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tv   Oral Histories Mercury Seven Astronaut Alan Shepard  CSPAN  November 9, 2021 11:22am-12:52pm EST

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communitys the big and small. charter is connecting us. charter communications supports c-span 2 as a public service. next on american history tv, mercury 7 astronaut alan shep erd, the first astronaut in space talks about the earliest days in space, and his career, and as an apollo commander, he was the first man to walk on the moon, and he was interviewed is months before his death from leukemia. this is part of the oral history. >> alan shepard, we thank you for letting us to be here to do this oral history.
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>> it is a pleasure, sir. >> let's begin not at the beginning, because there was a beginning before this, but does the date april 1959 mean anything to you. >> it was one of the happiest days of my life when we all congregated officially as the u.s. astronaut group. we had been through a selection group previous to that time, but it is the day that we first all showed up officially as the first astronaut of the united states back in langley field, virginia. >> why langley, i wonder? >> well, of course, naca had become nasa in a big hurried turnaround as you recall, and the program of astronauts in training basically was run by
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the people who worked from langley originally, and of course, we all reported into washington, and this is where the initiation and the introduction and the pre-selection and all of that sort of routine went on, and then as you know, we had physical health 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 norfolk in a job which i did not like in the first place. i was finally taken out of airplanes and put behind a desk for the first time in a bunch of years. so, it was a real easy trip for us. we didn't even have to move. >> the journey to get you there took you through test pilot school, took you through combat experience and a little bit of everything. >> yes.
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>> why was it that nasa decided to pick test pilots of all things to fly the first mission? >> well, i think that it was a immediate 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 that when you have a brand strange new machine, then you go to the test pilots. that is what they were trained to do, and that is what they had been doing. now, of course, naca had some test pilots, but they were a little bit older, and none of them were positioned to where they could have competed with the varied background of test flying which most of us have.
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and so the decision was made, and i don't know, they say that eisenhower had something to do with the decision, because he said, yeah, we need a test pilot, and he had agreed to that, and naca and nasa didn't have very many test pilots and go to the military and see what they have to offer, and now whether eisenhower himself was involved in the decision, and apparently the white house was to some degree. >> of course, you were name and when you first were sizing up the teammates of yours, i wonder what the reactions were of the group? >> well, i wondered first of all where these six incompetent guys came from.
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seriously, it was not a surprise, because several of them had been involved in the preliminary selection process. so i was generally familiar with their background. glenn i had known before, cheraw i had known before because of their navy connections. so i knew there was a lot of talent there. and i knew that it was going to be a tough fight to win the prize. >> it was competitive at that time between the seven of you, wasn't it? >> well, it was an interesting situation. because, as i say, i was friendly with several of them. and on the other hand, realizing that i was now competing with these guys, so there was always 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 was always a sense of maybe a little bit of reservation, not being totally frank with each other, because this very strong sense of competition.
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>> you were talking about your teammates. i'd kind of like to go back over that. there was 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 yet all of a sudden realizing that here was competition. there were seven guys competing 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 maybe some support. but on the other hand, hey, i hope the rest of you guys are happy because i'm going to make the first flight. >> you were about to move into a whole new world or a whole new nonworld up there in weightless space, of which nothing was
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known. didn't that frighten you just a little bit? what were your thoughts about moving into a new environment? >> i suspect my thoughts generally reflected those of the other chaps. but with me, i think it had to be the challenge of being able to control a new vehicle in a new environment. this is a generalization, but it's something which i had been doing for many, many years, as a navy pilot, as a carrier pilot. and believe me, it's a lot harder to land a jet on an aircraft carrier than it is to land a lem on the moon, that's a piece of cake, the moon deal. here you had, yes, a new environment, but for fighter pilots who fly upside down a lot
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of the time, zero gravity wasn't that big a deal. now, of course none of us, being nonmedics, 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 an unusual craft and provide good, positive thinking control of that vehicle. >> so unusual a craft that there weren't even any training devices or simulators that could simulate the kind of things you were going to do, you had to make them. >> you know, that's exactly correct. in the early days, we really had what we called part task trainers, instead of simulators. something was built to do -- 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
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glorious simulators which we have today. >> what was role of the astronaut in those devices? >> well, i think that the role of simulators then, today, and tomorrow, has to be, you're 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 creates problems for you to train against or train with to learn how to overcome difficulties you may be having with your experiment, difficulties you may be having with the tail of the shuttle or that sort of thing. so simulators are very, very important part of space flight and they're also a very important part of commercial aircraft. unfortunately, some of the
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companies today, the commuter 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 are good, because they create a sense of confidence in oneself. if you go up, and the engine quits, and you land safely, you go up and the rocket goes sideways, you get out and come back home and do it again. so there's a lot of confidence created in the simulation business. >> did you, the astronauts, take an active role in designing the spacecraft yourselves? >> yes, we did. and we tried to do it as efficiently as we could. we assigned -- in the early days, with only seven, we assigned an individual to work
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directly with the contractor. and this was all with nasa's blessing, because the nasa engineers were there as well. but primarily from a pilot's 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, is it visible, or do you have to go behind your back somewhere to find the darn thing? primarily, from a pilot's point of view, was our interface. >> then finally, you wound up being the first man to fly in a mercury spacecraft. did you know that was coming, or was it a surprise? as you describe your steps that led up to it? >> we had been in training for probably 20 months or so, toward the end of -- early '61, we all intuitively felt that bob gearoth had to make a decision as to who was going to make the first flight.
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when we received word that bob wanted to see us at 5:00 in the afternoon one day in our office, sort of felt that perhaps he had decided. there were seven of us then. and in one office. we had seven desks around in the hangar in langley field. bob walked in, closed the door, and was very matter of fact. he said, well, 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 that we will designate the first flight and the second flight and a backup pilot. but beyond that, we won't make
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any public decisions. so, he said, shepard gets the first flight. grissom gets the second flight. and glenn is the backup for both of these two suborbital missions. any questions? absolute silence. he said, thank you very much, good luck, turned around, and left the room. 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 me hand, and pretty soon i was the only guy left in the room.
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>> that's a priceless story, alan. finally, things progressed to the point where you're getting ready for the flight. if i'm remember correctly, there were some holes dealing with that day on the launch pad. let's go back to that day as you remember it. you're getting ready for mr3 as it was loosely labeled. >> the checkout, the compound had been going very well. glenn was the backup pilot and he had been in on all the preflight stuff. the redstone checked out well. we had virtually no problems at all and we were scheduled for i believe it was the 2nd of may. and i was dressed, just about going out the door, when a tremendous rainstorm, thunderstorm came over. obviously they decided to cancel
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it, which i was pleased they did. it was rescheduled three days later. and of course 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 for us and with the pressure suit on and any last-minute adjustments and temperature devices and so on that had to be made, they were all equipped to do that. the doctor, bill douglas, was in there. we pulled up in front of the launch pad. of course it was dark. the liquid oxygen was venting out from the redstone. searchlights 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.
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and it was sort of like reaching out and kicking the tires on the redstone. i stopped and looked at it, looked back and up at this beautiful rocket. and, well, okay, buster, let's go and get the job done. so i sort of stopped and kicked the tires, then went on in and on with the countdown. there was a time during the countdown when there was a problem with the inverter in the redstone. gordon cooper was the voice communicator in the blockhouse. so he called and said that the inverter is not working in the redstone and they're going to pull the gantry back in and we're going to change it, it's probably going to take about an hour, hour and a half. i said, well, if that's the case, then i would like to get out and relieve myself. we had been working with a
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device to collect urine during the flight that really worked pretty well in zero gravity but it didn't really work very well when you're lying on your back with your feet up in the air like you were in the redstone. i thought my bladder was getting a little full and if i had some time, i would like to relieve myself. so i said -- i said, would you check and see if i can get out and i can relieve myself quickly while they're fixing the -- and gordo, came back and i guess there were some discussions going on outside, and it took about three or four seconds, and they finally came back and said, no, braun said "the astronaut will stay in the nose cone." i said, all right, that's fine, but i'm going to go to the bathroom. they said, well, you can't do
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that because you've got wires all over your body, short-circuit. i said, don't you guys have a switch to turn off those wires? they said, yes. i said, please turn the switch off. well, i relieved myself, and of course with the cotton undergarment which 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 in the world's first wet vac in space. >> at that time, the whole game was totally competitive, not alone among the seven astronauts, but you were in a race for space with the russians. >> mm-hmm. >> and they kind of beat you to the punch, didn't they? i'm thinking of yuri gregarin when i say that. >> that little race between gregarin and me was really, really close.
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obviously their objectives, their capabilities for orbital flight were greater than ours that particular point. we eventually caught up and went passed them. as you point out, it was the cold war. there was a competition. we had flown a chimpanzee called ham in a redstone mercury combination. 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, separate it from the mercury capsule, and eject it. for some reason, with ham's flight, it fired but it did not separate itself. so the chimp was lifted to another 10 to 15 miles in
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altitude, another 20 to 30 miles in range. there was absolutely nothing wrong with -- anything else wrong with the mission. so our recommendation strongly was, okay, let's put shepard in the next one, everything worked fine. so the thing happens again. no big deal, shepard goes a little higher. werner said no, we want everything absolutely right. so we flew another unmanned mission before gregarin flew, then his flight, and then mine. so it was really touch and go there. if we had put me in that unmanned mission we would have actually flown first. but it was -- it was tight. >> in retrospect, it doesn't seem that important, but at the time i guess it was. >> oh, very important, absolutely. absolutely. >> how important was it? did you say anything publicly or did you just nurse your wounds
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and get ready to fly again? >> oh, 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. most of that was kept pretty quiet. most of it was resolved. and very little -- very little that have came out in public. it was always, you know, sort of a joint decision. >> then, as time went on, you started lobbying for another flight in mercury. but mercury was cut a little short because there was the pressure of something else. wasn't there? can you discuss those pressures? >> you are not surprised that i wanted to fly again, are you? >> not at all. >> mr. neal. >> not at all, mr. shepard. >> no, as a matter of fact we had -- after cooper finished his day and a half orbital mission, there was another spacecraft ready to go. and my thought was to put me up
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there and just let me stay until something ran out, until the batteries ran down or until the oxygen ran out or 'til we lost the control system or something, then just sort of open-ended kind of a mission. and so i recommended that. and they said that they didn't expect to hear anything else from me. but i remember when cooper and his family and the other astronauts and families were invited to the white house for cocktails with jack kennedy, we stopped at jim webb's house first and had a little warm-up there. and i was politicking with webb,
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and i said, you know, mr. webb, we could put this baby up there in just a matter of a few weeks, i mean, it's all ready to go, we have the rockets. and just let me sit up there, you know, see how long it will last, get another record out of it. well, he said, no, i don't -- he said, i really don't think so, i think we've got to get on with gemini. i said, i'm going to see the president in a little while, do you mind if i mention it to him? he said, no, but you tell him my side of the story too. so i said all right. so we get over there and we're all sipping our booze, get some of our taxpayer money back, drinking at the white house. and i get kennedy aside and i said, there's possibility we can make another long duration mercury flight, maybe two or maybe three days, and we would like to do that. he said, what does mr. webb think about it? i said, webb doesn't want to do
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it. he said, well, i think i'll have go along with mr. webb. >> made you realize the power behind the throne. >> at least i tried. >> yeah. so instead, you started then getting ready to fly in gemini, another whole new ball game. >> yeah. yes, it was very fortunate, of course, that i was chosen to make the first gemini mission. tom stafford, who is a very bright young guy, was assigned as co-pilot. and we were already into the mission, already training for the mission. we had been in the simulators, as a matter of fact, several different times. i'm not sure whether we looked at the hardware in st. louis or not, prior to the problem which i had. the problem i had was a disease
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called meniere's, due to fluid pressure in the ear. they tell me it happens in people who are type "a," hyper, driven, whatever. unfortunately what happens is it causes a lack of balance. it causes dizziness, in some cases nausea as a result of all of this disorientation going on up there in the ear. fortunately it's unilateral, it was only happening to me on the left side. but it was so obvious that nasa grounded me right away. and they assigned another crew for the first gemini flight. so there i was, what do i do now? do i go back to the navy?
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do i stick around with 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 has to have some young guy in the back flying along with you? i mean, talk about embarrassing situations. but as a matter of fact, it was stafford, it was tom stafford who came to me, said he had a friend in los angeles who was experimenting with correcting this meniere's problem
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surgically. i said, great, i'll go see him. he set it up, and so i went on out there. the fellow said, yeah, we do, what we do is make a little opening there and put a tube in so that it enlarges the chamber that takes that fluid pressure and in some cases it's worked. and i said, well, what if it doesn't work? he said, well, you won't be any worse off than you are, except you might lose your hearing, but other than that. so i went out there under an assumed name. >> what was the name? >> oh, it was polis, i think, victor polis. and the doctor knew and the nurse knew but nobody else knew. so victor polis checks in, they run the operation, they runt surgery. it's not that traumatic, obviously, because after about a
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day i was out of there. of course it was obvious when you look at the big ball of stuff over my ear when i got back home. but nasa started looking at me, several months, several months, several months went by, and tests show you're no longer effected. so, there i was. >> i think we better back track because obviously this is going to bring you in direct discussion. we haven't established the fact that deek, like you, was knocked out. particularly because that happened when deek was getting ready to fly. >> and he's already been
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assigned to follow john. >> and suddenly he got bumped. that was a heart condition, wasn't it? >> yeah. a lot of controversy about that. because it was a heart murmur or palpitation. some irregularity. but one which was not obvious. i mean t was not a continuous kind of thing. not as if he was getting ready for cardiac arrest or anything like that. it was just occasionally. he'd have a twist down there. >> a real blow. >> i wonder what your reaction to it was at the time and if we can get background on it. >> back in those days, as we discussed before, we were still highly competitive. still seven guys going to whatever flight was available next.
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slaten had been chosen to make the second orbital mission when he had the seconds heart murmur. wasn't anything real noticeable, wasn't continuous. just showed up once in a while. made the medics nervous. and even after the exhausted test shows it was not repetitive to the point to interfere with the mission. there was sense of we can't take a chance on anything, the hard weir or the astronauts. so, he was grounded. flat grounded. and at that point, the feeling of competitiveness turned into one of comradery. one of feeling sorry for him. a sense of let's get you back on the schedule, old buddy, somehow
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because you felt sorry for him at that point because he no longer was competitive. but to 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 you have some one of us who could immediately become a spokesman because he'd decided to stay on. i think he resigned as airport reserve at that point. not sure. but i think so. anyway, somebody who could speak for the group. and not have to worry about some of the ins and outs of training. it was an obvious advantage having him as a leader and the spokesman of the group.
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>> yeah. >> eventually, you wound up with title. >> things were changing. >> all the sudden there were two of the seven that had been grounded. how did it come about that you wound up becoming chief of the astronaut office, while deek assume quite some power? >> well, as i indicated earlier, i decided to fight this many years to stay with nasa. and during the time period when i was grounded, i could become very useful in the astronaut training business.
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and if you consider the number of chaps that were involved stimulating this and taking care of suits and so on. there are quite a number ofpeople in volved. they decided to make it a separate division. deek was the head of that division. i was given a job, specifically, of the care and feeding of these astronauts. in charge of their training, helping deek with crew assignments and that sort of thing. >> was it deek primarily that got to the job or was it just the fact that you had all the qualifications? how did that work? >> i think it was just a matter
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of saying what do we need? when i became grounded in the [ inaudible ] then we had two guys that, really any one of us could have done the job. one little difference, perhaps, i knew i was going to -- something was going to happen with me. i was going to get the ear fixed or i was gone. with deek, i think it was more or less resigned at that stage. due the heart murmur business. and the medics would keep giving him a bad time about that. so, i think it was a deek -- probably more of a long-term commitment than in my particular case. i think that's really why and we
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talked it over with craft and they sort of agreed that was a good selection. >> you two had quite the reputation for running a tight ship? >> of course, we were both mad because we were grounded. we'd both been training as astronauts. we knew where every skeleton was in the whole process. and we wouldn't let those guys get away with anything. i mean, we knew what they had to do. how they had to do it and if they weren't, then we would bring them in and tell him about it. maybe i was a little more forceful than i would have been normally. i believe they call me the icy
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commander or some friendly term like that. oh, yeah. we knew where all the skeletons were. >> and knowing that, in a very peculiar way, perhaps and you were doing what you were doing at the time you were doing it. >> it was a need for coordination, a need for representation at executive level. other chaps could have done the job, perhaps equally well or perhaps better. but it seemed like we had pretty good crews. >> all the way through the journey program and through apollo.
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and by which time, you finally located through stafford's a way to treat the linear syndrome. and suddenly the skies opened again for allen shepherd. or did they? you had to get back in the program, didn't you? >> when nasa finally said i could climb, ied we have not announced publicly crew assignments for apollo 13. i have a recommendation to make. one a ph.d. and another a heck of a lot smarter than i was. and made up a team to go to an apollo flight and i said i would like to recommend that i get apollo 13.
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>> i don't know. let's try it out. so, we sent it to washington and he says no way. now, he has to be at least as smart as the rest of the guys. maybe smarter. and said well, we know that but it's a real public relations problem. all the sudden, boom, it gets premier flight attendant. let shepherd have apollo 13. give us another crew for apollo 13. and that's what happened. >> oh, and did it ever. suddenly apollo 13 on its way to the moon ran into huge problems.
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i wonder what you thought when the problem developed and what did you do during that time period? >> of course, the immediate thought was how do we get these guys back? obviously right from the start t was the end of a landing mission. no question about that. but it was interesting to see the entire system, entire system being flushed out. being made to come back with any kind of recommendation. and of course, chris craft and jean kranz were the guys that held everybody together on this thing and said look, we have to find a way to bring these boys back. failure is not an option. and as you well know, the whole system was vibrating.
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any corner of manufacturing processes, the vendor processes. and nasa's people. everybody was working for a solution for the problem. as it turned out, it was more than one solution. i mean, there are several different areas of engineering had to address and correct. i think that it's probably nasa's finest hour. when you think about it. i think certain lay from a pilot's point of view t was just as an important event as stepping on the moon on apollo 11. >> you had the next [ inaudible ] did you approach
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it with fear and trepidation or with he's probably going to make a play at it? >> i think people, by now, people have e pressed the opinion that it might have been 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 too, look for similar situations. throughout the service module. and again to reassess the whole thing.
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you know, in mission's like that, doing basic research, there are always decisions along the way that maybe we should fix this particular piece of equipment because the chances it might fail are 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. and if this fails, we have -- all these decisions to make. so, obviously, part of the assessment process had to be to go over those decisions again now that we have time to make these corrections of the one in chances to fail. and they were made. so, there's a feeling of superiority and we were part of the process.
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>> i'd forgotten you had been through the trauma of apollo one. >> let's talk about feelings. >> that must have been a tough one. >> well, apollo one came as a real shock. no question about it. came as a shock because it was unexpected. and i'll get into it a little bit later but to lose a crew in a ground test, i mean, they're still sitting on the ground. to lose a crew really woke everybody up and that was important because all of us,
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every single one of us and deek and i discussed this, unfortunately after the fact. but we were part of a group that had gone through mercury, gemini. and we're beating the russians. and it led to a sense of false security. no question about it. deek and i remember talking about it. gus would come back and had a complaint. he said this is the worse draft i've ever seen. and he was complaining to engineers, as well as deek and me. but deek and i became part of the problem because we said okay, gus, make a list of the stuff. and we'll see that it's fixed by the time you fly. not that we'll see that it's
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fixed before they stick you back in there for a test where you're using 100% oxygen. there was that sense of security, complacency. that everyone has, including myself and including deek. i think some people felt that sense of neglect. but i don't believe it's more than just a few hard head and didn't feel in the long run they were part of the problem. and did shape up the whole system.
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did make people realize that they had been too complacent. that they were over confident. and it resulted in many of the parts of the spacecraft. and i'm sure contributed to what was a very highly successful -- you know, we're still putting people on the moon. and you do it six times and you only miss once. i mean, that's incredible. >> and the one time you got the people back. >> and spend time following your first successful mission. tell us about it. >> well, you know, it's an interesting thought. and that's that the decision
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jack kennedy made to go to the moon was made after he only had 15 minutes of total space flight 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 medal from the president. and which, by the way, he dropped. and i don't know if you remember that scene or not but jimmy webb had the thing in a box. and it had been loosened from its little clip. and so, the president made a speech and said i now present you with a medal and the thing
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slipped off and went to the deck. and cone kennedy and i both bent over for it. kennedy made it first, jack made it first. and then he said in his yankee accent, hey, i gave you this medal that comes from the ground up. jacky is sitting there. she's mortified. jack, pin it on him, pin it on him. he recovered to the point he pins the medal on and everything is fine. we had a big laugh out of that. but originally louise and i were opposed to proceed to the congress after the white house ceremony. and then the resepgds. he said let's talk about your flight. so, we had the reception at the hill.
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go back and the heads of nasa there. and the heads of the government, jack and linden johnson was 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. we talked about specifically human had responded and reacted to the space environment and said what are we doing next? and he said well, there were a couple of guys in the corner talking about maybe going to the moon. he said i want a briefing. just three weeks after that
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mission, folks, we are going to the moon and we are going to do it within this decade. you don't think he was excited or a space cadette? absolutely. people will say he made the announcement with the bay of pigs, his popularity was going down. not true. not true. when glenn finished his mission, we flew with jack back to washington for glenn's ceremony. the four of us sat in his cabin and we talked about what gus had done, what john had done, we talked about what i had done all the way back. people would come in with favorites. we'll get those when we get back to washington.
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and too bad he could not have lived to see his promise. >> what was your personal announcement? >> we're delighted. delighted. but there was a gulf in there because he put a time cap on the deal. and 1961 within 8.5 years. anyway. delighted but a maybe the president is a little enthusiastic. >> we were into apollo and what was your best bet as to which would be the first flight to make, a man landing on the moon?
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>> well, i suppose we felt the schedule, as it was laid out, after we rescheduled the apollo 8 mission. i think we felt the mission's nine and ten adequately demonstrated the lunar module's capability that we, deep down inside felt that we could make it. >> we were just to that point. because now you can be ready to fly. must have been a big moment for
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you waiting for take off? >> i think, in ret are spect, the obvious advantage was apollo 13 gave us more time to train. and gave us a higher level of comfort with that extra training time. i think, obviously, the changes to the space were good ones. and not only related to directly to the explosion but others as well. there was a lot of confidence. as i said i picked a couple of great guys to go along with me. and it was really a lot of confidence.
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james turner, of course, was my back up. the funny story about turner. we were at the point i think we were approximately four or five days away from scheduled lift off. we were all in quarantine. and we had to do 21 days before. 21 days after. and he was out early in the morning flying helicopters because they use helicopters to train. and made the last few hundred feet of the landing. so, we're having breakfast and knew he was out flying the helicopter. all the suden the door opens and in comes turner. he is absolutely covered with
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sut, got scars on his face and said sir, what happened? he had been flying the helicopter over the river, which was calm. that early in the morning and he'd been distracted by something or other. because he was looking at the land. he flew that helicopter right into the water. blades all over the place, fire because the tanks, gas tanks are saddle tanks on that dinky chopper. they split and there was fuel all over the place. turner is going down like this. and of course, being a good navy-trained pilot, he knew how to cope with being under the water. he realized he was under fire
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and splashed around like that. take deep breaths and splashed around some more. finally got out of the smoke and flames. somebody had seen the stash. and there he was. he said okay, shepherd. you win. you get the go. oh. on the move. i wonder what the feelings were. >> of course. >> well, actually, the flight had gone extremely well. we'd had one or two problems. a docking problem earlier.
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a problem with something floating around. flying with the engine pointing this way. slowing down, and getting gradually more steeper. the computer had to be updated by the landing radar. reason being is one, you're on your back, you can't see the ground, the mountains, the rocks. we found a rule that said if it's not updating the radar, should be a level of about 13,000 feet, then you have to abort, get out of there. well, radar wasn't working. and so, they called us up and said your landing radar is not working and we said thank you very much. we're aware of that.
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and further on and i said you know what the ground rule is about aborting if you're not at 13,000 feet. yeah, we know that. finally, some bright young man said, it's working but it's locked up on affinity. have him pull a switch and reset it. see if it works. so, he pulled the circuit breaker, put it back in and sure enough, the landing radar came in. and shortly after, got cleared to land. that was close retained. as soon as we pitched over, the way i'd exchanged it hundreds of times from the scale model. came on down. made a very soft landing. as a matter of fact, so even though we landed in a crater like this, the leg didn't crush
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like it's supposed to. so a slight right wing down. perfect landing. shutting off the switches and he turned to me and said allen, what were you going to do if the landing radar had not been working by 13,000 feet? and i said ed, you'll never know. it was my job to land. i knew if i could see the surface, 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
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able to take a visual look and then made a decision. >> fair enough. mission accomplished. or was it? tell me about what you did on the moon, as you remembered it. what were the highlights? >> of course, the first feeling was one of tremendous sense of accomplishment, i guess, if you will. and a sense of realizing that not too long ago, i was grounded. and now i'm on the moon. there was that sense of self satisfaction. immediately. but then that went away because we had a lot of work to do.
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i'll never forget that moment. another moment i'll never forget is after ed followed me and we set out some of the equipment to make emergency samples. we had a few moments to look around. to look up and the black sky. totally black sky, even though the sun is shining. not reflected. there's no reflection. totally black sky and seeing another planet. planet earth. now, planet earth is only four times as large as the moon. so, you can really still put your thumb and forfinger around it. so, it makes it look beautiful. it makes it look lonely. it makes it look gradual.
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just imagine the millions of people living on that planet and don't realize how fragile it is. i think this is a feeling everyone has had and expressed in one fashion or another. but that was an overwhelming feeling of seeing the beauty of the planet on the one hand, but the fridgility of it on the other. >> allen shepherd, after that golden moment, we decided to play a little gulf. >> i didn't decide to play a little gulf. that is a long story. i'm not allowed to tell the whole story. >> it is a famous story and i'm sure a lot of people would like
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your version. >> as you know, so far, i'm the only person to have hit a golf ball on the moon. probably will be for some time. and being a golfer, i was intrigued before the flight, by the fact that the ball was the same club head speed, will go stix times as far. i won't say stay in the air. it will be at least six times as long. it will not curve because there's no atmosphere to make it slice. and i thought a nice place to hit a golf ball and i explained it's not a regular golf club t was the handle we used.
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put a scoop on the end. and that was already up there. then we had a club head, which i had adapted to snap on this handle. and two golf balls. which i paid. and i'll make a deal with you. if we have screwed up, if we have had equipment failure, anything is gone wrong on the surface, where you embearsed or we are, i will not do it. i want to wait until the very end of the mission. stand in fronted of the television camera, whak these golf balls with this make-shift
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club. pull tup, stick it in my pocket and close the door. and we're done. he said okay. and that's the way it happened. >> millions of people who have never forgotten, to this day. >> it was designed to be a fun thing. fortunately, it is still a fun thing. the makeshift club is with the u.s. officers in their museum. there's been no commercialism. one company tried to say it was their golf ball. so, it's been a totally fun thing.
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now to some general questions. wasn't too long after that you decided to complete your run. you moved on to the other field. >> as you recall, it's the only scheduled mission. crews were already assigned. bless his heart. can you imagine having to learn how to speak russian to go to space? that's above and beyond the call of duty. but he did it. i'm sure the russians understood him but he did it. we were so pleased and happy for him. >> i remember you were with me on television.
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and we were thinking my they all look great. remember after the fact, they inhaled something or another. and from the executive they were in kind of bad shape. >> obviously, it's that important. anyway. general thoughts. wonder what your thoughts are about john glenn. >> he's a couple of years older than i am.
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i have been saying for years the taxpayers didn't get their money's worth. as a taxpayer, i objected to that. i said i'm glad you're going it give me one more flight. i think it's good, quite frankly. obviously there, are a lot of things about how weightlessinize treats individuals and the person's reaction is the amount of exercise or lack thereof and
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the kinds of things wuj really needs to know if you're going to be in a long term mission. so, he's a good data point. his bones are still brittle. i'm sure there will be lessons learned. i think it's a good thing. i think we'll learn something from it. >> you think you'd like to fly again? >> of course i would. of course, i would. unfortunately, i'm not in the top health. >> that's [ inaudible ] youvl rrb talk said some about mathematically.
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you know, it's interesting being involved with the old naca during the formation periods because naca, obviously, was a group of engineer, basically. they didn't have a litical type administrator. but what a fresh breath he was. he knew which court to play. had a great package. men in space. and he played as well.
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really did. a great favor and certainly responding so quickly and rapidly to kennedy's decision to go to the moon. he did a good job. but as i said before, they came to him with a technical. at least, he had some engineering. >> oh, i like bob. i really did. he's been in the aviation business are forever. and being right there at langly, seeing him and what he had done.
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just a remarkable decision and i always appreciate him with me on the first flights. i asked him several times over the years and he's always said you were the right men at the right time. i'm sure he was personally involved in that process.
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>> might have been someone else that qualified better but he did not change his mind. so, he's one of my heroes. >> i like this. you know, i guess we were closer in the early days. and i think i felt perhaps closest to him and you can see the decision he went through. you knew he was not making any [ inaudible ] decisions.
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he thought through. >> didn't really know joe that well. never really worked directly with him. and that was when george came along later. warner was an interesting guy. we never were together too much. remember we had dinner at his house and we went to the hill side where they built their own observatory and took a look at the moon. through a telescope.
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what is the prime mover? >> i think his entire life had been and was deds kated to aviation and space. he basically was an engineer. i think he had been involved in political aspects in germany where maybe it was a matter of survival and i think he dealt with the public more easily than guru's did.
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came more naturally for him. as a result, i think in the final analysis, the general public knew more about braun than him. but those are a lot more to deal with. maybe he felt the same way we did. yes, it was a great idea. but he might have been concerned a little about the schedule. that may have been the reason. i don't know. and what are some of the worst things that happened
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[ inaudible ] the worst thing? >> obviously being grounded is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. >> when you were running the front office, what was the most difficult thing you ran into there? do you remember anything being particularly difficult? >> i think that -- let me say that, while i was head of the office, it was my responsibility of a very enthusiastic,
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dedicated, motivated bunch of guys. there was jealousy in the ranks. or support position. and there were instances where harsh discussions were made. so, to straighten things out, said look, deek and i rang this program and this is the way it's going to be ran and we're sorry. but eventually you'll be treated fairly. and some weren't but a small percentage. >> what do you think now about
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life magazine? good, bad, or indifferent? you don't have to answer that if you don't need to. >> i don't know. with are respect to the contract with life magazine, i think there was a little ambivalence. first, i was attracted to it because it provided controlled access the press. especially personal things. how do you feel about your husband going to space and that
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sort of thing. none of us had been involved in any of that sort of pub lishty or in the early days, it was bothersome. i think in the start, it appeared to be a way to get around that. continue to be welcome. from that point of view. but then the criticism came about the amount of money involved. i think all in all, we came out about even. half the people thought it was a good deal and half thought it was a bad deal. >> would you change any of
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nasa's current practices? >> that's a very difficult question for me to answer because i'm not involved in the process anymore. i think one has to look at the flights being made, at the performance of the crew. i would say they're running a good ship a successful program. there have been, obviously, no errors which have resulted in loss of life.
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these are the kind of things to indicate to me they're doing a pretty good job. >> i can't remember a single case of disasters by pilot error. of course, today, they're into the broad gambit. women, scientists, etc. >> when you consider the fact that -- well, i suppose if you say you're still doing basic research into the operating of a shuttle as a shell of the vehicle, it's probably not true anymore. probably reached the upper eight in the stage. >> or pretty close to it.
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recently, 26 -- [ inaudible ] a remarkable thing. >> yes. their operational growth but still remarkable record. >> i've asked an awful lot of questions from my own point of view. it seems it's high time we let you say anything, whatever hasn't been asked. >> it's been a great part of my life to be involved in space program. and even before that as a navy test pilot. had really exciting, satisfying jobs.
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but i guess i would have to say it's been a distinct pleasure to be involved in the space program and specifically being allowed to make recognizable, spectacular, lucky missions. i think the thing that has impressed me the most about the whole nasa process is is at the you take a look at a group of civilian engineers and scientists. that have to work with contractors and work with somebody else. also has to work with the military because you have military involved. and things have really turned
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out remarkably well. now, there have been some heated discussions. between the advantages of manned space flight and unmanned space flight. there's a part of nasa totally dedicated to unmanned space flight. there have been noted discussions and particularly in the opinion. between the engineers on space flight who would liking to automate anything, the pilots, that is. but you know, in the final analysis, i can't remember any of these decisions that were made over judgment. always seemed they're hesitant
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and still are discussions to be going on to get the best possible answer. when you take a look at the nasa organization, 1958/1959, nobody would have thought what it has done over the years. nobody would have thought that the computers, which took us to the moon and back, were the forerunners of today's chip and technologies. because in the money and effort that nasa spent back in the '60s. sure, we would have computers no question about it. but we wouldn't have advanced, wouldn't be in the position we are today without that tremendous slip that nasa had. in the -- satellites.
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incredible information flowing back. all springing from the nasa organization. it's remarkable what the organization has done and it's still doing. just a great process. >> let the record show that commercial was totally unsolicited. those are allen shepherd's own thoughts. allen -- >> you didn't have to apologize. >> i'm not apologizing. i'm just making sure somebody watching this knows very well, that was pure allen and not nasa instigating. >> i wouldn't accuse you of that. >> but this is a nasa tape we're making and those watching it know that came out of the blue and it's pure you. that's all. >> well, it's the truth. >> thank you very much. it's been a real pleasure.
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>> think you got enough, huh? >> well, if we didn't, maybe we can do it again some time. >> all right. >> washington unfiltered. c-span in your pocket. download c-span now today. en who
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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 bunchf


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