tv Oral Histories Mercury Seven Astronaut Alan Shepard CSPAN October 14, 2021 5:52pm-7:23pm EDT
marissa? >> right into u.s. government. >> certainly communist infiltration. >> brainwashing of korean p.o.w.s. >> brainwashing. very good. this is very much playing on two simultaneous fears bubbling up in the 1950s. that the communists are infiltrating through this kind of mind control ideas. and pairing that with this fear of extraterrestrial threats well. >> watch the rest of this class and our entire library online at our website c-span.org/history. simply click on the lectures in history tab on the home page. alan shepard, pebble beach, california. you can't see the magnificent view, because we blacked it out. allan thank you for letting us
be here to do this oral history. >> it is a pleasure, sir. it is a pleasure. >> and 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? >> well, of course that was one of the happiest days of my life. that was the day in which we all congregated officially as the u.s. first astronaut group. we had been through a selection process, obviously previous to that time. but that was the day we first showed up officially as the first astronauts of the united states, back at langley field, virginia. >> why langley, i wonder. >> well, of course, naca had become nasa and a great big hurried turn around as you recall. and the program of astronauts
selection and training basically was run by the people who worked from langley. originally of course we all reported into washington. that was where the initiation and the introduction, the preselection, all of that sort of routine went on and then as you know we had physicals elsewhere in the country. but once the selection was made, of course we reported to those people at langley field. which was kind of neat for me because i was already stationed in norfolk in a job which i didn't 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. but, so it was a really easy trip for us. we just didn't even have to move. >> your journey to get there took you through test pilot school, took you through combat
experience. a little bit of everything, didn't it? >> mm-hmm. >> why did they decide to pick test pilots of all things to fly the first space mission? >> well, i think that it was an immediate realization that we had essentially a new product. it didn't look very much like an airplane. but it 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-new strange 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. 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, well, yeah, we need a test pilot. we agreed to that. naca, nasa now didn't have very many test pilots so let's go to the military and see what they have to offer. whether eisenhower himself was involved in the decision, apparently the white house was to some degree. >> well, it is of course, your name. and when first you sized up those teammates of yours, i wonder what your first reactions were to the group? >> well, i wanted to wondered where the six incompetent guys came from. no, 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, of course i had known before. sherad 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. 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 that, 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. >> we were talking about your teammates and i'd 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 you have to all of a sudden realize here was competition. there were seven guys competing for the first job or 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 end, 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 -- not non-world up there in weightless space, which nothing was -- doesn't that frighten you a little bit. what were wur nouts 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 is something which i'd been doing for many, many years. as a navy pilot, as a carrier pilot, and believe me it is a lot harder to land a jet on an aircraft carrier than it is to land on a moon. that is a piece of cake, that moon deal. but that was part of my life. that was the challenge.
and here you had, yes, a new environment, but you know for fighter pilots who fly upside down a lot of the time, zero gravity wasn't that big of a deal. now of course none of us being -- of course nonmedics thought about the long-term effects of zero gravity but the short-term effects 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, the craft and there weren't any training devices or simulators that could simulate the kind of things you were going to do. you have to make them. >> that is exactly correct. in the early days we had part task trainers, instead of simulators. something was built to indicate the control system, something else was built to indicate the
radio systems or some of the instruments and they were separated not the glorious simulators that we have today. >> what was the 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 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 have 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 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 one self. you go up and the ancient -- and you land safely and you go up and the rocket goes sideways an you get out and come back home and do it again. so there is a lot of confidence created in the simulation business. >> did you or the astronauts take an active role in designing the spacecraft themselves? >> 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 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'd been in training for probably 20 months or so. toward '61 when we all
intuitively felt that bob gareth had to make a decision as to who was going to make the first flight. and 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 was seven of us then in one office. we had seven desks around in the hangar in langley field. and bob walked in, closed the door and was very matter of fact. he said, well you know we've got to decide who is 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 back-up pilot. but beyond that, we won't make any public decisions. so we said shepard gets the first flight, gris ham gets the second flight and glenn is the back-up for both of these two sub orbital missions. and any questions? absolute silence. i said thank you very much, good luck and 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. they were trying just as hard as i was. and it was a very poignant moment because they all came
over and shook my hand and pretty soon i baz the only guy left in the room. >> that is a priceless story, alan. well finally, things progressed to the point where you're getting right for the flight and if i 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 now for mr-3 as it was loosely labelled. >> the checkout, the countdown had been going well. of course glenn was the back-up pilot and the red stone checked out well. we had virtually no problems at all and we're scheduled for i believe it was the second of may and i was dressed just about going out of the door when there were tremendous rainstorm, thunderstorm came over and
obviously they decided to cancel, which 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 a 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 and of course it was dark. the liquid oxygen was venting out from the red stone. search lights all over the place. and i remember saying to myself, well, i'm not going to see this
red stone 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 red stone. because i stopped and looked at it. to look back and up at this beautiful rocket and i thought, well, okay, buster, let's go and get the job done. so i sort of stopped and kicked the tires and 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 red stone. gordon cooper was the voice communicator in the blockhouse. so we called and said that the inverter is not working in the red stone and they're going to pull the gantry back in and we're going to change inverter and it is possibly going to take about an hour, hour and a half.
and i said, well if that is the case then would you like to get out and relieve myself. we have had been working with a device to collect urine during the flight that really worked pretty well in zero gravity but it didn't work very well when you're lying on your back with your feet up in the air like you were on the red stone. and i thought, well, my bladder was getting full and if i had some time i would like to relieve myself. so i said, i said gordon, would you check and see if i coo get out and relieve myself quickly while their fixing and he came back in about and i guess there was discussions going on outside. it took about three or four minutes and finally came back and said, no, he said, the astronaut will stay in the nose cone. so i thought, well, all right. that is fine. but i'm going to go the bathroom. and then said, well you can't do
that because you have wires all over your body and you'll short circuit and i said don't you have a switch that turns off those wires and i said please turn the switch off. well, i real 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 that spacecraft, i was dry by the time we launched. but somebody did say something about being in the world's first wet back in space. >> at that time the whole game was totally competitive, not aloan among the seven astronauts but you were in a race for space with the russians. and they kind of beat you to the punch, didn't they. thinking of geren when i say that. >> yeah, and that little race
between geren and me, who was really close, obviously they're objectives and their capabilities for orbital flight were greater than ours at that particular point. we eventually caught up and went past them. but as you point out it was the cold war and there was a competition. we have had flown a chimpanzee called "ham" in the red stone mercury combination and everything 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 hands flight, it fired but it did not separate itself.
so the chimp was lifted another higher in altitude and 20 and 30 miles in range. there was absolutely nothing wrong with the mission. so, our recommendation strongly was, okay, let's put shepard in the next one. everything worked fine. so the thing that happens again. no big deal. shepard goes a little higher. they said no. he said we want everything absolutely right. so we flew another unmanned mission before geren flew and then his light and then mine. it was touch and go there. if we put in that unmanned mission we would have flown first. but 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 nibble publicly or nurse your bounds and get ready to fly again?
>> as you know, we had a lot of differences of opinion about things in the program. not only the design but in some of the scheduling, but 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. >> then as time went on, you started lobbying for another flight in mercury. but then 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. >> mr. shepard. admiral shepard if you will. >> no, as a matter of fact, 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 expect to hear anything else from me. if 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 is all ready go to go and we have the rockets and let me sit up there and see how long it will last. get another record out of it. well, he said, no, i don't think so. i think we have to get on with gemini. and i said well i'm going to see the president in a little while, 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 and concerning about taxpayers money, drinking at the white house and i got him aside and i said is there a possibility we could make another long duration mercury flight, maybe two or three days.
and we'd like to do that. he said, well what does mr. webb think about it. and i said webb doesn't want to do it. well i think i'll have go along with mr. webb. >> they realized the power -- >> at least a tried. >> so instead you started then getting ready to fly in gemini. another whole new ball game. >> yeah. >> but that was -- >> 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.
the problem i had was a disease called men ears. it is due to elevated fluid pressure in the inner ear. and they tell me it happens in people who were type a, hyper, driven, whatever. unfortunately what happens is it causes lack of balance, it causes dizziness in some cases nausea as a result of this all disorientation going on up there in the ear. fortunately it is unilateral. it was only happening with 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 alleviated it, but i still couldn't fly solo. you could 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 and said he had a
friend in los angeles who was experimenting correcting this problem surgically. and so i said, gosh, that is great. i'll go out and see him. so he set it up. i went on out there. fella said yeah, we make an opening there and put a tube in that enlarges the chamber that takes that fluid pressure and in some cases its worked and i said well what if it doesn't work. and he said you won't be any worse off than you were, except you might lose your hearing, but other than that. so, i went out there under an assumed name -- >> what was the name? >> oh, was victor polis. and the doctor knew and the nurse knew but nobody else knew. and so victor polis checks in and they run the operation and
run the surgery and it is not that traumatic, obviously. because after about a day i was out of there. of course it was ob -- obvious when you see the big ball of stuff over my ear when i get home. but nasa started looking at me and several months, several months went by and finally said, yes, all of the tests show that you no longer are effected by this veneers disease. so there i was having made the right decision. >> i think we better backtrack a little here because obviously this is going to bring you into direct discussion about a fellow named deke slaton and we haven't established the fact that deke like you was knocked out of flying. so let's go back over a little of that, particularly because that happened back in the mercury days when duke was getting ready to fly. and 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. it was just occasionally he'd had a little twitch down there. >> it was a real blow, i wonder what your reaction to it was at the time and if you could give us a little background on it. >> well back in those days, we have discussed before, we were still highly competitive. there were still seven guys for whatever flight was available next. and slaton had been chosen to
make the second orbital mission after glenn. when he had this little heart murmur, as i say it wasn't anything real noticeable, it wasn't continuous, it just showed up once in a while. but yet it made the medics very nervous. and even after a fairly exhaustive tests showed that it was not repetitive to the point where it would have interfered with the mission, there was 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 with deke turned into one of camaraderie, one of feeling sorry for him, a sense of you know, well let's get you
back on the schedule old buddy, somehow because you've 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 was to have somebody who could immediately become a spokesman because he decided to stay on. i think he 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 sort of chief of the astronaut office. >> and that was the job that eventually you wound up with by title. >> well things would change around of course. >> but once you went into gemminy there were two of the seven grounded. deke and al. what a team. how did it come about that you wound up becoming chief of the astronaut office while degree by this time had assumed quite some power as head of astronaut affairs? >> well, as i had indicated earlier, i had decided to fight this many years 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 quite a number of people involved. so they decided to make it a separate division, deke was the head of that division and i was given the job specifically of the care and feeding of these astronauts, in charge of their training, helping deke with crew assignments and that sort of thing. >> was it deke primarily that got to the job or was it just the fact that you had all of the qualifications? how did that work? >> well i think it was just --
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 guys that really could have done the job, either one of us could have done the job. one little difference i think perhaps that i knew i was going to somehow, something was going to happen soon with me. i was either going to get the ear fixed or i was gone. with deke, i think that he was por or less resigned at that stage to the heart murmur business. and medics keep -- 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 is really why we established a -- and you know we just talked it over with craft and bell oth and they agreed that was a good selection. >> you two have quite a reputation for running a very tight ship. >> well, of course deke and i 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 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 doo it. and 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 of the skeletons were. >> and knowing that, in a very peculiar way from a nasa point of view, perhaps it was for the betterment of the program that you were doing it at the time you were doing it. do you ever think of that? >> well i think certainly there was a need for coordination. there was a need for representation at executive level. other caps 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, al an, all into the gemini
program and into poll apoe and it was during the time of apollo by which time you had finally located through stafford's administration as you described earlier a way to treat the ear syndrome in los angeles. and suddenly the skies opened again for alan shepard, or did they? you had to get back into the program, didn't you? >> well, of course, when nasa finally said -- said i could fly again, i went to deke and said, we have not announced publicly that crew assignment for apollo 13. i have a recommendation to make. and hi picked two bright young guys. one of them a ph.d and one of a heck of a lot smarter than i was. and paid up a team to go to -- for an apollo flight. and i said i would like to
recommend that i get apollo 13, with stew rusa as command module and ed mitchell as lunar pilot. deke said, i don't know. let's try it out. so we sent it to washington and they said, no. no way. i said wait a minute. now shepard has got to be at least as smart as the rest of these guys. maybe a little smarter. and they said, well we know that. but it is a real public relations problem. here this guy just gotten ungrounded and all of a sunday boom he gets premier flight assignment. so the discussion went on for several days and finally te said we'll make a deal, we'll let chevron have apollo 14 and give us another crew for apollo 13. and so that was what happened. >> and boy did it ever. because suddenly apollo 13 on
the 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 to -- do we get these guys back. obviously right from the start it was the end of a landing mission. no question about that. but it was interesting to see the entire system, the entire system being flushed out, being made to come back with any kind of a recommendation. and of course chris craft and gene cranes 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 and any -- any corner of the manufacturing processes, the vendoring processes, and nasa people, everybody was working toward a solution for this problem. as it turned out, it was more than one solution. i mean, several different areas of engineering had to be address and corrected and i think that it is 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 a the knowledge that you were probably going to make a pretty good flight out tv thanks to what had been learned from apollo 13. which way was it. >> well i think that people have -- i know people have expressed the opinion that it might have been a little bit more dangerous to fly on apollo 14 than it would have been had there not be apollo 13. but recognize that almost a total redesign had to be done. well not necessarily redesigned but a total reassessment of the package had to be done. to find out specifically why the thing blew and to fix that to look for similar situations throughout service module.
but again to reassess the whole scheme of things. you know, in missions like that, when 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 one out of 100 and on the other hand it is only a small part of a huge process scheduled to go at a certain time and if this fails we have the crew to back up. it is always these little decisions that were made. so obviously part of the assessment process of apollo 13 had to be to go over the decisions again. now did we have the time to make some corrections of these one in 100 chances of failure. and of course several were made and in addition to the corrections of the basic problem. so this is a feeling of security
and we were obviously part of the process. >> by that time i had forgotten you had been through the trauma of apollo one and the fire and redesign that that occasioned. let's go back over that for a moment or two. >> yeah, talk about feelings, yeah. >> because that must have been a tough one? >> well, of course apollo one came as a real shock, no question about it. 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, they're still sitting there on the ground. to lose a crew 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 are a part of a group that had gone through mercury and through gemini and we're leading and we're beating the russians. nothing could go wrong. and it led to a sense of false security, no question about it. deke and i remember talking about it. gus would come back and he had a complaint about this. he said this is the worst spacecraft i've ever seen and he 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 and 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 is fixed before they stick you back in there for a test where you you're using 100% oxygen. see, there was that sense of security, a sense of complacency that everyone had, including myself and including deke. i think some people felt that sense of responsibility and neglect, bad decisions more than others. personally were effected by it more than others. but i don't believe that more than just a few hard heads that didn't feel in the long-term that they were part of the problem. >> as it worked out, perhaps because of apollo 1rks it was a hugely successful series of flights. >> i don't think there is any question about the fact that the
apollo 1 fire did shape up the whole system. it did make people realize that they had been too complacent, that they were overconfident and it resulted in the total redesign of many of the parts of the spacecraft and i'm sure contributed to what was a very highly successful -- you know we're still basic research, we're still putting people on the moon and you do it six times and you only miss once. i mean sh that is incredible. >> and the one time you got the people back. >> let's go back in time a little bit more to some of the older history. because you were really there when the flight to the moon was born. wasn't that right? about the time that -- following your first very successful suborbital mission. tell us about it. >> well it is an interesting thought. and i've heard it expressed a
few times and that is that the decision jack kennedy made to go to the moon was made after we only had 15 minutes of total space flight time. and 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 the mission. and i got a nice little medal from the president. and which, by the way, he dropped. i don't know whether you remember that scene or not. >> vividly. >> but jimmy webb had the thing in a box and it had been loosened from its -- from its little clip and so as the president made his speech and
said i now present you with 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. we always bang heads. kennedy made it first. jack made it first. and then he said in his damn yankee accent. he said, here shepard, i give you this medal, it comes from the ground up. jackie is sitting there, she's mortified. jack, pin it on him. pin it on him. so then he recovered to the point where he pinned the medal on and everything was fine and we had a big laugh out of that. but originally louis and i were supposed to proceed to the -- to the congress after the white house ceremony. and then have a reception and leave town but jack said no, i want to you come back to the white house and have a meeting and let's talk about your
flight. so we had the reception at the hill. drove back in the oval office there were the heads of nasa there, and the heads of the government, jack was there, lyndon johnson was there and there is a picture of me sitting on the sofa, jack is in the rocking chair and i'm telling him how i was flying this spacecraft and he's leaning forward and listening intently and we talked about the details of the flight specifically how man had responded and reacted to being able to work in 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 was a couple of guys over in the corner talking about maybe going to moon. he said i want a briefing. just three weeks after that
mission, 15 minutes of space is when kennedy made his announcement, folks, we are going to the moon and we're going to do it within this decade. after 15 minutes of space 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 problems with the bay of pigs, his popularity was going down. not true. not true. when glenn finished his mission, glenn 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 and he said don't worry about those, we'll get
those when we get back to washington. the entire flight, i'll tell you he was really a space cadet and it is 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. but there was a little bit of a gulp in there because he put a time cap on the deal. you don't think that any of us thought that they would be able to make it within -- that was 1961, within eight and a half years. but anyway, delighted but a little bit of well, maybe maybe the president is a little enthusiastic. >> we finally got up to that point where we were into a polo. and what was your choice, you and deke, what was your best bet as to which would be the first flight to make a man 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 capabilities, that we really deep down inside felt that we could make it. we could have 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 when we changed tapes a while back. because now you picked your team and you had sort out apollo 13 and you were ready to fly.
must have been a big moment when you were ready, 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. 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 of
confidence. jean certainan was my back-up. it is a funny story about him. we were at the point i think we were approximately four or five days away from liftoff, scheduled liftoff, we were all in quarantine of course, at the cave and that time we had to do 21 days before, 21 days after routine. because of the bug stuff. and certain was out in the morning flying helicopters. because the commanders used helicopters to train. and the last few hundred feet of the landing, and we're having breakfast and we knew gene was out flying a helicopter and all of a sudden the door opens and in walks sernan.
he is absolutely covered with soot, he's got scars on his face, we said 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 and instead of water and he flew that helicopter right into the water. nose over, blades all over the place. tail rotor blades all over the place. fire the tanks, the gas tanks our saddle tanks on that dingy little chopper, they split and there was fuel all over the place. he's going down like this. and of course being a good navy trained pilot, he knew how to cope with a -- being under water so he got out and he swam to the
top and realized he was in fire so he splashed around like this and took a big deep breath and swam awhile and came up and splashed around some more and swam around. finally got out of the smoke and flames an all of that stuff, somebody had seen the crash obviously. ands in banana river, not that big of a deal. but he came on the shore, came out and there he was. and just totally bedraggled and so he looked as me as my back-up pilot, and said, shepard, you win, you get to go. >> alan, you're now on the moon. you've gotten there on apollo 14. and i wonder what your feelings were -- >> you have to let me tell you the story about how i got there? >> oh, yes, of course. >> well actually the flight had gone extremely well. we had one or two problems, docking problem earlier, problem
with the -- something floating around in the abort switch, which was closed, as if we were pushing the abort switch closed but all of these were taken care of. now we're on the the way down, flying up on our backs line this, with the engine pointing that way, slowing down and getting gradually more steeper and more steeper. we had a ruling that the computer had to be updated by the landing radar. reason being is that while you're on your back obviously you can't see the ground, you can't see the mountains, you can't see the rocks or anything. so we had a rule that said if the landing radar is not updating the computer by the time that 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 said your landing is not working and
we said thank you very much, we're aware of that. and then a little bit further on and i said, you know what the ground rule is about aborting if you're not a 13,000 feet. well, yeah, we knew that. finally some bright brung man over in the corner saying the landing radar is working but it is locked up on infinity, have them pull a switch and re-set it and see if it works. so we pull the circuit breaker and put it back in and surely, after that we got cleared to land and that was a close kind of routine. as soon as we pitched over there was it was the way eye had seen it hundreds of times from the scale model. came on down and made a very, very soft landing. as a matter of fact soft enough even though we landed in a slight crater like this, the
uphill leg didn't crash like it was supposed to. we had crashable material on the landing. so it was slight right wing down. perfect landing. shutting off the switches and ed mitchell turned to me and said, alan, what were going to do if the landing radar had not been working by 13,000 feet? i looked at him and i said, ed, you'll never know. >> well there you were. >> i would have gone down. i had come that far. well, you see, ed for example had not been in a simulator at all. it was my job to land. and i had done hundreds thief things i knew if i could see the surface, man, coy get down, maybe not exactly where we were supposed to but i could get down close to it. >> and so you would have made the landing under any
circumstances. >> i would have at least, at least been able to take a visual look. i would have pitched over and taken a visual look and then made a decision. >> fair enough. well we finally have you on the moon. mission accomplished, or was it? tell me about what you and ed did on the moon as you remember it? what were the highlights? >> well, of course the first feeling was one of a tremendous sense of accomplishment i guess, if you will. tremendous sense of realizing that, hey, not too long ago i was grounded. now i'm on the moon. it was that -- it was that sense of self satisfaction to think immediately.
but then that went away because we had a lot of work to do. but i'll never forget that moment. another moment which i will never forget is after ed had followed me down and we had set out some of the our equipment and taken emergency samples, we had a few moments to look around. to look up in the black sky, totally black sky, even thee the sun is shining on the surface, it is not reflected. there is no diffusion, no reflection. totally black sky and seeing another planet, planet earth, a planet earth is only four times as large as the moon. so you could really still put your thumb and your forefinger around it. about that distance. so it makes it look beautiful. it makes it look lonely.
it makes it look fragile. i think to yourself, just imagine a millions of people are living on that planet and don't realize how fragile it is. i think this is a feeling everyone has had and expressed it in one fashion or another. but that was an overwhelming feeling in seeing the beauty of the planet on the one hand, but the fragility of it on the other. >> being alan shepard, of course, shortly after that golden moment, you decided to play a little golf? >> 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. because it is a very famous story and i'm sure a lot of
people would like to hear your version. >> 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 with the same speed would go six times a far, it will -- it's time of flight, i won't say stay in the air, it is time of flight will be at least six times as long. it will not curve, because there is no atmosphere to make it slice or hook. and i thought what a neat place to whack a golf club. well, when i went to bob garth to tell him i wanted to hit a couple of golf balls, of course absolutely no way. and there was a serious -- when i explained that there is not a
regular golf club, it is was a handle that we use and put a scoop on the end to scoop up samples of dust with. and that was already up there, would be thrown away and then we had a club head which i had adapted to snap on this handle and two golf balls for this i paid, two golf balls. no expense to the taxpayer. the thing that finally convinced bob was, i said, boss, i'll make a deal with you. if we have screwed up, if we have -- if we have had equipment failure, anything has gone wrong on the surface, where you are embarrassed or we're embarrassed,ly not do it. i will not be so frivolous. i want to wait until the very end of the mission. stand in front of the television
camera, whack these gavel balls with this makeshift club, hold it up and stick it in my pocket and climb up the ladder and close the door and we're gone. so he said okay. and that is the way it happened. >> and in full view of a huge worldwide audience with millions people who have never forgotten to this day alan shepard is best known as the guy who played golf on the moon. >> it was designed to be a fun thing. fortunately it is still a fun thing. a club, makeshift club is with the u.s. golf association in their museum. there has been absolutely no commercialism tried. well, there has been no commercialism. one company tried to say it was their golf ball and we cut them off very quickly. so it is been a totally fun thing. >> and still is.
>> now some general questions if we may. because i guess maybe we better get back to the moon and can't just leave you up there. you played golf and now you close the hatch and came back. and after that, it wasn't too long thereafter that you finally decided you had concluded your run with nasa. you moved on to other fields. >> well as you recall, of course, the only scheduled missions were these highlight missions. crews were already assigned. the soviet mission and the soviets crew was -- >> including your -- deke finally got a shot at it, didn't he. >> we were so pleased. bless his heart. can you imagine having to learn to speak russian to go in space. i mean, that is above and beyond the call of duty. but he did it. and i'm not sure the russians understood him. but he did it. we were really so pleased and so happy for him.
>> i'm remembering you were with me on television. because you were doing a job as a consultant on the air talent when the landing was accomplished and we thought, my, deke and they all looked great. stafford all looked great. little did we know they have been both -- was it? do you remember after the fact they had inhaled something or another. >> vapors. >> vapors from the ejection system and they were kind in a bad shape for a short while. >> i had not gotten there was a leak or what happened there. we have to look that up. >> we'll look that up and forget it now because obviously it is not important. that is their flight. their stuff. any way. general thoughts then. john glenn is about to fly again. you and he are pretty close to the same age. i wonder what your thoughts are about john flying?
>> well, john is a couple of years older than i am. and he's 77. but i have been saying for years that the taxpayers didn't get their monies worth out of glenn because he made one flight and immediately went into the congress. objected to that. i had been telling him this for years and years. i called him up the other day after the announcement and i said i'm glad you're going to give me one more flight. i think it is good, quite frankly. obviously there are a lot of things about how weightlessness is a function, and how it treats individuals, and a person's reactions to weightless this is a function of the amount of exercise, or lack thereof.
general physical conditioning. and the kind of things that one really needs to know. it's going to be on a long term mission, the more you find out, the better shape you'll be in. so, he's a good data point, he thinks he's in pretty good shape, and he probably is, but his bones are still more brutal. and i'm sure that there will be some lessons learned, even during that a short period of time. looking at his general fitted physical conditions before and after, i think, you know, i think it's a good thing thing. i think we learn something from it. >> you think you'd like to fly again? >> of course i would. oh of course i would. unfortunately, i'm not in the top health at the moment. >> you've talked some here about nasa, but i'd like to run a little list with, even
evaluation was on the people who've been talk about, for example, jim webb. >> well, you know, it was interesting being involved with the old and aca, and then nasa, during the formations period. obviously, it was a group of engineers. they didn't have a political type 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 courts to play, and not that he was a lobbyist in any sense, he didn't have to be. he had a great package.
men in space. and he played it well. he really did. he did us a great favor. certainly, responding so quickly, and rapidly, to kennedys really surprising decision to go to the moon. he did a good job. but, as i said before, i came to him with a technical request. got turned down, so at least, you get some engineering knowledge there somewhere. >> well, let's talk bob. >> i like bob. i really did, because bob had been on the aviation business forever. and being right there at langley, seeing him not every day, but seeing him frequently, and talking to people who had been with him.
during the old days, and what he had done. he was just a remarkable, remarkable gentlemen. it i think that was really sort of a hands on kind of guy to. i obviously appreciate his decision let me make the first flight, but he never told me why he made that decision. the way he did. i asked him, several times over the years. he has always said, well, he was the right man, at the right time. but i am sure, he was getting personally involved in that process. there was some suggestions from some of the other folks in the
program that, maybe, he had made a mistake. and that it might have been someone else, who had qualified better. but, he did not change his mind. so, he's one of my heroes. >> i like chris. i do, i liked chris. you know, i guess we 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, zeke 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 i'm sure the rest of the original seven, had dinner with him one night, him, in everett race, and then we went out, and we built our own observatory. so, we took a look at the moon through a telescope. here you are, with a great rocket scientists, showing you what the moon looks like and you say, well, it seemed strange at the time.
>> bob lost a number of them at the time, so what was he doing? would your reaction be? >> i think that is true. i think it is. i think that he went in, he was, dedicated to aviation, and to space. and he, he basically was an engineer. i think that, perhaps, van braun, who is obviously an engineer, and i think that he had been involved in political aspects over and 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 insert, 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. >> 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 their? do you remember 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, under grants. . there were jealousies and 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, 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.
>> what do you think now about the life magazine contract? what do you think of that? >> you don't have to answer that one, if you don't choose to. >> 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, the criticism came, and the amount of money involved. so, i think, all in all, we came out about even. 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 cruise. the number of delays because of 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 other things than pilots. they have a gamut of flight crews. women scientists, bailout 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 26 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. >> 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 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 to 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 the engineer is 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 seem 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 for runners today's chips, and today's technologies. because of the 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 is done. it's just a great process. >> that commercial was totally unsolicited. i'm just making that for the record. allen -- >> 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. >> no, but i just want to make sure that it is being understood. that's all. >> well, it's the truth.
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