TAPE 1, SIDE 1
DR. JOHN MAUER: I am John Mauer. We are going to be talking about planning in the late Apollo era and the transition from Apollo to what followed.
DR. GEORGE MUELLLER: This is George Mueller.
MR. MARTIN COLLINS: So, John, why don't you go ahead and lead in with your questions?
MAUER: I have some specific research needs, and that's one of the reasons why Martin was so kind as to talk with you and able to set up this interview, but I also see it fitting within the broader perspective of a series of interviews that Martin has been conducting with you. I'm interested in talking about post-Apollo planning and the environment in which it occurred, and how you as associate administrator for manned space flight, what roles you played, how you saw the overall NASA effort going forward. And also I'm interested in understanding how the relationship between the position that you had and the esponsibilities you had with the administrator and with Congress and OMB, or in those days Bureau of the Budget, BOB, and also with the centers that you directed. That's a big mouthful. It's just meant to kind of set a context.
MUELLER: And the other associate administrators.
MAUER: And the other associate administrators, yes, indeed, with the people that were your peers in the organization. All of this exists within the context of Apollo was moving forward, and the Apollo 204 fire happened in 1967. It caused a great deal of changes, and there was a reluctance, as I understand it, after a certain point, of administrator Webb to want to focus on post-Apollo planning.
MUELLER: I don't know about Jim. Let me go back. When I joined NASA in '63, one of the first things I did was set up an Advanced Planning Office, and that was within the Office of Manned Space Flight. That was designed to try to decide what came after Apollo because it was clear that Apollo was set up to be a unique event, and yet we were also building a very real space capability, which should be exploited following, hopefully, a successful lunar landing, but in any event we were expending an awful lot of money building an awful lot of facilities and building a manufacturing capability and building an infrastructure in terms of science and applications that were very, very large indeed. This came in that time frame, and I'll give Webb, Dryden and Seamans credit for setting up the Institutes on Space Science around the country, which were and have been a very important ingredient in supplying and supporting the space program in terms of its uses. But it was clear then, as it is now, that in order for us to really plan a continuing program, we needed to decide what the goals were, and that. As a matter of fact, I was just reminiscing last week--because I had to give a talk on Apollo, its trials and tribulations and triumphs--that we were at dinner with the Apollo excutives group, and Jim Webb and Bob Seamans were there, on the night of the 204 fire, and so the purpose of that meeting was to go over our planning for the future of Apollo. Obviously that got put on the back burner for about a year. But we had at that time begun the development of a plan. It was at the instigation of the Science and Technology Advisory Committee, though, that we really started an integrated space planning activity, and between BellComm and our Advanced Planning group at Headquarters and the three Advanced Planning groups at the centers, we began to work on what was necesssary. At that time it was clear that if we were going to really be able to exploit space, we were going to have to have a much less expensive way of getting into space and back again. And so one of the things we did was to begin to look at alternatives for space transportation. One lesson that I learned fairly early in the program is that if you throw a piece of hardware away, you're never going to get the costs down because it costs a certain amount to build the piece of hardware, and unless you re-use it a number of times, you can never reduce the cost of whatever it is you're using it for. For that reason, we were looking at re-using the spacecraft, and in fact, did quite a lot of work on protecting it so that after it landed, we could re-use it. That would have been a significant cost savings if we had continued the Apollo program as we planned to do. I don't think people realize that we had set this up to build six of these Saturn V's a year and either build or refurbish six spacecraft to go with them so that we really would have a continuing space program and one that would lead rather naturally to space station, and so on. Skylab was the first of the prototype space stations, if you will. That was all put in place in '68, I think, the Skylab part and what we called the Apollo applications.
COLLINS: This came out of your planning activity within the Office of Manned Spacecraft.
MUELLER: Right. Now, the Integrated Space Plan, one of the things that was clear is we had to involve the other associate administrators, which is why I brought that up. So in planning, the first thing we did was to get a good look at the transportation system itself, and we opted to go a fully reusable route. That is, because of the limits of technology at that time, we had a two stage orbiter, but both stages were fully reusable, and then we had a reusable interorbital transfer vehicle. We had a space station set up as a node. The principal purpose was as a node in the transportation system. The interorbital transfer vehicle was going to use a Nerva engine for that phase, and then we had laid out a dual program of reusable lunar landing vehicle and a reusable Martian landing vehicle. We designed the space station modules so that they could be used as habitat, initial habitat on the moon and on Mars, so that you could land them and have enough energy in your lander to bring down an empty capsule, set it up on the surface, and use it for housing and living conditions until you could build more permanent facilities. So it was an integrated program. Now, in order for it to be however acceptable, we also had a very detailed scientific program which we developed in conjunction with the other two offices. BellComm was the catalyst there because they were trusted by all elements in this planning arena, and they were able to pull together a scientific program that was good, outstanding in its own right, but also supported the manned activities so that we had precursors to the planets. We began to look even further ahead into what was necessary in going out to the asteroids and off into the further out planets. So we had a comprehensive set of scientific experiments. The telescope observatories were part of that plan. As near as one can follow it, that's the same plan that NASA has been pursuing in fits and starts since the end of Apollo. It's also interesting that we had planned to have about a 50 man colony on the moon or an outpost, if you will, by 1986, and we were going to have our first outpost on Mars by 1989. If we had continued at the same pace as we had at the peak of Apollo, we'd probably be there by now.
MAUER: But that's a big "if", isn't it?
MUELLER: Obviously it didn't happen. But at the time when the planning was done, that was what seemed like the only reasonable thing to do.
COLLINS: When you talk about an integrated plan, I want to get clear on what the "integrated" means. Is it that you've got a series of steps that are intimately related to your final goal? Are you talking about institutionally integrated, working with the different offices to carry out the planning exercise?
MUELLER: Both. It was integrated in the sense that all of the offices signed off on it, and you mentioned earlier, you said that Jim Webb had given up on advanced planning. Not true. He was supporting this activity.
MAUER: Well, that's where I need some definition because he was --he's been widely quoted as saying, "It's not NASA's job to decide what the future is going to be. It's for the President and Congress to establish the policy and tell NASA what it's going to plan for." And you're suggesting that there was much more than this in terms of how Webb was handling things. So I think some clarification as to what role Webb was playing in this integrated plan and what was going on with other planning efforts, the Planning Steering Group under Newell.
MUELLER: Well, yes. But that had been going on rather in parallel, but we preempted it in the sense that we supported it completely and took it over because it wasn't getting anywhere. In particular all it was doing was creating a whole set of unrelated scientific experiments, which you know might be useful, but didn't lead anywhere in terms of manned space flight but also didn't really lead the nation anywhere. Really in a sense, we'd been doing some of that for the last twenty years without having a focal point. You do a lot of things that don't seem to be related one to another.
MAUER: What you're saying is how I have understood it. Early in '68 is when the Planning and Steering Group really got started. At what point did you start to focus on what came to be the Integrated Plan?
MUELLER: Well, you know, in a sense the Planning Steering Group was the result of our starting our planning activity in manned space flight and Homer deciding that he needed to be sure science was represented. That was very good because it was important for science to be represented properly, and one of the problems in early manned space flight was an insufficient recognition of the needs of the scientific community, and we worked very hard to correct that over time and managed to do quite well in that process, I think. Oh, I wanted to say one other thing. The Integrated Space Plan, I presume you have a copy of that document?
MAUER: Well, the Integrated Space Plan that was done within NASA, then there was the one that focussed on the much broader goals that was done by BellComm. That I don't have a copy of. Here are some selected pages.
COLLINS: Let me just say for the record, this is a document entitled "An Integrated Program of Space Utilization and Exploration for the Decade 1970-1980," dated July 16, 1969.
MUELLER: That's a very interesting thing. I wonder how it got that date? Probably that was the launch date. But which one is this?
MAUER: No, this is the NASA one that doesn't focus on the larger planetary questions but rather is focussing on manned and scientific effort in earth orbit.
MUELLER: The one that I was referring to is one that was created and was used as a basis for Spiro Agnew's Space Task Group.
MUELLER: That's the one we developed in Manned Space Flight. Then, of course, NASA adopted it.
COLLINS: I guess I want to return to John's earlier observation about Jim Webb's role. He was supporting your activities internally. He seemed to be very cautious in terms of what he was saying to Congress.
MUELLER: Oh, yes indeed. What he was trying to do was to get the President to invent the idea of an Integrated Space Program. It's quite clear that NASA is not going to be able all by itself to stand up there and say, "This is the program the nation ought to pursue." You've got to have the President and Congress agree or really hopefully invent the program. That's really what happened in Apollo. The President selected one of three alternatives that he asked NASA about and said, "This is the one we're going to go with." But the basic planning was done by NASA, and the President just simply took it over. Well, we were hoping to do the same thing with this Integrated Space Plan. Unfortunately, a series of events happened on the way to Mars, most of them not conducive to an active space program.
COLLINS: You're referring to the Vietnam War and what else?
MUELLER: Spiro Agnew getting himself in trouble. So there wasn't a spokesman in Headquarters or in the executive branch for the space program. And Lyndon Johnson being worried about other things, and Nixon not really caring anyhow. Nixon was willing to use the space program but not support it.
MAUER: There had been planning going on--going ahead and focussing on bases on the moon, human exploration of Mars, at least in terms of documents that emerge out of NASA as an organization. That's one of the problems, is that things were working down underneath long before information really begins to flow out. At what point do you really see this as more than a longstanding concern with a space station? The idea of a reusable transportation vehicle. When do you begin to really focus on this as, we need a plan that goes much beyond, that keeps up the momentum of Apollo.
MUELLER: We started this in the first part of '68 and really had a very large effort going on all through '68 and '69. One of the things that came out of our study was that we started out with a space station. This was going to be our next goal. Then we began to look at what really we were going to do with a space station and what its long term significance might be, or space stations, really, because it's clear if they're going to be useful, you're going to have a lot of them, not just one, and that they're going to be at different orbital altitudes and do different things. But in looking at them, it was clear to me at least that you could not justify a space station with what we were able to forecast in the way of utilization of that space station unless you could make it a node in a transportation system for a larger goal. That was the key decision that meant well, if you really want to have a space program that has longevity and some ability to continue over a period of time, you need to have a goal beyond earth orbit. Therefore, you had a reason for a space station. Because you needed a staging point as well as a refueling point in going to other orbits. Really that's true whether or not you're going to lunar orbit or whether you're going into other orbits around the earth because orbital movements require a new source of energy. You can't really do it all from the Cape or all from Vandenberg, either one. Not without tremendous expenditure of energy. So it was clear that one of the principal uses in the long term of a space station was as a refueling point. Now, maybe you can talk about it as being--as our friend at Princeton does--as being another habitat for humans, and maybe it will become a resort complex in time. But it's going to take a lot of time. In the meantime, you've got to keep the program going. Now, you ask, how to you get to reusable vehicles? If you're really talking about any commercial utilization of space, you've got to reduce the cost. If you want a resort in space, you've got to reduce the cost of going up there and coming back down far below the present level of costs. And that means fully reusable vehicles, and I became convinced of this and argued fairly strongly with Jim Fletcher when he made the decision to go the solid rocket route that that was going to be--and expendable tanks--that that was going to result in maybe saving some money up front, but was going to cost dearly in the long run and would destroy the program. And sure enough, that's right. You know, our government and our officials tend to take the short view, just as our whole economy does, and that's disastrous in the long run, will be disastrous for our economy and is disastrous for our space program.
MAUER: So for you, one of the real key elements was the fully reusable space shuttle.
MAUER: How early are you seeing this as the real key to making the future that you wanted NASA to have?
MAUER: You, as early as the spring of 1968, had given a talk at Detroit in which you had talked about reusable vehicles, speech at the Economic Club of Detroit.
MUELLER: That I did earlier. I did it in '67.
MAUER: Well, that's what a subordinate of yours who worked on this question, Dan Schneer, has told me, that by '67 you were thinking of it.
MUELLER: I think that's right. I'm off a year. Well, life is like that.
MAUER: Exactly. It's been a lot of years, I understand. What I'm trying also to get at is not just a question of timing. It's also the thought processes behind it. It's one thing to say, this is an interesting, even important thing to do--which I think many in NASA said. But I think many people really focussed much more upon space station and that the Space Shuttle was a tool to do what was really important, and that was the space station. Do you think that is a legitimate characterization, that there were people in NASA who held a view like that?
MUELLER: Yes. As a matter of fact, there was a lot of discussion. You know, we did a fairly thorough look at what you could do in reducing the cost of expendable vehicles to get them down--you know, big dumb boosters and all of those things. Because coming where I came from, we started some big dumb booster studies back in 1959 or '60, back in the beginning of the space era, because we were looking at ways of reducing the cost of transportation.
COLLINS: You're talking about at Ramo-Wooldridge.
COLLINS: Were these studies for the Air Force?
MUELLER: Yes. I'm not sure whether they were for the Air Force. They were paid for by the Air Force. But we were really trying to look ahead and see what was necessary for a space program, not just a military space program but a space program. It soon became clear to me at least, but not to many of my colleagues, and still isn't clear to them, but in looking at all our experience with aircraft and with ballistic missiles, you find that there's a certain cost per pound of material, and that cost per pound is fixed depending upon the structural components that you use. Of course, engines cost a lot more per pound, but the average is so many dollars a pound, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to change that equation so that the cost per pound wasn't the thing that determined the cost of the vehicle and therefore the transportation costs. Well, it turns out, if you re-use it, then the cost per pound can be divided by the number of times you re-use it, and in the case of a reusable launch vehicle, completely reusable, what you have is a cost per pound of transporation that then is the cost of the propellants and whatever supporting infrastructure you need in order to launch it and bring it back. Those are continuing costs that add to the cost of transportation. But you can divide the cost of development over a large number of flights and get that part of the cost down. Well, that simple minded set of concepts led to a fully reusable system, but one which also had a very small infrastructure for supporting it. Now, one of the keys to the original Shuttle concept was, you can fly it like an airplane. You're not going to have 100,000 people at the Cape polishing it and putting it back together after every flight.
TAPE 1, SIDE 2
COLLINS: We were just discussing the Integrated Space Plan. Your summary on this was that this was something that was prepared through Johnson, is that what you're suggesting?
COLLINS: This particular version was.
MUELLER: Marshall had a similar one. Now, it was prepared not just through Johnson, because these groups were all working together, but each one came up with their idea of it, and it was finally integrated into the other one. Now, the date on this one is late, so it was probably Johnson's review of what the Integrated Plan was and how they thought it would be implemented.
MAUER: The date seems to be tied to two things, the launching of Apollo 11 and also with activity in the Space Task Group.
MUELLER: And my birthday. It was something that they did for me on my birthday. There was a fair amount of camaraderie at that time. Everybody was up and working together as a real team, which hasn't happened for a while now.
COLLINS: I've been browsing this Integrated Space Plan and the mix of activities seems more complex than even what NASA had undertaken with Apollo. First of all, is that a correct perception? And if it is, what kind of organizational changes would have been required to implement such a program?
MUELLER: It was more complex in that it required more integration. The secret, however, of organizing a program of this sort is one of setting it up in such a way that the interfaces between the segments or sectors of the program are limited and defined well. More particularly in the case of scientific programs, it's important to have not only the interfaces defined well but rather independent of time because many of the scientific experiments require more time than the authors originally expect, to complete, and therefore you need to have flexibility in that interface with respect to timing of flights. Actually, the structure that we had in place was relatively well adapted. This idea of program offices at Headquarters and project offices in the centers had by that time been adopted not just by Manned Space Flight but Space Sciences had done that, and to some extent, the Space Applications, OART, Advanced Research and Technology, had re-organized itself to provide that kind of a structure. It pervaded NASA at that point in time. Now, the centers were never happy with that arrangement because it impinged upon their autonomy, and so they spent a good deal of time over the years re-asserting their independence so that two or three years ago, they were almost entirely independent of each other and of Headquarters. The Challenger accident really focussed on the fact that there wasn't an effective management of the program, and of the programs, and that that was leading to unreliability, to lack of definition of interfaces, to a whole host of problems. That's why the Phillips Committee came up with the recommendation to re-establish program management at Headquarters on most projects, not on small projects but on large projects, and to re-introduce the discipline that permitted the administrator to at least know what was going on in the place, as well as begin to exercise some control over it. That's progressing but very very slowly, because the built-in biases are in the other direction, and it takes extremely strong leadership to set up a structure as we had it at the time of Apollo.
COLLINS: Your sense is that the Apollo structure was adaptable.
MUELLER: Right. And would be today. But it needs something like that, that management structure, if you're going to succeed in these major programs. You can't do it by good will between centers and contractors. Their good well only extends so far.
COLLINS: In doing the planning document, one audience and purpose for this was the Space Task Group. Were there any other audiences or purposes for this?
MUELLER: Oh, yes. The principal purpose really wasn't the Space Task Group. It started long before the Space Task Group came into being, and in fact, the Space Task Group was rather a response to the planning activities, rather than vice versa. But the motivation there was to exploit what we had accomplished in Apollo and provide for follow-on that was meaningful, and it further was designed to bring together all of the disparate elements of NASA, to get the space group, science group and the space applications group and technology group and the manned space flight group working together as a team on a common program. In the background you will recognize that there were three committees in Congress cognizant over the NASA budget, and one of them was space science, one was technology, and one was the manned space flight. The Space Science Committee in Congress was always trying to go off on its own and carry off manned space flight and technology for science, and the technology team was not very strong, unfortunately, and so therefore they kept getting left out. One of my chores, I took it to be to support both the technology and the science groups and get money transferred or allocated, if you will, from manned space flight to support those activities, and in a very real sense, the lunar program was carrying the space science, although they've never recognized it, but they were, and the technology programs. We were providing the funds and the impetus for it. The Nerva incident, for example. It was a great disappointment to me when that got cancelled because that's the key to economical interorbital transfer. You've got to have something other than chemicals if you really want to fly around in space for long distances under reasonable accelerations.
MAUER: You're touching on an area that we'd like to understand better. Your vision in this was the integrated plan brings all of these different elements of NASA together, gets them working together, develops NASA as a whole and tries to keep a balance between them. Now, my understanding is people within space science saw the integrated plan in a rather different way. My understanding is that there were some people who thought that this was manned space flight's camel nose under the tent. This was the way that manned space flight was basically using science in order to really advance its own interests. First of all, is this understanding, that there were people who had this view, correct?
MUELLER: Oh, yes. And they're quite wrong. But it is interesting that you'll also find that there are people in manned space flight who consider space science as an extraneous thing that ought to be cut back, not eliminated but cut back in favor of doing something useful.
MAUER: Let's tie this together in terms of how you dealt with this, as associate administrator for manned space flight. I think in the period late '68 into early '69, there were some people in space science who were very angry. There were some very strong emotions flowing.
MUELLER: Homer (Newell) was fairly well up on that.
MAUER: And John Naugle.
MUELLER: And John Naugle to a very considerable extent, yes. And that was unfortunate because they never did realize that I was probably one of their strongest supporters and tried my level best to make sure that they came out well in this process.
MAUER: Why is it that they couldn't understand that? What was the problem?
MUELLER: Well, you know, I don't know what their problem was, and I have to say reading Homer's book, I never really did understand what his basic motivation and understanding was. It's one of those things where what you perceive on the surface has very little to do with what people are really thinking or trying to do. But in any event, Homer, on a couple of occasions, wanted to do something differently than I thought was appropriate, and we did in fact have eventually to go to Bob Seamans to solve it.
MAUER: Can you give an example?
MUELLER: On the telescope mount, for example, the one that went on Skylab. Homer really didn't want to have Marshall do that job. He wanted Goddard to do it. And he really wanted quite a different design than we'd come up with for the ATM. But he wasn't sure what it was he wanted, but it was clear he wanted Goddard to do it. And it just seemed to me, at least, that since Marshall was responsible for the Skylab overall, integration, that it was important for them to have something to do that was key and in line to the use of the Skylab. It was also important if it was going to get done properly and well that they be responsible for the integration of it in the system because that thing was going to work or not work depending upon how well the overall control system worked. So I argued that, and Homer argued the other, and eventually we went to see Bob Seamans and went through the set of arguments that each one had, and Bob said, "Well, I think we ought to do it down at Marshall." It really turns out that whenever we had a disagreement, I tended to win the argument, and that was basically because I'd done my homework on it. I don't like to go into arguments. I don't like to argue unless I really understand what the problem is. Homer tended to be more emotional and less logical than I was, I guess, at the time. In any event, that perception continued, and it really, I guess, stemmed from the beginning of the Mercury program when the Office of Manned Space Flight had zero interest in science, and it continued into Gemini. When I got there, there was still a fair amount of "don't bother me with science" attitude amongst the folks in the Manned Spacecraft Center. To some large extent that continues today, although their code, of course, is quite different, but the basic infrastructure is interested in engineering, in getting these things built properly. They really aren't that interested in the science part of it, the science experiments and so on. That's all right if you've got some other source that's bringing science in. In any event, I set up the STAC Committee in part, the Science and Technology Advisory Committee, in part to emphasize science and to counter the feeling on the part of the space science group that they didn't have a voice in the operation. We brought over Ed Cortright as my deputy to help bridge that gap. We did everything we could do to convince the space scientists that we were for them and on their side.
MAUER: But it didn't work, really.
MUELLER: It didn't work very well, I must say, because no matter what you said, they still felt that they weren't getting their fair share of the resources. It's interesting that they've gotten their share of the resources all along. In fact, more than their share. The one area that really has suffered is that technology area, and it really has suffered. Since I left NASA, it's been, it's gone down and almost destroyed three of the centers, and it's only in the very last several years that Dale (Myers) and Jim (Fletcher) have been pumping money back into technology, as fast as they could, but it takes a while to reverse that. But it's terribly important that technology gets more money.
MAUER: The committee, Charles Townes was on that.
MUELLER: He was the chairman of it.
MAUER: Yes, he was the chairman. There was a big meeting at La Jolla, California, in December of 1968, and represented a lot of planning. Simultaneous with that, Charles Townes was also in a special transition committee that then President-Elect Nixon had set up. That committee included Bob Seamans, who was at MIT and was going to be coming in as Secretary of Air Force. The Townes Committee in support of the transition for Nixon took a very different point of view from the one that not only you and OMSF were developing, but virtually the whole series of planning efforts going on and developing. The Townes Committee said, "We like the idea of a transportation vehicle, a Space Shuttle. We don't like the idea of a space station." By implication, they were looking at a Space Shuttle type vehicle as being the sole next step after Apollo. How did that strike you when you saw the results of that planning effort?
MUELLER: It seemed to me to be very short-sighted. I think Si Ramo was part of it, if I remember correctly, and that particular group represented a group that really hadn't looked in that depth into the space program and its needs and its future. I think everybody was agreeing at that time that we needed a low cost space transportation system because that clearly was something we really did need. But since the people that decided on budgets didn't really realize or didn't care, but probably didn't realize how you got low cost space transportation, they just simply said, "Well, Space Shuttle will do it," and didn't bother to think about what the Space Shuttle really had to look like in order to do it. That led to the Space Shuttle we now have. Then the exigencies of paying for the Vietnam War delayed things, and at the same time led to cancellation of the Saturn program, which goodness knows, if we had kept on, would have made a tremendous difference in our posture in space. I must confess that it strikes me still as being extremely short-sighted to chop off Saturn before you had a Shuttle going that was working. The same thing is true of all the other vehicles. You don't really want to stop one until you've got the other one going and know what it's going to do. But the answer to your question more particularly is: I just don't think they understood the problem.
MAUER: You had, from a very early time, looked at the question of the big booster approach and saw it really was a dead end, if you were going to get down the cost per pound of the payload, into low earth orbit. You, at a very early date, focussed on the question of a fully reusable launch vehicle. But many within NASA, their primary goal was Space Station. They liked the idea of a Space Shuttle because of a station, economically, but the Shuttle was secondary to them. So if you look at the way that money was being spent, plans were being pushed forward, the station is ahead of the Shuttle. Space Station was into Phase B before '68 ended. The Phase A contracts for the Shuttle weren't let until the end of January, 1969. Does this represent the fact that it took some time to get the rest of NASA to begin to focus on the Shuttle in the way that you were? Or why is there this particular relationship in phasing?
MUELLER: Well, the point of the problem was that it took a while to get agreement on what the configuration of the Shuttle should be. We decided we needed a fully reusable one in '68, but boy, there were a lot of different approaches. Max Faget had a radically different approach, which at least our analysis indicated wouldn't work, but he stuck through it for about a year. In fact, I think he still believes in it.
MAUER: This is the straight wing.
MUELLER: Straight wing.
MAUER: High angle of attack re-entry vehicle.
MUELLER: Exactly. So we had a series of study groups going on. I got Aerospace involved. One of the things we needed to do was get Air Force support for it because unless we had Air Force support, I could see that we would be fighting an uphill battle all the way through the program. So we set out to get the Air Force on board, and we did. All of our studies in the end were joint studies with the Air Force and NASA centers working together, and the Air Force in the form of the Aerospace Corporation, and in fact, one of the chief architects was an Aerospace guy, Don Dolley. That took more time because you had more constiuencies to bring into line. The question of engines--Rockwell was pushing the Spike engine, and the folks at United Technologies were pushing the high pressure engine, and I finally had to make the decision that this is where you want to go, namely, use the high pressure engine because we had some demonstrated capability there. No one had ever really flown a Spike engine, much less a high pressure Spike engine, and you needed the high pressure in order to achieve the ISP's so it would give you the payload you needed. The constraints put on by the Air Force on the cargo bay size, and correspondingly then the liftoff weight, were very real, and that was a big argument within NASA. Well, why would we want to do that foolish thing? Why should we go with this monstrous vehicle when we could do a small one as an experiment?
MAUER: That's what Faget and Gilruth were interested in doing down at MSC.
MUELLER: Right. So eventually it had to be a more or less command decision to get the configuration settled, and that was why it took so long to get to the A group, was to get our own house in order and everybody understanding what the trade-offs were. This wasn't clear at the beginning, which approach would be the best one.
MAUER: But most of the configurations that were being studied in these original ILRV studies were stage and a half vehicles and they were things, a number of them were concepts, that had been studied for the Air Force earlier. Lockheed's Star Clipper is one example of this.
MUELLER : Exactly, and McDonnell-Douglas had a version,--
MAUER: Boeing had a version --
MUELLER: All of them claimed that it was their version that was finally adopted.
MAUER: The Houston effort was really stimulated by the Phase A effort. It came after it, and also the stimulation of the start-up of the Space Task Group. In '68, Houston really wasn't very interested. Dan Schneer was working mainly with Marshall about this.
MUELLER: That's quite right.
MAUER: And all of a sudden this starts blossoming after the Phase A contracts are let.
MUELLER: It wasn't after. If the Phase A contract was let in late '69 --
MAUER: No, late January, 1969, the end of January, so in the first month of 1969. Then within a short period of time, Houston started what it called its Skunk Works.
MUELLER: Yes, that's right. Actually at the time of the Phase A studies, we hadn't made the final decision on configuration. So we were leaving it wide open at that time. Then the final decision was made late in '69.
MAUER: Well, the decision to go for a two stage fully reusable for Phase B was made in '69, yes. In fact, Phase A was really oriented during the middle of it, saying what we want to do so that the impetus moved very quickly. Bringing the Air Force in, the creation of the Space Shuttle Task Group, which was in support of the Space Task Group. You indicated earlier that the Space Task Group grew out of the planning effort, but it seemed to feed back in. The planning effort for the Space Shuttle really gathered momentum very quickly in '69. You had a press conference at the beginning of May in which you announced the decision for the large payload bay. You said that this was an Air Force requirement. You discussed a variety of inputs that the Air Force had had. Did these inputs come in fairly quickly? The type of thing that was being thought about early on was for a relatively small payload vehicle, and then there burst open this concept of the large vehicle, and it remained the primary focus from then on out.
MUELLER: That must have been along about the first of the year, first of '69.
MAUER: This was beginning of May.
MUELLER: Well, but there had been discussion about it.
MAUER: No, I'm talking about the press conference. I understand. Was it the creation of the joint planning effort in support of the Space Task Group that really increased--
MUELLER: Well, we already had the Joint Planning Effort going before that. I guess it just got formalized in some sense at the time. But we had started that joint planning back in '68. I had begun to work with the Air Force to establish that. I think Grant Hanson was over there at the time, as Assistant Secretary for R&D, and he and I and Don Dooley out at Aerospace Corporation were formulating the guidelines for this and getting the various groups working on their concepts because we really did want to get a good look at what was possible.
TAPE 2 , SIDE 1
MUELLER: So that was what led us to the size of the payload bay. That was another consideration although at that time we were thinking of putting the space station up with Saturn V's, which would have made a great deal of sense. But we thought that we would need, probably need later on, larger things for supporting the space station and that having a Shuttle that large would bean advantage for NASA as well. There was also the feeling that the larger vehicle would be more economical in the long run because you wouldn't have to have so many flights, and generally speaking a larger vehicle is a more efficient vehicle if you've got the payload to put in it.
MAUER: So you felt that this was in NASA's interest, to have the large vehicle.
MUELLER: Yes. Or else I wouldn't have compromised that far.
COLLINS: May I ask a question? In terms of your thinking about the space station, did you similarly feel a need to integrate what you were doing with the Air Force or DOD interests?
MUELLER: Well, we wanted to support the Air Force. The Air Force at that time, however, had the position that there was absolutely no use for man in space, and that was because of their sad experience with their own space station program.
MAUER: But anyway it wasn't cancelled yet? It was a little later in '69, wasn't it?
MUELLER: Well, it was up for cancellation.
MAUER: It was up for cancellation, so their attitude had already changed even before the formal cancellation.
MUELLER: Right. That was the official line. The Air Force itself didn't believe that, but they were being told to believe it. It still doesn't. I mean, the Air Force officers that are involved in the space activities I think would dearly love to have a space station of their own.
COLLINS: But at that time, it was felt that it was politically inexpedient to pursue it but also politically inexpedient not to be involved with NASA's planning.
MAUER: So the relationship between the military and NASA had been going on for some time previous. It had begun in '68.
MUELLER: Actually it began in '63.
MAUER: I'm talking about specifically in terms of the Space Shuttle.
MAUER: No, I understand that the relationship had been existing long before that, but how was the communication handled in terms of the Space Shuttle?
MUELLER: Primarily through the Assistant Secretary for R&D in the Air Force. He and I were working together closely. Let's see, who was at that point in time--I guess Bob Seamans was the Secretary.
MAUER: Well, once Nixon comes in in '69, he's the Secretary. You indicated that if you hadn't believed it was in NASA's interest to have a large payload bay, you wouldn't have compromised therefore. That raises the interesting question about the process of negotiation, and there needs to be give and take, and yet there have to be limits to how far you particularly give. How do you go about determining this in a context such as the Space Shuttle?
MUELLER: Well, I have one philosophy in terms of any program, and that is that in the long run, the thing that is the right thing will survive, and so you want to be sure that you're doing the right thing to start with, or else it won't survive. So we spent a good deal of time looking at the trade-offs involved and trying to be sure we understood just what was going to be the best possible approach to providing really low cost space transporation. It turned out that there wasn't a huge difference in terms of what it cost, whether you made this thing with a 65 foot bay or whether you made it with a 6 foot bay. The development costs are going to be large in any event. So that was one consideration. Another consideration was just political. How do you get the sustained political support that you need? It was clear to us at that time that we needed to have a joint program between the Air Force and NASA, and that that program ought to be aimed at providing low cost space transportation for all of our needs. It's just in my view unfortunate that we made the compromise, after I left NASA, in terms of a partially reusable vehicle, and all that that implies in terms of not only the cost of the throw-away parts but also the cost of the ground troops that have to process it and put it together and fly it every time. That combination--and ground support is a not insufficient part of a Shuttle cost--was a set of decisions that doomed low cost space transportation for that generation of vehicles.
COLLINS: What happened slightly later on was that the desire to achieve low cost launches became kind of the rationale for determining, at least partly, the Shuttle design. At this early stage, were you visualizing the Shuttle, its main rationale as a low cost transporation system or as moving forward the technology in key areas?
MUELLER: As a low cost transporation system. But as a technology driver. Many of the compromises that were made were in the direction of using existing technology rather than developing new technology, and what we had going in was a new technology base. For example, I was pushing very hard on fly by wire, on integrated subsystems that were capable of being used with only a Coax connection for sending messages so that each subsystem had its own capability of diagnosis and redundancy and the ability to tell the central computer that it was well or ill, or what its problems were. That was a four wire system, two wires for power and two wires for signals, and that was all you needed in a space vehicle. They still haven't gotten around to that although the aircrafts are beginning to get that. But you take space station, they have cables running all around the place. Ridiculous in today's world.
MAUER: Before I move on, I have a list of various characteristics that you mentioned in your speech to the British Interplanetary Society in August of 1968, and among the characteristics was all weather operation. At what point can you conceptualize the potential of technology that outstrips what you're going to be able to achieve in terms of a particular generation's technological development? The Shuttle is not an all-weather vehicle. How do you see this? Is it that it wasn't pushed in the right direction, or was this just an area in which technological development couldn't match up to the ability to conceive it?
MUELLER: The Shuttle as it was designed, as it was built, used all of the technology that we had on Apollo. It didn't any new technology. That was adequate to do the job, but it wasn't adequate to do an all-weather landing, for example, or at least no one would have wanted to try it. And what I had envisioned was a completely new set of electronics and a completely new set of materials which would in fact have been capable of doing all those things. That's what we were striving for in our Phase A and Phase B studies.
MAUER: One thing that's missing out of the conversation so far is the question of money, of budgets. NASA had been under a great deal of pressure for quite some time, and as it began to change focus towards post-Apollo, Congress in particular really began to take a very hard approach.
MUELLER: That was clear before I left NASA. And I set out a small program and I tried to convince Jim Webb and Tom Paine that we needed to do some very considerable reorganization if we were going to live within the budgets that Congress was talking about, and by that I meant that we were going to have to look at the centers, and dramatically reduce the size of the centers. You know, when we built up an Apollo, we built up with support contractors, with the idea that if we were later going to have to retrench, we could lay off the support contractors and keep the civil servants in place. But in order to do that, we needed to review and re-do the roles and missions of the centers, and instead of every center doing everything, we were going to have to focus each one on a particular area, and reduce the size of that center, primarily through reducing the subcontractors to roughly about half the size they were at that time in '69. We were going to have to do that in order to have enough free funds to be able to fund the Space Shuttle and the Space Station and the follow-on programs. That didn't turn out to excite the people. Eventually they have been forced to cut back on civil servants, but the fascinating thing in looking at it is that they've built up the subcontractor structure so that now they have the same number of people involved in the centers as they had at the peak of the Apollo program, or essentially the same, in each of the centers, all the way around the circuit. But as a consequence, the internal costs of operating the system doesn't leave any money over for doing anything new like a new Space Shuttle or a new whatever. The infrastructure is absorbing all of the funding. Now, Jim Fletcher recognized that, but instead of cutting the support contractor structure, what he did was to get more money into the program, so that now there are some free funds to do something different and new, and that's good. You have to make that choice, though. Essentially in the interim period, between Jim's second emergence and the first one, NASA has been operating on a fixed budget level, but inflation has cut down what it can do, and about all it's done for the last ten years is support the infrastructure of NASA and not any other new initiatives of any sort.
MAUER: There was some talk of perhaps closing centers. Obviously the Electronics Research Center was closed, not closed but transferred to DOT, but there had been some talk of perhaps closing Marshall.
MUELLER: There was. That was much later, but yes, that was one of the things that was talked about. We talked about closing Lewis.
MAUER: And closing Ames.
MUELLER: And closing Ames. But that wasn't what I thought would make sense. What I thought would make sense was to say, "Look, Ames, you are going to be the center for aerodynamic research. You and Langley are going to be our two centers for aerodynamic research, and you're going to quit doing all of these space activities you're involved in. Lewis, you're going to work on new engines, and you're going to quit doing power systems and communication satellites, things of that sort. You're going to really concentrate on new engine technologies. And Marshall, you're going to quit screwing around in science, you're going to get back to doing something in materials research and engine development, so that we've got the next generation of vehicles coming on. Houston, you're going to give up something and we're going to consolidate all of our flight operations at the Cape and we're not going to have two flight operations centers or four as we actually do have, and so we can get some savings by consolidation. We're going to get our satellite system up so that we don't have all these ground stations to worry about, put what is now TDRSS up. I had quite a marvelous program going. I floated it into Headquarters, and it floated back.
MAUER: So this was not greeted with a smile, is what you're saying.
MUELLER: No, no. But it was going to be essentially delivered in that budget.
MAUER: So this is the way that you could see how responding to the budget pressures that the agency was coming under and being at the same time able to move forward with new technology.
MUELLER: Right. Now, I must say, I figured if we really adopted it, that we would suddenly find our funds would go up, because a lot of the support in Congress comes from the local areas, and there might be a reconsideration of what our funding ought to be. But you have to take that first step and mean it.
MAUER: And be willing to accept it if it's agreed to.
MAUER: It can't be just a simple Statue of Liberty play.
MUELLER: No. And as a matter of fact, I think that would have been healthy for NASA.
MAUER: Congress for the '68 and '69 fiscal years really cut into what the difference between administration request and the amount actually appropriated, in 1968, was down 10 percent, in 1969 it was down 8.6 percent. But after 1969 the problem really stops being primarily focussed in Congress, and really moves into the Budget Office and the White House. When Richard Nixon becomes President, Richard Nixon is determined to balance the budget. He decides to drop the 10 percent surtax on income tax, and this has some tremendous budgetary implications in it. NASA has been developing its plans for a vehicle to take its internal planning and put it onto a national level with the Space Task Group headed by Vice President Agnew, and you're Integrated Plan is selected as the basis. The Agnew Plan is largely drawn from your Integrated Plan. That is correct?
MAUER: Bob Seamans as Secretary of the Air Force was one member of the Space Task Group, and while the Space Task Group as a whole accepts your approach, likes it, adopts it, Bob Seamans is saying, "The only part of this that I really like is the idea of a space transportation system," and he at least believes that he was very influential with Robert Mayo who was the Director of the Bureau of the Budget.
MUELLER: Yes, I'm sure he was.
MAUER: No, as associate administrator, when budget questions are being developed, you play an important role. But now much direct contact do you have with the budget officers?
MUELLER: Very little. It's all through Webb. We were brought in at the last moment to defend our parts of it, but we weren't involved in the daily negotiations. I began to try to change that when I really became aware of the problems that were growing there, because we didn't have problems earlier with Lyndon Johnson particularly.
MAUER: But at the very end there were some problems, weren't there?
MUELLER: Well, yes, but not real. Jim Webb was instrumental in setting up a reserve, if you will, so going in, OMB would have something to cut and feel good about it, and Congress could have something to cut and feel good about it. But remember, we were coming off the peak of Apollo, so we had some leeway in there, a small amount, and so that was more or less a political set of maneuvers. Later it got to be a real problem because of the combination of inflation and a steady budget, and that was something that they never did cope with effectively, couldn't seem to, partly because of the propensity of NASA to say "Yes, sir, we will do anything you want for whatever you give us," and that's a mistake. You can't do anything, you can't do everything, if you're going to be cut back in terms of real dollars.
COLLINS: Was that an attitude of Tom Paine's specifically, or generally of NASA management? How would you characterize that?
MUELLER: I'm not sure that Tom ever had any real influence on it. It was more nearly the follow-on administration. It is an attitude built into NASA that says, the government says you've got this much money, and they've agreed that you're going to do these many things, and therefore we're going to try to do them all, instead of when government says "you've got this much money," taking another look at their programs and saying, "Well, we can't do them all. We're not going to do a number of them piecemeal." Because the usual thing is, everybody gets cut back by 20 percent, and therefore you do 80 percent of what's needed, and in some programs, that's a disaster, because for example, in the twenty years since the lunar landing, we have managed to cut technology expenditures, because they didn't have any obvious proponents or any obvious effects, to almost nothing, just the internal operation of NASA, nothing going into really new technology. We cut out most of the spares in the Shuttle. We cut out most of the testing or a fair part of the testing of the Shuttle. And if there's a good way to guarantee a problem, it's to do just that. But you live within budget constraints, and we stretched out all of our science programs, and of course that runs the cost of the science programs up. Any time you stretch a program out, you may save money this year, but you're going to spend ten times as much in the future. Because it ricochets throughout the thing, and the marching army keeps going, they just don't produce anything, and it's a very bad situation. It's better to stop a program, is what I'm saying, and not spoon feed it.
MAUER: And you feel that the Space Shuttle program was spoon fed?
MUELLER: Oh yes! Terrible.
MAUER: In 1972, Del Myers? wrote a memo saying that if there were further cuts, that NASA should go and say that the Space Shuttle program should be cancelled. But that never happened. They never did go in and say, "There just isn't enough money."
MUELLER: But that's what would have made a great deal of sense to do. Because we're now paying for that. We've had a two year or three year hiatus in the flight program, spent all of the money that we should have spent earlier, and then some, in trying to fix the program, and it's never -- once you've gotten in that position, if you haven't done it right the first time, fixing it is both more expensive and never completely satisfactory. There's a great premium on doing things right the first time. I mean, it really is.
MAUER: But there's also a question of technological risk. Charles Donlan, for example, is quite convinced that the two stage fully reusable represented an excessive degree of technological risk. Clearly you have a different viewpoint on it.
MUELLER: Yes. My viewpoint is that we've never failed in a program by taking technological risks. We've failed by under-funding it. And whether or not you have technological risk, you surely will have a problem if you under-fund it.
MAUER: Let's talk about the problem of funding some more.
MUELLER: But let me go back to technological risk. I don't see any reason for believing that there was excessive technological risk in the dual vehicle. For example, we ended up testing the orbitor by piggybacking it on a 747. Well, if you can piggyback it on a 747 that wasn't ever designed for a thing like that, the technological risk of piggybacking it on something designed for that particular regime is negligible. That first stage was not a major leap forward, in any sense. The second stage was. But I never felt that there was any -- and I don't think anybody who was involved in the program really thought that there was a tremendous technological risk in the two stage vehicle. Now, some people outside looking at it might say, well, gee. But they haven't spent the time and energy necessary to really understand what the trade-offs were.
MAUER: What you've been talking about, it seems to me, is the question of leadership.
MUELLER: Hm mm. It certainly is.
MAUER: What is your assessment of Tom Paine's role in terms of his leadership in the program?
MUELLER: Well, Tom had a relatively limited period of time. Tom is an inspirational leader. I mean, he's a futurist, and he was quite instrumental in getting this program, the integrated space program, into and in the approval cycle, and was very effective in that way. Now, how he might have worked out as a long term leader, I don't have any way of knowing. So if you want to look at the leadership after that, you have Jim Fletcher. You have my friend at General Motors, the next administrator after Tom.
MAUER: Robert Frosch?
MUELLER: Bob Frosch. And he wasn't a leader at all.
COLLINS: He was after Fletcher.
MUELLER: He was after Fletcher, yes, that's right, I got the sequence wrong. Jim is not a creative person, in a sense. He is more of a person who figures out how to get something done. I say that because I was trying for the last two years to get Jim to say, "Well, we've got to have a goal, publicly." And the most he said is that, he said very gently, "We ought to have a goal." But not being in the political maelstrom there, I don't know. He may have done more than anyone could expect. But nevrtheless, we haven't ended up at NASA with a goal that people can address. And it's a basic problem with the troops, because they don't have a rallying point. Jim and Dale will argue, "Well, of course we've got goal. We've already said we have a goal. We've been working on it ever since the lunar landing, and we're going to get there." But the troops don't understand it, and the public doesn't understand it, so I don't-- and I'm sure that Jim does understand it, but he hasn't found a way of rallying all of the troops and the public to support it. And I don't know how you do that, actually, unless there is a crisis of some sort.
MAUER: Like with Apollo.
MAUER: But given the lack of a crisis to give this a great emotional boost, and also given the fact that the country was trying to come to terms with the economic problems of gun and butter policies that have been followed, and Richard Nixon's orientation for controlling the budget, the two stage fully reusable Space Shuttle by itself had the high development cost, variously estimated at ten to twelve million dollars. The integrated approach, even without talking about figuring in lunar bases, sending humans to Mars, and the budget, in this document that we've been talking about earlier, the July 19, 1969, integrated program, one of the versions of your integrated program projected by 1974 a budget of over six and a half billion dollars.
MUELLER: That was coming off of what, four or five?
MAUER: It was projecting of just about 3.9 in fiscal year 1970 going to approximately 4.4 the next year, 5.2, almost 6 and then 6.5.
MUELLER: That was the high program.
MAUER: That was the high program. Yes. This looked like it was quite doable in the middle of 1969. Space Task Group is pushing this forward, Apollo 11 is flying, -- but there's some hesitation. The budget guidance that BOB gave NASA in the summer of 1969 said, "Well, it's a 3.5 billion, 4.5 billion-- 4.5 billion, that's very much within what we're talking about here. 3.5 billion is raising a lot of questions." But this is also within the context of negotiating things out. But in the last months that you were associate administrator, the question of which way it was going to go seems to be getting resolved on the low side.
MUELLER: That's why I was pushing on reorganizing NASA.
MAUER: I understand that. However, not everybody agrees with you, and that is not the position that Paine was taking.
MUELLER: I understand that.
MAUER: I know you understand that. But what I want to understand better is what does this say about leadership?
MUELLER: Well, you know, there's leadership and leadership, and I don't know. Well, I really don't know how one should approach that. I knew how I would have approached it, but then I might have been out even faster than Tom was.
MAUER: How would you have approached it?
MUELLER: Well, I would have said, "Look: if you want to spend that much money, this is what we can do. We'll reorganize NASA. We'll live with it. And if we can do the job with that much money, fine. If we can't, we won't do that program. It's up to you, Mr. President." I would have been very very supportive and understanding, but "here's what we can do."
MAUER: But that isn't the way it went. It went a different way. They started looking at alternate planning systems. Robert Lindley headed up an economic analysis effort. Did that start before you left?
MUELLER: Roughly in that time.
MAUER: It's roughly in that time. Did you have anything to do with that?
MUELLER: I might have. I don't know.
MAUER: Okay, it's a long time ago, I understand. But you knew about this effort t hat led into the Mathematica Inc. study.
MUELLER: Yes. I started that, actually. In fact, that was an attempt to provide some basis, some external verification of the fact that you could have a low cost transportation system. And people go back to that Mathematica study and say, "Gee, that was a terrible study." It wasn't. They just changed the assumptions. They changed the program from the assumptions that Mathematica made. So it became a different program, and Mathematica never was asked to study the new program and tell them what it really would cost, which would have been the logical thing to do.
MAUER: But Mathematica came very strongly against the two stage fully reusable.
MUELLER: They did?
MUELLER: Well, when did they do that? They were very strongly for it earlier.
MAUER: By 1971, they were indicating that the two stage fully reusable just wasn't going to produce the cost benefits that had been projected.
MUELLER: That they had projected earlier?
MAUER: I guess. Yes.
MUELLER: I don't know.
MAUER: Okay. But you started that. There was a contract with Mathematica that began in the summer of 1970.
MUELLER: And we started it in '69. The initial results were quite clearly in favor of the two stage.
MAUER: Fully reusable.
MUELLER: Hm mm. So I don't know when they changed.
MAUER: Since I haven't seen the earlier ones, I don't know eitehr. It may well have been after your time. There was also a decision to start looking at other technological approaches, what came to be called the alternate Phase A. Contracts were let. They started approximately with the Phase B contracts and were looking at other design approaches.
MUELLER: I think that came about --that was after I left. If I'd been there, we wouldn't have done.
MUELLER: Well, because we'd done a lot of those alternate studies earlier. But I'm sure this was in response to the question of, is there another way of doing this that doesn't cost so much at the front end? And of course, that's what led to the partially reusable Shuttle.
MAUER: Okay. We can tie this up very quickly, I think.
MUELLER: It's been very interesting. You've been forcing me to think about some things I haven't thought about for twenty years.
MAUER: I appreciate your making the effort. OMB is pressing NASA. Clearly NASA also always has to keep Congress happy. But the budget issues seem to be, unlike in the couple of years previous, in planning for fiscal year 1971, which was being done in the fall of 1969, the real tension seems to be with OMB. Does this match your memory? What is your memory in the latter stages of your time at NASA, in terms of the situation with Congress?
MUELLER: Our problem always was with OMB, in manned space flight, while I was at NASA. We really had very good working relationships with Congress, and in the case of manned space flight, because I brought them in and showed them what we were doing and convinced them we were doing better than anybody could expect, under the circumstances. So we really never had a problem with Congress, and I don't think that we had a problem with Congress after I left, because I spent some years also chatting with the folks back in Congress. Our real problems always were with OMB. They have a very simple minded view of life, and that is, how do we get within our budget this year, and where can we cut? They've got so much of the budget is preordained that they have a very limited area in which they can cut, so space was always high on the list of things that ought to be cut back because there isn't that much money in the budget, and almost in every instance I can remember, the administrator had to go to the President and finally cut a deal with him, which was always more than OMB was recommending. Now, how much of that was a charade and how much was real, I don't know, but it happened every time I was involved.
TAPE 2, SIDE 2
MAUER: Then also, of course, the question of who's President. Lyndon Johnson related to Administrator Webb differently than Richard Nixon related to Paine, to George Low and to Fletcher.
MUELLER: Lyndon Johnson was a space buff. Richard Nixon, it was not invented here, wasn't invented on his watch, so therefore he wasn't.
MAUER: And also the payoffs were going to come after he would be out of office, so he didn't have anything going in and he wasn't going to have anything going out.
MUELLER: Right. Which influences politicians sometimes.
COLLINS: Expanding the role of Congress and OMB a little bit in the design and budget process, I wonder what the role of the contractors was in attempting to shape the outcome of the process?
MUELLER: That's a good question, because presumably they had some effect, but after the Bobby Baker incident, the influence of contractors diminished markedly, and today I think they have relatively little influence, in terms of particular programs. I don't think they really ever had any influence on particular programs. Now, on the basic support for space flight, they can probably have some effect, but not as much as one might think. Having been a contractor, I can tell you that we tried to help Congress understand what the trade-offs are and what the effects are, but it is counterproductive to try to bring pressure to bear on them. What you'd like to do is reason with them, and give them some background for whatever course of action makes sense in your view. Now, I will say that the problem the aerospace industry has is that they have a relatively few Congressional constituents, if you will, compared to the whole mass of Congress these days, and where they can be most effective is with the Congressional staffs, actually. That hasn't, at least to my knowledge, been very well developed. In fact, the Congressional staffs have grown so fast that it's almost impossible to keep up with them.
COLLINS: The corporations do maintain a fairly active lobbying presence, and they must see some value in this.
MUELLER: They do, and the thought is that it's valuable. I don't know that it really is very effective.
MAUER: What about contractors with OMB? Certainly OMB calls up contractors to check information that NASA provides. Are you aware of what other relationships may exist between OMB and contractors?
MUELLER: I don't think there are any, really. OMB is a force unto itself. It prides itself upon being omniscient and not dependent upon anyone.
MAUER: What about the Air Force? And convincing OMB --you're pushing forward to have your integrated plan, you have budgets laid out--what sort of contact was the Air Force having with OMB in relation particularly to the Shuttle, or are you aware?
MUELLER: I'm not aware of it. I would think that they would -- in fact, I was surprised when you said that you thought that Bob Seamans had a real effect on the space program through his contacts with Mayo. Bob of all people should have been well aware of the fact that you don't improve your position by cutting some other program down. Now, it may be that his view was that the Space Shuttle was more important than anything else, certainly to the Air Force, and that was true. And I suppose that he would express that view. Basically the Air Force has been supportive of the Space Shuttle, until the Challenger disaster. So that it's clear, I guess, that Bob decided that he needed to push something, and he couldn't push the whole program, and truthfully Nixon spent a lot of time before he made up his mind to have anything. And OMB forced a whole set of these A studies that were made, with attempts to kind of cut down the front end costs. Worse thing that they could have done.
MAUER: OMB forced it?
MUELLER: I suspect. I don't know but I suspect that's right. Because I know that NASA was convinced that the two stage reusable was the way to go. But if you're forced to cut the front end costs, then one way to do it is to change configurations, and at least in principle, it was cheaper to build solid rockets than it was to build a reusable first stage. I think in the event it turns out to be more expensive. But then, that's hindsight. I would have guessed it would be less expensive to build solid rockets than to build a first stage. But I felt very strongly that that was going to be a disaster in the long run. So much for how you feel at the time.
COLLINS: Shall we wrap it up there?
MAUER: Let's wrap it up there, yes.
COLLINS: Thanks very much.
MUELLER: You're very welcome.