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tv   Oral Histories Mercury Seven Astronaut Alan Shepard  CSPAN  October 14, 2021 8:01pm-9:31pm EDT

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i'm ellen shop or, to a foreign, yet we have a magnificent since
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view, that we blocked out. but i would thank you for letting us be here with, you to do this. to follow this oral history. so, let's start here sir. it's a pleasure. let's begin, not at the beginning, because there's a beginning before this. but, does this particular day to mean anything to you? >> of course, it was one of the happiest days of my life. that was a day in which we all congregated, officially, as the u.s. first astronaut group. we had been through a selection process, obviously, previous to that time, but, that was the day that we first showed up, officially, as the first astronauts of the united states. back at langley field, virginia. >> at langley. willingly? >> of course, and aca had become an asa, nasa, in a great hurried turnaround, as you may
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recall. so, the programs of astronauts selection, and training, basically, was run by the people who worked from langley. originally, of course, we were all brought into washington. that is where the initiation, in the introduction, and the pre selection, and all of that routine went on. then, as you know, we had physicals elsewhere in the country. but, once the selection was made, of course, we reported to those people at langley field. which was kind of neat for me. i was, already, stationed in norfolk, in a job, and which i didn't like in the first place. i was planning to take airplanes, and then put behind a desk for the first time in many years. but, it was a real easy trip for us. we just didn't even have to move.
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>> in your journey to get, there it took you through test pilot school, it took you through combat experience, it took you through, everything didn't it? >> yes. >> why was that, that nasa decided to pick test, pilots of all things, to fly the first base mission? >> well, i think that it was an immediate realize a shun that we had, essentially, a new product. it didn't look much like an airplane. but, if you are going to put a pilot in it, it was going to have to fly, somehow. quite like an airplane. so, when you have a strange, new machine, then you go to test pilots. that is what they were trained to do, and that is what they had been doing. of course, they had some test pilots, but they were a little older. none of them, i don't think,
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we're in a position where they, probably, could have competed with the varied background of test flying, which, most of, us add. so, the decision was made. i don't know, they say that eisenhower had something to do with the decision, because he said, well, yes, we do need a test pilot. he agreed with that. nasa didn't have very many test pilots, so let's go to the military, and see what they have to offer. now, whether eisenhower himself was involved in the decision, apparently, the white house was, to some degree. >> but the point is, of course, you are named. and, when you first sized up those teammates of yours, i wonder what your first reactions were to the group? >> well, i wondered, first of all, were the six and competent guys came from.
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now, seriously. it was not a surprise. several of them had been involved in the preliminary section process. so, generally, i was familiar with their background. then, of course, i had known before, they had known before, because of my navy connections. so, i knew there was a lot of talent there. i knew that it was going to be a tough flight to win the prize. >> it was competitive at the time between the seven of you, wasn't it? >> it was an interesting situation. as they say, i was friendly with several of them, but on the other hand, realizing that i was, now, competing with these guys. so, always, there is a sense of caution, i suppose. particularly, talking about technical things. now, in the bar, of course,
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everything changed. but, in talking about technical things, there is always a sense of, maybe, a little bit of reservation. not being totally frank with each other, because, there was a very strong sense of competition. >> you are talking about your teammates, so i would like to go back over that. there is competition between the seven of you, wasn't there? >> well, you know, it was an interesting situation, getting together. with the seven originals, for the first time, and of course, having known some of them, before, with the navy connections, but you, all of a sudden, had to realize that there was this competition. there are seven guys, competing for the first job, whatever that turned out to be. seven guys, going for that one job, but on the one hand, there is a sense of friendliness, and maybe in some support, but on the other hand, you had a lot
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of the rescue guys were happy, because all make the first flight. >> you are about to move into a whole new world, and a whole new non world, up there, in weightless space, in which nothing was known. in that frightened you a little bit? what were your thoughts about moving into a new environment? >> i suspect my thoughts, generally, reflected those of the other champs. but, with me, i think, it had to be the challenge of being able to control a new vehicle, in the new environment. this is a generalization, but, it is something which i've been doing for many, many years as a navy pilot, or as a carrier pilot. and, believe me, it's a lot harder to land and jet on an aircraft carrier, than it is to land on the moon. that's a piece of cake, that moon deal.
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but, that was part of my life, the challenge. here, you had, yes, a new environment, but you know, four fighter pilots who fly upside down a lot of the time, zero gravity wasn't that big a deal. now, of course, none of us being non medics who had thought about the long term effects of zero gravity, but, the short term effects of zero gravity were not the challenge to us. the challenge was to be able to fly in unusual craft, and provide good, positive, thinking control of that vehicle. >> so unusual, a craft that there weren't even any training devices, or a simulator, that could stimulate the kind of things you had to do. you had to make, them didn't you? >> that is exactly correct. in the early days, we really had, what we called, part task trainers. instead of simulators. something was built to indicate
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the control system. something else was built to indicate the radio systems, or some of the instruments, and they were all, sort of, separated. not the great, glorious simulators, which we have today. >> what was the role of the astronaut in those early days? >> i think that the role of simulators, them, today, and tomorrow, has to be that you are dealing with individuals who fly unusual aircraft. who conduct unusual experiments, infrequently. because, you don't fly in space every day. so, there has to be the simulator which creates, artificially, problems, for you to train against, or train with, to learn how to overcome difficulties that you may be having with your experiment. difficulties you may be having with detail of the shuttle, or that sort of thing.
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so, simulators are, very, very important first spaceflight. and, also, an important part of a commercial aircraft. unfortunately, some of the kobe's today, the computer companies, don't require simulator time, which is surprising to me. i think many of the pilots do it on their own, but, simulators, really, our good. they create a sense of confidence in oneself. and they land safely, and they go up on sideways, and they go and again a lot of competence is created in the simulation business. >> the astronauts, do they take an active role in designing the spacecraft itself? >> yes, we did. we tried to do it as efficiently as we could. we are signed, in the early
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days, with only seven, we have signed an individual to work directly with the contractor. this was all with nasa's blessing, because the aston and jr.'s were there as well. but, primarily, from a pilots point of view, is this handle in the right place, if you have a switch, would you have to use to counteract in an emergency, is it reachable? is it visible? or do you have to go behind your back somewhere to find it? primarily, from a pilots point of view, was our interface. >> then, finally, you end up being the first man to fly in a mercury spacecraft. did you know that was coming, or was it a surprise? can you describe your steps that led up to it? >> we had been in training for, probably, 20 months or so.
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toward the end of 1960, or early 61, when we all, intuitively, felt that, pretty soon, bob had to make a decision as to who is going to make the first flight. and when we received word the bob wanted to see us in the afternoon one day, in our office, it felt that, perhaps, he had decided. there were seven of us then, in the one office. we have seven desks around in the hangar in langley field, and bob walked in, and close the door, and was very matter of fact. he said, you know, we've got to decide who's going to make the first flight. and i don't want to pinpoint, publicly, at this stage, one individual within the organization. i want everyone to know, we
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will designate the first flight, and the second flight, and a backup pilot. but, beyond that, we won't make any public decisions. so, he said, shepard gets the first flight. grisham gets the second flight. and glenn is the backup for both of these two sub orbital missions. any questions? absolute silence. he said, thank you very much, and take it on the room. . so, well, there i am, looking at six faces, looking at me, and feeling of course, totally, elated, that i had won the competition. but, yet, almost immediately afterwards, feeling sorry for my buddies, because there they were, i mean, they were trying just as hard as i was, and it
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was a very poignant moment, because they all came over, shook my hand, and pretty soon, i was no i left in the room [laughs] >> that's a priceless story, alan shepard. and let's get to the part we are getting ready on the flight. i can remember there were some holes, dealing with that day, on the launchpad. let's go back to then, as you remember it. you are getting ready now for mr3. >> the checkout had been going very well chris glynn was the backup pilot. everything checked out well. we had virtually problems no problems at all. we were scheduled for i think it was the 2nd of may. and i was dressed and just
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about going out the door when there was a tremendous rainstorm, thunderstorm, came over. and obviously they decided to cancel. it was rescheduled three days later. went through the same routine. the weather was good. and i remember driving down to the launching pad in a van, which was capable of providing comfort for us, with a pressure sudan, and the last minute of justin's in temperature devices that had to be made. to do that, the doctor, bill douglas, was in there. we pulled up in front of the launchpad. of course, it was dark. the liquid oxygen was venting out from the location.
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i remember saying to myself, well, i am not going to see this redstone again. and pilots love to go out and kick the tires. it was sort of like reaching out in kicking the tires on the redstone. so i looked back and up at this beautiful rocket and i was like, okay, let's go, and get the job done. so we kicked the tires and went on in, went on with the countdown. there was a time during the countdown when there was a problem with the inverter in the redstone. but gordon cooper was the voice communicator. so he called and said the inverter is not working in the redstone, they are going to cook poll the gantry, it will
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probably take about an hour and a half. and i said, if that's the case, i would like to get out and relieve myself. we have been working with a device to collect here, during flight, that really worked pretty well in zero gravity. but it didn't work well when you are lying on your back with your feet in the air. on the red stone. so if i had some time, i would like to relieve myself. and i said, gordon, when you check and see if i can get out and relieve myself quickly. and they came back, i guess there was some discussion going on outside. i figure, for about three or four minutes. and they said, they say the astronaut will stay in the nose cone. so, we'll, all right.
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that's fine. i'm going to the bathroom. and they said, well, you can't do that, you've got wires all over your body. can you guys turn off those wires? well, i relieved myself, and of course it was a cotton undergarment we had on. it soaked up immediately in the undergarment. it was 100% oxygen flowing through the spacecraft. i was totally dry by the time we launched. but somebody did say something about being the world's first wet back in space. >> the whole game was totally competitive, not alone amongst the astronauts, that you are in a race for space with the russians. they kind of beat you to the punch, didn't they? >> yeah.
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that little race, between myself and the russian astronaut and obviously their objectives and capabilities for orbital flight were greater than ours at that point. we eventually caught up and went past them. but as you point out, it was the cold war, there was the competition. we had flown a chimpanzee in the redstone. and everything had worked perfectly, except there was a relay, which at the end of the powered flight was supposed to object the escape tower because it was no longer needed. separated from the mercury capsule and ejected. for some reason, for the chimpanzees flight, it fired
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but did not separate itself. and so the champ was lifted another ten or 15 miles and it was absolutely nothing wrong for anything else wrong with the mission. so our recommendation, strongly, was, okay let's separate the next one. so this thing happens again, it goes a little higher. gordon said no, he said, no, we want to have everything absolutely right. so we flew another unmanned mission. before gregan flu. and then mine. if they put me in that unmanned mission, we would have flown first. but it was tight in retrospect. >> it doesn't seem important for the time, but i guess it was. >> oh, it was.
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absolutely. >> did you say anything publicly. >> no, as you know, we had a lot of differences of opinion about things in the program. not only the design but some of the scheduling. but most of that was kept pretty quiet. most of that was resolved. and very little of that came out in public. it was always, you know, sort of a joint decision. >> and then as time went on, you started lobbying for another flight for mercury, before -- and mercury was caught a little short. because there was the pressure of something else, wasn't there? >> you are not surprised at all that i want to fly again,
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medical -- >> [laughs] it's not facts. we had cooper. orbital mission. there was another spacecraft ready to go. and like i was, to put me up there, and just stay until something ran out until the batteries ran down, until the oxygen ran down. or until we lost the control system or something. and then we are just in a sort of open-ended kind of the mission. and i recommend that. and they said that they didn't expect to hear anything else from me. some [laughs] i remember when cooper and his family and the other astronauts and families were invited to the white house for cocktails with jack kennedy, and we stopped at june when webb's
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house first and had a little warm up. i was politicking with webb and i said, you know, ms. webb, we could put this up there in a few weeks. it's ready to go. and let me sit up there, see how long it will last. get another rocket out of it. and they said, well, i don't know. i really don't think so. i think we've got to get on with gemini. well i'm going to see the president in a little while. would you mind if i mentioned it to him? she said, no, but you tell him i side of the story to. [laughs] i said, all right, and so we get over there, we are shipping our booze. drinking at the white house. and i get kennedy aside.
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and i said, is there a possibility you could make another long duration? maybe two or three days? and we would like to do that. he said, what does ms. webb think about it? >> i said webb doesn't want to do that. and he said, i think we will have to go along. at least i tried. >> and you were getting ready to fly and gemini? a whole another ball game? >> yeah. yes. it was very fortunate, of course. i was chosen to make the first time and i mission. don stafford, a very bright young guy, assigned's copilot and we were already into the mission, already training for the mission and we had already been in simulators. several at the time. and whether we looked at the
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hardware and st. louis are not, prior to the problem, which i had. the problem i had was a disease called meniere's disease, involving fluid in the inner ear. they tell me it involves people who have a type a personality. unfortunately, it causes a lack of balance. it causes dizziness. in some cases nausea. disorientation going on up there in the ear. fortunately, it is unilateral. it only happened to me on the left side. but it was so obvious that nasa grounded me right away. and they signed another crew.
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for first gemini flight. so there i was, what do i do now, do i go back to the navy? do i stick around in the space program? what do i do? i finally decided that i would stay with nasa and see if there wasn't some way that we could correct this your problem. several years went by, there was some medication, which alleviated it but i still couldn't fly solo. can you imagine? the world's greatest test pilot? and some guy in the back, flying along with you? talk about embarrassing situations. but as a matter of fact, it was
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stafford, who came to me, and said he had a friend, a los angeles who is experimenting correcting this meniere's disease problem surgically. and i said, great, i would love to see him. so he said it up. i went on out there, and he said, yeah, what we do is we make a little opening, put it toobin so that it enlarges the chamber and takes that fluid pressure. and in some cases it works. and i said, well, what if it doesn't work? well, you won't be any worse off than you were. but you might lose your hearing but other than that -- so i went out there under an assumed name. >> what was the name? >> it was polis, victor polis.
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the doctor and the nurse knew. but no one else. so they run the operation in the surgery. and it's not that traumatic, obviously. because after about a day, i was out of there. it was obvious when you look at the big ball of stuff that was in my ear, when i got back home. but nasa started looking at me, several months went by. and finally, i said yes, i will just show that you are no longer accepted by this meniere's disease. so there i was having made the right decision. >> i think we better backtrack a little here, because obviously, this is going to bring you into direct discussion about a fellow named dick's layton. we had established the fact that him, like you, had not gotten over flying.
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let's go back to that, because picked titillate, that happened in the mercury days, when he was getting ready to fly. i wonder if you had first heard -- >> we were assigned to follow john. >> right, and suddenly, he was bumped from his mercury flight. that was a heart condition, wasn't it? >> yes. there was a lot of controversy about that. because it was a heart murmur, or a palpitation, some irregularity, but one which was not obvious. i mean, it was not a continuous thing. it was not as if he was getting getting ready for cardiac arrest, or anything like that. it was just occasionally, he'd have a twist on their. >> but, a real blow. i wonder what your reaction is, and if you can get a little background on it. >> back in those, days as we have discussed before, we were still highly competitive. there was still seven guys
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going for whatever flight was available next. and, so layton had been chosen to make the second orbital mission after grant. when he had this hard to murmur, and they say it wasn't anything real noticeable, and it wasn't continuous, and to show once in a while. so, it made him very nervous. even after exhausted tests here, it was not repetitive, and there was a sense of not taking a chance for anything. so, he was grounded. flat grounded. and, at that point, the feeling of competitiveness with him, turned into one of camaraderie. one of feeling sorry for him.
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a sense of, let's get us back on the schedule, somehow. because you felt sorry for him. he was no longer competitive. but, on the other hand, to have a guy in that position, and knowing how tough that could be to him. so, he was grounded, and the benefit for us, and that someone of us, who could, immediately, for the spokesman, and decided to stay on. they design this air force reserve, at that point. i think so. i think they can speak for the group, and not have to worry
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about the ends, and, outs of training. i was not only, leader but as a spokesman of the group. so, he became into the astronaut office? >> what was his title? >> i think he was chief of the astronaut office. >> that was the job you eventually wound up with by title. >> things would've changed around. >> all of a sudden, there were two that had been grounded. him, and al. what a team. how did that come about that you hound up becoming chief of the astronaut office, well, he at this, time had assumed quite some power as head of astronaut affairs? >> well, as i indicated earlier, i decided to fight this many years to stay with nasa, and
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during a time period, when i was grounded, i had become quite useful, in the astronaut training business. i suppose, really, we had grown to consider the number of chaps who were involved in the simulators, for example. and in the seeding procedures, or taking care of the suits, and so on. directly supporting the soviets, when the astronauts, were really, quite a number of people involved. they decided to make it a separate division. he was the head of that division, and i was given the job, specifically, of the care, and feeding, of these astronauts. in charge of their training, helping zeke with crew assignments, and that sort of thing. >> was it him, primarily, that got to the job? or was it just the fact that
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you had all of the qualifications? how did that work? >> well i think it was just a matter of saying what do we need, and when i became grounded, and informed nasa was going to stay there, we get to guys that, really, either one of, us could have done the job. and then, perhaps,'s i knew, somehow, something is going to happen to me. i was either going to get into the air, or i was gone. i think with him, he was, more or less, resigned at that stage to the heart murmur business. getting a bad time in that.
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so, he was more of a, primarily, long term commitment. in that particular case. so, really, that is quite longer than what we established. we talked at all off with graft, and they agreed, that was a good selection. >> you too had quite a reputation for running a very tight ship. >> well, of course. we were both man, because we were grounded. we both have been training as astronauts. we knew where every skeleton was, in the whole process. we just wouldn't let those guys get away with anything. i, mean we knew what they had to do, we knew how they had to do it, and if they weren't doing it, we would bring them, in and tell them about it. maybe i was a little more
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forceful than i would have been, normally, because being grounded, i believe they called me, the icy commander, or some friendly term like that. >> steele ei? >> oh yes. we knew where all the skeletons were. >> and knowing that, from a very far peculiar way, from a nasa point of view, and the betterment of the space program, to see what they were doing at the time. do you remember that? >> i think, certainly, we've the need of coordination. it would be representation, at an executive level. other ships could have done the job, perhaps, equally as, well or perhaps, even better. but, it seemed like we had turned out some good crew. >> i don't think anybody could falter selection of crew.
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all the way through the gemini program, and finally, on into apollo. it was during the time of polo, by which time, you had finally located through stafford's administration, as you described earlier, a way to treat the syndrome in los angeles. and, suddenly, the skies opened again for alan shepard. or, did they? you had to get back into the program, didn't you? >> well, of course. when nasa finally said that i could fly again, i went to him and i said, we have not announced, publicly, the crew assignment for apollo 13. i have a recommendation to make. and, i would take two great young guys, one of them, a ph.d., one of them a lot smarter than i was, and it is
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going on the apollo flight, and i said, i get apollo 13, and with ed mitchell. and, i don't know, let's try it out. so we sent to washington, and he said, oh, no way. i said, wait a minute, shepherd's going to be at least a smart as the rest of these guys, maybe a little smarter. and he said, well, we know that. but it's a weird public relations problem. he decides, he gets grounded, and all of a sudden, boom, premier flight assignment. the discussion went on for several days, and i went, let's have apollo 14. give us another crew for apollo
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13. so that's what happened. >> did it ever. because suddenly, apollo 13, they had huge problems. i wonder what you thought when the problem developed and what did you do during that time period? >> well of course, the immediate thought was, now that we've got these guys back, obviously, right from the start, it was the end of a landing mission. no question about that. but it was interesting to see the entire system, the entire system being flushed out, being made to come back with any kind of a recommendation. and of course, kris craft and jean krantz where the guys who held everybody together.
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and they said, we've got to find a way to bring it back, failure is not an option. and as you know, the whole system was vibrating. any corner of the manufacturing process, the vending processes, nasa's people. everybody was looking for a solution. as it turned out, there was more than one solution. several different areas of engineering had to be addressed and corrected. and i think that it's probably nasa's finest hour, when you think about it. i think that certainly from a pilots point of view, it was just as an important event i stepping on the moon on apollo
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11. >> did you approach the next flight with fear, trepidation? you've got a good flight out of it. thanks to apollo 13. >> well, i think that people -- i know people have expressed the opinion that it might have been a bit more dangerous to fly on apollo 14 then it would have been had there not been apollo 13. but ... recognize that almost a total redesign had to be done. not necessarily redesigned. but a total reassessment of the package. had to be done. to find out specifically why the thing blew and to fix that
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to look for similar situations throughout the service module. but again, to reassess the whole scheme of things. you know, emissions like that, where you are basically searching, they were always decisions along the way that, well, maybe should fix this particular piece of equipment. because the chances it could fail our one out of 100. on the other hand, it's only small part of a huge process, scheduled to go at a certain time. and if this fails, we have a creative backup. there are always decisions to make. so i was part of the assessment process for apollo 13, you had to go over those decisions again. we may not have had the time to make corrections. out of these one and 100 chances of failure. and of course, decisions were
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made, in addition to the corrections of the basic problem. so there's a feeling of security. and obviously you are part of that process. >> i had forgotten, you had been through the trauma of apollo one. and the redesign that that involved. let's go back over that for a moment or two. talk about that, that must have been a tough one. >> well, of course, apollo one has a real shock. no question about it. it came as a shock because it was unexpected. and i will get into the reasons for it being unexpected later. but to lose a crew, in a ground test, i mean it was still sitting there on the ground. to lose a crew, it really rock
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woke everyone up. because it was important to all of us. every single one of us. and deke and i discuss this. we were part of a group that had gone through mercury, gone through gemini, beating the russians. nothing can go wrong. and it led to a sense of all security, no question about it. deke and i remember talking about it, gusts would come back and he had a complaint about, as you said, this is the worst spacecraft i've ever seen, he complained about that and of course he was complaining to engineers. as well as two deke and to me. but deke and ike insidiously became part of the problem
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because you said, okay, gus, make a list of the stuff. and we will see that it is fixed by the time you fly. not that we will see that it is fixed before they stick you back in there for a test where you are using 100% oxygen. itythere 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 those decisions more than others, were personally affected by it. more than others. and i don't believe that they were 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 one, apollo went on to be a hugely
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successful series of flights. >> i don't think there's any question about the fact that the apollo one flyer, did shape up the whole system. it did make people realize that they had been complacent, overconfident. and as a result, there was a total redesign of many parts of the spacecraft. and i'm sure contributed to what was a very highly successful -- you know, we are still basic researchers. putting people on the moon. you put it there, do it six times, you only must once? that's incredible. >> and one time, you got the people back. >> -- >> let's go back in time to the older history. because you were there when the flight to the moon was born. wasn't that right? following your very first successful suburban omission.
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tell us about it. >> well, it's an interesting thought. i've heard expressed a few times. and that is that the decision that jack kennedy made to go to the moon was made after we only had 15 minutes of total spaceflight time. other people [inaudible] . 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 get out and i get a nice medal from the president. which, by the way, he dropped. [laughs] i don't know if you remember that scene or not. but they had the thing in a box. and it had been loosened from
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its little clip and so as the president made a speech and said, i now present you with this metal, he turned around and webb lean forward and it's laid out the box. we both bent over for. it mean kennedy almost banged heads. webb went over and in his darn yankee accident, he said, i give you this middle, it comes from the ground up! [laughs] he was mortified and he said, jack, painted on! and so then came the pointy that he pinned the medal on and everything was fine. originally, louise and i were supposed to proceed to the congress after the white house ceremony. and then jack said, no i want
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you to come back to the white house, have a meeting, and let's talk about your flight. so, we have the reception, we drove back in the oval office, with the heads of nasa there, in the heads of the government. jack, of course, was there. lyndon johnson was there. and the picture of me, sitting on the sofa, jack in the rocking chair, and i'm telling him, how i was lying the spacecraft. he's leaning forward, listening intently to this thing, and we talked about the details of the flight. specifically, how man responded, and reacted, to being able to work in the space environment. but and toward the end of the conversation, he said to the nasa people, what are we doing next? but what's our plants? and they said, well, there's a few guys in the corner talk about maybe going to the moon. he said, i want to briefing.
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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 are 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, glen grisham, we flew with jack back to washington for glenn ceremony. the four of us sat in his cabin, and we talked about would guess that done. we talked about with john had done. we talked about what i had done.
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all the way back. people would come in with papers to be signed. he said, don't worry, we will get those when we get back to washington. the entire flight. i'll tell you, really, he was a space cadet. it's 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 bit of a gulp in there, because he had put a time cap on the deal. i don't think that any of us thought we would be able to make it, whether that was in 1961, and with an eight and a half years. and anyways, delighted, but with a little bit of, well, maybe, the president is a little enthusiastic. >> we finally got up to that point where we were into the apollo, and what was your choice? you wouldn't eke?
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what was your best bet as to which would be the first flight to make a landing on the moon? >> well, i suppose, we felt that the schedule, as it was laid out after we rescheduled the apollo eight mission. i think that we felt that than the missions nine, and ten, adequately demonstrated the lunar module 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. >> then, along came 14. we were just at about that point. i think when we change tapes
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awhile back. because now, you would picture team, and you had sweat out apollo 13, and you are ready to fly. must of been a big moment, when you are ready waiting for takeoff. >> i think that, in retrospect, the obvious advantage here was that apollo 13 give us more time to train. no question about it. not that we would not have hand enough, but, it gave us a bit of a higher level of coverage, 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
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guys. they went along with me, and really, there was a lot of confidence. certain in, jane certain, and was my backup. the funny point at that point, approximately, we were four or five days away from lift off, scheduled lift off. we were all in quarantine, of course. at the time, we have to do 21 days before, 21 days after. routine. because of the bug stuff. and he was out early in the morning, flying helicopter, because we all -- the commanders, they used helicopters to train. in the last few hundred feet of the landing, we were having breakfast, and we knew jean was out flying the helicopter, and
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all of a sudden, the door opens, and in walks john. he, is absolutely, covered in soot. he has 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 instead of the water, and he flew that helicopter right into the water. nosed over, blades all over the place. tail rotor blades all over the place. fire, because of the tanks of gas, or the saddle tanks on that, that dinky little chopper, they split, in there was fuel all over the place. he's going to town like this. and of course, being a good navy trained pilot, he knew how
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to cope with being underwater. so, he got out, and he swam to the top, and realized he was in fire, so especially on like this, and took a big deep breath, and swam awhile, and came up, and splashed around, and all that stuff. finally, he got out of the smoke, and the flames, and all of that stuff. somebody had seen the crash, obviously, and it's the banana river, you know, it's not that big a deal, but he came onshore. he came out, and there he was. just totally bedraggled. so he looks at me, as my backup pilot and said, okay, shepard, you win, you get to go. >> ellen, you are now on the moon. you've got in there on apollo 14. and i wonder what your feelings were. >> you're not gonna let me the story about how i got there? >> yes, of course. >> actually, the flight had
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gone extremely well. we had one or two problems talking, there was a problem earlier. a problem with something floating around in the abort switch, which closed as if we were pushing the abort switch closed. that was taken care of. now, we are 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 hit a ruling that the computer had to be updated by the landing radar. the reason being is, if you're on your back, you can't see the ground. you can't see the mountains. you can't see the rocks. so, we had a rule that said, if the landing radar's 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
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working, so, they called us up and said, you're landing radar isn't working. we said, thank you very much, you are aware of that, and then a little bit further on, and i said, you know with the ground rule is about a boarding if you're not a 13,000 feet? well, yeah, we knew that. finally, some bright young man over there in the corner said hey, the landing radar is working, but is locked up on infinity. have them pull a switch, reset it, see if it works. so, we pulled the circuit breaker, put it back in, and sure enough, the landing radar came on , shortly after that, we got clear to land, and man, that was close to routine. soon as we reached over, there is a beautiful from a, and we had seen it hundreds of times, from the scale model. we came on down, and made a very soft landing. as a matter-of-fact, soft
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enough, so that even though we landed in the sly crater, like this, the uphill leg didn't crush like it supposed to, we had crushable material on the landing. so it was still slight, a right-wing down. perfect landing. sharing off the switches. and they said, allen, what were you going to do if a landing radar had not been working at 13,000 feet? i looked at him and said, ed, them we'll never know. i >> would have gone down. >> oh yeah. i hadn't come that far. ed, for example, hadn't been there are similar to i. it was my job to land. man, if i could see the surface, i could get down, maybe not exactly where we were supposed
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to. but i could get down there. >> [inaudible] >> i would have at least pitched over and taken a visual and made the decision. >> there are enough. mission accomplished. tell me about what you and i did, what was it like, in the room? >> of course, the first feeling was one of tremendous -- a 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 sense of self
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satisfaction, i think. immediately. but in that went away, because we had a lot of work to do. but i will never forget that moment. another moment which i will never forget is after ed had followed me down, and we had taken emergency samples, we had a few moments to look around. we looked up in a black sky. totally blacks guy, sun shining in the surface. there's no reflection, no diffusion, it's not reflected. totally black sky and seeing another planet. planet earth. a planet earth is only four times as large as the moon. you can really still put your thumb and your forefinger around it, at that distance. so it makes it look beautiful,
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it makes it look lonely. it makes it look fragile. you think to yourself, just imagine, the millions of people living on that planet. and don't realize how fragile it is. i think this 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. >> 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.
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>> 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 -- >> we'll, 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 won't say say stay in the air, it's time a flight will be six times as long. it will not curve. because there is no atmosphere to make a slide. and i thought, would any place to whack a golf ball. well, when i went to bob, and said, i want to hit a couple golf balls, he said, absolutely
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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 in the taxpayer. and we finally convinced -- 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.
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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. >> and a huge worldwide audience of millions of people have never forgotten, to this day, that alan shepard is 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, a makeshift love, is with the u.s. in their 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
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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. before that it wasn't too long before you decided to ride with nasa. you moved to weather field. as you would call it, the only scheduled missions. crews are already signed. the soviet joint mission, putting your [inaudible] you 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.
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[laughs] but he did it. we were so pleased. >> i remember him here with me on television. when the landing was accomplished and he said, my, great, stafford, you all look great. remember after the fact, they clipped, held something a rather. and the pilot from the [inaudible] and they were in kind of bad shape for a while. i don't know if there was a leaker what happened. you will have to look that up. >> we will have to look that up. >> look it up because it's their flight. okay. john glen is about fly glenn.
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you are back to same age. >> 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, 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
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weightlessness is a function to the amount of exercise or lack thereof, general physical conditioning. and the kind of thing 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 he's bones are a little more brittle, obviously. and i'm sure there will be some lessons learned. i'm not sure if there is time. 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.
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>> 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. doing the formation periods, because an aca was obviously a group of engineers, obviously. they didn't have a political type of administrator. but when web came along, i mean, what a fresh breath was. he knew all the ins and outs of washington. he knew which cords to play. not that he was a lobbyist, by
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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 equipment and got turned down so at least we had some engineering knowledge somewhere. i like bob. i really did. because bob had been on the aviation and being there at langley seeing him but seeing him frequently, though not
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every day. and talking with people who had been with him in those days and what he had done some and he was just a remarkable gentlemen. and i think that he was really sort of a hands on guy to and i obviously appreciated his decision to make me let me do the first flight. but he never told me why he made that decision. i 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
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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. >> 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
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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 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
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scientist, 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 in germany. maybe it was a matter of survival. i think he dealt with the public more
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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. >> 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
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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 anything being as particularly difficult during that time in office? >> i think that -- let me say,
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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, and say, look, we run this program. this is the way it will be run. we are sorry. but,
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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? good bad or indifferent? >> you don't have to answer that one, if you don't choose to. well, i don't know. ... >> 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
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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,
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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 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
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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, 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
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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. >> 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
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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
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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 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
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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 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
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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 -- >> 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
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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, and do it again sometimes. >> all right.
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coming up next, the congressman of guy mel honoree, talks about her own political career. for a series of oral history interview, as with women, who served in congress. the u.s. house of representatives, office of the historian, conducting this interview. >> my name is kathleen johnson, in today, i am with the head historian. the date it's january 8th, 2016, in the house recording studio, and we are pleased to be speaking with former representative, susan mullen are, a from new york. thank you for coming today. we are excited to be part of this project.


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