about
flying the [Space] Shuttle, I thought gosh, this would be worth trying
to do. It would definitely be a career change, because usually when
marines came to NASA they didn’t go back to the Marine Corps,
so I knew I’d be giving up that part of it. But it seemed to
me that it would be worth it based on what you’d get to contribute.
It’s interesting. In the Marines, I think you contribute to
world peace and stability, but in a threatening way, because if you
represent a threat to us or others, a lot of times the Marines are
sent in to correct that bad behavior. At NASA you contribute to the
common good and world peace and stability by doing phenomenal things
that inspire the world to turn their attention toward accomplishing
great things instead of bad behavior. So once you think about things
like that, then it became pretty easy to put in an application and
choose one over the other.
Of course I didn’t leave the Marine Corps. I was assigned to
NASA as a Marine and stayed in the Marines for 28 and a half years
until I retired from the Marines and just became a civil servant.
Tell us about being called for that interview and coming down here.
What did you think about JSC when you came down?
[Donald R.] Puddy was head of FCOD [Flight Control Operations Directorate]
and I think we came down in July.
The worst time to come down.
maybe it was August, something like that. They’d had some freakish
cool front come in and it was cool and dry. He assured us that Houston
was always like that.
It was an honor. Coming down was just incredible. I met people I’d
only heard about, read about, flown astronauts. Literally the whole
time I was down here it was almost overwhelming, the sense of history
and the people that I met that were so accomplished. It was a wonderful
Even though they did those strange medical experiments on you, even
the docs, they were all so competent and welcoming. It was quite an
experience. All good, nothing bad at all. Of course I met the others
in my interview class. Some of them were just phenomenal too, the
things they’d done. One gentleman had led an expedition up Mount
Everest to look at the limits of endurance for the human heart. When
you’re in an interview group with folks like that, it gives
you a sense of what’s at stake, the kind of folks you’ll
be working with. It was a wonderful week. Every one of them were fun
people to spend time with and listen to what their background was
and what they’d done.
Were you surprised to get that phone call offering you a position?
seemed like everything went well. So actually I didn’t spend
any time worrying about it at all. The Marine Corps changed their
mind about my orders to Okinawa and were offering me a seat in a gun
squadron, which is what I wanted. I would have been happy either way.
One was again to go back to the Fleet Marine Force and the other one
was to go fly Space Shuttles. It’s not a bad deal either way.
But I enjoyed that week and to this day I think about it as a pleasant
memory. So regardless of what would have happened, I would have been
I’m glad things turned out the way they did, but I have to assume
the other one would have been equally fun or just about equally fun.
You had a fairly large class and you guys came up with the nickname
all of us came up with that. The more vocal group thought that would
be it. The rest of us didn’t care.
Can you tell us the history behind that?
I actually can’t. I don’t know. There were worse ones.
That was the most acceptable of the ones they came up with. So I don’t
know. You ask enough members of my class, somebody’ll probably
be able to tell you what that was.
Tell us about some of the training that you had to participate in
when you first came down as an ASCAN [Astronaut Candidate].
started right off with training in the Shuttle systems and orbital
mechanics, the basic academics that you would need if you’re
going to fly the Shuttle. You need to understand the systems and how
it works. The other things, gosh, that first year was so great. There
was lots of enrichment lectures. They had planetary scientists, oceanographers,
you name a technical discipline or scientific field, and they brought
folks in to give us lectures on what was going on in that field. It
was just wonderful.
Imagine if you had your pick of all those topics of some of the world’s
best leading experts in those fields and they came in and talked to
you about what they had done and what they hoped to do. That’s
what that was like. It’s almost like being a kid in a candy
store. There was no lecture that we had that wasn’t fascinating
and interesting. It was wonderful.
As a matter of fact to this day I try to include that type of lecture
in my staff meetings for my office sometimes because my office at
[NASA] Headquarters [Washington, DC], they deserve to know what’s
going on. I think it makes them better employees if they keep their
eyes looking up about what NASA is trying to do in each of these fields.
Gosh, if you’ve got a planetary scientist come in and tell you
why they’re so interested in Mars or what we might learn from
exoplanets and things like that, that would be fascinating to you
even though that’s not your field. It’s the same thing
for every one of those other fields.
A lot of the things they talk about, climate change now, those folks,
the folks on the leading edge of those concerns, way back in 1990
and ’91, they would come in to our class and give us lectures
about what they thought was going to happen with all this if we didn’t
do something different. Again so many of those things you’ve
seen come to pass, at least now they’re out in the public instead
of just in a handful of scientists that were worried about it. Just
And then the other thing, of course you had to learn how to fly the
[Northrop] T-38 [Talon]. The Air Force people had flown that as a
trainer and had some background in it in test pilot school. You fly
it for about six months. Getting back in that was fun.
It was a busy time, no doubt. You’re flying, you’re in
training, you’re training for systems and trying to learn about
the space business and why we go to space. It was busy, but a tremendous
amount of fun.
How was your group received by the rest of the astronaut corps at
that first Monday morning meeting for instance?
class immediately before us, there was a sense of relief because all
the parties and things like that have to be set up by the junior class
until the next junior class shows up, so they were glad to have us
on board. It’s the same way we perceived as we became the more
experienced people. You welcome them, they’re handpicked, so
it’s fresh faces, fresh ideas. It’s a good thing. It’s
a wonderful thing to get a new class in.
What were those first astronaut meetings like that you have on Monday
morning? You had been working in the military. But now you came to
a civilian agency. Was there a difference that you noticed?
really. There’s a lot of military people in the office anyway.
But it’s the same thing. They got reports from the various branches
and it was a sharing of information, concerns, what they were doing,
anything and everything the Astronaut Office was involved in, they
would share that information. And there was free dialogue. It’s
not a quiet group. You would expect this, because there’s a
bunch of experts in the Astronaut Office on various areas. If they
were talking about something then someone with some expertise in that
would question them or provide other information or gosh, make sure
you look at this or that. It was a very healthy thing.
That Monday morning meeting was wonderful. Plus John [W.] Young was
in there. When he was talking about concerns or things to watch out
for, then of course everybody should be listening to that, and a bunch
of other folks like John, senior people, lots of experience. I think
all of us were sponges trying to absorb everything that he said. Again,
if he said there was a concern, then we took that as gospel.
What were some of the concerns that you remember when you first came
it’s been so long ago. A lot of things happened over time. Since
we got there, those first landings were all out at Edwards [Air Force
Base, California], and now they were going to bring it to [NASA] KSC
[Kennedy Space Center, Florida]. I’m sure John had some comments
about landing at a runway where there’s really no underrun.
You can’t just land on the dry lakebed, so if you wind up with
a little less energy than desired for landing to make the runway a
little too nice you still have lots of dry lakebed to land on. Going
into KSC, if you didn’t make it, you were in trouble. There’s
a lot of things wrapped up in that, brakes, tires, not just making
the runway but being able to stop without having an accident once
you land there. So John paid attention to all that. I can’t
begin to tell you how much knowledge he had on the Space Shuttle,
including how much energy the brakes could absorb and what had been
tested and what hadn’t. It was almost endless.
There were other people that had various expertise in different systems
and concerns. So all those things would be talked about. It was a
great meeting. I’m sure they still are. I don’t go over
there to them now of course. But gosh, that’s where the real
concerns of the office and then what they’re going to take forward
and who’s going to work with who to get them resolved.
I understand that you were working on SSME [Space Shuttle main engine]
and ET [external tank] issues at the time.
first job was the Space Shuttle main engine, the solid rocket motors,
and boosters, and external tank. It was great, especially for a pilot
to be working on the things that provide the thrust. That was my introduction
to the real rocket scientists at NASA. These folks, most of them worked
out at [NASA] Marshall [Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama].
I did spend a lot of time at Marshall Space Flight Center, Michoud
[Assembly Facility, New Orleans, Louisiana], where they make the external
tank, and then out at Rocketdyne where they actually made the engine.
Gosh, what a collection of geniuses really. They were brilliant people.
They could explain things in a way that a math major could understand.
That was a wonderful job. There were some jobs that as a pilot you
hoped to get, and that was right at the top of the list for me, those
propulsion elements. I was fortunate enough to get it. It’s
a great thing to learn about those.
Were there any significant issues when you were in that position that
you were working?
were some. But they were working, they had hoped to develop an alternate
turbopump. They had some problems with the high-pressure turbopump
and they were going to try to produce an alternate turbopump, and
that was going to be made by Pratt and Whitney at West Palm Beach
[Florida], which is a different contractor than Rocketdyne. But of
course Rocketdyne helped them out in the development of that. So that
You never really leave that. You meet so many people in those fields
when you work a job like that that you really never leave it. Over
time we went to a lightweight tank and a super lightweight tank to
increase the upmass so we could build the [International] Space Station.
Those issues came up but it probably wasn’t while I was assigned
that job, but it would have been done during my time in the office.
Running the engines at 109 percent in case you lost an engine and
you didn’t want to dump it in the ocean, you wanted to have
enough thrust to make it to Spain to do an emergency landing or France.
So that would have been done during that time, my time in the office
again. Those years all run together.
Oh, I’m sure they do.
are just some. Another job that I had was landing and rollout. I think
all of us were involved in trying to put a drag chute on the Shuttle,
what would be acceptable handling qualities and what should be the
limitations. Another one was trying to see if we could increase the
crosswind limits of the Shuttle during landing; that was a project
that we did for the program. That’s about all I can think of
Those things are never ending. You’re always looking to see
if you can increase either launch opportunities or landing opportunities
coming back from space. It’s not a good thing to wave off. Of
course it’s a better thing than come in when you shouldn’t,
to wave off. But if you can through some test program increase the
likelihood that you’ll be able to deorbit and land on the day
you pick, then that would be a good thing for the program.
I’m sure they’re doing it today looking at the restrictions
that would be in place on these capsules coming back and whether they
can do anything that would decrease the restrictions and increase
the likelihood that you’ll come back when you want.
Were you involved at all in the design of the drag chute or testing
or some of the crosswind tests?
think most of us, certainly all the pilots, did some of the work in
the simulator out at [NASA] Ames [Research Center, Moffett Field,
California] on that. I think Jim [James D.] Wetherbee ran that project.
I could be wrong about that but that’s who I remember as running
the project. Then we would go out and do runs to see what would be
acceptable crosswind limits and procedures on it. I would be pretty
confident saying that probably every pilot participated in those test
runs. Every single one of our former test pilots, they were used to
determining acceptable handling qualities. I would have been one of
Did you ever get a chance to go out to [NASA] Stennis [Space Center,
Mississippi] when they were testing any of the engines?
you bet. Matter of fact, our class did while we were still ASCANS
in that first year. They took us out to Stennis to watch an SSME fire.
Very impressive. It made you appreciate the engineers that designed
the thing, because the amount of thrust on that, and to think that
you’re going to sit on top of it, like I said, it was impressive.
I’ve never seen one, but from the videos it’s just amazing.
hope you do, because you don’t just see it, you feel it. Of
course the acoustics coming out of there, it vibrates your chest,
everything around. It’s an experience.
One of the other things I noticed you did is you worked as a Cape
Crusader out in Florida. Can you talk about that and when you got
great job, I don’t remember the years, because I did that a
couple times. But you work at KSC to help with the processing of the
Shuttle and getting it ready for launch. That is a wonderful job for
an astronaut because you’re inside the actual Shuttle a lot.
That’s different than being in the simulators over here, to
be inside the actual hardware.
Frankly, when you fly in space, you’re already used to the Shuttle
being in the vertical. That can be disorienting a little bit for new
guys that have never spent any time in the actual Shuttle. But you’re
perfectly at home in the Shuttle. You know where things are. You don’t
have any being disoriented due to attitude. You get used to throwing
switches on the real hardware. I just think that’s a great job.
Plus, you strap in the crews. When some of your friends are getting
in, you’re the last person in there. You strap them in, close
the hatch, get them on their way. It’s a wonderful job, lots
of responsibility, because there’s 2,000 switches, circuit breakers
inside the Shuttle. You are the team, with the folks at KSC of course,
making sure that every one of those goes in the right position before
you launch your pals on their mission. It’s another good job
for anyone, particularly a pilot.
I think I read somewhere that it’s the next best thing to flying
in space, someone said.
don’t know about that. It’s good.
Doesn’t come close, huh?
good. It’s something, because when you’re sitting in there
in the middle of the night setting up the cockpit, you can’t
help but be filled with a sense you’re sitting in a national
asset and an actual spaceship. Once you put the crew in a day later
or a few hours later, they’re going to be launching in it.
I was never in there that I wasn’t appreciative of the fact
that I was sitting in a spaceship and a national asset. It’s
a great job. Of course the folks at KSC, we used to say that they
were the largest team. Probably on the surface. You got a basketball
team, football team. KSC, they functioned as a team. A lot of folks
would say, “Gosh, I would never have the nerve to get in a Space
Shuttle. How do you do that?” Really it’s because KSC,
they treated every astronaut like they were a member of their family
when they did their job on the Shuttle, when they processed it and
quality-checked the work. They checked that just like a member of
their immediate family was going to get in there. We never lost a
Shuttle due to anything that a person at KSC did. What a wonderful
group of people. We love those folks down at KSC. Again, they took
care of the Shuttles and us just like we were part of the same family.
You had general training on the Shuttle and its various systems. How
did you train to be a Cape Crusader? Was there someone that you shadowed
for a time?
of the experienced Cape Crusaders. When you came down there we had
the Vehicle Integration Team [VIT], which worked in support of the
Astronaut Office. They were very experienced. And you had senior Cape
Crusaders. Between the two of them, they would step you through all
that before they would turn you loose on your own.
We used to tell people headed to the Cape [Canaveral, Florida] that
the most important thing to do was to contact the VIT and whatever
information they gave you, you need to take that as gospel. As long
as you listen to the VIT and the senior Cape Crusaders, you’re
going to be okay. Obviously the opportunity is down there to break
something on a real national asset; you didn’t want to do that.
Or if you messed up a procedure you may make the folks at KSC do hours
of rework to back out of whatever you did and then have it done correctly.
You didn’t want to do that.
Most of the folks in the office are smart enough to listen to that
kind of advice, and it worked out well. But those are the people that
would keep you from making a mistake until you had the experience
you needed to function on your own.
What was your responsibility once the crew landed?
go inside the spaceship, make sure they’re in good shape, help
them unstrap. Then we take over for the commander. There’s still
some switches that have to be thrown post landing for cooling and
power-down. The sooner we got in, the sooner the commander and the
crew could get out, because we would take over those functions. If
any of them needed anything then we would take care of that. They’re
your friends, we’re all part of the Astronaut Office. We would
just get in there to provide whatever assistance would be required
and to relieve them so they could get out and start the postlanding
things that astronauts have to do, medical things.
Great job. How many days would you be out there before they would
day before, something like that. There wasn’t any reason to
be out there earlier. The folks at either place, they know what they’re
doing. If they were going to come in tomorrow then we’d fly
out there sometime today to get ready, participate in the prebriefs
where you go over everyone’s role, and then get ready for the
landing. It was well orchestrated. Again Edwards and KSC, they both
knew what they were supposed to do, knew how to do it well.
Sounds like a great job.
it’s wonderful. Again, it’s real hardware and those are
your friends on board. It’s nice to get in there and see they’re
all okay, relieve them of the burden of throwing the switches, and
let them get out and start getting comfortable.
I imagine after so many days in space they’re ready to stretch
their legs so to speak.
are. I think it’s a mixed bag. Space is a very fun place to
be and you’re up there doing the nation’s business and
the space program’s business. It’s worthwhile and fun
being up there. But it’s nice to come home to your family and
get back down to Earth. One of the guys who spent six months on [Russian
Space Station] Mir, somebody asked him, a reporter I think asked him
while he was still in space if he was looking forward to getting back
down to Earth or would he miss space. This is my recollection of what
he said. He said that he understood that on Earth you could make a
phone call and in 30 minutes somebody would bring a hot pizza to your
door. He said, “I understand you can stop at a gas station and
get gourmet coffee.” He was just talking about the little things
that we all take for granted.
When another astronaut came back from Mir, that astronaut when they
came out of the Shuttle, there’s a short walkway to the crew
recovery van. They stopped for a second and everyone wondered if they
were okay. The astronaut said they just wanted to feel the Sun on
their face and the warm air through their hair. There’s a lot
of things like that of course you don’t get while you’re
up there. It’s a mixed bag coming back. You want to have all
those things. Life really happens down here. But while you’re
in space of course you’re doing a world of good. It’s
a very rewarding job as you would imagine. But it is great to come
It sounds like a great job, especially for someone who was going to
pilot and command the Shuttle. You really got to know the vehicles
quite well down there in Florida I would think.
a Cape Crusader, yes. It’s a huge benefit, becoming that familiar
with the Space Shuttle. We encouraged all the pilots to do that job
at some time, hopefully before they flew, because of that familiarity
with the Shuttle and its systems and the ground ops [operations] down
at KSC. That was a good thing. I was fortunate to have that job.
I also read that you were handling technical issues for the Astronaut
Office operations. That seemed vague. I was curious. What did that
entail? What did that involve?
don’t remember. Operations, that’s just the Shuttle, the
Cape Crusaders belonged to me, that other job, the propulsion elements,
belonged to me. Landing and rollout belonged to me. Those were all
operational areas. They work under a division chief in the Astronaut
Office and I was that division chief. So now the Cape Crusaders worked
for me. The people doing the propulsion elements worked for me. That’s
all that was. There were tons of issues. Part of my job was making
sure the right people were looking into each of those for the Astronaut
Office. That’s what that was.
How did you make those assignments? Was that something that you were
making? Or was that with the Chief of the Astronaut Office or Head
made it based on who was available. As they were picked up for crews
and went into training, then usually that meant that someone was coming
off of a mission, and they were ready for reassignment. The Chief
of the Office, he would tell you who was going to what. Some of those
in the Shuttle Branch, they would be assigned to me, and then we would
select a job for them, wherever we needed a hole plugged, based on
their background and experience. I guess you could say you worked
with the chief, but really you took what he or she gave you, and you
made it work. Some people had to double up for a while until a crew
finished their postflight experience and then they became available.
One thing you could be certain of is that the personnel were going
to change over time based on the flight schedule and assignments.
That part never ends. Really you took who they gave you. The office
is full of sharp folks, it wasn’t like you worried about the
talent you were getting. You just had to make it work based on what
they’d done and what they wanted to do and where you had a hole
that needed to be filled. Any manager in the world would tell you
the same thing. You make those kind of things work. That was it.
Any volunteers for any jobs?
yes, absolutely, because some of those, like that Cape Crusader job,
that’s a wonderful job. You’re working with real hardware
and the good folks down at KSC. You would have people that—some
you thought well, this would benefit them, and you’d send them
down there. Others, they were experienced, you needed experience because
maybe your experienced people had been picked up for another flight.
There were maybe a dozen different things that went into job assignments
and where they were going.
You had an upcoming project in landing and rollout, then you wanted
someone experienced to go run that project and run all the pilots
through and get the data and deliver a report. Just the usual things.
Any jobs that people weren’t particularly thrilled with when
you would make those assignments, SAIL [Shuttle Avionics Integration
Laboratory] for instance?
That was one because that’s a lot of night work in that. You
tried to limit the time that any one person had to do those kind of
things. When you had a burden like that it’s nice to share the
burden. Plus, that was another. Gosh, that was a wealth of experience
to be gained from working in the SAIL. If you had a new one, or you
had someone that could benefit from that kind of training, then you’d
put them in there for a while. There’s no bad deal in there.
It’s a good thing. The only thing that would perhaps make it
a bad deal would be schedule. But it’s such an honor to do any
of those jobs that you really don’t have any problem with it.
Everyone understands that that kind of burden has to be shared. You
can’t leave somebody on something like that forever. But when
I say burden, the burden is minor compared to the training that you
get from working a job like SAIL. It was definitely worthwhile.
Did you spend time in SAIL yourself?
Even as chief of that section of the office. It’s only fair.
Why shouldn’t I do nights occasionally? Again, it’s a
I’m looking at the clock. I wanted to talk to you a little bit
about your time in Russia over at the Gagarin Training Center. But
I wasn’t sure if you wanted to stop here and pick up next time.
up to you. How many questions do you have?
have a long career.
It’ll take us a while to get through all of what we have. Plus
you have four missions too. I don’t know if you just want to
stop here. We can pick up next time.
more than 10 minutes’ worth of time in Russia.
That’s what I was thinking. I don’t want to rush that.
I’m sure that was a fascinating experience living over there.
was great, absolutely fascinating, especially coming from the Marine
Corps. Some of the Russians I met, the Russian cosmonauts, served
in Russian aviation squadrons. We used to talk about—it’s
easily conceivable that we would have met in the air someplace if
the world wound up at war again or something. But gosh, they were
great people. I always believe that their government was the evil
empire, that that doesn’t apply to the people over there. They’re
warm and generous, want the same things that we want, security, better
life for their kids, stability. I told people when I got back that
they would give you the coat off their back in the winter if they
thought you needed it. That’s how generous and warm the people
are over there, just great folks. And accomplished. You look at their
space program, wildly successful, and we learned a lot from them.
The Russians knew that we were going to learn a lot from them when
we showed up over there when we started that Shuttle-Mir Program.
We thought well, we’ll be teaching them a bunch of things. My
goodness, they were thinking we’ll be giving away a lot of things.
We had a Shuttle mindset, and you can stand on your head for two weeks
as long as you know there’s an end. If you’re going to
live in space for six months or a year, that takes a different mentality
They paid a lot of attention to the psychological makeup of their
crew members. We didn’t pay that much attention to it because
we didn’t have to, because hey, you guys are going to get along
for two weeks or work together. You can take that. If you say you’re
going to live and get along for six months or a year, then you need
to make sure there’s not someone in there that isn’t capable
of doing that, or falling into depression, falling apart in space.
One of my missions—matter of fact, my first to Mir, we got the
hatch open, exchanged hugs, handshakes. We said, “Okay, let’s
get to work.” The Russian commander said, “Nyet, nyet.”
He wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Told us to follow him.
We sat around the table and talked and conversed and enjoyed each
other’s company and the reunion, because we had seen them in
training. Then after a while, after we had socialized and talked and
caught up, he said, “Okay, now let’s talk about work.”
That kind of attitude really pointed out the difference to me between
our space program and theirs. They knew they were there for the long
term. That social interaction was as important as all the other stuff.
We learned that and of course we use that now. We know all about it
now because we have the International Space Station. Our guys go through
the same stuff. You’re not going to go up there and as soon
as you get there get busy and then work nonstop for six months. It’s
just not going to work. You’d have a rebellion.
We learned all about long-duration spaceflight from the Russians I
think. They knew that going in, that we’d learn a lot about
that, and made us welcome.
Well, we look forward to hearing more about that and your Shuttle-Mir
missions and other flights.
try to recall them.
to JSC Oral History Website