tv Oral Histories Mercury Seven Astronaut Alan Shepard CSPAN October 15, 2021 2:35am-4:08am EDT
here with you to do this oral history. >> it's a pleasure, sir. >> let's begin kind of not at the beginning because there is a beginning before this but april, 1959. >> it was one of the happiest days of my life. that was a day that was congregated officially as the u.s. first astronaut group and previous that is the day we first showed up officially as the first astronauts in the united states at langley field,
virginia. it had become nasa in a hurried turnaround as you recall and astronaut selection and training basically was run by the people that work from langley. we all reported under washington and that is where the initiation and the introduction, the preselection, all that sort of routine went on and then as you know, we had a 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 because i was already stationed in norfork in a job in which i didn't like in the first place.
so it was an easy trip for us. didn't even have to move. >> your journey to get there took you through combat experience. why did they decide to pick test pilots to fly the first space mission? >> i think that it was a realization that we had essentially a new product. it didn't look very much like an airplane but if you were going to put a pilot in it was going to have to fly somehow like an airplane. and when you have a brand strange new machine, then you go to the test pilots.
that's what they were trained to do and what they had been doing. of course the naca had some test pilots but they were a little bit older. none of them i don't think were in the position where they probably could have competed with varied background of flying which most of us had. and so, the decision was made. i don't know. they say that eisenhower had something to do with of the decision, because he said well, it didn't have very many test pilots so let's go to the military. apparently the white house was involved in the decision in some degree. >> you were there and when first you sized those teammates of
yours, i wonder what your first reactions were to the group. >> i wanted to know where these guys came from. several of them have been involved in the preliminary selection process so i was genuinely familiar with that background. glenn of course i had known before and because of our navy connections so i knew there was a lot of talent and i knew that it was going to be a tough flight to win the prize. >> between the seven of you. >> it was an interesting situation. because as i said i was friendly with several of them and on the other hand, realizing that i wasn't competing with these guys
so there was always a sense of caution i suppose particularly about technical things. in the bar of course everything changed, but in talking about technical things it was 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. >> let's try to go back over those competitions. >> it was an interesting situation getting together with the seven originals for the first time and of course having known to some of them before with the navy connections but here was competition there were seven guys come feeding for the
first job, whatever that turned out to be. seven guys going for that one job so on the one hand there was a sense of friendliness and may be some support and on the other hand the rest of you are happy because i'm going to make the first flight. >> you were about to move into a whole new world in the weightless space. did that frighten you just a little bit? what were your thoughts about moving into the new environment? >> i suspect my thoughts genuinely reflected those. it happened to be the challenge of being able to control in a a newvehicle and a new environm. this is a generalization but something which i had been doing for many, many years and as a
navy pilot and say a carrier pilot and believe me it is a lot harder to land a jet on an aircraft carrier than to land on the move and that is a piece of cake the moon deal. but that was part of my life was the challenge. but for those that fly upside down a lot of the time to see gravity wasn't that big of a deal. of course none of us being non-medics thought about the fact of long term gravity but it wasn't the challenge to us. the challenge was to be able to fly an unusual craft and provide good positive thinking and control of that vehicle. >> but any training devices that
could simulate the kind of things you are going to do. it was built to indicate to the system and the radio system so some of the instruments and they were all sort of separated, not the great simulators that we have today. i think that the role today and tomorrow has been you are dealing with individuals that fly unusual aircraft and conduct unusual experiments in frequently because you don't fly it every day. so there has to be a simulator that creates artificially creates problems for you to
train against or to train with to learn how to overcome the difficulty that you may be having with your experiment. it is a part of commercial aircraft. unfortunately, some of the companies today, the commuter companies don't require simulator time, which is surprising to me. i think many of them do it on their own but the simulators are good because they create a sense of confidence in one's self. the agent quits and you grow up and the rocket goes sideways and you get out and come back home. so it was a confidence created in the simulation business. >> did you take an active role
in designing the spacecraft? >> yes, we did. we tried to do it as efficiently as we could. we assigned in the early days with only seven, an individual to work directly with the contractor and this was all with nasa's blessing because the engineers were there as well. but primarily from the pilots point of view is this handle in the right place if you have a switch which you have to use to counteract an emergency is it reachable and visible or do you have to go behind your back to find something. [inaudible] >> then finally, you end up
being the first man to fly in the recreation spacecraft. did you know that was coming or was it a surprise and can you describe your steps that led to it? >> training for probably 20 months or so and felt they would make a new flight. when we received word that he wanted to see us at five in the afternoon one day in our office, we sort of felt that perhaps he had decided there were seven of us then in one office. we had seven desks in the hangar in langley field, and bob walked in and closed the door and was very matter of fact and said 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 the backup pilot. but beyond that, we will not make any public decisions. so, he said shepard gets the first flight and glenn is the backup for both of these two. any questions? >> absolute silence. he said thank you very much. turn around and left the room. >> there i am looking at six faces looking at me and feeling
of course totally elated that i had won the competition but 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 came over and shook my hand and pretty soon i was the only one left in the room. [laughter] >> that is a priceless story. finally, things progress to the point you are getting rid of the whole flight and if i remember correctly, there were some holes dealing with the launchpad. >> the checkout had been going very well. he was a backup pilot and had been on the preflight. it checked out well.
we had virtually no problems at all and we were scheduled for i believe it was the second of may. i was going out the door when there was tremendous brainstorm -- rainstorm thunderstorm came over and they decided to cancel which i was -- it was canceled and scheduled for three days later the weather was good, and i remember driving down to the launching pad in a van that was capable of providing comfort for us with a suit on and many last adjustments bill douglas was in
there. we pulled up in front of the launchpad and of course it was dark. the liquid oxygen was venting out from the redstone. so she lights all over the place, and i remember saying to myself well, i'm not going to see this redstone again. and you know, pilots love to go out and kick the tires. it was like reaching out and kicking the tires on the redstone because i stopped and looked at it and looked back. i looked at this beautiful rocket and thought okay let's get the job done. so i sort of stopped and kicked the tires and went in and on with the countdown. there was a time during the countdown when there was a problem when the inverter in the
redstone, gordon cooper was the communicator in the block house. so, he called and said it isn't working in the redstone and they are going to pull it back in and we are going to change it i said if that is the case then i would like to get out and relieve myself. we had been working with a device to collect during the flight that worked pretty well but not when you are lying on your back with your feet up in the air. i said can you see if i can get out and relieve myself quickly while they are fixing and he came back and i guess it was some discussions going on
outside. he finally came back and said the astronaut will stay in the nose cone. so i thought okay that's fine but i'm going to go to the bathroom and they said well, you can't do that because you got wires all over your body and it will short-circuit. i said don't you have a switch that turns off those wires? please, turn the switch off. well, i relieved myself and of course with a cotton undergarment we had on it soaked up immediately in the undergarment and with 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 wet back in space.
the race between the darren and me was close. obviously there objectives and capabilities for the orbital flight was greater than ours at that particular point. we eventually caught up and went past them. but as you point out, it was the cold war, there was a competition. we had flown a chimpanzee in the redstone combination and everything had worked perfectly except there was a relay which at the end of the power flight was supposed to eject the tower
because it was no longer needed separated. it did not separate itself, so the chimp was lifted to another ten or 15 miles in altitude. there was absolutely nothing wrong with anything else with the mission. so, our recommendation was everything worked fine. so it happens again, no big deal. sheppard goes a little higher. they said no we want everything absolutely right. so we flew another unmanned mission. it was touch and go and it put me in that unmanned mission then
we would have actually flown the first. but it was tight in retrospect it doesn't seem that important but at the time i guess it was. >> absolutely. >> absolutely. >> how important was it? >> we had a lot of differences in opinion about things in the program not only the design, but some of the scheduling. most of that was kept pretty quiet and resolved and very little of that came out in public. it was always sort of a joint decision. >> then as time went on you started lobbying for another flight and mercury but it was cut a little short because of
the pressure of something else. can you discuss those? >> you are not surprised i wanted to fly again, are you? >> not at all. >> there was another spacecraft ready to go until something ran out, until the battery is ran down and the oxygen ran out or until we lost control system or something. sort of an open ended kind of mission. and so i recommended that and they said they didn't expect to hear anything else from me.
i remember when cooper and his family and the other astronauts and families were invited to the white house for cocktails with jackie kennedy, and we stopped at jim webb's house first and had a little warm-up and i was politicking and said we can put that up there in a matter of a few weeks. it's ready to go. just let me sit up there and see how long it will last. he said i really don't think so i think we have to get on with jim and i and i said i'm going to see the president in a little while to get some of the
taxpayers money back and i got to kennedy aside and said there's a possibility we can make another long-duration may be two or three days. we would like to do that. he said what does mr. webb think about it and i said he doesn't want to do it. he said i think that i will have to go along with mr. webb. so you started getting a whole new ballgame. >> it was very fortunate of course that i was chosen to make the first mission. a very bright young guy was assigned as a copilot and we
were already into the mission. we had been in the simulator several different times prior to the problem that i had it's due to elevated fluid pressure in the inner the year and they tell me that it happens to people that are type a hyper driven, whatever. unfortunately what happens is it causes a lack of balance and dizziness in some cases nausea as a result of all of this disorientation going on.
it's unilateral something is only happening with me on the left side but it's obvious that nasa grounded me right away. and they assigned another crew for the gemini flight. so there i was. what do i do now? do i go back to the navy. do i stick around with the space program. what do i do? i finally decided that. several years went by and there was medication that alleviated but i still couldn't fly so low. could you imagine the world's
greatest test pilot has to have some young guy in the back, talk about an embarrassing situation. but as a matter of fact it was tom stafford who came to me and said he had a friend in los angeles that was experimenting correcting the problem surgically so i said that's great i will go out and see him so we set it up and went out there and he said we do. what we do is make a little opening and put in a tube so that it enlarges the chamber that takes that pressure and in some cases it's worked and i said what if it doesn't work and he said you won't be any worse off than you were but you might lose your hearing. so i went out there under an
assumed name. the doctor new and the nurse knew but nobody else. so they check in and run the operation around the surgery and it's not that traumatic obviously because after about a day i was out of there. of course it was obvious when you look at the big ball in my ear when i get home but nasa started looking at me in several months and finally yes all the tests show you are no longer infected by this disease. so there i was having made the right decision. >> i think we have to backtrack a little bit because this is going to bring you into direct
discussion about a fellow named deke slayton and i think we have established that like you he was knocked out flying so let's go back to a little of that particularly because that happened back in the mercury days. i wonder when you first heard suddenly he got bumped on the flight. that was a heart condition, wasn't it? >> there was a lot of controversy about that because it was a heart murmur or palpitation, some irregularity but one which wasn't obvious. i mean, it wasn't a continuous kind of thing. it wasn't as if he was getting ready for cardiac arrest or anything like that. it was just occasionally he would have a little twitch.
>> i wonder what your reaction was at the time and if you can get background on it. >> back in those days as we have discussed before, we were still highly competitive. there were still seven guys going for whatever flight was available next and he had been chosen to make the second orbital mission after glenn when he had this little heart murmur and as i say it wasn't anything real noticeable. it wasn't continuous. it just showed up once in a while but it made the medics very nervous and even after fairly exhaustive tests showed that it wasn't too repetitive to the point that it interfered in the mission there was still a sense of we can't take a chance on anything, the hardware or the astronauts, so he was grounded,
flat grounded. and at that point, the feeling of competitiveness turned into one of come artery, one of feeling sorry for him. a sense of let's get you back on the schedule somehow because you really felt sorry for him at that point because he no longer was competitive. but on the other hand they have a guy in that position and knowing how tough that could be to him so he was grounded obviously the benefit for us was to have somebody that could immediately become a spokesman because he had decided to stay on. i think that he had resigned as
the air force reserve at that point. not sure. but i think so. anyway, somebody that could speak for the group and not have to worry about the ins and outs of training so there was an advantage having him as a leader and as a spokesman in the group. so he became the chief of the office, what was his title? >> it was a job that eventually you end wound up with by title. once you went in all of a sudden there were two that had been grounded. what a team. how did it come about that you became the chief of the office while deke at this time hadn't quite assumed power as the head of astronaut affairs.
>> well, as i indicated earlier, i decided to fight to stay with nasa and during the time period that i was grounded i could become very, very useful in the astronaut training business. it's quite a number of people involved so they decided to make it a separate division. deke was the head of that division and i was given the job specifically of the care of
these astronauts, helping with assignments and that sort of thing. >> was it deke that primarily got you the job or the fact that you had all of the qualifications, how did that work? >> i think that it was just a matter of saying what do we need when i became grounded. we had to guys that either one of us could have done the job one little difference perhaps that i knew i was going to somehow something was going to happen soon with me. i was either going to get it fixed or i was gone.
i think that he was more or less resigned at that stage to the heart murmur business. i think that he was more of a long-term commitment so that is how we established and talked it over with the craft and we agreed that that was a good selection. >> you had quite a reputation for running that tight ship. >> of course we were both mad because we were grounded. we had both been training as astronauts and we knew where every skeleton was in the process. we just wouldn't let them get
away with anything. we knew what they had to do and if they were not doing it, then 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 commander in a friendly term like that. we knew where all the skeletons were. >> and in a very peculiar way from the point of view perhaps from the benefit of the space program that you both were doing what you were doing at the time that you were doing it. >> i think certainly there was a need for coordination and representation at the executive
assignment. i have a recommendation to make. i had picked to bright guys. one of them smarter than i was and paid the team to go in front of the flight and i said i would like to recommend that i get apollo 13. he says i don't know what send it to washington and said no way, wait a minute. it's going to be at least as smart as the rest of these guys, may be a little smarter and they said we know that. but it's a public relations problem. they just got ungrounded and all of a sudden he gets premier
flight assignments so the discussion went on for several days and finally we will make a deal. give us another crew and that is what happened. >> suddenly apollo 13 on its way ran into huge problems. i wonder what is your thought when the problem developed and what did you do during that time period? >> the immediate thought was how do we get them back. obviously right from the start it was the end of the landing mission. no question about that. it was interesting to see the entire system being made to come
back with any kind of a recommendation and of course these were the guys that killed everybody together on this thing and said look, we've got to find a way to bring them back. failure is not an option. and as you well know, the whole system was vibrating and any corner of the manufacturing processes and the vendor process, nasa's people, everybody was working towards a solution to this problem as it turned out there was more than one solution. there were several different areas of engineering that had to be addressed and i think it's probably their final hour when
they think about it. certainly from the pilots point of view stepping on the moon and apollo 11. >> did you approach it with fear, trepidation? thanks to what had been learned from apollo 13 i think that people have -- i know people have expressed the opinion that it might have been a little more dangerous to fly on apollo 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 had to be done to find out specifically why the thing blew and to fix that and look for similar situations throughout the service module. but again, to reassess the whole scheme of things. you know, in the missions like that where you basically search there are always decisions along the way that maybe we should fix this particular piece of equipment because the chance that it might fail is one out of 100 and on the other hand, it's only a small part of a huge process scheduled to go at a certain time.
part of the assessment process had to be to go over those and of course several were made in addition to the corrections of the basic problem so there's a feeling of security and we obviously were part of that process. let's go back over that for the moment and talk about feelings. because that must have been a tough one. >> well, of course it came as a shock, no question about it it was unexpected to lose a crew in
a 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
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
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
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 the record. you don't have to apologize. making sure somebody watching this knows very well not
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?