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tv   Oral Histories Mercury Seven Astronaut Alan Shepard  CSPAN  November 9, 2021 6:00pm-7:32pm EST

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southeast asia, the story of south vietnam's price for freedom and the better life for all. >> watch the full program and many more at c-span.org/history. next, on american history tv, mercury seven astronaut alan shepard talks about the earliest days of the space program and
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his nasa career. as apollo 14 commander, he was the fifth man to walk on the moon. he was interviewed on february 20th, 1998, five months before his death from leukemia. this interview is part of the nasa johnson space center's oral history collection. >> alan, thank you for letting us be here with you to do this oral history. >> it's a pleasure, sir. it's a pleasure. >> let's begin kind of not at the beginning, because there was a beginning before this, but does the date 9 april 1959 mean anything to you? >> it was one of the happiest days of my life. that was the day which we all congregated officially at the u.s. first astronaut group. we had been through a selection
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process obviously, previous to that time, but that was the day we first showed up officially as the first astronauts of the united states back in langley field, virginia. >> why langley, i wonder? >> well, of course, naca had become nasa in a great big hurried turnaround, as you recall. and the program of astronauts selection and training basically was run by the people who worked from langry, originally. of course, we all reported into washington. that was where the initiation, the introduction, and the pre-selection, and all of that sort of routine went on, and then as you know, we had physical elsewhere in the country, but once the selection was made, of course, we reported
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to those people at langry 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. >> why was it that nasa decided to pick test pilots of all things to fly the first space 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.
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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, i don't think, were in a position where they probably could have competed with the varied background of test flying, which most of us had. 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 so let's go to the military and see what they have to offer. now, whether eisenhower himself was involved in the decision,
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apparently the white house was to some degree. >> of course, you were named. when first you sized up those teammates of yours, i wonder what your first reactions were to the group. >> well, i wondered first of all where these six incompetent guys came from. 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 our 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.
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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 there was this very strong sense of competition. >> 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.
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but all of a sudden realizing 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 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
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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. but that was part of my life, was the challenge. here you had, yes, a new environment, but for fighter pilots who fly upside down a lot of the time, zero gravity wasn't that big a deal. now, of course none of us, being 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
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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 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,
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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 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
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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 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
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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? can you describe your steps that led up to it? >> we had been in training for probably 20 months or so, toward the end of early '61, when we all intuitively felt that pretty soon bob had to make a decision as to who was going to make the first flight. 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. in one office. we had seven desks around in the hangar in langley field. bob walked in, closed the door,
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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 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.
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well, there i am, looking at six faces looking at me. and feeling of course totally elated that i had won the competition. but yet almost immediately afterwards feeling sorry for my buddies, because there they were, i mean, they were trying just as hard as i was. and it was a very poignant moment because they all came over, shook my hand, and pretty soon i was the only guy left in the room. >> 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.
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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 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
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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. 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.
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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 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
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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 that because you've got wires all over your body, it will 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
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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. obviously their objectives, their capabilities for orbital flight were greater than ours at 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.
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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 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,
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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 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 of that came out in public. it was always, you know, sort of a joint decision.
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>> 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. admiral 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 there and just let me stay until something ran out, until the batteries ran down or until the oxygen ran out or until 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
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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, 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?
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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 a possibility we could make another long duration mercury flight, maybe two, 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 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
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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 called meniere's, due to fluid pressure in the inner 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.
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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? 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
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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 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?
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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, run the surgery. 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 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 finally said, yes, all the tests show that you no longer are affected by this meniere's disease.
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so there i was, having made the right decision. >> i think we better backtrack a little because obviously this is going to bring you into direct discussion about a fellow named deke slayton. we haven't established the fact that deke, like you, was knocked out of flying. let's go back over that, because that happened in the mercury days when deke was getting ready to fly. i wonder when you first heard -- >> deke had already been assigned to follow john. >> right. and suddenly he got bumped from his mercury flight. that was a heart condition, wasn't it? >> yeah. there was a lot of controversy about that, because it was a heart murmur or a palpitation, some irregularity. but one which was not obvious. i mean, it was not a continuous kind of thing. it was not as if he was getting ready for cardiac arrest or anything like that.
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it was just occasionally he would have a little twitch down there. >> a real blow. i wonder what your reaction was to it at the time and if you can give us a little 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 slaten had been chosen to make the second orbital mission after glenn. when he had that little heart murmur. as i say, it wasn't anything real noticeable. i mean, it wasn't continuous. it showed up once in a while, but he made the medics very nervous, and even after really exhaustive tests showed that it was not repetitive to the point where it would have interfered with the mission, there was
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still a sense of, well, we just can't take a chance on anything on the hardware or the astronauts. so he was grounded. flat grounded. and at that point, the feeling of competitiveness was deke turned into one of camaraderie. one of feeling sorry for him. a sense of, you know, let's get you back on the schedule, old buddy, somehow. because you really felt sorry for him. at that point. because he no longer was competitive. but on the other hand, to have a guy in that position, knowing how tough, how tough that could be to him. so he was grounded. obviously, the benefit for us
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was to have somebody one of us who could immediately become a spokesman because he had decided to stay on. i think he had resigned as air force reserve at that point. not sure. but i think so. anyway, somebody who could speak for the group, and not, you know, have to worry about some of the ins and outs of training. so it was an obvious advantage having him as a leader and as a spokesman of the group. >> and so he became, what, chief of the astronaut office? what was his title? >> well, i think, yeah, sort of chief of the astronaut office. >> that's a job that eventually you wound up with by title. >> yeah, well, things would change around of course. >> once you get into gemini, all of a sudden, there were two of the seven that had been grounded. deke and al, what a team.
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how did it come about that you wound up becoming chief of the astronaut office while deke by this time had assumed quite some power as head of astronaut affairs? >> well, as i had indicated earlier, i decided to fight to stay with nasa, and during the time period when i was grounded, i could become very, very useful in the astronaut training business. and i suppose that we really had grown, if you consider the number of chaps that were involved in the simulators, for example, in the suiting procedures, taking care of the suits and so on, direct supporting facilities for the astronauts, there are really quite a number of people involved, so they decided to
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make it a separate division. deke was the head of that division, and i was given the job specifically of the care and feeding of these astronauts, in charge of their training, helping deke with crew assignments, that sort of thing. >> was it deke primarily that got you the job, or was it just the fact that you had all the qualifications? how did that work? >> well, i think it was just -- it was just a matter of saying what do we need? when i became grounded and informed nasa i was going to stay there, then we had two guy s that really could have either one of us could have done the job. one little difference, i think perhaps, that i knew i was going
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to somehow, something was going to happen with me. i was either going to get the ear fixed or i was gone. with deke, i think that he was more or less resigned at that stage to the heart murmur business. and the medics would keep giving him a bad time about that. so i think it was really that deke probably was more of a long-term commitment than in my particular case. so i think that's really why, really going on what we established. and we just talked it over, and they sort of agreed that was a good selection. >> you two had quite a reputation for running a very tight ship. >> well, of course, deke and i were both mad because we were grounded.
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we had both been training as astronauts. we knew where every skeleton was in the whole process. and we just wouldn't let those guys get away with anything. i mean, we knew what they had to do. we knew how they had to do it. if they weren't 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 icy commander or some friendly term like that. >> steely eyed. >> oh, yeah. we knew where all the skeletons were. >> knowing that, in a very peculiar way from a nasa point of view, perhaps it was for the betterment of the space program, but you and deke both were doing what you were doing at the time that you were doing it. you ever think of that? >> well, i think certainly there
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was for coordination, there was need for representation at the executive level. other chaps could have done the job perhaps equally as well, or perhaps even better. but it seemed like -- it seemed like we turned out some pretty good crews. >> i don't think anybody could fault your selection of crews, alan, all the way through the gemini program and finally on into apollo, and it was during the time of apollo by which time you had finally located through stafford's minadministrations as you described earlier, a way to treat the munear's syndrome in los angeles. and sudsuddenly, the skies open again for alan shepard? or did they? you had to get back into the program, didn't you? >> well, of course, when nasa finally said i could fly again,
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i went to deke and said, we have not announced publicly the crew assignment for apollo 13. i have a recommendation to make. and i had picked two bright young guys, one of them a ph.d. and one of them a heck of a lot smarter than i was. and made up a team to go for an apollo flight. and i said, i would like to recommend that i get apollo 13, with stu as command and mitchell as command pilot. deke said, i don't know. let's try it out. so we sent it to washington. and they said, oh, no way. wait a minute, shepard has to be
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at least as smart as the rest of the guys, maybe smarter. they said, well, we know that, but it's a real public relations problem. here this guy had gotten bounded, and boom, he gets premier flight assignment. so the discussion went on for several days. finally said, all right, we'll make a deal. we'll let him have apollo 14. give us another crew for apollo 13. and so that's what happened. >> oh, and did it ever. because suddenly, apollo 13 on its way to the moon ran into huge problems. i wonder what you thought when the problem developed and what did you do during that time period? >> well, of course, the immediate thought was, how do weget these guys back? obviously, right from the start, it was the end of a landing mission. no question about that.
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but it was interesting to see the entire system, the entire system being fleshed out, being made to come back with any kind of a recommendation. and of course, chris craft and gene crans were the guys who held everybody together on this thing and said, look, we have got to find a way to bring these boys back. failure is not an option. and as you well know, the whole system was vibrating. and any corner of the manufacturing processes, the vendoring processes, nasa's people, everybody was working toward a solution for this problem. and as it turned out, it was more than one solution. i mean, several different areas of engineering had to be
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addressed and corrected. and i think that it's probably nasa's finest hour when you think about it. i think that certainly from a pilot's point of view, it was just as an important event as stepping on the moon on apollo 11. >> you had the next flight. did you approach it with fear, trepidation? or did you approach it with the knowledge that we're probably going to make a good flight out of it thanks to what we learned from apollo 13? which was it? >> i think that people have -- i know people have expressed the opinion that it might have been a little more dangerous to fly in apollo 14 than it would have been had there not been apollo
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13. but recognize that almost a total redesign had to be done. not necessarily redesign, but a total reassessment of the package had to be done to find out specifically why the thing blew and to fix that, to look for similar situations throughout the service module. but again, to reassess the whole scheme of things. you know, in missions like that where you're in basic research, there are always decisions along the way that, well, maybe we should fix this particular piece of equipment because the chances it might fail are 1 out of 100, and on the other hand, it's only a small part of a huge process
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scheduled to go at a certain time, and if this fails, we have the crew to back up. there's always these little decisions to be made. obviously, part of the process of apollo 13 had to be to go over those decisions again now that we have a time to make some corrections of these 1 in 100 chances of failure. and of course, several were made in addition to the corrections of the basic problem. so there's a feeling of security. and we were obviously part of that process. >> by that time, too, i had forgotten you had been through the trauma of apollo 1. and the fire and the redesign of that. let's go back over that for a moment or two. >> talk about feelings. yeah. >> because that must have been a tough one. >> well, of course, apollo 1 came as a real shock. no question about it.
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it came as a shock because it was unexpected. and i'll get into the reasons for it being unexpected a little bit later, but to lose a crew in a ground test, i mean, it's still sitting there on the ground. to lose a crew who really woke everybody up, and that was important because all of us, every single one of us, and deke and i discussed this, unfortunately after the fact, but we were a part of a group that had gone through mercury, gone through gemini, manned, we're leading, beating the russians. you know, nothing can go wrong. and it led to a sense of false security, no question about it.
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deke and i remember talking about, gus would come back, and he had a complaint about this. he said this is the worst spacecraft i have ever seen. complained about that, and of course, he was complaining to engineers as well as to deke and to me. but deke and i insidiously became part of the problem because we said, okay, gus. go ahead, make a list of this stuff. and we'll see that it's fixed by the time you fly. not that we'll see that it's fixed before they stick you back in there for a test where you're using 100% oxygen. see, there was that sense of security, sense of complacency that everyone, including myself and including deke. i think some people felt that sense of responsibility, neglect, bad decisions more than
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others. and were personally affected by it more than others. but i don't believe more than just a few hard heads that didn't feel in the long run that they were part of the problem. >> as it worked out, perhaps because of apollo 1, apollo went on to be a hugely successful series of flights. >> i don't think there's any question about the fact that the apollo 1 fire did shape up the whole system. did make people realize that they had been too complacent. that they were overconfident. and a result in the total redesign of many parts of the spacecraft, and i'm sure contributed to what was a very highly successful, you know, we're still basic researchers. we're still putting people on the moon, and you do it six
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times, and you only miss once. i mean, that's incredible. >> and the one time you got the people back. let's go back in time a little bit more to some of the oldest history. you were really there when the flight to the moon was born. wasn't that right about the time following your first very successful suborbital mission? tell us about it. >> well, you know, it's an interesting thought. and i have heard it expressed a few times. that's that the decisions jack kennedy made to go to the moon was made after we only had 15 minutes of total space flight time. a lot of people chuckle and say sure, but the fact of the matter is that that is true. and this is how it happened. we were invited back to washington after, and i got in
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and i saw a medal from the president. and which, by the way, he dropped. i don't know whether 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 as the president made his speech and said i now present you a medal, and he turned around, and webb leaned forward and the thing slid off the box and went to the deck. and kennedy and i both bent over for it. i was -- we almost banged heads. kennedy made it first. and he said, damn yankee accident, he said, here stafford, i'll give you this medal, it comes from the ground up. jackie is sitting there, she's
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mortified. she said jack, pin it on him. he then recovered to the point where he pinned the medal on and everything was fine. we had a big laugh out of that, but originally, louise and i were asupposed to proceed to the congress after the white house ceremony, and then we had a reception and leave town, but jack said no, i want you to come back to the white house. have a meeting, and let's talk about your flight. so we had the reception at the hill. go back in the oval office, there were the heads of nasa there. and the heads of the government, jack, of course, was there, lyndon johnson was there. and a picture of me sitting on the sofa, jack is in a rocking chair. and i'm telling him how i was flying the spacecraft, and he's leaning forward, listening intently to this thing.
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we talked about the details of the flight, specifically how man had responded and reacted to being able to work in a space environment. and toward the end of the conversation, he said to the nasa people, what are we doing next? what are our plans? and they said, well, there were a couple guys over in the corner talking about maybe going to the moon. he said, i want a briefing. just three weeks after that mission, 15 minutes in space, when kennedy made his announcement. folks, we're going to the moon, and we're going to do it within this decade. after 15 minutes of face time. now, you don't think he was excited? you don't think he was a space cadet? absolutely. absolutely. people say, well, he made the announcement because he had
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problems with the bay of pigs, his popularity was going down. not true. not true. when glenn finished his mission, glenn, grissom, and i flew with jack back from west palm to washington for glenn's ceremony. the four of us sat in his cabin and we talked about what gus had done, we talked about what john had done, we talked about what i had done, all the way back. people would come in with papers to be signed. he said don't worry, we'll get those when we get back to washington. the entire flight, i tell you, he was really, really a space cadet, and too bad he could not have lived to see his promise. >> when he first made that announcement, what was your personal reaction? >> oh, we were delighted. we were delighted, but there was a little bit of a gulp in there because he put a time cap on the deal. don't think that any of us thought we would be able to make
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it within -- that was 1961 -- within 8 1/2 years. but anyway. delighted, but a little bit, well, maybe the president is a little enthusiastic. >> finally got up to that point where we were into apollo. and what was your choice, you and deke. what was your best bet as to which would be the first flight to make a manned landing on the moon? >> well, i suppose that we felt the schedule as it was laid out after we rescheduled the apollo 8 mission, i think that we felt that the missions 9 and 10 adequately, adequately demonstrated the lunar module's
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capabilities, that we really deep down inside felt that we could make it. we had a very good possibility of making it on the first try. >> and of course, you did. >> of course, we did. >> and then along came 14. we were just at about that point i think when we changed tapes a while back. because now you had picked your team. and you had sweat out apollo 13, and you were ready to fly. must have been a big moment when you were waiting for takeoff. >> well, i think that, in retrospect, the obvious advantage here was that apollo 13 gave us more time to train, no question about it. not that we would not have had enough, but it gave us a little higher level of comfort with that extra training time.
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i think obviously the changes to the spacecraft were good ones. not only the changes which related directly to the explosion but others that were made as well. there was a lot of confidence, as i said, i picked a couple of bright guys to go along with me. and it was really a lot of confidence. gene, of course, was my backup. the funny story about cernan, we were at the point, i think, we're approximately four or five days away from liftoff, scheduled liftoff. we were all in quarantine, of course, at that time, we had to do 21 days before, 21 days after
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routine because of the bugs and stuff. and cernan was out early in the morning flying helicopters, because we all -- the commanders used helicopters to train. and the last few hundred feet of the landing. we're having breakfast, and we knew gene was out flying a helicopter. all of a sudden, the door opens and in walks cernan. he is absolutely covered with soot. he's got scars on his face. we said, cernan, what happened? he had been flying the helicopter over the river, which was absolutely calm that early in the morning, like a mirror, and he had been distracted by something or other because he was looking at the land instead of the water, and he flew that helicopter right into the water,
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nosed over, blades all over the place. tail rotor blades all over the place. fire, because the tanks, the gas tanks are saddle tanks on that dinky little chopper. they split. there was fuel all over the place. cernan is going down like this. and of course, being a good navy trained pilot, he knew how to cope with being underwater, so he got out and he swam to the top and realized he was on fire, so he splashed around like this and took a big deep breath and swam a while and came up and splashed around some more and swam around. finally got out of the smoke and flames and all that stuff. somebody -- somebody had seen the crash, obviously, and the river, not that big of a deal, but he came on the shore. came out, and there he was. and just totally bedraggled. he looks at me as my backup
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pilot and said okay, shepard, you win. you get to go. >> alan, on the moon. you have gotten there on apollo 14. and i wonder what the feelings were. >> let me tell you the story about how i got there? >> yes, of course. >> well, actually, the flight had gone extremely well. we had one or two problems, docking problem earlier. a problem with something floating around in the abort switch, which closed, made it as if we were pushing the abort switch closed. all these were taken care of. now we're on the way down, flying up on our backs like this, with the engine pointing that way, slowing down, getting gradually more steeper and more steeper. we had a ruling that the computer had to be updated by the landing radar.
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the reason being is if you're on your back, obviously you can't see the ground, you can't see the mountains, you can't see the rocks. we had a rule saying if the landing radar is not updating the computer by the time you're down at a level of about 13,000 feet, then you have to abort. you have to get out of there. well, the landing radar wasn't working. and so they call us up and say your landing radar is not working. we said thank you very much. we're aware of that. then a little bit further on, they said you know what the ground rule is about aborting if you're not 13,000 feet. yeah, we knew that. finally, some bright young man over in the corner said, hey, the landing radar is working, but it's locked up on infinity. have them pull the switch and reset it. see if it works. so we pulled the circuit breaker, put it back in, and
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sure enough. the landing radar came in shortly after that, i think we got cleared to land, and sort of a, man, that was close, kind of routine. as soon as we pitched over there, i had seen it hundreds of times from the scale model. came on down. made a very, very soft landing. as a matter of fact, soft enough so that even though we landed in a slight crater like this, the uphill leg didn't crush like it was supposed to. we had crushable material on the landing. so perfect landing. shutting off the switches and ed mitchell turned to me sxdz alan, what was your going to do if the landing radar wasn't working by 13,000 feet? i looked at him and said, ed, you'll never know.
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i would have gone down. oh, yeah. i had come that far. you see, ed, for example, had not been in a simulator, landing simulator at all. it was my job to land. i had done hundreds of these things. i knew if i could see the surface, man, i could get down, maybe not exactly where we were supposed to, but i could get down close to it. >> so you would have made the landing under any circumstance. >> i would have at least, at least been able to take a visual look. i would have pitched over, taken a visual look, and then made a decision. decision. >> fair enough. >> mission accomplished. tell me about what you did as he remembered? >> of course the first feeling
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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
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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 is a feeling that everyone has had, expressed in one fashion or another. but that was an overwhelming feeling. seeing the beauty of the planet, on the one hand, but the fragility of it, on the other.
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>> shortly after that golden moment, you decided to play a little golf. >> [laughs] sure. i didn't decide to play a little golf. that is a long story. i will not tell the whole story. >> tell us what you think might be all right. but it is a very famous story. i'm sure a lot of people would like to hear your version. well -- well, as you know, so far i'm the only person to have hit a golf ball on the moon. probably will be for sometime. and being a golfer, i was intrigued, before the flight by the fact that the ball would go six times as far, with the same club. it's time a flight -- i
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won't say say stay in the air, it's time of flight will be six times as long. it will not curve. because there is no atmosphere to make a slide. and i thought, well in the place to whack a golf ball. well, when i went to bob and told him i want to hit a couple golf balls, he said, absolutely no way. i explained, it wasn't a regular golf club, it was a handle with a scoop on the end. to scoop up samples of dust with. and that was already up there. and we had a club, which i had adapted to snap on its handle. and to golf ball's, for which i paid, to golf balls on the club, no expense to the
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taxpayer. and the thing that finally came in spot was, i said, i will make a deal with you. if we have screwed up, if we have had equipment failures, anything has gone wrong on the surface, where you are embarrassed or we are embarrassed, i will not do it. i will not be so frivolous. i want to wait till the very end of the mission. stand in front of the television camera. whack these golf balls with this makeshift club, roll it up, stick it in my pocket, climb up the ladder, close the door, and we are gone. so he said, okay. and that's the way it happened. >> in full view of a huge worldwide audience of people, who have never forgotten, to this day, that allen shepard is the guy who played golf on the moon.
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>> it was designed to be a fun thing. fortunately, it is still a fun thing. a club, a makeshift club is with the u.s. air museum. and there's been absolutely no commercialism tried. well, there's been no commercialism. one company tried to say it was their golf ball, we took them off very quickly. so it's been a totally fun thing. >> and still is. now some general questions, because i guess we better get you back. you close the hatch and you came back. and after that it wasn't too long before you decided to ride with nasa. you moved on to weather field. as you would call it, the only scheduled missions. these high line missions. the soviet joint mission, with
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the soviets, putting in [inaudible] finally got a shot at it. >> we were so pleased, we were so pleased. bless his heart. can you imagine having to learn and speak russian to go into space? i mean, that is above and beyond the call of duty. but he did it. i'm not sure the russians understood him. [laughs] but he did it. we were so pleased. >> i remember him here with me on television. when the landing was accomplished and we were thinking, my, stafford, you all look great. little did we know, do -- i remember after the fact, they had inhaled something or another. i believe it was vapor's.
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and the pilot. they were in kind of bad shape for a while. i don't know if there was a leak or what happened. you will have to look that up. we will forget it now because obviously it's not important. anyway. okay, general thoughts then. john glen is about to fly again. you are about the same age. i wonder what your thoughts are about john flying. >> john is a couple years older than i am. but i've been saying for years, that the taxpayers didn't get their money's worth out of glen. he made one flight and immediately went into the congress. and as a taxpayer, i objected to that, i've been telling john this for years and years. i called him up the other day after the announcement and i said, john,
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i'm glad you are going to give me more than one flight with my tax dollars. i think it's good, quite frankly. i obviously, there are a lot of things about how weightlessness treats individuals. but persons reactions to weightlessness is a function to the amount of exercise or lack thereof, general physical conditioning. and the kind of things that one really needs to know. and the more that you find out, the better shape you will be in. so there's a good data point. he thinks he's in good shape and he probably is. but his bones are more brittle. and i'm sure that there will be some lessons learned. even just during that short period of time.
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looking at his general physical condition. before and after. i think it's a good thing and i think we will learn something from it. >> do you think you will like to fly again? >> of course i would. of course i would. unfortunately i'm not in the top of health at the moment. >> you've talked some here about nasa, but i'd like to run a little list with, even evaluation on some of the people we've been talking about, four example, jim webb. doing the. >> it was interesting, being involved with the old aca and then nasa. because naca was obviously a group of engineers, basically.
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they didn't have a political type of administrator. but when web came along, i mean, what a fresh breath he was. he knew all the ins and outs of washington. he knew which cords to play not that he was a lobbyist, by any sense of the imagination. you didn't have to be. he had a great practice. men in space. and he played well and he did a great favor and certainly responding. the candidates had a really surprising decision to go to the moon and he did a good job. jim did a good job but as i said before we came to him with the technical requesting got turned down. so at least we had some
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engineering knowledge somewhere. >> dog you [inaudible] >> i liked bob, i really did. because bob had been shot -- forever. and being there at langley, seeing him, not every day, but seeing him frequently art. and talking with people who had been with him due, in the old naca days and what he had done, just a remarkable gentlemen. and i think that he was really sort of a hands on guy too and i obviously appreciated his decision to let me do the first flight. but he never told me why he made that decision. i
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asked him several times over the years and he always said, well, you are the right man at the right time. but i'm sure that he was very personally involved in that selection process. there were some suggestions from some of the folks in the program. that maybe he made a mistake with the decision and it might have been someone else who qualified better but he did not change his mind. so he's one of my heroes. >> how about chris? >> i like chris. i do, i liked chris. you know, i guess we
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were, really, closer, in the early days, when he was a flight director, in that little building down there at the cape. i think i felt much closer to him. you could see the decision-making process that he went through. you know that he was not making any sloppy decisions. they had been very well thought through. >> george? >> i don't know george that well. i never really worked directly with him as you know, at that particular stage in the game, george came along a little later. and actually, deke worked with him more than i did. >> how about warner? >> warner was an interesting guy. never work together too much, but i do remember, and
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i'm sure the rest of the original seven, had dinner with his house one night, and then we went to a hillside. . and we look at the moon through a telescope. and he showing what the moon looks like. >> and it seemed strange for the public at large? one of the prime movers? i wonder what your reaction would be? >> i think that that is true. i think that his entire life was head thin and dedicated to aviation and space. and he basically was an engineer.
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i think that, perhaps, van braun, who is obviously an engineer, and i think that he had been involved in political aspects over in germany. maybe it was a matter of survival. i think he dealt with the public more easily then others did. it came more naturally to him. as a result, i think, in the final analysis, the general public knew more about him, than they did about others. but, those of us on the inside, particularly of the manned space aspect, i think, a lot more to go route. >> he was really a salesman of ideas, he was outselling the concept of the lunar mission.
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>> i think so. he almost felt he had to. maybe he felt the same way we did? yes, it was a great idea, but he might have been concerned a little bit with the pressure of the schedule. that may have been the reason. i don't know. >> here's one that comes out of the gang in houston. what were some of the worst things that happened? >> the worst? [laughs] well, obviously, this is no fault of the system, but being grounded was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. >> when you are running the astronaut office, what was the most difficult thing you ran into there? do you remember
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anything being as particularly difficult during that time in office? >> i think that -- let me say, well i was head of the astronaut office, that it was my responsibility, the care, and the feeding, of a very enthusiastic, very intelligent, and very dedicated, motivated, bunch of guys. there were jealousies in the ranks. people being jealous of so-and-so, being particularly chosen for flight, or a backup position, and there were instances where harsh decisions were taken, so as to straighten things out,
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and say, look, we run this program. this is the way it will be run. we are sorry. but, eventually, you'll be treated fairly. there were some who still thought they weren't, but a small percentage. hopefully. looking back on it, or do you think now about the life magazine contract? would you think of that? good, bad, indifferent? >> [laughs] >> you don't have to answer that one if you so choose. >> well, i don't know, it's ...
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>> with respect to the contract we had for life magazine, i think there was some ambivalence there. first, what attracted to us, it provided controlled access to the press. especially on personal things. and personal relationships within the household. personal feelings. wives. how did you feel about your husband going into space, that sort of thing. none of us had been involved in any sort of publicity or recognition before. >> in the early days, it got to be a little bothersome. i think, at the start, it appeared to be a way to get around that. so, it seemed to be welcomed, from that point of view. but then,
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the criticism came, and the amount of money involved. so, i think, all in all, we came out about even. [laughs] half the people thought it was a good ideal, half the people thought it was a bad deal. i think somebody in houston is looking for information with this next one. >> would you change any of nasa's current practices and selecting, training, or assigning space cruise? >> that's a difficult question to answer. i am not involved in that process anymore. i think one has to look at the flights which are being made, and the performance of the crews. the number of delays because of
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mechanical problems, that sort of thing. using these criteria, i would say, they are running a good ship. i would say, they are running a successful program. there has been, obviously, no errors which have resulted in loss of life. they have used the crew to control many problems. a remarkable repair of the hubble telescope. that was some years ago, but, these are the kinds of things that indicate, to me, that they are doing a good job. >> i'm thinking now, i can't remember a single case of disaster occasion by pilot error. that speaks pretty well for the group, doesn't it? >> yes. >> of course, they're now into
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other things than pilots. they have a gamut of flight crews. women scientists, payload specialists. >> when you consider the fact they are still -- well, i suppose, if you say you are still doing basic research into the operation of the shuttle as a shell, as a vehicle, that's probably not true anymore. you probably reached the operational stage. >> recently, i guess, it was the columbia's 26th mission, the columbia space fact. a remarkable circumstance. >> a good operation overall, but still, that's a remarkable record. >> i've asked an awful lot of questions, both from my own point of view in, those in houston. seems to me, it's high time, we let you say anything you would like, if there's something we haven't asked that should have been asked. if so, fire for effect.
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>> of course, it's been a great part of my life to be involved in the space program. and even before that, as a navy test pilot. i had some really exciting, satisfying, jobs. but i guess, i would have to say, it has been a distinct pleasure to have been involved in the space program, specifically. being allowed to make a couple of very recognizable, spectacular, lucky missions. i think the thing that has impressed me the most about the whole nasa process, is that it has worked, so well, over the
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years. you take a group of engineers, and scientists, that have to work with contracts paid, and work with somebody else. you also have to work with the military, because the of military involved, and the things that have really turned out remarkably well. there have been some heated discussions between the advantages of manned spaceflight, and unmanned spaceflight. there are parts of nasa, as you know, totally, dedicated to unmanned spaceflight. there have been some noted discussions, and differences of opinion, between
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the engineers on space flights who would like to automate everything, and leave the pilots out of it. but, you know, in the final analysis, i cannot remember any of these decisions that were made with an absolute hard over judgment. it always seems to me, that there always has been, and still are, discussions going on to get the best possible answer. if you 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, would be the forerunners of today's chips, and today's technologies. because of the
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money, and effort, that nasa spent in the sixties. sure, we would have computers, no question, but we wouldn't have advanced, or have been in the position we are in today. without the tremendous impetus that nasa had into making the computers. satellites. incredible data information for satellites. all springing from nasa. it's remarkable what the organization has done. it's just a great process. >> that commercial was totally unsolicited. i'm just making that for the record. alan --
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>> you don't have to, apologize >> i'm not apologizing. and making sure that those watching this, full well, know that that was purely you and, not me instigating a brand deal. >> i wouldn't accuse you of that. roy. >> no, but i just want to make sure that it is being understood. that's all. >> well, it's the truth. >> thank you very much. it's been a pleasure. >> thank you very much. >> if we don't, we will let the powers that be tell us that we ought to come back into it again sometimes. >> all right. ♪ ♪ ♪
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in the 1998 bbc interview, while reagan talked about his work after taking office to restore the economy, his vision for u.s. soviet relations an arms control, the iran contra controversy and the assassination attempt that left him seriously wounded. here's a portion of this interview. >> what were you just going to ask? i was going to ask you about the days that you were shot. mister president, that was one of the solidified -- that you mentioned. i think it's a crucial thing. the only unique thing, i got
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all the way to the and i'm having trouble breathing and i didn't know i was shot. and throwing me into the car. i thought he had broken a rib. and then when i started to split blood -- >> that's amazing. and when were you first aware that it happened? >> when they got my clothes peeled off. including cutting off a suit that i was wearing, iran new suit. they found the wound. under my arm. the bullet had hit me there. and i was not aware of it. what had happened was that the bullet went off the side of the car. and it went through the space between the door, and caught me right here.
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she's involuntary served in the u.s. house of representatives through 97 as a republican from new york. coming up next, the daughter of congressman guy molinari talks about a series of -- office of the historian you conducted this interview. >> my name is kathleen johnson, and i'm with the head historian. the date is january 8th, 2016, we are in the house recording studio. and i'm pleased to be speaking with former presented, susan molinari from new york. >> i'm pleased to be part of this project. so this project that we are working on is to celebrate and recognize the election of jeannette rankin to congress, the first woman. we have many questions who want to ask you today. but, first, off when you were young, did you have any female role models?

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