tv Oral Histories Mercury Seven Astronaut Alan Shepard CSPAN October 14, 2021 11:16pm-12:48am EDT
his massive career. as apollo 14 commander, he was the fifth man to walk on the moon. he was interviewed, february 20th, 1998, five months before his death from leukemia. this interview, is part of the nasa johnson space center oral history collection. i'm alan shepard. -- yet we have a magnificent since view, that we blocked out. but i would thank you for letting us be here with, you to do this. to follow this oral history. so, let's start here sir. it's a pleasure. let's begin, not at the beginning, because there's a beginning before this. but, does this particular day to mean anything to you? >> of course, it was one of the happiest days of my life. that was a day in which we all congregated, officially, as the u.s. first astronaut group. we had been through a selection process, obviously, previous to that time, but, that was the day that we first showed up,
officially, as the first astronauts of the united states. back at langley field, virginia. >> at langley. willingly? >> of course, and aca had become an asa, nasa, in a great hurried turnaround, as you may recall. so, the programs of astronauts selection, and training, basically, was run by the people who worked from langley. originally, of course, we were all brought into washington. that is where the initiation, in the introduction, and the pre selection, and all of that routine went on. then, as you know, we had physicals elsewhere in the country. but, once the selection was made, of course, we reported to those people at langley field. which was kind of neat for me. i was, already, stationed in norfolk, in a job, and which i didn't
like in the first place. i was planning to take airplanes, and then put behind a desk for the first time in many years. but, it was a real easy trip for us. we just didn't even have to move. >> in your journey to get, there it took you through test pilot school, it took you through combat experience, it took you through, everything didn't it? >> yes. >> why was that, that nasa decided to pick test, pilots of all things, to fly the first base mission? >> well, i think that it was an immediate realization that we had, essentially, a new product. it didn't look much like an airplane. but, if you are going to put a pilot in it,
it was going to have to fly, somehow. quite like an airplane. so, when you have a strange, new machine, then you go to test pilots. that is what they were trained to do, and that is what they had been doing. of course, they had some test pilots, but they were a little older. none of them, i don't think, we're in a position where they, probably, could have competed with the varied background of test flying, which, most of, us add. so, the decision was made. i don't know, they say that eisenhower had something to do with the decision, because he said, well, yes, we do need a test pilot. he agreed with that. nasa didn't have very many test pilots, so let's go to the military, and see what they have to offer. now, whether eisenhower himself was involved in the decision, apparently, the white house was, to some degree. >> but the point is, of course, you are named. and, when you
first sized up those teammates of yours, i wonder what your first reactions were to the group? >> well, i wondered, first of all, were the six and competent guys came from. now, seriously. it was not a surprise. several of them had been involved in the preliminary section process. so, generally, i was familiar with their background. then, of course, i had known before, they had known before, because of my navy connections. so, i knew there was a lot of talent there. i knew that it was going to be a tough flight to win the prize. >> it was competitive at the time between the seven of you, wasn't it? >> it was an interesting situation. as they say, i was friendly with several of them,
but on the other hand, realizing that i was, now, competing with these guys. so, always, there is a sense of caution, i suppose. particularly, talking about technical things. now, in the bar, of course, everything changed. but, in talking about technical things, there is always a sense of, maybe, a little bit of reservation. not being totally frank with each other, because, there was a very strong sense of competition. >> you are talking about your teammates, so i would like to go back over that. there is competition between the seven of you, wasn't there? >> well, you know, it was an interesting situation, getting together. with the seven originals, for the first time, and of course, having known some of them, before, with the navy connections, but you, all
of a sudden, had to realize that there was this competition. there are seven guys, competing for the first job, whatever that turned out to be. seven guys, going for that one job, but on the one hand, there is a sense of friendliness, and maybe in some support, but on the other hand, you had a lot of the rescue guys were happy, because all make the first flight. >> you are about to move into a whole new world, and a whole new non world, up there, in weightless space, in which nothing was known. in that frightened you a little bit? what were your thoughts about moving into a new environment? >> i suspect my thoughts, generally, reflected those of the other champs. but, with me, i think, it had to be the challenge of being able to control a new vehicle, in the new environment. this is a
generalization, but, it is something which i've been doing for many, many years as a navy pilot, or as a carrier pilot. and, believe me, it's a lot harder to land and jet on an aircraft carrier, than it is to land on the moon. that's a piece of cake, that moon deal. but, that was part of my life, the challenge. here, you had, yes, a new environment, but you know, four fighter pilots who fly upside down a lot of the time, zero gravity wasn't that big a deal. now, of course, none of us being non medics who had thought about the long term effects of zero gravity, but, the short term effects of zero gravity were not the challenge to us. the challenge was to be able to fly in unusual craft, and provide good, positive,
thinking control of that vehicle. >> so unusual, a craft that there weren't even any training devices, or a simulator, that could stimulate the kind of things you had to do. you had to make, them didn't you? >> that is exactly correct. in the early days, we really had, what we called, part task trainers. instead of simulators. something was built to indicate the control system. something else was built to indicate the radio systems, or some of the instruments, and they were all, sort of, separated. not the great, glorious simulators, which we have today. >> what was the role of the astronaut in those early days? >> i think that the role of simulators, them, today, and tomorrow, has to be that you are dealing with individuals who fly unusual aircraft. who
conduct unusual experiments, infrequently. because, you don't fly in space every day. so, there has to be the simulator which creates, artificially, problems, for you to train against, or train with, to learn how to overcome difficulties that you may be having with your experiment. difficulties you may be having with detail of the shuttle, or that sort of thing. so, simulators are, very, very important first spaceflight. and, also, an important part of a commercial aircraft. unfortunately, some of the kobe's today, the computer companies, don't require simulator time, which is surprising to me. i think many of the pilots do it on their own, but, simulators, really, our good. they create a sense of confidence in oneself. and they land safely, and they go up on sideways, and they go and again a lot of competence is
created in the simulation business. >> the astronauts, do they take an active role in designing the spacecraft itself? >> yes, we did. we tried to do it as efficiently as we could. we are signed, in the early days, with only seven, we have signed an individual to work directly with the contractor. this was all with nasa's blessing, because the aston and jr.'s were there as well. but, primarily, from a pilots point of view, is this handle in the right place, if you have a switch, would you have to use to counteract in an emergency, is it reachable? is it visible? or do you have to go behind your back somewhere to find it? primarily, from a pilots point of view, was our interface. >> then, finally, you end up
being the first man to fly in a mercury spacecraft. did you know that was coming, or was it a surprise? can you describe your steps that led up to it? >> we had been in training for, probably, 20 months or so. toward the end of 1960, or early 61, when we all, intuitively, felt that, pretty soon, bob had to make a decision as to who is going to make the first flight. and when we received word the bob wanted to see us in the afternoon one day, in our office, it felt that, perhaps, he had decided. there were seven of us then, in the one office. we have seven desks around in the hangar in langley field, and bob walked in, and close the door, and was
very matter of fact. he said, you know, we've got to decide who's going to make the first flight. and i don't want to pinpoint, publicly, at this stage, one individual within the organization. i want everyone to know, we will designate the first flight, and the second flight, and a backup pilot. but, beyond that, we won't make any public decisions. so, he said, shepard gets the first flight. grisham gets the second flight. and glenn is the backup for both of these two sub orbital missions. any questions? absolute silence. he said, thank you very much, and take it on the room.. so, well, there i am, looking at six faces, looking
at me, and feeling of course, totally, elated, that i had won the competition. but, yet, almost immediately afterwards, feeling sorry for my buddies, because there they were, i mean, they were trying just as hard as i was, and it was a very poignant moment, because they all came over, shook my hand, and pretty soon, i was no i left in the room [laughs] >> that's a priceless story, alan shepard. and let's get to the part we are getting ready on the flight. i can remember there were some holes, dealing with that day, on the launchpad. let's go back to then, as you remember it. you are getting ready now for mr3.
>> the checkout had been going very well chris glynn was the backup pilot. everything checked out well. we had virtually no problems at all. we were scheduled for i think it was the 2nd of may. and i was dressed and just about going out the door when there was a tremendous rainstorm, thunderstorm, came over. and obviously they decided to cancel. it was rescheduled three days later. went through the same routine. the weather was good. and i remember driving down to the launching pad in a van, which was capable of providing comfort forest
with a priceless suit on. and the last minute temperatures devices that had to be made. to do that the doctor douglas who is there. we pulled up in front of the launchpad. of course, it was dark. the liquid oxygen was venting out from the location. i remember saying to myself, well, i am not going to see this redstone again. and pilots love to go out and kick the tires. it was sort of like reaching out and kicking the tires on the redstone. so i looked back and up at this beautiful rocket and i was like, okay, let's go, and get the job done. so we kicked the tires and went on in, went on with
the countdown. there was a time during the countdown when there was a problem with the inverter in the redstone. but gordon cooper was the voice communicator. so he called and said the inverter is not working in the redstone, they are going to cook poll the gantry, it will probably take about an hour and a half. and i said, if that's the case, i would like to get out and relieve myself. we have been working with a device to collect here, during flight, that really worked pretty well in zero gravity. but it didn't work well when you are lying on your back with your feet in the air. on the red stone. so if i had some time, i would like to relieve myself. and i said,
gordon, when you check and see if i can get out and relieve myself quickly. and they came back, i guess there was some discussion going on outside. i figure, for about three or four minutes. and they said, they say the astronaut will stay in the nose cone. so, well, all right. that's fine. i'm going to the bathroom. and they said, well, you can't do that, you've got wires all over your body. can you guys turn off those wires? well, i relieved myself, and of course it was a cotton undergarment we had on. it soaked up immediately in the undergarment. it was 100% oxygen flowing through the spacecraft. i was totally dry by the time we launched. but
somebody did say something about being the world's first wetback in space. >> the whole game was totally competitive, not alone amongst the astronauts, that you are in a race for space with the russians. they kind of beat you to the punch, didn't they? >> yeah. that little race, between myself and yuri the russian astronaut and obviously their objectives and capabilities for orbital flight were greater than ours at that point. we eventually caught up and went past them. but as you point out, it was the cold war, there was the competition. we had flown a chimpanzee ham in
the redstone. and everything had worked perfectly, except there was a relay, which at the end of the powered flight was supposed to eject the escape tower because it was no longer needed. separated from the mercury capsule and eject it. for some reason, for the chimpanzees flight, it fired but did not separate itself. and so the chimp was lifted another ten or 15 miles and it was absolutely nothing wrong for anything else wrong with the mission. so our recommendation, strongly, was, okay let's separate the next one. so this thing happens again, it goes a little higher. gordon said no, he said, no, we want to have everything absolutely right. so we flew
another unmanned mission. before gregan flew. and then mine. if they put me in that unmanned mission, we would have flown first. but it was tight in retrospect. >> it doesn't seem important for the time, but i guess it was. >> oh, it was. absolutely. >> did you say anything publicly? >> no, as you know, we had a lot of differences of opinion about things in the program. not only the design but some of the scheduling. but most of that was kept pretty quiet. most of that was resolved. and very little of that came out in public. it was always, you know, sort of a joint decision.
>> and then as time went on, you started lobbying for another flight for mercury, before -- and mercury was caught a little short. because there was the pressure of something else, wasn't there? >> you are not surprised at all that i want to fly again, medical -- >> [laughs] it's not facts. we had cooper. orbital mission. there was another spacecraft ready to go. and like i was, to put me up there, and just stay until something ran out until the batteries ran down, until the oxygen ran down. or until we lost the control system or something. and then we are just in a sort of open-ended kind of a mission. and i recommend
that. and they said that they didn't expect to hear anything else from me. some [laughs] i remember when cooper and his family and the other astronauts and families were invited to the white house for cocktails with jack kennedy, and we stopped at june webb's house first and had a little warm up. i was politicking with webb and i said, you know, ms. webb, we could put this up there in a few weeks. it's ready to go. and let me sit up there, see how long it will last. get another rocket out of it. and they said, well, i don't know. i really don't think so. i think we've got to get on with gemini. well i'm going to see the president in a little
while. would you mind if i mentioned it to him? she said, no, but you tell him i side of the story too. [laughs] i said, all right, and so we get over there, we are sipping our booze. drinking at the white house. and i get kennedy aside. and i said, is there a possibility you could make another long duration? maybe two or three days? and we would like to do that. he said, what does ms. webb think about it? >> i said webb doesn't want to do that. and he said, i think we will have to go along. at least i tried. >> and you were getting ready to fly in gemini? a whole another ball game? >> yeah. yes. it was very
fortunate, of course. i was chosen to make the first time gemini mission. don stafford, a very bright young guy, assigned's copilot and we were already into the mission, already training for the mission and we had already been in simulators. several at the time. and whether we looked at the hardware and st. louis are not, prior to the problem, which i had. the problem i had was a disease called meniere's disease, involving fluid in the inner ear. they tell me it involves people who have a type a personality. unfortunately,
it causes a lack of balance. it causes dizziness. in some cases nausea. disorientation going on up there in the ear. fortunately, it is unilateral. it only happened to me on the left side. but it was so obvious that nasa grounded me right away. and they signed another crew. for first gemini flight. so there i was, what do i do now, do i go back to the navy? do i stick around in the space program? what do i do? i finally decided that i would stay with nasa and see if there wasn't some way that we could
correct this ear problem. several years went by, there was some medication, which alleviated it but i still couldn't fly solo. can you imagine? the world's greatest test pilot? and some guy in the back, flying along with you? talk about embarrassing situations. but as a matter of fact, it was stafford, who came to me, and said he had a friend, in los angeles who is experimenting correcting this meniere's disease problem surgically. and i said, great, i would love to see him. so he setd it up. i went on out there, and he said, yeah, what we do is we make a little opening, put it tube in so that it enlarges the chamber and takes that fluid pressure. and in
some cases it works. and i said, well, what if it doesn't work? well, you won't be any worse off than you were. but you might lose your hearing but other than that -- so i went out there under an assumed name. >> what was the name? >> it was polis, victor polis. the doctor and the nurse knew. but no one else. so they run the operation in the surgery. and it's not that traumatic, obviously. because after about a day, i was out of there. it was obvious when you look at the big ball of stuff that was in my ear, when i got back home. but nasa started looking at me, several months went by. and finally, i said yes, i will just show that you are no
longer affected by this meniere's disease. so there i was having made the right decision. >> i think we better backtrack a little here, because obviously, this is going to bring you into direct discussion about a fellow named deke slayton. we had established the fact that him, like you, had not gotten over flying. let's go back to that, because picked titillate, that happened in the mercury days, when he was getting ready to fly. i wonder if you had first heard -- >> we were assigned to follow john. >> right, and suddenly, he was bumped from his mercury flight. that was a heart condition, wasn't it? >> yes. there was a lot of controversy about that. because it was a heart murmur, or a palpitation, some irregularity, but one which was not obvious. i mean, it was not a continuous thing. it was not as if he was
getting getting ready for cardiac arrest, or anything like that. it was just occasionally, he'd have a twist on their. >> but, a real blow. i wonder what your reaction is, and if you can get a little background on it. >> back in those, days as we have discussed before, we were still highly competitive. there was still seven guys going for whatever flight was available next. and, so layton had been chosen to make the second orbital mission after glen. when he had this hard to murmur, and they say it wasn't anything real noticeable, and it wasn't continuous, and to show once in a while. so, it made him very nervous. even after exhaustive
tests here, it was not repetitive, and there was a sense of not taking a chance for anything. so, he was grounded. flat grounded. and, at that point, the feeling of competitiveness with him, turned into one of camaraderie. one of feeling sorry for him. a sense of, let's get us back on the schedule, somehow. because you felt sorry for him. he was no longer competitive. but, on the other hand, to have a guy in that position, and knowing how tough that could be to him. so, he was grounded, and the
benefit for us, and that someone of us, who could, immediately, become a spokesman, and decided to stay on. they design this air force reserve, at that point. i think so. i think they can speak for the group, and not have to worry about the ends, and, outs of training. i was not only, leader but as a spokesman of the group. so, he became chief of the astronaut office? >> what was his title? >> i think he was chief of the astronaut office. >> that was the job you eventually wound up with by title. >> things would've changed around. >> all of a sudden, there were two that had been grounded.
deke and al. what a team. how did that come about that you hound up becoming chief of the astronaut office, well, he at this, time had assumed quite some power as head of astronaut affairs? >> well, as i indicated earlier, i decided to fight this many years to stay with nasa, and during a time period, when i was grounded, i had become quite useful, in the astronaut training business. i suppose, really, we had grown to consider the number of chaps who were involved in the simulators, for example. and in the suiting procedures, or taking care of the suits, and so on. directly supporting the
facilities for the astronauts, were really, quite a number of people involved. they decided to make it a separate division. he was the head of that division, and i was given the job, specifically, of the care, and feeding, of these astronauts. in charge of their training, helping deke with crew assignments, and that sort of thing. >> was it him, primarily, that got to the job? or was it just the fact that you had all of the qualifications? how did that work? >> well i think it was just a matter of saying what do we need, and when i became grounded, and informed nasa was going to stay there, we get to guys that, really, either one of, us could have done the job.
and then, perhaps,'s i knew, somehow, something is going to happen to me. i was either going to get into the ear fixed or i was gone. i think with deke, he was, more or less, resigned at that stage to the heart murmur business. getting a bad time in that. so, he was more of a, primarily, long term commitment. in that particular case. so, really, that is quite longer than what we established. we talked at all off with craft, and they agreed, that was a good selection. >> you too had quite a reputation for running a very tight ship. >> well, of course. we were
both mad, because we were grounded. we both have been training as astronauts. we knew where every skeleton was, in the whole process. we just wouldn't let those guys get away with anything. i, mean we knew what they had to do, we knew how they had to do it, and if they weren't doing it, we would bring them, in and tell them about it. maybe i was a little more forceful than i would have been, normally, because being grounded, i believe they called me, the icy commander, or some friendly term like that. >> steely eyedi? >> oh yes. we knew where all the skeletons were. >> and knowing that, from a very far peculiar way, from a nasa point of view, and the betterment of the space program, to see what they were doing at the time. do you remember that?
>> i think, certainly, there the need of coordination. it would be representation, at an executive level. other chaps could have done the job, perhaps, equally as, well or perhaps, even better. but, it seemed like we had turned out some good crews. >> i don't think anybody could falter selection of crew. all the way through the gemini program, and finally, on into apollo. it was during the time apollo, by which time, you had finally located through stafford's administration, as you described earlier, a way to treat the syndrome in los angeles. and, suddenly, the skies opened again for alan shepard. or, did they? you had to get back into the program, didn't you? >> well, of course. when nasa
finally said that i could fly again, i went to deke and i said, we have not announced, publicly, the crew assignment for apollo 13. i have a recommendation to make. and i would take two great young guys, one of them, a ph. d., one of them a lot smarter than i was, and it is going on the apollo flight, and i said, i get apollo 13, and with ed mitchell as lunar pilot. and, i don't know, let's try it out. so we sent to washington, and he said, oh, no way. i said, wait a minute, shepherd's going to be at least a smart as the rest of these guys, maybe a little smarter. and he said, well, we
know that. but it's a real public relations problem. he decides, he gets grounded, and all of a sudden, boom, premier flight assignment. the discussion went on for several days, and i went, let's have apollo 14. give us another crew for apollo 13. so that's what happened. >> did it ever. because suddenly, apollo 13, they had huge problems. i wonder what you thought when the problem developed and what did you do during that time period? >> well of course, the immediate thought was, now that we've got these guys back, obviously, right from the start, it was the end of a landing mission. no question about that. but it was interesting to
see the entire system, the entire system being fleshed out, being made to come back with any kind of a recommendation. and of course, kris craft and jean krantz were the guys who held everybody together. and they said, we've got to find a way to bring it back, failure is not an option. and as you know, the whole system was vibrating. any corner of the manufacturing process, the vending processes, nasa's people. everybody was looking for a solution. as it turned out, there was more than one solution. several different areas of engineering had to be
addressed and corrected. and i think that it's probably nasa's finest hour, when you think about it. i think that certainly from a pilots point of view, it was just as an important event i stepping on the moon on apollo 11. >> did you approach the next flight with fear, trepidation? you've got a good flight out of it. thanks to apollo 13. >> well, i think that people -- i know people have expressed the opinion that it might have been a bit more dangerous to fly on apollo 14 than it would have been had there not been
apollo 13. but... recognize that almost a total redesign had to be done. not necessarily redesigned. but a total reassessment of the package. had to be done. to find out specifically why the thing blew and to fix that to look for similar situations throughout the service module. but again, to reassess the whole scheme of things. you know, emissions like that, where you are basically searching, they were always decisions along the way that, well, maybe should fix this particular piece of equipment. because the chances it could fail our one out of 100. on the other hand, it's only small part of a huge
process, scheduled to go at a certain time. and if this fails, we have a creative backup. there are always decisions to make. so i was part of the assessment process for apollo 13, you had to go over those decisions again. we may not have had the time to make corrections. out of these one and 100 chances of failure. and of course, decisions were made, in addition to the corrections of the basic problem. so there's a feeling of security. and obviously you are part of that process. >> i had forgotten, you had been through the trauma of apollo one. and the redesign that that involved. let's go back over that for a moment or two. talk about that, that must have been a tough one. >> well, of course, apollo one has a real shock. no question
about it. it came as a shock because it was unexpected. and i will get into the reasons for it being unexpected later. but ground test, they are still sitting there in the ground. to lose the crew really woke everybody up and that was important because all of us every single one of us discussed this after the fact we were part of a group that had gone through mercury and gemini and it led to a sense of false security. no question about it.
deke and i remember talking about it. they complained about that and of course he was complaining to engineers as well as deke and me. but we became a part of the problem because we said okay, go ahead and make a list of this stuff and we will see that it's fixed by the time that you fly not before they stick you back in for a test using 100% oxygen so there was a sense of security and complacency that everyone had including myself. some people felt that sense of responsibility and neglect but i
don't believe in more than just a few hard heads that didn't feel in the long run that they were a part of the problem as it worked out perhaps because of the apollo that went on to be a hugely successful flight. >> i don't think there's any question about the fact that the fire did shape up the whole system, did make people believe they had become complacent. putting people on the moon you do it six times and only missed
once. that's incredible. you were there when the flight to the moon was born. interesting thought and i have expressed a few times the decision was made after we had 15 minutes of total spaceflight time. but the fact of the matter is that is true and this is how it happened. we were invited back to washington after the mission and i got a nice little metal from
the president which by the way dropped. remember that scene or not but it had been lucinda from its clip and so as the president made the speech and said i now present you a medal and he turned around and leaned forward and the things laid off and went to the deck. kennedy and i both bent over for it and we almost banged heads. he made it first and then he said in his yankee accent he said i give you this metal that comes from the ground up. he says pin it on him so he then
recovers and everything was fine and we had a big laugh. originally we were supposed to proceed to the congress after the white house ceremony and jack said i want you to come back to the white house and let's talk about your flight so we had the reception at the hill, go back to the heads of government to of course then lyndon johnson was also there and a picture of me sitting on the sofa jack is in the rocking chair and i'm telling him how i was flying the spacecraft and he is leaning forward and listening intently. we talk about the details of the
flight specifically how man had responded and reacted to being able to work on the space environment. towards the end of the conversation he said what are we doing next and i said there's a couple of guys over in the corner talking about going to the moon. he said i want a briefing. just three weeks after that mission, 15 minutes in space is when kennedy made an announcement we are going to the moon and we are going to do it within this decade. after 15 minutes of space time. now you don't think that he was excited or a space cadet? absolutely. people said he made the announcement because he had a problem with the bay of pigs,
his popularity was going down, not true. not true. when he finished his mission we flew for the ceremony and the four of us sat in his cabin and talked about what he had done. we talked about what i had done and all the way back. people would come in with papers and he said don't worry, we will get those when we come back to washington. the entire flight i tell you, he was really, really a space cadet. too bad he couldn't have lived to see his promise. >> when he first made that announcement what was your personal announcement? >> we were delighted that there was a little bit of a gulp because he put a time cap on the deal. i don't think any of us thought we would be able to make it
within the eight and a half years. but anyway, delighted and a little bit may be enthusiastic. a. >> we finally got to that point that we were into apollo. what was your choice as to which would be the first to make a landing on the moon? i suppose we felt the schedule as it was laid out i think we felt that they adequately demonstrated the lunar module's
capabilities that we felt we could make it. we had a possibility of making it on the first try. >> and of course we did. it goes a while back. i must have been a big moment when you were waiting for takeoff. >> in retrospect the advantage was no question about it not that we would not have had enough and it gave a higher level of conference with that extra level training time it was
directly related to the explosion but others that remain as well. i picked out a couple of bright guys to go along with me and there was a lot of confidence. jean of course was my back up. backup. a funny story we were at the point we were approximately four or five days away from the scheduled lift off. we were all in quarantine at that time 21 days before, 21 days after the routine because
of the bug stuff. he was out early in the morning flying because the commanders used helicopters to train and in the last few hundred feet of the landing we were having breakfast and knew he was out flying a helicopter. all of a sudden the door opens and he is absolutely covered in soot, with scars on his face and he said what happened. he had been flying over the river which was absolutely calm and he had been distracted by something or another because he was looking at the land. he flew that helicopter right
into the water, blades all over the place, the saddle thanks on that chopper split and of course being a good navy trained pilot he knew how to cope so he got out and swam to the top and realized he was on fire so he splashed around like this and took a big deep breath and swam for a while and came up and splashed around some more. finally he got out of the smoke and flames and all that stuff. somebody had seen the crash but he came out and there he was so he looks at me and says okay you
win, you get to go. >> i wonder what your feelings were it had gone extremely well and we had one of two problems. a problem with somethingssome tn the switch as we were pushing it. all of these were taken care of. now we are on the way down flying up on our backs like this with the engine pouring that way gradually steeper and steeper. the computer had to be updated by the landing radar the reason
being you can't see the ground or the rocks so we had a rule that said if it isn't updating the computer by the time that you are down at a level of about 13,000 feet then you have to abort, you have to get out of there. well it wasn't working. so they called us up and said your landing radar isn't working and then a little bit further on they said you know what the ground rule is about aborting if you are not 13,000 feet. finally some wife young man over in the corner have them pull the switch and reset it shortly
after that they were cleared to land. that was close. they were hundreds of times from the scale model and made a very soft landing as a matter of fact soft enough so that even though we landed a slight crater like this it didn't crash like it's supposed to on the landing so shutting off the switches and then he turned to me and said what were you going to do if the landing radar hadn't been working by 13,000 feet? i looked at him and i said you will never know. [laughter]
>> ed for example hadn't been in the simulator at all. it was my job to land and i had done hundreds of these things and i knew that i could get down maybe not exactly where we were supposed to but i could get down close to it. i would have at least been able to take a look and then made a decision. >> fair enough. >> mission accomplished. tell me about what you did as he remembered? >> of course the first feeling was one of tremendous
accomplishment if you will, tremendous sense of realizing that not long ago i was grounded and now i am on the moon. there was that a sense of self-satisfaction i think immediately but then dad went away because we had a lot of work to do but i will never forget that moment. another moment that i will never forget is we had set up some of our equipment and had a few moments to look around, to look up in the black sky, totally black sky even though it was shining on the surface, no diffusion, no reflection.
totally black and seeing another planet, planet earth that is only four times as large as the moon so you can really you still put your thumb and forefinger around it at that distance so it makes it look beautiful, it makes it look lonely, fragile. you think to yourself imagine the millions of people living on that planet that don't realize how fragile it is. i think that this is a feeling everyone has had and has expressed it in one fashion or another but that was an overwhelming feeling and seeing the beauty of the planet on the one hand that the fragility of it on the other.
>> i didn't decide to. that is a long story. it's a very famous story and i'm sure a lot of people would like to hear your theory. >> as you know, so far i am the only person to have hit a golf ball on the moon and probably will be for some time. being a golfer, i was intrigued before the flight that the ball would go six times as far. it won't stay in the air.
the time of the flies will be at least six times as long. it will not curve because there is no atmosphere and i thought what a neat place. when i said i wanted to hit a couple of golf balls, absolutely no way and there was a series when i explained that there is not a regular, it was a handle that we used that we pulled out to scoop up samples of dust with. that was already up there then i had adapted to this handle. no expense to the taxpayer. the thing that finally convinced
bob was i will make a deal with you if we have screwed up, if we had equipment failure, anything has gone wrong on the surface where you are embarrassed or we are embarrassed, i will not do it. i want to wait until the very end of the mission, stand in front of the television camera and use this makeshift club, stick it in my pocket, climb up the ladder, close the door and we are gone. he said okay and that is the way that it happened. he was best known as the guy that played golf on the moon.
it is still fun. the makeshift club this was the association and there's been absolutely no commercialism tried. there's been absolutely no commercialism. one company tried to say that it was their golf ball and we cut them off very quickly so it has been just a totally fun thing. it wasn't long after that you decided you had completed your run with nasa. >> as you recall the only scheduled missions the crews were already assigned as the
soviet. >> we are so pleased. can you imagine having to learn to speak russian to go into space? that is above and beyond the call of duty. but i am not sure they understood him, but he did it. >> we are so pleased and happy for him. i remember you were doing a job as a consultant when the landing was accomplished. little did we know they had inhaled some vapors from the
reflections we will forget it now but anyway, so general thoughts. john glenn is about to fly in and i wonder what your thoughts are. >> he's a couple of years older than i am and i have been saying for years the taxpayers didn't get their money's worth out because he made one flight and immediately went into the congress and as a taxpayer, i objected to that. i had been telling him this for years and years. i called him up the other day after the announcement and i said i'm glad you're going to
give me one more flight. i think it's a good quite frankly. there are a lot of things about how the weightlessness treats the individuals and the person's reactions for the amount of exercise or the lack thereof for the general physical conditioning and the kind of things that one really needs to know if you are going to be in a long-term mission. the more you find out, the better shape you will be in. thanks he's in pretty good shape and he probably is. i'm sure that there will be some lessons learned even in that short period of time looking at his general physical conditions
before and after. i think it's a good thing. i think that we will learn something from it. of course i'm not in top health at the moment. >> i would like to run down a little bit of this for you some of these people we have been talking about. you know it was interesting being involved in during the formation period because obviously it was a group of engineers basically they didn't
have a political type administrator but when web came along, what a fresh breath he was. he knew all the ins and outs of washington. he knew which cords to play and not that he was a lobbyist by any sense of the imagination. he didn't have to be. he had a great package. men in the space and he played it well. he really did. he did a great favor certainly responding so quickly. he had some engineering dollars.
i liked him. i really did. he had been on the aviation business forever. being right there at langley seeing him not every day but frequently talking to people who had been with him and what he had done, just a remarkable, remarkable gentlemen. and i think that he was really a hands-on guy. i obviously appreciate his decision to let me make the first flight but he never told me why he made that decision the
way he did. i asked him several times over the years and he always said you were just the right man at the right time. but i'm sure that he was very personally involved in the selection process. there were some suggestions from some of the other folks in the program that may be that he made a mistake in the decision and that there might have been someone else that qualified better but he didn't change his mind so he is one of my heroes. >> i like chris. we were closer in the early days
when he was a flight director and we were all in that building down there. i think i felt much closer to him then which you could see in the decision-making process that he went through and you knew he wasn't making any decisions thought through. i never really worked directly with him in that particular stage in the game he came along later. we never worked together too much but i do remember as i'm
sure the original seven we had dinner at his house one night then we drove out to the hillside where they built their own observatory and we took a look at the moon through a telescope which was here you are with a great rocket scientist showing you what the moon looks like with the telescope it seems for the public at large -- what would your reaction be? >> i think that is true that his entire life had been and was dedicated to aviation and space and he basically was an
engineer. i think that perhaps von braun was an engineer but he had been involved in political aspects in germany where maybe it was a matter of survival. i think that he dealt with the public more easily. it came more naturally to him and as a result, i think that in the final analysis, the general public knew more than they did about gilroy. but those of us on the inside particularly the man's base aspect of it i think had a lot more to go. a. >> don't you think that part of that is the ideas that he was up
selling the guns [inaudible] >> i think he almost thought that he had to. maybe he felt the same way that we did that yes it was a great idea but he might have been concerned a little bit more with the pressure of the schedule. >> what were some of the worst things that happened after the selection? >> the worst things? well, obviously and this was not a fault of the system, but obviously being grounded was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. a. >> when you left off is what is the most difficult thing that
you ran into? do you remember anything that made it particularly difficult during that time in office? >> i think that let me say that while i was head of the office, it was my responsibility for the very enthusiastic very intelligent and very dedicated and motivated bunch of guys and there were jealousies in the ranks, people being jealous of samanta so for backup positions or support groups and there were
instances of horse discussions to sort of strengthen things out and say look, we were in this program and this is the way that it's going to be run and we are sorry. but eventually, he will be treated fairly. >> some still feel they weren't but a small percentage hopefully. what do you think now about the project? >> you don't have to answer that one.
people thought that it was a good deal and have thought it wasn't a good deal if you trade the practices in selecting that's a difficult question to answer because i'm not involved in the process anymore. i think that one has to look at the flights which are being made you look at the number of delays
over the years when you take a look at a group of civilian engineers and scientists that have to work with contractors who have paid and worked for somebody else and that also has to work with the military because you've got the military involved and things have really turned out remarkably well. now there have been some heated discussions between the advantages of man's spaceflights and unmanned space to flights because they are parts of nasa as you know totally dedicated to unmanned spaceflight. there've been some noted discussions and differences of
opinion between the engineers on spaceflight that would like to automate everything and leave the pilots out. but you know in the final analysis, i can't remember any of these decisions that were made with an absolute heart over. nobody would have thought nobody would have thought when it takes us to the moon and back because
of the money and the effort that nasa spent back in the 60s sure we would have computers no question about it but we wouldn't have advanced or be in the position we are today. incredible information flowing back and forth springing from the nasa organization. it's remarkable what the organization has done and is still doing. it's just a great process. >> let the record show that that was unsolicited. [laughter] and just bringing that up for
served in congress for the u.s. house of representatives office of the historian conducted this interview. >> my name is kathleen johnson today and with the help mention the day is generate we are in the house recording studio and we are very pleased to be speak with former representative susan from new york. thank you very much for coming today but. >> very excited to be part of this project. >> this project we are working on is to recognize and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the election of jeannette rankin to congress. the first woman. we have a bunch of questions and went to ask you today. first developed when you are young did did you have any female role models?