To Touch the Face of God

And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

—“High Flight,” Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee, No. 412
Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force,
died 11 December 1941


Crew: Commander Dick Scobee, Pilot Michael Smith, Mission Special­ists Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik, and Ron McNair; Payload Special­ists Christa McAuliffe and Gregory Jarvis Orbiter: Challenger Launched: 28 January 1986 Landed: N/A

Mission: Deployment of TDRS, astronomy research, Teacher in Space

Astronaut Dick Covey was the ascent CapCom for the 51L mission of the Space Shuttle Challenger. “There were two CapComs, the weather guy and the prime guy, and so it had been planned for some time that I’d be in the prime seat for [51L] and be the guy talking to them. . . . As the ascent Cap­Com you work so much with the crew that you have a lot of [connection]. In the training periods and stuff, not only do you sit over in the control center while they’re doing ascents and talk to them, but you also go and work with them on other things.”

Covey remembered getting together with the crew while the astronauts were in quarantine at jsc, before they flew down to Florida, to go over

To Touch the Face of God

31. Crew members of mission STS-51L stand in the White Room at Launchpad 39B. Left to right. Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judy Resnik, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Michael Smith, and Ellison Onizuka. Courtesy nasa.

the mission one more time and work through any questions. “We got to go over and spend an hour or two in the crew quarters with them. I spent most of my time with Mike Smith and Ellison Onizuka, who was my long­time friend from test pilot school. They were excited, and they were raun­chy, as you would expect, and we had a lot of fun and a lot of good laughs. It was neat to go do that. So that was the last time that I got to physical­ly go and sit with the crew and talk about the mission and the ascent and what to expect there.”

On launch day the flight control team reported much earlier than the crew, monitoring the weather and getting ready for communication checks with the astronauts once they were strapped in. Covey said that he was excited to be working with Flight Director Jay Greene, whom he had worked with be­fore, and that everything had seemed normal from his perspective leading into the launch. “From the control center standpoint,” Covey said, “I don’t remember anything that was unusual or extraordinary that we were working or talking about. It wasn’t something where we knew that someone was mak­ing a decision and how they were making that decision. We just flat didn’t have that insight. Didn’t know what was going on. Did not. It was pretty much just everything’s like a sim as we’re sitting there getting ready to go.”

Covey recalled that televisions had only recently been installed in the Mis­sion Control Center and that the controllers weren’t entirely sure what they were supposed to make of them yet. “The idea [had been] you shouldn’t be looking at pictures; You should be looking at your data,” he said. “So that’s how we trained. Since the last time I’d been in the control center, they’d started putting [televisions in]. . . . I’d sat as the weather guy, and once the launch happens, I kind of look at the data, but I look over there at the Tv.”

Astronaut Fred Gregory was the weather CapCom for the 51L launch and recalled that nothing had seemed unusual leading up to the launch.

Up to liftoff, everything was normal. We had normal communication with the crew. We knew it was a little chilly, a little cold down there, but the ice team had gone out and surveyed and had not discovered anything that would have been a hazard to the vehicle. Liftoff was normal. . . . Behind the flight director was a monitor, and so I was watching the displays, but also every now and then look over and look at Jay Greene and then glance at the monitor. And I saw what ap­peared to be the solid rocket booster motor’s explosive devices—what I thought— blew the solid rocket boosters away from the tank, and I was really surprised, because I’d never seen it with such resolution before, clarity before. Then I sud­denly realized that what I was intellectualizing was something that would oc­cur about a minute later, and I realized that a terrible thing had just happened.

Covey said Gregory’s reaction was the first indication he had that some­thing was wrong. “Fred is watching the video and sees the explosion, and he goes, ‘Wha—? What was that?’ Of course, I’m looking at my data, and the data freezes up pretty much. It just stopped. It was missing. So I look over and could not make heads or tails of what I was seeing, because I didn’t see it from a shuttle to a fireball. All I saw was a fireball. I had no idea what I was looking at. And Fred said, ‘It blew up,’ something like that.”

Covey recalled that the cameraman inside the control room continued to record what was happening there. “Amazingly, he’s still sitting there just crank­ing along in the control center while this was happening. Didn’t miss a beat,” he said, “because I’ve seen too many film footages of me looking in disbelief at this television monitor trying to figure out what the hell it was I was seeing.”

Off loop, Covey and Flight Director Jay Greene were talking, trying to gather information about what just happened. “There was a dialogue that started ensuing between Jay and myself,” Covey recalled, and Jay, he’s trying to get confirmation on anything from anybody, if they have any data, and what they think has happened, what the status of the or – biter is. All we could get is the solid rocket boosters are separated. Don’t know what else. I’m asking questions, because I want to tell the crew what to do. That’s what the ascent CapComs are trained to do, is tell them what to do. If we know something that they don’t, or we can figure it out faster, tell them so they can go and do whatever they need to do to recover or save themselves. There was not one piece of information that came forward; I was asking. I didn’t do it over the loop, so I did this between Jay and some of the other peo­ple that could hear, “Are we in a contingency abort? If so, what type of con­tingency abort? Can we confirm they’re off the SRBs?” Trying to see if there was anything I should say to the crew.

In all the confusion, he said, no one said anything about him attempt­ing to contact the crew members, since no one knew what to tell them. “We didn’t have any comm. We knew that. That was pretty clear to me; so the only transmissions that I could have made would have been over a UHF [ultrahigh frequency], but if I didn’t have anything to say to them, why call them? So we went through that for several minutes, and so if you go and look at it, there was never a transmission that I made after ‘ Challenger, you’re go [at] throttle up.’ That was the last one, and there wasn’t another one.”

After a few minutes of trying to figure out if there was anything to tell the crew, reality started to hit. Covey said,

I remember Jay finally saying, “Okay, lock the doors. Everybody, no commu­nications out. Lock the doors and go into our contingency modes of collecting data. ” I think when he did that, I finally realized; I went from being in this mode of, “What can we do? How do we figure out what we can do? What can we tell the crew? We’ve got to save them. We’ve got to help them save themselves. We’ve got to do something, ” to the realization that my friends had just died. … Of course, Fred and I were there together, which helped, because so many of the Challenger crew were our classmates, and so we were sharing that together. A special time that I’ll always remember being with Fred was there in the con­trol center for that.

It was a confusing time for those in the Launch Control Center. The data being received was not real-time data, Gregory said; there was a slight delay. “I had seen the accident occur on the monitor. I was watching data come in, but I saw the data then freeze, but I still heard the commentary about a normal flight coming from the public affairs person, who then, seconds later, stopped talking. So there was just kind of stunned silence in Mission Control.”

“At this point,” Gregory said, “no one had realized that we had lost the orbiter. Many, I’m sure, thought that this thing was still flying and that we had just lost radio signals with it. I think all of these things were kind of running through our minds in the first five to ten seconds, and then every­body realized what was going on.”

What Covey and Gregory, relatively insular in their flight control du­ties, did not realize was that concerns over the launch had begun the day before. The launch had already been delayed six times, and because of the significance of the first Teacher in Space flight and other factors, many were particularly eager to see the mission take off. On the afternoon of 27 Janu­ary (the nineteenth anniversary of the loss of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee in the Apollo 1 pad fire), discussions began as to whether the launch should be delayed again. The launch complex at Ken­nedy Space Center was experiencing a cold spell atypical for the Florida coast, with temperatures on launch day expected to drop down into the low twenties Fahrenheit in the morning and still be near freezing at launch time.

During the night, discussions were held about two major implications of the cold temperatures. The first was heavy ice buildup on the launch – pad and vehicle. The cold wind had combined with the supercooling of the cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen in the external tank to lead to the formation of ice. Concerns were raised that the ice could come off during flight and damage the vehicle, particularly the thermal protec­tion tiles on the orbiter. A team was assigned the task of assessing ice at the launch complex.

The second potential implication was more complicated. No shuttle had ever launched in temperatures below fifty degrees Fahrenheit before, and there were concerns about how the subfreezing temperatures would affect the vehicle, and in particular, the O-rings in the solid rocket boosters. The boosters each consisted of four solid-fuel segments in addition to the nose cone with the parachute recovery system and the motor nozzle. The seg­ments were assembled with rubberlike O-rings sealing the joints between

To Touch the Face of God

32. On the day of Space Shuttle Challengers 28 January 1986 launch, icicles draped the launch complex at the Kennedy Space Center. Courtesy nasa.

the segments. Each joint contained both a primary and a secondary O- ring for additional safety. Engineers were concerned that the cold temper­atures would cause the O-rings to harden such that they would not fully seal the joints, allowing the hot gasses in the motor to erode them. Burn – through erosion had occurred on previous shuttle flights, and while it had never caused significant problems, engineers believed that there was poten­tial for serious consequences.

During a teleconference held the afternoon before launch, srb con­tractor Morton Thiokol expressed concerns to officials at Marshall Space Flight Center and Kennedy Space Center about the situation. During a second teleconference later that evening, Marshall Space Flight Center of­ficials challenged a Thiokol recommendation that nasa not launch a shut­tle at temperatures below fifty-three degrees Fahrenheit. After a half-hour off-1 ine discussion, Thiokol reversed its recommendation and supported launch the next day. The three-hour teleconference ended after 11:00 p. m. (in Florida’s eastern time zone).

During discussions the next morning, after the crew was already aboard the vehicle, orbiter contractor Rockwell International expressed concern that the ice on the orbiter could come off during engine ignition and ric­ochet and damage the vehicle. The objection was speculation, since no launch had taken place in those conditions, and the NASA Mission Man­agement Team voted to proceed with the launch. The accident investiga­tion board later reported that the Mission Management Team members were informed of the concerns in such a way that they did not fully under­stand the recommendation.

Launch took place at 11:38 a. m. on 28 January. The three main engines ignited seconds earlier, at 11:37:53, and the solid rocket motors ignited at 11:38:00. In video of the launch, smoke can be seen coming from one of the aft joints of the starboard solid rocket booster at ignition. The primary O-ring failed to seal properly, and hot gasses burned through both the pri­mary and secondary O-rings shortly after ignition. However, residue from burned propellant temporarily sealed the joint. Three seconds later, there was no longer smoke visible near the joint.

Launch continued normally for the next half minute, but at thirty-seven seconds after solid rocket motor ignition, the orbiter passed through an area of high wind shear, the strongest series of wind shear events recorded thus far in the shuttle program. The worst of the wind shear was encountered at fifty-eight seconds into the launch, right as the vehicle was nearing “Max Q,” the period of the highest launch pressures, when the combination of velocity and air resistance is at its maximum. Within a second, video cap­tured a plume of flame coming from the starboard solid rocket booster in the joint where the smoke had been seen. It is believed that the wind shear broke the temporary seal, allowing the flame to escape. The plume rapid­ly became more intense, and internal pressure in the motor began drop­ping. The flame occurred in a location such that it quickly reached the ex­ternal fuel tank.

The gas escaping from the solid rocket booster was at a temperature around six thousand degrees Fahrenheit, and it began burning through the exterior of the external tank and the strut attaching the solid rocket boost­er to the tank. At sixty-four seconds into the launch, the flame grew stron­ger, indicating that it had caused a leak in the external tank and was now burning liquid hydrogen escaping from the aft tank of the external tank. Approximately two seconds later, telemetry indicated decreasing pressure from the tank.

At this time, in the vehicle and in Mission Control, the launch still ap­peared to be proceeding normally. Having made it through Max Q, the ve­hicle throttled its engines back up. At sixty-eight seconds, Covey informed the crew it was “Go at throttle up.” Commander Dick Scobee responded, “Roger, go at throttle up,” the last communication from the vehicle.

Two seconds later, the flame had burned through the attachment strut connecting the starboard srb and the external tank. The upper end of the booster was swinging on its strut and impacted with the external tank, rup­turing the liquid oxygen tank at the top of the external tank. An orange fireball appeared as the oxygen began leaking. At seventy-three seconds into the launch, the crew cabin recorder records Pilot Michael Smith on the in­tercom saying, “Uh-oh,” the last voice recording from Challenger.

While the fireball caused many to believe that the Space Shuttle had ex­ploded, such was not the case. The rupture caused the external tank to lose structural integrity, and at the high velocity and pressure it was experienc­ing, it quickly began disintegrating. The two solid rocket boosters, still fir­ing, disconnected from the shuttle stack and flew freely for another thirty – seven seconds. The orbiter, also now disconnected and knocked out of proper orientation by the disintegration of the external tank, began to be torn apart by the aerodynamic pressures. The orbiter rapidly broke apart over the ocean, with the crew cabin, one of the most solid parts of the ve­hicle, remaining largely intact until it made contact with the water.

All of that would eventually be revealed during the course of the acci­dent investigation. At Mission Control, by the time the doors were opened again, much was still unknown, according to Covey.

[We] had no idea what had happened, other than this big explosion. We didn’t know if it was an srb that exploded. I mean, that was what we thought. We always thought SRBs would explode like that, not a big fireball from the exter­nal tank propellants coming together. So then that set off a period then of just trying to deal with that and the fact that we had a whole bunch of spouses and families that had lost loved ones and trying to figure out how to deal with that.

The families were in Florida, and I remember, of course, the first thing I wanted to do was go spend a little time with my family, and we did that. But then we knew the families were coming back from Florida and out to Ellington [Field, Houston], so a lot of us went out there to just be there when they came back in. I remember it was raining. Generally they were keeping them isolat­ed, but a big crowd of us waiting for them, they loaded them up to come home. Then over the next several days most of the time we spent was trying to help the Onizukas in some way; being around. Helping them with their family as the families flew in and stuff like that.

After being in Mission Control for approximately twelve hours—half of that prior to launch and the rest in lockdown afterward, analyzing data, Gregory finally headed home.

The families had all been down at the Kennedy Space Center for the liftoff and they were coming back home. Dick Scobee, who was the commander, lived within a door or two of me. And when I got home, I actually preceded the families get­ting home; I remember that. They had the television remote facilities already set up outside of the Scobees’ house, and it was disturbing to me, and so I went over and, in fact, invited some of those [reporters] over to my house, and I just talked about absolutely nothing to get them away from the house, so that when June Scobee and the kids got back to the house, they wouldn’t have to go through this gauntlet.

The next few days, Gregory said, were spent protecting the crew’s fami­lies from prying eyes. “There was such a mess over there that Barbara and I took [Scobee’s] parents and just moved them into our house, and they must have stayed there for about four or five days. Then June Scobee, in fact, came over and stayed, and during that time is when she developed this concept for the Challenger Center. She always gives me credit for be­ing the one who encouraged her to pursue it, but that’s not true. She was going to do it, and it was the right thing to do.”

Gregory recalled spending time with the Scobees and the Onizukas and the Smiths, particularly Mike Smith’s children. “It was a tough time,” he said.

It was a horrible time, because I had spent a lot of time with Christa McAuliffe and [her backup] Barbara Morgan, and the reason was because I had teachers in my family. On my father’s side, about four or five generations; on my moth­er’s side, a couple of generations. My mother was elementary school, and my dad was more in the high school. But Christa and I and Barbara talked about how important it was, what she was doing, and then what she was going to do on orbit and how it would be translated down to the kids, but then what she was going to do once she returned. So it was traumatic for me, because not only had I lost these longtime friends, with Judy Resnik and Onizuka and Ron Mc­Nair and Scobee, and then Mike Smith, who was a class behind us, but I had lost this link to education when we lost Christa.

Astronaut Sally Ride was on a commercial airliner, flying back to Hous­ton, when the launch tragedy occurred. “It was the first launch that I hadn’t seen, either from inside the shuttle or from the Cape or live on television,” Ride recalled.

The pilot of the airline, who did not know that I was on the flight, made an announcement to the passengers, saying that there had been an accident on the Challenger. At the time, nobody knew whether the crew was okay; nobody knew what had happened. Thinking back on it, it’s unbelievable that the pilot made the announcement he made. It shows how profoundly the accident struck people. As soon as I heard, I pulled out my NASA badge and went up into the cockpit. They let me put on an extra pair of headsets to monitor the radio traf­fic to find out what had happened. We were only about a half hour outside of Houston; when we landed, I headed straight back to the Astronaut Office at jsc.

Payload Specialist Charlie Walker was returning home from a trip to San Diego, California, when the accident occurred.

I can remember having my bags packed and having the television on and search­ing for the station that was carrying the launch. As I remember it, all the sta­tions had the launch on; it was the Teacher in Space mission. So I watched the launch, and to this day, and even back then I was still aggravated with news services that would cover a launch up until about thirty seconds, forty-five sec-

onds, maybe one minute in flight, after Max Q, and then most of them would just cut the coverage. “Well, the launch has been successful. ” [I would think,] “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re only thirty seconds into this thing, and the roughest part is yet to happen. ”

And whatever network I was watching ended their coverage. “Well, looks like we’ve had a successful launch of the first teacher in space. ” And they go off to the programming, and it wasn’t but what, ten seconds later, and I’m about to pick my bags up and just about to turn off the television and go out my room door when I hear, “We interrupt this program again to bring you this announcement. It looks like something has happened. ” I can remember seeing the long-range tracker cameras following debris falling into the ocean, and I can remember going to my knees at that point and saying some prayers for the crew. Because I can remember the news reporter saying, “Well, we don’t know what has happened at this point. ” I thought, “Well, you don’t know what has happened in detail, but anybody that knows anything about it can tell that it was not at all good. ”

Mike Mullane was undergoing payload training with the rest of the 62A crew at Los Alamos Labs in New Mexico. “We were in a facility that didn’t have easy access to a Tv,” said Mullane.

We knew they were launching, and we wanted to watch it, and somebody finally got a television or we finally got to a room and they were able to finagle a way to get the television to work, and we watched the launch, and they dropped it away within probably thirty seconds of the launch, and we then started to turn back to our training. Somebody said, “Well, let’s see if they’re covering it further on one of the other channels, ” and started flipping channels, and then flipped it to a channel and there was the explosion, and we knew right then that the crew was lost and that something terrible had happened.

Mullane theorized that someone must have inadvertently activated the vehicle destruction system or a malfunction caused the flight termination system to go off. “I was certain of it,” Mullane said.

I mean, the rocket was flying perfectly, and then it just blew up. It just looked like it had been blown up from this dynamite. Shows how poor you can be as a witness to something like this, because that had absolutely nothing to do with it.

But it was terrible. Judy was killed on it. She was a close friend. There were four people from our group that were killed. It was a terrible time. Really as bad as it gets. It was like a scab or a wound that just never had an opportunity to heal because you had that trauma.

Astronaut Mary Cleave recalled two very different sets of reactions to the tragedy from the people around her in the Astronaut Office. “For the guys in the corps, when you’re in the test pilot business, you’re sort of a tough guy,” she said.

It’s a part of the job. It’s a lousy part of the job, but it’s part of the job. But I mean, the secretaries and everybody else were really upset, so we spent some time with them. Before my first flight, I had signed up. I basically told my family, “Hey, I might not be coming back." When we flew, it was the heaviest payload to orbit. We were already having nozzle problems. I think a lot of us under­stood that the system was really getting pushed, but that’s what we’d signed up to do. I think probably a lot of people in the corps weren’t as surprised as a lot of other people were. I did crew family escort afterwards. I was assigned to help when the families came down, as an escort at jsc when the president came in to do the memorial service. Jim Buchli was in charge of the group; they put a marine in charge of the honor guard. So I got to learn to be an escort from a marine, which was interesting. I learned how to open up doors. This was sort of like it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or boy, there’s a certain way people need to be treated when they’re escorted. So I did that. That was interesting. And it was nice to think that you could help at that point.

Charlie Bolden had just returned to Earth ten days earlier from his first spaceflight, 61c. His crew was wrapping up postmission debriefing, he recalled, and it gathered with others in the Astronaut Office to watch Challenger launch. “That was the end of my first flight, and we were in heaven. We were celebrat­ing as much as anybody could celebrate,” he said. “We sat in the Astronaut Office, in the conference room with everybody else, to watch Challenger. No­body was comfortable because of all the ice on the launchpad and everything. I don’t think there were many of us who felt we should be flying that day, but what the heck. Everybody said, ‘Let’s go fly.’ And so we went and flew.”

Bolden thought the explosion was a premature separation of the solid rocket boosters; he expected to see the vehicle fly out of the smoke and per­form a return-to-launch-site abort. “We were looking for something good to come out of this, and nothing came out except these two solid rocket boosters going their own way.”

It took awhile, but it finally sunk in: the vehicle and the crew were lost. “We were just all stunned, just didn’t know what to do,” Bolden said. “By the end of the day we knew what had happened; we knew what had caused the accident. We didn’t know the details, but the launch photog­raphy showed us the puff of smoke coming out of the joint on the right – hand solid rocket booster. And the fact that they had argued about this the night before meant that there were people from [Morton] Thiokol who could say, ‘Let me tell you what happened. This is what we predict­ed would happen.’”

Bolden was the family escort for the family of 51L mission specialist Ron­ald McNair. Family escorts are chosen by crew members to be with the fam­ilies during launch activities and to be a support to families if something happened to the crew, as was the case with 51L. Much of Bolden’s time in the year after the incident was spent helping the McNair family, which in­cluded Ron’s wife and two children. “I sort of became a surrogate, if you will, for [McNair’s children] Joy and Reggie, and just trying to make sure that Cheryl [McNair] had whatever she needed and got places when she was supposed to be there. Because for them it was an interminable amount of time, I mean years, that they went through the postflight grieving pro­cess and memorial services and that kind of stuff.”

Bolden’s 61c crewmate Pinky Nelson was on his way to Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the premier of the imax movie The Dream Is Alive, which included footage from Nelson’s earlier mission, 41c. Nelson recalled hav­ing worked closely with the 51L crew, which Nelson said would be using the same “rinky-dink little camera” as his crew to observe Halley’s Comet.

I’d spent a bunch of time trying to teach Ellison [Onizuka] how to find Halley’s Comet in the sky. [Dick] Scobee and I were really close friends because of 41C, so “Scobe” and I had talked a lot about his kind of a “zoo crew, ” about his crew and all their trials and tribulations. He really wanted to get this mission flown and over with. So I talked to them the night before, actually, from down at the Cape and wished them good luck and all that, and then the accident happened while I was on the airplane to Minneapolis.

Nelson flew back to Houston from Minneapolis that afternoon, arriving around the same time that the families were arriving from Florida. Nelson and his wife, Susie, and astronaut Ox van Hoften and his wife convened at the Scobees’ home.

“The national press was just god-awful,” Nelson said.

I’ve never forgiven some of those folks. . . . I mean, it’s their job, but still— for their just callous, nasty behavior. We just spent a lot of time just kind of over at Scobee’s, trying to just be there and help out. I still can’t drink fla­vored coffee. That’s the only kind of coffee June had, vanilla bean brew or something. So whenever I smell that stuff, that’s always my memory of that, is having bad coffee at Scobes house, trying to just get their family through the time, just making time pass. We had to unplug the phones. The press was parked out in front of the house. It was a pretty bad time for all that. We went over and tried to do what we could with some of the other families. My kids had been good friends with Onizuka’s kids; they’re the same age. Lorna [Onizuka] was having just a really hard time. Everyone was trying to help out where we could.

Memorial services were beginning to be held for the lost crew members even as the agency was continuing with its search for the cockpit and the bodies of the lost crew. “It was terrible, going to the memorial services,” admitted Mullane.

It was one of those things that didn’t seem to end, because then they were looking for the cockpit out there. I personally thought, “Why are we doing this? Leave the cockpit down there. What are you going to learn from it?" Because by then they knew the SRB was the problem. . . . I remember thinking, “Why are we even looking for that cockpit? Just bury them at sea. Leave them there."I’m glad they did, though, because later I heard it was really shallow where that cockpit was. It was like, I don’t know, like eighty feet or something, which is too shal­low, because somebody eventually would have found it and pulled it up on a net or been diving on it or something. So it’s good that they did look for it. So you had these several weeks there, and then they bring that cockpit up, and then you have to repeat all the memorial services again, because now you have remains to bury. And then plus on top of that, you had the revelation that it wasn’t an accident; it was a colossal screwup. And you had that to deal with. So it was a miserable time, about as bad as I’ve ever lived in my life, were those months surrounding, months and years, really, surrounding the Challenger tragedy.

Astronaut Bryan O’Connor was at Kennedy Space Center during the debris recovery efforts and postrecovery analysis. O’Connor recalled be­ing on the pier when representatives from the Range Safety Office at Cape Canaveral were trying to determine whether what happened was an inad­vertent range safety destruct—if somehow there had been a malfunction of the destruct package intended to destroy the vehicle should a problem cause it to pose a safety risk to those on the ground. “I remember there was a Coast Guard cutter that came in and had some pieces and parts of the external tank,” O’Connor said. “On the second or third day, I think, one of these ships actually had a piece of the range safety destruct system from the external tank, intact for about halfway and then ripped up the other half of it. When he looked at that, he could tell that it hadn’t been a destruct.”

O’Connor had accident investigation training and was then assigned to work with Kennedy Space Center on setting up a place to reconstruct the ve­hicle as debris was recovered. “I remember we put tape down on the floor. We got a big room in the Logistics Center. They moved stuff out of the way. As time went on, the need increased for space, and we actually ended up putting some things outside the Logistics Center, like the main engines and some of the other things. But the orbiter pretty much was reassembled piece by piece over a period of time as the parts and pieces were salvaged out of the water, most of them floating debris, but some, I think, was picked up from subsurface.”

Recovery efforts started with just a few ships, O’Connor said, but grew into a large fleet. According to the official Rogers Commission Report on the accident, sixteen watercraft assisted in the recovery, including boats, subma­rines, and underwater robotic vehicles from NASA, the navy, and the air force. “It was one of the biggest salvage efforts ever, is what I heard at the time,” O’Connor said. “Over a period of time, we were able to rebuild quite a bit of the orbiter, laying it out on the floor and, in some cases, actually putting it in a vertical structure. Like the forward fuselage, for example, we tried to make a three-dimensional model from the pieces that we recovered there.”

While the goal had originally been to determine the cause of the acci­dent, the investigation eventually shifted to its effects, with analysis of the

To Touch the Face of God

33- This photograph, taken a few seconds after the loss of Challenger, shows the Space Shuttle’s main engines and solid rocket booster exhaust plumes entwined around a ball of gas from the external tank. Courtesy nasa.

debris revealing how the various parts of the vehicle had been affected by the pressures during its disintegration.

Astronaut Joe Kerwin, a medical doctor before his selection to the corps and a member of the first crew of the Skylab space station, was the direc­tor of Space Life Sciences at Johnson Space Center at the time of the acci­dent. “Like everybody else at jsc I remember exactly where I was when it happened,” Kerwin recalled.

I didn’t see it live. In fact, I was having a staff meeting in my office at jsc and we had a monitor in the background because the launch was taking place. And I just remember all of us sort of looking up and seeing this ex­plosion taking place on the monitor. And there was the moment of silence as each of us tried to absorb what it looked like was or might be going on, and then sort of saying, “Okay, guys, I think we better get to work. We’re going to need to coordinate with the Astronaut Office. We’re going to have to have flight surgeons. Sam, you contact the doctors on duty down at the

Cape and make sure that they have the families covered,” and we just sort of set off like that.

His medical team’s first actions were simply to take care of the families of the crew members, Kerwin said. “Then as the days went by and the search for the parts of the orbiter was underway I went down to Florida and coor­dinated a plan for receiving bodies and doing autopsies and things of that nature. It included getting the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology to com­mit to send a couple of experts down if and when we found remains to see whether they could determine the cause of death.”

But the crew compartment wasn’t found immediately and Kerwin went back home to Houston, where days turned into weeks.

I was beginning to almost hope that we wouldn’t have to go through that ex­cruciating investigation when I had a call from Bob Crippen that said, no, we’ve found the crew compartment and even at this late date there are going to be some remains so how about let’s get down here. I went down immediately.

By that time the public and press response to the accident and to NASA had turned bad, and NASA, which had always been considered one of the best or­ganizations in government, was now one of the worst organizations in govern­ment and there was a lot of bad press and there were a lot of paparazzi there in Florida who just wanted to get in on the action and get gruesome pictures or details or whatever they could. So we had to face that.

In addition to dealing with the press, Kerwin said recovery efforts also had to deal with local politics.

The local coroner was making noises like this accident had occurred in his ju­risdiction and therefore he wanted to take charge of any remains and perform the autopsies himself, which would have been a complicating factor, to say the least. I didn’t have to deal with that, I just knew about it and that I might have had to deal with [the] coroner if the offensive line didn’t block him. But the higher officials in NASA and in particular in the State of Florida got him called off saying, “No, this accident was in a federal spacecraft and it occurred offshore and you just back off”

By the time Kerwin arrived at the scene, the recovery team had come up with several different possible ways to get the remains to where they would be autopsied.

In view of the lateness of the time and in view of the press coverage and all that stuff, we decided that we needed a much more secure location for this activity to take place and we were given space in one of the hangars at Cape Canav­eral, one of the hangars in which the Mercury crews trained way back in the early sixties. We quickly prepared that space for the conduct of autopsies. When the remains were brought in they were brought into one of the piers by motor­ized boat. It was done after dark, and there was always one or two or three as­tronauts with the remains and we put up a little screen because right across the sound from this pier the press had set up floodlights and cameras and bleachers.

An unmarked vehicle was used to transport the remains to the hangar, while a nasa ambulance was used as a decoy to keep the location of the autopsies a secret. “We knew by that time, and really knew from the begin­ning, that crew actions or lack of actions didn’t have anything to do with the cause of the Challenger accident,” Kerwin said.

As an accident investigator you ask yourself that first—could this have been pilot error involved in any way, and the immediate answer was no. But we still needed to do our best to determine the cause of death, partly because of public interest but largely because of family interest in knowing when and under what circumstances their loved ones died. So that was the focus of the investigation.

The sort of fragmentary remains that were brought in, having been in the water for about six weeks, gave us no clue as to whether the cause of death was ocean impact or whether it could’ve taken place earlier. So the only thing left for the autopsies was to determine, was to prove, that each of the crew mem­bers had had remains recovered that could identify that, yes, that crew mem­ber died in that accident. That was not easy but we were able to do it. So at the end of the whole thing I was able to send a confidential letter to the next ofkin of each of the crew members stating that and stating what body parts had been recovered, a very, very short letter.

In addition to identifying the remains, Kerwin and his team worked to identify the exact cause of death of the crew members.

We’d all seen the breakup on television, we knew it was catastrophic, and my first impression as a doctor was that it probably killed all the crew just right at the time of the explosion. But as soon as they began to analyze the camera foot­age, plus what very little telemetry they had, it became apparent that the g-forces were not that high, not as high as you’d think. I guess the crew compartment was first flung upward and away from the exploding external tank and then rapidly decelerated by atmospheric pressure until it reached free fall. The explo­sion took place somewhere about forty thousand feet, I think about forty-six or forty-seven thousand, and the forces at breakup were estimated to be between fifteen and twenty gs, which is survivable, particularly if the crew is strapped in properly and so forth. The crew compartment then was in free fall, but up­ward. It peaked at about sixty-five thousand feet, and about two and half min­utes after breakup hit the ocean at a very high rate of speed. If the crew hadn’t died before, they certainly died then.

Kerwin said he and his team then worked to refine their understand­ing of exactly what had happened when. “Our investigation attempted to determine whether or not the crew compartment’s pressure integrity was breeched by the separation, and if so, if the crew compartment had lost pressure, we could then postulate that the crew had become profoundly un­conscious because the time above forty thousand feet was long enough and the portable emergency airpack was just that, it was an airpack, not an ox­ygen pack, so they had no oxygen available. They would have become un­conscious in a matter of thirty seconds or less depending on the rate of the depressurization and they would have remained unconscious at impact.”

But the damage to the compartment was too great to allow Kerwin to determine with certainty whether the cabin had lost pressure. He said that, given what it would mean for the crew’s awareness of its fate, his team was almost hopeful of finding evidence that the crew compartment had been breached, but they were unable to make a conclusive determination.

The damage done to the crew compartment at water impact was so great that despite a really lot of effort, most of it pretty expert, to determine whether there was a pressure broach in any of the walls, in any of the feed-throughs, any of the windows, any of the weak points where you might expect it, we couldn’t rule it out but we couldn’t demonstrate it either. We lifted all the equipment to see whether any of the stuff in the crew compartment looked as if it had been dam­aged by rapid decompression, looked at toothpaste tubes and things like that, tested some of them or similar items in vacuum chambers to determine wheth­er that sort of damage was pressure-caused and that was another blind hole. We simply could not determine. And then as to the remains, in a case of immedi­ate return of the remains we might have gotten lucky and been able to measure tissue oxygen concentration and tissue carbon dioxide concentration and gotten a clue from that but this was way too late for that kind of thing.

Finally, after all ofthat we had to just, I just had to sit down and write the letter to Admiral [Richard H.] Truly stating that we did not know the cause of death.

Sally Ride was named to the commission that was appointed to in­vestigate the causes of the accident. President Reagan appointed former secretary of state William Rogers to head a board to determine the fac­tors that had resulted in the loss of Challenger. (Ride has the distinction of being the only person to serve on the presidential commission inves­tigations of both the Challenger and the Columbia accidents.) Ride was in training at the time of the accident and was assigned to the presiden­tial commission within just a few days of the accident. The investigation lasted six months.

“The panel, by and large, functioned as a unit,” Ride recalled.

We held hearings; we jointly decided what we should look into, what witness­es should be called before the panel, and where the hearings should be held. We had a large staff so that we could do our own investigative work and conduct our own interviews. The commission worked extensively with the staff through­out the investigation. There was also a large apparatus put in place at NASA to help with the investigation: to analyze data, to look at telemetry, to look through the photographic record, and sift through several years of engineering records. There was a lot of work being done at NASA under our direction that was then brought forward to the panel. I participated in all ofthat. I also chaired a sub­committee on operations that looked into some of the other aspects of the shut­tle flights, like was the astronaut training adequate? But most of our time was spent on uncovering the root cause of the accident and the associated organiza­tional and cultural factors that contributed to the accident.

Ride said she had planned to leave nasa after her upcoming third flight and do research in an academic setting. But her role in the accident in­vestigation caused her to change her plans. “I decided to stay at nasa for an extra year, simply because it was a bad time to leave,” explained Ride.

She described that additional year as one that was very difficult both for her personally and for the corps. “It was a difficult time for me and a dif­ficult time for all the other astronauts, for all the reasons that you might expect,” said Ride. “I didn’t really think about it at the time. I was just go­ing from day to day and just grinding through all the data that we had to grind through. It was very, very hard on all of us. You could see it in our faces in the months that followed the accident. Because I was on the com­mission, I was on Tv relatively frequently. They televised our hearings and our visits to the NASA centers. I looked tired and just kind of gray in the face throughout the months following the accident.”

Astronaut Steve Hawley, who was married to Ride at the time, recalled providing support to the Rogers Commission, particularly in putting to­gether the commission’s report, Leadership and America’s Future in Space.

The chairman felt that it was appropriate to look not only at the specifics of that accident but other things that his group might want to say about safety in the program, and that included, among other things, the role of astronauts in the program, and that was one of the places where I think I contributed, was how astronauts ought to be involved in the program. I remember one of the recom­mendations of the committee talked about elevating the position of director of FCOD [Flight Crew Operations Directorate], because at the time of the Chal­lenger accident, he was not a direct report to the center director. That had been a change that had been made sometime earlier, I don’t remember exactly when. And that commission felt that the guy that was head of the organization with the astronauts should be a direct report to the center director. So several people went back to Houston and put George [Abbey] s desk up on blocks in an at­tempt to elevate his position. I think he left it there for some period of time, as far as I can remember.

Though not everyone in the Astronaut Office was involved in the Rog­ers Commission investigation and report, many astronauts were involved in looking into potential problems in the shuttle hardware and program. Recalled O’Connor,

I remember that a few days after the accident Dick Truly and the acting ad­ministrator [William Graham] were down at ksc. Again, because I had ac­cident investigation training, they had a discussion about what’s the next steps

here. The acting administrator, it turned out, was very reluctant to put a board together, a formal board. We had an Accident Investigation Team that was as­sembling; eventually became under the cognizance of J. R. Thompson. We had a bunch of subteams under him, and then he was reporting to Dick Truly. But we never called out a formal board, and I think there was more or less a politi­cal feel that this is such high visibility that we know for sure that the Congress or the president or both are going to want to have some sort of independent in­vestigation here, so let’s not make it look like we’re trying to investigate our own mishap here. And that’s why he decided not to do what our policy said, which is to create a board. We stopped short of that.

Once the presidential commission was in place, O’Connor said it was obvious to Dick Truly that he needed to provide a good interface between the commission and nasa. Truly assigned O’Connor to set up an “action center” in Washington DC for that purpose. The center kept track of all the requests from the commission and the status of the requests.

“They created a room for me, cleared out all the desks and so on,” O’Connor recalled. “We put [up] a bunch of status boards; very old-fashioned by to­day’s standard, when I think about it. It was more like World War Il’s tech­nology. We had chalkboards. We had a paper tracking system, an IBM type­writer in there, and so on. It all seemed so ancient by today’s standards, virtually nothing electronic. But it was a tracking system for all the requests that the board had. It was a place where people could come and see what the status of the investigation was.”

The center became data central for nasa’s role in the investigation. In addition to the data keeping done there, Thompson would have daily tele­conferences with all of his team members to find out what was going on.

Everybody would report in, what they had done, where they were, where they were on the fault tree analysis that we were doing to x out various potential cause factors. I remember the action center became more than just a place where we coordinated between NASA and the blue-ribbon panel. It was also a place where people could come from the [Capitol] Hill or the White House. We had quite a few visitors that came, and Dick Truly would bring them down to the action center to show them where we were in the investigation. So it had to kind of take on that role, too, of publicly accessible communication device.

I did that job for some weeks, and then we rotated people. [Truly] asked that George Abbey continue [to provide astronauts]. George had people available now that we’re not going to fly anytime soon, so he offered a bunch of high-quality people. . . . So shortly after I was relieved from that, I basically got out of the investigation role and into the “what are we going to do about it" role and was assigned by George to the Shuttle Program Office.

As board results came out, changes began to be made. For example, O’Connor said, all of the mission manifests from before the accident were officially scrapped.

I was relieved of my job on a crew right away. I think they called it 6im, which was a mission I was assigned to right after I got back from 6ib. I cant remem­ber who all the members were, but my office mate, Sally Ride, and I were both assigned to that same mission, 6im. Of course, when the accident happened, all that stuffbecame questionable and we stopped training altogether. I don’t think that mission ever resurrected. It may have with some other name or number, but the crew was totally redone later, and the two of us got other assignments.

In the meantime, O’Connor was appointed to serve as the assistant pro­gram manager for operations and safety. His job included coordinating how NASA was going to respond to a couple of the major recommendations that came out of the blue-ribbon panel. The panel had ten recommendations, covering a variety of subjects. One of them had to do with how to restruc­ture and organize the safety program at NASA. Another one O’Connor was involved with dealt with wheels, tires, brakes, and nose-wheel steering.

“It was all the landing systems,” he explained.

Now, that may sound strange, because that had nothing to do with this accident, but the Challenger blue-ribbon panel saw that, as they were looking at our his­tory on shuttle, they saw that one of the bigger problems we were addressing tech­nically with that vehicle was landing rollout. We had a series of cases where we had broken up the brakes on rollout by overheating them or overstressing them. We had some concerns about automatic landings. We had some concerns about steering on the runway in cases of a blown tire or something like that. So they chose to recommend that we do something about these things, put more empha­sis on it, make some changes and upgrades in that area.

In the wake of the accident, even relatively low-profile aspects of the shuttle program were reexamined and reevaluated. “nasa wanted to go back and look at everything, not just the solid rocket boosters, but every­thing, to determine, is there another Challenger awaiting us in some oth­er system,” recalled Mullane, who was assigned to review the range safety flight termination system, which would destroy the vehicle in the event it endangered lives. “I always felt it was a moral issue on this dynamite sys­tem. I always felt it was necessary to have that on there, because your wives and your family, your Lcc [Launch Control Center] people are sitting there two and a half miles away. If you die, that’s one thing. But if in the process of you dying that rocket lands on the LCC and kills a couple of hundred people, that’s not right. So they should have dynamite aboard it to blow it up in case it is threatening the civilian population.”

While Mullane himself supported having the flight termination system on the vehicles, he said that some of his superiors did not.

I could not go to the meetings and present their position. I couldn’t. I mean, to me it was immoral. It was immoral to sit there and say we fly without a dynamite system aboard. That’s immoral. And we threatened lcc, we threat­en our families, we threaten other people. We’re signing up for the risk to ride in the rocket.

That was another bad time of my life, because I took a position that was counter to my superiors’ position, and I felt that it was jeopardizing my future at nasa. I didn’t like that at all, didn’t like the idea that I was supposed to just parrot somebody’s opinion and mine didn’t count on that issue. . . . So I did not like that time of my life at all. I had an astronaut come to me once. . . who heard my name being kicked around as a person that was causing some prob­lems. And that’s the last thing you want in your career is to hear that your name is in front of people who make launch crew decisions, who make crew decisions, and basically, it looks like I’m a bad apple. But I just couldn’t do it. . . . I said, “You go. You do it. I cant. It’s immoral." By the way, the end of that is that the solid boosters retained their dynamite system aboard. It was taken off the gas tank, making it much safer, at least now two minutes up when the boosters are gone, we don’t have to dynamite aboard anymore, so it could fail and blow you up. But that’s the right decision right there. You protect the civilians, you pro­tect your family, you protect lcc with that system.

The results from the commission questioned the NASA culture, and ac­cording to Covey some within the agency found that hard to deal with, es­pecially while still recovering from the loss of the crew and vehicle. “Every­body was reacting basically to two things,” Covey said. “One was the fact that they had lost a Space Shuttle and lost a crew, and two, the Rogers Com­mission was extremely critical, and in many cases, rightfully so, about the way the decision-making processes had evolved and the culture had evolved.”

Covey noted,

Those two things together are hard for any institution to accept, because this was still a largely predominant workforce that had come through the Apollo era into the shuttle era and had been immensely successful in dealing with the issues that had come through both those programs to that point. So to be told that the culture was broken was hard to deal with, and that’s because culture doesn’t change overnight, and there was a lot of people that didn’t believe that that was an accurate depiction of the situation and environment that existed within the agency, particularly at the Johnson Space Center.

Personnel changes began to take place, including the departures of George Abbey, the long-time director of flight crew operations, and John Young, chief of the Astronaut Office. “We started seeing a lot of personnel chang­es in that time period in leadership positions,” Covey said.

I think they were a matter oftiming and other things, but George Abbey had been the director of flight crew operations for a long time, and somewhere in there George left that position. Don Puddy came in as the director of flight crew operations, and that sat poorly with a lot of people, because he wasn’t out of Flight Crew Opera­tions; he was a flight director. So that was something that a lot of people just had a hard time accepting. John Young left from being chief of the Astronaut Office, and Dan Brandenstein came into that position. I’m trying to remember what hap­pened in Mission Operations, but somewhere in there Gene Kranz left; I cant re­member when, and I’m not sure when in that spectrum of things that he did. So there were changes there. The center director changed immediately after the Chal­lenger accident, also, and changes were rampant at headquarters. So, basically, there was a restructuring of the leadership team from the administrator on down.

In time, the astronaut corps grieved and adjusted to leadership changes, and their focus returned to flying. “As jsc does,” Covey said, “once they got past the grief and got past the disappointment of failure and acceptance of their role relative to the decision-making process, they jumped in and said, ‘Okay, our job is flying. Let’s go figure out how we’re going to fly again.’”

Covey said the Challenger accident caused some in the astronaut corps to be wary of the NASA leadership structure and to distrust that the system would make the right kinds of decisions to protect them. “I wouldn’t say it was a bunker mentality, but it was close to that,” Covey said.

The idea that, as it played out, that there were decisions made and informa­tion that may not have been fully considered, and as you can see from all of it, a relatively limited involvement of any astronauts or flight crew people in the decision that led up to the launch; very little, if any. So that led to some changes that have evolved over time where there are more and more astronauts that have been involved in that decision-making process at the highest levels, either within the Space Shuttle program or in the related activities, where be­fore it was like, “Yeah, those guys will make the right decision, and we’ll go fly."

Along those same lines, Fred Gregory commented that the tragedy was a moment of realization for many about the dangers of spaceflight.

The first four missions we called test flights, and then on the fifth mission we de­clared ourselves operational. We were thinking offlying journalists, and we had Pete Aldridge, who was the secretary of the air force. [about to fly]. I mean, we were thinking of ourselves as almost like an airline at that point. It came back safely. Everything was okay, even though there may have been multiple failures or things that had degraded. When we looked back, we saw that, in fact, we had had this erosion of those primary and secondary O-rings, but since it was a successful mission and we came back, it was dismissed almost summarily. I think there was a realization that we were vulnerable, and that this was not an airliner, flying to space was risky, and that we were going to have to change the approach that we had taken in the past.

During the investigation, new light was shined on past safety issues and close calls. Astronaut Don Lind recalled being informed of a situation that occurred on his 51B mission, less than a year earlier.

What happened was that Bob Overmyer and I had shared an office for three and a half years, getting ready for this mission. Bob, when they first started the

Challenger investigation, was the senior astronaut on the investigation team. He came back from the Cape one day, walked in the office, slumped down in the chair, and said, “Don, shut the door." Now, in the Astronaut Office, if you shut the door, it’s a big deal, because we tried to keep an open office so people could wander in and share ideas. . . . So I shut the door, and Bob said, “The board today found out that on our flight nine months previously we almost had the same explosion. We had the same problems with the O-rings on one of our boosters." We talked about that for a few minutes, and he said, “The board thinks we came within fifteen seconds of an explosion. ”

After learning this, Lind traveled out to what was then Morton Thio – kol’s solid rocket booster facility in Utah to find out exactly what had hap­pened on his flight.

Alan McDonald, who was the head of the Booster Division, sat down with me. . . . He got out his original briefing notes for Congress, which I now have, and outlined exactly what had happened. There are three separate O-rings to seal the big long tubes with the gases flowing down through them at about five thousand degrees and 120 psi. The first two seals on our flight had been total­ly destroyed, and the third seal had 24 percent of its diameter burned away. McDonald said, “All of that destruction happened in six hundred millisec­onds, and what was left of that last O-ring if it had not sealed the crack and stopped that outflow of gases, if it had not done that in the next two hundred to three hundred milliseconds, it would have been gone all the way. You’d nev­er have stopped it, and you’d have exploded. So you didn’t come within fifteen seconds of dying, you came within three-tenths of one second of dying. " That was thought provoking.

In the wake of the Challenger disaster, all future missions were scrubbed and the flight manifest was replanned. Some missions were rescheduled with new numbers and only minor changes, while other planned missions and payloads were canceled entirely.

Recalled Charlie Walker of the electrophoresis research he had been con­ducting, “The opportunity just went away with the national policy changes; commercial was fourth priority, if it was a priority at all, for shuttle man­ifest. . . . Shuttle would not be flying with the regularity or the frequency that had been expected before.”

The plans to use the Centaur upper stage to launch the Ulysses and Gal­ileo spacecraft from the shuttle were also canceled as a result of the acci­dent. Astronaut Mike Lounge had been assigned to the Ulysses Centaur flight, which was to have flown in spring 1986 on Challenger. “So when we saw Challenger explode on January 28, before that lifted off, I remember thinking, ‘Well, Scobee, take care of that spaceship, because we need it in a couple of months.’ We would have been on the next flight of Challenger"

Lounge recalled that his crew was involved in planning for the mis­sion during the Challenger launch. They took a break from discussing the risky Centaur mission, including ways to eject the booster if necessary, so that they could watch the 51L launch on a monitor in the meeting room. Lounge said the disaster shone a new light on the discussions they’d been having. “We assumed we could solve all these problems. We were still ba­sically bulletproof. Until Challenger, we just thought we were bulletproof and the things would always work.”

Rick Hauck, who was assigned to command the Ulysses Centaur mission, was glad to see the mission canceled. “Would it have gotten to the point where I would have stood up and said, ‘This is too unsafe. I’m not going to do it’?” Hauck said. “I don’t know. But we were certainly approaching lev­els of risk that I had not seen before.”

For Bob Crippen, the Challenger accident would result in another loss, that of his final opportunity for a shuttle flight. The ramifications of the ac­cident meant that he ended his career as a flight-status astronaut the same way he began it—in the crew quarters for Vandenberg’s SLC-6 launch com­plex, waiting for a launch that would never come. In the 1960s that launch had been of the Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory. In 1986 it was shuttle mission 62A.

“If I have one flying regret in my life, it was that I never had an oppor­tunity to do that Vandenberg mission,” Crippen said.

We [had been] going to use filament-wound solid rockets, whereas the solid rock­ets that we fly on board the shuttle have steel cases. That was one of the things, I think, that made a lot of people nervous. . . . We needed the filament-wounds to get the performance, the thrust-to-weight ratio that we needed flying out of Vandenberg. So they used the filament-wound to take the weight out. After we had the joint problem on the solids with Challenger; most people just couldn’t get comfortable with the filament-wound case, so that was one of the aspects of why they ended up canceling it.

As the agency, along with the nation, was reevaluating what the future of human spaceflight would look like, what things should be continued, and what things should be canceled, the astronauts in the corps had to make the same sorts of decisions themselves. Many decided that the years-long gap in flights offered a good time to leave to pursue other interests, but many stayed on to continue flying.

“I think it was a very sobering time,” Jerry Ross said. “I mean, we always knew that that was a possibility, that we would have such a catastrophic ac­cident. I think there was a lot of frustration that we found out fairly soon afterwards that the finger was being pointed at the joint design and, in fact, that there had been quite a bit of evidence prior to the accident that that joint design was not totally satisfactory. Most of us had never heard that. We were very shocked, disappointed, mad.”

Several astronauts left the office relatively soon after the accident, Ross said, and a stream of others continued to leave for a while afterward. “There were more people that left for various different reasons; some of them for frustration, some of them knowing that the preparations for flight were go­ing to take longer, some of them responding to spouses’ dictates or requests that they leave the program now that they’d actually had an accident.”

Ross discussed his future at NASA with his family and admitted to hav­ing some uncertainty at first as to what he wanted to do.

I had mixed feelings at first about wanting to continue to take the risk of fly­ing in space, but at the same time, all of the NASA crew members on the shuttle were good friends of mine, and I felt that if I were to quit and everybody else were to quit, then they would have lost their lives for no good benefit or progress. If you reflect back on history, any great undertaking has had losses; you know, wagon trains going across the plains or ships coming across the ocean. I was just watching a TV show that said in the 1800s, one out of every six ships that went across. . . the ocean from Europe to here didn’t make it. So there’s risk involved in any type of new endeavor that’s going on. And I got into the program with my eyes wide open, both for the excitement and the adventure of it, but also I felt very strongly that it was important that we do those kinds of things for the future of mankind and for the good of America.

After getting through the shock and getting through the memorial services and all that, even though I was frustrated I wasn’t getting a whole lot to do to help with the recovery effort, I was very determined that I was not going to leave, after talking with the family and getting their agreement, and that I was going to do whatever I could to help us get back to flying as soon as we could and to do it safer.

Bold They Rise

After John Young and I made the first flight of the Space Shuttle aboard Co­lumbia all those years ago, people would sometimes ask me what the best part of the flight was. I would always use John’s classic answer: “The part between takeoff and landing.”

Now that it’s all said and done, I think that describes what the best part of the Space Shuttle program was: the part between our first launch in April 1981 and the last landing in July 2011.

There were some low points in between, particularly the loss of both of the orbiters I had the privilege to fly and their crews, but as a whole I think the shuttle has been one of the most marvelous vehicles that has ever gone into space—a fantastic vehicle unlike anything that’s ever been built.

The Space Shuttle has carried hundreds of people into space and deliv­ered hundreds of tons of payloads into space. The shuttle gave us the Gali­leo and Magellan probes, which opened our eyes to new worlds, and it let us not only launch the Hubble Space Telescope but also repair and upgrade it time and time again, and Hubble has revolutionized our understanding of not only our solar system but the entire universe. The shuttle carried a lot of classified military payloads early on that probably helped the United States win the Cold War.

The Space Shuttle let us build the International Space Station. The Space Station is an incredible accomplishment, a marvelous complex, but it was the Space Shuttle that taught us that we could build a complicated space vehicle and make it work very well. The Space Station would not have been possible without the Space Shuttle.

But in those early days, I think the shuttle did something else, a little less concrete but just as important. The late ’70s and early ’80s weren’t re­ally a great time for the United States. We’d basically lost the Vietnam War. We’d been through economic hard times, through the hostage crisis in Iran.

President Reagan was shot just before our flight on STS-i. And morale for a lot of people in the country was really low. People were feeling like things just weren’t going right for us.

And that first flight, it was obvious that it was a big deal. It was a big thing for NASA, but it was a big thing for the country. It wasn’t just our ac­complishment at NASA; it was an American accomplishment. It was a mo­rale booster for the United States. It was a rallying point for the American people. And the awareness may not be as high now as it was then, but I think that’s still true today. I think you saw that when the shuttle made its last flight; the pride people had in what it had accomplished and the fact that a million people watched it. When I talk to people, they think space exploration is something we need to be doing, for the future of the United States and humankind.

The retirement of the shuttle was kind of bittersweet for me. I’m proud of all it’s accomplished, and I’m sorry to see it end. But I believe in moving on. I’d like to see us get out of Earth orbit and go back to the moon, and to other destinations, and eventually to Mars.

John and I got to see a lot of the development of the Space Shuttle first­hand. As astronauts, we were involved from an operations standpoint, and as the first crew, John and I visited the sites where they were working on the shuttle, getting it ready to fly. We had an outstanding, dedicated team, people who really believed they were doing something important for the nation. When we finally got into the shuttle for that first flight, meeting those thousands of people gave me a lot of confidence that we had a good vehicle to fly on.

I never expected to be selected for that first flight. I thought they would pick someone more experienced to fly with John. I was excited that they picked me, and I was honored to be a part of that flight. All told, that flight was the beginning of something truly amazing, and I’m honored to be one of the thousands of people who made it happen.

Bob Crippen


When I (David) first became involved in the Outward Odyssey series, working on the Skylab volume, my coauthors and I were shown a list of proposed titles for the first eight books in the series. As authors working on our first book, coming up with a title seemed like one of the more ex­citing parts of the job. We were thus somewhat pleased to be disappointed with the working title the publisher had provided: “Exemplary Outpost.” It was an accurate title, but it lacked the poetry of the other titles on the list—titles like Into That Silent Sea and In the Shadow ofthe Moon. I’m not sure that we quite lived up to that standard with Homesteading Space, but we made our best effort.

Even though it meant giving up the privilege of titling this volume, Heather and I were quite happy to go along with the name the publisher had suggested for this book: Bold They Rise. It was, quite literally, poetic, taken from the poem by series editor Colin Burgess that appears as the epigraph.

When we first read the poem, very early on in the process of writing this volume, we pictured the title as being about the Space Shuttles themselves, reflecting the poem’s reference to “winged emissaries.” As the book took shape, however, we realized that was no longer true; the title had taken on a new meaning for us. Rather than being about the hardware, it was about the men and women who risked their lives to expand humankind’s frontiers.

And in that vein, this book owes an incredible debt of gratitude to the NASA Johnson Space Center (jsc) Oral History Project, without which it quite literally would not exist.

With Homesteading Space, it was relatively easy to create a book that filled a unique niche—with a few notable exceptions, such as a handful of official NASA publications and David Shayler’s Skylab, very little had been written about America’s first space station. Breaking new ground was not a particular challenge.

With this book, the challenge was a little greater. There are more books about the Space Shuttle program, so it was somewhat harder to create some­thing unique. Most of the previous works, however, fall into one of three categories—technical volumes, which span the entire program but include none of the human experience; astronaut memoirs, which relate the hu­man experience, but only from one person’s perspective; or specific histories, which are more exhaustive but focus on only a limited slice of the program.

Based on the overall goal of the Outward Odyssey series, a new niche we could address became clear—a book relating the human experience of the Space Shuttle program, not limited to one person’s story but including a variety of viewpoints and spanning the early years of the program. Origi­nally the goal was to create a “Homesteading Space of the shuttle program,” but it quickly became apparent that was a misdirected goal. Homesteading had only three manned missions to cover, and thus we could delve much deeper and more broadly in covering them. To attempt to write about the subject of this book in that manner would be to do either the subject or the reader a grave disservice; we needed to narrow our approach to create something that was both relevant and readable.

When we began reading from the jsc oral history interviews early in our research, the ideal approach for the book became apparent. Here was a wealth of first-person experience, describing in detail what it was like to be there—what it was like to involved in the design of a new spacecraft, what it was like to risk one’s life testing that vehicle, what it was like to do things that no one had done before in space, what it was like to float freely in the vacuum of space as a one-man satellite, what it was like to hold thousands of pounds of hardware in one’s hands, what it was like to watch friends die.

This book almost exclusively offers the astronauts’ perspective on the early years of the Space Shuttle program, and, while research for the vol­ume drew on several resources, the extensive quoted material draws heavi­ly from the jsc Oral History Project. It’s the astronauts’ story, told in their own words, about their own experiences.

Bold They Rise is not a technical volume. We would love for this volume to inspire you seek out another book that delves more deeply into the tech­nical aspects of the shuttle. There are parts of the story that we had to deal with in what seemed like a relatively superficial manner; even dedicating an entire chapter to the Challenger accident and the effects it had seems woeful­ly insufficient. Entire books could, and have, been written about the Chal­lenger accident. If this book leaves you wanting to know more about that incident or other aspects of the shuttle’s history, we encourage you to seek out those volumes. And of course, individual astronauts have told their sto­ries in memoirs with more personality than we were able to capture here. The subject of this book is such that it can’t be covered by any one volume exhaustively, but hopefully we have provided a unique, informative, and engaging overview here.

The chronological scope of the book was also set by the publisher to fit within the Outward Odyssey series. (Another volume, written by Rick Houston, picks up the Space Shuttle story where this one leaves off.) Ini­tially, the ending point of the book was a bit discomfiting; the Challenger accident seemed a rather low note on which to end a book. There were any number of successes both before and after Challenger. Why would one pick the lowest point of the early years as a place to end the story? But, in a very real way, it was the best possible way to turn this history into a story arc.

As astronaut Mike Mullane wrote in his memoir Riding Rockets,

The NASA team responsible for the design of the Space Shuttle was the same team that had put twelve Americans on the Moon and returned them safely to Earth across a quarter million miles of space. The Apollo program represented the greatest engineering achievement in the history of humanity. Nothing else, from the Pyramids to the Manhattan Project, comes remotely close. The men and women who were responsible for the glory of Apollo had to have been af­fected by their success. While no member of the Shuttle design team would have ever made the blasphemous claim, “We’re gods. We can do anything," the reality was this: The Space Shuttle itself was such a statement. Mere mortals might not be able to design and safely operate a reusable spacecraft boosted by the world’s largest, segmented, uncontrollable solid-fueled rockets, but gods certainly could.

That, then, is the story of this book—a Greek tragedy about hubris and its price. It’s a story of the confidence that bred some of the most amazing achievements in human history but also led to overconfidence.

But make no mistake, this book is also a love letter. Both authors of this volume were born after the end of the last Saturn-Apollo flight; the Space Shuttle is “our” spacecraft. The Challenger accident occurred when we were still children; it was our “where were you” equivalent of the Kennedy assas­sination. In our “day jobs” as NASA education writers, we wrote extensively about the shuttle, its crews, its missions, its accomplishment and ultimate­ly its retirement. We write this with a fondness for the shuttle, even when that means telling the story with warts-and-all honesty.

It’s been an honor and a pleasure to tell this story. We hope you enjoy reading it.

David Hitt

Heather R. Smith


As mentioned in the preface but bears repeating, this volume owes a great deal of gratitude to the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project, with­out which it would not exist.

In addition, we are grateful to the University of Nebraska Press, and in particular to senior editor Rob Taylor, for their dedication to chronicling the history of space exploration through their publication of the Outward Odyssey series and specifically through their help and support with this vol­ume. In addition, the authors wish to express their substantial thanks to Outward Odyssey series editor Colin Burgess, who has been a loyal shep­herd, a wise counsel, and a good friend during the process.

It was an incredible honor to have astronaut Bob Crippen agree to write the foreword for this volume. For David, the journey to writing this book begins in a very real way in front of a television set in 1981 watching Bob Crippen and John Young make history, and to conclude that journey with Crippen being a part of this project is a surreal bookend to the experience.

Astronaut (and Homesteading Space coauthor) Owen Garriott provided much assistance early in the project, making contacts and helping to get things moving, and that assistance is much appreciated. In addition, astro­naut Bo Bobko was also involved in the early stages of the book and pro­vided insight into its direction and helped open some doors. Astronauts Hank Hartsfield and Joe Kerwin and nasa legends Chris Kraft and George Mueller also provided us with material for the book.

Phillip Fox, Jon Meek, Jordan Walker, Rebecca Freeman, Lauren McPher­son, and Suzanne Haggerty read early portions of this book in progress and pro­vided feedback.

On a personal note, the authors wish to acknowledge Finn and Caden Smith, ages seven and five at the time the original manuscript was finished, for their sacrifices during deadline work on this book.

In addition, David would like to thank the following:

Heather, who for years has made my writing better and without whom I could not have written this book.

As per last time, my father, Bill Hitt, for engendering my interest in spaceflight that set me on the path to, among other things, writing this book. Jim Abbott, for giving me my first break and being a brilliant editor and a wonderful mentor and for shaping the man I am today. Holly Snow, for opening the door for my new involvement with nasa.

Owen Garriott and Joe Kerwin, for sponsoring me through Olympus and for sharing their stories, their insight, their knowledge, their expertise, and their friendship.

All of those who traveled with me on multiple road trips to Kennedy Space Center, which occasionally involved successfully watching shuttle launches.

Heather would like also to thank the following:

David, for offering me the opportunity to coauthor a book and for shep­herding me through the process.

Mrs. Hughes, for seeing potential in the writing skills of a young, tenth – grade Heather and inviting her to write for the school yearbook staff, spark­ing an interest in writing and communication that led me down this career path. Mr. Sandy Barnard, for believing that I could write and write well whatever I put my pen to.

The Times-Mail in Lawrence County, Indiana, the proud home to three astronauts, including Charlie Walker, who is quoted extensively in this book, for giving me my first professional writing job and an occasional space-related assignment that made a big difference in me ending up writ­ing at NASA and thus ending up writing this book. I was blessed to work in a community that adores its hometown astronauts and that still gets ex­cited about spaceflight.

Starbucks locations in Huntsville, Alabama, and Nashville, Tennessee, and the Flint River Coffee Company in Huntsville, Alabama, for hospi­tality and tasty coffee. Portions of this book were written and edited there.

And most important, God my Father. Any writing talent that I possess is a gift from You, and You have shepherded my life and career. May You get any and all glory for this volume.

Bold They Rise

The Feeling of Flying

On the one hand is the idea. On the other, the reality.

Sometimes the latter fails to live up to the former. The reality of expe­rience doesn’t always measure up to the way we picture it. So often in the case of space exploration, however, it is the idea that utterly fails to do jus­tice to the reality.

For example, countless descriptions of the Space Shuttle document its specifications to the smallest of details. But knowing that the vehicle stands 184 feet tall and weighs 4.5 million pounds fueled for launch doesn’t begin to capture the experience of standing at the base of the vehicle as it towers on the launchpad.

“I wasn’t intimidated by it,” recalled astronaut Mike Lounge of the first time he saw the fully stacked vehicle. “Well, that’s not exactly true. The first time we went down to the Cape on our class tour, my reaction when see­ing the pad, at seeing the orbiter and all that, is, ‘My God, this stuff’s too big. It can’t possibly fly.’ I think that’s a common reaction. I knew how big it was, but it’s different when you actually see it and you’re walking under­neath the orbiter and all this stuff. But having gotten over that, it was kind of fun to be there with the hardware. Everyone enjoys hardware over sim­ulations and paper.”

If the vehicle itself transcends expectations, NASA’s astronauts found that so, too, did the experience of actually flying aboard the Space Shuttle. Those expectations would have gradually mounted during months of mis­sion preparation and training, but the experience would truly begin in ear­nest when the highly anticipated launch day arrived.

For an astronaut, that first launch day comes only after years with NASA. Since 1978 astronauts have first been selected as “candidates” and must com­plete an initial orientation period, replete with training in almost every as­pect of the agency’s work, before becoming official members of the corps.

Then there are ground assignments supporting the program in ways that have nothing to do with getting ready for a mission.

And then, finally, years after selection, there’s the crew assignment. Fol­lowed by more training and preparation. There’s practice on the gener­al things that will occur during the mission, like launch and landing, to make sure everyone is ready. There’s practice for all the things that theoret­ically could occur during the mission but shouldn’t, the potential anoma­lies and malfunctions the astronauts have to be ready for. There’s training on mission-specific tasks, the unique things each astronaut will have to do on this particular flight. There’s preparation, working with the scientists or engineers or companies or countries responsible for the mission payloads to make sure that those, too, are ready to go. So when launch day finally arrives, it’s a long-awaited culmination of a great deal of time and effort.

Astronaut Terry Hart recalled his launch day at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (ksc) in Florida, home of the Space Shuttle’s launch complexes: “It was a clear, cool morning there and we went through the whole morning, going through the traditions of having breakfast together, and there was al­ways a cake there for the crew before they go out. And then going into the van and realizing that all the Mercury guys went on that van, it was really a very heady experience.”

For three-time shuttle veteran David Leestma, that experience of wav­ing to people while walking out to the Astrovan, suited up and ready for launch, was a memorable moment. “We always called that the last walk on Earth,” Leestma said. “There’s always crowds of people there to see you in case you never come back or something. It was one of those little bits of kind of gruesome humor. And then you go out to the launchpad, and you’ve been through this. You’ve been there many times before, because you train in the orbiter a few times and you have countdown demonstra­tion tests and things. And this time you get to the pad and there’s nobody there. You go, ‘Ooh.’ And the vehicle is steaming and creaking and groan­ing and you go, ‘This is for real.’”

On the launchpad, the Space Shuttle is positioned vertically, its three major components having been stacked together in the enormous Vehi­cle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center before having been rolled out—slowly—to the launchpad atop a huge crawler. Standing tallest is the orange-brown external tank. The external tank has no engines of its own but carries the liquid fuel for the launch in two separate tanks, one con­taining liquid oxygen and the other holding liquid hydrogen. The tanks are supercooled to maintain the fuels at the cryogenic temperatures need­ed to keep them in liquid state—below minus four hundred degrees Fahr­enheit in the case of the hydrogen. Fully fueled, the external tank weighs about 1.7 million pounds.

On either side of the external tank is a slender, white solid rocket boost­er (srb), the two of which together provide the bulk of the power for the first two minutes of the launch. Once ignited, they together provide 6.2 million pounds of thrust. Their name comes from the fact that they carry their propellant—consisting largely of aluminum mixed with an oxidizer to cause it to burn—in a solid, rubbery form.

And then there’s the orbital spacecraft itself, the winged, white-and-black orbiter. Near the nose of the orbiter is the crew cabin, where the astronauts fly the vehicle and live during their mission. Farther aft is the payload bay, with its two large doors. And in the rear are the three Space Shuttle main engines, fueled by the external tank, each capable of generating a thrust of almost half a million pounds.

By launch day, the launch complex’s servicing structure has been rotated back, revealing the orbiter. The shuttle is ready for its crew. The entrance to the orbiter is through a hatch in the side of the crew cabin, near the top of the vertically stacked vehicle, almost 150 feet above the launchpad.

Leestma recalled the process of boarding the vehicle via an elevator in the launch tower and a gantry arm near the top of the structure:

As usual, people don’t say much in elevators. It’s true whether you’re in a hotel or on the launchpad. You kind of watch the numbers tick by, and instead offloors, they do everything in feet in the elevators, so you’re so many feet above sea level. And then across the gantry, and when you walk across the gantry you’re looking down into the flame trench. And you’ve been there before, but the obvious thing that’s striking you is that this is for real, we’re going to go. At least you hope we’re going to go today. . .. You get up to the White Room, the access arm, and there’s only two, maybe three people there and that’s it. There’s nobody else on the pad and everybody’s blocked off for four or five miles away. This is for real. And it’s groaning and moaning and you know that it’s going to launch, and it’s fueled and ready to go. It’s a big bomb there, sitting on the pad. And you hope that all the fire goes down and you go up, and let’s go, let’s get on it with it. It’s great…. We got strapped in, and again, the guys strapping us in were a lot of the same guys that strapped in Al Shepard on his flight [to become the first American in space during Project Mercury]. So it was a very heady time. . . . You get in and you just cant wait for it to happen.

Astronaut Jerry Ross, who was the first to launch into space seven times, said journeying out to the launchpad when the vehicle is fully fueled and ready to go is quite different than going out there any other time, not only because of the reality of the situation, but because the shuttle itself is different.

The vehicle really does give you this sense that it’s an animal that’s awake and just ready to go do something. When you go out there and the vehicle’s not fu­eled, it’s not hissing, it’s not boiling off vapors, it’s not making noises that you don’t hear, that you do hear when it’s fueled. And there’s the tremendous amount of anticipation. My first flight was the twenty-third flight of the shuttle, and I had listened to every crew come back, and I took very detailed notes of their debriefings, which were quite exhaustive early on. I listened to everything they said, and they would give us a very detailed description of what it was like, what the sensations were of launch. I put that into my databank, and I would daydream about that when I’d go running or work out at the gym or something like that. I knew it was going to be a pretty exciting ride.

The crew cabin of the shuttle has two levels. The “upper” deck is the flight deck, where the commander and pilot sit at the vehicle’s controls, with a bank of large windows in front of them. The flight deck has room for up to two more astronauts to sit during launch, and behind them are windows looking into the payload bay and the controls for the orbiter’s robotic arm.

Below the flight deck is the mid-deck, where the rest of the crew sits during launch. Once in orbit, the mid-deck serves as the primary living area for the crew, with storage lockers and the orbiter’s kitchen and bathroom and main sleeping area. The mid-deck also provides access to the vehicle’s payload bay. During launch, the mid-deck has very limited visibility, and the astronauts sitting there depend largely on word from the flight deck and the very ob­vious physical sensations of launch to know what’s going on during ascent.

Prior to launch, once the crew members have boarded the orbiter and been strapped into their seats, the waiting begins. Traditionally, the astro-

The Feeling of Flying

і. sTs-1 crew members Commander John Young (left) and Pilot Bob Crippen inside Space Shuttle
Columbia in the Orbiter Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. Courtesy nasa.


nauts board about three hours before the scheduled launch time, lying on their backs in their chairs until launch.

Very often, this is as far as things get. Any number of issues, from unac­ceptable weather conditions to a technical glitch with the vehicle and more, can result in the launch being scrubbed and pushed back. In those cases, the astronauts are helped out of the vehicle, and work begins to prepare for the next launch attempt. “Probably one of the most frustrating things is when you get near your takeoff time, your launch time, and then you know there’s a problem, and you go, ‘Please solve it. We don’t want to wait here. Get us off the pad,’” noted Leestma. “The last people you want to have to make the real technical decision whether you go or not is the crew, because they’re always, ‘Go.’ ‘Yeah, we’ll be fine. Let’s go.’ That’s why you’ve got a whole team of folks in the launch control room doing that.”

But on other occasions, the weather does what it’s supposed to, the ve­hicle is operating properly, any number of other factors come together as they should, and launch preparations continue to proceed. Finally, as launch nears, the Space Shuttle main engines “gimbal,” or tilt, to test that they will move properly, and at five seconds before launch they are ignited to make sure all three engines are functioning properly. The vehicle contin­ues to sit on the pad, but the firing of the engines causes it to pitch slight­ly. It then rocks slightly back, a process called the “twang,” and when the stack is vertical again, at T minus zero, a spark at the top of the fuel casing of the solid rocket boosters ignites the propellant. With more than seven and a half million pounds of thrust pushing the Space Shuttle upward, it begins to move.

Shuttle pilot and commander Fred Gregory recalled the feeling of the main engines first firing, describing it as almost a nonevent. “You could hear it; you were aware of it. It sounded like some kind of an electric motor at some distance, but you looked out the window and you saw the launch tow­er there and the launch tower moved back. At least that’s what you thought, but then you realized the orbiter was moving forward and then back, and when it came back to vertical, that’s when those solids ignited and there was no doubt about it. You were going to go someplace really fast, and you just watched the tower kind of drop down below you.”

At the very beginning of the ascent, there’s the brilliant light of the en­gines, which no photograph or video can truly capture: a brightness that seems to puncture the sky. The brilliance of the flames from the engine is dramatic during the day, and far more so when they light up the sky at night. Payload specialist astronaut Charlie Walker recalled the experience of launching on the Space Shuttle in the dark:

At night, you look outside, and this launchpad is a blue gray from the xenon light reflections bouncing off of it, with a completely black background behind it. All of a sudden the launchpad brightens up with the solid rockets igniting. The launchpad brightens up to a yellow gray, but then the whole background, suddenly there’s like a sunrise that’s happened over Florida. You can see the Flor­ida landscape for miles back that way. Sure, the sky is still black, but suddenly Florida has been illuminated by a new sunrise. I can see the Florida country­side, and it’s a yellow, white-yellow-orange color, the coloration of the brilliant, hot flame from the solid rocket boosters.

Like Gregory, Jerry Ross recalled that, while he was aware when the main engines first ignited, things didn’t really get exciting until the solid rocket boosters fired.

As the shuttle’s main engines came up, you could really feel the vibrations starting in the orbiter, but when the solid rocket motors hit, when they ignite, it’s somebody taking a baseball bat and swinging it pretty smartly and hitting the back of your seat, because it’s a real “bam!" And the vibration and noise is pretty impressive. The acceleration level is not that high at that point, but there is that tremendous jolt as the solid rocket motors ignite, and you’re off I’ll never forget the vibrations of the solid rocket motors. As we accelerated in the first thirty seconds or so, the wind noise on the outside ofthe vehicle just became really intense, like it was just scream­ing. It was screeching on the outside. I was already thinking about “what am I do­ing here" before then, but [it was] just a sheer, incredible experience ofthe energy.

In many ways the flight deck, with its large windows, is the superior seat­ing for experiencing the launch. In one way, however, the mid-deck has the advantage. Since the pilot and commander are busy with the tasks of mak­ing sure the vehicle is operating properly during ascent, they don’t have the luxury of stopping to really take in the experience of the launch. While the astronauts on the mid-deck don’t have the same view as those on the flight deck, they have the freedom to focus more on the sensations. Hart, for exam­ple, recalled being able, as a mission specialist, to really enjoy the experience.

You talk a lot [to other astronauts about what launch is like], obviously, and you see a lot of pictures, and you think about it a lot, so you think you’re pret­ty well prepared and you probably wont have too many surprises, but I had a couple of surprises. The shake, rattle, and roll for the first two minutes, that was about what I thought, maybe even a little bit less than what I thought it would be, because the solid rockets kind of have a “whoof-whoof" [rumble]. You don’t really hear it; you more feel it. It’s like a very low-frequency rumble, and just a tremendous sense of power as you lift off and all.

Another part of the experience that simply cannot be replicated on the ground is the pressure of the g-forces during ascent, according to sts-6 commander P. J. Weitz: “The value of our simulators ends when those en­gines light and you lift off. They try to fake you out a little bit by tipping the Shuttle Orbiter Simulator and that, but it doesn’t compare with three shuttle main engines and two solids going. As I tell people, I said, ‘You know you’re on your way and you’re going somewhere and you hope they keep pointed in the right direction, because it’s an awesome feeling.’”

Weitz compared the launch of the Space Shuttle to the launch of a Sat­urn IB, which he took into space on the first Skylab mission. The Saturn, he said, produced about half again as much acceleration force as the shut­tle’s three gs, and the force was felt in somewhat different ways on the two vehicles. In the Saturn, the thrust was “actual,” or directly in line with the vehicle, so the crew was pressed directly back into the couches. With the shuttle, on the other hand, because of the way the orbiter is stacked on the external tank, the thrust from the main engines is offset from the ve­hicle’s center of gravity, meaning that the crew members aboard felt the pressure pushing them not only into the back but also into the bottom of their seats.

After clearing the launchpad, the shuttle begins to roll so that the orbit – er is below the external tank, to better allow its engines to offset the tank’s weight. Around one minute into flight, the shuttle encounters “Max Q,” the period in which the increasing velocity of the vehicle produces the max­imum amount of pressure on the shuttle before the decreasing resistance of the atmosphere reduces that pressure. To reduce the strains of the pressure of Max Q, the vehicle throttles down its engines and then, seconds later, past the point of maximum pressure, throttles back up.

Just over two minutes into the launch, the solid rocket boosters separate from the vehicle, and the orbiter and external tank continue toward orbit. The solids deploy parachutes and land in the ocean, where recovery ships locate them and bring them back for refurbishment and reuse.

“At the solid rocket motor separation. . . there was this brilliant orange flash, orangeish-yellow flash across the windscreen, and then the solid rocket motors are gone,” Ross recalled. “As the solid rocket motors tailed off, like at a minute forty-five or so, it almost felt like you had stopped accelerating, almost like you’d stopped going up. At that point we were already Mach 3-plus and well above most of the sensible atmosphere at that point, some twenty miles high or so. And at solid rocket motor jettison, then you’re at four times the speed of sound and twenty, twenty-five miles high.”

Hart also recalled the separation of the solid rockets as a memorable ex­perience. For the first two minutes of ascent, the g-forces that the crew ex­periences have been building up, and then, at srb separation, they drop off dramatically.

Very quickly, then, the solid rockets taper off and separate, and that was the first surprise I had. . .. The sensation that you have at that point I wasn’t quite pre­pared for, because you go from two and a half gs back to about one and a half. Well, when you get used to two and a half, and it feels pretty good. You’re going somewhere, you know. When you go back to one and a half, [it] feels like about a half. So you don’t think like you’re accelerating as much as you should be to get going. And, of course, I had worked the main engine program anyway, so I was very familiar with what the engines could do or not do. And I think in the next minute, every five seconds I checked the main engines to make sure they were running, because I swear we only had two working, because it just didn’t feel like we had enough thrust to make it to orbit. But then gradually the ex­ternal tank gets lighter, and as it does, of course, then, with the same thrust on engines, you begin to accelerate faster and faster. So after a couple of minutes I felt like, yes, I guess they’re all working.

Ross also had the experience of worrying that all main engines were not working when they actually were.

I literally had to look to see that the three main engines were still working, be­cause it became so smooth, and it almost felt like you weren’t going anywhere;

you weren’t accelerating at all. . . . At one point I can remember looking back behind me out the overhead windows again. In artists’ renditions of the flames coming out of the three main engines, it’s a nice, uniform cone of fire back there and stuff. Not true. The fire was all over the place. It was not static. It was dancing. It was not uniform. And again you go, “Is this thing working okay?" You don’t know what to expect.

As the shuttle nears the end of its powered ascent, with the bulk of the atmospheric drag behind it, it begins to accelerate dramatically. “As we got up to about the seven-and-a-half-minute point, then, is when you get to the three gs of acceleration, and that’s a significant acceleration,” Ross said.

It feels like there’s somebody heavy sitting on your chest, and it makes it pret­ty hard to breathe. I mean, you kind of have to grunt to talk, and you’re just waiting for this three gs to go away. . . . You’re accelerating at 100 feet per sec­ond, which is basically like going from 0 to 70 miles per hour every second. So it’s pretty good. And then at the time that the computers sense the proper condi­tions, the main engines. . . shut off and you’re in zero g. And for me, the first flight, sitting in the back seat, I had the sensation of tumbling head over heels, a weird sensation. And it was the three-g transition, from three gs to zero gs…. But as soon as I got out of the seat, then I was okay.

The main engine cutoff, or meco, comes around eight and a half minutes into the launch, and shortly thereafter the external tank sepa­rates from the orbiter and reenters Earth’s atmosphere. As the only ma­jor component of the shuttle stack that isn’t reusable, the external tank burns up on reentry.

Gregory explained how he felt in that moment, when the main engines cut off and he was floating in the microgravity of space: “The first indica­tion that this was not a simulation was when the main engines cut off and we went to zero g, and though [Steven] Hawley, I think, had been attrib­uted with this comment, it was a common comment: ‘Is this space? Is this it? Is this real?’ And it was an amazing feeling. I’d never sensed anything like this before. So this sensation of zero g was like a moment on a roller coaster, when you go over the top and everything just floats.”

Hart described being surprised once in orbit, but unlike Ross and Greg­ory, not by the experience of zero g.

The zero g I was pretty well prepared for. As a fighter pilot and the experience at NASA in the zero-g trainer, you’re pretty familiar with what it feels like to be weightless. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the first look out the window. You don’t know what black is until you see space. I mean, I was startled with just how black it was. You don’t see stars. You could barely see the moon; it’s be­cause there’s so much light coming off the Earth and off the tiles of the shuttle, that there’s a tremendous ambient light from all those sources, so your eyes are constricted greatly. And then because of that constriction, when you look into space you can’t see the stars or anything. I mean, it’s like really black. It’s pal­pable. You think you can almost reach out and touch it. I don’t know quite how to describe it. It’s sort of like black velvet, but it’s just totally palpable. . . . I guess I knew that I wouldn’t be able to see the stars when we were on the day side of the Earth. But still, when you look out there and see the blackness, it re­ally was striking to me.

While most astronauts report experiencing an overwhelming excitement or elation upon their first arrival in orbit, Fred Gregory jokingly recalled an odd bit of disappointment stemming from his first ascent. “Since we had trained constantly for failures, I anticipated failures and was somewhat dis­appointed that there were no failures, because I knew that any failure that occurred, I could handle. It was where I slipped back into an ego thing. I anticipated failures that I would correct and then the newspaper would say, ‘Gregory Saves Shuttle,’ but heck, none of that happened. It just went up­hill, just as sweet as advertised.”

As pilot, Gregory said his main job once the vehicle was on orbit was to make sure it was working properly. Since there were no major issues, he found that he had frequent opportunities for looking out the window. Said Gregory,

You immediately realize that you are either a dirt person or a space person. I ended up being a space person, looking out in space. It was a high-inclination orbit, so we went very low in the southern hemisphere, and I saw a lot of star formations that I had only heard about before and never seen before. I also saw aurora australis, which is the southern lights. I was absolutely fascinated by that. But if you were an Earth person, or dirt person, you were amazed at how quickly you crossed the ground; how, with great regularity, every forty-five min – utesyou’d either have daylight or dark; how quickly that occurred, about seven miles per second; how quickly you crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Although he was a self-described “space person,” Gregory still enjoyed occa­sionally gazing down on Earth below him and found it a fascinating experience.

The sensation that I got initially was that from space you cant see discernible borders and you begin to question why people don’t like each other, because it looked like just one big neighborhood down there. The longer I was there, the greater my “a citizen of" changed. The first couple of days DC was where I con­centrated all my views, and I was a citizen of Washington DC. I was confused because I thought everybody loved DC, but [Bob] Overmyer was from Cleveland [Ohio], and Don Lind was Salt Lake [City, Utah], and Norm [Thagard] was Jacksonville, Florida, and Lodewijk [van den Berg] was the Netherlands, and Taylor Wang was Shanghai [China], so each had their own little location for the first couple of days. After two days, I was from America, looked at Ameri­ca as our home. Taylor, China. Europe for Lodewijk. And after five or six days, the whole world became our home.

During his flight, Gregory developed a sense not only of Earth as a whole being his home but of just how interconnected the global community truly

is, and the extent to which all people are sharing one planet.

You could see this kind of sense of ownership and awareness. We had noticed with interest the fires in Brazil and South Africa and the pollution that came from Eastern Europe, but it was only with interest. After five or six days, then it was of concern, because you could see how the particulates from the smokestacks in Eastern Europe, how that circled the Earth and how this localized activity had a great effect. When you looked down at South Africa and South America, you became very sensitized to deforestation and what the results of it was with the runoff how it affected the ecology. Then you’d have to back up and say, well, this is not an intentional thing to destroy; this is something that they use coke as part of their process, and in order to get coke, you’ve got to burn. So you be­gan to look at things from different points of view, and it was a fascinating ex­perience. So that was the science that I was engaged in, but never anticipated

it. And it was a discovery for me, so as each of these other great scientists who were with us discovered something that they had never anticipated, I also did, and I think the whole crew had.

In order to live and work in space during their missions, astronauts must learn to adapt to the microgravity environment, and that adaptation varies from individual to individual. Part of the adaptation is simply learning to get around; moving through the vehicle without gravity is an entirely dif­ferent process than walking through it on the ground. For many other as­tronauts, adaptation involves a physical unease as the vestibular system ad­justs to the lack of the orienting influence of gravity.

While it may take different amounts of time for astronauts to be back to 100 percent, most are at least functioning fairly quickly, Gregory said.

Whatever the adaptation was, within a day, everybody had adapted to it and so it was just a matter of working on all the programs and projects of the proj­ects that you had. The body very quickly adapted to this new environment, and it began to change. You could sense it when you were on orbit. You learned that your physical attitude in relation to things that looked familiar to you, like walls and floors and things like that, didn’t count anymore, and you translat­ed [from thinking about] floors and ceilings and walls to [thinking]your head is always up and your feet are always down. That was a subconscious change in your response; it was an adjustment that occurred up there. You also learned that you didn’t go fast, that you could get from one place to the other quickly, but you didn’t have to do it in a speedy way. You always knew that when you started, you had to have a destination, and you had to have something that you could grab onto when you got there. But, again, this was a transition that occurred, perhaps subtly, but over a very short period of time. I can remember we all kind of joked up there that we had become space things, and we were no longer Earth things anymore. The first couple of days, a lot of bloated faces, because there was no gravity settling of the liquids. But after a couple of days, you lost that liquid in your body, and you looked quite normal. So it was a fas­cinating experience. I think it was surprising to us how quickly we adapted to this microgravity environment.

With launch complete and their bodies adapting to space, the astronauts would go about their mission, spending days on any variety of different tasks carried out by shuttle crews during the early years of the program. Finally, though, the time would come to return to Earth. The orbiter would turn backward relative to its velocity and fire its engines to slow itself down, be­fore rotating back to begin its descent.

The Feeling of Flying

2. During sts-8, Commander Richard “Dick” Truly and Mission Specialist Guion Bluford sleep on
Challengers mid-deck. Courtesy nasa.


The experiences of launch and landing are very different, Gregory said. Ascent is relatively quick and marked by rapid changes in the g-forces ex­perienced by the crew. Landing, on the other hand, is far more gradual.

On reentry, it is entirely different. Though it takes eight and a half minutes to get up to orbit, it takes more than an hour to reenter, and it feels very similar to an airplane ride that most people have been on. You get an excellent view of the Earth. If it’s night when you reenter the atmosphere, then you see a kind of a rolling plasma over the windows. . . . But other than the onset of g that oc­curs at less than 400,000 feet above the Earth, it is like flying in an airplane. The sensations that you have are very similar to a normal domestic airplane flight. You’re going pretty fast, but you are not aware ofit because you’re so high.

It’s an amazing vehicle, because you always know where you are in altitude and distance from your runway. You know you have a certain amount of en­ergy and velocity, and so you also know what velocity you’re supposed to land, and you can watch this amazing electric vehicle calculate and then compen­sate and adjust as necessary to put you in a good position to land. We normal­ly allow the automatic system to execute all the maneuvers for ascent and for reentry, but as we proceed through Mach 1, slowing down for landing, it is customary for the pilot, the commander, to take command of the orbiter and actually fly it in, using the typical airplane controls. But, you know, as I look at it, the ascent is very dramatic. It’s very fast, a lot of movement, but quick. The entry is more civilized but exposes the orbiter to actually a greater danger than the ascent, as far as the influence of the atmosphere on the orbiter. The temperatures on the outside of the orbiter really get hot on reentry, and that’s not the case on ascent.

Astronaut Charlie Bolden flew on the Space Shuttle four times, two of those as commander, and became nasa administrator in 2009. A former naval aviator, Bolden described landing the Space Shuttle as a unique experience. “The entry and landing is unlike almost anything you ever experience in any other kind of aerospace machine because it’s relatively gentle,” Bolden said.

In terms of g-forces and stuff like that, it’s very docile. Unless you do something wrong, you don’t even get up to two gs during the reentry, the entire time of the reentry. When you bank to land, you come overhead the landing site, and then you bank the vehicle and you just come down like a corkscrew. . . . It feels like you’ve got gorillas sitting on your shoulder because you’ve been weightless for x number of days. And so it’s just a really different feeling. You have to hold your head up because you’ve got this big old heavy helmet on and it probably weighs [a few]pounds, but it feels like it weighs a hundred. It takes a little bit ofenergy to get your hands up offthe console, because once you start feeling gravity again, your hands just kind ofgo down and they want to stay there; everything does. So the two pilots on board are doing a lot of isometric exercises all the way down.

Even when an astronaut lands the shuttle for the first time after a mis­sion, Bolden said, it already feels very familiar because of all the training in preparation for the missions. “It’s like you’ve done it all your life, because you have,” Bolden said.

You’ve done it thousands of time by now in the shuttle training aircraft for real, and you’ve done it probably tens of thousands of times in the simulator. So it doesn’t look abnormal at all; it’s just something that you ’re accustomed to. When you touch down, if you do it right, again, you hardly know you touched down. As big as the orbiter is, the way that we land it is we just get it into an extreme­ly shallow approach to the landing, and so it just kind of rolls out on the run­way, and if you do it right, you all of a sudden notice that things are starting to slow down real quick and you’re hearing this rumble because the vehicle’s rolling down the runway on this grooved runway. So you know you’re down, put the nose down and step on the brakes and stop. That’s it. And then you go, “Holy G. I wish it hadn’t been over so quick. " I don’t think it makes a difference how long or how short you’ve been there, it’s over too quick. You’re ready to come home, but once you get back, you say, “Boy, I wish I had had a few more days," or something like that. And for me, my last two, being the commander and actu­ally being the guy that had the opportunity to fly it to touchdown, was thrilling.

Once the landing is completed and the orbiter is safely back on Earth, the crew begins the process of reacclimating to the planet’s strong gravity after days of feeling weightless. Charlie Walker, the first commercial pay­load specialist, who flew on the shuttle three times, recalled waiting in the orbiter at the end of the mission.

The guys on the flight deck were going through the closeout procedures. Ground crews were closing in. We sat unstrapped, but we would sit in our seats for anoth­er ten, fifteen minutes as the ramp was brought up, the sniffers checked for am­monia leaks and/or hypergolic propellant leaks, found none, and put the stairway [up to the hatch], and opened the hatch. All that time, all of us are beginning to get our land legs back, unbuckle, start to try to stand up. “Ah, this doesn’t feel good yet. Wait a little bit longer." So you kind of move around, move your arms first, your feet first, your legs first, then stand up, make sure you’ve got your bal­ance back. The balance is the one thing that you just don’t have. Again, the brain hasn’t been utilizing the inner ear or senses of where the pressure is on the bottom of feet, for instance, to use as cues to balance itself against gravity. It hasn’t done that for a week. So you’ve got to carefully start through all that and consciously think about balance and consciously think about standing up, and we very con­sciously do that, because the last thing you want to do, in front ofhundreds ofmil – lions of people watching on television, is to fall down the ramp leaving the orbiter.

Normally, on Earth, the body works hard to make sure the brain is ad­equately provided with blood. From a circulatory perspective, the brain, the part of the body that most needs blood, is located inconveniently at the top of the body, so the heart has to pump blood against gravity to get it there. In orbit, on the other hand, blood flows much more easily to the head, but it doesn’t fill the legs the same way without gravity pulling blood into them. Astronauts develop bloated heads and “chicken legs” due to the body’s confusion over how to distribute blood without gravity. The body takes the increased fluid flow to the head as a sign that it is overly hydrat­ed and begins to shed what it sees as excess fluid. After the return to Earth, fluid redistributes again, which can cause problems.

“The body adapts by, among other things, letting go of a lot of fluid, about a liter of liquid, which makes you clinically dehydrated while you’re in space, except the whole condition of the body is different up there, so you’re really not dehydrated in that environment,” Walker said.

But if you come back without replacing that liter of fluid, then you are dehy­drated. You try to stand up with not so much fluid to go to the head, and so you literally could pass out. Nobody did that, but I know I had sensations of light­headedness for the first few minutes until I just literally worked at getting my balance back and focusing attention, and the body was adapting all that time, too. But leaving the spacecraft, I was holding onto the handrail as I went down the stairway. Got to the bottom of the stairs, and I was walking like a duck, because I was trying to keep my balance.

Once they’ve adjusted enough to walk, crew members board the Astrovan, which takes them to the medical quarters for postflight medical exams and a shower. Walker said it felt good to take a shower after days without one.

Every sensation for the next many hours, normal sensations of water running over you in a shower, [felt] strange. Because again, here this water’s hittingyou, and it’s running down. And hours later, I found that I still could at any mo­ment just think about the sensations in my body, and it was odd to feel this pull down toward the surface of the Earth, to be stuck to the surface of the Earth. [When I flew], it was still fairly new to hear comics or some wag note that this or that “sucks." [Coming back] the astronauts were saying, “Well, the Earth re­ally does suck." So it keeps me drawn right down to the surface. Gravity is real­ly real, and it stands out in your mind to, again, the freedom of weightlessness when you’ve had that opportunity. And that was just very much on my mind. I remember even a day, two days later, probably like a day later at a meal, I was sitting down, and I could not easily figure out whether I should sit back against the back of the seat or lean forward, because my head was telling me I was leaning forward at an angle, and, in fact, I was sitting almost straight up and down. So the inner ear is still adapting to its own senses and the body’s cues to orient itself and still doesn’t have itself figured out completely yet.

Even if an astronaut spends only a few days in orbit after a lifetime of living in the gravity of Earth, habits developed during those few days of weightlessness can persist for a little while after the mission. “I also remem­ber waking up the next morning back here in Houston, waking up and go­ing into the bathroom and wanting to brush my teeth, and I did that, and I remember letting go of the toothbrush, and it fell to the sink top, and I probably laughed,” Walker noted.

Then I pick up the cup of water to rinse my mouth out, and then proceed to let that cup go again. It’s like, again, you’re still thinking weightlessness, and you’re really used to that. Finding the situation where gravity is ever-present is just such an interesting experience, because now, again, you’ve had that contrast of a dif­ferent place where that wasn’t part of the environment and you note when you get back how remarkable and how constraining gravity is. . . . We’ve all grown up for some decades, before we go fly in space, in gravity, and it’s just natural. Except it is programmed in, and that programming is submerged with new habits that you gained to work in weightlessness, and you have to pull that pro­gramming back, or the brain does, and it does so at different rates, I think. So within tens of minutes, you can walk comfortably. You may look a little odd, because you’re not walking as expertly as you had done for twenty, thirty, forty years before. It takes a few more hours, maybe a couple hours to do that. But you can walk, so balance comes back pretty darn quickly. But it’s probably the nonautomatic stuff like I’ve remarked about just automatically leaving a glass hanging in the air, thinking it’s going to stay there. You just get into habits there that are semiconscious, and it takes a little while for the body and the brain to let go of that and to relearn that, no, I’m stuck here again to the surface of the Earth. I’ve got to put the glass right up here on the table directly.

In the Beginning

Arguably, it could only have happened when it did.

Astronaut John Young, who would go on to become the commander of the first Space Shuttle flight, was standing on the surface of the moon dur­ing the Apollo 16 mission in April 1972 when he heard the news that Con­gress had approved vital funding for the development of the shuttle in its budget for fiscal year 1973. He reportedly jumped three feet into the air on the lunar surface upon hearing the news.

The Space Shuttle would be the most complex piece of machinery built by humankind. It was an incredible challenge and a daunting undertaking. At another point in history, a decade earlier or even a decade later, it might have seemed too challenging, too ambitious. But the project was born when men were walking on the moon. From that perspective, anything was possible.

It would be, far and away, the most versatile spacecraft ever built. But to many of the early astronauts who were involved in its creation, it was some­thing even more fascinating—an aircraft like no other. Talk to the astro­nauts brought in as pilots during the 1960s, and there’s a fair chance they’ll refer to the orbiter as “the airplane.” Many of them will talk about its de­velopment not in terms of rocket engines and life-support systems but in terms of avionics and flight control systems. They had been pilots, many of them test pilots, and they had come to NASA to help the agency fly capsules through space. But now—now they were aircraft test pilots again, helping to design an aircraft that flew far higher and far faster than any aircraft before.

Since the selection of the first astronauts, members of the corps had been involved in the development of new spacecraft and equipment, providing an operator’s perspective. These were the people who would have to use the things that the engineers were designing, so it was their job to give the en­gineers feedback on whether the things they were designing were actually usable. For much of the time the Space Shuttle was being developed, most

of the astronaut corps was grounded, with only a dozen flying between the last moon landing in 1972 and the first shuttle flight in 1981. As a result, there was plenty of opportunity for astronauts to be involved in the devel­opment of the shuttle, and they participated more in the development of this vehicle than any before.

Even so, there were some at nasa with the idea that the moon would be just the first step into the solar system, who were concerned about what the shuttle wouldn’t be able to do—go beyond Earth’s veritable backyard.

In January 1973 astronaut T. K. Mattingly was assigned to be head of As­tronaut Office support to the shuttle program. This was around the same time that the contracts were being awarded to the companies that would be responsible for making the shuttle’s various components. Mattingly, who had orbited the moon on Apollo 16 while Young was walking on it, recalls talking to Deke Slayton, the head of flight crew operations at nasa’s John­son Space Center (jsc) in Houston, Texas, about the assignment. “When I got back from Apollo 16, Deke asked me, he said, ‘You know, there’s only one more flight, so if you really want to fly again anytime near-term, you might want to take the backup assignment on [Apollo] 17,’ he said. ‘Chanc­es aren’t very good, but we do know that we replace people occasionally. So if you would like to have that chance, you can do it, or you could work on the shuttle program.’ Really, I hadn’t paid much attention to it,” Mattingly said of the shuttle program at that point.

I kind of knew the work was going on, but I didn’t know what it was, because my ambition had always been—I didn’t think I would go to [walk on] the moon, but I was really hoping that I’dget to be on the Mars mission, which I was sure was going to happen the following year. To a young kid, it just seemed obvious that the next step is you go to the moon, then you sharpen your tools and you go to Mars, and I thought, “Boy, that’s where I’d like to go. ”

Even by then it was becoming obvious that that wasn’t really a likely propo­sition. I wasn’t enthused about the shuttle because I still thought going to Mars was the next step. I believe that we needed to build a space station first so we could have hardware, which would gather years oflifetime experience while we could get to it and fix it, and we could build the transportation system while we’re gaining the experience with a space station. All of that architecture was obviously politically driven, and they were having to fit into a tighter budget.

There really was not a great swell of emotion or enthusiasm for things follow­ing Apollo in the political arena, nor in the public arena, for that matter. So I think they had to walk some very, very tight lines in order to keep the program going, and so they chose the Space Transportation [System] as the way to go.

George Mueller, the head of manned spaceflight at NASA during the Apollo program and the man many recognize as the father of both the Sky – lab space station and the Space Shuttle program, said that, even with the development of the shuttle, human exploration of other worlds remained the ultimate goal. “It became clear that the cost of getting into orbit was the driver for all future programs. I began to think about, how do you get the cost down. In air travel, you can’t fly from here to London and then throw the plane away when you get to London. What we came up with was a completely reusable vehicle. We had every intention of going back to the moon. What we were doing was going into low Earth orbit and estab­lishing a base there; it was a requirement for reaching our long-term goal.”

Former Johnson Space Center director Chris Kraft recalled the approval of the shuttle as “a real come-down for NASA.”

We, the powers that be at NASA, had grand visions of going back to the moon, having bases on the moon, and on to Mars. They made very significant reports on what the future of NASA could and should be. But when the Nixon admin­istration decided that the limitations of the budget in his [thepresident’s] mind would not allow us to do those kinds of grand things in space, that’s when the powers that be in NASA decided, well, what is the one thing that we need to start the next generation of spaceflight? And that is we need a cost-effective launch system. That’s the first thing we need. If we’re going to go into orbit and do grand things, or if we’re going to put things in orbit and rendezvous and go other places, what we need is a good truck. We called it a truck, at times. And so that’s how we arrived at that being the next step in the space program being a reusable, therefore fly-back vehicle. We signed a fixed-price, seven-and-a-half – billion-dollar contract to build the Space Shuttle, and that was to be provided with annual increases in the budget for inflation. We never got the first piece of inflation at any time in the history of the budget of the shuttle. They welshed on that guarantee immediately, and furthermore, they delayed the program a year and did not give us any relief on the total cost, on the total fixed cost. They didn’t want the money in the budget that year, just that simple. So in the his­tory of the shuttle program, up until we made the first flight, we were always pushing a bow wave of being behind budget.

Many in the astronaut corps had doubts as to what the shuttle decision would mean for the future of exploration. Mattingly considered leaving nasa completely, believing he would probably never leave Earth orbit again.

I went up to pay courtesy calls to the navy after we got back, and John War­ner was then secretary of the navy, and we made a courtesy call to him. He was all enthusiastic. He says, “You navy [astronaut] guys need to come back, and we’ll give you any job you want. You pick it. Whatever you’d like. You want a squadron? You want to do this? Just tell me. It’s yours. ” Boy, my eyes lit up, and I thought, “Wow. ” One of my escort officers was a captain in the Penta­gon. He went back and told his boss, who was the chief of naval aviation, what Warner had said, and very quickly I had an introduction to the chief of na­val aviation, who made sure that I understood that despite what the secretary had said, in the environment we were in, I was not going to come in and take over his squadron. He’d find a place for me, he’d give me a useful job, but don’t think that with the Vietnam War going on and people earning their positions the hard way, that I was going to walk in there and do that. He says, “The sec­retary means well, but we run the show. ”

So armed with that piece of information that if I went back on real navy duty at that point I was probably not going to find a particularly rewarding job, I thought the opportunity to get in on the shuttle at the beginning and go use some of the experience we gained would be useful, so I told my sponsor I’d do whatever the navy preferred I do. After all, they gave me my education and everything else that mattered. “So you tell me, but if I had a vote, I would say why don’t I stay because the shuttle program’s only going to take four years. ” That’s what we were advertising. You know, four years, that’s not all that long. So after a significant amount of discussion within the navy side ofthe Pentagon, they said, “Okay. Well, we agree. You probably can contribute more if you stay there. ” So that lead me to stay with the shuttle program, and so the beginning of that was a period of a great deal ofthe turmoil of getting started.

Step one of designing a Space Shuttle was deciding exactly what a Space Shuttle should be designed to do. Its official name, the Space Transporta­tion System, summarized a basic part of the requirement. The shuttle would transport astronauts and cargo from the surface of Earth into space and back. It also was to be, as much as possible, reusable. The idea was that cre­ating a spacecraft that was as reusable as possible would cut down on what had to be built for each launch, and thus on the cost of each launch. Low­er the cost of putting a pound of material in orbit, and you can put more pounds of material in orbit. The space frontier opens up.

“We had a general idea of what specifications the shuttle was supposed to be, but in those days it was substantially larger and more aggressive than what we know today,” Mattingly said. “So we went through this require­ments refinement where everybody broke up into groups to go lay out what they had to do, and it evolved into something we called design reference missions. Rigidly, the idea was, we knew the shuttle was going to last for decades, and we knew nobody was smart enough to define what those mis­sions that would come after we started were going to evolve into. So we took great pride in trying to define the most stressful missions that we could.” Mattingly said the program initially outlined three types of possible mis­sions. One was for the shuttle to be used as a laboratory. “We laid out all the requirements we could think of for a laboratory—the support and what the people need to work in it, and all that kind of stuff,” Mattingly recalled. A second type of mission was defined as deploying a payload on orbit. “That was to be one that launched and had the manipulator arm and cradles and all of the things necessary to do that.”

Then there was the idea of a polar mission. Such a mission would involve putting the shuttle in a polar orbit—leaving the launch site and heading into a north-south inclination that would cause it to orbit from one pole to the other. A satellite in polar orbit would be able to fly over any point on the surface of Earth—a valuable capability for intelligence gathering. “The polar mission was really shaped after a DoD [U. S. Department of Defense] requirement,” Mattingly said.

The original mission, as I recall, was a one-rev mission. [A “rev" is essentially one orbit around Earth.] You launched, got in orbit, opened the payload bay doors, deployed a satellite, rendezvoused with an existing satellite, retrieved it, closed the doors, and landed. And this was all going to be done in one rev or maybe it was two revs, but it was going to be done so that by the time anyone knew we

In the Beginning

were there, it was all over. Well, we worked on that mission and worked on it and worked on it, and finally it became [two different design reference missions]. We just couldn’t figure out how to do it all on one short timeline.

The military design reference missions were a response to a political exigen­cy NASA had learned to deal with during the 1970s. Most notably, in develop­ing the Skylab space station, nasa found itself competing for funding against the air force, which was seeking money at the same time for its Manned Or­biting Laboratory program. Although the two programs were very different in their goals, they shared enough superficial similarities that Congress ques­tioned why both were necessary. With the shuttle, nasa hoped to avoid a re­peat of this sort of competition, and have an easier sell to Congress, by gain­ing buy-in for the idea from the military. According to astronaut Joe Allen,

Leadership in the early 1970s decided the only way the Apollo-victorious NASA would be given permission to build a reusable space transportation system is that there be identified other users for the system other than just the scientists. This na­tions leadership identified the other users as the military. The Space Shuttle would be used to carry military payloads. The military has its responsibilities, and they said, “All right. If our payloads are going to go aboard, we do have one require­ment; that is that your Space Shuttle be able to take the payloads to orbit, put them there, and land back at the launch site after making only one orbit of the Earth. ”

The need for quick, polar missions greatly affected the design of the shut­tle, yet interestingly the Space Shuttle never flew a polar-orbit mission. “At face value, that doesn’t seem all that difficult to do,” Mattingly said of the polar-orbit missions,

but what it meant was, the shape of the orbiter went from being a very simple lifting body-type shape, with very, very small wings, to a much larger vehicle with delta-shaped wings. I don’t know the exact numbers, but the wings that go to orbit and come home again [make up a large portion of] the weight of the vehicle, and they’re never fully used; only the outermost wingtips are used. All that vast expanse—with all that tile, and all the carbon-carbon [carbon-fiber – reinforced carbon] along the leading edge—is never used. It would be used if it were to go to space in a polar orbit and then come home. It would be used to gain the fifteen hundred miles of cross-range that one needs because the Earth moves fifteen hundred miles in its rotation during the time you’ve gone once around. So you have to have some soaring ability. That’s what these large wings are for. The Space Shuttle would have cost much less money. It would cost much less to refurbish each time. Still, it would not be an economic wonder, but it would be economically okay, were it not for these huge wings. Of course, that requirement, in hindsight, was never used, was never needed, but the current Space Shuttle will forever be burdened with these wings.

Mattingly also said that the design missions established the capabilities that the Space Shuttle system would need to have. Each specification let to a variety of trickle-down requirements, and gradually the vehicle began taking shape.

These requirements we set really had some interesting things. Some of them were politically defined, like you’ll land at any ten-thousand-foot runway in the world. That’s all it takes. In selling the program, they had to appeal to just every constituency you could find to cobble together a consortium of backers that would keep the program sold in Congress. People don’t recognize how that rip­ples back through a design into what you really get, and, of course, by the time you know what you’ve got, the people who put those requirements in, they’re history. So it’s interesting. But that ten-thousand-foot runway requirement set a lot of limits on aerodynamics and putting wings on the airplane. The cross­

range—that was the airforce requirement for this once-aroundpolar mission abort—that sized the wings and thermal conditions. That precluded us from using a design called a lifting body that the folks out at Edwards [Air Force Base, California] had been playing with and had demonstrated in flights. It was structurally a much nicer design, but you just couldn’t handle the aerody­namic characteristics that were required to meet these things. So we had a ver­tical fin on this thing and big wings, and it’s a significant portion of shuttle’s weight, and the maintenance that goes with it is attributed to the same thing.

Mattingly had the unique vantage point of watching the shuttle program evolve from a concept through logistical support into its mature state, he recalled. “I look back and I say, ‘Well, we know what we started to do, and we know what we have, and they’re not always the same. Why?’ Because it was an extraordinary job. Apollo was a challenge because it was just so big and it was audacious, and time frame was tight, and all of those things.” But in many ways, Mattingly said, the shuttle was even more challenging.

Essentially, it was so demanding that all of the engineering and ops [operations] people. . . generally stayed on. We didn’t have a lot of technical attrition after Apollo. At least that’s my impression. At least the middle-level guys all stayed, and they kept working it because they recognized that the shuttle was a far more challenging job than Apollo in many technical senses.

The part ofthe shuttle that was different was Apollo was a collection of boxes. If you had a computer, you could build it, you could test it, you could set it out and do it all by itself. You had a second stage. You could build and test the whole thing by itself. Well, with the concept of this reusability and integration, you didn’t have anything until you had everything. There was no partial thing. There was nothing that was standalone. I remember we were trying to buy off-the-shelf tacans [Tac­tical Air Control and Navigation systems], an airplane navigational system, and as part of this integration process, rather than take the tacan signal that an airplane generated in those days and used for navigation, we stripped it all out and put in all our own software so that this off-the-shelf tacan box was absolutely unique. There was nothing else. And it was part ofthe philosophy of how we built this system.

Despite the areas where the shuttle fell short of the original requirement – based specifications, Mattingly said NASA ended up with a very robust and versatile vehicle because of how ambitious the original discussions were. “At

In the Beginning

4- Possible configurations considered for the Space Shuttle, as of 1970. Courtesy nasa.

the time we were doing this and putting all these requirements on there, we were actually, I think, quite proud of having had the foresight to look at all of these things. Today you can hardly think of a mission. . . you’d like it to do that it can’t do. It is an absolutely extraordinary engineering piece, just unbelievable. The shuttle really did fulfill almost all of the requirements that we were tasked to put into it.”

The shuttle went through a variety of widely different configurations during its early development. An inline version would have had the orbiter on top of a more traditional rocket booster, which would use parachute recovery to make it reusable. Another version would have had the orbiter launched atop essentially another space plane that would fly back to a ground landing site.

Discussions were held as to whether the primary fuel tank, which ended up being the external tank, should be inside the orbiter or not. There were trade-offs, according to Chris Kraft, the Johnson Space Center director at the time. Putting the tank inside the orbiter would have required that the orbiter be much larger but would have greatly increased the reusability of the shuttle system. However, Kraft said, the ultimate limitation was the dif­ficulty of designing an integrated vehicle that wouldn’t suffer substantial damage to the fuel tank during landing.

Another major issue that had to be figured out early on was what sort of escape system should be provided for the crew. The Mercury and Apol­lo capsules both had powerful solid rocket motors in the escape towers at the top of the vehicle that would have been capable of lifting the space­craft away from the booster in case of an emergency. “From the get-go, we tried desperately to put an abort system on the shuttle that would allow us to abort the crew and/or the orbiter off of a malfunctioning solid rocket or malfunctioning ssmes [Space Shuttle main engines],” Kraft said.

Originally we tried putting a solid rocket booster on the ass end of the orbiter, and the more we looked at that, the more we could not come up with a struc­tural aerodynamic qualification and weight that would accomplish that job. We looked at putting a capsule in the structure of the crew cabin, making it some­thing that would separate. We looked at the possibility of putting a capsule in the orbiter, at the structural problems of attaching a capsule, getting rid of the front end, making it strong enough, making it aerodynamically sound, building a control system that would allow it to descend under any and all Mach num­bers. And we decided if we do that, we can’t build a Space Shuttle. We cant af­ford the mass, and we don’t think we could build it in the first place.

So the answer to that question was, we will use the solid rockets that we have as our escape system and fly the orbiter back to the launch site if we have an abort. So we said to ourselves, the solid rockets have to, once you release them from the pad, bust those bolts on the pad, it has to be 100 percent reliable. And






5. An early depiction of the Space Shuttle identifies major components as the orbiter, the three main
engines, the external tank, and the two solid rocket boosters. Courtesy nasa.

we always assumed it was, and any decision we made could not screw around the reliability of those solids. So our abort system was the solid rockets and a re­turn to launch site, rtls;you could fly that orbiter back.

Kraft said critics gave nasa a hard time about the shuttle not having an escape system. “I always thought that was unfair as hell,” Kraft said. “I don’t think they understood the system. And if you ask them over there [at nasa] today, I guarantee you won’t find five people who understand that’s what we did. But we did have an escape system, we had the solid rockets and the fly-back capability. Now, it didn’t save the Challenger, and nothing would have saved Columbia. But those two accidents were created by the fallacies of man, not by the machines.”

Recalled astronaut Charlie Bolden of the rtls abort:

While a lot of us flew a lot of them in [simulation], I’m not sure any of us ever believed that that’s something you really wanted to do. This was a maneuver in which something goes wrong shortly after liftoff, and you decide you’re going to turn the vehicle around and fly it back to the Kennedy Space Center. And the computer’s got to do that, so the software really has to work. It’s crazy, because

you’re going upside down outbound, and all of a sudden you decide you’re go­ing to go back to Kennedy. And while you’re still flying downrange, you take this vehicle and you pitch it back over so that it’s flying backwards through its own fire for several minutes. What has to happen is the computer has to calcu­late everything precisely, because it’s got to flip it over, have it pointing back to the Cape while it’s flying backwards, so that just before the solid rocket boost­ers burn out, it stops the backwards downrange travel and starts it flying back to the Cape. And then once that happens, then the solids cut off They separate; they go their way, and then you fly back for a few minutes, for another six min­utes, and the main engines cut off and you separate from the external tank. And that became a very tricky maneuver, because what you’re worried about was re­impacting with the tank, and if you did that, you were dead. So it’s a maneu­ver that. . . nobody ever wants to fly it, because just, it’s like, boy, this is really bad if you have to do this.

Once the general requirements were outlined from the mission base­lines and the general type of vehicle was decided, work began on figuring out how exactly to design a spacecraft that would meet the requirements. Making the process particularly interesting was the fact that the shuttle was a collection of very diverse elements that had to be designed to work as an integrated system. The orbiter, for example, ended up with engines that, by itself, it couldn’t use because they had fuel only when the orbiter was con­nected to the external tank. The diameter of the external tank is another example of the integrated approach used in designing the entire shuttle sys­tem, according to retired NASA engineer Myron “Mike” Pessin, who spent the bulk of his career working with the external tank. Taken as a single el­ement, there is no reason for the tank to have its 27.6-foot diameter. There was a constraint to the diameter of the solid rocket booster, however—it would have to be transported by rail from Utah to Florida, and so it was designed with a train’s dimensions in mind. That diameter determined the length of the boosters, which in turn established the range of locations for the explosive bolts that connected the boosters to the external tank. Given that engineers wanted to keep the connecting bolts off of the liquid hydro­gen and liquid oxygen tanks inside the external tank, they were able to es­tablish exactly how long the structure would need to be to make that pos­sible. Since they knew how much fuel the tank would need to hold, they could use the volume and the length to determine the needed diameter. Thus the diameter of the external tank was indirectly determined by the dimensions of the train that would be carrying the solids.

Another important part of the shuttle system design process involved computer technology that had evolved substantially since the development of nasa’s earlier manned space programs. “Now we get into the hard part of, okay, now we know the requirements, how do you make this all hap­pen?” Mattingly said.

And that all settled down certainly after Skylab, and maybe even after astp [the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project]. Then we started working. I remember Phil Shaffer was designated as the lead for pulling together all of our software and stuff. Be­cause the shuttle is such a highly integrated vehicle, it has the [software] archi­tecture that makes the system run, and then it’s got all of the applications which are the heart of the vehicle. And so we were building all of this from scratch, and in Apollo we were astounded we had computers. I guess Gemini had a lit­tle computer, and then Apollo had something which, by today’s standards, your wristwatch is far more powerful than what we had those days. But we were still astounded with what you could do with these things. Now we were going to build this shuttle with these computers and they’re going to be its lifeblood. There wont be a lot of direct wire. Everything goes on a data bus, and this was all relatively new for most of us.

It meant learning a whole new design process, and we learned that the software was the pacing item. We blamed it on software. When we think ofdeveloping soft­ware, we think of it as coding, “if/or " statements and counting bits, but in fact the massive amount of energy went center-wide into collecting the requirements— what does it have to do, write it down, and then see if you can package it, be­fore anybody could start worrying about building. That was an extraordinary operation. Phil drove that thing. I’m sure if Phil hadn’t been there, there would have been somebody that could have done it, but I have a hard time imagining anybody that could have done it the way he did. He just had the extraordinary personality and insight. He knew all the key players from the Apollo days, and they just set out and they went to work, and they really made the program go.

In spite ofall the delays that the shuttle program experienced—and we generally tended to blame that on truncated budgets, maybe some more money would have held the schedule a little better—the best I could tell, we were working as fast as that group of people [could]. It was such a massive job, and it just took so long to get everybody educated up to the same level, because it was all integrated. I don’t think when we started anybody knew that it was going to be such a challenge, and so we learned to do those things and went through it. This doesn’t sound like a CB [Astronaut Office] perspective, but. . . a little more than half[of the astronauts] were working the engineering side, working on the development ofthese things and trying to look ahead to see what was going to be required as part ofgetting started.

“We not only wanted to land on ten-thousand-foot runways, but we were going to be an airline,” Mattingly said, explaining that since the shut­tle would be a reusable aircraft with, ideally, a short turnaround time, nasa decided to turn to airline officials for help with how to do that.

So people went out and got contracts with American Airlines to teach us how to do maintenance and training, and we had people come in and start giving classes on how you give instructional courses and how we do logistics [in] the airlines. For a couple of years, we studiously tried to follow all that, and finally after a good bit it became clear that, you know, if there is anybody that’s going to ex­plain this to someone, it’s going to have to be us explaining it to ourselves. That’s where it evolved back into the way we had done things in the earlier programs.

Developing the systems was very much a group effort, Mattingly recalled.

I remember when we first started building the flight control schematics. Those are the most magnificent educational tools I’ve ever seen. I’ve never encountered them in any other organization. I don’t know why. I used to carry around a cou­ple of samples and give them to people and say, “This is what you really need." And they’d say, “Oh, that’s all very interesting," and then nothing ever seemed to happen. But working with people to put those drawings together, and then un­derstand what they meant and develop procedures and things from, was a mas­sive effort. During those days the Building 4 [at Johnson Space Center] and the building behind that, where flight control teams had some other offices, the walls were just papered with these things. People would go around, and they’d walk by it and look at it, and they’d say, “That’s not right. "They’d draw a little red thing on it and say, “See me. "And it was an evolutionary process going on continuously.

The shuttle was built with redundant systems. The idea was it should be able to suffer loss of any piece of equipment and still be able to fly safely. It was called “fail op, fail safe,” meaning that one failure wouldn’t affect nor­mal operations and that a second failure could affect the way the vehicle operated but not its safety.

That generally led to a concept offour parallel strings of everything. And that was great, but now how do you manage it, and what do you do with it? Now, a sche­matic has all of these four strings of things, sometimes they’re interconnected, and you could study those things, you’d pull those long sheets out, and you go absolute­ly bonkers—“Oh no. This line’s hooked to that. I forgot that." Trying to figure out how this all works. So you’d go get your colored pencils out, and you’d color-code them. By now the stack of these things is building up, and I’m really getting frus­trated in doing this dog-work job just before—I had to spend many, many hours for each drawing to get it sorted out before you were ready to use the drawing. So I said “We’ve got to take these things and get them printed in color, right offthe bat."

And so my friends in the training department said, “Well, you’re probably going to have to talk to Kranz about that. He’s not that enthusiastic about it." I thought, “Oh God." So I got an audience with Gene and went over and sat in his office and explained to him what we were doing in trying to get the train­ing program started and how we were trying to get ready to do that, and I re­ally wanted to get these things printed in color so that it would make it easier for people. I knew color printing would be a little more expensive, but it would sure save a lot of time. He said, “No. We’re not going to do that." I was just over­whelmed. I said, “Gene, why?" He didn’t say a word, he just turned and looked at his desk, and there on his desk, right in the corner, was this big mug filled with colored pencils. And he says, “That’s how you learn." And so that was the end of the story. I don’t know, I’ll bet today they’re still black and white. But that was Gene’s method of learning, and he figured that by having to trace it out, he had learned a lot, so he felt that others would benefit from that exercise. Even if they didn’t appreciate it, they would benefit.

The process of how the orbiter cockpit was designed would produce rath­er interesting and, in some cases, counterintuitive results, Mattingly said. He was part of a working group on controls and displays with fellow astro­naut Gordon Fullerton, which made decisions about the center console.

If you sit in the orbiter, the pilot and commander are sitting side by side in the center console. It was one of the few places when, if you put on a pressure suit, . . . you could see and touch. I mean, you can see the instrument panel. Stuffup here gets really above your head, gets really hard to see. It’s in close, so it’s diffi­cult for some of us older people to focus, and you cant see a lot. You have to do it by feel, which isn’t a good thing to do with important things. So the mobility was small, and this was prime real estate. We all knew it. As we went on with the program, every time someone said, “Oh, we’ll just put this here [in the cen­ter console]," we’d say, “No." We’d have a big office meeting. We’d all agree that, no, that’s not that important. We can put that here, we can do this. Well, after working on this thing for years, there’s practically nothing that’s important on the center console. We kept relegating everything to somewhere else, and it’s now the place where you set your coffee when you’re in the [simulator]. We protected that so hard, and poor old Gordo fought and fought for different things, and we’d think something was good, and then after we’d learn about what it really did and how it worked, we’d say, “No. You don’t need that."

Then there was the question of how the Space Shuttle would fly. Each airplane flies slightly differently, or feels slightly different to a pilot flying it, and the only way to really understand exactly how a plane flies is to fly it. Further, a pilot’s understanding of how airplanes fly is, to some extent, limited by the variety of airplanes he or she has flown. Those differences are rooted in the physical differences in the airplane’s control systems, a factor that means something entirely different with the computer-aided fly-by­wire controls of the shuttle. “There is a military spec that publishes about flying qualities, handling qualities of airplanes,” Mattingly said.

It started back in World War II, I guess, maybe even before. It tells you all of the characteristics that have to go into making a good airplane, like how many pounds of force do you put on a rudder pedal to push it. Well, even dumb pi­lots finally figured out that with an electric airplane this maybe isn’t really rel­evant. Then the engineers wanted to just throw out all of the experience and say, “Hey, we’ll just make it cool and you’ll like it." So we went on a crusade to rewrite this document, which turned out to be one of the most interesting proj­ects I’ve ever been in, because it required rethinking a lot of the things that we all took for gospel. Every airplane that a pilot flies is the Bible on how airplanes fly. Fortunately, in the office we had people who had flown a lot of different kinds of airplanes. But nevertheless, that shapes your image. And now you get into something that’s totally different, and there’s a tendency to want to make

this new airplane fly like the one you like the most. The software guys contrib­uted to this bad habit by saying, “Hey, it’s software. You tell us what you want, we’ll make it fly." I remember one time they gave us a proposal that had a lit­tle dial and you could make it a P-51 or a T-33 or a f-86 or a 747. “Just tell me what you want." We had a lot of naive ideas when we started.

While the computer for the Space Shuttle allowed many things that were groundbreaking at the time in the world of avionics, Mattingly pointed out that they were still quite primitive compared to modern standards.

I don’t remember the original size of the computer, but it had a memory that was miniscule by today’s standards, but it was huge compared to Apollo. By the time we finished this program, we had this horrendous debate about going to what we called double-density memory that would expand it. It was still nothing, and the only reason management did not want to change to it was for philosophic rea­sons. And IBM finally said, “Look, you guys said you wanted to buy off-the-shelf hardware. Let me tell you, you are the only people in the world with that version of a computer. So if you want to stay with the rest of the world, you’re going to have to take this one." And fortunately, we did, and still it was miniscule. Today I think they’ve upgraded it several more times so that it isn’t nearly the challenge. But that caused us to partition the functions in prelaunch and ascent and then get out of orbit and do some servicing things and then another load for reentry.

Don Peterson, who was selected as an astronaut in 1969 and flew one shuttle mission, said the orbiter computer systems were quite complicated.

My little desktop computer at home is about a hundred times faster and it has about a hundred times more capacity than the computers that were flying on the orbiter. They were afraid to change the computers very much because part of the flight control scheme is based on timing. If you change the computer, you change the timing, and you’d have to redo all the testing. There are thousands of hours of testing that have gone into there, and they know this thing works, and they’re very loathe to make those kinds of changes. They cant change the outside of the vehicle for the same reason; that affects the aerodynamics. So they can change some things in that vehicle, and they [improved] some of it. But they’re not going to make big, drastic changes to the control systems. It’s just too compli­cated and too costly. The flight control system on the orbiter is almost an experi­mental design. In other words, they built the system and then they tested it and tested it and tested it. They just kept changing little bits and pieces, primarily in the software, until it all worked. But if you went back and looked at it from a theoretical point of view, that’s not very pretty. You know what I mean? It’s like, gee, there doesn’t seem to be any consistent deep underlying theory here. It’s all patchwork and it’s all pieced together. And in a sense, that’s true. But that’s why they would be very loathe to try to make big changes to that, because put­ting all that stuff together took a long, long time.

Working on a project with so many systems that all had to be integrated but that were being developed simultaneously was an interesting challenge, recalled Mattingly. “Within the office, we were all trying to stay in touch with all these things going on in each of these areas to keep them some­what in sync from the cockpit perspective. So that gave us a lot of insight into all of these tasks that people were doing,” he said.

We even found, for instance, that as part of this development program, people working with thermal protections systems, the structure guys found that they were discovering limitations that were going to be imposed on the vehicle down­stream that we weren’t thinking about—if you fly in the wrong regimes, you will get yourself into thermal problems. Yet nothing in our flight control work or displays was considering that. We had never encountered anything like that before. So the guys, by working all these different shops, were picking up these little tidbits and we were trying to find ways to look ahead.

Another major change, Mattingly said, was developing and testing the flight control software for the shuttle. “We learned quickly that the man – machine interface is the most labor intensive part of building all this soft­ware,” he said, explaining that the code dedicated to computer control of the vehicle made up less of the software—and less of the time it took to develop it—than the code related to the interface that would allow the as­tronauts to control use of that software to control the vehicle. In addition, he said, a conflict arose because of the computer use needed to develop and test that software. To the engineers who were using those computers to de­sign the vehicle, the time the astronauts spent testing and practicing with the flight control software seemed like “video games.”

We ended up building a team of people: Joe Gamble, who was working the aero­dynamics; Jon Harpold, doing guidance; and Ernie Smith, who was the flight control guy. They all worked in E&D [Engineering and Development]. We all got to going around together in a little team, and we would all go to the simu­lators together, and we would all study things. We built a simulator from Apol­lo hardware that was called. . . its, the Interim Test Station. We had a cou­ple of people—Roger Burke and Al Ragsdale were two sim engineers that had worked on the cms [CommandModule Simulator] and the lms [Lunar Mod­ule Simulator]. They were very innovative, and they took these things before we had the Shuttle Mission Simulator that was back in the early part of the design and went to the junkyard and found airplane parts and built an instrument panel out of spare parts and had a regular chair that you sat in and had dif­ferent control devices that we had borrowed and stolen from places. These folks were so innovative; they could hook it all up.

“They took the initial aerodynamic data books and put them in a file so we could build something that would try to fly,” Mattingly said.

We even took the lunar landing scene television. In the Lunar Module Simula­tor they had a camera that was driven by the model of the motion and it would fly down over the lunar surface, and so you can see this thing, and that was por­trayed in the lms as what you’d train to. So they adapted that to a runway. We tried to build a little visual so we could have some clues to this thing, put in a little rinky-dink CRT [cathode-ray tube] so we could play with building displays. And we got no support from anybody. I mean, this wasn’t space stuff And it is probably one of those things I was most proud of, because we were able to get this thing into someplace where we could actually tinker with how were going to fly the vehicle and what we’re going to do and what the aerodynamics mean. It was only possible because we had these two simulator guys who were wizards at playing with software and this team from e&d who joined us.

We ended up realizing that we had built an electric airplane that had essen­tially only one operating flight control system. So we said, “Well, what if we’re wrong? No one has ever flown a Mach 20 airplane. This whole flight envelope is something that nobody’s ever had the opportunity to experience. So what do you suppose our tolerance is to this?" Because wind tunnel models for the as­cent vehicles, they fit in your hand, because the tunnels that were able to han­dle these things were small. The wind tunnel models for the orbiter were larger, but they’re still not all that big, and going through this tremendously wide flight regime where the air density is going from nothing to everything, and it’s just high speeds to low speeds, I said, “What’s the chance of getting all that right?" And yet as we played in these simulators, … we proved to ourselves that, boy, if you’re offon that estimate of the aerodynamics, you can often play with the soft­ware to make it right, but if the real aerodynamics and the software you have don’t match, it’s a real mess. I know I worried a lot about that.

So we came up with a concept that we would have some tolerances on the aerodynamics, and we would try to make sure that the flight control system could handle these kind of uncertainties in aerodynamics. We did something which is not typically done—we decided to optimize the flight control performance to be tolerant on uncertainties rather than the best flight control system they could build. The whole idea was, after we’ve flown and we have some experience and we know what the real world is, now we can come back and make it better, but the first job is to make ours as tolerant as possible to the things we don’t know.

While Mattingly was working with the computer models of the flight dynamics of the shuttle, astronaut Hank Hartsfield was on the other side of that research, working with the wind tunnel models and encountering the same concerns about the scalability of the data coming out of those tests.

As I recall, the shuttle program had over twenty-two thousand hours of wind tunnel time to try to figure out what it flies like. Because the decision had been made, there are no test flights. We were going to fly it manned the first flight, and an orbital flight at that, which demanded that, the best you can, [we] un­derstand this. Well, hypersonic aerodynamics is difficult to understand, the un­certainty on the aerodynamic parameters that you get out of the tunnel are big. The things that we were looking at in the simulations were if these uncertain­ties in the different aerodynamic parameters stack in a certain way, the vehicle could be unstable.

What we were looking for, for those combinations, statistically were possi­ble, but hopefully not very probable they’d happen, but if they did, that was the kind of things we had to plan for. It’s just an uncertain world. You can’t predict, because in the wind tunnel, you have to put in scaling factors. If you’re doing wind tunnel things off a small model, it doesn’t really scale to the big model per­fectly, and you have to make assumptions when you do that. The scaling ratios have a big factor, a big effect on what the real numbers are. So if you could fly a full-scale orbiter in the wind tunnel and it would go Mach 15 or something, it would be great, but you cant do that. You have a little-bitty model, and it’s a

In the Beginning

6. Space Shuttle vehicle testing in the fourteen-foot Transonic Wind Tunnel at nasas Ames Research Center. Courtesy nasa.

shock tunnel or something. You’d get a few seconds of runtime at the right Mach numbers and then try to capture the data off of that.

Astronaut Don Peterson was involved in studying the redundancy of systems on the orbiter, and particularly the flight control computers. In the report he pointed out that failure rates on some of the avionics could be high. On Apollo and earlier vehicles, nasa built “ultra-reliability com­ponents,” components that were overdesigned and tested to make failures less likely.

Failures on Apollo, for that reason, were pretty rare. But that’s very expensive. That’s a very difficult thing to do. I was told that after the lunar program ended, MIT had two of the lunar module computers left over, spares. So they just turned them on and programmed them to run cyclically through all the programs. I think they ran one of those computers for, like, fifteen years, and it never failed. It just kept running, and finally they turned it off They just said, “It’s not ever going to fail. ” That’s the way that equipment was built. But that makes it very

expensive. So when they built the Shuttle, they said, “We can’t do that. So what we’re going to do is, instead of ultrareliability components, we’re going to rely on something called redundancy. " They were going to have four computers, and they were going to have three tacans, and they were going to have four of this and two of that and so on. That way, you could tolerate failures. But as a result of that, the failure rate on some of that equipment was fairly high, compared to Apollo.

They also made the multiple units interdependent. “On a typical auto­mobile you have five tires, but that’s not five levels of redundancy because you need four of them,” Peterson explained.

So you can really only tolerate one failure. You can have one tire go bad and you can take care of that. But we got into that same situation on the shuttle because of the way they did the software. The shuttle, when it’s flying, the computers all compare answers with one another, and then they vote among themselves to see if anybody’s gone nuts. If a computer has gone bad, the other computers can over­ride its output so that it isn’t commanding anything. But to make that scheme work, you have to have at least three computers working. Otherwise, you cant vote. You could have [two systems voting], but if they vote against each other, you don’t know which one’s the bad one.

The decision was made to put five of the computers on the orbiter, with four of them active in the primary system, with the idea that this would create a system that could tolerate three failures. However, Peterson said, this produced much higher failure rates than expected. While the system provided a high amount of redundancy in theory, the reality was that be­cause of the way it was designed, the system actually could tolerate only one failure safely. The four primary computers were not truly redundant for each other; only the spare provided redundancy. If one computer failed, the spare would take its place. After that, however, further failures would endanger the cooperative “voting logic” between the computers that veri­fied the accuracy of their results.

But the complexity of the way the thing was put together kind of defeated the simplistic redundancy scheme that they had. It’d be like driving a car that had two engines or three engines, and any one of them would work. Well, that way you could fail two engines and you’d still drive right along. But if it takes two engines to power the vehicle, then you don’t have that, and if it takes three en­gines to power the vehicle, you don’t have any redundancy at all. It gets to be a game then as to how you trade all this off. When I looked at all that and we put the study together, we said, “You know, you’re going to have some failures that are going to really bother you because you’re going to lose components. ” For example, you’re on orbit and you’ve got four computers and one of them fails. Well, now you’ve got three computers left in the primary set. But do you stay on orbit? Because if you suffer one more failure, your voting algorithm no lon­ger works. Now you’re down then into coming home on a single computer and trusting it. And nobody wanted to do that.

So they said, “Gee, I’ve got four computers. I can only tolerate one failure, and then I’ve got to come home. ” We had four of some of the other components, and it was kind of the same sort of thing. If one of them fails, we are no lon­ger failure tolerant. We’ve lost the capability to compare results and vote, and so we don’t want to stay on orbit that way. So now, all of a sudden, the fact that you’ve got four of them causes more aborts because the more things you have, the more likely you are to have one fail. You’d get more failures and more aborts with four computers than if you’d gone with some other plan. That was pretty controversial for a while. We predicted—and there were some people that were really upset about that—we predicted a couple ofground aborts due to computer failures. Essentially we’d get chewed out for saying that, but in the first thirteen flights, we hit it right on the money. We had two ground aborts in thirteen flights.

When the shuttle was built, the air force was also using redundancy sys­tems, Peterson recalled. Then the air force built what it called confederat­ed systems, in which each component was independent. “They cooperated with each other, but they shipped data to each other, but they weren’t re­ally closely tied together,” Peterson explained.

The shuttle was tightly integrated. It runs on a very rigid timing scheme. The computers on the shuttle actually compare results about a little more than three hundred times a second. So it’s all tightly tied together. Well, when they decided to build the [International] Space Station, NASA said, “We’re not doing this in­tegrated stuff anymore. Boy, that was a real pain. We’re going to use a confeder­ated system. ” The air force, on their latest fighter, said, “This confederated stuff doesn’t work worth a damn. Were going to build a tightly integrated [system]. ” So they both went along for ten years or twelve years, and then they flip-flopped. The military’s going the way NASA originally went, and NASA’s now going the way the military went originally. I think the answer is, there is no magic answer to all that. Probably one concept is maybe not that much better than the other. It’s how you implement it and how much money you spend and how much to test. What do they say? The devils in the details. I think that’s right with all this stuff.

Mattingly recalled excellent cooperation between the engineering staff working on the shuttle and the Astronaut Office. “I seldom have seen that integration of the people that were going to fly it with the designers and people who were doing the theoretical work and the operators from the ground,” Mattingly said.

All of that stuff was converged in parallel, and I think that’s one of the reasons that the shuttle is such a magnificent flying machine. It does all the magic that we set out to do. I’m ignoring the cost because the shuttle, in my recollection, by the time it was sold to Congress, it was probably different than what the peo­ple in the trenches remember, but we had to do all these technical things, and it was a matter of faith that if you build it, it will be cheap. I mean, it was just simple. If you could reuse it, it saves money, and so you’ve got to make it reus­able. If you fly a lot, that will be good, and we’re going to fly this thing for $5.95, and we’re going to fly it once a week and that’s how we’re going to do this. And none of us were ever told to go build a vehicle that we could afford to own. And had we been told that, I doubt if we would have been able to do it. I think the job was so complex, you had to build one that flies in order to learn the lessons that say, "Now I know what’s important and what isn’t. ” I just think it would have been asking too much, but that’s just personal opinion, but it’s from hav­ing struggled through ten years of this development program. It was an extraor­dinary experience to do that.

The role of the Astronaut Office during the development of the Space Shuttle was quite different from what Mattingly experienced during the Apollo program. “Our involvement was far more extensive and pervasive, and a heck of a lot more fun,” he said.

I mean, this was really cool stuff. There was a problem every day, and you got to learn about all of these little things that were interesting. I spent a lot of time trying to understand the stress loads and the thermal characteristics on the tps [thermalprotection system], and how do you get it to stay on, and all of those things were things that came through the office as experiences that really were just extraordinary opportunities to go see that. As we moved down the stream and we got into some of these development programs and started turning out hardware, we started splitting people up to go follow different components of hardware, whether it be the engines or the SRBs or the orbiter.

The decision to have the orbiter be an unpowered glider rather than a jet during its return to Earth and the various ramifications of that decision were also among the things that had to be considered during development. “Some­where earlier in this development stage, we went through a series of activities where the first orbiter was going to have air-breathing engines, and it had some solid rockets that were on the back that were for aborts,” Mattingly said.

Right off the pad you could fire these two big rockets, and they would take you off in a big loop so you could come back and land. We had these air-breathing engines that were going to—after you come down through the atmosphere, you open the door and these engines come out, and you light them and you come around and land. They had enough gas for one go-around. The other thing we had was the big solids were to have thrust terminations and ports that blew out at the front end so you could terminate thrust on them if you needed to in an emergency. Every one of those devices was something which had a higher prob­ability of killing you by its presence than it would ever have in saving you. I’ll put that ejection seat in the same boat. Everybody was willing to get rid of the air-breathing engines. They were really, really not a very bright idea. And we got rid of the thrust termination and we got rid of the abort solid rockets. My guess is John Young was probably the most active stimulus in pushing those is­sues, and that was one of those cases where the flight crew perspective and the engineering perspectives converged. We all wanted to get rid of these things, and yet we retained the ejection seats for reasons which I will never understand. If anyone knew what the useful envelope of those ejection seats was and the price we paid to have them. . . . But it had become a cause: “You will protect these kids by giving them an ejection seat." So we had one, not that anybody wanted to ever use it, but it was there.

Astronaut Bonnie Dunbar was still an undergraduate student at the Uni­versity of Washington during the early portions of shuttle’s development, and she worked with the school’s dean of ceramics engineering, who had received a grant to work on the tiles for the shuttle’s thermal protection sys-

In the Beginning

7. A worker removes a tile as part of routine maintenance activities on the orbiter fleet.

Courtesy nasa.

tem. nasa’s earlier manned spacecraft had used ablative heat shields, which absorbed heat by burning up, protecting the rest of the vehicle. Such a sys­tem was simple and effective, but for the new, reusable Space Shuttle, nasa wanted a reusable heat shield, one that could protect the vehicle without itself being destroyed. The solution that was settled upon involved a vast collection of tiles and “blankets” covering the underside of the orbiter and other areas of the vehicle that would be exposed to extreme temperatures.

“First of all, tiles are a ceramic material, so by definition they’re brittle,” Dunbar said.

But the reason they have an advantage over metals is that they don’t expand ten times over their thermal exposure range. It’s called the coefficient of thermal ex­pansion. Also, they are an insulator; they don’t conduct heat. We looked at met­als, or what they call refractory metal skins, and there are two disadvantages. You still have to insulate behind them, because metals conduct heat. The other is that when you go from room temperature, let’s say seventy-five degrees Fahr­enheit, to twenty-three hundred [degrees], you have a large growth. It’s like your cookie pans, I guess, in the oven. So the airframe would distort. The ceramic materials [have] very small thermal coefficients of expansion, ten to the negative sixth, so you’re not going to see a lot of deformation. Also you could, on a very

low density tile, expose the surface to twenty-three hundred degrees Fahrenheit, and the backface, three inches deep, would not see even close to that, less than a couple hundred degrees, till after you’re on the ground. It’s a very slow coeffi­cient of thermal expansion and heat transfer. So ceramics had a definite advan­tage. We knew that from the work we’d done in the sixties, and in fact, ceramics were already being used as the heat shields on nose cones for missiles and so forth. So the next big challenge was to put them in a low-density, lightweight form that could be applied to the outside of a vehicle. Apollo vehicles, Gemini, Mer­cury, were all covered by ablators, which meant that they burned up on the re­entry to the Earth’s atmosphere and could not be reused. The tiles were meant to be reusable. They didn’t deform. They didn’t change their chemistry. We had to, though, shape them so that they were the shape of an airplane, so we had all the aerodynamic features there. So we sort of did a little reverse engineering, in that we said, “Okay, here’s what the shuttle looks like; got to maintain that shape. Here’s how hot it gets from the nose to the tail. Most of the heat’s at the nose, on the nose cone, and the leading edges of the wings. We want to make sure the aluminum substructure doesn’t get over 350 degrees Fahrenheit; that’s when it starts to change shape. So how thick does the tile have to be?" So we used all those limits and constraints, then you’d use the computer. . . to calculate how thick each tile had to be. Then we started looking at, well, okay, how big should each tile have to be? Could I just put large sheets of tile on there?

Well, we started looking at what the structure does during launch, and now we’re getting to something called vibroacoustics. There’s a lot of force pressure on the vehicle, a lot of noise, if you will, generated into the structure, and it vi­brates. We calculated that if we put a foot-by-foot piece of tile on there, the vi­bration would actually break it up into six-by-six-inch pieces. We said, “Well, we’ll design it six by six. " So you’ll see most tiles are six by six. Now how close do you put them? We thought, well, you cant get them too close, because dur­ing that vibration they’ll beat each other to death, because they’re covered with a glaze. You’ve got silicon dioxide fibers that are made into very low mass tiles, nine pounds per cubic feet, or twenty-two pounds, and to ensure they don’t erode in the airstream when you reenter, they’re covered with a ceramic glaze. So that’s also brittle, so you can’t get them too close or they’ll break the glaze. You can’t get them too far apart or, during reentry, the plasma flow will penetrate down in those gaps and could melt the aluminum. So that’s called gap or plasma in­trusion. So that then constrained what we called the gap. Then from tile to tile, how high one was compared to the next one, we called step. That became im­portant because if you had too large a step towards the leading edge of the wing, that would disturb the boundary layer, and you would go up the plasma, and instead of having smooth layers, it would start to transition to turbulent, from laminar to turbulent, and turbulent results in higher heating. So that controlled the step. So gap and step were very important to that as well.

“Those were all challenges,” Dunbar said. “We depended on advances in computerized machining capabilities, wind tunnel work with models to help us determine the requirements on step, the manufacturing, just every­thing. Firing a tile, a certain temperature and time was important to main­taining its geometry. . . . It’s, I think, a real tribute to the program that if you look at follow-on programs, even in NASA but also in Japan or in Eu­rope or even the Russians, who built the Buran [Soviet shuttle], you’ll find that the system on the surface is very similar to the shuttle tile system. It was a good solution.”

Dunbar said that working on the shuttle during that early time was an exciting opportunity.

This was the next-generation vehicle. Not only was it next generation, it was…

“transformational" is the word we use now. If you think about it, everything to that point was one use only. Couldn’t bring any mass back. We sent a lot of things into orbit that we had to test and leave there, and it became a shooting star, coming back to Earth. So this transformed our ability to do research. It’s why we have a space station now. We not only learned from Skylab, but we flew [on] Spacelab countless research projects that we could bring back to Earth, get the results out, diagnose problems with equipment. I think it saved the govern­ment billions of dollars, because we didn’t throw it away each time. So it was exciting, and we knew what it could do. New technology. It was leading edge on not only the thermal protection systems, but it was the first fully fly-by-wire vehicle, in terms of the computers and the flight control system. The main en­gines were also a pathfinder as well, and so it was exciting, even if it delayed till ’81. If you think about it, we baselined it to the contractor, to Rockwell, in 1972, I believe. So nine years later we have a vehicle, a reusable vehicle, flying.

Astronaut Terry Hart was the Astronaut Office’s representative in the de­velopment of the Space Shuttle main engines.

Since I had a technical background, mostly mechanical engineering, John Young had asked me to follow the main engine development. This was a couple of years before sts-1. In fact, it was ironic that we showed up [as NASA astronauts] in ’78, and everyone said we’re one year away from the first shuttle launch, and two years later, we were still one year away from the first shuttle launch, and it was really because of two main areas of technical difficulty. The main engine development was somewhat problematic, with some turbo pump failures that they’d had on the test stand, and the tiles. We had difficulty with the tiles be­ing bonded on properly and staying on. But the main engine was one that John Young wanted me to follow for him, and so I spent a lot of time going back and forth to [Marshall Space Flight Center in] Huntsville [Alabama] and to nstl, the National Space Technology Laboratories, in Bay St. Louis [Mississippi, cur­rently called the NASA John C. Stennis Space Center], where NASA tested the en­gines. And Huntsville, of course, was where the program office was for the main engines. And that was very exciting. I mean, I was like a kid in a candy store, in the sense that a mechanical engineer being able to kibitz in this technology, with the tremendous power of the fuel pumps and the oxidizer pumps, and the whole engine design, I thought, was just phenomenal. The hard part of that job was when we had failures on the test stand, which were, unfortunately, too fre­quent. I’d get the pleasure of standing up in front of John Young and the rest of the astronauts on Monday morning to explain what happened. And, of course, everyone was always very disappointed, because we knew this was setting back the first launch and it was a jeopardy to the whole program. But we got through that, and the engines have done extremely well all through the program here, where it was always thought to be the weak link in the design.

Astronaut Don Lind was involved in the early planning and development of the remote manipulator system, the shuttle’s robot arm.

I guess the first significant assignment I had [for the shuttle] was in develop­ing the control system for the remote manipulator system, the RMS. In the hinge line of the cargo bay doors, there is an arm that’s articulated pretty much like the human arm. It’s about as long as two telephone poles, and it’s designed for deploying and retrieving satellites. Again, somebody had to worry about the op­erational considerations of that arm. It was built by the Canadians with the agreement through the [U. S.] State Department, and I was assigned to work on that. So I made a lot of trips into Canada to work with those people. The peo­ple who were actually building the hardware were very, very compatible, very easy to work with, and we had a very nice working relationship.

Lind contributed to the development of the three different coordinate systems that were going to be built into the arm’s software.

One coordinate system, obviously, applied when you’re looking out of the win­dow into the cargo bay, and so you want to work in that coordinate system. If you wanted the arm to move away from you, you pushed the hand controller away from you. Also, if you’re trying to grasp a satellite up over your head and you’re looking with the TV camera down the fingers at the end of the arm, which is called the end effector, and you want to move straight along the direction the fingers are pointing, you don’t want to have to try to figure out which way you should go, so you shift to a totally different coordinate system. So if you’re look­ing in the TV picture with the camera that’s mounted right above the end effec­tor, you want to push the hand controller straightforward. You want it to move straight forward in the television picture.

Lind also helped answer the question of how the hand controllers were to be configured.

We wanted hand controllers where the translation [movement] motion would be done by one hand controller, which we decided would be the left hand, and the rotational motion controlled by a hand controller which would be handled with the right hand. We decided, as a joint decision, that the hand controller for translation should be a square knob.

Then I said, “Now, remember you’re floating. You’re floating, so you’ve got to hang on to something while you’re translating, and you don’t want your bobbing around to affect the hand controller. So you need to put a square bracket around it so you can hold on to the bracket with your little finger and can use the hand controller." “Oh yeah, we hadn’t thought of that. Well, how big do you want it to be?" We actually measured my hand and designed the controller and bracket to the physical dimensions of my hand. Obviously, when you make a decision like that, then you have five other astronauts check it out, and they say, “Yeah, that was a really good decision." I didn’t want the hand controller for the right hand to be mounted square on the bulkhead, because the relaxed position of your arm is not at a square angle; it’s drooping down to the side. And I wanted that position to be the no-rotation position. We set up a simulation, and I stood up there, and they measured the angle of my arm and then built a bracket to mount that hand controller just exactly the way my arm relaxed. And again, we had several other astronauts check it, and they said yes, that was a fine thing. So the hand controllers were literally fine-tuned to my design.

Other people were worrying about the software, how to implement these co­ordinate systems. Other people were doing all the very sophisticated engineering. But the human factor was my responsibility, and basically it was a very pleas­ant experience to work with the Canadians, with one exception. The arm has two joints: like the elbow, and like the shoulder; one degree offreedom in the el­bow, two in the shoulder, and three degrees offreedom in the wrist, so there are three literal components to the wrist junction. They had mounted the camera on the middle one. As you maneuver in certain ways, the wrist has to compen­sate for the rotations of the other joints, and every once in a while the TV pic­ture would simply rotate. Not that anything had actually rotated, but the wrist was compensating. I said, “That’s unacceptable. ” They said, “No, no, no, no, it has to be there. That’s the cheapest place to put it. ” The engineers were all in agreement that this was a mistake, because you could lose a satellite when sud­denly the picture rotates and nothing really has happened. But the management people said, “This meets our letter of intent with the State Department. We’re not going to change it. ” So in one meeting I had to be very unpleasant. I said, “Now, gentlemen, if we ever lose a satellite because of this unnatural rotation, I will personally hold a press conference and say that you had been warned, and it’s the Canadians’ fault. ” They looked at me like, “Ooh, you’re nasty. ” At the next meeting, they said, “Well, we’ll change it, and it doesn’t cost as much as we thought in the first place.” Usually you could get good cooperation, but occa­sionally, particularly with people up in the bureaucratic levels, you had to be a little bit pushy. I try not to be pushy, but that’s one time I did.

Astronaut George “Pinky” Nelson was involved in the development of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (emu), the spacesuit used for conduct­ing activities outside of the spacecraft. “The suit was one of the long poles in getting the shuttle ready to fly,” he said.

The folks in Houston who were in charge of it, [Walter] Guy and his group, were really working hard, and it was a difficult task to get it pulled together. The suit actually blew up shortly before sts-1. I was home working in my gar­den. I was playing hooky one afternoon, and I got a call from George Abbey.

He said, “Where the hell are you?” “Well, I’m home working in the garden.” He said, “Okay. Get in here. We just had an accident with the spacesuit. "They were doing some testing in one of the vacuum chambers in Building 7, and they had the suit unmanned, pressurized, in the vacuum chamber. They were going to do some tests and they were going through the procedures of donning the suit and flipping all the switches in the right order and going through the checklist. There’s a point when you get in the suit that you move a valve. There’s a slider valve on the front of the suit, and you move this slider valve over, and what it does is it pushes a lever inside a regulator and opens up a line that brings the high-pressure emergency [oxygen] tanks on line. You do that just before you go outside. You don’t need them when you’re in the cabin, because you can always repressurize the airlock. When you’re going to go outside, you need these high – pressure tanks. They’re two little stainless steel tanks about six inches in diam­eter, maybe seven. And it turned out that when this tech did that, he threw that switch and the suit basically blew up. I mean not just pneumatically, but burst into flames [and] got severely burned. It was pure oxygen in there. The backpack is made basically out of a big block of aluminum, and aluminum is flammable in pure oxygen. So this thing just went “whooff,” went up in smoke.

So then I was put on the Investigation Board for that, and spent I don’t know how long, a couple months at least, just focusing on what had caused this and could we identify it and fix it and get it ready so that it wasn’t the long pole for flying sts-1. So I learned even more about the design and manufacturing and materials and all ofthat in the suit during that process. It was fascinating. And the NASA sys­tem for handling that kind ofan incident really is very good. We’ve seen it with the big accidents we’ve had. They really can get to the bottom of a problem very well.

After that, Nelson said, there weren’t any major problems in the devel­opment of the suit. “There were lots of little stuff. The displays and con­trols on the suit are a challenge because, one, you have to see them from inside the suit, looking down, so a lot of these old guys in the office who were, you know, the stage I am in my life now, where I have to wear read­ing glasses, couldn’t read the displays because they were close to your face. So we worked on lenses and all kinds of ways to make the displays legible to people with old eyes.”

For all the capabilities built into the vehicle, one of the notorious dis­appointments of the Space Shuttle program is that launch costs ended up being much higher than promised. The original appeal of the shuttle was that its reusability would bring launch costs down dramatically, but those dreams were never fully realized. Explained Don Peterson,

The shuttles, unfortunately, are pretty difficult to work on. When the military builds an airplane, it tries to make everything in the airplane designed so that you can remove and replace parts quickly and easily. The shuttle is much more difficult to get to some of the stuff. Therere not big [easily opened]panels on it. You cant release a few latches and open a big panel on the side of the orbiter. You literally have to take it apart to get into it. You can go in through the in­side, through the bay, and get to some of that stuff, but even then you’re removing parts that aren’t designed [for that]. It’s not like opening doors and looking inside. The military builds a lot oftheir stuff to be easy to work on, and they really didn’t build the shuttle that way. So the shuttle is more expensive to operate. For exam­ple, the little jet engines, there’s, like, thirty-eight of them, I think, on the orbiter that control attitude when it’s on orbit. If one of those engines fails, you cant just unscrew some things and take it out. You have to cut it out with a torch, and you have to weld the new one back in, because they didn’t build it to be removed. The heat shield is [24,300] little individual tiles, and they’re all different shapes and different thicknesses, and so every tile is like a little individual item. When the shuttle comes back, they have to inspect visually, and with a pull device, every single tile. If any of them don’t pass, you’ve got to cut that one out and clean off the glue and go get the new one and put it all back. Those are very high mainte­nance items. So the shuttle really wasn’t built to be easy to maintain, and that’s because NASA has always had, as [former Johnson Space Center director] Gerry Griffin used to say, a standing army at the Cape that did all that, and nobody really worried about it. If you needed something done, you just called and they sent over four or five guys and they fixed it. But that’s expensive.

The shuttle was designed to fly, I think it was fifty flights a year, and they were going to have five shuttles to do that. So each shuttle would fly ten times in a year. Well, right now the whole fleet’s only flying about eight times a year. Well, you’re trying to amortize the cost of the whole program over eight flights. It’s like we’ve got all this capability to repair and replace and analyze and monitor things, and we’re not using a whole lot of it. If you were flying fifty times a year, the cost per flight would go way down because you wouldn’t add that much to the facilities and the maintenance costs. The facilities costs don’t change much if you never flew. You’ve still got to have all the facilities, and you’ve got to pay for all that. You have to keep this whole group of special­ists on, technicians and people, to do the work. With eight flights a year, some of those guys may only get used twice a year, but you’ve got to pay them and you’ve still got to have them there. If you were flying a lot more, the cost per flight would go way down.

George Mueller, the NASA head of human spaceflight who launched the Space Shuttle program, explained that there were several factors that drove the operational cost of the shuttle up, including many decisions, like the use of solid rocket boosters, that reduced development costs at the outset and pre­sented Congress a lower buy-in budget request to build the vehicle but that resulted in higher operational costs once the shuttle started flying. Howev­er, he said, the ultimate problem with the shuttle was that it ended up being designed to use far more people to process it than were absolutely necessary. “If you really want to know why the shuttle failed, it’s because they designed it to use all the people from Saturn and Apollo, to keep them employed.”

Countless technical problems had to be overcome, and ultimately the shuttle’s greatest limitation was that it was designed to be too nice.

Former jsc director Chris Kraft, however, still speaks highly of the shut­tle. “It’s the safest spacecraft we ever built.” Kraft noted that while shuttle crews have been lost because of problems stemming with the solid rocket boosters and the external tank, the orbiter itself has not been responsible for any fatal accidents. “The orbiter itself is flawless, since we’ve been flying. Absolutely flawless.” Rather than retiring the shuttle, Kraft argued, NASA should have continued to make it better and continued to fly it, adding that many ideas for improving the orbiter were never implemented. “That’s what we should still be doing. We still ought to be improving. We could improve the hell out of it. We could improve the hell out of the thermal protection system, we could improve the control systems, get rid of the apus [auxilia­ry power units]. All of that has been designed and is ready to be built. You don’t have to stop and redesign it, it’s done.”


By 1976 NASA’s astronaut corps had seen a large number of departures. Many of the early astronauts who had joined the agency as pioneers of spaceflight or as part of the race for the moon felt like they had accomplished what they had come to do. The last Saturn to fly launched in 1975, the next op­portunity to fly was still years away, and some in the corps decided they had no desire to wait.

Only one of the Original Seven astronauts, Deke Slayton, remained in the agency, as did only one member of the second group, John Young. Two members each remained of the third and fourth groups (although only one of those four astronauts would get the opportunity to fly on the shuttle). The fifth group was better represented—eight of the Original Nineteen were still at nasa—and the majority of the sixth group and all of the seventh were still at the agency, having arrived in the corps too late to be assigned Apollo flights.

With the number of astronauts dwindling, the ambitious plans for the shuttle program required new blood. So in 1976 NASA announced for the first time in a decade that it would be accepting applications for a new class of astronauts, to support the Space Shuttle program.

Astronaut Fred Gregory saw the ad for Space Shuttle astronauts on tele­vision. “I was a Star Trek freak, and the communications officer, Lieuten­ant Uhura, Nichelle Nichols, showed up on Tv in a blue flight suit,” Greg­ory said. “As I recall, there was a 747 in NASA colors behind her; you could hear it. But she pointed at me and she said, ‘I want you to join the astro­naut program.’ So, shoot, if Lieutenant Uhura looks at me and tells me that, that got me thinking about it.”

Steven Hawley saw the NASA announcement on a job openings bulletin board while in graduate school at the University of California.

I remember there was this letterhead that said NASA on it, and I thought, “Wow, that’d be interesting. ” I looked at it, and it said they were looking for astronauts.

I had no idea how they’d go about hiring astronauts, and here’s an announce­ment saying, hey, you want to be an astronaut, here are the qualifications. You have to be between five foot and six foot four, and you have to have good eye­sight, and you have to have a college degree, and graduate school counts as ex­perience. You need three years of experience, and I’m thinking, “Well, I’m qual­ified. " I’ve also told kids that so were twenty million other guys.

Hawley recalled that this was the first time he thought that becoming an astronaut might really be possible for him, because of changes in the selection criteria. “I probably dropped everything I was doing at that mo­ment and set about filling out this application to become an astronaut. I didn’t realize till years later that it’s actually the same application you fill out to be any government employee, SF-171. You fill it out and send it in. I even remember sending it by, I think, return receipt request so that I could make sure that this thing got into the hands of the proper people at NASA.”

Realistically, Hawley said, he didn’t think he would be selected. He real­ized the pool contained many well-qualified applicants. But even with what he believed were slim odds, he applied anyway. “Why in the world would they pick me?” he said.

I still think perhaps they didn’t mean to, and one day they’ll come and tap me on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me. You’ve got this guy’s desk, coincidentally named Steve Hawley, and he’s the one we meant." I’ve told kids this, too, that the reason I applied, as much as anything, was because I knew that if I applied and didn’t get picked, and then I watched shuttles launch with people on them and building space stations and putting up telescopes in space, I could live with that, if NASA said, “Well, thanks, but you’re not what we’re looking for." But to not apply, to not try, and then wonder your whole life, could you have done it if you had tried, I didn’t think I could take that. So it was okay if they said no, but I didn’t want to go through the rest of my life wondering, had I only tried, would I be able to do it?

Before 1978 NASA had selected five groups of pilots and two groups of scientist-astronauts. The eighth group would be the first mixed class, in­cluding both pilots and a new designation, mission specialists.

The new designation was of particular interest to Mike Mullane, who at the time was a flight-test weapon system operator for the air force. “nasa announced they were selecting mission specialist astronauts, and this was the new thing, because now you didn’t have to be a pilot to apply to be an astronaut. So this dream of perhaps being an astronaut was now back open to me. In fact, I remember that night that they announced it. This was big news at Edwards, because virtually everybody at Edwards Air Force Base wanted to apply to be an astronaut.”

The new class would be the largest group of astronauts yet. More than eight thousand applications were received. In 1978 NASA announced the first class of shuttle astronauts, dubbed TFNG, an acronym given multiple meanings, most politely, “thirty-five new guys.”

Among the new class were, of course, test pilots from the navy and the air force, many of whom knew each other and had trained and served to­gether. Rick Hauck was on his second cruise as a navy pilot on the uss En­terprise when the announcement came out. “There was a flyer from NASA saying they were looking for applicants for the astronaut program to fly the shuttle and, in fact, four of us on the Enterprise wound up in my astro­naut class: myself, Hoot Gibson, Dale Gardner, and John Creighton. Three of the fifteen pilots were from that air wing. Dale Gardner was a mission specialist. Which is really kind of interesting, three of fifteen. What’s that? Twenty percent came from that ship.”

Hauck didn’t grow up with an interest in space, and as a child there had been no space program for him to aspire to. “The word Apollo didn’t even exist in terms of spaceflight when I was thinking about becoming a na­val aviator,” said Hauck, who was a junior in college when Alan Shepard made his first spaceflight in 1961. “Even before I became an aviator, while I was at [The U. S. Naval Test Pilot School in] Monterey, I had read that NASA was recruiting scientists to become astronauts, and I wrote a letter to NASA saying, ‘I’m in graduate school. You could tailor my education how­ever you saw fit to optimize my benefit to the program, and I’d be very in­terested in becoming an astronaut.’ I got a letter back saying, ‘Thank you very much for your interest. Don’t call us. We’ll call you.’ That was in ear­ly ’65, I think, so it was twelve years later that I was accepted into the as­tronaut program.”

Sally Ride, the United States’ first female astronaut to fly in space, saw the ad for a new class of astronauts in the Stanford University newspaper, placed there by the Center for Research on Women at Stanford. “The ad


8. Astronauts training to experience weightlessness on board the nasa кс-135. Courtesy nasa.

made it clear that nasa was looking for scientists and engineers, and it also made it clear that they were going to accept women into the astronaut corps. They wanted applications from women, which is presumably the reason the Center for Research on Women was contacted and the reason that they of­fered to place the ad in the Stanford student newspaper.”

Another member of the eighth class, air force pilot Dick Covey, got to nasa by studying and following a career path similar to those of the early astronauts. “As I looked at what it looked like those original astronauts had done. . . that became a path for me to follow,” Covey said. He majored in astronautical engineering and participated in a cooperative master’s pro­gram between the Air Force Academy and Purdue University. According to Covey, fifteen of the selected Thirty-Five New Guys participated in the program at the same time as he.

We gave up our graduation vacation time. All my [other] classmates got two months to go off and party and tour the world and do whatever and then go to their flight training, while we all went immediately, right after graduation to Purdue and started school again. But in January following graduation in June, we all had our master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics, and those of us that were going to flight training already had our flight-training date, and we went immediately to flight training. So, for someone that wanted to be an as­tronaut, being able to go through the Air Force Academy, major in astronauti – cal engineering, and get a master’s degree from Purdue in aeronautics and as­tronautics within seven months and then go immediately to flight training was an extraordinary opportunity. I often wonder, if I had not done that, whether I would have ever become an astronaut. . . . One of the reasons Purdue has so many astronauts is there’s all these Air Force Academy guys who went through that program over time, and it added to their numbers then.

When the announcement was made, Covey applied through the air force. The air force had decided, as the other services did, that it would have its own selection of those it would nominate to nasa, and Covey was selected as one of the air force’s applicants.

Hauck and Dan Brandenstein were test pilot school classmates and squad­ron mates six years prior to their selection to the corps. Hauck said the two talked a lot back then about whether or not they would apply to the astro­naut program.

Part of the preinterview process was the folks in Houston took each folder. Some ofthe people were rejected immediately. Some, they said, “Well, let’s find out more about this person. ” They make a lot of phone calls. “Hey, do you know Rick?” or, “Do you know Dan? What do you think about him?” So I got a call one day in my office at Whidbey Island, Washington, and it was John Young. And John said, “I’m on the selection board for this astronaut program. ” He didn’t say any­thing about knowing that I was applying. He said, “Dan Brandenstein, he’s in your squadron there. What do you think about him?” And I told him, I said, “I think he’s a great guy. He’d be a super astronaut. ” He said, “Okay, thank you very much. ” And I said, “Excuse me, but I’m applying also. ” He said, “I know. I know. Thank you very much. ”

Covey said that his selection as one of the air force’s candidates for the new class of astronauts was the first of a series of milestones that made the possibility of achieving his goal seem a little more real. “When they start­ed [interviewing candidates] we knew they were doing it,” Covey said, re­calling that, at the same time, nasa was conducting glide-flight tests of the prototype orbiter, Enterprise.

So everybody’s getting excited about the shuttle now. . . . We knew that NASA was getting ready. I had a vacation planned. I had just taken my wife and kids and put them on an airplane. They were on their way to California, and I was supposed to join them within a day or two. I got a call, and it was from Jay Honeycutt. Jay was calling to invite me to come to Houston. . . . It was very short notice for an interview. That was the first day they were calling anybody. Finally had got their list down and alphabetically they started calling people to come. I’m sitting there. I just sent my wife out. I’m supposed to go join her on this vacation out here. I remember thinking—I mean, this was the hardest question I was going to ask. I said, “Jay, so if I said I couldn’t come next week, will you invite me back another time?”I later talked to Jay, and he said that he said, “Well, just a second. Let me check. ” So I go, “Oh, no. ”

Covey said that Honeycutt told him later that he had to go ask wheth­er they could schedule another time for a candidate, since it was a possi­bility that hadn’t been discussed. “They expect that everybody will say, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow,’ you know. So he came back and says, ‘Yeah, we’ll in­vite you back.’ Well, so I go on my vacation, and I’m going, ‘Oh, my God. They haven’t called me yet. When are they going to call me?’ So it was a terrible vacation. It was a terrible vacation. Toward the end of it they fi­nally called; said, ‘Well, we’re getting our stuff together. We want you to come week after next.’”

The interview process lasted a week and included physical, psychiatric, and psychological exams. “The physical exams included lab work of ev­erything that they could measure,” recalled Hauck. The psychiatric exam, Hauck said, involved interviews with a “good-guy psychiatrist” and a “bad – guy psychiatrist,” each of whom played a different role in the test.

The bad-guy psychiatrist evaluated how you did under pressure. For example, “I’m going to read off a list of numbers. Tell me what they are in inverse or­der. ” And you start with two, five, and you say, “Five, two. ” And then three numbers, then four numbers, then five, then six, and you’re sitting there just thinking, “I cant do this. ” At some point, you make a mistake. Inevitably, at some point you make a mistake and the psychiatrist said, “That’s wrong, ” with a scowl on his face. “Cant you do better than that?” Blah, blah, blah. And, of course, he doesn’t care whether you did it with five numbers, three numbers, or eight numbers. He’s more interested in seeing whether you get flustered, wheth –

eryou get antagonistic. And as I recall, I might have said, “That’s the best I can do, yes.” “That’s okay.”

The role of the other interviewer, Hauck said, focused more on the can­didate’s emotions and interpersonal relationship styles. “The good-guy psy­chiatrist would ask you questions such as if you were to wear a T-shirt and there were an animal on the front of the T-shirt and you wanted that to sort of be your symbol, what would that animal be? I forget what I said, and I’m sure he drew some conclusions whether you said a tiger or a tur­tle or a rat or what.”

In another part of the test, he said, candidates were zipped up individu­ally into a fabric sphere.

In order to get into it, you had to get into a fetal position, into a ball, and the concept of the sphere was it was just small enough so that it could go through the crew hatch in the Space Shuttle in the event that you had to rescue people from one shuttle to another. The charter was, “Were going to put you in this. You have oxygen. You have communications. Were not going to tell you how longyou’re go­ing to be in there. At the end, we want you to write a flight report on what you think are the upsides, downsides, what more needs to be studied for this concept. ”

So that was fascinating. There was really two objectives there. One is, see how analytical you are about analyzing.. . a piece ofhardware or software. Number two is a claustrophobia test, because you literally couldn’t move very much, and it would be very clear ifyou had claustrophobic tendencies. As I recall, I found it most comfortable to sort of lie on my back with my knees up, and I almost fell asleep.

The “big deal” of the process, Hauck said, was the board interview with Johnson Space Center officials who made the selection decisions.

They’d say, “Tell us about yourself,” and just let you talk. I don’t remember getting any surprise questions, but some of the people got surprise questions. For example, President Carter was president at the time. He had just signed the bill that trans­ferred the Panama Canal back to Panama, and one of the questions was, “What do you think about the Suez Canal situation?” And of course, the person might have started commenting about the Panama Canal because that was what was in the news, and then one of the board members might say, “Why are you telling us about the Panama Canal? We asked you about the Suez Canal. ” And again, it’s an opportunity to see how people react under some level of stress and so on.

Interviewees were called to Houston in groups. John Fabian said his group comprised about twenty-two people, and he was convinced that any of them would have made fine astronauts. “It was all rather intimidating and awe-inspiring,” Fabian said, “but somehow, at the end of it, some peo­ple got lucky, and other people didn’t, and I was one of the lucky ones.”

At six feet one, Fabian was too tall for earlier astronaut selections, but with the Space Shuttle program came a new maximum height of six feet four. Before that, he’d not given it much thought, he said. “I’ve always had the philosophy that you shouldn’t try to be something you can’t. I couldn’t be an astronaut if I was six foot one, and that was above the height limit.”

The highlight of the interview week for Terry Hart was the selection com­mittee, led by Director of Flight Operations George Abbey, in part due to an unusual circumstance in another part of the interview. Hart’s blood tests early in the week were flagged for being outside the parameters for uric acid.

“The basic message I was getting was that that was going to be disqual­ifying,” Hart said.

And in a sense I think that really helped me, because I went into the interview just [like] I was down here for the experience and everything. I was relatively relaxed as you could be for such an interview and went through that interview process and finished the week up. I went home and told my wife that it was a wonderful experience, but I wasn’t going to make it, which is what I thought from the be­ginning. But I was a little disappointed at that point, because as you get into the process, your competitive juices start flowing and everything. You really want to be part of this very exciting adventure that was about to begin. Yet realistically, I’d met all these people that… seemed to be so much more qualified than I was.

On the flip side, Norm Thagard found himself feeling like he was in the hot seat during his interview, particularly over a comment he made about women.

You sit there at a table and there are people on all sides of you during the inter­view and they’re firing questions at you. . . . The question George [Abbey] asked me was, “Well, I see that you made a C in ballroom dancing. Why was that?" I said, “Well, our instructor was a woman who liked to lead." Which was true. “I found that very difficult to learn to dance with someone who was leading." But then the next question was, “Well, what do you have against women?" And, you know, they’re firing these questions from all over and you’re turning

this way and then you’re turning that way. [I heard] a little ruffle of move­ment and I see someone get up and leave. When I turn back, Carolyn Hunt – oon, who was the only female member on the thing, had gotten up and left. I said, “Well, this is just great." First of all, they’ve drawn this thing out, which to me, I thought was an innocent enough response, but now they’re making a big deal out of it. Now this woman is obviously a feminist and offended that I’ve said this, and so she’s left.

After the selection announcement, Thagard would find out what had hap­pened when he and the other new astronauts were brought to Johnson Space Center for media events. “Carolyn Huntoon was the one that babysat our kids, because we brought them along for that,” he said. “She took us in our car over to some of the events at jsc. I reminded Carolyn that she had gotten up and left during my interview and what I had thought was the reason why. She says, ‘Oh, no, I had to get up to leave because my babysitter had to go home.’ So it took me a long time to realize that, in fact, it hadn’t been all that bad.”

After the week-long interviews, it was time to wait. And wait. And wait. “I think I was [at Johnson for the interview] in August or something,” Covey re­called. “And so it was go home and wait for five months to see what happened. And nothing; there was nothing. It was real quiet during that time period.”

Finally, in January 1978 the phone calls started going out. John Fabian remembers where he was when he first heard that the new class had been selected, before he knew whether he had been chosen or not. “I was in bed that morning when my wife and I heard an announcement that NASA had selected thirty-five astronauts and among this group there would be six women,” he said. “And my wife said, ‘That’s too many,’ which sounds fun­ny today. But, of course, her concern was that, if there are six women se­lected, that’s six slots that my husband isn’t going to fill.”

It wasn’t until later that day at work that Fabian got the phone call from nasa as he was preparing to go teach a class. “Mr. Abbey was on the other end, and he said, ‘John, this is George Abbey; I’m calling from the Johnson Space Center. I’m interested to know if you’re still interested in becoming an astronaut.’ I said, ‘Yes, I certainly am.’ He said, ‘Well then, I’m pleased to tell you that your name is on this list.’ So I had to have somebody else go teach my class, because I was psychologically not prepared to go lecture at that particular time. It was a great thrill, a real honor.”

At the time Mike Mullane got his phone call, he was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida but was on temporary duty to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. Mullane was phoned by his wife, who told him George Abbey had called their home to talk to him. Like several others, Mullane was aware the selection had been made because he had heard on the news about the women who were selected. Finally, he talked with Ab­bey himself and got the official word that he had been chosen. “I just went out and screamed with joy. I remember that night I bought some beer for the rest of the people that I was working with there at Mountain Home in the hangar there, and we had a little party. I remember. . . stopping out in the desert. This is out in Idaho. It’s like New Mexico. Go out in the des­ert; it’s like being in space. Black sky. I remember standing out there and just looking at the sky and thinking that I had this chance of actually fly­ing in space.”

Mullane said that, despite the news of his selection and that moment in the desert, he still had doubts that he would ever actually make it into orbit.

I’m one of these guys that tend to think of all the things that can go wrong, like a medical problem or the rocket blows up or whatever it is. . . . Even though Abbey called and told me that I’m an astronaut, I felt like there’s still a lot that could go wrong that would prevent me from actually flying in space, but I still had this overwhelming sense of joy that I had this shot at getting into space. It was a lifetime dream come true to be an astronaut. But again, I didn’t real­ly ever consider myself an astronaut until the srbs ignited on my first mission. All the rest of it I just thought it was name only. But it certainly was an over­whelming, joyful experience of the first magnitude.

We tend to set these goals and think that once we reach this goal, it’s going to make you happy for the rest of your life. . . . Of course, that never happens. I remember telling my wife that if I just flew one time in space, just one time in space, that’s all that I would need to be infinitely happy. And then I’ll bet with­in two days after landing from my first mission, I said, “I sure would like an­other mission. ” It’s just one of those things. It’s a joyful experience to be told that you’re going to get a shot at riding into space. So I was weightless at that point, I think. I was just floating around, already weightless.

Norm Thagard also had the yo-yo experience of assuming that finding out about the selection on the news meant that he hadn’t been picked, only to get the phone call the next day at work from George Abbey saying that he had been chosen.

I hung up the phone and turned to the group that was there and said, “I guess I’m an astronaut. "Then I went back in my room and put my head down on the desk and was real depressed for the rest ofthe day. That’s honest. I was depressed. It took me awhile to figure out what was going on, but I finally think I understood that I’d always had goals, I always wanted to do this, that, and the other, but I nev­er had really any goals beyond being an astronaut. So you’re all of a sudden faced [with] there’s nothing left to live for. Then you realize, well, yes, there is, because you still hadn’tflown in space. So life goes on. But my reaction really surprised me at first, because it was depression. I mean, I was not elated at all. I remember feel­ing, on the one hand, sort ofgratified, but on the other hand, just feeling real down.

The Thirty-Five New Guys were the first class of astronauts to come in as astronaut candidates, or AsCans. “In previous selections they had had some people that didn’t really particularly care for the job and maybe didn’t know what the job entailed and left,” Mike Mullane said. “I think to avoid whatever embarrassment that might cause NASA or the individual, they established this plan which you come in for a couple of years and you go through training and evaluation. Then at the end of that period you either become no longer a candidate, and now you’re an astronaut, or it’s decided either mutually or by one party or the other that, yes, this probably wasn’t the right move, so we agree to part company at this point. No hard feelings.”

Mullane said he was afraid that the new process might mean that he would never earn the official title of astronaut.

I realistically thought there was a chance in a couple of years they might get rid of me. So I was concerned about that. I knew this was going to be an interest­ing mix of people, and I knew that there were going to be people that knew a lot more about stuff that was important than I knew, and there were going to be these pilots and all that other stuff so I was a little concerned how we would all get along. But I think primarily I was just concerned about would I be able to really do the things that would be expected of me.

This first group of AsCans was so large that its members became the ma­jority of the Astronaut Office when they reported for duty in July 1978. Lo­ren Shriver recalled,

I think the folks who were still in the Astronaut Office, which, of course, had been between programs for several years of that period, were glad to see us there on the one hand, because they were all really busy doing the technical things that astro­nauts do while they’re waiting to go fly—various inputs to boards and panels and safety inputs and crew displays and all that kind of thing. They were all really busy, and I think they were happy to see us show up so that we would be able to help them and take some of the load. At the same time, I think there was a bit of the “Oh, no, all these new guys. How are we ever going to get them trained and up to speed? Will they ever be ready to go fly in space?” Well, that’s kind ofa nat­ural reaction to the group of people who has been there and done that a lot. That’s a bit ofa different aspect of “We’re happy to have them here, but I don’t know, it’s maybe just a little more work for a while until we get them all checked out. ”

Dick Covey said that the remaining veterans were quite welcoming to the large surge of rookie astronauts. “I never felt like they saw us coming in as ‘Oh, my God, we’ve got more people than we need,’” he said. “I’ve seen that since then, as the Astronaut Office has gone through huge swells and stuff, but I didn’t sense that from them. I got the sense that the twen­ty something of them that were still in the office were looking forward to some additional help. We seemed to be welcomed very graciously, particu­larly by the [previous class]. They really embraced our arrival, and I always felt like they felt like they needed more people to do the work for the of­fice and getting ready to fly.”

The warm welcome was also experienced by Rick Hauck, who agreed that the “real astronauts” were grateful for the extra hands.

They’d already started gearing up for shuttle and they needed help. So we were there to be helpful in any way we can. They wanted to get us as smart about the systems as soon as they could. . . . Everyone was very hospitable to us, bending over backwards to make us comfortable and telling us how much they need­ed us. We felt wanted, and contrast that with Dick Truly and Bob Crippen, [who] had joined from the mol program, the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, and when they arrived there, I forget whether it was Deke Slayton or someone else said, “We didn’t ask for you. We didn’t want you. Stay out of the way. ” Big difference. So I think that they were even sensitive to that kind ofa reception.

John Fabian said that he had also heard horror stories about how the last class—Group 7—had been treated when the recruits arrived in 1969. Un­like the other classes, Group 7 had not been chosen through an open se­lection. The air force had formed its own astronaut corps, independent of nasa, to support its Manned Orbiting Laboratory space station program. When that program was canceled, the air force closed its corps and asked nasa to take on its excess astronauts. At the time, nasa’s astronaut corps had more people than it needed for the remaining Apollo-era seats avail­able. There were reportedly multiple attempts at the jsc flight operations level to get rid of the new recruits, which were overruled by nasa leader­ship, eager to have the air force’s support as the agency sought funding for the Space Shuttle.

“We heard some bad stories about the way the mol guys were treated when they came in, as kind of a leper colony, and we weren’t treated that way at all,” Fabian said. “I think they were glad to see us come. The shut­tle program was just around the corner, we thought. It turns out it wasn’t quite just around the corner, but we thought it was, and there was a lot of work to be done, and there was a lot of legwork that needed to be accom­plished. . . . So I think they were glad to see us. They got some new hands and legs, and I think that they counted on us being somewhat motivated and somewhat capable. So it was a very pleasant thing.”

Steven Hawley was a little less sure what the veterans thought of his As – Can class.

We hadn’t really been flying a lot in ’78;. . . since we’d landed on the moon, there’d only been like four crews to get to fly, and here’s this new bunch of guys walking in the door. I could see how some of the guys that had been around for a while waiting to fly might have been a little resentful. If they were, that didn’t come across in any way, because our training was separate from what most ev­erybody else was doing. Everybody else was doing mainstream support of shuttle and development of everything that needed to be done before STS-1. We would cross paths at the Monday morning meeting or you’d run into them at the gym or something like that, but mostly we did our own thing.

Initially, Hawley said, the main interaction between the new class and the veteran astronauts came in the form of nasa history lessons during their training. “They thought it was important, and I think it is, that we hear from people that had flown Apollo and had flown Skylab and astp. So I remem­ber we got lectures from some of the guys that were still there, some of the

guys that had left but came back to talk to us about their flights and what

it was like back then. . . . These were my heroes, and to actually get to sit in a room and listen to them talk about their flights was pretty awesome.”

Veteran Apollo astronaut T. K. Mattingly confirmed that the corps was glad for the new class and the needed help it provided.

Once we got these folks on, the OV-101 [Enterprise] was rapidly approaching the time to get ready to go. So we put together the training program for the new folks and helped them get started on that. Then we split them up, .. .just spread amongst the few of us that had been around. [The shuttle’s robot arm] and a lot of these other activities were all getting sort of a lick and a promise instead of real attention till the ’78 group came on board, and once they went to work, then they really took hold and played very key roles in the development.

Of course, the “Thirty-Five New Guys” weren’t just “guys.” The veteran fly – boys of the astronaut corps also welcomed for the first time six women who were part of the new class. Sally Ride pointed out that her class presented a dou­ble whammy for those who had already been in the corps—not only were they now outnumbered by rookies, they were the minority in an office that was sud­denly much more diverse. “They seemed to accept us pretty well,” recalled Ride.

We had them outnumbered, so I’m not sure they had a choice. It was clearly very different for them. They were used to a particular environment and cul­ture. Most of them were test pilots. There were a few scientists, but most were test pilots. Of course the entire astronaut corps had been male, so they were not used to working with women. And there had been no additions to the astronaut corps in nearly ten years, so even having a large infusion of new blood changed their working environment.

But they knew that this was coming and they’d known it was coming for a couple of years. Well before the announced upcoming opportunity to apply for the astronaut corps, NASA had decided that women were going to be a part of it. So I think that the existing astronauts had a couple of years to adjust and come to terms with it. By the time that we actually arrived, they had adapted to the idea. We really didn’t have any issues with them at all. It was easy to tell, though, that


9. The first female astronaut candidates in the U. S. space program, leftto right, are Sally Ride, Judy Resnik, Anna Fisher, Kathryn Sullivan, and Rhea Seddon. Courtesy nasa.

the males in our group were really pretty comfortable with us, while the astro­nauts who’d been around for a while were not all as comfortable and didn’t quite know how to react. But they were just fine and didn’t give us a hard time at all.

Ride said there was a lot of media attention surrounding the TFNG an­nouncement since it was the first astronaut selection in ten years and the first selection to include women. She said the attention didn’t affect her private life all that much, since the agency worked to keep the extra attention at a minimum so that it didn’t affect the astronauts’ abilities to train and work. “It wasn’t particularly burdensome after the initial flurry of interviews,” Ride said. “There was a fair amount of [attention], but it was still easy to have a normal life. . . . I think jsc worked hard to prepare for the arrival of women astronauts and female technical professionals. The technical staff at jsc— around four thousand engineers and scientists—was almost entirely male. There was just a very small handful of female scientists and engineers—I think only five or six out of the four thousand. The arrival of the female as­tronauts suddenly doubled the number of technical women at jsc.”

Joe Engle, who became an astronaut in 1966 as part of the “Needless Nineteen,” recalled that one dilemma with adding women to the corps was figuring out where to put the women’s locker room at the gym. “We just

had a guys’ locker room over there up to then,” Engle said. “So Deke [Slay­ton] had to figure it out. And of course, good old Deke, he said, ‘Well, hell, we’ll just put a curtain up and you can all use the same damn room,’ but he finally conceded that they would have a separate room.”

For some, this was their first time to ever work closely with women. “It was really all new to me, and I didn’t do it all right, either,” Fabian recalled. “That was a slightly different era. It was an era in which you would take the centerfold of Playboy magazine and post it up on the back of your office door, and that was thought to be totally acceptable as long as it was the back of the door instead of the front of the door. And people hadn’t yet thought of the word ‘harassment.’ We were all learning. We were all learning in those days.”

Mike Mullane said that working with his female classmates was a new ex­perience for him as well. “I’d be a liar if I didn’t say it was difficult to learn how to work with women,” he said,

and not because of the women; because I had no life experience in working with women. I tell everybody, there were two things that at age thirty-two I did that I had never done in my life, when I woke up to go to work for my first morning as an official astronaut at NASA. . . dressed myself, and worked with women.

I went to twelve years of Catholic schools, wore a uniform every day. Woke up, put on a uniform. Went to school. Went to West Point. For four years I don’t think I ever saw an article of civilian clothes. Didn’t have it in the closet. Wore a uniform all the time. Went into the airforce. Would wake up in the morning, go to work, put on a flight suit. Not one time in my life did I ever have to go to a closet, open it up, and pick a pair of slacks and shirt that matched. And that was a real struggle. In fact, a number of times that I walked out of the house or walked through the kitchen on my way to work, Donna, my wife, would look at me and say, “You’re not going to work dressed like that, are you?” In fact, she told me she was going to get Garanimals and put them on the clothes so that I could match the elephants with the elephants and the giraffe with the giraffe.

Mullane said that unfamiliarity with dealing with civilian clothes was a common struggle among the career-military astronauts. “I wasn’t the only one struggling in this regard, because I remember driving up one day to NASA with my kids in the car, . . . and there was one of the astronauts walk­ing around in plaid pants,” he said. “Plaid pants. I mean, even I, with my absolute zero fashion sense, thought that maybe that looked a little bit retro. In fact, to this day, my kids, they’re in their thirties now, if I’m with them and they see a golfer out in plaid pants, my kids will laugh and say, ‘Hey, Dad, check it out. There’s an astronaut.’”

Just as he’d never been in an environment where he didn’t wear a uniform, Mullane said, those environments also limited his contact with the female sex. “I had never in my life ever worked professionally with women,” he said.

In fact, my whole life, the Catholic schools I went to weren’t gender-segregated, but a lot of the classes were. .. . So I had very little interaction with females as a young person, and West Point had no females at the time I was there. In the air force, the flying community that I was in had no females when I was in there. So as a result, I was thirty-two years old when I was selected as an astronaut and I had never worked professionally with women, and I have to admit that I’m sure I was a jerk, in a word, because I just didn’t know how to act around them, tell­ing jokes that probably were not appropriate to tell and just doing dumb things that were inappropriate and probably would have gotten me a prison sentence in this day and age now with sexual harassment and all that. The women had to endure a lot, because there was a lot ofguys like myselfin that regard, I think, that had never worked with women and were kind of struggling to come to grips on working professionally with women, but we all made it. That’s for sure.

The camaraderie among the thirty-five was interesting, too, because of the extreme diversity and the introduction of the new mission specialists. There was a difference even in the aspirations that led each new astronaut to the corps. The TFNG class was announced almost nineteen years after NASA hired its first astronauts, and several of the pilot candidates in Group 8 had spent much of their career with the idea in the back of their minds of someday joining their ranks.

One of those was Dan Brandenstein, who had been interested in becom­ing an astronaut for a long time and had set himself milestones to accom­plish to get there. “But a number of the mission specialists, they weren’t pi­lots and they never had been pilots. I think Sally Ride is one that comes to mind. I mean, she was saying how she was just walking through the Stu­dent Union one day and saw a flyer that said NASA was looking for astro­nauts, and that’s really the first time she’d ever thought about it. A number of the mission specialists, that was their attitude.”

To Brandenstein, the new diversity his class brought to the astronaut corps was a good thing. Like others, he’d been in much more homogenous environments until then and was excited about having his horizons broad­ened. “The wide diversity of backgrounds that we had in that class was unique to NASA, and I personally loved it, because I’ve always been inter­ested in a lot of things,” he said.

I’m fascinated going into a factory where they make bubble gum or you name it, just to see how different machines and different things work. In my life­time, I took up skiing and I didn’t take lessons; I learned to do it through the school of hard knocks. I bought a sailboat and I made some sails because I thought it would be kind of fun to make a sail. So I was always interested in not just what I did, but kind of a wide variety of things. So being now in a group with people that were doctors and scientists and all, this was re­ally fascinating to me.

Mattingly said the new mission specialist category of astronaut required major adjustments that the Astronaut Office pretty much made up as they went along. For example, he said, he was involved in some discus­sion about who should command the Space Shuttle missions. Up to that point, only four NASA missions had included nonpilot astronauts—four scientist-astronauts had flown over the course of the last moon landing and the three Skylab missions. On those flights, the commander was still chosen from the pilot astronauts in the corps. Mattingly, who said that his experience on aircraft with larger, more diverse crews gave him a dif­ferent perspective, wondered whether that tradition should change with the new mission specialists.

We came up with these crazy ideas that since we’re going to be flying this “air­plane, " but the mission of the airplane is whatever is in the payload bay, may­be the mission commander should be a mission specialist, or maybe the mission commander is a separate position where both pilots and mission specialists as­pire to that being the senior position. The skipper of a ship doesn’t put his hands on a steering wheel; he directs the mission. I thought that was really good, and some of my navy buddies, “Yeah, that makes sense." Boy, that did not float at all, and there was a bigger division between mission specialists and pilots than I had ever guessed there would be.

Mattingly intermixed pilots and mission specialists on the teams develop­ing the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (sail), thinking the desig­nations wouldn’t matter much. “I just mixed them up,” Mattingly recalled.

I said, you know, “Bright people work hard. I don’t care where you go. ” So we sent mission specialists and pilots both to the sail, and the job that you had to do over there didn’t require any aeronautic skills at all; it was checking out the software and just going through procedures. Anybody who was willing to take the time to learn the procedures and has some understanding of how this com­puter system works is going to be fine.

We ended up having to put out all kinds of brush fires, you know, “He cant do that. He’s a mission specialist. ”. . . We had a sail group around the table when they were having a debriefing. We did this every week to go over all the things we’d done and what was open. Steve [Hawley] started it off with, “Did you hear about the pilot that was so dumb the others noticed?” I’ve told that to a lot of people, and I thought that was great. And at that point I think that Steve finally broke the ice, and everyone kind of said, “This is dumb, isn’t it. ” After that, at least it never came to my attention again if they had any prob­lems, but from then on, they really came together.

Brewster Shaw recalled that early on Kathy Sullivan commented to him that the pilots were going to be just like taxi drivers and that it was the mis­sion specialists who were going to do all the significant work on the Space Shuttle program. “Turns out, by golly, she was pretty much right,” Shaw said. “But at the time, being a macho test pilot, I was a little appalled at her statement.” Shaw saw just how true Sullivan’s statement was as pilot of STS-9, his first mission. “Our role was very minimal, John [Young’s] and mine, because we didn’t have to maneuver the vehicle very much, but we had to monitor the systems a lot. So we didn’t get to participate to a great length in the science that was going on. So, yes, pretty much, we got it up there and we got it back. In the meantime, the other guys did all the work.”

For training the TFNG group was split into two sections—the Red Team and the Blue Team, Brandenstein explained. Teams took turns in the class­room and flying, spending a half day on each activity and then switching off with the other team. “We broke in two parts because the classroom didn’t hold the thirty-five people,” John Fabian recalled, “and so you got to know the people that were in your class much better, in reality, than you got to know the people that were in the other class, particularly in the first three or four months. But what we found out very quickly was that all of these people, whether they were the youngest in the group or the oldest in the group, they were all extraordinarily bright, extraordinarily capable, and very, very eager to succeed in what it was that they were doing.”

The new AsCans brought a variety of interesting backgrounds to the ta­ble, according to Brandenstein.

There were a lot of neat people. . . that knew a lot about things I didn’t have a clue about, so you could learn a lot more. And that was kind of the flavor of the training. The first year of training, they try and give everybody some baseline of knowledge that they needed to operate in that office, so we had aerodynamics courses, which, for somebody who had been through a test-pilot school, was kind ofa “ho-hum, been there, done that," but for a medical doctor, I mean, that was something totally new and different. But then the astronomy courses and the ge­ology courses and the medical-type courses we got, all that was focused on stuff we’d have to know to operate in the office and at least understand and be rea­sonably cognizant of some of the importance of the various experiments that we would be doing on the various missions and stuff. So I found that real fascinating.

For example, he said, the astronomy course was a real standout for him in the training. “He’s passed away now, but the astronomy course was Pro­fessor Smith out of University ofTexas, and he was kind of your almost ste­reotypical crazy professor,” Brandenstein said.

I mean, he was just a cloud ofchalk dust back and forth across the blackboard as he went on. We had twelve hours of astronomy; he claimed that he gave us four years of undergraduate and two years of graduate astronomy in twelve hours. And it gave you a good appreciation of what it was all about. It didn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, make me an astronomer, but the intent of it was to give you an appreciation and give you an understanding. And then also because of the very special instructors they brought in, it gave you a point ofcontact, so if somewhere later in your career you had a mission that needed that expertise, you had somebody to go up to and get the level of detailed information you needed.

Brandenstein said that he was very grateful that the format of the class­es was just to absorb as much as possible from the barrage of information; there were no written tests. “Everything was pretty much that way. It was just dump data on you faster than you could imagine. A common joke was that training as an astronaut candidate was kind of like drinking water out of a fire hose; it just kept coming and kept coming and kept coming. Prob­ably the good point of it was you weren’t given written tests, so they could just heap as much on you, and you captured what you could. What rolled off your back, you knew where to go recover it.”

Everybody in the class had their strengths at some point in the training, and Brandenstein said the pilots enjoyed when the training was on their home turf. The pilots in the group, he said, liked to take the mission spe­cialists up for what they referred to as “turn and burn”—loops, rolls, and other aerobatics. “We’d go out and do simulated combat and show them what it’s like to have a dogfight and all those sorts of things. So that was [as] fascinating to them as me sitting down with an astronomer or a doc­tor and finding out about the types of things they did.”

Brewster Shaw said he came into the corps with very few expectations of what the job entailed, beyond eventually flying on the Space Shuttle. “I soon learned that the percentage of the time you got to fly the Space Shut­tle was pretty miniscule, relative to the percentage of the time that you were here working for the agency, and that there was a lot of other things you were going to do that would take up all your time, and that was made clear to us pretty soon.”

Getting Ready to Fly

One downside of creating something from scratch is that it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. As shuttle hardware development was wind­ing down, astronauts began facing the next challenge—how do you teach people to fly a vehicle that no one has ever flown? Step one was figuring out how exactly the thing would fly and then developing procedures for flying it. That would be followed by step two, developing procedures for training people to follow the procedures for flying.

As the people who would have the job of actually flying the as-yet-unflown vehicle, the astronaut corps was tasked with providing operator input on the creation of both operating and training procedures. Since a large per­centage of the corps at the time was rookie astronauts, in many cases pro­cedures for flying a vehicle that had never been in space were being devel­oped by astronauts who had also never been in space.

For example, the team of astronauts representing the Astronaut Office in figuring out how to use the shuttle’s robot arm, the remote manipulator system, was composed of astronauts John Fabian, Bill Lenoir, Bo Bobko, Sally Ride, and Norm Thagard. “One of the things that we worked on early,” recalled Fa­bian, “was the failure modes of the robotic arm and how to protect the orbit – er and the crew in the event one of these failure modes occurred. At the same time, we tried to figure out ways that we could continue on and do the job and do the mission at hand in the face of certain failures of the robotic arm.”

To tackle these issues, the team ran many simulations in Canada, where the arm was made, to work through procedures for nominal and off-nominal operations. Fabian recalled staying in Toronto quite a bit, around four hun­dred nights.

I used to try to change hotels about every one hundred nights up there because it got kind of old, staying in the same motel. And by far, I spent the most time

up there of the people that were working on it, because I was there in some very, very long simulations, trying to figure out the various workarounds. Some days were very long. Some days were seven o’clock in the morning until nine or ten at night, and we would take a break and go out and have dinner and then may­be go back to the plant. This wasn’t common. Usually it was close to an eight – to-fivejob, or a nine-to-sixjob or whatever. But ifyou were in the middle ofa long simulation, then you would work longer hours.

Fabian recalled that it was Sally Ride who wrote the procedures for the first flight of the arm on sts-2. The procedures, Ride said, came directly out of the simulations.

Until you actually start using something, it’s very difficult to make predictions on how well it’s going to work, what it’s used for, and how to accomplish the tasks that it’s designed to accomplish.

We did a lot of development of the visual cues. The astronaut controlling the arm looks at it out the window and also monitors its motion using several cameras. Often critical parts of the view are blocked, or the arm is a long ways from the window, or the work is delicate. In those cases, the astronaut needs ref­erence points to help guide the direction he or she moves the arm. How do you know exactly that you’re lifting a satellite cleanly out of the payload bay and not bumping it into the structure? We also helped determine how you move the arm. What limits should be put on the use of the arm to make sure that it’s kept well within its design constraints? We did a lot of work on that. It was reward­ing work, because it was at a time when the system was just being developed, and nobody had paid attention to those things yet.

Despite challenges like limited visibility, Fabian said that the work de­veloping the interface and procedures resulted in the manipulator being “quite easy to use.” But, he noted, “it’s also a little bit intimidating, because you’ve got this thing which is fifty feet long out there in the cargo bay, and if you’re not careful, you could punch a hole in the wing or do something really stupid with it.”

Fabian views his contributions to rms development as one of his most significant accomplishments at NASA.

The rms has worked wonders on all of the flights. It’s really a great piece of equipment. The Canadians have gone on to design an arm now for the Inter­national Space Station, so they have gotten a big return out of their early in­vestment in developing these electromechanical systems. We really had an op­portunity with the rms to work on the human interface, to make it something which is straightforward and easy to use and intuitive in its application. That’s now followed over into the Space Station, and potentially it will go on to other applications. I think it’s the most significant thing that I did in my time, and I think it’s the thing I’m proudest of.

Fabian, along with astronaut Judy Resnik, was also involved in establish­ing how crew duty assignments would work during the Space Shuttle pro­gram. Previous nasa missions had carried crews no larger than three astro­nauts, and each astronaut had his own title and assignment. With the larger shuttle crews, there would be multiple mission specialists, and nasa had to decide how crew duties would be allocated and assigned. The system that was developed assigned mission specialist (ms) 1 overall responsibility for payloads and experiments in orbit. Mission specialist 2 was given primary responsibil­ity for flight engineering, helping the pilot and commander during ascent and entry, and serving as backup for payloads. Mission specialist 3 had re­sponsibilities for independent experiments and extravehicular activity, or eva.

“ms3 would be typically the most junior and the lowest training require­ment but heavy on eva,” Fabian recalled. “ms1 would have the largest overall responsibility and, in principle, ought to be the most experienced member of the astronaut mission specialist crew. And MS2 had the most simulation time and spent an enormous amount of time in the simulator. . . . We split it that way in order to recognize the fact that the flight engineering role was the dominant training requirement for one of the mission specialists, and therefore that person shouldn’t be burdened with overall responsibility for the satellites.”

Astronaut input was also crucial in the development of the Shuttle Mo­tion Simulator, or sms, which would become the primary system for train­ing Space Shuttle crews. The sms was the only high-fidelity simulator ca­pable of training crews for all phases of a mission, beginning at T minus thirty minutes and including simulated launch, ascent, abort, orbit, ren­dezvous, docking, payload handling, undocking, deorbit, entry, approach, landing, and rollout. The simulator could tilt up to ninety degrees, to the vertical position the orbiter would be in during launch, and could simulate the vibrations and noises of ascent.

Bryan O’Connor, who was selected as an astronaut in 1980 and assigned to sms development, described what it was like to see the more veteran Apollo-era astronauts apply their experience to the project.

All these guys had quite a history back through the Apollo program, and it was difficult not to pick up some of that climate and the cultural aspects of that, the pride that they had in that program, the frustrations they were having as we went forward, and things not being the same as they had been before, where it seemed like there was plenty of money. Now the environment we were in was a little different, but a lot of the cultural aspects that had made the Apollo pro­gram great were interesting to me to jump into and start learning about.

Since the Space Shuttle had yet to fly at the time, the development of the sms was based on analysis and ground-test data. “Part of what they were do­ing was to try to make things like the visual cues and the oral cues that they have for the crew as accurate as they could so that the environment in that trainer would be as close to real as they could get it,” O’Connor recalled.

I would be in the third seat taking notes and we would have two Apollo guys like John Young and T. K. Mattingly. . . trying to remember what it sound­ed like when the reaction control jets fired. The engineers would be outside the simulation putting in these models and turning up the volume and changing the pitch and the frequencies of these noises in the cockpit to make them sound space-like. Nobody knew what it would sound like on shuttle, but if they could make it sound something like what Apollo sounded like, they thought that was a good start. So it was fun to hear these guys arguing about whether some noise that was in there was accurate to the Apollo sounds when neither one of the two guys in the front had actually flown on the Apollo system for some years.

Determining how to calibrate the vibrations in the sms was another in­stance where O’Connor recalled the Apollo veterans really having a good time.

There was a fellow named Roger Burke, who was the head engineer in charge of developing the Shuttle Mission Simulator, and Roger had a little bit of a di­abolical streak in him. One day we were trying to simulate what the vibrations might feel like during launch. Roger was asking these pros—and I think John Young was in the commander’s seat on this one——for advice on how much vi­bration seemed right. So we did several launches in a row and each time John would say, “No, you need some more. It’s going to vibrate more than that." So you can picture Roger Burke out there, turning this potentiometer up to get more vibration in there. Then we would fly another launch and John would say, “Nope, nope. That old Saturn, that had a lot more vibration than that. You’re going to have to tweak it up a little more, Roger."

So after about three or four of these things, Roger decided he was going turn it all the way to the max, and he did, and that was one hellacious ride. John and I both knew what he had done, and all we could do was just hold on. We were strapped in, but you still felt like you needed to hold on. You couldn’t see any of the displays at all. It was just a big blur, and we were bouncing around like it must have been the case in the old days, when people were going down the rutted dirt highways in buckboard wagons or something. Roger actually broke the system on that particular run.

O’Connor said that his role in the development of the sms taught him a valuable lesson that stayed with him throughout his time at nasa. “As I look back on it, I realize that what I thought was going to be a terrible job and not very much fun and out of the mainstream was just as important as any other job anybody else was doing. It was kind of an early learning event for me, because I realized then, and it came back to me many times later on, . . . that everybody’s important, no matter what their job is in the space program. There aren’t any nonimportant jobs.”

In regard to simulators like the sms, sTs-i pilot Bob Crippen noted that after the shuttle started flying, astronauts brought their experience back to the simulators to make them more accurate. “I know on the first flight we learned that the reaction control jets, which are used to maneuver the ve­hicle while you’re on orbit, really are loud,” Crippen said. “It sounds like a Howitzer going off outside the window. . . . I knew they’d be loud, but it was louder than I expected. It was a good thing to at least try to simulate that a little bit better in the simulator so that people weren’t really surprised by it.”

While ground-based simulators were used to train astronauts on the launch experience, a modified Gulfstream jet was used to re-create the ex­perience of landing. The exterior of the Shuttle Training Aircraft (sta) was modified to better withstand the stresses of replicating the shuttle’s reen­try profile. Changes to the cockpit echoed the layout of the shuttle’s flight deck and the view that astronauts would have while landing the shuttle.

Engine thrust reversers reproduced the “flying brick” aerodynamics of a gliding shuttle.

“The Gulfstream was extremely valuable,” said astronaut Joe Engle. “It was a very, very good simulation, a very accurate simulation of what the orbiter would do. The response was tuned as data would come back from the orbiter flights, but it was a very, very good training airplane and still considered by pilots as the very best single training tool that they have to land the shuttle.”

Astronaut Charlie Bolden praised the sta for giving him an excellent feeling for how the shuttle handled during entry and landing. “When I was Hoot’s [Gibson’s] pilot, sitting in the right-hand side, calling off air­speeds backwards, airspeed and altitude, putting the landing gear down, it was just like being in the sta. Combine that with the sms, it was just as if I had been there before. So, the world of simulation, even back then when it wasn’t as good as it is today, was awesome.”

Of course, an even better tool than an airplane for learning how an or­biter lands is an orbiter. In an unusual turn of events, the Space Shuttle landed before it ever launched for the first time.

The first orbiter completed was Enterprise, a flight-test vehicle ultimately incapable of flying into space but fully functional for atmospheric glides. Originally, Enterprise was to be a member of the operational orbiter fleet, a fact reflected in its official vehicle designation. Each of the operational orbiters has an Orbiter Vehicle, or ov, number. Enterprise, the first of the fleet, is ov-101. Enterprise was to be joined by three other orbiters: Colum­bia, ov-102; Discovery, ov-103; and Atlantis, ov-104. (Later would come En­deavour, ov-105.) An additional orbiter, the Static Test Article, was built as a ground-based test vehicle and was given the designation sTA-99. Enterprise was the first of the flying orbiters to be completed, but it was not given a space-worthy configuration. Rather, it was modified for use in glide flights to test how the vehicle would fly during entry and landing. The vehicle was also used for vibration testing at Marshall Space Flight Center in Hunts­ville, Alabama, to determine how an orbiter would withstand the stress­es of launch, and to test the facilities at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to make sure they were ready for processing vehicles for launch. The plan was that all of those tests would be completed during the mid-1970s, and then Enterprise would be modified to take its place alongside Columbia as a spacecraft. However, it was determined that because of the weight of En­terprise, it would actually be easier to modify the Static Test Article instead, and thus sta-99 became ov-99, Challenger, while Enterprise would be used for other ground tests and ultimately would be the first orbiter to become a museum exhibit. Since the initial construction of ov-101 was completed in 1976, it was originally to be named Constitution, in honor of the U. S. bicentennial year. The name was changed as the result of a letter-writing campaign to the White House organized by fans of the television series Star Trek, which featured a starship named the uss Enterprise.

Between February and November 1977, Enterprise made a series of test flights, dubbed approach and landing tests (alts). The first flights were captive-carry tests, in which Enterprise was carried, unmanned, on the back of a specially modified Boeing 747 to study its aerodynamics. For later flights, the orbiter was released from the 747 during flight and piloted to the ground. Assigned as Enterprise’s crews for those flights were astronauts Dick Truly, Fred Haise, Gordon Fullerton, and Joe Engle.

Just prior to the start of the alt program, Fullerton was a key player in the design of the orbiter cockpit, which he believes contributed to his selection for the alt program. “I’d run across a lot of really crummy designs in learning to fly certain airplanes, and I thought I could do better,” Fullerton recalled.

As it turned out, that was a real challenge. With the shuttle, rather than lying on your back on the end ofa rocket riding into space, you had possibility ofcon – trolling it, both in the vertical mode and coming back as an airplane pilot at the end. The whole complexity of it is far more complex than the [earlier NASA ] rockets, as far as what the man could do. Putting all that together in a cockpit was really intriguing, and I enjoy working with stuffin an engineering sense, so it was perfect. I became the cockpit design czar, sort of, to go to really organize and set up and go to all the reviews. I had a big foam-core cardboard mockup of the entire cockpit built right there in the Astronaut Office, and I cycled all the other guys in there to say, “What can you see? What would you do if this was a checklist? Can you reach it?" So I did a human factor study on all that.

With Enterprise, Fullerton saw the designs and drawings he had signed off on come to life. “It’s very satisfying when you see [the results of what you did],” he said. “I can go get in an orbiter right now and look at the panels and think, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember all this.’ It’s a real feeling of personal pride.”

Getting Ready to Fly

io. An aerial view of Enterprise hoisted into the Dynamic Test Stand at nasas Marshall Space Flight Center for the Mated Vertical Ground Vibration test. The test was the first time that all of the Space Shuttle elements were mated together. Courtesy nasa.

As with the shuttle itself, training for the Enterprise test flights was very much a make-it-up-as-you-go-along process, Fullerton explained. “People say, ‘How do you train?’ thinking, well, you go to a school and somebody tells you how to do it. It’s not that at all. Somebody’s got to write the check­list, so you end up writing the checklist, working with each subsystems per­son and trying to come up with a prelaunch checklist for the approach and landing tests. So you’re doing the work, and the learning comes from do­ing jobs that needed to be done.”

The alt flights blurred the distinction between the crew members’ new careers as astronauts and their past experiences as test pilots. “[For] astro­nauts now, the orbiter’s a pretty stable configuration, so they go to a school with ground school instructors that know the system. . . . For alt and then subsequently on the Columbia, we were clearly test pilots because we were doing stuff that there wasn’t a procedure for. We were writing the proce­dure and then flying it for the first time.”

Not only did procedures have to be developed for the test, NASA had to decide exactly what the test would look like. On the one hand, for safety reasons, testing would have to be incremental, starting with the relatively low-risk captive-carry flights and ending with actual flight-profile landing tests. From that perspective, more flights were better, to assure safety at each step and to maximize the data results of the tests. On the other hand, the alt flights would use money and manpower that would otherwise be go­ing toward preparations for the actual spaceflights of the shuttle, so more tests would delay the first flight. After a lengthy debate, the decision was made to not pick a number in advance, but to decide in real time what was needed. Ultimately, thirteen alt flights would be made.

“There were five captive, inert flights,” Fullerton explained,

where the orbiter was bolted on, completely inert, nothing moving, nothing run­ning other than some instrumentation. Fitz Fulton and Tom McMurtry and flight engineers flew those five to the point where they said, “Okay, the combination is clear, and we understand what we’ve got here." So then they decided to have some x number of captive, active flights, where the crew got on board and powered up the apus and the electronics and all the subsystems, and those were dress rehearsals up to launch point. They had an open number of those. It turns out after three, they thought they’d learned all they needed to know. The systems were working. Had a couple offailures on number two, a big apupropellant leak. I was chas­ing that one. At three, they said, “Okay, it’s time to go do it," and they were try­ing to get to the end as quick as possible, so they could get on with the Columbia.

After the three crewed flights atop the 747, it was time to set Enterprise free and see how the vehicle and its crew would do on their own. Fullerton was pilot and responsible for monitoring the orbiter’s systems. With him, as commander, was astronaut Fred Haise. “On the very first flight, the in­stant we pushed the button to blow the bolts and hop off the 747, the shock of that actually dislodged a little solder ball and a transistor on one of the computers, and we had the caution tone go off and the red light. I mean instantly,” Fullerton recalled.

Im looking, and we had three CRTs, and one of those essentially went to halt. It was the one hooked to one of the four computers that monitored. This is pretty funda­mental. All your control ofthe airplane is through fly-by-wire and these computers. So I had a cue card with a procedure if that happened, that we’d practiced in the simulator, and I had to turn around and pull some circuit breakers and throw a couple of switches to reduce your susceptibility to the next failure. I did that, and by the time I looked around, I realized, “Hey, this is flying pretty good, ” because I was really distracted from the fundamental evaluation ofthe airplane at first.

Haise recalled that it was surprising to him not to be able to see the 747 beneath him while Enterprise was still attached to the airplane. “No matter how you’d lean over and try to look out the side window you couldn’t view any part of it, not even a wingtip. It was kind of like a magic carpet ride. You’re just moving along the ground and then you take off. It was also de­ceptive sitting up that high. Things always looked like it was going slow­er than it was, for your taxiing and particularly the first takeoff, it didn’t look like we were going fast enough. I said to myself, ‘We’re not going fast enough to make it off the ground.’”

Leading up to this point, predictions and models had proposed how an orbiter would fly. There had been simulations, both in training equip­ment on the ground and on the Gulfstream in the air. But now it was time to move beyond the models and simulations. For the first time, nasa was about to learn how the orbiter would fly from the real thing.

“To me, even at the first flight, it was very clear it handled better in a pi­loting sense than we had seen in any simulation, either our mission simu­lators or the Shuttle Training Aircraft,” Haise explained.

It was tighter, crisper, in terms ofcontrol inputs and selecting a new attitude in any axis and being able to hold that attitude, it was just a better-handling ve­hicle than we had seen in the simulations, although they were close.

The landing also was a pleasant surprise from the standpoint of ground ef­fect. Ground effect is a phenomenon you run into. When you get within one wingspan height ofthe ground, you start running into air-cushioning effects,

Getting Ready to Fly

її. The Space Shuttle Enterprise participating in approach and landing tests. Courtesy nasa.

which can, depending on the vehicle’s shape or configuration, be very different. It turned out the shuttle, in my view, was a perfect vehicle. If you get set up with the right sync rate, coasting along, you can literally almost go hands-off and it’ll settle on and land itself very nicely.

Flying two of the Enterprise flights—the second and fourth—were Joe Engle as commander and, as pilot, Dick Truly. Engle and Truly went on to crew the second shuttle flight, sts-2. Engle had participated in similar flights as part of another space plane program, the x-15, a joint endeavor by nasa and the air force, and had actually earned astronaut wings for flying into space with the air force before being brought in to nasa’s astronaut corps. As with the Enter­prise test flights, the x-15 began its flight by being lofted by a larger aircraft. “I think one of the reasons that I was selected to fly the shuttle, initially,” Engle said, “was because of the experience that I’d had at Edwards (Air Force Base) with the x-15 and air launching from another vehicle, from a carrier vehicle.”

The orbiter’s aft section was covered with a tail cone on all of the captive flights and on the first three free flights. The tail cone reduced aerodynam­ic drag and turbulence and was used on all flights where the orbiter was

ferried cross-country. The last two free flights were flown without the tail cone, thus exposing the three simulated Space Shuttle main engines and two Orbital Maneuvering System (oms) engines, and most closely simu­lating actual conditions. The tail cone would continue to be used any time an orbiter was transported atop a 747 for upgrades or after a landing, up to and including their final flights to museum homes in 2012.

The tail cone not only made the orbiter easier to fly, it increased the time of the glide flight by reducing drag and slowing the vehicle’s descent rate. While the longer glide time—about five minutes with the cone versus about half that without—allowed nasa to gain more data on the orbiter systems in flight, the most important data would come when the cone was removed.

“The orbiter flew pretty benignly with that tail cone on,” Engle ex­plained. “But that was not the configuration that we needed to really have confidence in, in order to commit for an orbital launch. So although we were getting more time on those systems with the tail cone on, from a per­formance standpoint and a piloting task standpoint, we really didn’t have what we needed until we flew it tail cone off.”

The fourth alt flight—the first without the tail cone—flew October 12, 1977. By that time the decision had been made that the program would end with the fifth free flight. While the first four landings had been on a dry lake bed, the final flight would land on the main concrete runway at Edwards Air Force Base. To ensure successful accomplishment of that more-challenging landing, the flight would be focused solely on that task. As a result, any last in-flight research would have to be conducted on the fourth flight.

For Engle, the development of the profile for that fourth flight was the most exciting and more rewarding time in the alt program. “Our goal on our flight was to pack as much meaningful flight-test data as we possi­bly could in that short period of time,” he explained. “We did work very hard, not only on the simulators, but at Edwards in both T-38s and the Gulfstream aircraft, in going through and tailoring and modifying and readjusting the profile so that we literally wasted no time at all from one data point to the other. We would go from one maneuver and make sure that we were set up for the subsequent maneuver. It was a very demand­ing, fun task.”

The grand finale of the alt program was free-flight five, with Haise and Fullerton making the first landing on a concrete runway. While largely suc­cessful, that flight test led to the discovery of a flaw in the design of the flight control software that led the pilot into a pilot-induced oscillation. “We bounced around and shocked a lot of people, probably more than [we real­ized],” Fullerton said. “It didn’t look that bad from inside the cockpit. But, again, that’s why you do tests. You find out. Then the debate was, should we fix that and test it some more—it was a strong feeling that was a pret­ty exciting landing, which shouldn’t be that exciting—or do we cut it off, fix it by testing and simulators, both airborne and on the ground. Do we know enough to press on? And it turned out that was the decision: you’ve got to cut the alt off so we can go on the Columbia and get into orbit.”

While the off-nominal landing—and the control problems that caused it—produced some concern, the experience was not without a silver lining. While most people had been pleased that, as a whole, Enterprise had flown and landed better than the models had predicted, the softer-than-predicted landings caused a problem for one particular team.

“The landing gear people were somewhat chagrined through most of that test program, because we were not landing hard enough to get them good data for the instrumentation they had on the landing gear struts,” Haise said. “I solved their problem on the fifth landing flight, where I landed on the runway and bounced the vehicle, and my second landing was about five or six foot a second. So that gave them the data, and they were very happy with that—although I wasn’t.”

Haise gave a lot of the credit for the success of the alt program to Deke Slayton, who agreed to run it after his return from his flight on the Apollo – Soyuz Test Project. “I frankly was very happy with Deke to volunteer for that role,” he reflected.

I mean, we had no one, in my mind, that was at Johnson Space Center at the time that was better suited to take on that role. And I think it was reflected in the way the program went. We missed the first free-flight release from the 747 [by] only two weeks from a schedule that had been made several years before. We completed the program like four or five months earlier than we’d planned, which is almost unheard ofin a test program, certainly something as complex as the orbiter. I think that was Deke’s leadership in pulling together both the con­tingent of NASA, which involved a lot of integration of Kennedy Space Center people and Dryden NASA people, as well as the contractor Rockwell in that phase.

Although the alt flights weren’t spaceflights, they were still seen as plum assignments by many in the astronaut corps. Hank Hartsfield recalled be­ing disappointed that he wasn’t selected to one of the alt crews. “I was ex­tremely disappointed that I wasn’t one of those, to be honest with you, and still don’t know why. I mean, I thought that having developed the flight control system, I’d be in a good position. So did a lot of other people, but we learned along the way. . . crew assignments are strange things. You don’t need to second-guess them. You just smile and press ahead.”

Astronaut Joe Allen recalled an interesting political side of the Enterprise tests involving Senator Barry Goldwater.

Senator Goldwater had been a pilot in the Second World War, and he knew a lot about aviation. He was very proud of the aviation success of America. He sat on several NASA committees, was interested in NASA, and was a strong support­er of NASA, but he thought this was the most cockamamie idea he had ever seen, affixing the orbiter to the top of the 747 and then exploding away the bolts that held it there. He knew in his gut that, once released, the orbiter would slide back and hit the tail of the 747, break it off and would be lost. He just knew it. He wanted hearings. I talked to his staffand said I would organize the hearing, but I requested fifteen minutes with the senator himself to go over the aerodynamics of the problem a little bit.

I brought a model and I said, “Senator Goldwater, I understand your con­cern, but Im a pilot as well. Let me just talk as one pilot to another. No science here; we’re just talking pilot talk. ”

Allen walked Goldwater through the process, step-by-step, explaining that because of the aerodynamics of the orbiter and the way it was mounted on the 747, its lift increased as the plane sped up, such that, on the ground, the plane was bearing the full weight of Enterprise, but toward the end of the flight, the orbiter was essentially weightless relative to the airplane. Shortly before the orbiter was released, the relationship changed so that Enterprise had enough lift that the orbiter was actually carrying some of the weight of the plane. Goldwater, he said, had no problem following when Allen broke the process down for him step-by – step.

“I said, ‘Now let me show you the calculations. The tail drops, and by the time it goes below where the orbiter is, the orbiter has moved back only an eighth of an inch toward the tail, so it’s not going to hit it.’ And he said, ‘I understand that. Why didn’t NASA tell me that before?”’

No hearing was ever held.

Allen’s political acumen came into play again in discussions with Indi­ana senator Birch Bayh, who sat on the Senate Appropriations Commit­tee and whom Allen described as a rather liberal senator who was “not a friend of NASA.”

“I’m from Indiana; I know Indiana people,” Allen noted. “I got to know individuals in his office, including a most genuine lady who ran his office, and I discovered one day that she was from Rockville, Indiana. Rockville is a very tiny town. It has maybe two stoplights, or three, max. It is thirty miles from where I grew up in a somewhat bigger town, not much bigger. I knew something about Rockville that she did not know, and I got a pho­tograph of the 747 with the Enterprise on top, flying along, a beautiful big photograph, and I took it in to this office.”

When he delivered the picture, Bayh’s secretary at first assumed it was for the senator. Allen corrected her.

I said, “No, this is for you. I brought this to you. I want to tell you something about this photo. This, of course, is the 747 and it’s worth $300 million, and this is the orbiter, even more valuable. "And I said, “The 747 on these tests is flown by an individual I think you know. His name is Tom McMurtry, and he grew up in Rockville, Indiana." He was a very skilled test pilot at NASA Dryden [Flight Research Center, Edwards, California]. And she said, “That’s being flown by Tommy McMurtry?" I said, “Yes, that’s correct." She said, “Golly. How much is all of that worth?" I said, “Well, it’s about a billion and a halfdollars." “Lordy," she says, “I remember when Tommy’s daddy wouldn’t let him drive the Buick. " She was older than Tom, but she knew him as a boy. She immediately put the picture up on the senator’s wall, and to my recollection the senator never voted against nasa again, ever, not once.

While the successful conclusion of the alt flights brought the shuttle to launch, back in Florida, work to prepare Columbia for its maiden voyage was running into problems. In particular, the vital thermal protection tiles required to safely shield the vehicle from the heat of reentry were proving not to work as well in practice as they did in theory.

“Initially, when they put the tiles on,” recalled Bob Crippen, they weren’t adhering to the vehicle like they should. In fact, Columbia, when they brought it from Edwards to the Kennedy Space Center the first time, it didn’t arrive with as many tiles as it left California with. People started work­ing very diligently to try to correct that problem, but at the same time people said, “Well, if we’ve got a tile missing off the bottom of the spacecraft that’s crit­ical to being able to come back in, we ought to have a way to repair it. ” So we started looking at various techniques, and I remember we took advantage of a simulator that Martin [Marietta Corporation] had out in Denver, where you could actually get some of the effect of crawling around on the bottom of the vehicle and what it would be like in zero g. I rapidly came to the conclusion I was going to tear up more tile than I could repair and that the only realistic answer was for us to make sure the tiles stayed on. . . . I concluded that at that time we couldn’t have realistically repaired anything.

Astronaut Charlie Bolden was part of Crippen’s team in that effort. “Ide­ally, what we wanted was something that would be like a spray gun or some­thing that you could just squirt and it would go into place, and then you could use a trowel and smooth it out, and you could fly home,” he explained. “Everything seemed to be going very well initially, but every time we took whatever material was developed into vacuum, it just didn’t work. . . . The gases in the material would just start to bubble out and cause it to crack and pop, and we became seriously concerned that the repair material would probably do as much damage or more than we had by a missing tile.”

In the meantime, a new adhesive was developed that, it was believed, would greatly reduce the risk of tile loss. Additional analysis was also per­formed regarding the risks presented if there were tile loss in flight. Partic­ular attention was paid to the possibility of a theoretical “zipper effect,” in which the loss of one tile would cause aerodynamic forces to rip off more tiles and most likely doom the vehicle. The team eventually determined that the zipper effect was unlikely.

Bolden noted that, in all of the analysis of potential thermal protection risks, he does not recall any discussion about damage to the reusable carbon – carbon on the leading edge of the wing, which in 2003 resulted in the loss of Columbia and its crew.

Never in my memory—and I’ve been through my notebooks and everything— never did we talk about the reusable carbon-carbon, the rcc, the leading edge of the wing, leading edge of the tail, and the nose cap itself. Nobody ever con­sidered any damage to that because we all thought that it was impenetrable. In fact, it was not until the loss ofColumbia that I learned how thin it was. I grew up in the space program. I spent fourteen years in the space program fly­ing, thinking that I had this huge mass that was about five or six inches thick on the leading edge of the wing. And to find after Columbia that it was frac­tions of an inch thick, and that it wasn’t as strong as the fiberglass on your Cor­vette, that was an eye-opener, I think, for all of us.

Based on the success of the alt program, NASA had looked to launch the first Space Shuttle mission by the end of 1979. However, a variety of issues, including those with the shuttle tiles, a problematic test firing of the Space Shuttle main engines, and an unexpected problem with insulation on the external tank after Columbia was stacked and on the launchpad, kept de­laying the first launch of the Space Transportation System. While the de­lays were certainly not optimal, nasa and its astronauts worked to make the most of the extra time.

“Everybody wanted to get the bird in the air and show that it would fly okay, but the delays really provided us with more time to get ready for con­tingency situations,” recalled Engle, who was in line to command the sec­ond shuttle mission. “I remember very distinctly not having the impression of idling or spinning our wheels or treading water during those delays. We were engrossed in always new things to look at. . . . But we were very, very busy getting ready for things, overpreparing, I think in retrospect.”

According to Engle, the delays also helped the astronauts and Mission Control develop further into an effective team.

Because ofthe launch delays, we did have additional time to prepare for the flights and we got to work very closely and come to know and have a rapport with the controllers and, in fact, all the people in Mission Control, not just flight control, but all the people that were on the console, all [the] experts on the various sys­tems. We knew them by voice, when we would hear transmissions. Of course, in the real flight, we only would talk to either the CapCom [capsule communicator, the astronaut in Mission Control who communicated with the crew], or some­times pass information on to Don Puddy, the flight director. But we got to know pretty much who was on the console by what kind of response or direction we were given for certain simulated failures that we’d had during simulations. And that was good; that was really good. We worked as a very, very close-knit team, almost being able to think and read each other without a whole lot ofwords said.

Bob Crippen, the astronaut assigned to be pilot of the first shuttle launch, recalled touring nasa and its contractors during that period with sts-1 commander John Young to encourage the teams that were preparing their vehicle for flight.

The Space Shuttle is a pretty complicated vehicle, and certainly it was break­ing some new frontiers, which, John and I being test pilots, it was a great mis­sion for us. But when you have something that complicated, literally hundreds of thousands of people made sts-1 possible. You have to be depending on those folks doing their job right, because you cant check everything yourself. John and I spent a lot of time going to the various contractors and subcontractors, if noth­ing else, to try to put a human face on the mission; that we were flying it, and we appreciated all the work that they were doing.

Everywhere we went, the people really felt in their heart that they were do­ing something important for the nation, and that’s what John and I wanted them to feel, because that’s what they were doing. It doesn’t take but one person to do something wrong that can cost you a mission and cost lives. So when John and I climbed aboard the vehicle to go fly, we had been eyeball to eyeball with, I would say, maybe not all hundred thousand, but we had been eyeball to eye­ball with thousands of folks.

The visits not only served to encourage the workforce responsible for pre­paring the vehicle for flight, they gave the shuttle’s first crew a unique, up – close look at what went into what the astronauts would be flying.

“We knew the vehicle pretty good,” Crippen said.

We knew its risks, but we also knew that it had a great deal to offer if it was successful. So when we climbed aboard, I think both of us felt very confident that the vehicle would fly and fly well.

So when I say that we literally rode on the shoulders ofhundreds of thousands of people, that’s what we did, and I felt good about it…. I did have the oppor­tunity after the first mission to go around again and thank a lot of the people that made the mission a success. Signed lots of autographs and did those kinds of things, to hopefully make them feel good about the work they had done. That continues today with the program of Spaceflight Awareness, because it’s impor­tant that they get feedback about how important their work is. .. . We’re proud of what they’re doing, and what they’re doing is something great for the nation, and not only the nation, for the world, in my perspective. I’m proud of the shut­tle. I’m proud to have been a part of it since almost its inception… . I think all the people that have been part of it ought to be proud of the job they’ve done.

First Flight

Well, we were just finally glad to get it started.
Geez, we’d waited so long. . . . We’re finally getting
back into the flying business again.

—Astronaut Owen Garriott


Crew: Commander John Young, Pilot Bob Crippen

Orbiter: Columbia

Launched: 12 April 1981

Landed: 14 April 1981

Mission: Test of orbiter systems

It was arguably the most complex piece of machinery ever made. And it had to work right the first time out. No practice round, just one first flight with two lives in the balance and the weight of the entire American space program on its shoulders.

The Redstone, Atlas, and Titan boosters used in the Mercury and Gem­ini programs had flight heritage prior to their use for manned NASA mis­sions, but even so, the agency ran them through further test flights be­fore putting humans atop them. And thankfully so, since their conversion from missiles into manned rockets was not without incident. There was the Mercury-Redstone vehicle that flew four inches on a test flight before set­tling back onto the pad. Or the Mercury-Atlas rocket that exploded dur­ing a test flight before the watching eyes of astronauts who were awaiting a ride on the launch vehicle in the future.

Unlike those used in Mercury and Gemini, the Saturn rockets used in the Apollo missions were newly designed by NASA for the purpose of manned

spaceflight and had no prior history. When the first unmanned Saturn V was launched fully stacked for an “all-up” test flight in 1967, it was a ma­jor departure from the incremental testing used for the smaller Saturn I, in which the first stage was demonstrated to be reliable by itself before being flown with a live upper stage. The decision to skip the stage-by-stage test­ing for the Saturn V was a key factor in meeting President John F. Kenne­dy’s “before this decade is out” goal for the first lunar landing, but it was not without a higher amount of risk.

That risk, however, paled next to the risk involved in the first flight of the Space Shuttle system. Not only could there be no incremental launches of the components, but there would be no unmanned test flight, no room for the sorts of incidents that occurred back in the Mercury testing days. The first Space Shuttle launch would carry two astronauts, and it had to carry them into space safely and bring them home successfully. Although it would be well over a decade before a movie scriptwriter would coin a phrase that would define the Apollo 13 mission, it definitely applied in this case: failure was not an option.

Rather than being upset over the greater risk, however, NASA’s astronauts endorsed the decision, some rather passionately. Most of the more veteran members of the corps had come to NASA as test pilots, and they were about to be test pilots again in a way they had never before experienced as astro­nauts. In fact, some pushed against testing the vehicle unmanned because of the precedent it would set.

“Oh, we were tickled silly,” said Joe Engle, “because we didn’t want any autopilot landing that vehicle.”

Conducting an unmanned test flight would mean developing the capa­bility for the orbiter to fly a completely automated mission, meaning that it would be capable of performing any of the necessary tasks from launch to landing. Some in the Astronaut Office were concerned that the more the orbiter was capable of doing by itself, the less NASA would want the astro­nauts to do when crewed flights began.

“We were very vain,” Engle added,

and thought, you’ve got to have a pilot there to land it. If you’ve got an airplane, you’ve got to have a pilot in it. Fortunately, the certification of the autopilot all the way down to landing would have required a whole lot more cost and devel­opment time, delay in launch, and I think the rationale that we put forward

First Flight

12. Space Shuttle Columbia poised for takeoff of sts-i. Courtesy nasa.

to discourage the idea of developing the autoland—and I think [a] correct one, too—was that you can leave it engaged down to a certain altitude, but always you have to be ready to assume that you’re going to have an anomaly in the au­topilot and the pilot has to take over and land anyway. The pilot flying the ve­hicle all the way down—approach and landing—he’s in a much better position to affect the final landing, having become familiar and acclimated to the re­sponses of the vehicle after being in orbit and knowing what kinds of displace­ments give him certain types of responses. Keeping himself lined up in the groove coming down to land is a much better situation than asking him to take over after autopilot has deviated off.

According to astronaut Hank Hartsfield, one of the major technical lim­itations that made the idea of an unmanned test flight particularly chal­lenging was that the shuttle’s computer system—current for the day but primitive by modern standards—would have to launch with all of the soft­ware needed for the entire mission already set up; there would be no crew to change out the software in orbit.

“We had separate software modules that we had to load once on orbit,” Hartsfield explained. “All that had to be loaded off of storage devices or carried in core, because, remember, the shuttle computer was only a 65K machine. If you know much about storage, it’s small, 65k. When you think about com­plexity of the vehicle that we’re flying—a complex machine with full comput­ers voting in tight sync and flying orbital dynamic flight phase and giving the crew displays and we’re doing that with 65K of memory—it’s mind-boggling.”

Acknowledging the test-flight nature of the first launches, a special mod­ification was made to Columbia—ejection seats for the commander’s and pilot’s seats on the flight deck. According to sts-i pilot Bob Crippen, the ejection seats were a nice gesture but, in reality, probably would have made little difference in most scenarios.

“People felt like we needed some way to get out if something went wrong,” Crippen said.

In truth, if you had to use them while the solids were there, I don’t believe if you popped out and then went down through the fire trail that’s behind the sol­ids that you would have ever survived, or if you did, you wouldn’t have a para­chute, because it would have been burned up in the process. But by the time the solids had burned out, you were up to too high an altitude to use it.

On entry, if you were coming in short of the runway because something had happened, either you didn’t have enough energy or whatever, you could have ejected. However, the scenario that would put you there is pretty unrealistic. So I personally didn’t feel that the ejection seats were really going to help us out if we really ran into a contingency. I don’t believe they would have done much for you, other than maybe give somebody a feeling that, hey, well, at least they had a possibility of getting out. So I was never very confident in them.

Risky or not, the two crew assignment slots that were available for the mission were a highly desired prize within the astronaut corps. sts-i would be the first time any U. S. astronaut had flown into space in almost six years, would offer the opportunity to flight test an unflown vehicle, and would guarantee a place in the history books. Everyone wanted the flight. Senior astronaut John Young and rookie Bob Crippen got it.

Crippen recalled when he learned that he would be the pilot for the first Space Shuttle mission but said he still didn’t know exactly why he was the one chosen for the job.

“Beats the heck out of me,” he said.

I had anticipated that I would get to fly on one of the shuttle flights early on, because there weren’t that many of us in the Astronaut Office during that period of time. I was working like everybody else was working in the office, and there were lots of qualified people. One day we had the Enterprise coming through on the back of the 747. It landed out at Ellington[Field, Houston]. . . . I hap­pened to go out there with George Abbey, who at that time was the director of flight crew operations. As we were strolling around the vehicle, looking at the Enterprise up there on the 747, George said something to the effect of, “Crip, would you like to fly the first one?”

About that time I think I started doing handsprings on the tarmac out there. I couldn’t believe it. It blew my mind that he’d let me go fly the first one with John Young, who was the most experienced guy we had in the office, obviously, and the chiefofthe Astronaut Office. It was a thrill. It was one ofthe high points of my life.

To be sure, Crippen’s background made him an ideal candidate for the position. Crippen had been brought into NASA’s astronaut corps in 1969 in a group that had been part of the air force’s astronaut corps. After the cancellation of the air force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, NASA agreed to bring most of the air force astronauts who had been involved in the mol program into the NASA astronaut corps.

Crippen’s first major responsibility at NASA was supporting the Skylab space station program, followed by supporting the shuttle during its devel­opment phase. “I guess all that sort of added up, building on my experi­ence. Working on the shuttle, I did primarily the software stuff, comput­ers, which I enjoyed doing. And I think all that, stacked up together, kind of opened up the doors for me to fly. . . . I’m not sure whose decision that was, whether it was John Young’s, George Abbey’s, or who knows, but I’m sure glad they picked me.”

Interestingly, Crippen had been part of the earliest wave of college stu­dents who had amazing opportunities open up for them by becoming sav­vy in the world of computer technology. During his senior year he took the first computer programming class ever offered at the University of Texas. “Computers were just starting to—shows you how old I am—to be widely used. . . . Not pcs or anything like that, but big mainframe kind of things, and Texas offered a course, and I decided I was interested in that and I

First Flight

13. sts-i crew members Commander John Young and Pilot Bob Crippen. Courtesy nasa.

would try it. It was fun. That was back when we were doing punch cards and all that kind of stuff.”

With that educational background under his belt, Crippen took advan­tage of an opportunity with the air force Manned Orbiting Laboratory pro­gram to work on the computers for that vehicle. That in turn carried over, after his move to nasa, to working on computers for Skylab, which were similar to the ones for mol.

“It was kind of natural, when we finished up Skylab and I started working on the Space Shuttle, to say, ‘Hey, I’d like to work on the computers,’” Crip­pen said. “T. K. Mattingly was running all the shuttle operations in the As­tronaut Office at that time and didn’t have that many people that wanted to work on computers, so he said, ‘Go ahead.’ . . . The computer sort of interfaced with everything, so it gives you an opportunity to learn the entire vehicle.”

Of course, being named pilot for sts-i didn’t mean that Crippen would actually pilot the vehicle. “We use the terms ‘commander’ and ‘pilot’ to con­fuse everybody, and it’s really because none of us red-hot test pilots want to be called a copilot. In reality, the commander is the pilot, and the pilot

is a copilot, kind of like a first officer if you’re flying on a commercial air­liner. [My job on sts-1] was primarily systems oriented, working the com­puters, working the electrical systems, working the auxiliary power units, doing the payload bay doors.”

Crippen considered it an honor to work with the senior active member of the Astronaut Office for the flight. “When you’re a rookie going on a test flight like this, you want to go with an old pro, and John was our old pro,” he said.

He had four previous flights, including going to the moon, and John is not only an excellent pilot, he’s an excellent engineer. I learned early on that if John was worried about something, I should be worried about it as well. This was primar­ily applying to things that we were looking into preflight. It’s important for the commander to sort of set the tone for the rest of the crew as to what you ought to focus on, what you ought to worry about, and what you shouldn’t worry about. I think that’s the main thing I got out of John.

Crippen described Young as one of the funniest men he ever knew and regretted that he didn’t keep record of all the funny things Young would say. “He’s got a dry wit that a lot of people don’t appreciate fully at first,” Crip­pen said, “but he has got so many one-liners. If I had just kept a log of all of John’s one-liners during those three years of training, I could have published a book, and he and I could have retired a long time ago. He really is a great guy.”

The crew was ready; the vehicle less so. There were delays, followed by delays, followed by delays. Recalled astronaut Bo Bobko, “John Young had come up to me one day and said, ‘Bo,’ he said, ‘I’d like you to take a group of guys and go down to the Cape and kind of help get everything ready down there.’ And he said, ‘I know it’s probably going to take a couple of months.’ Well, it took two years.”

Much of that two years was waiting for things beyond his control, things taking place all over the country, Bobko said. However, he said, even the time spent waiting was productive time. He and others in the corps partic­ipated in the development and the testing that were going on at the Cape. Said Bobko,

Give you an example. I gave Dick Scobee the honor of powering up the shuttle the first time. I think it was an eight o’clock call to stations and a ten o’clock test start in the morning. I came in the next morning to relieve him at six, and he

First Flight

14. Space Shuttle Columbia arrives at Launchpad 39A on 29 December 1980. Courtesy nasa.

wouldn’t leave until he had thrown at least one switch. They had been discuss­ing the procedures and writing deviations and all that sort of thing the whole day before and the whole night, and so they hadn’t thrown one switch yet. So there was a big learning curve that we went through.

Finally, the ship was ready.

Launch day came on 10 April 1981. Came, and went, without a launch. The launch was scrubbed because of a synchronization error in the orbit – er’s computer systems. “The vehicle is so complicated, I fully anticipated that we would go through many, many countdowns before we ever got off,” Crippen recalled. “When it came down to this particular computer prob­lem, though, I was really surprised, because that was the area I was supposed to know, and I had never seen this happen; never heard of it happening.”

Young and Crippen were strapped in the vehicle, lying on their backs, for a total of six hours. “We climbed out, and I said, ‘Well, this is liable to take months to get corrected,’ because I didn’t know what it was. I’d never seen it,” Crippen said. “It was so unusual and the software so critical to us. But we had, again, a number of people that were working very diligently on it.”

The problem was being addressed in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory, which was used to test the flight software of every Space Shut­tle flight before the software was actually loaded onto the vehicle. Astronaut Mike Hawley was one of many who were working on solving the problem and getting the first shuttle launch underway. “We at sail had the job of trying to replicate what had happened on the orbiter, and I was assigned to that,” Hawley explained. “What happened when they activated the backup flight software, . . . it wasn’t talking properly with the primary software, and everybody assumed initially that there was a problem with the backup soft­ware. But it wasn’t. It was actually a problem with the primary software.”

When the software activates, he explained, it captures the time reference from the Pulse Coded Modulation Master Unit. On rare occasions, that can happen in a way that results in a slightly different time base than the one that gets loaded with the backup software. If they don’t have the same time base, they won’t work together properly, and that was what had hap­pened in this case.

So what we had to do was to load the computers over and over and over again to see if we could find out whether we could hit this timing window where the software would grab the wrong time and wouldn’t talk to the backup. I don’t remember the number. It was like 150 times we did it, and then we finally re­created the problem, and we were able to confirm that. So that was nice, be­cause that meant the fix was all you had to do was reload it and just bring it up again. It’s now like doing the old control-alt-delete on your pc. It reboots and then everything’s okay. And that’s what they did.

Crippen said sail concluded that the odds of that same problem oc­curring again were very slim. This was all sorted out in just one day. “We scrubbed on the tenth, pretty much figured out the problem on the elev­enth, and elected to go again on the twelfth.”

Crippen, though, had little faith that the launch would really go on the twelfth. “I thought, ‘Hey, we’ll go out. Something else will go wrong. So we’re going to get lots of exercises at climbing in and out.’ But I was wrong again.”

On 12 April 1981 the crew boarded the vehicle, which in photos looks distinctive today for its white external tank. The white paint was intended to protect the tank from ultraviolet radiation, but it was later determined that the benefits were negligible and the paint was just adding extra weight.

After the second shuttle flight, the paint was no longer used. Doing without it improved the shuttle’s payload capacity by six hundred pounds.

Strapped into the vehicle, the crew began waiting. And then waiting a little bit more. “George Page, a great friend, one of the best launch direc­tors Kennedy Space Center has ever had, really ran a tight control room,” Crippen recalled. “He didn’t allow a bunch of talking going on. He want­ed people to focus on their job. In talking prior to going out there, George told John and I, he says, ‘Hey, I want to make sure everybody’s really do­ing the right thing and focused going into flight. So I may end up putting a hold in that is not required, but just to get everybody calmed down and making sure that they’re focused.’ It turned out that he did that.”

Even after that hold, as the clock continued to tick down, Crippen said, he still was convinced that a problem was going to arise that would delay the launch.

It’s after you pass that point that things really start to come up in the vehicle, and you are looking at more systems, and I said, “Hey, we’re going to find something that’s going to cause us to scrub again. ” So I wasn’t very confident that we were going to go. But we hadn’t run into any problem up to that point, and when . .. I started up the apus, the auxiliary power units, everything was going good. The weather was looking good. About one minute to go, I turned to John. I said, “I think we might really do it, ” and about that time, my heart rate started to go up. . . . We were being recorded, and it was up to about 130. John’s was down about 90. He said he was just too old for his to go any faster. And sure enough, the count came on down, and the main engines started. The solid rockets went off and away we went.

Astronaut Loren Shriver had helped strap the crew members into their seats for launch and then left the pad to find a place to watch. He viewed the event from a roadblock three miles away, the closest point anyone was allowed to be for the launch, where fire trucks waited in case they were need­ed. “I remember when the thing lifted off, there were a number of things about that first liftoff that truly amazed me,” he said.

One was just the magnitude of steam and clouds, vapor that was being pro­duced by the main engines, the exhaust hitting the sound suppression water, and then the solid rocket boosters were just something else, of course. And then when the sound finally hits you from three miles away, it’s just mind-boggling. Even

First Flight

15. The launch of sts-i on 12 April 1981. Courtesy nasa.

for an experienced fighter pilot, test pilot, it was just amazing to stand through that, because being that close and being on top of the fire truck. . . the pres­sure waves are basically unattenuated except by that three miles ofdistance. But when it hits your chest, and it was flapping the flight suit against my leg, and it was vibrating, you could feel your legs and your knees buckling a little bit, could feel it in your chest, and I said, “Hmm, this is pretty powerful stuffhere. ”

Crippen had trained with Young for three years, during which time the Gemini and Apollo astronaut imparted to Crippen as best he could what the launch would be like. “He told me about riding on the Gemini and riding on the [Apollo] command module—which he’d done two of each of those—and gave me some sense of what ascent was going to be like, what main engine cutoff was going to be like,” Crippen recalled.

But the shuttle is different than those vehicles. I know when the main engines lit off it was obvious that they had in the cockpit, not only from the instruments, but you could hear and essentially feel the vehicle start to shake a little bit. When the

solids light, there was no doubt we were headed someplace; we were just hoping it was in the right direction. It’s a nice kick in the pants; not violent. The thing that I have likened it to, being a naval aviator, is it’s similar to a catapult shot coming offan aircraft carrier. You really get up and scoot, coming off the pad.

As the vehicle accelerated, the two-man crew felt vibration in the cock­pit. “I’ve likened it to driving my pickup down an old country washboard road,” explained Crippen.

It was that kind of shaking, but nothing too dramatic, and it. . . didn’t feel as significant as what I’d heard John talk about on the Saturn V When we got to two minutes into flight, when the SRBs came off that was enlightening, . .. ac­tually you could see the fire [from the separation motors] come over the forward windows. I didn’t know that I was going to see that, but it was there, and it ac­tually put a thin coat across the windows that sort of obscured the view a little bit, but not bad. But the main thing, when they came off it had been noisy. We had been experiencing three gs, or three times the weight of gravity, and all of a sudden it was almost like there was no acceleration, and it got very qui­et. . . . I thought for sure all the engines had quit. Rapidly checked my instru­ments, and they said no, we were still going. It was a big, dramatic thing, for me, at least. . . . You’re up above most of the atmosphere, and it was just a very dramatic thing for me. It will always stick out [in my memory].

The engines throttled, like they were supposed to, and then, at eight and a half minutes after launch, it was time for месо, or main engine cutoff. Crippen described the first launch of the nation’s new Space Transportation System as quite a ride. “Eight and a half minutes from sitting on the pad to going 17,500 miles an hour is a ride like no other. It was a great experience.”

Many astronauts over the years have commented just how much an actual shuttle launch is like the countless simulations they go through to prepare for the real thing. They have Young and Crippen to thank, in part, for the verisimilitude of the sims. Before they flew, there had been no “real thing” version on which to base the training, and when they returned, they brought back new insight to add to the fairly realistic “best-guess” version they had trained on. “I [went] back to the simulations,” Crippen said.

We did change the motion-based, . . . to make it seem like a little bit more of a kick when you lifted off. We did make the separation boosters coming over the windscreen; we put that in the visual so that was there. We changed the shak­ing on that first stage somewhat so that it was at least more true to what the real flight was like. . . . After we got the main engine cutoff and the reaction control jets started firing, we changed that noise to make sure it got everybody’s attention so that they wouldn’t be surprised by that.

With the main engine cutoff, Columbia had made it successfully into orbit. The duo was strapped so tightly into their seats they didn’t feel the effects of microgravity right away. But then the checklists started to float around, and even though the ground crews had worked very hard to deliver a pristinely clean cockpit, small debris started to float around too.

Now the next phase of the mission began. On future missions, nominal operations of the spacecraft would be almost taken for granted during the orbital phase of the mission. On STS-1, to a very real extent, the nominal operations of the spacecraft were the focus of the mission. “On those ini­tial flights, including the first one, we only had two people on board, and there was a lot to do,” Crippen said.

We didn’t have any payloads, except for instrumentation to look at all of the vehicle. So we were primarily going through what I would call nominal things for a flight, but they were being done for the first time, which is the way a test flight would be done. First you want to make sure that the solids would do their thing, that the main engines would run, and that the tank would come off prop­erly, and that you could light off the orbital maneuvering engines as planned; that the payload bay doors would function properly; that you could align the inertial measuring units; the star trackers would work; the environmental con­trol system, the Freon loops, would all function. So John and I, we were pretty busy. The old “one-armedpaper hanger" thing is appropriate in this case. But we did find a little time to look out the windows, too.

For Young, it was his fifth launch into space—or technically, sixth, count­ing his space launch from the surface of the moon during Apollo 16. For Crippen, it was his first, and the experience of being in the weightlessness of orbit was a new one. “We knew people had a potential for space sick­ness, because that had occurred earlier, and the docs made me take some medication before liftoff just in case,” he said. “I was very sensitive when we got on orbit as to how I would move around. I didn’t want to move my head too fast. I didn’t want to get flipped upside down in the cockpit. So I was moving, I guess, very slowly.”

Moving deliberately, Crippen eased to the rear of the flight deck to open up the payload bay doors. Other than the weightlessness, Crippen said, the work he was doing seemed very much like it had during training. “I said, ‘You know, this feels like every time I’ve done it in the simulator, except my feet aren’t on the floor.’ . . . The simulations were very good. So I went ahead and did the procedure on the doors. Unlatched the latches; that worked great. Opened up the first door, and at that time I saw, back on the Orbital Maneuvering System’s pods that hold those engines, that there were some squares back there where obviously the tiles were gone. They were dark in­stead of being white.”

The tiles, of course, were part of the shuttle’s thermal protection system, which buffers it against the potentially lethal heat of reentry. While the dis­covery that some tiles were missing was an obvious source of concern for some, Crippen said he wasn’t among them.

I went ahead and completed opening the doors, and when we got ground con­tact. . . we told the ground, “Hey, there’s some tile missing back there," and we gave them some TV views of the tiles that were missing. Personally, that didn’t cause me any great concern, because I knew that all the critical tiles, the ones primarily on the bottom, we’d gone through and done a pull test with a little device to make sure that they were snugly adhered to the vehicle. Some of them we hadn’t done, and that included the ones back on the omspods, and we didn’t do them because those were primarily there for reusability, and the worst that would probably happen was we’d get a little heat damage back there from it.

The concern on the ground, however, dealt with what else the loss of those tiles might mean. If thermal protection had come off of the oms pods, could tiles have also been lost in a more dangerous area—the underside of the orbiter, which the crew couldn’t see? Crippen said that he and Young chose not to worry about the issue since, if there was a problem, there was nothing they could do about it at that point.

As the “capsule communicator,” or CapCom (a name that dates back to the capsules used for previous NASA manned missions), for the flight, astro­naut Terry Hart was the liaison in Mission Control between the crew and the flight director and so was in the middle of the discussions about the tile situation. “Here were some tiles missing on the top of the oms pods, the engine pods in the back, which immediately raised a concern,” Hart said.

Was there something underneath missing, too? Of course, we’d had all these prob­lems during the preparation, with the tiles coming offduring ferry flights and so forth, and the concern was real. I think they found some pieces of tiles in the flame trench [under the launchpad] after launch as well, so there was kind of a tone of concern at the time, not knowing what kind ofcondition the bottom of the shuttle was in, and we had no way to do an inspection. . . . All of a sudden the word kind ofstarted buzzing around Mission Control that we don’t have to worry anymore. So we all said, “Why don’t we have to worry anymore?” “Can’t tell you. You don’t have to worry anymore. ” So about an hour later, Gene Kranz walked in and he had these pictures of the bottom of the shuttle. It was, “How did you get those?” He said, “I cant tell you. ” But we could see that the shuttle was fine, so then we all relaxed a little bit and knew that it was going to come back just fine, which it did.

Hart said that the mystery was revealed for him many years later, after the loss of Columbia in 2003, explaining that it came out that national defense satellites were able to image the shuttles in orbit.

Despite Crippen’s concerns about space sickness that caused him to be more deliberate during the door-opening procedure, he said that the issue proved not to be a problem for him. “I was worried about potentially be­ing sick, and it came time after we did the doors to go get out of our launch escape suits, the big garments we were wearing for launch. I went first and went down to the mid-deck of the vehicle and started to unzip and climb out of it, and I was tumbling every which way and slipped out of my suit and concluded, ‘Hey, if I just went and tumbled this way and tumbled that way, and my tummy still felt good, then I didn’t have to worry about get­ting sick, thank goodness.’”

In fact, Crippen found weightlessness to be rather agreeable.

This vehicle was big enough, not like the [Apollo] command modules or the Gem­ini or Mercury, that you could move around quite a bit. Not as big as Skylab, but you could take advantage ofbeing weightless, and it was delightful. It was a truly unique experience, learning to move around. I found out that it’s always good to take your boots off?—which I had taken mine off when I came out of the seat— because people, when they get out and then being weightless for the first time, they tend to flail their feet a little bit like they were trying to swim or something. So I made sure on all my crews after that, they know that no boots, no kicking.

A few of the issues encountered on Columbia’s maiden voyage were prob­lems with the bathroom and trying several times to access a panel that, un­beknownst to the crew, had been essentially glued shut by one of the ground crew. However, there were plenty of things that went well. One of those, Crippen said, was the food, which was derived from the food used during Skylab missions. “We even had steak. It was irradiated so that you could set it on the shelf for a couple of years, open it up, and it was just like it had come off the grill. It was great. We had great food, from my perspective.”

sts-1 was, in and of itself, a historic event, but another historic event around the same time would have an impact on a key moment of the flight, Crippen recalled.

There was an established tradition of the president talking to astronauts on his­toric spaceflights, and the first flight of the new vehicle and the first American manned spaceflight in almost six years ordinarily would have been no exception. But, in that regard, the timing of sts-1 was anything but ordinary. President Reagan was shot two weeks prior to our flight, so. . . the vice president called, as opposed to the president. The vice president, [George H. W] Bush, had also come to visit us at the Cape. It was sometime prior to flight, but we had him up in the cockpit of Columbia and looked around, went out jogging a few miles with him. So we felt like we had a personal rapport with him, and so when we got a call from the vice president, it was like talking to an old friend.

The launch had been successful; the orbital phase had been successful, demonstrating that the vehicle functioned properly while in space; and now one more major thing remained to be proven: that what had gone up could safely come back down. “That was also one of these test objectives, to make sure that we could deorbit properly,” Crippen said.

We did our deorbit burn on the dark side of the Earth and started falling into the Earth’s atmosphere. It was still dark when we started to pick up outside the window; it turned this pretty color of pink. It wasn’t a big fiery kind of a thing like they had with the command modules;.. . they used the ablative heat shield. It was just a bunch of little angry ions out there that were proving that it was kind of warm outside, on the order of three thousand degrees out the front win­dow. But it was pretty. It was kind of like you were flying down a neon tube, about that color of pink that you might see in a neon tube.

At that point in the reentry, the autopilot was on and things were going well, according to Crippen. He said that Young had been concerned with how the vehicle would handle the S-turns deeper into the atmosphere and took over from the autopilot when the orbiter had slowed to about Mach 7, the first of a few times he switched back and forth between autopilot and manu­al control, until taking over manually for good at Mach 1. At the time of the first switch, the crew was out of contact with Mission Control. “We had a good period there where we couldn’t talk to the ground because there were no ground stations,” Crippen explained. “So I think the ground was pretty happy the first time we reported in to them that we were still there, coming down.”

Astronaut Hank Hartsfield recalled those moments of silence from the perspective of someone on the ground. “It was an exciting time for me when we flew that first flight, watching that and seeing whether we was going to get it back or not,” he said. “Of course, we didn’t have comm all the way, and so once they went Los [loss of signal] in entry was a real nervous time to see if somebody was going to talk to you on the other side. It was really great when John greeted us over the radio when they came out of the blackout.”

Continued Crippen,

I deployed the air data probes around Mach 5, and we started to pick up air data. We started to pick up TA cans [Tactical Air Control and Navigation systems] to use to update our navigation system, and we could see the coast of California. We came in over the San Joaquin Valley, which I’d flown over many times, and I could see Tehachapi, which is the little pass between San Joaquin and the Mo­jave Desert. You could see Edwards, and you could look out and see Three Sisters, which are three dry lake beds out there. It was just like I was coming home. I’d been there lots of times. I did remark over the radio that, “What a way to come to California," because it was a bit different than all of my previous trips there.

Young flew the shuttle over Edwards Air Force Base and started to line up for landing on Lake Bed 22. Crippen recalled,

My primary job was to get the landing gear down, which I did, and John did a beautiful job of touching down. The vehicle had more lift or less drag

First Flight

i6. The Space Shuttle Columbia glides in for landing at the conclusion of sts-1. Courtesy nasa.

than we had predicted, so we floated for a longer period than what we’d ex­pected, which was one of the reasons we were using the lake bed. But John greased it on.

Jon McBride was our chase pilot in the T-38. I remember him saying, “Wel­come home, Skipper, ” talking to John. After we touched down, John was. . . feeling good. Joe Allen was the CapCom at the time, and John said, “Want me to take it up into the hangar, Joe?”Because it was rolling nice. He wasn’t using the brakes very much. Then we got stopped. You hardly ever see John excited. He has such a calm demeanor. But he was excited in the cockpit.

On the ground, the crew still had a number of tasks to complete and was to stay in the orbiter cockpit until the support crew was on board. “John unstrapped, climbed down the ladder to the mid-deck, climbed back up again, climbed back down again,” recalled Crippen.

He couldn’t sit still, and I thought he was going to open up the hatch before the ground did, and of course, they wanted to go around and sniff the vehicle and make sure that there weren’t any bad fumes around there so you wouldn’t inhale them. But they finally opened up the hatch, and John popped out. Meanwhile I’m still up there, doing my job, but I will never forget how excited John was. I

completed my task and went out and joined him awhile later, but he was that excited all the way home on the flight to Houston, too.

Crippen’s additional work after Young left the orbiter meant that the pi­lot had the vehicle to himself for a brief time, and he said that those post­flight moments alone with Columbia were another memory that he would always treasure.

CapCom Joe Allen recalled the reaction in Mission Control to the suc­cessful completion of the mission.

When the wheels stopped, I was very excited and very relieved. . . . I do remem­ber that Donald R. Puddy, who was the entry flight director, said, “All con­trollers, you have fifteen seconds for unmitigated jubilation, and then let’s get this flight vehicle safe," because we had a lot of systems to turn down. So peo­ple yelled and cheered for fifteen seconds, and then he called, “Time’s up. " Very typical Don Puddy. No nonsense. . . . Other images that come into my head, the people there that went out in the vans to meet the orbiter wear very strange looking protective garments to keep nasty propellants that a Space Shuttle could be leaking from harming the individuals. These ground crew technicians look more like astronauts than the astronauts themselves. Then the astronauts step out and in those days, they were wearing normal blue flight suits. They looked like people, but the technicians around them looked like the astronauts, which I always thought was rather amusing.

Terry Hart was CapCom during the launch of sts-1, but he said watch­ing the landing overshadowed his launch experience. The landing was on his day off and he had no official duties, yet he watched from the communica­tions desk inside Mission Control. “When the shuttle came down to land, I had tears in my eyes,” said Hart. “It was just so emotional. On launch, typically you’re just focused on what you have to do and everything, but to watch the Columbia come in and land like that, it was really beautiful and it was kind of like a highlight. Even though I wasn’t really involved, I could actually enjoy the moment more by being a spectator.”

Astronaut John Fabian recalled thinking during the landing of that first mission just how risky it was.

The risk of launch is going to be there regardless of what vehicle you’re launching, and the shuttle has some unique problems; there’s no question about that. But this is the first time; we’ve never flown this thing back into the atmosphere. We don’t have any end-to-end test on those tiles. The guidance system has only been simu­lated; it’s never really flown a reentry. And this is really hairy stuff that’s going on out there. And the feeling of elation when that thing came back in and looked good—the landing I never worried about, these guys practice a thousand land­ings, but the heat of reentry, it was something that really, really was dangerous.

While the mission was technically over, the duties of the now-famous first crew of the Space Shuttle were far from complete. The two would continue to circle the world, albeit much more slowly and closer to the ground, in a series of public relations trips. “The pr that followed the flight I think was somewhat overwhelming, at least for me,” Crippen said. “John was maybe used to some of it, since he had been through the previous flights. But we went everywhere. We did everything. That sort of comes with the territo­ry. I don’t think most of the astronauts sign up for the fame aspect of it.”

In particular, he recalled attending a conference hosted by ABC televi­sion in Los Angeles very shortly after the flight.

All ofa sudden, they did this grandiose announcement, and you would have thought that a couple of big heroes or something were walking out. They were showing all this stuff, and they introduced John. We walk out, and there’s two thousand peo­ple out there, and they’re all standing up and applauding. It was overwhelming.

We got to go see a lot of places around the world. Did Europe. Got to go to Australia; neat place. In fact, I had sort of cheated on that. I kept a tape of “Waltzing Matilda" and played it as we were coming over one of the Austra­lian ground stations, just hoping that maybe somebody would give us an invite to go to Australia, since I’d never been there. But that was fun.

Prior to STS-i, Crippen recalled, the country’s morale was not very high. “We’d essentially lost the Vietnam War. We had the hostages held in Iran. The president had just been shot. I think people were wondering wheth­er we could do anything right. [sts-i] was truly a morale booster for the United States. . . . It was obvious that it was a big deal. It was a big deal to the military in the United States, because we planned to use the vehicle to fly military payloads. It was something that was important.”

Crippen said STS-i and the nation’s return to human spaceflight pro­vided a positive rallying point for the American people at the time, and human space exploration continues to have that effect for many today. “A great many of the people in the United States still believe in the space pro­gram,” he said. “Some think it’s too expensive. Perspective-wise, it’s not that expensive, but I believe that most of the people that have come in contact with the space program come away with a very positive feeling. Sometimes, if they have only seen it on Tv, maybe they don’t really understand it, and there are some negative vibes out there from some individuals, but most people, certainly the majority, I think, think that we’re doing something right, and it’s something that we should be doing, something that’s for the future, something that’s for the future of the United States and mankind.”

The Demonstration Flights

With the return of Columbia and its crew at the end of STS-i, the first flight was a success, but the shuttle demonstration flight-test program was still just getting started. Even before sts-1 had launched, preparations for sts – 2 were already under way. The mission would build on the success of the first and test additional orbiter systems.


Crew: Commander Joe Engle, Pilot Dick Truly

Orbiter: Columbia

Launched: 12 November 1981

Landed: 14 November 1981

Mission: Test of orbiter systems

sTs-1 had been a grand experiment, the first time a new nasa human launch vehicle made its maiden flight with a crew aboard. Because of that, the mission profile was kept relatively simple and straightforward to de­crease risk. Before the shuttle could become operational, however, many more of its capabilities would have to be tested and demonstrated. In that respect, the mission of sts-2 began long before launch.

“One of the things I remember back then on sts-2,” recalled astronaut Mike Hawley,

when they mate the shuttle to the solid rocket motor on the external tank in the Vehicle Assembly Building [vab, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida], they do something called the shuttle interface test,. . . making sure the cables are hooked up right and the hydraulic lines are hooked up properly and the orbiter and the solids and all ofthat functions as a unit before they take it to the pad. In those days we manned that test with astronauts, and for sts-2 the astronauts that manned it were me and Ellison Onizuka. We were in the Columbia in the middle ofthe night hanging on the side ofthe ET [external tank] in the vab going through this test.

Part of the test, Hawley explained, involved making sure that the or – biter’s flight control systems were working properly, including the moving flight control surfaces, the displays, and the software.

It turns out when you do part of this test and you bypass a surface in the flight control system, it shakes the vehicle and there’s this big bang that happens. Well, nobody told me that, and Ellison and I are sitting in the vehicle going through this test, and I forget which one of us threw the switch, but. . . there’s this “bang!” and the whole vehicle shakes. We’re going, “Uh-oh, I think we broke it. ” But that was actually normal. I took delight years later in knowing that was going to happen and not telling other people, so that they would have the same fun of experiencing what it’s like to think you broke the orbiter. . . . That was a lot of fun. Except for flying, that was probably the most fun I ever had, was working the Cape job.

In contrast to STS-i, commanded by NASA’s senior member of the astro­naut corps, sts-2 was the only demonstration flight to be commanded by a “rookie” astronaut—Joe Engle, who had earned air force astronaut wings on a suborbital spaceflight on the x-15 rocket plane.

Engle’s path to becoming the shuttle’s first NASA-unflown commander began about a decade earlier, when he lost out on a chance to walk on the moon. Engle had been assigned to the crew of Apollo 17, alongside com­mander Gene Cernan and command module pilot Ron Evans. However, pressure to make sure that geologist-astronaut Harrison Schmitt made it to the moon cost Engle his slot as the Apollo 17 Lunar Module pilot. When Engle was informed that he was being removed from the mission, Deke Slayton discussed with him options for his next assignment.

“I wouldn’t say I was able to select, but Deke was very, very good about it and asked me, in a one-to-one conversation, not promising that I would be assigned to a Skylab or not promising I would be assigned to the Apollo – Soyuz mission, but implying that if I were interested in that, he would sure consider that very heavily,” Engle recalled.

He also indicated that the Space Shuttle looked like it was going to be funded and looked like it was going to be a real program. At the time, I think I respond­ed something to the effect that it had a stick and rudder and wings and was an airplane and was kind of more the kind of vehicle that I felt I could contribute more to. And Deke concurred with that. He said, “That was my opinion, but if you want to fly sooner than that, I was ready to help out. ” I think Deke was happy that I had indicated I would just as soon wait for the Space Shuttle and be part of the early testing on that program.

The decision meant that Engle was involved in the very beginnings of the shuttle program, even before the contractors and final design for the vehicle had been selected.

Rockwell and McDonnell Douglas and Grumman were three ofthe primary com­petitors initially and had different design concepts for the shuttle, all pretty much the same, but they were significantly different in shape and in configuration for launch, using different types of boosters and things. I was part ofthat selection pro­cess only as an engineer and a pilot and assessing a very small part ofthe data that went into the final selection. But it was interesting. It was very, very interesting, and it, fortunately, allowed me to pull on some ofthe experience that I had gotten at Edwards in flight-testing, in trying to assess what might be the most reasonable approach to either flying initial flights, data-gathering and things ofthat nature.

Engle and sts-2 pilot Richard Truly served as the backup crew for sts-1 and trained for that mission alongside Crippen and Young. Not long after the first mission was complete, a ceremony was held in which Engle and Truly were presented with a “key”—made of cardboard—to Columbia. “I think the hope was that would be a traditional handover of the vehicle to the next crew,” Engle recalled.

It was a fun thing to do. In fact, I think it was done at a pilots’ meeting one time, as I recall. John and Crip handed Dick and I the key, and I think there were so many comments about buying a used car from Crip and John that it became more ofa joke than a serious tradition, and I don’t recall that it really lasted very long. I think it turned from cardboard into plywood, and I don’t recall that it was done very long after that. Plus, once we got the next vehicles, Discovery, Chal­lenger, on line, it lost some significance as well. You weren’t really sure which ve­hicle you were going to fly after that, so you didn’t know who to give the key to.

In the wake of the tile loss on the first shuttle mission, a renewed effort was made to develop contingencies to deal with future problems and, ac­cording to Engle, additional progress was made.

Probably the biggest change that occurred was more emphasis on being able to make a repair for a tile that might have come off during flight. John and Crip lost a number of tiles on STS-1. Fortunately, none were in the critical underside, where the maximum heat is. Most of them were on the OMSpod and on the top of the vehicle. But the inherent cause of those tiles coming loose and separating was not really understood, and on sts-2 we were prepared to at least try to fill some of those voids with RSI [Reusable Surface Insulation], the rubbery mate­rial that bonds the tile to the surface itself. So in our training, we began to fold in eva training, using materials and tools to fill in those voids.

Exactly seven months after the launch of STS-1, the launch date for the second Space Shuttle mission arrived. Sitting on the launchpad, Engle was in a distinctive position—on his first nasa launch, he would be returning to space. It would, however, be a very different experience from his last; he was actually going to stay in orbit versus just briefly skimming space, as he had in the x-15. In fact, he said, while his thoughts on the launchpad did briefly touch on his previous flights on the x-15, space wasn’t the place he was thinking about returning to. Instead, he was already thinking ahead to the end of the mission.

As I recall, the only conscious recollection to the X-15 was that at the end of the flight we would be going back to Edwards and landing on the dry lake bed. And I think, for all of the training and all of the good simulation that we re­ceived, that’s where I felt the most comfortable, the most at home, going back to Edwards. And at the end of the flight, when we rolled out on final approach going into the dry lake bed, that turned out to really be the case. It was a de­manding mission and there were a lot of strange things that went on during our first flight, but when we got back into the landing pattern, it just felt like I was back at Edwards again, ready to land another airplane.

According to Engle, the launch was very much like it had been in the simulators. However, even though the first shuttle mission had provided real-world data on what an actual flight would be like, there were still, at the time the sts-2 crew was training, ways in which the simulators still did not fully capture the details of the ascent. The thing that most surprised him during launch was “the loud explosion and fireball when the solid rocket boosters were ejected. That was not really simulated very well in the sim-

The Demonstration Flights

17. An aerial view of the launch of Columbia on the second Space Shuttle mission, sts-2. Photo taken by astronaut John Young aboard nasas Shuttle Training Aircraft. Courtesy nasa.

ulator, because I don’t think anybody really anticipated it would be quite as impressive a show as that. I don’t remember that [John and Crip] men­tioned it to us, but that caught our attention, and I think we did pass that on in briefings to the rest of the troops, not just to [the sts-3 crew], but to everyone else who was flying downstream.”

If the launch was relatively nominal, things changed quickly after that. Two and a half hours into flight, Columbia had a fuel cell failure, which, under mission rules, required an early return to Earth—cutting the mission from 125 hours to 54. “We were disappointed,” Engle said.

As I recall, we kind of tried to hint that we probably didn’t need to come back, we still had two fuel cells going, but at the time, it was the correct decision, be­

cause there was no really depth of knowledge as to why that fuel cell failed, and there was no way of telling that it was not a generic failure, that the other two might follow. And, of course, without fuel cells, without electricity, the vehicle is not controllable. So we understood and we accepted. We knew the ground rules; we knew the flight rules that dictated that if you lost a fuel cell, that it would be a minimum-time mission. We had really prepared and trained hard and had a full scenario of objectives that we wanted to complete on the mission. Of course, everybody wants to complete everything.

In fact, according to Engle, the only real disappointment he and Truly felt at the time was that, after investing so much training time into preparing for the mission goals, they weren’t going to have the time to fully accomplish them. “I don’t think we consciously thought, ‘Well, we’re not going to have five days to look at the Earth.’ I don’t think that really entered our minds right then, because we were more focused on how we are going to get all this stuff done.”

Rather than accept defeat, Engle and Truly managed to get enough work done even in the shortened duration that the mission objectives were de­clared 90 percent complete at the end of the flight. “We were able to do it because we had trained enough to know precisely what all had to be done, and we prioritized things as much as we could,” Engle explained.

Fortunately, we didn’t have tdrss [Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System] at the time. We only had the ground stations, so we didn’t have continuous voice communication with Mission Control, and Mission Control didn’t have continuous data downlink from the vehicle either, only when we’d fly over the ground stations. So when our sleep cycle was approaching, we did, in fact, pow­er down some of the systems and we did tell Mission Control goodnight, but as soon as we went los, loss of signal, from the ground station, then we got busy and scrambled and cranked up the remote manipulator arm and ran through the sequence of tests for the arm, ran through as much of the other data that we could, got as much done as we could during the night. We didn’t sleep that night; we stayed up all night. Then the next morning, when the wakeup call came from the ground, why, we tried to pretend like we were sleepy and just waking up.

After the flight, I remember Don Puddy saying, “Well, we knew you guys were awake, because when you’d pass over the ground station, we could see you were drawing more power than you should have been if you were asleep. ” But that was about the only insight they had into it.

The first use of the robot arm was one of the major ways that STS-2 moved forward from sts-1 in testing out the vehicle. “From the beginning we had the rms, the remote manipulator system, the arm, manifested on our flight, and that was a major test article and test procedure to perform, to actually take the arm, to de-berth the arm and take it out through ma­neuvers and attach it to different places in the payload to demonstrate that it would work in zero gravity and work throughout its envelope. Dick be­came the primary rms-responsible crew member and did a magnificent job in working with the arm people.”

The premission training for testing the arm included working with its camera and figuring out what sort of angles it could capture. Truly learned that the arm could be maneuvered so that the camera pointed through the cabin windows of the orbiter. Once they were in orbit, Truly took advan­tage of this discovery by getting shots of himself and Engle in the cabin, with Truly displaying a sign reading “Hi, Mom.”

Sally Ride, who was heavily involved in the training for the arm, also worked with the crew to help develop a plan for Earth observations dur­ing the mission. “They were both very, very interested in observing Earth while they were in space, but they weren’t carrying instruments other than their eyes and their cameras,” Ride said.

They wanted to have a good understanding of what they would be seeing, what they should look for, and what scientists wanted them to look for. The crew had to learn how to recognize the things that scientists were interested in: wave patterns on the surface ofthe ocean, rift valleys, large volcanoes, a variety ofdifferentgeological features on the ground. I spent quite a bit oftime with the scientists, as a liaison be­tween the scientists and the astronauts who were going to be taking the pictures, to try to understand what the scientists had observed and then to help the astronauts understand how to recognize features of interest and what sort of pictures to take.

During the flight, not only was the crew staying extra busy to make up for the lost time, but CapCom Terry Hart recalled an incident in which the ground unintentionally made additional, unnecessary work for the crew.

It turned out that President Reagan was visiting Mission Control during the sts-2, and it was just [over eight months] after he had been shot. . . . This was one of his first public events since recovering ffrom that. Of course, everyone was very excited about that, and it turned out he was coming in on our shift. . . . Mission Control was kind of all excited about the president coming and every­thing. He came in, and I was just amazed how large a man he was. I guess TV doesn’t make people look as large as they sometimes are. And I was on comm, so I was actually the one talking to the crew at that time when he came in. So I had the chance then to give him my seat and show him how to use the radios, and then I actually introduced him to the crew. I said something to the effect that, “Columbia, this is Houston. We have a visiting CapCom here today. ” I said, “I guess you could call him CapCom One. ” And then the president smiled and he sat down and had a nice conversation for a few minutes with the crew.

While the event was a success and an exciting opportunity for the astronauts, Mission Control, and the president, Hart recalled that it was later discovered that a miscommunication had caused an unintended downside to the uplink.

We didn’t realize we had not communicated properly to the crew, and the crew thought this was going to be a video downlink opportunity for them. . . . They had set up TV cameras inside the shuttle to show themselves to Mission Control while they were talking to the president, when the plan was only to have an audio call with the president, because the particular ground station they were over at that time didn’t have video downlink. We had wasted about an hour or two of the crew’s time, so we kind of felt bad about that.

We didn’t learn about that until after. .. . It all worked out and everything, but it just shows you how important it is to communicate effectively with the crews and to work together as a team and all. And of course, most of the crews, the astronauts, they’re all troopers. They want to do their very best, and if Mis­sion Control is not careful, you’ll let them overwork themselves.

The extra time the crew members gained by not sleeping at night allowed them to be more productive, but the lost sleep, and a side-effect problem related to the failed fuel cell, caught up with them as the mission neared its end. The membrane that failed on the fuel cell allowed excess hydrogen to get into the supply of drinking water. “So we had very bubbly water,” Truly said.

Whenever we’d go to take a drink, .. . a large percentage of the volume was hy­drogen bubbles in the water, and they didn’tfloat to the top like bubbles would in a glass here and get rid of themselves, because in zero gravity they don’t; they just stay in solution. We had no way to separate those out, so the water that we

The Demonstration Flights

i8. From the Mission Control room at Johnson Space Center, President Ronald Reagan talks to Joe Engle and Richard Truly, the crew of sts-2. Courtesy nasa.

would drink had an awful lot of hydrogen in it, and once you got that into your system, it’s the same way as when you drink a Coke real fast and it’s still bub­bly; you want to belch and get rid of that gas. That was the natural physiologi­cal reaction, but anytime you did that, of course, you would regurgitate water. It wasn’t a nice thing, so we didn’t drink any water. So we were dehydrated as well; tired and dehydrated when it was time to come back in.

In addition to the strained physical condition of the crew, other factors were complicating the return to Earth. The winds at Edwards Air Force Base were very high a couple of orbits before entry, when the crew was making the entry preparations, leading to discussion as to whether it would be nec­essary to divert to an alternate landing site.

Even under the best of circumstances, sts-2’s reentry would have had a bit more pressure built into it—another of the test objectives for the sec­ond shuttle mission was to gain data about how the shuttle could maneu­ver during reentry and what it was capable of doing. The standard entry profile was to be abandoned, and about thirty different maneuvers were to be flown to see how the shuttle handled them. In order to accomplish this, the autopilot was turned off, making Engle the only commander to have flown the complete reentry and landing manually.

“Getting that data to verify and confirm the capabilities of the vehicle was something that we wanted very much to do and, quite honestly, not everyone at nasa thought it was all that important,” Engle recalled.

There was an element in the engineering community that felt that we could al­ways fly it with the variables and the unknowns just as they were from wind tunnel data. . . . Then there was the other school, which I will readily admit that I was one of, that felt you just don’t know when you may have a payload you weren’t able to deploy, so you have maybe the cg [center of gravity] not in the optimum place and you can’t do anything about it, and just how much ma­neuvering will you be able to do with that vehicle in that condition? How much control authority is really out there on the elevons? And how much cross range do you really have if you need to come down on an orbit that is not the one that you really intended to come down on? So it was something that, like in any­thing, there was good, healthy discussions on, and ultimately the data showed that, yes, it was really worthwhile to get.

(In fact, after sts-2, maneuvers that Engle tested by flying manually were programmed into the shuttle’s flight control software so that they could be performed by the autopilot if needed in the future.)

And so, with a variety of factors working against them, the crew mem­bers began the challenging reentry. “We had a vehicle with a fuel cell that had to be shut down, so we were down to less than optimum amount of electrical power available,” Engle recalled.

The winds were coming up at Edwards. We hadn’t had any sleep the night before, and we were dehydrated as could be. And just before we started to prepare for the entry, Dick decided he was not going to take any chances of getting motion sickness on the flight, because the entry was demanding. . . . He had replaced his scopolamine patch [for motion sickness] and put on a fresh one. The atmo­sphere was dry in the orbiter and we both were rubbing our eyes. We weren’t aware that the stuffthat’s in a scopolamine patch dilates your eyes. So we got in our seats and got strapped in, got ready for entry, and I’d pitched around and was about ready for the first maneuver and said, “Okay, Dick, let me make sure we got the first one right, ” and I read off the conditions. I didn’t hear anything back, and I looked over and Dick had the checklist and he was going back and forth and he said, “Joe Henry, I cant see a damn thing. ” So I thought, “This is going to be a pretty good, interesting entry. We got a fuel cell down. We got a broke bird. We got winds coming up at Edwards. We got no sleep. We’re thirsty and we’re dehydrated, and now my plt’s [pilot’s] gone blind."Fortunately, Dick was able to read enough of the stuff, and I had memorized those maneuvers. That was part of the benefits of the delay of the launch was that it gave us more time to practice, and those maneuvers were intuitive to me at the time. They were just like they were bred into me.

As the reentry progressed, Engle recalled, it felt like everything went into slow motion as he waited to execute one maneuver after another. And then, with the winds having cooperated enough to prevent Columbia from hav­ing to divert to another site, it was time for the former x-15 pilot’s trium­phant return to Edwards.

When we did get back over Edwards and lined up on the runway, as I men­tioned before, I think one of the greatest feelings that I’ve had in the space pro­gram since I got here was rolling out on final and seeing the dry lake bed out there, because I’d spent so much time out there, and I dearly love Edwards and the people out there. In fact, I recall when Dick and I spent numerous week­ends practicing landings at Edwards, I would go down to the flight line and talk with guys. . . and go up to the flight control tower and talk with the peo­ple up there, and we would laugh and joke with them. I remember the tower operator said, “Well, give me a call on final. I’ll clear you." Of course, that was not a normal thing to do, because we were talking with the CapCom here at Houston throughout the flight. But I rolled out on final, and it was just kind of an instinctive thing. I called and I said, “Eddy Tower, it’s Columbia roll­ing out on high final. I’ll call the gear on the flare." And he popped right back and just very professional voice, said, “Roger, Columbia, you’re cleared num­ber one. Call your gear." It caused some folks in Mission Control to ask, “Who was that? What was that other chatter on the channel?" because nobody else is supposed to be on. But to me it was really a neat thing, really a gratifying thing, and the guys in the tower, Edwards folks, just really loved it, to be part of it.

According to Engle, the landing was very much like his experiences with Enterprise during the approach and landing tests.

From an airplane-handling-qualities standpoint, I was very, very pushed to find any difference between Enterprise and the two orbital vehicles, Columbia

and Discovery, other than the fact that Enterprise was much lighter weight and, therefore, performance-wise, you had to fly a steeper profile and the air­speed bled off quicker in the approach and landing. But as far as the response of the vehicle, the airplane was optimized to respond to what pilots tend to like in the way of vehicle response. . . . There were some things that would have been nice to have had different on the orbiter, . . . and that is the hand con­troller itself. It’s not optimized for landing a vehicle. It really is a derivative of the Apollo rotational hand controller, which was designed for and optimized for operation in space, and since that’s where the shuttle lives most of the time, it leans toward optimizing space operations, rendezvous and docking and those types of maneuvers.

Despite the change in schedule caused by the shortening of the mission, more than two hundred thousand people showed up to watch the landing. After the vehicle touched down, Engle conducted a traditional pilot’s in­spection of his vehicle.

I think every pilot, out of just habit, gets out of his airplane and walks around it to give it a postflight check. It’s really required when you’re an operational pilot, and I think you’re curious just to make sure that the bird’s okay. And of course, after a reentry like that, you’re very curious to know what it looks like. You figure it’s got to look scorched after an entry like that, with all the heat and the fire that you saw during entry. Additionally, of course, we were interested at that time to see if the tiles were intact. . . . We lost a couple of tiles, as I re­call, but they were not on the bottom surface. They had perfected the bonding on those tiles first, because they were the most critical, and they did a very good job on that. But we walked around, kicked the tires, did the regular pilot thing.


Crew: Commander Jack Lousma, Pilot Gordon Fullerton

Orbiter: Columbia

Launched: 22 March 1982

Landed: 30 March 1982

Mission: Test of orbiter systems

The mission that flew after sts-2 could have been a very different one, had the shuttle been ready sooner or the sun been quieter, according to as­

tronaut Fred Haise. The Apollo 13 veteran had initially been named as com­mander of the mission, with Skylab II astronaut Jack Lousma as his pilot. The purpose of the mission would have been to revisit the Skylab space sta­tion, abandoned in orbit since its third and final crew departed in February 1974. At a minimum, the mission would have recovered a “time capsule” the final Skylab crew had left behind to study the effects of long-term exposure to the orbital environment. There were also discussions about using the shut­tle mission to better prepare the aging Skylab for its eventual de-orbit. Un­fortunately, delays with the shuttle pushed the mission backward, and an ex­pansion of Earth’s atmosphere caused by higher than predicted solar activity pushed the end of Skylab forward. “And what happened, obviously was there was a miscalculation, I guess, on the solar effect on our atmosphere, which was raised, causing more drag,” Haise said. “So the Skylab [predicted time] for reentering was moving to the left in schedule, and our flight schedule was going to the right. So at a point, they crossed, and that mission went away.”

Haise and Lousma trained for several months for the mission, and when the Skylab rendezvous became impossible, Haise decided to reevaluate his future plans. Given his own experience and the number of newer astro­nauts still waiting for a flight, he decided to leave NASA and take a man­agement position with Grumman Aerospace Corporation. “I just felt it was the right time to start my next career. And so I left the program in ’79 for that purpose.”

Haise’s departure meant changes for astronaut Gordon Fullerton, who recalled that at one point during shifting crew assignment discussions, he had actually been scheduled to fly with Haise on the second shuttle mis­sion. “For a while I was going to fly with Fred. Then Fred decided he wasn’t going to stick it out,” Fullerton explained. “So then I ended with Vance [Brand] for a little while, and then finally with Jack Lousma, which was great. Jack’s a great guy, [a] very capable guy and a great guy to work with, and so I couldn’t have done better to have a partner to fly with.”

Recalled astronaut Pinky Nelson of the pair:

Jack and Gordo were black and white. I mean, they were the yin and yang of the space program, basically. Jack is your basic great pilot, kind of “Let’s go do this stuff," and Gordo is probably the second-most-detail-oriented person I’ve ever seen. Gordo at least knew he was that way and had some perspective on it, but there were things he could not let go. So he knew everything, basically. He knew all the details and really worked hard at making sure that everything was in place, while Jack looked after the big picture kind ofstuff. They were a good team.

The shuttle was very much still a developmental vehicle when Lousma and Fullerton prepared for and flew sts-3. “When we flew sts-3, we had [a big book] called Program Notes, which were known flaws in the software,” Fullerton explained. “There was one subsystem that, when it was turned on, the feedback on the displays said ‘off,’ because they’d gotten the polarity wrong. . . which they knew and they knew how to fix it, but we didn’t fix it. We flew it that way, knowing that ‘off meant ‘on’ for this subsystem. The crew had to train and keep all this in mind, because to fix it means you’d have to revalidate the whole software load again, and there wasn’t time to do that.”

The big issue preventing the changes being made was time. The prob­lems had been identified before the first launch, but continuing to work on them would have continued to delay the program. “They had to call a halt and live with some real things you wouldn’t live with if you’d bought a new car. That’s all part of the challenge and excitement and satisfaction that comes with being involved with something brand new.”

While Fullerton was largely confident in the vehicle despite the prob­lems, his only concern was the fact that the simulators were programmed assuming that the orbiter was working nominally. If a failure occurred in a system with a “program note,” resolving it wouldn’t necessarily look quite like it did in simulation.

It’s really a complex vehicle. It really is. . . . If everything works like normal, it’s all a piece ofcake. It’s when something breaks that you worry about, and the big challenge is to get to a point where you feel like you’ve got a handle on it. So was I ready to not show up on the launch date? No, not at all. Was I quaking in my boots? No. Was I intense about the whole thing? Yes, mostly because I am wor­ried about my part of this. Especially for pilots, it’s the launch phase [you worry about], because while it’s short and concentrated, ifanythinggoes wrong, the or­biter only takes care of the first failure. The second failure is pretty much left to the crew, generally, and so you worry about being ready to recognize a problem and do the right thing. You feel like the whole world’s watching you when that failure occurs because of the manual action you’ve got to take to save the day. So it’s that kind of pressure, pressure of performance, rather than fear or anything.

Lousma and Fullerton’s flight built on the accomplishments of STS-2 in further testing the capabilities of the shuttle’s Canadarm remote manipula­tor system. On sts-2, Truly had run the arm through a series of maneuvers without any added loads. On STS-3, Fullerton would take the next step by using the arm to grapple an object, lift it, move it, and then return it to place. Fullerton and Lousma paid particular attention to their physical condition during the mission, after the problems suffered by the sts-2 crew. “Jack and I worried about it a lot,” Fullerton admitted. “One thing that we did do, that I don’t think they did, is we had a g-suit, like they wear in the F-18, ex­cept that for entry you could pump up the g-suit and just keep it that way, and so that helped you keep your blood flow up near your head. . . . There was some controversy about whether you ought to pump them up or not, among individuals. We said, ‘We’re going to pump them up.’”

Another physical concern the crew worked to mitigate was orbital mo­tion sickness. Fullerton noted that they looked into whether they could use NASA’s T-38 astronaut jets to decrease problems with nausea in space.

We’re not sure there’s a direct correlation to flying airplanes and sickness. I know if you go up and do a lot of aerobatics day after day, you get to be much more tolerant of it. So Jack and I, we scheduled T-]8s every chance we got in the last couple of weeks before we went down there, and I flew literally hundreds of ai­leron rolls. . . . If I did roll after roll after roll, I could make myself sick, and I did that, and I got to the point where it took hundreds of them to make me sick. But I did that figuring, I don’t know if this helps, but I have the oppor­tunity, I’ll do it.

The results were pretty much the same on both of Fullerton’s flights.

For the first day or so, I didn’t ever throw up or anything. I never got disorient­ed, butIfeltkindoffifty-fify, you know. Yourepretty happy tojustfloataround and relax rather than keep charging. And into the second day, this is really fun and great, and you feel 100 percent. So whether the aileron rolls helped or not, I’m not sure, but it was relatively easy. Of course, everybody has their acclima­tion problems. That’s pretty consistent through the population. It takes about twenty-four hours to get to feel normal, at varying levels of discomfort. Most ev­erybody can hang in there and do their stuff, even though they don’t feel good. A few are pretty well debilitated.

Pinky Nelson, who was a CapCom for STS-3, found it fascinating to ob­serve a two-man team doing all the tasks necessary to fly the vehicle and also conduct mission objectives. “Flying the Space Shuttle with two people was a nontrivial job. It was a full-time job to keep that thing going with just two people and carry out some kind of a mission. I don’t know how they did it, actually. I don’t think I’d want to fly in the shuttle with just one other person.”

Working as CapCom during that time was a challenge, Nelson explained, because the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System didn’t exist yet and the only opportunity to communicate with the astronauts was when the shuttle was over ground communications stations.

The time that you could communicate was very limited. You’d get a three-minute pass over Hawaii and a two-minute pass over Botswana or something, so you had to plan. Unlike now, when you can talk pretty much anytime, you had to plan very carefully and prioritize what you were going to say. The data came down in spurts, so the folks in the back rooms had to really plan for looking at their data and analyzing it and being able to make decisions based on spurts of data rather than continuous data. So it was kind of a different way to operate.

According to Nelson, there were some particular tricks to the art of be­ing a good CapCom. One had to learn to speak succinctly and precisely and to stick to language that the astronauts were used to hearing from sim­ulations. Another vital skill was listening to the tone of voice of the crew.

When you went aos, acquisition of signal, over a site, you would call up and say, “Columbia, Houston through Hawaii for two and a half," or something like that, and then you could just tell by the tone of their voice in the answer whether they were up to their ears or whether they were ready to listen. So there was a lot of judgment that had to be made, just in terms of, you always have a pile of stuff to get up. How much of this should I attempt to get up? What has to go up? Do I need to listen instead of talk? I found that to be just an interest­ing experience, a challenging job, and I really liked it. There were a few run – ins. I remember Neil Hutchinson, the flight director, was trying to get me to get a message up and I just wouldn’t do it, because I knew that they just weren’t ready to act on it, and it was important but wasn’t critical or anything. And Neil was ready to kill me, and I just kind of sat there and just said, “No. They’re busy. They don’t need to do this now. " So that was fun.

Unlike STS-2, which was shortened by the fuel cell problem, Lousma and Fullerton’s mission was actually lengthened by a day because of adverse weather at the landing site, Fullerton recalled.

“Wow!” We cheered. “Great!" because we really had a busy time with just two people. This was an engineering test flight, and we had a flight plan full of stuff… so there was always something that you were watching the clock on…. We did have sleep periods, which we would use for window gazing, . . . be­cause you don’t need as much sleep as they were scheduling. But when they said, “Wave off,” I remembered getting in the recycle book, going through the pages, shutting down some of the computers, opening the doors again, and I got all the way down, all of the sudden, I turned the page, and there was nothing on it, and there was this realization, hey, this is free time, and it was terrific. We got out of the suits, and then we got something to eat and watched the world, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way, if it had been my choice.

When the time for landing came the next day, the plan called for an ear­ly morning touchdown, meaning that the main part of the reentry would be at night. “We could see this glow from the ionization really bright out there,” Fullerton said.

In fact, we had lost a couple of tiles on launch. We knew that because we’d looked out and had seen the holes in front of the windshield, and we looked at it with an arm camera. They said, “Not to worry. It’s cool up on top there. ” We didn’t know how many we’d lost from the bottom, but wasn’t any use worrying about that. And then to see all this glow right there where the missing tiles were gave us pause to think about it. Again, there was no point in worrying about it, noth­ing you can do. [There was] the spectacular light show through entry. Then the sun came up, which washes all that out, as it’s dying out anyway.

They were pushing at that time to go full-auto land, and so. .. we stayed in automatic all the way down through the pullout of the dive, and then [Lous­ma] only got the feel of the airplane the last couple of seconds before touchdown, which, in retrospect, everybody agreed was dumb, and now people fly from the time they go to subsonic at a minimum to get the feel of the airplane all the way down. He only got the last second, and then we landed a bit fast and. . . there was a kind of a wheelie that Jack did. Again, it pointed out another flaw or room for improvement in the software. The gains between the stick and the elevons that were good for flying up in the air were not good when the main wheels were on the ground, and he thought he had ballooned. He kind of plant­ed it down but then came back on the stick, and the nose came up. So what? It didn’t take off again, and we came down and rolled to a stop. A lot of people thought this was a terrible thing.

The landing at White Sands would leave a lasting mark on Columbia. According to astronaut Charlie Bolden, “I flew it several flights later, on my first flight, and when we got on orbit there was still gypsum coming out of everything. . . . It was just unreal what it had done.” Astronaut Mike Lounge noted, “I’m told that many years later, picking up pieces from East Texas of Columbia [after the loss of the vehicle on the STS-107 mission], they were finding gypsum from White Sands.”


Crew: Commander T. K. Mattingly, Pilot Hank Hartsfield

Orbiter: Columbia

Launched: 27 June 1982

Landed: 4 July 1982

Mission: Test of orbiter systems

When the crews were chosen for each of the planned demonstration flights, Hank Hartsfield recalled, the astronauts were assigned originally not to a particular mission, but only to crews designated with a letter, A through F. “Ken [Mattingly] and I were in E crew. . . . No one knew ex­actly how this was going to work. All we knew was that Young and Crip – pen were A, and Engle and Truly were B. We knew John was first, and they were being backed up by Engle and Truly. But after that, we weren’t quite sure what was happening. . . . Ken and I wondered, ‘What are we going to fly?’ . . . It was kind of a strange thing. Lousma and Fullerton were train­ing. Eventually we figured out they were going to be [sTS-3].”

Eager to figure out who was doing what, the astronauts in the remain­ing crews began paying close attention to what sort of training each was do­ing, looking for subtle clues. “We got this call. . . that we should go to St. Louis or wherever [the STS-3 crew members] were training; that Ken and I should go up there and start getting this training. It was kind of funny, be­cause it scared them. Lousma made a panicked call back to Houston, said, ‘What’s going on? Are we being replaced?’ Because nobody bothered to tell anybody what was going on.”

As it turned out, Hartsfield explained, he and Mattingly were sent to train alongside the STS-3 crew so that they could be trained as a backup for the STS-2 crew while Lousma and Fullerton were preparing for their own mis­sion. Hartsfield and Mattingly served as a backup for the third flight as well.

Then we flew [sts-]4. It was kind of a funny way the crews were labeled. . . . The D crew flew five, and we flew four, . . . the last of the two-person flights. It was a little bit confusing as to the way the crews were announced, . .. but it all sorted out, and I think sorted out fairly. Everybody got to fly, and nobody got kicked off a flight, you know. For some of us who had waited so many years— the seven of us that came from the MOL program, from the time we were picked for the space program till the time we flew was around sixteen years with the air force and a long time at Houston—it was a long wait. At that point, you didn’t want to see anything get in your way. When the crew confusion started going on, “Well, I hope I’m not losing my place, I’ve waited too long. " But ev­erybody got to fly, so it was a good deal.

STS-4 commander Ken Mattingly recalled talking with Deke Slay­ton after the Apollo 16 flight about what he wanted to do next. The two shared a relatively unique fascination with the shuttle program from a flight engineering perspective. “We both recognized that I enjoyed the engineering side of the flying, perhaps more than a lot of the guys. So the idea of trying to get in on an early flight test was what every pilot wants to do anyhow. The idea of being in a group that was going to be downsized and have an opportunity to participate in the first flights and maybe even compete for the first flight, that was all the motivation any­body could ever want.”

While Mattingly was not surprised when the first flight went to his Apollo 16 commander and the corps’ senior flight-status astronaut, John Young, he was disappointed that he had to wait until the last development mission to get to fly. The rationale, he explained, was that his expertise was needed in different ways—because his flight opportunity was delayed, Mattingly was available to back up the second and third crews should something go wrong, and then, on the fourth flight, he could complete any tasks that hadn’t been accomplished by the first three crews. “That was the logic. It was kind of

fun to be part of those missions, but. . . Hank and I were kind of hoping we could [fly] earlier. But it really did turn out to have a lot of benefits for us, because we did pick up a lot of experience we would not have had and were able to do some other activities that [we] wouldn’t have had time to go do if we’d been scrambling just to get up and down.”

Although Mattingly and the rookie astronaut Hartsfield had never flown together before, their assignment to STS-4 was a reunion of sorts: Harts­field had served as CapCom during Mattingly’s Apollo flight to the moon.

In [Apollo] 16, Hank and I had developed a better-than-average rapport, I think, because in lunar orbit, Hank ran the show and all the flight plan from the ground. I told him, “You only get to go to the moon once, so I don’t want to miss a minute of looking out the window. So you run the spacecraft, and I’ll look and tell you about it." And he really did a magnificent job on that, and as a result, we got a lot of stuff done that we wouldn’t have otherwise. So on sts – 4, it was kind offun to go back to working together that way, and we were still trying to see how much we could cram into this thing.

Hartsfield added that not only did the two astronauts get along well, they had a unique commonality. “We both went to Auburn. I think it’s the only time the entire crew went to the same university in the spaceflight business. We used to take a lot of ribbing from the University of Alabama folks, say­ing the only reason they put two Auburn guys on one flight, that way we’d only mess up one. So we had to take a lot of ribbing, but it was a lot of fun.”

STS-4 CapCom Pinky Nelson described having an interesting work­ing relationship with the STS-4 commander. “T. K. Mattingly is probably the most technically capable person who has ever been an astronaut, just in terms of his capacity to stuff things between his ears,” Nelson voiced.

He knew absolutely everything, and had to know everything, and was fanatical about tracking everything, and drove me nuts, because I don’t work that way. I tend to work in a way where you take in a lot of information, but you have a filter. You say, okay, this is important, this might be important, this is probably not important, and you prioritize things, where T. K. works that everything is on the top line. He’s able to work that way just because of his incredible capac­ity, and I wasn’t, so he and I had kind of an odd relationship. If I didn’t see the point of having to do something, I wouldn’t do it, basically.

Despite their differences, Mattingly and Nelson had enough in common, and enough willingness to coexist where they were different, that they ac­tually had a decent working relationship.

T K. and I really got along. We were able to communicate fairly well because we had the same kind ofstyle ofno extra words kind of communication. But, boy, he was a hard taskmaster, I thought. He just didn’t see the forest, but he saw every tree, and he expected everybody else to do that, and they just couldn’t. He really wore some people down. That kind of thing doesn’t bother me so much. I was able to just kind ofignore it and say, “Okay, I’m going to catch some flak for this, but I deserve it. I don’t care. I’m not going to do it anyway."… Some newspaper article about the mission called me the “laconic and taciturn CapCom. "That was great.

When launch day came, Hartsfield was excited that, after sixteen years in the air force and nasa astronaut corps, he was finally going to fly.

To me, it was kind of an emotional thing. I remember when we were going out to the pad in the van, and just before we got up to the pad to get out and go to get in the bird, it just sort ofhit me, and I said, . . . “Ken, I can’t believe it. I think we’ll really get to do this." It hit me emotionally, because tears started welling up in my eyes. You know, I had to wipe my eyes. It just, to me, was an emotional thought, after all that time, I was finally going to get to fly, it appeared. And I did.

Mattingly’s perspective on the ascent was different from that of many of his peers, as he was one of only a few astronauts who could compare launch on the large Saturn V rocket and the Space Shuttle. Many shuttle astronauts have commented on the power and vibration of the solid rockets during the first two minutes of flight; Mattingly, on the other hand, noted how relatively smooth the launch was. “Compared to the Saturn, the shuttle is like electric propulsion; it doesn’t make any noise, it doesn’t shake and rattle, it just goes. It’s just nothing like the Saturn, or, as I understand, the Gemini or the Titan.”

Hartsfield recalled that the launch was not without complications, due to a hailstorm the night before.

About nine o’clock that night, after the storm passed over and it quit raining, we went out to the pad with a lot of other people to look at the orbiter. And the black tiles all had little white specks all over where they’d been pelted with the hail. So Ken and I went back to the crew quarters thinking, “Shit, we ain’t go-

ing nowhere tomorrow.” So we were real down. And we went to bed and couldn’t believe it the next morning when these guys were hammering [on] the door, say­ing, “Come on, get up, guys, we’re going.” We said, “What, we’re going?" “Yeah, they cleared it.” They flew some guy from Houston in a T-38 down there, one of these tile experts, and he went out and walked around and decided that it was okay to go, that the tiles weren’t damaged that badly.

The next day it was discovered that there was a side effect of the damage that the expert had failed to anticipate. During launch, controllers noticed that the vehicle was not getting the performance it should for the amount of fuel being used. It turned out the hail had damaged the waterproof coat­ing of the tiles, and they’d absorbed water during the storm. “They calculat­ed later that we’d carried about two thousand pounds of water with us that had soaked into the tiles,” Hartsfield explained. “So all this flight planning that we’d worked on for so long and had down pat went out. . . the window. We spent seventy-two hours with the belly to the sun trying to bake out the tiles. Because they were concerned that if you had water in those tiles and then got entry heating, they didn’t know whether you might get some steam or something generated and blow the tiles out or crack them or something.”

With the excitement and drama of launch done, the arrival in orbit was a moment of wonder even for veteran astronaut Mattingly.

The most magical thing was, after working on this device for ten years, you got on orbit and. . . we opened the payload bay doors for the first time towards the Earth. So all of a sudden, it was like you pulled the shades back on a bay window, and the Earth appeared. We got on orbit, and this thing worked. And I just couldn’t get over the fact that. . . people that I knew, that were friends, had built and conceived this whole thing, and it works. It’s just magic. It does all of these things that we dreamed of, but the visuals are better than the simu­lator now. So we just had a wonderful time of it.

Flying around the Earth is just so spectacular. I don’t care how long you’re up there, I can’t imagine anyone ever getting tired of it. It’s just beautiful, and the orbiter with these big windows, it is just wonderful. Hank would say, “You know, we probably ought to get some sleep here. ” I’d say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re right. We’ve got another day’s work tomorrow. ”. . . So all the kids are in bed, and now you can look out the window. I told the ground I went to sleep so they wont bother me, and I’d sit there, having a wonderful time.

When he finally got tired enough to stop looking out the window and try to get some sleep, Mattingly decided to see what it would be like to sleep freely, instead of hanging from a wall in his sleeping bag. Since Harts – field was sleeping on the mid-deck, Mattingly had the flight deck to him­self, and he decided to try just lying down on the floor.

I worked at getting all steady and not moving and stopped right behind the two seats that had a little space over the hatches that come up from the mid-deck and in between the aft control panel and the back of the ejection seats, which there’s a lot more room today since they took the ejection seats out. So it was a place probably two feet wide, maybe two and a half. I got all stable in there. “Ah, this is nice. Go to sleep." Well, the next thing I know, there’s something on my nose, and it’s a window, and god-dang I was sure I had gotten stable. So I went back and set up again, not moving, did it again, ended up with my nose in the window, in the overhead window. That bothered me. I finally put a Vel­cro strap over me just to keep me from floating up. I just thought that was really curious. So the next morning I was telling Hank about it, and he said, “Well, I didn’t have any trouble. I just was floating in the middle ofthe mid-deck. "Hmm.

Hartsfield pointed out that during the sleep shift the orbiter had been carrying out passive thermal control maneuvers. In order to better under­stand the thermal characteristics of the vehicle, flight controllers would change its orientation to expose different parts of it to sunlight for periods of time, taking advantage of instrumentation that wouldn’t be used after this last development flight.

“[Hartsfield] says, ‘You know, I was almost on the center of rotation, and you were up here. This is centrifugal force,’” Mattingly recalled.

I said, “Oh, come on, Hank. What was it,. .. five revolutions an hour, or some gosh-awful thing? . . . That cant be." He said, “Well, we’ve got another one scheduled for tonight. Let’s try it both ways. " We tried it, and sure enough, every time. If this thing was rotating at this really slow rate, there’s no other force; these little forces become important. And after we stopped, he says, “Try it again." I did, and sure enough, no problem. So this is kind of added to some ofthe little micro physics things that you see in space that are so interesting.

In addition to the standard tests of the orbiter systems, STS-4 was the first shuttle flight to include a classified military experiment. In order to preserve secrecy, the experiment had its own classified checklist with coded section names that could be discussed over the unsecure communications channel. The experiment itself was kept in a padlocked locker. While the shuttle was in orbit, the crew members could leave it unlocked, but once the experiment was completed, they had to stow it and lock it back up to keep it secure after landing. Hartsfield recalled that about thirty minutes after they finished the experiment and locked it away, they got a call from the military flight control for the experiment.

The CapCom came on, the military guy, and says he wanted me to do Tab November. Ken said, “What’s Tab November?" I said, “I ain’t got the foggiest idea. I’m going to have to get the checklist out to see." So I got the padlock off and got the drawer and dug down and got the checklist out and went to Tab November, and it says, “Put everything away and secure it." Ken and I real­ly laughed about it. It was just aggravating to have to undo all that, because that locker, the stuff we had just barely fit in there, so it was really a stowage issue here. If there’s one thing you learn in zero g—things are always neat­ly packed [before flight] and you get it up there, and once you pull it out, it doesn’t always go back in, because it expands or does something in zero g and it doesn’t fit very well.

Like the first three flights, sts-4 involved experiments to test the capa­bilities and tolerances of the orbiter. One particular experiment, testing the thermal tolerances of the payload bay doors, resulted in a tense moment for the crew. In the experiment, the orbiter was kept in a position to expose the doors to the sun for three days.

“After seventy-two hours to the sun, it came time to cycle the payload bay doors,” Hartsfield said.

We brought the port door down. We’re looking out, and the door comes down. And all of a sudden, the left collar of that thing hits the bulkhead and the door just warps. And by the time I got it stopped, it’s already done. And we tried to call the ground and say we’ve got a problem here, but about that time, we went los. [On the ground] they’re panicked. They see what’s happened, that the door is hung up on the bulkhead or something, and the door’s warped. And you know, [jsc director Chris] Kraft was not a flight director, but he sat in the back watching everything. “Tell ’em to open the door. Tell ’em to reopen the door! Tell ’em to open the goddamn door!" They tell me he was just getting fu­rious. . . . And they couldn’t get it to us. So Ken and I were saying, “Holy shit, that door is really bent."

Hartsfield and Mattingly wondered if the door was broken, which would create a catastrophic situation. During entry and landing, the structural in­tegrity of the orbiter required the doors to be closed and all but one set of the latches to be latched. “So we were wondering if we’d broken something and weren’t going to able to latch the doors back up to come home. Well, as soon as we got AOS again, they told us to open the door, and I started driv­ing it, and it all of a sudden—boing—the door vibrated and it went back to its normal shape. And we went, ‘Whew.’ . . . Thank God it’s a compos­ite material, so it does have some kind of resiliency to keep its shape once you take the load off of it.”

While earlier flights had landed in the dry lake bed at Edwards or at White Sands, STS-4 would be another stepping stone for the shuttle pro­gram by being the first to return from space on an aircraft runway, and Mattingly was hoping to avoid a repeat of Haise’s infamous bounce land­ing of Enterprise. “Our job, like Freddo’s, was to plan to make the first concrete runway landing. You know, as much as we trained for that thing, I just had this image of doing Freddo’s trick all over again. It was, you know, bad karma or something. Oh, that bothered me. I could think of nothing else.”

Mattingly had promised Hartsfield that he would let the pilot fly a part of the entry so that he could say he had actually flown the orbiter, normal­ly the sole privilege of the commander. “When we did come in and got out at Edwards and came around,” Mattingly said,

we got on the heading alignment circle and I was tracking it, and I turned to look at Hank, and I was about to say, “Well, okay, here, you take it for a bit now,". .. and all of a sudden my gyros tumbled and I just had one of the worse cases ofvertigo I’ve ever had…. It was just really overwhelming. I went back and started focusing on the eight ball and looking at the displays, and Hank says, “Are you going to let me fly?" And I said, “No, no. I can’t talk about it now." And we came around and did our thing, and I was still having this vestibular sensation that was unusual, but once we got on the glide slope it seemed like. . . normal.

As they neared the runway, Mattingly said because he felt a little off, they were a little slow going through procedures leading up to the flair point, and they ended up flying under the standard approach.

I knew we were under the standard final approach glide slope, but now I wanted to get down and try to make a good landing with it…. So he’s calling offairspeeds and altitude, and I’m just staring at the horizon and I’m hawking it, and I have no idea what it’s going to feel like to land. When I would shoot touch-and-gos in the [KC-135 aircraft], there was never any doubt when we landed. You could al­ways tell. So I was expecting bang, crash, squeak, something. Then nothing and nothing. Then finally Hank says, “You’d better put the nose down. ” “Oh, ” I said, “all right. ” So I put it down, and I was sure we were still in the air. I thought, “Oh, God, he’s right. We cant be very far off the ground. ” Sure enough, we were on the ground and neither one ofus knew it. I’ve never been able to do that again in any airplane. Never did it before. According to pictures, it looks like we must have landed at maybe 350 feet down the runway, and we didn’t mean to.

During planning for the flight, it was made very clear that even after the orbiter was safely stopped on the ground, there would still be one impor­tant mission objective for the astronauts—a proper patriotic performance. “We knew that they had hyped up the sts-4 mission so that they want­ed to make sure that we landed on the Fourth of July,” Mattingly noted.

It was no uncertain terms that we were going to land on the Fourth of July, no matter what day we took off Even if it was the fifth, we were going to land on the Fourth. That meant, if you didn’t do any of your test mission, that’s okay, as long as you just land on the Fourth, because the president is going to be there. . . . The administrator met us for lunch the day before flight, and as he walked out, he said, “Oh, by the way. . . you know, with the president going to be there and all, you might give a couple of minutes’ thought on something that’d be appropriate to say, like A small step for man, ’ or something like that, ” and he left. Hank and I looked at each other and he says, “He wants us to come up with this?” And we had a good time. We never came up with something we could say, but we came up with a whole lot of humor that we didn’t dare say.

After landing, the crew members prepared for their moment in the spot­light. Anticipating that the president might want to come aboard the shuttle, Mattingly recalled, they put up a handwritten sign that read, “Welcome to

Columbia. Thirty minutes ago, this was in space.” The astronauts took off their helmets and started to get out of their seats, a task Mattingly found surprisingly difficult after having adjusted to a microgravity environment.

I said, “I am not going to have somebody come up here and pull me out of this chair. . . . I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to give every ounce of strength I’ve got and get up under my own. ” So I. . . pushed, and I hit my head on the overhead so hard, the blood was coming out. Goddamn. It was terrible. Oh, did I have a headache. And Hank said something like, “That’s very graceful. ” So now I really did have something to worry about. . . . Hank’s got some of the funniest stories he could tell about this stuff. So we got ourselves down there, and we’re walking around, and Hank said, “Well, let’s see, if you do it like you did getting out of your chair, you’ll go down the stairs and you’re going to fall down, so you need to have something to say. ” He says, “Why don’t you just look up at the president and say, ‘Mr. President, those are beautiful shoes. ’ Think you can get that right?” He was merciless.