Interviewee: Dr. Robert Gilruth

Interviewers: Drs. David DeVorkin and John Mauer

Place: National Air and Space Museum

Date: March 2, 1987


DR. DEVORKIN: This is March 2, 1987. This is the sixth interview with Dr. Robert Gilruth. John Mauer and David DeVorkin are the interviewers. Mrs. Gilruth is in the room. We're at the National Air and Space Museum. As I mentioned, we would like to start this session off with a few questions that jump around a bit, but we wanted to fill in some things from the previous sessions which came up over the weekend. John, why don't you start?

DR. MAUER: On October 20th of 1958, you let the Request for Proposal, the RFP, for Mercury. At that point, you're making a firm commitment about how you want to move forward with the Mercury proposal.

DR. GILRUTH: This was the RFP, Request for Proposals that we were going to send out to industry, to get their bids on how they would do it and how much it was going to cost.

MAUER: Right. Had you dealt with this type of problem previously? Had there been a situation in NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) in which you'd had experience dealing with RFPs and then actually working over the contract bids that industry submitted?

GILRUTH: Not in the research end of things. We had built a lot of big wind tunnels, multi-million dollar wind tunnels, but they were built of concrete and steel, and by an entirely different type of outfit. We did have construction people, and they had people that were used to contracting through the government channels. But this was a whole new ball game for us in NACA--it was NACA at this time. Although we had worked with the Air Force--then the Air Corps--in the buying of the research airplanes like the X-1 and the X-2, which were paid for by the Defense services. But the part that says what the companies were going to do and what this airplane was supposed to be was master-minded by the NACA people. I was not involved directly, but I was there with the people who were doing it and aware of the kinds of things they did.

MAUER: So what you're saying is that the work on the X planes, the research planes, while the money was actually handled by the military, NACA played a central role in determining the criteria.

GILRUTH: Yes. We had people at the factory where they were being built who were helping the Defense services do the monitoring of how it went. We had a hand in it, but we didn't have the money. It was nice in some ways.

MAUER: So when you started gearing up to deal with the Mercury contracts, you had a body of experience about how you go about contracting, but you actually hadn't been in charge of running such a contract.

GILRUTH: No, I was in charge. I had my people under me who were experts in contracting. They reported to me now. If there was going to be a scandal, I would have been responsible for it. We didn't have any scandals in all my career. I say that was a great feather in the cap of Wes Hjornavic, because we spent lots of money and we spent it very well. I'm proud of that.

MAUER: How did you handle the question--here you are, the person who's responsible for making the decisions, the guy that is going to get the credit if it works well and the blame if somebody below you messes up. You could be doing your job perfectly well, and if somebody down the chain of command is a crook, or just doesn't do his job right, and the project gets badly messed up, you'll be looked to, to take responsibility.


MAUER: How do you, in this position, go about making sure that the job is getting done right, while at the same time not interfering with people unduly in doing the job that you've assigned them?

GILRUTH: You just have to have good people. You have to stay close with them and know what they're doing and talk to them frequently. If they're good people they'll want to talk to you. They'll ask you questions, and you kind of know, without making a big thing of it, where they stand and how they're doing.

MAUER: How do you know? What are the things that go into it?

GILRUTH: A lot of that, there's no way you can put up fast lists of just what you have to do. Each person is different, and each man will do his job in a different way. But you know whether or not he's on top of his job. We worked awfully hard, but we avoided the scandals. Our people were dedicated to making that thing work and getting it done.

DEVORKIN: Thinking of Hjornavic, the person who came to you to give his services, or anyone else you may want to talk about, if you would be willing to, could you describe how you assessed their abilities, as they started working for you? If there was a period of adjustment, of examination? What kind of feedback? Did you start with a tight rope? Did you loosen the rope as time went on, if you follow what I mean? I'm just trying to get a sense of your style of getting to know the people whom you depended on.

GILRUTH: You see, I was not a person that had been trained in contracts and specifications. I took one course in the University of Minnesota as an elective, contracts and specifications. Why, I don't know, but I'm glad I did. Not many of the people did take that. It was taught by a man from industry. He liked contracts and specifications. I particularly didn't like them, but I learned some of the fundamentals of what a contract was. I felt a little more comfortable by at least knowing the nomenclature. But I depended on Hjornavic to keep this thing straight and keep us out of trouble.

MAUER: When Hjornavic first came to work for you, did you talk to him more frequently, keep in touch with how he was doing what he was doing?

GILRUTH: Oh, sure.

MAUER: More frequently than later on? Hjornavic came to work for you because you heard that he was a good man.

GILRUTH: And he wanted to come. We talked together every day. Every day we talked to all of the top people. There weren't that many of us. As we got bigger, later after we had things so they were lined up--all of the people in their places, the contracts let, and our people from those contractors that were stationed at our center--we'd get together every week or so and go over everything. I don't remember just how we did this. At first you had to get everything going as fast as you could, and then you had to try to sort it out and make sure that you had everything, that it was legal. I can't go back and tell you the chapter and verse.

MAUER: No, we don't expect it. Hjornavic was a new man. You heard good things about him so you welcomed him into your group. But did it take you a while working with him before he seemed the same to you as people like [Max] Faget who'd been working with you a long time, that you knew so well?

GILRUTH: Yes. Paul Purser I knew well, and he was close to me. He was not assistant director, he was my assistant and worth a whole lot.

DEVORKIN: It took you a long time? I think we're trying to get at, an unknown person.

GILRUTH: Let me tell you, you had to bet on these people. Hjornavic brought in a lot of his former colleagues, and they were good people. Of course he wanted this to succeed. He was a patriot. He thought it was a great opportunity for the country and he wanted to be in there because he wanted a part of it. His motivation was high.

DEVORKIN: You called him a patriot.

GILRUTH: I would say so. I wasn't gambling on anything. I knew he was going to do the best he could. Everybody that we had in top spots, we knew so well that we knew that if they goofed, it wasn't going to be because they tried to, but because they just couldn't do it. I think we picked up people very well.

MAUER: Let me ask it a little bit different, and if this doesn't ring any bells then we'll just move on. Based on my experience, if I've worked with somebody for a long time, sometimes you don't even necessarily have to talk about everything. That person becomes so well-known to you that you just understand, based upon experience, this person is going to be thinking and doing certain things. Now you get a man that you have good faith in, like Hjornavic, but you haven't been working with him for years. You can't necessarily almost anticipate his thoughts. Over time he became a person like that, but can you remember, when he first came to work with you was there a difference, or is that just too far back to remember?

GILRUTH: No, I had to learn about him, how he liked to work.

MAUER: How did you learn about him?

GILRUTH: Just by working with him. Day by day, he would have things that he had to get from me, and I had things that I had to get from him. He knew how to run his show, and I thought I knew how to run what I was supposed to do.

MAUER: Over time do you think that you ended up having to ask him fewer questions because you came to know him better?

GILRUTH: Sure, but this was an unfolding picture, that started with this and kept getting bigger. First you had to get the spacecraft contracts on board and the specifications written and select the contractors. As you progressed, then you had things like building a world network for flight controlling. This meant making deals with foreign countries, sending people out. We had bases in Australia. We had all kinds of things that were outside of the usual civil service training books. It was exciting. That's why we got good people, because they wanted to be a part of this thing.

DEVORKIN: Did you bring in people who were familiar with the foreign service, DOD [Department of Defense]?

GILRUTH: Yes, we brought in lots of former officers and some civilians from the DOD.

MAUER: You even brought in foreigners, because in April of 1959, James Chamberlain and twenty-four other Canadian, British--

GILRUTH: Yes, I'd like to say something about that. This was a very interesting thing. I got a call from a friend of mine in Canada who said that the Canadians had lost this big contract for building a fighter. They were going to have to get rid of some of their top people. Here we were in the Space Task Group just absolutely strapped for top people, and so he suggested I might want to come up and talk with some of those people and perhaps recruit.

DEVORKIN: Who told you about this?

GILRUTH: I can't remember his name, but a Canadian acquaintance with whom I had talked about airplanes back over the prior years, thought this might be an opportunity for us and also a break for these nice people. So I went up there. I took Purser with me and one or two civil service people to help rate them. If we were going to pick anybody up we'd have to offer them a salary, they would rate them right on the spot and say "We'll offer you this much money." So we picked up this group.

MAUER: Initially I think it was twenty-five.

GILRUTH: Yes. It was at least twenty-five, I think. Of that twenty-five, many of them stayed with us. Some of them later went on to industry on their own, but they were a godsend to us. One of them, John Hodge, retired from NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] just last year. He was one of the leaders in Headquarters here. It was very good, and a big help to us, especially in monitoring the design efforts of the companies, because lots of these guys were designers. They had gotten their training in England, and had come to Canada when this big fighter design was going to be done. So it was a big break for us.

DEVORKIN: As they say, now for something completely different. A number of people such as C.B. Moore, a dedicated manned balloonist, advocated the use of high altitude manned balloon gondolas to test manned spacecraft systems. I know C.B. Moore did this as early as 1951, and there were various NASA-sponsored studies in the late fifties.


DEVORKIN: After '58, there were still some NASA symposia and studies on manned space systems. Other people, in addition to Moore, were advocating the use of high altitude manned balloons--Project Man High and things like that.

GILRUTH: Wasn't that before NASA was formed? Dr. [Jean] and Mrs. [Jeanette] Piccard were part of that group.

DEVORKIN: Right, but that's all earlier. I'm saying that there was an idea that one could use manned balloons, in a sense, to test spacecraft systems. A number of people advocated it, through the NACA years the Piccards did, C.B. Moore did, and evenin NASA, there were a few symposia in the late fifties, early sixties. My question is, was this ever a serious consideration?

GILRUTH: No. Not to my knowledge. I don't know why you would want to do it that way. At the time we did it, when I was working for Piccard, that was the only way we could get the altitudes.

DEVORKIN: Oh yes, that's in the thirties.


DEVORKIN: I'm just curious if anyone took them seriously in NASA, if you were ever directly approached, and what you feel were the reasons for NASA not following up on it?

GILRUTH: I don't even recall that being an issue. But in retrospect, I would say no, I would not have been interested in trying to do it with balloons, with lighter than air, because the rocket was so much more direct and you could go so much further with it. You couldn't go over about 20 miles up with a balloon. That was it, because you had to be lighter than the atmosphere and that's getting pretty light.

DEVORKIN: Was it possible that by then you could simulate all these conditions that you find in a manned balloon in a ground-based vacuum chamber, if you had to?

GILRUTH: Yes. The rocket gave you the ability to get above the atmosphere.

DEVORKIN: True. This is before Mercury, before there was a manned ascent. People were saying we have to look for ways to test manned systems, Mercury capsules, space suits, temperature stabilization, communications. Moving around in a cramped environment, were they going to be able to operate, and what are the kinds of problems you get into. Some people were saying you could do this in pressure chambers. Others were saying, why don't you try manned balloons?

GILRUTH: There was little incentive for doing it that way, because one of the things you wanted to do was to get somebody up into space. That was a thing in itself. Even if you could have done it from a balloon flight, that still didn't count as a point on your side if the Soviets were putting things in orbit. We were in a contest to go into space, not to learn about the atmosphere.

DEVORKIN: That wasn't their selling point. Their selling point that they tried to use to NASA was that you could test systems that would go into space first on balloons.

GILRUTH: Yes, you probably could have tested parts of it. But you certainly couldn't have tested the re-entry or thecommunication from higher altitude. It would have been a very limited type of a test, compared to what we needed.

DEVORKIN: That's all we need to know, thank you. We have, of course, already gone well into the Mercury years, and beyond the Mercury years in some places. We've talked about James Webb. One very important question I think future historians would like to know is, had you known James Webb, or of James Webb by reputation, before he became the NASA administrator?

GILRUTH: No, I had not known of him or met him until he became the administrator.

DEVORKIN: Can you recall, then, the first time you met him? Or your first impressions?

GILRUTH: I can tell you the time that counted. He had a group of us go out and have a series of bull sessions up on the Skyline Drive. He invited everybody to come up to a nice resort place. I think it was in late fall. It wasn't because of the nice climate, but it turned out to be a nice fall there.

DEVORKIN: Would this have been fall of '60?

GILRUTH: I think it was the year he came on board.

DEVORKIN: So fall of '61, after you'd been there for a while.

GILRUTH: At that set of meetings, I got very well acquainted with Jim Webb and he with me. I felt that he was my friend and that he trusted me, understood the kinds of problems I had, and thought perhaps I was doing all right. We had that kind of relationship all the way through the many years that he was the administrator, including the real tough time when we had the Apollo fire. He was the most wonderful and remarkable man, in that terrible time after the fire. He took all of the flak from the Congress and the people. He really stood up for the agency and did his best to protect the people that were trying to do the work. My hat's off to him. He did a tremendous job for the country in those years.

DEVORKIN: I think that's a very important statement. You had confidence in him, if I can rephrase it, that he was up there in front taking the flak.

GILRUTH: He was. A fantastic man. He still is, even though he's gotten a little age on him. He's still a very brave man.

DEVORKIN: How did the flavor change, the environment change, as Webb came in, from the [T. Keith] Glennan years, as far as it impacted on you? Did you feel that you had a closer rapport with Webb than with Glennan?

GILRUTH: Far closer. I used to talk with Glennan. We used to have monthly reports. We would go to Washington in the early days of the Mercury program and give a presentation on the things we were doing, what our problems were and what we had accomplished. Of course [Hugh L.] Dryden was always there, and Dryden was the person I talked to. I talked with Glennan when it was the thing that I should do because he was the top man, but only after I'd talked with Dryden and found out whether he thought that what I was going to do was the proper thing.

DEVORKIN: Your position in the immediate transition year, at least before you made the complete move to MSC [Manned Space Centers], which we'll get to, didn't change that much at the end of the Glennan years, the beginning of the Webb years?


DEVORKIN: Did you feel that Webb was more accessible, even before you became a center director?

GILRUTH: I felt that Webb was much more important to me, because I felt I got advice from him that was very valuable. I always wanted to know what he thought of things--I don't mean technical --I mean things that had to do with contracting and with the direction of the whole program, big things that he understood. He was not a technical man. Glennan was sort of a technical man as well as an administrator. But Webb's role was that he knew how to get the money, how to handle the President, and he had the big picture. He would tell me the things I had to be careful of, and the things I had to do. I would tell him about the technical things, because I thought he ought to know something about it. He was not always asking about it.

MAUER: Let me pick up on this. Glennan was director, then Webb, then [Thomas] Paine, then [James] Fletcher. You served under all of these. The thing that you're saying about Webb is that he was a good man for giving advice. He understood how the whole big picture was put together, and you could talk to him about the problems that you faced as center director. How does he compare with the other three administrators in this regard?

GILRUTH: It's hard to make a direct comparison, because the problems were so different. The problem, when we had Webb, was the one of building this giant empire that could put a man on the moon, and this took lots of money. The money had to keep coming every year, and he had the money every year, and it wasn't easy. I think he did a fantastic job of running that program. Of course, he was picked by [John F.] Kennedy and went through the problems that we had with the man from MIT.

DEVORKIN: [Jerome] Wiesner.

GILRUTH: Wiesner was a problem early in the Kennedy administration. I didn't really know Webb at that time, but he was put in and helped us in just about every way that he could.

DEVORKIN: Was there a difference in their accessibility or their vision, about what NASA should be, that made a difference to you?

GILRUTH: I think that Webb had a much better grasp of the need for money. I don't think that we could have gone to the moon under Glennan because I don't think he could have gotten the funds that we needed, what was it, 20 or 30 billion dollars?

DEVORKIN: Right, but it's why we're going to the moon. Did Webb have some sort of an infectious vision that he could convey, not only to the NASA people working for him, but to the people from whom he was going to wrest this money?

GILRUTH: The thing he used the most in getting the money was that it was vital to the United States to push technology. By pushing technology we'd do more for the standard of living and the wealth of the nation than anything else you could do. In other words, he sold the program on the fact that it not only gave us high prestige, but it raised our status in technology to where we would be a much richer nation. He was right. That was a great era for learning in all kinds of technology.

DEVORKIN: Are you saying that the other administrators didn't have that vision or weren't able to articulate it?

GILRUTH: I don't think they were able to articulate it, and I'm not sure they believed it as much as he did. Webb grew up--had some very wealthy friends. He was part of the oil interests out in Oklahoma, a wealthy family he worked for. I forget.


GILRUTH: Kerr. He came out of that with, I'm sure, plenty of money of his own, as well as a feeling of confidence in talking about big amounts of money, which you had to be able to do if you're dealing with the space program at that time. He wasn't a bit flabbergasted to talk about billions of dollars.

MAUER: What you're saying then is that experience with dealing with lots of money opened up his ability to think in those terms.

GILRUTH: I think so. He was a valuable man to the country at that time because he made it work.

DEVORKIN: He retired from NASA in '68, and it was evident that he was going to. How deeply into the NASA structure, the centers as well as Headquarters, did he orchestrate the transition? Because the story goes that he wanted to have everything set in place for his successor, for Paine, so that Paine could simply walk in and continue the job. Were you a part of that? Were you aware of that? How did you feel about Webb's leaving?

GILRUTH: I was not aware of any orchestration but I was aware ofthe reason for his retirement at that time.

    When we decided to orbit the moon with Apollo 8 much earlier than we had planned, Webb retired because he felt that he could not face another potential tragedy after the Apollo fire of January 1967. I hated to see him leave but I understood how deeply he felt and all he had endured since the fire.

MAUER: Webb's vision was broad and encompassed a feeling that, as important as Apollo was, he didn't want NASA to become synonymous with Apollo. He wanted unmanned projects also to continue to be developed. Even when pressure from the Office of Manned Spaceflight for more money for Apollo--he resisted taking away from other projects. As the center director yourself, how did that scope in his vision affect you and the type of work that you were doing?

GILRUTH: I don't recall having any problem with it.

DEVORKIN: Let's take it this way. This is a later question. It's in Webb's development of such things as the university program and more formalized liaison groups between people who would be placing scientific experiments on Gemini and Apollo. In Mercury it was an ad hoc program, because everything was in a rush to get going.

But there was an actual committee set up, first chaired by Eugene Shoemaker, that was supposed to work with the people at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston to integrate the scientific experiments, first for Gemini. It was called the Panel of Inflight Scientific Experiments, POISE. It came in 1963, and replaced the ad hoc committee that was working for Mercury. This, I understand, was partly an orchestration by Webb.

GILRUTH: Yes, he was anxious to get some of the name scientists involved, because they were not interested in man-in-space and thought it was a waste of money and effort.

DEVORKIN: Were you interested in having them more involved? Or were you concerned that they might start as Jerome Wiesner had done?

GILRUTH: I wasn't particularly interested in having them do anything. It wasn't until later, when I got to know some of them more, when it wasn't an adversary situation, that we did a lot of good science in some of the flights.

DEVORKIN: What was curious to me--and of course this is not a question that you could answer directly--is that Eugene Shoemaker is a hard rock geologist.


DEVORKIN: The part of the Gemini program that did use his expertise dealt with remote sensing, using Gemini to begin to photograph the earth and things like that. Did you see that as a diversion of the main mission of the program?

GILRUTH: No, I didn't. But I didn't get to know those scientists until we landed on the moon, and we had rocks, geology, and a geologist scientist that we sent to the moon. We brought all those scientists in when we were assaying what the moon was, what its history had been, and so on. They helped us with our program at that time because we were trying to select the most valuable places to land. The first landing, we pretty much made as the easiest place for us to land. The next several landings were done under the advice of the scientists that had come on board, the various panels. Some of them had desks right there at the center and spent most of their time there.

DEVORKIN: That's what I wanted to know. Did POISE have an office at the center at the beginning, or was it only after the laboratory was set up to handle lunar samples?

GILRUTH: I don't remember. I think that it didn't happen right away, but after things began to get interesting around there, when we were actually getting data. Then the scientists, some of them were just practically on our staffs.

DEVORKIN: This question is out of order but it's in context of what we're talking about now. Why was the Lunar Sample Lab at Houston? Were there not quite a few other sites that were in contest and how did Houston win out? Because before then, as you say, there wasn't a major scientific presence there.

GILRUTH: I really don't know why it was built there.

DEVORKIN: The Lunar Receiving Lab.

GILRUTH: The Lunar Receiving Lab. You had to have some place for handling that stuff. It seemed like it made sense to have it where all the rest of the things were.

DEVORKIN: Some people said it would make the most sense to have it as close to where the astronauts were first to touch land after they were retrieved in the Pacific, or even some place in Arizona, but I guess it didn't make much difference.

GILRUTH: That didn't make much sense, because where they first hit land depended on where they landed. They didn't always land in the same place.

DEVORKIN: Right. Some people said Hawaii, others said southern California, others said Arizona, where there were already established planetary programs and geology programs.


MAUER: To ask about scientists in a bit different context-- James van Allen and other scientists were important supporters early on. James van Allen was on the Committee on Space Technology that was created at the beginning of 1958. What contact did you have with James van Allen even before that, in NACA?

GILRUTH: He worked at the University of Iowa. I was acquainted with him, but I wasn't a close associate. That's about it.

MAUER: Did you see him early on when you were working in STG? Did you see him as somebody who was basically positively disposed toward the Space Task Group and manned space flight?

GILRUTH: No, I don't think he was. Those people had very strong ideas on what was best and what wasn't. He was very good in getting the first satellite we put up into a position where it got some valuable data on the upper atmosphere. But it was quite clear that he was not one of the people that was going to think that we were doing what should be done. He didn't believe in flying a man in space.

MAUER: Even from the very beginning?

GILRUTH: Even from the very beginning. I think they felt that was a stunt and not good science. Like Kistiakowsky, "it's only going to be the most expensive funeral that man has ever had." There was a feeling among most of those people that it was something done as a stunt.

MAUER: But at some point, they go from just being negative to outspoken critics. Do you have any sense of when they began to go to the press and say, "The country is putting money in the wrong place. They're spending all this money on putting men into space."

GILRUTH: I didn't document any of this stuff. I don't know. I really would be guessing now, but I have a feeling that many of the scientists were antagonistic to our man-in-space program in the early days.

MAUER: One person raised the point with me that perhaps when the Apollo budget made the great leap--I believe it was in 1963 when the Apollo budget, that that's when the Apollo budget really expanded. That is when the scientists started coming out and speaking very openly and very harshly. Would this more or less correlate with what you can remember?

GILRUTH: I think it's consistent with what I sort of feel. But I don't have the chapter and verse on this.

DEVORKIN: About that time, and earlier on, with all of the Ranger failures, as Ranger evolved and became a support program for Apollo, for a landing, they removed scientific instruments from Ranger, and kept only those that supported Apollo, the visual instrumentation. They got rid of the particles and fields experiments, things like that. This is one of the things that I understand is what angered and radicalized many scientists.

GILRUTH: We could get pictures of how far the pads sank into the lunar soil, very valuable.

DEVORKIN: Absolutely valuable, but you can see from the scientist's point of view that their experiments were being bumped. Several years of their careers were being, if not put on the shelf, certainly put on hold. What you're saying to us is that you were not very aware of these issues at the time.

GILRUTH: Right. I don't remember that the mission of that unmanned spacecraft was changed to get pictures that showed how far it went in.

DEVORKIN: It always had the experiment to get the pictures. They removed other experiments as problems mounted with the missions. That's what I'm saying.

GILRUTH: I thought you said that they threw out theirs and put in a camera.

MAUER: There's something else I'd like to pick up on. It isn't a central point, and we probably shouldn't spend too much time on it, but my understanding is that Scout had its origins in early 1958 as NACA was looking at gearing up to do manned space flight. Scout was proposed as a test vehicle, to support.

GILRUTH: I don't think so. We had some very good people with solid rockets, PARD, and the Scout grew out of that technology. Max Faget was involved in that, in a way. I forget the name of the man who was the project manager, but he is an old PARD man. They thought it would be cheaper and very cost-effective to build a rocket using solid stages that would do a lot of science in space. That's how the Scout evolved. It did work. It was a good little rocket in its time, but of course it was overcome by other later developments. I think this got started before the man-in-space program.

DEVORKIN: There was one phase called the Mercury Scout Program that was designed to test the tracking.

GILRUTH: Yes, I guess that's right.

DEVORKIN: There was one flight of a Mercury capsule on top of a Scout on November 1, 1961. The flight took off but had to be aborted because there was a very simple wiring mistake in a rate gyro. An engineer made some mistake so the whole rocket went out of control. And the project was cancelled.

GILRUTH: Now, this wasn't a full-sized Mercury capsule. It was a package containing some of the gyros and instruments, no doubt.

DEVORKIN: Exactly. Now, at the same time you had Little Joe at Wallops. I would like to know if these two programs for testing the capsule were in any way competitive or redundant in your mind.

GILRUTH: The Mercury Scout, I don't remember that. Little Joe I do remember very well, because it was part of our system for proof testing the Mercury hardware. Little Joe was used primarily for testing the escape systems and what happened when you aborted. We flew these from Wallops Island. I don't recall how many of them, but not very many. They worked.

DEVORKIN: You don't recall anything about the Mercury Scout, because that was supposed to test tracking.

GILRUTH: Well, I think it makes good sense. We did have to work checking out the tracking system. We'd need some kind of a satellite to go around, and that would have been a good way to do it. But I don't recall it.

DEVORKIN: It was something that, at least in, This New Ocean,1 was implied strongly that this was something that Robert Seamans pushed for very strongly. I was just wondering, that doesn't ring a bell, your involvement then was quite minimal?

GILRUTH: No, I don't recall it.

DEVORKIN: Okay, fine. One other catch-up question on Mercury for you. After ENOS --

GILRUTH: Yes, John Glenn came after ENOS. They said in the press, "after the chimp, the chump."

DEVORKIN: After ENOS, there was a problem with launch schedules for John Glenn, for an orbital flight. Apparently there was still a lot of pressure to push for a 1961 launch but of course as we know it slipped to 1962. Could you reconstruct for us what the pressures were?

GILRUTH: Yes, I can tell you about that one. That was just at the transition from Glennan to the Democratic administration, at the time that the new President had put Jerry Wiesner as the head of this Science Advisory Committee. Wiesner decided that he was going to investigate the man-in-space program. We were all ready to go with Al Shepard, but his committee came to investigate us, thought it was a bad idea, and were going to make sure it was the proper thing for America to be doing. It was a very serious situation.

DEVORKIN: I'm talking later in '61 now, moving toward November and December of '61, after ENOS. People in NASA were still saying systems are go for a '61 launch.

GILRUTH: Let's see, we could have flown Al Shepard before the Soviet manned satellite.

DEVORKIN: We're talking about Glenn, now.

GILRUTH: I know that, but this is all part of the same story, because we couldn't fly Glenn till we flew Al Shepard. The first one was on a Redstone. We flew a man on a Redstone, and we checked out the capsule and everything, without going in orbit. Which made sense. We were all ready to fly Al Shepard well before the Soviets flew their man, although we didn't know their timetable. We were all ready to go, and Wiesner came in with his investigation into whether or not we should even have a program.

DEVORKIN: What you're saying is that Wiesner's investigation, by slipping Shepard's launch, slipped everything.


DEVORKIN: Weren't there a lot of technical problems that were revealed with an orbital flight, on the lifetimes of a number of the systems, that were shown after the ENOS flight, that had to be fixed?

GILRUTH: No, the things in the ENOS flight were minor and we knew how to fix them. I said at the press conference, "We are now ready to make our first manned flight." This would be an up and down flight. Then we had the Wiesner group, and that's when Webb really came to the foremost. Then it was kind of a deadlock, their doctors would not believe that a man could stand even a few minutes of weightlessness without becoming unconscious. They didn't think it was right for a man to fly weightless, that you couldn't stand it. We said, "But the apes do it all right. The monkeys do it." "Well, that's different." It was at this time that the Soviets flew Gagarin, and we finally got permission. Webb went to the White House and said, "We're going to fly and if you don't think we should do it, you're going to have to fight it out with us in the newspapers." See, Webb was on our side, even though he was Kennedy's man. Kennedy wasn't against us. It was Wiesner.

         We flew Al Shepard then, and that was a very big thing for America, because people had thought we were dead and out. When the President saw how the public reacted to Al Shepard's flight, he said, "My God, this is what the people want. Let's really spend some money. Let's get a big program and let's be first." That's how the moon program came. He simply talked with us all,"Could we go to the moon?"

DEVORKIN: Given when Al Shepard finally flew, could you have still flown Glenn in '61? Because this was seen to be a big political issue.

GILRUTH: I think we probably could have. After we flew Al Shepard, there was really no point in trying to rush Glenn's flight. Of course, we had lots of delays in his flight. I don't think you remember, but we had lots of pad delays. Trouble with the Atlas. It was a tough rocket to deal with. We'd get all ready to go and he'd sit up there for two hours, and then we'd have to bring him back down and redo something in the Atlas. So we went as fast as we could, once we got over the hurdle of Wiesner. Wiesner was gone after Al Shepard's flight. I mean he gave up.

DEVORKIN: How hard was it to erase the term "capsule" in favor of the term "spacecraft"?

GILRUTH: Very hard.

DEVORKIN: How important do you think this change in name was?

GILRUTH: I think it was quite important. I still call it capsule sometimes myself.

MAUER: How did you go about making the change? What sort of things did you do to get the people to stop thinking in terms of capsule and think in terms of spacecraft?

GILRUTH: I don't know. We just tried to use that term instead of a capsule.

MAUER: "Manned Capsule Center" just doesn't sound the same as "Manned Spacecraft."

GILRUTH: No. We realized that wasn't a very good name.

MAUER: You're talking about how difficult it was with the Atlas.


MAUER: You dealt with two different rockets in putting men into space. There was the Redstone and the Atlas. You dealt with two different organizations with very different styles.


MAUER: You're trying to get a program into space that you built from scratch. What's the difference, and how did it complicate your job as manager, in having to deal with two different rockets and two different organizations building rockets? The Redstone and the Atlas.

GILRUTH: I don't know. That was just a fact of life, that we dealt with lots of different people. Wernher von Braun and his people were very anxious to do this, and they were easy to work with. They were very good at what they did, and they were very conservative. All of those things made it easy to work with them. Actually, we were all ready to fly Al Shepard when they said they wanted one more flight with the Redstone before they would let us fly him. So that caused a little delay, too. But it was their business, and we would not argue with them about that.

MAUER: Were they more conservative with Redstone than the people working with Atlas, would you say?

GILRUTH: I think they were far more. Of course, we bought the Atlas through the Air Force. The Air Force was the contractor for the Atlas rocket, and we made a deal with the Air Force to let us use some off their assembly line. I think we had one man out there to watch what they were doing. And then we worked that over, because the Atlas had such a poor record. They were losing one out of three. We had four Atlases. All of them worked. We had one that failed, but it was due to a weakness in the skin. I think we talked about this one before. We had the skin beefed up, and we used to take the pumps apart and check all the clearances and everything.

MAUER: But you didn't do that with Redstone.

GILRUTH: No, we didn't need to do that with Redstone, because the Germans did it. They were thorough.

MAUER: What sort of people did you have at Huntsville? Did you actually have some of your people at Huntsville to see the work that was going on with Redstone?

GILRUTH: We had a representative there. I don't think we had any staff there.

MAUER: One last word. Sputnik 1 and 2 were just so formative in shaping the way that you viewed things and the way that the nation as a whole did. What about Lunik 1 in January of 1959, when the Soviets got to the moon first? How much of an impression did that make?

GILRUTH: That made a big impression on the public. It made an impression on us.

MAUER: What were your thoughts when you heard about it?

GILRUTH: We thought they were way ahead of us. They were. But we didn't lose heart or anything. We just kept going.

MAUER: You didn't lose heart, but did it inspire you more? Did it create a stronger sense of, you got to get the job done?

GILRUTH: It didn't hurt us. We were impressed. But we were already impressed. That was a very good effort for them in those days. It was a long ways from landing anybody on the moon, though. I still think that was something.

MAUER: It's going to be a long time before we go back.

GILRUTH: I think so. Yes. I remember it, though. They even took pictures of the back side of the moon. They really did.

DEVORKIN: Why don't we go ahead and discuss the building of the Manned Spacecraft Center, later the Johnson Spacecraft Center, in Houston, Tex. This was all part of the first year of decision, as you've described it, June '61 through June '62, when a center was found to be necessary.


DEVORKIN: Where do we begin? I think we could use your advice on this. You were worrying about a hundred things at once. By then you had three major programs to concern yourself with: Mercury, which was operational, Gemini, Apollo. You had manpower problems in simply determining who was going to work on which projects, where people could best be assigned, bringing new people in, worrying about everything from launch site to the goals and missions of the government, to the type of orbit, launch vehicles, test and operations, astronaut selection and training, orbit analysis, to celestial mechanics, just to name a few.

GILRUTH: Yes. On top of that, we had to move.

DEVORKIN: But you didn't have to move.

GILRUTH: Oh, yes we did.


GILRUTH: In order to get the political backing we needed.

DEVORKIN: Okay, but you were in a program that was a hallmark of efficiency and directness and supposedly an absolute crash program to be done as efficiently as possible. What sense did it make to you at the time, and to the people you worked with who were going to be affected, moving from Langley to anywhere else? Didn't it make more sense to stay?

GILRUTH: Yes, it did make more sense to stay. But I can quote you how Mr. Webb handled that. He said, "What did Harry Byrd ever do for you, Bob?" I said, "Nothing." You know. He said it in a way like he had inflicted some harm on me or something. I said, "Nothing." He said, "That's what I mean. We've got to get the power. We've got to get the money, or we can't do this program. And we've got to do it. And the first thing," he said, "we've got to move to Texas. Texas is a good place for you to operate. It's in the center of the country. You're on salt water. It happens also to be the home of the man who is the controller of the money." That was Albert Thomas. So we moved. It turned out that it wasn't all that bad. We would have had to expand like hell anyway. When we went to Houston, we went into temporary buildings, which we would have had to do at Langley or at Hampton or at Newport News or somewhere. And it wasn't as good a place to live. The people weren't as gung-ho in Virginia as they were in Texas. They wanted us in Texas. They were thrilled to have the space program come to Texas.

DEVORKIN: But the Newport News, the newspaper ran editorials for weeks saying how disappointed they were that this was going to move to Texas.

GILRUTH: I'm sure they were. There were some businessmen there that did contact me and ask me out for coffee a couple of times. But it wasn't to be. Harry Byrd was not going to help us.

DEVORKIN: What did you tell the businessmen?

GILRUTH: I didn't tell them anything. I wasn't going to make it more complicated than it was. I was nice to them. I looked at what they were doing and got to know them some. But I didn't rock the boat.

DEVORKIN: Did you ever try to change Webb's mind or Brainard Holmes or anybody?

GILRUTH: No. Brainard Holmes was not part of that. That was Webb. There was no way that you could change Webb's mind on that, because he was right.

DEVORKIN: Let's talk a bit about what he did do, and that is, take a person like John F. Parsons from the Ames Center and send him out on a site survey, to do supposedly an open site survey of ten possible sites in the United States, for where the Manned Spacecraft Center might be. Was this a necessary thing to do politically, or just a sham?

GILRUTH: I think it was good to know what the reception would be in other parts of the country and what the advantages were. Actually, looking in retrospect at all the different places that were surveyed, I think they picked the best place.

DEVORKIN: Had you been there during the summer?

GILRUTH: Yes, but it's not too nice in a lot of other places other parts of the time.

MAUER: Some of the people that came down from Langley initiallyended up going back to Langley, just because they found the jump too much. But for you personally, you didn't feel like the jump was that big a deal, in terms of the climate, the situation?

GILRUTH: No. I thought it was a lousy climate. But the air conditioning was good, and the people were nice, and it had other things. The winters were quite good compared to what we have here in Virginia. So it wasn't all bad.

MAUER: I'm a native Houstonian. I've never studied this in detail, but I think many people have the assumption, so I would like to address it from that point of view, that it was Lyndon Baines Johnson who was one of the key driving forces for the selection of Texas and Houston. You are pointing to Albert Thomas as being much more the important political influence. But how much of a role was the fact that LBJ was from Texas?

GILRUTH: I think he was important also. But I think Albert Thomas was more powerful.

MAUER: It's the difference between being chair of the key committee in the House and being Vice President. You're not that powerful when you're Vice President.

GILRUTH: LBJ was very anxious to have Texas get that, too. But I don't know. I was just the innocent person there. We went down and looked at Houston. Webb said, "Why don't you go down there and look?" I looked around, and I was happy to see there was salt water, and there was lots of open space. Around Clear Lake it was fine. We looked at where we could build the center, and there were cows munching on the grass. I still have a picture of that site, with cows roaming on it. Well, when I go back and look at that center now, I'm very proud of what was done. It's beautiful and it's been very valuable to the United States. So I feel that maybe Albert Thomas had a different motive, but it worked out to be in the interest of the United States of America.

DEVORKIN: Let's talk about two things in parallel, if we can do it. First of all, the relocation program that you set up for, I guess, at least six to seven hundred people from the Space Task Group and the Mercury Program that were to move down. Correct me if I'm wrong but that's my impression.

GILRUTH: I'm not sure of the numbers, but there were quite a few.

DEVORKIN: Right. And you did set up an office for relocation.


DEVORKIN: To go down to Houston. And also, your own relocation --how was your life for those months when you were working so incredibly hard?

GILRUTH: Well, we got some help. I told Webb that we should allow the wives to fly down there and look around. I was trying to sell this thing to the kids.

DEVORKIN: You say, the kids, to your own staff?

GILRUTH: To the staff. To send the wives down. So he rented a couple of airplanes, and every wife had a chance to fly down to Houston and spend a couple of days looking around the places where the site was going to be, looking for housing. They went down together, and they came back and the reaction was not all bad. People decided that wasn't a bad place.

DEVORKIN: The first statistic I have for the number of people in the Mercury program, NASA personnel, stationed at the Manned Spacecraft Center is January, '62. Did the move take place in the winter?

GILRUTH: It took place mostly before John Glenn's flight, which was the 20th of February, '62.

DEVORKIN: Right. So most of these wives and most of the people would have gone down to see Houston.

GILRUTH: They would have gone to see Houston, and lots would have moved already. I was one of the last to move. I think I was the last person to move, and because I wanted to fly John Glenn before I moved that far away from Washington. I figured, if that had failed, I would have had to spend the rest of my life in Washington in front of Congressional committees.

DEVORKIN: That's a very good point, but that also underscores, your concern for moving away from Washington, moving away from the accessiblity that you needed to Headquarters, to the managers, to the power centers in Washington that were going to get this program done. Texas, even with airplanes at your beck and call, is quite a move from Langley. How did you personally feel? Did this diminish your confidence? Did this bother you at all?

GILRUTH: No, I didn't worry too much about that. You can be too close to a place. Up here it's only a two-hour or three-hour drive. It isn't that easy to go back and forth that way.

MAUER: Did you normally drive between Langley and here?


MAUER: So in a way, the time differential wasn't greatly different, because you could jump on an airplane and fly up here.

GILRUTH: That's right. We had our own airplane. It really wasn't that much different. Nobody just wants to go to Washington anyway.

MAUER: As the Space Task Group began to grow into a large organization at Langley, into 1960 say, how much time did you spend in Washington? How much time were you at Langley taking care of the job there?

GILRUTH: I think I spent most of my time at Langley.

DEVORKIN: In the first year of construction at Houston, you were given 60 million dollars for construction. Considering all the political reasons for moving down there, was this adequate? Were you strapped from the very beginning?

GILRUTH: No, I don't recall feeling that we were in any financial trouble.

DEVORKIN: The money just started flowing.

GILRUTH: Well, it was well spent. I'm very proud of the kind of buildings and the value that we got from that money.

MAUER: David, let me pick up on something that you were talking about earlier. Was it just something you appreciated, that members of your staff needed, or had there been some grumbling that led you to say to Webb we need to make airplanes available for the wives to send them on down there so they can see it? What led to you making that decision?

GILRUTH: Of course, you had to convince the people--these are bright people, that it's not a bad place, they ought to see it. So I said, "Wouldn't it be nice, isn't there some way we can make it possible for the wives to go down there and see the place, and get an idea of where they might live?"

MAUER: Texas doesn't necessarily have a positive image in everybody's mind. Did that play a small role in it?

GILRUTH: I don't think so. I think people in general, once they got there, thought that they were very happy to live in Texas.

MAUER: The land that Rice University donated for the center--what's the story behind that? Or do you know?

GILRUTH: I used to know, but I've forgotten. It was a bona fide gift to the U.S. government.

MAUER: I understand that. I was just wondering, Webb understood that going down to Houston was important. Was it coming from the NASA side?

GILRUTH: Of course, Rice was the instrument, but the land was given.

MAUER: But was it people in Houston saying "Gee, we would really like to have NASA come down so we'll make it available," or was it NASA saying, "Make some land available and we're seriously thinking about Houston as a site."

GILRUTH: I don't know. I think that the people in Houston with money thought this would probably be a good thing to do. It would make it even more palatable to the US government, to have the land donated.

DEVORKIN: Mrs. Gilruth, did you go down to Houston?

GILRUTH: No, she was not married to me at that time. She was married to the president of Grumman. My wife at that time was my first wife, and she died in 1972. It was after the last flight to the moon, and I had just about finished the Apollo-Soyez trips, when she passed away.

DEVORKIN: I'm very sorry. I didn't realize that. Well, did your wife go down first and set up your home?

GILRUTH: We had done more than that. Somehow or other we had managed to drive down there, so we'd have a car and look around, in spite of all the turmoil. I think that she drove the car back and I had to fly back, because I didn't have the time.

MAUER: That was before the interstates, too. That was a long drive.

GILRUTH: We also had to be convinced that we wanted to do that. She said, "I've always wanted to live in Texas." She was not a bit flabbergasted. Her father had been a civil engineer who had lived everywhere. She and the family were regular engineers' people.

DEVORKIN: How long was it before you moved out of the 13 or 14 separate office buildings?



GILRUTH: An awful lot, but some of them weren't very big.

DEVORKIN: Obviously there were many buildings. Fifty is a good number. How long was it before you moved in to the point where the center was actually operational? Was the transition there very difficult?

GILRUTH: No, the transition was not difficult. I guess I was one of the last ones to move in to the office. I think the 9th floor was probably the last to get finished. They were moved in stages. They'd get one building finished, and those people would move in, and so on. Of course, I had planned on a place near the center, but there weren't many houses there, so we built a house. We had it ready to move in shortly after the center was built, so that all we had to do was move from our first location there in Houston over to Dickenson, where we lived.

DEVORKIN: This is always a sensitive question to ask, when people in your positions are faced with such demanding job responsibilities. Did you have a life of your own during this period of transition?


DEVORKIN: How did you separate the two?

GILRUTH: Well, we knew it was going to be a life of turmoil during that period, when we had to live out of suitcases in temporary quarters. It is a remarkable thing. It was during this period of turmoil that we had to make all these vast decisions, of how we were going to go to the moon, who was going to do what, which center was going to do this and do that and the other things.

DEVORKIN: I'm thinking even more personally than that--evenings, weekends, vacations, holidays--did you have any of those to yourself?

GILRUTH: No, no holidays in those times.

MAUER: Your love of sailing has been a lifelong thing.

GILRUTH: Yes, but all I had at that time was a desire to build another boat. When I built my house in Houston, I built a shop on it that was 50 feet long, 25 feet wide and 12 feet high.

DEVORKIN: There were definitely compensations.

GILRUTH: That's right. It was right on a bayou so I could launch the boat.

MAUER: When did you actually get to start working on the boat?

GILRUTH: Within a year or so after--I could do that on Sundays.

MAUER: When did you launch it?

GILRUTH: In 1973. My first wife had died and Jo was my wife then. We sailed it to Virginia finally. That's where it is now.

DEVORKIN: So that's the boat.

MAUER: The one you built yourself.

GILRUTH: Yes. That was my thing. That was my golf game. If I only had an hour, I could go out there and work on that boat.

DEVORKIN: If you took the hour now and then to work on the boat, what did you do for your own staff? Did you find some of your best people overworking themselves, groping toward burnout? Were you worried about that for yourself during this period of time?

GILRUTH: No, I wasn't worried about myself.

DEVORKIN: What about those who worked for you?

GILRUTH: I think they led pretty reasonable lives. We didn't have many, that I can recall, that had nervous breakdowns or anything like that. They were a pretty rugged bunch of people.

The exception to that was after the "fire," there were two key people who had breakdowns. They later recovered.

MAUER: Let me go back to something you mentioned earlier, when we were talking about Webb. I believe you said the first time you really got to know Webb was when you went up to Skyline Drive.


MAUER: Those types of retreats--did NASA have a history of those? When did those types of retreats become a part of the communications?

GILRUTH: I don't know. This was my first experience with it. It was a very good thing to do.

DEVORKIN: To try to nail down which one it was, you said it was toward the fall of '61? Because there was what was called NASA's Fifth Semi-Annual Retreat and that was in March of '61, when Webb announced that all of the centers would report to Seamans, which was a big change.

GILRUTH: No, I think that was the second. That was a later meeting.

DEVORKIN: So March '61 was already later. You had been to a retreat prior to that time.

MAUER: With Webb?

GILRUTH: Yes. Let's see, when did he come on?

DEVORKIN: January, '61.

MAUER: That was Kennedy. I think he was actually formally appointed in February. He would have been Kennedy's designated person.

DEVORKIN: This was probably his first retreat.

GILRUTH: It probably was, then. Yes. It was up in the mountains. We became fast friends at that time.

DEVORKIN: That was an enormous management change though, reporting directly to Seamans. Seamans became the business officer of NASA. Were you uncomfortable with that?

GILRUTH: Yes, but it didn't keep me from having direct access to Webb. I had no problem. Seamans had no problem with my talking to Webb. Seamans is a broad gauge guy, and we had no problems either. I always liked working with Bob Seamans.

MAUER: Now, under Glennan, you normally went and talked with Dryden. You talked to Dryden before you talked with Glennan.


MAUER: I remember some earlier interview, your saying that just at the very end of the time that Glennan was the administrator, you became friends with him. Is that a correct statement? Was there some change?

GILRUTH: He was hard to know. Glennan was hard to know. I always regarded him as a very strong bright man. But he wasn't a fellow that you felt that you knew well. Dryden was there all the time. Dryden was there with Glennan and he stayed right there with Webb, so he provided a great deal of transition power. Dryden was the deputy in both cases.

MAUER: Since there was a difference in the management approaches of Glennan and Webb, how did Dryden's role change between the time of working with Glennan from working with Webb?

GILRUTH: I don't think his role changed much. He was there and he was the technical man. He was the center of the technical kind of thing. He was the last resort on any real problem that was technical. Neither Glennan nor Webb would try to vie with his knowledge of technology and science. It made a very good combination.

MAUER: The strength that Dryden provided, in terms of his technical knowledge and his ability to give that type of administrative leadership, how did it change after Dryden was no longer with NASA? Did it make any differences for you as a center director?

GILRUTH: There really wasn't any way of replacing Dryden. Dryden was a big loss. Of course, it was near the end there. I can't remember exactly when Hugh died.

MAUER: It was 1965, I believe.

GILRUTH: It's before we landed on the moon. He had cancer, and he would get treatments, and when he'd get a treatment he'd be feeling good for a while. Then after two or three weeks he'd be beginning to drag, and finally he'd go in for another treatment and then he'd feel good. But he said, "You know, this recurrence will not go on forever, and each time it's a little worse." He knew it was inevitable. A very brave wonderful man, highly religious man. I can remember it was during Gemini that he passed away. It was the first time I ever left mission control during a manned mission, when I went to his funeral. God bless him. We sure missed him. But we forged ahead and did the best we could.

DEVORKIN: Moving back onto the Houston track--in early '62, General Electric began working on the contract developed by Holmes and Webb for "studies on the reliability of quality assurance analysis and integration of the complete Apollo vehicle, spacecraft in Houston." Apparently their people were on base at the Manned Spacecraft Center, and in This New Ocean,2 it implies that the Marshall Space Flight Center resisted this kind of scrutiny. I'm very curious as to whether at Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, there was also this general resistance to GE's very close presence.

GILRUTH: I do remember. We also had another company that came in to help us. I think a Bell Labs group came in.

DEVORKIN: Yes, Bell Labs, it might have been a different portion. You're not thinking of the Bell Comm part that did the Apollo science? That was later.

GILRUTH: No. This was a helping type of contract, not an individual contract.

DEVORKIN: There was a man named Miller from GE, who said, and this was a quote in Chariots for Apollo3 on page 119, "The contractor role in Houston was not very firm. Frankly, they didn't want us." What's behind that? We'd like to get your story on that.

GILRUTH: It's awfully hard to have somebody come into your shop and look over your shoulder, with the idea that he's going to see that you're doing it right. You'd be much better off to have him as an employee doing it himself. If he's a good man, then he ought to be doing it, not looking over somebody else's shoulder to kibbitz it. It's an inefficient way of doing something.

DEVORKIN: Did you point this out to Webb, and did Webb give you reasons why it had to be done or why he wanted it done?

GILRUTH: It was too late. You couldn't do that. It was already in place.

MAUER: What was the thought behind it? Why was this approach created in the first place?

GILRUTH: Everybody has something that they do wrong sometimes and this was one of them. It didn't last. We didn't put up a big fight, but it just was obvious that it wasn't a good thing to do. That's not a good way to run a show.

DEVORKIN: NASA has the character of doing that. I know, with delays in the Space Telescope, before there was known to be such a terrible delay in the Shuttle itself, NASA people actually went and lived on the site at Lockheed, to be sure that everything was being done right. People were being contracted from other companies such as Bell, Aerospace and others, and they're still there. They're living at Lockheed in Palo Alto, to insure that whatever was being done was being done right and was going to be done on schedule. Was this something that you first experienced under Webb, bringing outside people in to act as Tiger Teams?

GILRUTH: No. I'd forgotten all about that. As far as I can remember, we had some of that from Brainard Holmes. We had more problems with Brainard than I wanted.

DEVORKIN: What kind of problems, if you do recall?

GILRUTH: It sounds awful, but he was a young man who didn't have very much experience in the kind of thing that we were doing. He didn't know much about flight. He had built some kind of a radar fence against ballistic missiles.

MAUER: The DewLine.

GILRUTH: This was an entirely different kind of business. He was the boss and he wanted to make a lot of decisions. You couldn't blame him for that. But he didn't make the right decisions. So you had to resist him. You had to tell him that it wasn't the thing to do.

MAUER: How did you resist him?

GILRUTH: By just saying that it wasn't the thing to do. Let's carry it to a higher echelon and talk it out. That's a very unpopular thing to do. I know but we had to do it.

MAUER: In talking with people about the Shuttle program, and the difficulties that NASA had with OMB [Office of Management and Budget] over the Shuttle, one of the techniques for fighting with OMB about the Shuttle was just to get very careful, very well-developed technical information to prove your point. When you were dealing with Holmes and having to go above him, was it that you went and you had your people develop all the technical information, to show that he just wasn't correct in the facts?

GILRUTH: No, you could never do that. You could never prove anything that way. You just had to somehow or other resist him, in as nice a way as you could. You try your best to explain to him why you're resisting him. I don't know. This is a terribly hard thing to do, to have somebody put over you, no matter how well meaning the move is. If he had stayed on, I would have had to go. But in any case, we're friends. These days when I see him, we're friendly and we shake hands. But I say, he did a good job on the Dew Line, but he didn't know anything about manned flight or any kind of flight. He was an electronicker, and he was pretty good at that, but there are a lot of other things involved in flying men in space. He was not, I think, a good selection. Well, he got along well with the Congress. But he didn't last very long.

DEVORKIN: There seems to be a watershed time here in March of '63, when Webb and Holmes disagreed over funding for manned space flight. In John's notes here, it indicates from Chariots for Apollo,4 page 127 that Holmes was pushing for more money, whereas Webb began to resist in March, '63. Does this agree with your recollection?

GILRUTH: I don't remember. I do not remember what happened to Brainard Holmes, except that he left.

DEVORKIN: He did leave at that time. Again, the author of Chariots for Apollo5 says, "They had different views of management methods and of the priority of the manned program. Webb feared an all-out manned effort would endanger NASA's balanced program of seeking U.S. pre-eminence in space science and technology. Webb went to Kennedy and got approval of Webb's approach. At that point, George Mueller came in to head up the Office of Manned Space Flight." Was this actually the case? I mean, you liked Webb's style more than you did Holmes', but yet Holmes was more of an advocate for pouring more money into manned spaceflight than Webb was. This is an interesting complexity.

GILRUTH: I don't remember these issues. I didn't remember this.

MAUER: Holmes, as I understand it, was replaced by a man who did know about rockets at least, George Mueller. He came on board in '63, did he not?

GILRUTH: Yes, he came on board. I'll tell you, he had very strong ideas, and he was not well versed in aviation and aerodynamics. He was much more on the electronic side.

DEVORKIN: Also Mueller?

GILRUTH: Yes, Mueller. Mueller was a very hard working, a very bright man, and I got along with him fine, although I did have some management problems where we didn't always agree.

MAUER: Can you give us an example?

GILRUTH: I can't think of any right now. But we managed to live together for a while.

MAUER: End of '69.

GILRUTH: Yes. I can't remember the things about when he left. He was there quite a while.

MAUER: What was the difference in his style of management? What difference did it make for you as center director when Mueller came in and replaced Holmes?

GILRUTH: I can't remember that. Right now I'm trying to think of what things were happening then, what was Mueller doing.

MAUER: Well, 1966 was the peak in the budget for NASA, and then after that the budget started going down. You were having to deal with the Apollo program maturing.

GILRUTH: Yes, I remember now. He was there when we were flying men to the moon and landing men on the moon.

MAUER: Previous to that, yes.

GILRUTH: He was with us through all of the landings.

MAUER: No, he left. Dale Myers came in.

DEVORKIN: I think one of his most prominent episodes of course was the 204 fire, where he wanted to simply take over the entire responsibility at that point of making things right. He went to Webb, wanted to take over the manned spaceflight program completely and fix it. I know that that's one of the most poignant parts of his career at Headquarters. Webb didn't let him do it. Does that jog anything?

GILRUTH: No, it doesn't. I do remember him being there during the last part of Apollo. He was one that wanted to keep on flying men to the moon. We'd already flown to the moon many times. I put up my back and said, we must stop. There are so many chances for us losing a crew. We just know that we're going to do that if we keep going, and we've already done it so many times.

DEVORKIN: By '69 it was up to Apollo 11. July, '69, was Apollo 11.


DEVORKIN: And you had of course through 17.

GILRUTH: We landed on the moon I think six times. That surely was enough to show that we had the ability to fly men in space, and were the dominant country in space. This was the whole idea of the thing.

DEVORKIN: Did you have any ideas of where you go beyond that then?

GILRUTH: You don't just keep on until you cut your finger off. Why would you keep on flying men to the moon? The last time we flew to the moon, NASA had to pay the bill to put it on national television for the landing, because the networks wouldn't cover it. That isn't funny, because these guys were risking their lives to go up there and do that. There wasn't that much more in science, because there wasn't that much difference from one site to the other. Once you had a moon rock, you pretty much had them all. So, why would you keep on doing this? Mueller wanted to do it, for some reason or other. I don't know why.

MAUER: At what point did you start thinking in these terms? By Apollo 11, by the time that you're putting the first men on the moon, are you thinking this is something that needs to be limited?

GILRUTH: No, I wasn't thinking of that. I was thinking how in the heck do we get it to work? This is a hard thing to do. You're a long ways from home. God knows how far you are from home. Nobody can help you.

MAUER: Apollo 13 shows that clearly. But at what point did your thinking begin to switch from focussing on, let's get this hard job done, to there needs to be a time to end this because this is dangerous and difficult and there's no point in keeping on doing it. How did your thinking make this transition?

GILRUTH: I realized all of a sudden that we had done this several times, and people wanted to keep on going. I put up my back and said, "Let's stop. Let's stop with this next one." We were able to make that happen.

DEVORKIN: You had Mercury. You had Gemini and Apollo. You articulated well what the purpose of this whole mission was. Did you also see through these years a permanent presence in space for man?

GILRUTH: We had wanted to build a space station. I'd wanted to build a space station rather than go to the moon. Yes, initially. But that didn't have the flair that was needed at the time, in the eyes of Mr. Kennedy. He thought going to the moon was about as good a thing as you could possibly do. I think LBJ liked that, too. Nobody in NASA would say they couldn't. I at least said that I'm not sure we can do it, but I'm not sure we can't.

DEVORKIN: As late as '63, [Del] Tischler, I think it is, of the Office of Manned Space Flight headquarters reported to Mueller that Apollo's chances of landing on the moon by 1970 were "one in ten." That's page 130 from Chariots for Apollo.6

DEVORKIN: Did you have the same feeling at the time?

GILRUTH: I didn't know. It was just how safe you could make this mission. It went better than I thought it would.

MAUER: Difficult as it was, it went better than you had anticipated in the early days?

GILRUTH: Yes. It surely did. We had some awfully good contractors in that program. When you think of that LEM, had to go up there and actually land on that surface, then restart its engine and fly back to a rendezvous with a space craft that was orbiting the moon, and go back through the space craft hatches and tunnels in a hard vacuum. Now these are all in space suits. I'm telling you, you think of each of those bulkhead doors that had to close and close airtight. You add up all the things that you had to do in that mission and you can't understand how you ever did it even once.

DEVORKIN: You mentioned that you had good contractors. Of course Grumman was one of the contractors, as were earlier on, McDonnnell and others. What makes a good contractor?

GILRUTH: They want to do a good job and they've got to have good people.

DEVORKIN: Let's go into it more than that if you wouldn't mind. In the whole procurement process there are Requests for Proposals, there are feasibility studies, requirement studies, development--the phase A, phase B, phase C. Which of the contractors worked the best? Or what was the hallmark of a good contractor in responding to these different designs? Was it a contractor particularly able in documenting, in proving what they were able to do? Was it a contractor that was honest and could tell you that something couldn't be done for a particular budget? What were you looking for?

GILRUTH: You're looking for people. You have to go by the quality of the product of the proposal of course, but in looking at all that you meet the people that created those things, you got to know the people, you want to at least meet the top men. And you look at other things they've done. It's just like anything else. That was one of my big jobs, selecting contractors.

MAUER: How did that process change? In selecting contractors for Mercury, you were just a small group of people dealing with putting things together in a few months. Changes tremendously from Gemini to Apollo.

GILRUTH: We had a full-fledged competition for Mercury. We had a bidders' briefing and we worked hard at the selection of the contractors on that.

MAUER: I don't mean to slight your work, because clearly you were working day and night. But the organization in the early days of the space task group--it's rather different than once you start letting the main contracts for Apollo because you have a very large organization with a very large staff. I would think that there would be differing approaches between one and the other just because of the numbers of people involved and the much greater amounts of money. Am I wrong?

GILRUTH: No, you're right. There were lots more people involved and a lot more money. But it all ended up in the same front office and you ended up making your decision on the basis of what they recommended. You'd like to be able to go right down the recommendations of the board that's supposed to do that and most always you could. But sometimes you could not and sometimes you'd want to shake it up and try to make sure that that was right. It's just like anything else.

MAUER: What was your responsibility and authority as center director in that process?

DEVORKIN: I think we want to get at the issue of autonomy here, as well.

GILRUTH: We always ended up by recommending to headquarters what we'd do. We would make a selection. They were never overturned.

DEVORKIN: Certainly the character of centralization as opposed to decentralization in NASA in the early Webb years moved back and forth. In first concentrating everything under Seamans, apparently it looked like Seamans' office just had too much work to do. Then there was criticism that he wasn't keeping track well enough of what all the centers were up to and this gave centers too much autonomy. So there was some decentralization, but that was in effect a chance to gain more reporting control. With more people in NASA Headquarters involved, Webb never fully achieved his goal of giving the proper amount of autonomy to the centers, by maintaining two-way communication and control not only between the centers and headquarters but between the centers themselves. Do you have any light to shed on that subject as a center director, whether headquarters was too intrusive or whether they were not informed enough of what you had, what you needed to get the job done?

GILRUTH: It seems to me we had our share of problems in those areas. I think on looking back we almost always got what we wanted and were able to write our reports and give our presentations to headquarters in time so that we got a workable set of contractors. I don't remember ever being unhappy that we were given the wrong contractors.

DEVORKIN: There was never any serious political meddling from headquarters, saying get that contractor.

GILRUTH: No, I had none of those problems. I think that we got the people that were best. I felt that we did well.

MAUER: In 1963 centers were theoreticaly given autonomy again. Does that stand out in your memory, that the changes in the formal organizational structure made much difference for you as the center director?

GILRUTH: No. I was fairly comfortable with the relations with headquarters.

DEVORKIN: Where did you see yourself in the NASA hierarchy? As equivalent to in headquarters? Were you dealt with, let's say, deputy administrator, assistant deputy administrators, there are so many of these different levels in NASA.

GILRUTH: We didn't have that many in those days.

DEVORKIN: There were four or five, maybe three or four, layers under Webb who were purely high-level administrator functions, above the program offices. Did you feel that sense that when you walked into headquarters you were the equivalent of a program office director or a deputy associate administrator or a deputy administrator, associate director?

GILRUTH: I had no feeling for the rank of those people in headquarters. I felt like I was the guy from the center, head of the center. I was up there and they were working at headquarters and usually I would go to see Mr. Webb or Mr. Seamans.

MAUER: How much did you deal with Holmes or Mueller directly?

DEVORKIN: Or were impeded?

GILRUTH: We used to have meetings with them. Don't get me wrong, Holmes did good things. He did a good thing in getting us to work together better. That is, the centers. He got Wernher and me to sit down and actually like each other. He had a thing called a management council which brought all the center directors that were involved in Apollo together once a month. We'd talk about what we were doing and what our problems were. After the meeting, we would go and have dinner together, which was another good idea.

MAUER: So it wasn't just business.

GILRUTH: You could socialize a little bit, have a drink or two, get to know each other. Webb kept it going. That was something that we kept going. I don't think they do it now. And they should. Where they get joint projects, that is.

DEVORKIN: I think we should break for lunch at this point, and when we come back, talk about your relationships with other centers, with Eberhard Rees, with [Kurt] Debus. The ones that were of most importance to you. Would that be okay with you?

GILRUTH: That will be fine.



DEVORKIN: We just had lunch and we're back to talking about the relations that you had with other center directors, and generally, center to center relationships. How do you think we should start? You mentioned Wernher von Braun, and how Brainard Holmes brought you together. How did you do that and what was your relationship with Wernher von Braun like before that time? Maybe we'll start that way.

GILRUTH: I hardly knew him. I had met him at the Pentagon one or two times when he was working for the Army. I think the first time I was with him was during some meetings that were held in connection with early re-entry studies that they were doing using the Redstone rockets and some things that the Army was doing on re-entry technology. I was there as one of the people in the government that was interested in that sort of thing and who was knowledgeable in the guided missile business. I'm not sure whether Debus was there or not, but I think Eberhart Rees, who was Wernher's assistant, was there.

Later on when Apollo was the big new project, and Brainard Holmes came in, he had the idea of this Management Council which was so effective and so valuable to the program. Every month the three center directors and the top staff would hold a one-day meeting and a dinner. Sometimes this was in Houston and sometimes at Washington or sometimes the Cape or sometimes at Wernher's center, Huntsville. This was a way that we became well acquainted and actually were friends. It was very effective because we realized that we all had problems and we all were anxious to have things work, got to know each other. It was a good thing. I would highly recommend it in many places where I don't think NASA is doing enough of this now. I don't think they get their people together from the different centers. Because in our case, we were working closely together. We were making the spacecraft that was going to go on top of Wernher's rockets and Debus was going to run the checkout place here at the Cape.

DEVORKIN: These inter-center meetings, were they bull sessions? Were they primarily social with a theme or were they like program reviews?

GILRUTH: They were program reviews. We would have our top people go through the status of all the different things we were doing and what our problems were. We would do that for the Manned Spacecraft Center, and then they would do it from the rocket point of view from Huntsville. Debus would have his people do it for the Cape. That was formal and I think it was a good way to do it because that's the way we could ask questions and find out just what was going on. In the evening, we could socialize a little. That was good, too.

DEVORKIN: As you came to know Wernher von Braun, what was your feeling for him and his vision? Did he speak of space stations, that possibly the space station was the way to go, rather than directly to the moon, as we talked before lunch?

GILRUTH: I don't recall that we did much talking, at least in the first few years, other than the task we had, going to the moon, since it was such a big task, and such a prestigious one. I don't think any of us had any quarrel with doing that rather than a space station.

DEVORKIN: Or at least one that you would share in confidence with another center director.

GILRUTH: True, but I think we were so immersed in that project, going to the moon, that we didn't have time to think about any other kinds of things.

DEVORKIN: You know by now our interview technique is one where we hit a theme and then move on and then somebody says, "hey, wait." We have to come back to something solid. But thinking about immersion, I know one thing I noticed, as Gemini and Apollo were developing. Someone did an assesssment to show that many of your best pioneers, your original pioneers who were heading the Mercury program, even when Mercury was going and still very much operational, were no longer working on Mercury. They had moved on to Gemini and Apollo. I was wondering if that balance of who to keep on Mercury, who to move into Gemini and Apollo, was a problem for you at any time?

GILRUTH: I don't think so. It was the operational people who were running Mercury by that time. The creative people, the ones that had fought the things through, the design phases, the test phases and all, had done their thing for Mercury and were glad to move on to something new.

DEVORKIN: Yes, by January, '63, there were 2500 people working for you at the Manned Spacecraft Center; 500 of them were working on Mercury. This is This New Ocean,7 p. 489. The Gemini and Apollo teams were growing rapidly, and the pioneer Mercury spacecraft inventors, as it was used in quotation marks, of all of your original people like Max Faget all but one had left Mercury and were working either on Gemini or Apollo. You're saying that this was very appropriate.

GILRUTH: Yes. They would have been in trouble if we hadn't had another program. Those people would have had to go somewhere else, because they couldn't twiddle their thumbs.

MAUER: The new programs were the great challenge. Mercury by this time was well known, so was it also a matter that you needed your best people, your most experienced people in the new program.

GILRUTH: Sure. That kind of people are creative people. The people who were running Mercury were the operational people. They're good people but that was different.

MAUER: It's the difference between operations and research and development.

GILRUTH: That's right.

MAUER: Let me come back and pick up on one particular detail, also out of This New Ocean.8 In early 1961 the NASA budget request was cut by a couple of hundred million dollars from 1.1 billion to just slightly less than 920 million. This is at a time when you are getting ready to fly in Mercury, you're committing to new programs. How did this budget cut affect your part of NASA's effort in early 1961? Or does it even stick out in your memory?

GILRUTH: It doesn't stick in my memory. We were all right. In '61 we had not flown any men yet. We had done a lot of the preliminary work, flying work on the Mercury. I think we'd flown a chimpanzee and some unmanned tests.


GILRUTH: Yes. We hadn't made many unmanned tests of the escape systems. But '61 was the date of the first manned flight with Al Shepard.

MAUER: Walter McDougall makes a point in his book The Heavens and the Earth9 that I can't see substantiated elsewhere, and I'm wondering if there's something you might remember about it. It also deals with the question of the budget. There was talk in 1963 in Congress, when dealing with the fiscal year 1964 budget, about cutting 500 million out of Apollo. Does that ring a bell with you at all?


MAUER: Do you have any sense that budgetary questions caused delay in Apollo, in terms of actually launching the flights?

GILRUTH: No, I don't think it had.

DEVORKIN: That was the point you were talking about when Brainard Holmes and Webb disagreed or agreed to disagree about NASA being an all-out manned space flight program as opposed to being in Webb's mind a more balanced program towards the future. That brings up also not only the Manned Spacecraft Center but at the other centers, the question of what one would do in the post-Apollo era. This became a major question in Webb's administration. Both critics and friends of NASA were trying to get NASA to create a well-defined post-Apollo program. To this day there's a controversy as to whether that was established. Webb was establishing an infrastructure which would allow the nation to have the capability to be a spacefaring nation, I think is the way he would put it. To what degree were there in these management meetings between centers, or within your own center, or your contacts with headquarters, pressures or suggestions that one consider that one do something, or what you would be doing after Apollo? Can you pinpoint or give us a general feeling for when that started to be a concern?

GILRUTH: I think it started to be a concern after we got operational with Apollo. We'd landed on the moon, and the question of what you would do next. I'm sure that was a big question. I can't recall now any meetings but it was on people's minds of what was the next thing coming in space. Of course, the next thing that happened was the joint link-up with the Russians. They produced that one because they were anxious to have something to do with the Americans in space.

MAUER: There was Skylab, too.

GILRUTH: Skylab was getting started. I did have something to do with Apollo-Soyuz but I think I'd already retired. It was not a part of Skylab although there was work going on at my center in its formative days while I was there. But it was not a part of my great interest. I thought a space station was a good thing to do and it was, but it was sort of an anti-climax after going to the moon. But it was a very necessary step.

MAUER: That's an interesting perspective. When talking about the shift of personnel out of Mercury and into Gemini and Apollo, you put it in the reference that there needed to be something to do after Mercury. These people needed to be worrying about these new projects. But with what to do after Apollo, it isn't until Apollo's operational that you start focussing on that. In some respects that surprises me. I would have thought that there would have been more focus on that earlier because Apollo was always going to be a limited project. Its goal was to go to the moon and then it was going to end. Why was it that only when you got operational with Apollo, you start focusing seriously on what to do after Apollo?

GILRUTH: I think it's because it was such a demanding project that nobody had time to worry about the future. It was the present. You know you wouldn't have a future if you didn't make the present work.

DEVORKIN: You had no study teams at Houston?

GILRUTH: We always had some people that liked to study things. They were people that were good at studying and there were people that were good at doing things. We always had some groups that were good at sitting off and thinking about what should we be doing in the future. They were good people. That was just their thing.

DEVORKIN: Were they Walter J. O'Sullivan types, in a way ?

GILRUTH: Yes, I guess you would say, in a way, but he wasn't one of them.

MAUER: You're getting at something that I would like to understand better because it's a perspective that I've heard stated by people that were in an associate administrator level in headquarters. That is, you had studies going on almost all the time. But that's separate from when you decide now we have to start taking a hard look at what we're going to do the next step. That kind of general studies is different. Now help me understand the difference between these two types of study.

GILRUTH: The one kind is you have a group of studiers that are going to cover the waterfront on all the things that you could possibly do. Then when you're serious you assign somebody and some people to a project and have them report back to you periodically as to what they're learning and what progress they're making. You force them to carry this thing on in a forceful way.

MAUER: Part of it is, this type of oversight that you as a center director give to it, if it's a serious thing.

GILRUTH: That's right, I wanted them to report to me about what the status is every week and give me a report. That's the way todo that.

MAUER: So that's one way of telling the difference between something that's just a study, and something that is a serious inquiry.


MAUER: For you as a center director, what is the value of the general studies, the type of thing that you don't have the people reporting directly? Why do you have people doing this?

GILRUTH: So that you don't overlook something. Hopefully you won't. You'd be less apt to overlook it if you have some people that like to do that sort of thing, spend their time thinking of the different options that you have, and the different things you could do with the knowledge and the kinds of technology we have. What could you do in space that would be worthwhile? Then follow-up on that.

MAUER: Was part of it to create a database so that when you do decide to want to do something seriously, the people you assign have something to get going with?

GILRUTH: I think that's true if the decision is such that you don't have enough data to know whether it's worthwhile doing or not or whether it's possible. But if you don't know that much about it and it is something you could learn about by study, then you ought to make a study. If it isn't too hard or too costly.

MAUER: There was a period in '65 and '66 where at least some interest in headquarters was that NASA ought to get involved in studying space stations. I think that there were a number of people that were on some panels. But for you as the director of MSC in that period, space station wasn't anything more than something to be studied in this general sense. It wasn't yet time to get serious about it.

GILRUTH: That's right.

DEVORKIN: I know that there are and have been competition between centers for projects and programs. It often has produced curious blends of what was done where, such as the distribution of contracts and the distribution of responsibilities between centers for space telescope. Even before that, high-energy astronomical observatories, where Marshall had a very large role to play in them, whereas they had no previous history. But Goddard lost out to Marshall, for one reason or another. In these study groups, how important was it to anticipate what might be coming down the road and to have a study group already functional and rolling in those areas, to maintain at least your position vis-a-vis the other centers?

GILRUTH: I think it's very important. Just like it is inprivate industry. To be ready to go when the opportunity's there.

MAUER: Obviously, when it came to Apollo, it worked out very well. Your center had its role and that was the spacecraft itself.

GILRUTH: And the astronauts.

MAUER: And the astronauts. And Marshall had the Saturn rocket. But in terms of getting prepared to do things later, how much of a sense of competition was there between your center and Marshall, and other centers?

GILRUTH: In Apollo we didn't have any feeling of great competition.

MAUER: No, I understand that. I'm talking about in your preparation for future projects.

GILRUTH: I think that we always realized that we had to be in the forefront ourselves with ideas of what should be done and try to keep the capability to be able to do those things, to be cost-effective, and also to be a logical or at least a competitive element that had a good chance to get these jobs. You can't run a center if you don't have any important thing to do.

DEVORKIN: My way of looking at this is the following. I try to pose this as a question. Huntsville was set up in this tradition, was into the launch vehicles. They obviously did not remain in that venue. They expanded. They diversified into spacecraft systems, unmanned spacecraft systems and Skylab as well, because they did a tremendous amount of the integration of the scientific experiments for Skylab there. One might have expected that, since that was the payload, that may well have gone to Johnson.

GILRUTH: They were the ones that ran that Skylab spacecraft.

DEVORKIN: That's right. Even though the original idea for the Apollo experiment package or the extension arose out of John Lindsay's shop at Goddard. He was the one who was doing the studies which blew up larger and larger scale and eventually Huntsville took it over. Now in the case of Houston, you were always the operations center once the manned craft was in orbit; you were always the one to train the astronauts; you were always the one to take care of spacecraft systems, the manned systems. Did you ever have a sense though, in the mid-sixties, that in the post-Apollo era, to be competitive with Marshall, you had to diversify as well and get into launch vehicles, hypothetically, or anything like that?

GILRUTH: I don't know. I think we always felt that we had the capability to do launch vehicles if it became necessary. No, I think it was logical for Marshall to take over that Skylab, the spacecraft part of it.

DEVORKIN: Why is that?

GILRUTH: I think it was logical for them to do that. They had worked hard on it. They had done a lot of work on space stations. I think they had adequate capability to do it and they did a good job. I thought it was time that Marshall had--they wanted to control one of those.

MAUER: And you felt comfortable with that.

GILRUTH: I felt very comfortable with them, yes. Actually, I think it was during that time that I retired and went to work for the administrator for a while. I'm not quite sure how the timing was.

DEVORKIN: Did Paine coming in make any difference there?

GILRUTH: No, I don't think that he was a factor in who got the job there. But I don't think that JSC fought hard for that. I think they thought that Marshall deserved that. They had been working on space station designs since the day one.

MAUER: Let me ask a question on a bit different topic. Go back all the way to 1954, and Wernher von Braun had his series of articles in Collier's Magazine on space stations. What was your reaction when those came out?

GILRUTH: I thought that was fascinating. He was way ahead of all of us guys.

MAUER: But it didn't make you think "that's something I want to do" at that time?

GILRUTH: Sure, everybody was a space cadet in those days. I thought a space station was very interesting.

MAUER: You talk about the dog and Sputnik II being the stimulus to seriously thinking about America putting a man into space. But in 1952 there were those articles that interested you. Did you as a professional person working at NACA think now this is something that NACA should work towards?

GILRUTH: When I saw the dog go up I knew we'd better get going.

MAUER: Yes, but I'm talking about 1954. What about those articles in Collier's?

GILRUTH: I don't think I thought it was possible to get that much money. Not out of little NACA.

MAUER: But that's an important perception to record. That's why I'm asking the question.

GILRUTH: When I went to NACA back in 1937 its annual budget was I think three million dollars or something of that order. Of course it was one laboratory and a Washington office. They had some wind tunnels and a flight section and a towing basin but those things in those days were not all that expensive.

MAUER: I want to ask another question about the NACA period. NACA was organized around committees and subcommittees and it was group decisions. NASA became hierarchical: where you had an administrator working down. For you as a person who worked for many years as a part of NACA and then became an important part of NASA, what was the difference like for you as a working person? Did you like the change? What were the advantages and disadvantages?

GILRUTH: Let me tell you. You say that NACA was run by committees and so on. We had committees because we wanted their advice, but they didn't run us. We decided what we would do.

MAUER: When you say we, who do you mean?

GILRUTH: The NACA people like from the engineer in charge, who was the head man in those days, was his title, from him on down right to people like myself who ran divisions or sections or was assistant director or whatever role you happened to be in. But we were the ones who ran it, and we got the advice from these committees, and we took their advice. We used their advice. We were bona fide in that. We ran the place and we didn't always do what they recommended.

MAUER: What was the difference between being a director--you were assistant director at Langley--what's the difference in being in that sort of position in NACA and being in that type of position in NASA?

GILRUTH: It was entirely different, because we were doing research, and the kinds of decisions I had to make were, do I want to get this new radar for Wallops Island, or do I want to get that other radar? Do I buy these rockets of this kind or the other? Should I go dropping things from high altitude airplanes, or should I use this or that? Those were technical decisions, and decisions of how to make our research more meaningful, and when I hired new people, which kinds of engineers do I need the most? And so on and so forth. I wasn't trying to make a big weapon, or I wasn't trying to put a man somewhere. It was a different thing. I was trying to get more effective research programs done.

MAUER: What type of relationship then existed between Headquarters at NACA, and the centers, as opposed to the type of relationship that existed between Headquarters at NASA and the centers? Did Headquarters become much more important in NASA than it had been in NACA, in terms of making decisions?

GILRUTH: Yes, I think it was. I think the people, the main purpose of the people in Washington -- of course, you had to have a man who was the boss, and that was the director. That was Dr. Lewis most of the time. But the rest of the people around there were people that knew how to make inputs to the various Congressional committees, and knew the Congressmen that were important, and fed the Congress and the Senate with data on the things, the valuable things that NACA was doing for the country. Making sure that they came down to the laboratory sometimes to see these wind tunnels and to see what was going on, so that they'd be knowledgeable and proud of the job that NACA was doing. I think we were proud of what we were doing and wanted to get these people from the Congress to come down and see what a good job we were doing. That was the job of the people in Washington. Of course the head of Aeronautical Research would go to England at times and go to Germany, and see what they were doing, and come back and say, "Hey, you ought to see what they're doing over there. You'd better get on the ball, because gosh, in Germany, you ought to see some of those airplanes that they showed me." And boy, he was right, but it was not enough lead time. He should have gone sooner.

MAUER: I don't expect that you had much to do with this, but did you hear much about it or do you remember anything much about the effort in the late 1940s in which the NACA tried to get a new supersonic research center approved. Does that ring a bell with you?

GILRUTH: Sort of, a little. I'm not sure just what it was, but it does sound--

MAUER: They struggled for about three years, and I'm just wondering--

GILRUTH: That was at the same time that the research airplane and all that was coming out. We were looking for ways of doing things that would be more effective.

MAUER: Yes, I understand that.

GILRUTH: The research airplane was one of the things that we dreamed up at Langley. John Stack was the kind of brass knuckles for that, and we worked with him. We helped say what you could do. There was a man named Ezra Cotcher, a major, who came from the Air Corps, and he had found some people that said they could produce rockets that we could put in the back end of an airplane and make it have a lot of thrust for a little while. That's the way the X-1 was born. The Air Force put up the money and NACA Stack, Hartley Soul, Thompson and myself, and some others, sort of got this thing going. Bell Company got the contract to build it, and I guess everybody knows that it was a good thing to do, because it did break the sound barrier. It was fortunate that I was running the wing flow business at that time, because I found out that the wing thickness that everybody was using which was approximately 15 percent thick, had a flow breakdown and lost its lift. You couldn't make pull-ups or anything with the wing, but with a thin wing, it was all right. It would go right through the speed of sound. I told this to my boss in time to get that thin wing put on the X-1.

MAUER: In fact, initially NACA was so afraid of the thin wing that they looked at what, 8 percent and 10 percent and even that proved to be too thick? What was the--

GILRUTH: The wind tunnel people had no idea what happened to a wing when you got close to the speed of sound, because these closed throat wind tunnels would choke, and then you couldn't test anything. We in the flight section found ways of getting the data, and one of the first things we did at Wallops Island was to fly thin wings, and pull ups and push downs, to show that they were all right.

MAUER: There was controversy over Jones's idea of the swept wing.

GILRUTH: Well, not much controversy. It was a good idea from the beginning.

MAUER: Well, but NACA was a little slow in releasing that information. Ultimately Congress kind of got mad at NACA, from what I've read, or does that ring a bell with you?

GILRUTH: No. I think the thing that was hard to do was find out how good it was, and there again, I tested it on the wing flow, and it was fine. It didn't even show any bad things at all going through the speed of sound.

MAUER: I guess one question is, why was the X-1 designed with straight wings and not swept wings?

GILRUTH: Because it was something that had to fly very fast, and we didn't know that much about stability and control of structures of swept wings to be putting them through that much of a thing, and the X-1 was built in a hurry, and with the thin wing, it was all right. It did the job. We did put swept wings on some of the later research airplanes.

MAUER: Oh yes, I'm aware of that. I'm just curious about the X-1. Another thing that was apparently held against NACA, and in the hearings in early 1958, as the decision was being made about creation of NASA, was the question of why hadn't NACA gotten to studying jet propulsion before World War II, why had the Germans and the British done it and we hadn't been involved in it, what sort of perspective do you have on that?

GILRUTH: I know that our military people thought they were goingto win the war with piston engines. They had a lot of airplanes with piston engines, and they went in there and they won the war. They were right, and I think they might have done well earlier to have started work on jet engines, because they were lucky that they were able to bring it to an end before -- but it wasn't even close. They won the war with considerable ease after they got to that point.

MAUER: Based on what you've just said, my understanding is that in part NACA looked to the military for taking leadership, because its role was as a research institution?

GILRUTH: During the war, we did mostly the things that the defense services wanted us to do. We worked on their airplanes when they had problems. The full scale tunnel did nothing but put fighter airplanes and small bombers in there, clean them up, and our flight sections, we did work mostly on helping airplanes with stability problems or control problems, and we were not doing as much as we should have been doing in looking forward, but we were loaded the way it was, and it was hard to do anything; when the Air Corps and the Navy needed something done, you would do it.


MAUER: One last question in this vein then we'll move back into Apollo. Do you remember the criticism that was raised in Congress in the first part of 1958, when discussion about the creation of NASA was going on, and members of Congress were critical of NACA for not having started the development of jets before World War II.

GILRUTH: I knew there was criticism of our being slow with it. We had some people who were doing their best to get into jet propulsion. Eastman Jacobs was the guy behind the variable density wind tunnel and all the various airfoil studies. He was very much interested in jet propulsion, but he didn't have the equipment or the wherewithal to do anything. There was no real money. He did't have a charter. There was no charter in NACA to do it. Now, there might have been one, if Dr. Lewis had not been ill. If he had been in his prime and had gone to Congress and said, "Look, I'm worried about us not going with these new possibilities. We need some money to do this." That could have been done, but it wasn't.

MAUER: How did you feel in 1958 when this criticism was being leveled? Did you think that this was fair to NACA, or did you think it was overdone?

GILRUTH: I felt bad that this country didn't have a better set of turbojet engines. I felt sorry for America, not particularly for NACA.

DEVORKIN: To what extent did lessons learned in the old NACA, for not being as forward-looking as hind-sighted Congressmen would have wanted you to be, did you apply to the NASA years? Let's say in the mid-Sixties, when you're in the middle of the Apollo program. You said, sure, there were a few study fellows around somewhere on the campus down in Houston, thinking about post-Apollo projects and that sort of thing. Do you feel that experience sensitized you to the need for advance planning?

GILRUTH: I certainly felt there was a great need for advance planning. It's hard to find people who are good at that, though. It's very, very hard.

DEVORKIN: I see. Who did you have that was good?

GILRUTH: We had lots of good people. Max Faget is about as far-looking a guy as you can find. Robert Piland was another who I had, Bob Piland. In fact, he had his own charter to spend as much time as he wanted to, thinking about things we ought to be doing in the future. He was pretty good at that.

DEVORKIN: Did his reports get directly back to you?

GILRUTH: Yes, he reported to me, actually. And to Max. He wasn't bound to any one person, but I always leaned on him, especially if I had to give a talk about something that had to do with the future. I'd say, "All right, you've been working on this stuff, now tell me what I can say." We tried to keep looking ahead, and I think we did pretty well. But you never do as good as you should. I don't think you ever will.

DEVORKIN: Hard to predict the future. So we should go back then to studying Apollo?

MAUER: Yes, I think so. Do you have a question?

DEVORKIN: Back to the year of decision, June '61 to June '62, as you look at it in your writings. I think what we want to develop here is the last broad theme for your interview: how you developed that master plan for Apollo that carried it all through. You've already mentioned all of the different areas where planning had to take place and decisions had to be made. What was the critical path? What was the one thing that was going to slow you up or be the most difficult element? I'm going to ask it in two parts. First, NASA overall, and second, at your center, something you had control over. First would be NASA overall, what was the real critical path?

GILRUTH: There were many, many things that you had to keep all under control. First, you had to have the money coming in.

DEVORKIN: The political path.

GILRUTH: That was terribly important, and that was something that Jim Webb took care of. This was never to be taken for granted. I think that was a necessary but not a sufficient condition. The other one was to have sized up the scope of that project and have a plan that was adequate to solve it.

DEVORKIN: Let's talk about how you developed that plan.

GILRUTH: We developed it by doing the only thing that we knew how to do. That was to study what it took to fly out of the earth's sphere, go all the way up to the moon, go into orbit, go down to the moon and back, and meet up with the command module, come back to earth and land safely. By the time you got through with this, there were many operations. First, you had this big rocket with multi stages. You finally got the command service module and the LEM in lunar orbit. Then you had to blast it out of orbit and put it on a path to the moon. Then you had to go from one spacecraft to another and you had to blast into lunar orbit. You had to leave one spacecraft in orbit around the moon while the Lander went down and landed. This had to be a very complicated plan. It involved many vehicles, all of which had to fly together. It had a three-man crew. You never could be sure that this was a workable plan until you did it. These are the kinds of problems that we had. We had to do it with a fine tooth comb. You had to take care of every little bit of that spacecraft, just as though it were a thing you're doing every day. It's hard for me to make it clear how really hard it was to do.

DEVORKIN: I can certainly understand that.

GILRUTH: It was hard because you had to plan it all before you could do any part of it.

DEVORKIN: Let's take one element of the plan, the type of orbit, the actual way that you were going to get from the earth to the moon and back. There were the three choices--earth orbit rendezvous, direct descent, and lunar orbit rendezvous--and there were many elements to consider just in trying to make that decision.

GILRUTH: That was a tough decision to get made.

DEVORKIN: In direct descent you needed an enormous booster. In earth orbit rendezvous, you needed two Saturn launchers to meet in orbit. In lunar orbit rendezvous, you needed only one Saturn launcher, but you had to have, correct me if I'm wrong, extremely finely tuned abilities to do celestial navigation, because the lunar orbit rendezvous was being done at the greatest distance, was the critical path. The most difficult thing to conquer.

GILRUTH: But that had onboard navigation.

DEVORKIN: Had it been developed yet? To what degree were the computers ready and available?

GILRUTH: Well, that's true, we were the people that made IBM.There's no question about it. We put the computer age ahead ten years with Apollo, because we really did use IBM and built them up in order to do this program.

DEVORKIN: Now, who made that decision, and how was it made, that computers would be something that would be pushed more than the humungous launch vehicle? Because you could have gone in that direction, a bigger launch vehicle, with von Braun's original Nova concept. Yet people opted for one launch, all in one, with a maximum efficiency ratio, but that required computers at a time when people were just barely beginning to trust transistors. So who was making these decisions?

GILRUTH: I'll tell you. It was my plan and it went just the way I wanted it to go. Now, I can't say that I did it, but I convinced a lot of people.

DEVORKIN: Let's talk about that process, because von Braun wanted direct descent.

GILRUTH: But we got him convinced to go the way we wanted to go. He was for it, by the end of the arguments. He was on board.

DEVORKIN: But you had almost everybody against you from the beginning. Brainard Holmes wanted the earth orbit rendezvous.


DEVORKIN: With two Saturn launches.


DEVORKIN: Now, you had John Houbolt.

GILRUTH: He was at Langley Field. I knew him well, but I was not a pal of his. I had no influence over him, other than with reason.

DEVORKIN: But you had technical people who pulled that plan through. Houbolt's name comes up as the celestial mechanician, the person who could understand what the hardware and the software could do, especially guidance systems. I don't know if he was working directly with Stark Draper's people or not.

GILRUTH: Well, Stark Draper was with us a lot.

DEVORKIN: I know. Since about '61 when he got the Apollo guidance contract. I'm just interested in who was the team of people you put together to sell that package? First of all, how did you become convinced it was best? Then how did you go about selling the rest of NASA?

GILRUTH: I think I became convinced of the lunar orbit rendezvous very, very early. I believed that it was the simplest way to goand actually the only way even though it was complex.

MAUER: Far earlier than I think has been published. For this interview, about what time do you think, to the best of your recollection, you became convinced about LOR?

GILRUTH: I think I was one of the first people to be convinced of it, and I don't know who did it right now.

MAUER: But when? In 1961? I've seen a reference where you thought it was in April. Let me read a note taken from pages Chariots for Apollo,10 pages 73-76. That book indicates that Chamberlain of the Gemini group became interested in LOR and that this stimulated your interest. In transcripts of other of your interviews, you indicated that it was before August of '61 that you really had become convinced, before Faget became convinced of LOR.

GILRUTH: It may have been.

MAUER: But it's not clear to you right now.

GILRUTH: I just don't remember when it happened, but it was early.

MAUER: It was separate from Houbolt?

GILRUTH: He was the one who told me, had the idea, from whom I first heard about it.

MAUER: Was he the one who convinced you?

GILRUTH: He came in and talked about it, and I was very much interested, but I didn't tell him I thought it was wonderful right then. But I did think about it a lot. We had some good people that didn't stay with us a whole long time. Frick was one of them, Charles Frick, who was convinced of it. He did a lot to convince me.

MAUER: What role did Chamberlain play in convincing you?

GILRUTH: I don't remember him being particularly convincing. I would have noted that, Chamberlain thought it was a good idea. While he could not convey his thoughts very well, he was a very bright person. I regarded his ability to analyze something as excellent--especially mechanical and aeronautical things.

MAUER: Apparently to this one source, he was.

GILRUTH: It was Frick did a lot to convince the Marshall people. We had these various missionaries in our group that would go out and try to convert the people in the other centers.

MAUER: Were you there at the meeting on June 7, 1962, at Huntsville, in which von Braun publicly committed Marshall to LOR for the first time?

GILRUTH: I probably was.

MAUER: Does that meeting stick out in your mind?

GILRUTH: No, not particularly.

MAUER: At what point did you become aware, if you remember, when von Braun started changing his perception to at least realizing that LOR was going to be the way?

GILRUTH: As I say, I think Charles Frick had a lot to do with convincing the people, including Wernher. Frick was there with us at the Management Councils a lot. We'd sit and talk about these things. We were good friends even though we didn't always agree on what should be done.

MAUER: How would you characterize your management style at Manned Spacecraft Center, as opposed to Wernher's management approach at Marshall?

GILRUTH: I think he was much more formal than I was. But I didn't know that much about how he managed people.

MAUER: Can you think of any example that would characterize this more formal approach? Is there anything that sticks out in your memory? Because that does parallel things I've heard from other people.

GILRUTH: That's all I have to go on. I was never there much.

MAUER: I was just wondering about the Management Council. Was there anything that you can remember about how he handled things, that you had a sense was different from the way you handled things?

GILRUTH: No. We were there pretty much with our bosses and our colleagues. We'd have one or two people from each center, and it was hard to tell what he did when he was alone at Huntsville. I don't know how he managed his people but he was a very nice man. I imagine he was very courteous and nice and easy to work with, with his people.

DEVORKIN: Let's go back and talk about your comment about IBM, and how NASA made IBM what it is today.

GILRUTH: I think I would say that they had a lot of talent. They would have become successful no matter what, but we did help them by giving them such a challenging project as Apollowas, which required the utmost in computer development. I'm not a computer expert, although I had some very good people in that work. Without those computers, we never could have solved all those equations in such short time, that we could direct these things into proper orbits.

DEVORKIN: I know that by '63, '64, just about every--I was an undergraduate at UCLA at that time in astronomy, which also had a very strong astromechanics and celestial mechanics group under Samuel Herrick and Robert Baker. Almost all of the graduates there were either planning employment at TRW, as a contractor to Houston, or were going directly to Houston at that time. This was in a tremendous growth point for applied celestial mechanics, trying to solve the equations with sufficient accuracy and speed to be used in something like a LOR. You just mentioned that this was an area of computers that you're not too familiar with. You are certainly familiar with marine navigation, but maybe not celestial navigation, yet LOR that you were pushing for hinged on how well those computers were going to work, how quickly and how reliable they were going to be. The computers at that time were going down right and left. You couldn't run an IBM 709 or 7090 for more than five or ten hours without it having some major glitch. Where did the confidence come from this time, to know that, at least by the time Apollo flew?

GILRUTH: We knew that without them we couldn't do it. So we had no recourse but to put all our money on it.

DEVORKIN: So LOR was, even without the computers, are you saying, the best choice?

GILRUTH: Oh yes. We had to go LOR. Certainly it was so much easier. Can you try to imagine a great big rocket that had to have enough power to go all the way back to earth, landing on the moon? We couldn't do it.

MAUER: In 1961, before the formal commitment, but when you were becoming strongly convinced that LOR was the way to go, am I understanding that you're saying whatever problems computers posed, they did not seem as great to you as the problems of direct descent in an enormous rocket?

GILRUTH: Yes. That's exactly right.

DEVORKIN: What about Holmes' idea of earth orbit rendezvous? What was the negative point there?

GILRUTH: It seemed to me that it was an unnecessary thing to do.

MAUER: But without the computers, why do you think that it's unnecessary?

GILRUTH: Because we didn't have to do it. We did it without any trouble.

DEVORKIN: By didn't have to, you mean you didn't have to expend two Saturn-5s.


MAUER: Where did your faith in 1961 come from, without the basis for knowledge in computers, without having computers that yet were operating at the level of success that they were by the time Apollo flew?

GILRUTH: I just thought that we'd be able to do it. If we couldn't, why we wouldn't be able to go anyway, because the others were so hard to do.

DEVORKIN: Did Stark Draper ever walk into your office from his lab, or did you go to his lab, and did he ever simply say, "Don't worry, we can do it."

GILRUTH: He was always a person who thought he could do anything.

DEVORKIN: Especially in that area of guidance and control. He certainly had spent his life both in the civilian and in the military forefront of guidance and control.

GILRUTH: Yes, he had. He was a good guy to be working with.

DEVORKIN: Do you remember specifically that he ever came in and said, "This is it, we'll have it. "

GILRUTH: Well, I think he was a very big influence on me, because he was a can-do person in that area, that gave me the confidence that I had that these things would really work out and become usable.

DEVORKIN: Aside from the computers, do you recall any of the criticisms, in the early period, before a decision was made, that might have been leveled toward LOR by von Braun or Holmes who advocated the other systems?

GILRUTH: Well, yes. They thought it was kind of a hare brained way to do it, to go there -- I remember telling Brainard that it was a lot easier to go to a desert island in a small rowboat than it was in an ocean liner. And he said, "Well, I don't know, when I get out on the ocean, an ocean liner looks a lot better to me than a rowboat!" So that was his remark. But it was still true, you wouldn't want to go to the desert island in an ocean liner. You'd run aground and get in all kinds of trouble.

DEVORKIN: That's an interesting analogy.

DEVORKIN: Were there any other instances? I know there was a minimum of at least a six-month period where the three options were being considered.


DEVORKIN: Took a long time.

GILRUTH: It really did, but finally everybody got on board.

DEVORKIN: Did you develop a strategy for who to go to first to get them on board, and then who to go to next?

GILRUTH: No, we just were honest people trying to sell the way of doing it that we thought would work. I was sincere about it. I thought this was one thing that we could do.

MAUER: Did von Braun send people over trying to convince you about direct descent?

GILRUTH: I don't think so. I think that he tried himself to talk to me and to argue with me, but I don't think he tried anything else.

MAUER: But you were saying that you sent this one man over to Marshall to talk with him, to explain the ideas. I was wondering if there was that sort of communication back and forth?

GILRUTH: Yes, it was. I think he was open-minded and Frick was a guy that he liked, who was willing to go over there and explain to him what he thought was especially good about this. I think Frick had a lot to do with convincing Wernher von Braun. I don't know how he did it. I might have known at the time. I've forgotten, but I know in my mind I say, yes, Frick was a big help in getting this decision.

DEVORKIN: Now we have the decision. We have LOR, so we have a certain payload that has to get into orbit or actually into transit orbit, out to the moon, get captured by the lunar gravity. You have your detachment, landing, docking. You have certain payloads at various milestones along the way. John, from your notes, I think it was a question about the payload weight that maybe we should explore now, because it was identified as the most difficult technical problem by August of '65. This is in Chariots for Apollo,11 page 170.

GILRUTH: Payloads back from the moon?

MAUER: No, payload in the sense of the spacecraft itself, everything forward of the interconnect between the last booster segment and the spacecraft. The Chariots for Apollo book says that payload weight was the last critical issue, that is, how heavy the spacecraft and its supporting mechanisms and the lift capability of the rocket. How do you keep weight down in a spacecraft? How much as center director did this form afocus of your attention?

GILRUTH: It was certainly very important that we have enough rocket power to put our spacecraft on the moon, and that we build them light enough so they could fit into that. I surely followed carefully how we were going on that.

MAUER: In talking with people at the center, I've heard it said that it was almost as if von Braun had a bit of extra lift capability in his pocket.

GILRUTH: He did.

MAUER: If things got difficult and the question of weight got--he could say, "I can take care of it. "

GILRUTH: He had that. He was smart. He kept several thousand pounds tucked away in his rocket design that he didn't tell any of us about.

DEVORKIN: Why did he do that?

GILRUTH: Because he knew that people always didn't have quite enough payload so he always tucked that away. He learned that over the years.

MAUER: That you always have growth in weight.

GILRUTH: Everybody over-estimates their ability to do something. He had allowed for that.

DEVORKIN: Were you aware of that? Were you in cahoots with him?

GILRUTH: No, I wasn't aware of it.

MAUER: At what point did you become aware of it?

GILRUTH: I don't know. I don't think that we ever got into dire straits. But we did add weight as soon as we landed on the moon, pretty soon we were taking more and more things there. We took an automobile up there, you know, so they could drive on it, and we used that extra payload that he had in doing all of these things. So it was a great thing that he did.

MAUER: This was an issue that, in August of '65, Caldwell Johnson proposed a subsystem review, as a way of keeping down payload weight. Do you remember that?

GILRUTH: No, I don't, but I know he was always a good man at keeping control of weights and things like that. Caldwell Johnson.

MAUER: All of this tied in to reliability questions. OMSF[Office of Manned Space Flight] had identified 71 possible failure points, and at about the same time, summer of '65, Golovin of PSAC [President's Science Advisory Committee] was criticizing NASA and saying that he'd heard 50. For you as center director, this question of reliability and possible failure points, obviously, was always a major concern. How did you go about trying to insure that possible failure points didn't become actual failure points? How did you manage that problem?

GILRUTH: The same way. You just put the best people you have on it and work like hell.

DEVORKIN: You've said a good number of times in this interview that there were just too many failure points in the system to warrant continued flights.


DEVORKIN: This must have been a continual anxiety.

GILRUTH: Of course. It's a very complex project, and you're a long ways from home. Couldn't hardly be further.

MAUER: Do you remember when PSAC was critical?

GILRUTH: Oh, they were critical many times.

MAUER: Do you remember any time PSAC wasn't critical? Let me ask that question the other way.

GILRUTH: I don't remember any other times.

MAUER: I have here part of the telephone directory from Manned Spacecraft from August, 1969. This is the front part that gives the basic organizational structure, listing the various managers and the various officers.

GILRUTH: That's interesting.

MAUER: I have several of them over various periods of your being director of MSC. One aspect in these is the fact that fairly early on, you made astronauts an important part of the organizational structure. Obviously astronauts were always a critical part of manned spaceflight program. But it's not the same thing as having them fairly high in the organizational structure. Ultimately Deke Slayton was a director, one of the key managerial positions, at MSC. Why was it that you decided to give astronauts that sort of very high level input into your administrative structure?

GILRUTH: They certainly had every right to sit in and listen to things that were going on in the design of the spacecraft. They certainly had every right to make an input.

MAUER: You're right. I understand that, but they could have been attached to one of the actual Apollo spacecraft program offices, rather than having a directorship of their own. Why have a director of flight crew operations? Why have flight crew operations going all the way to the director's level, as opposed to perhaps reporting through some other directorate?

GILRUTH: Because there wasn't any other directorate that they belonged with. They were a thing of their own.

MAUER: Part of the reason I'm asking this question, Dr. Gilruth, is, after you ceased to be director,-- obviously you can't speak for other people and I'm not asking you to -- but there is a difference between the way that you organized your center, in terms of astronauts, and the way it was organized after you.

GILRUTH: What did they do with them after that?

MAUER: I've forgotten how they reported through, but flight crew operations ceased to be on a directorate level and was moved further down in the organizational structure.

GILRUTH: Who did they report to?

MAUER: You would ask me and I didn't bring with me the later--

GILRUTH: It was obvious they should report to the director's office, to me. They shouldn't report to the people designing the spacecraft, because if they disliked something the spacecraft designers were doing they ought to be able to bitch about it.

MAUER: Obviously that is one area of criticism in terms of Challenger that that sort of input didn't--

GILRUTH: They didn't make any input anywhere. That was the trouble with the Challenger. They didn't get the things that were bothering the people. They couldn't get to anybody with any power. At least, that's some of the things I've heard. I think having them report to my office gave them every chance to uncover any things that they were worried about. If they shouldn't be worrying about it, why, I would have told them.

MAUER: How did you handle the reporting of the various organizational units? In 1969, you had Advanced Missions Program Office, Apollo Applications Program Office, Apollo Spaceflight Administration, as I said earlier, the Flight Crew Operations. What was the method of flow of information that you used?

GILRUTH: I had two or three good assistants that were high quality people, that they could talk to. And they could always talk to me if they wanted to.

MAUER: Did you schedule meetings with your various directors as a group from time to time?

GILRUTH: Yes, we tried to have a meeting every week, where all these heads of departments and heads of the Astronaut Corps would all meet. We'd spend the morning talking about all of our problems, and this was a pretty effective thing to do. Sometimes it would maybe take one or two hours, and sometimes it would take all morning.

DEVORKIN: Were those meetings recorded in any way?

GILRUTH: Yes. They were recorded. We had someone taking the action items that came up. I don't think we recorded all that was said. I don't think so.

MAUER: But that's how you operated, through action items. That's the way the Management Council operated at Headquarters, developing action items that needed to be worked upon and reported back upon.


MAUER: So your system inside MSC in some ways paralleled the way that the Management Council worked for NASA as a whole?

GILRUTH: I think there probably was some parallel. I think it was a good management technique. There was not a whole lot of red tape attached to it. You saw everybody once a week, and they could say what was bothering them and so on and so forth, and everybody would talk about it. If something should be done, you'd have an action item to take care of it. That's the way we tried to work. Of course, they could always come and talk to you any time that they felt like it.

DEVORKIN: Did you ever get feedback though from people who were close to you, who said that there were people who simply didn't feel free to come to you, just because of your position, maybe were intimidated, where you didn't get the feedback you needed?

GILRUTH: I sometimes heard that. I don't think that's a very good excuse for not coming, if you're worried about something.

DEVORKIN: It happens everywhere. I'm just wondering if this was something you were familiar with.

GILRUTH: I've heard that said. A lot of people just won't come.

DEVORKIN: How did you try to deal with it?

GILRUTH: If they're leaders of a group and they don't feel they can come and talk to you about what they need, then they ought to get out and get somebody else who's willing to come. I don't know anybody that ran a group that didn't feel he could come and talk to me. I didn't know anybody in this place that was like that. I really can't imagine that. You could have people like that. But I don't think they would ever emerge to become head of a group in our center.

MAUER: That apparently is one thing that happened with the solid rocket boosters, because the information was not flowing effectively. What are the situations that can lead to this breakdown in communications at a vital place?

GILRUTH: Some people like to play everything close to their chests. They don't want to tell anybody about it. You've got to watch out for that. You don't put that kind of person in charge of a group, because it won't work. They can be very good people, but you have them work by themselves.

DEVORKIN: So, in choosing your managers that was one of the things you looked out for and warned yourself against.

GILRUTH: That's right.

MAUER: So they had to be technically skilled, but that wasn't enough. They had to be able to work with people well and they also had to be willing to communicate information.

GILRUTH: That's right. They had to represent that group. That meant that they didn't always give their own opinion. They gave the problem of the group.


DEVORKIN: Now, it's my impression that you worked for a person at a later time, George Mueller, who did have a reputation for wanting to keep things to himself. That's the other side of the coin. It was difficult for Headquarters top brass to get out of Mueller status reports, and where the problem areas were. Mueller said, "Leave it to me. I'll take care of it." You worked beneath him, in effect.

GILRUTH: Yes. He was my boss.

DEVORKIN: Is this a correct assessment on my part, or can you correct that picture.

GILRUTH: That I had a reputation of not being--

DEVORKIN: -- Not you, Mueller.

GILRUTH: I had forgotten it, but I'm not sure that it isn't right. I think maybe there was some feeling that he didn't tell everything that was of interest.

DEVORKIN: If he was in your channel of normal communications and you had problems that had to get to that person or whatever, that at some point or another, those problems, at least knowledge of them, stopped with Mueller. Do you remember any instance of that?

GILRUTH: No, I don't remember any instances, but I can't say that I know it wasn't true. I don't know.

MAUER: Let's go to the last part of our effort, which I think is the Shuttle. That wasn't much of your effort. I'm getting a feeling from things that you've said, it wasn't that much of a focus even the last years when you were director.


MAUER: Let me at least mention some things. If they don't ring a bell, fine, and if they do ring a bell, we can talk about them. In 1968, NASA really began to get concerned, is my image, about planning for what happened after Apollo. Would you say that that fits into your recollections?

GILRUTH: I think it's probably as good as any I know. People were always worried about that.

MAUER: Well, '69 was first landing, but Apollo 8 had been launched. In 1968, Phase A, feasibility studies, contracts were let for space station. Now, space station, my understanding was, the thing that NASA thought at this period was going to be the next big important step. Would that correspond with your memory?

GILRUTH: I think that we went through that periodically, but this was probably a bona fide effort to get something.

MAUER: I think it was the first time that they'd started committing to actual development towards production. Also the question of a reusable Shuttle craft started to emerge. There was work on a Preliminary Statement of Work at Manned Spacecraft Center and at Marshall.

GILRUTH: -- That was in '68?

MAUER: In 1968. It was all very preliminary. There was created towards the end of '68 an Advanced Missions Program Office that John Hodge headed. Do you remember the creation of that office? Does that ring a bell with you?


MAUER: OK. In early 1969, contracts for studies were let for what was then called the ILRV, Integral Landing and Re-entry Vehicle, which quickly got re-named to the Space Shuttle. President [Richard M.] Nixon had just started his Presidency. He created something called the Space Task Group, picking up on the name that you had chosen a decade before.


MAUER: Vice President [Spiro T.] Agnew headed that. NASA createda Space Shuttle Task Group in the spring of 1969 in support of the Presidential Space Task Group. You, or at least Manned Spacecraft Center, started something called the Skunk Works, which Chamberlain headed. That was to be a quick study of a Space Shuttle. Do you remember the Skunk Works?

GILRUTH: I remember something about it, yes.

MAUER: What do you remember about it?

GILRUTH: I don't know, but I'm very much interested in what you're going to tell me about it. Chamberlain would have been a good man for that.

MAUER: Yes. Contracts, on January 24, 1969, for this ILRV, which quickly came to be called the Shuttle, were given to General Dynamics, McDonnell Douglas, North American Rockwell, and Lockheed. A long-time manager at Manned Spacecraft kept some detailed notes in this period, Andre Meyer. Does that name ring a bell for you at all, or is he too far down? Andre Meyer. He was manager of the Lunar Exploration Projects Office in the Advanced Missions Program Office.

GILRUTH: The name is familiar to me, but I don't visualize him right now.

MAUER: In March 1969 the Skunk Works was started, studying concepts for a reusable vehicle. The question was whether it was going to be a two stage fully reusable vehicle, or a stage and a half. Lockheed had its Star Clipper concept. Or some vehicle that would be reusable, a reusable orbiter but put upon an expendable launcher.

GILRUTH: Yes, I know there were lots of studies that were carried out at that period at our center, of different kinds of Shuttle designs. I remember that because when I gave my Wright Brothers lecture, I think I showed some of the preliminary thinking along that line.

DEVORKIN: Did you take an active role in following these deliberations of the Skunk Works, or were you still, as center director, primarily interested in Apollo, and seeing it through?

GILRUTH: I don't think I spent a whole lot of time with this project of design of a Shuttle. I was interested in it, but I don't think I had much to do with it.

DEVORKIN: Was there pressure from below, within Houston, to take a greater role in developing the Shuttle program?

GILRUTH: There were always people who were very much in favor of making an airplane-like spacecraft. We weren't sure whether this was a good idea or not, and we were studying it to see what we could come up with.

DEVORKIN: "We" being?

GILRUTH: Our center, and NASA. But it wasn't a big effort.

DEVORKIN: Was it at time when the center that had done, let's say, the most studies and was the most primed would become the primary center for the Shuttle ?

GILRUTH: We thought that if it was done, it probably ought to be us. We always felt that we ought to do the things we wanted.

MAUER: You didn't necessarily feel that way about SkyLab, you were saying, so why did you feel that way about Shuttle?

GILRUTH: Because Marshall had pioneered the Space Station idea. They had worked hard on this concept, and they really deserved to do that. That's something they wanted to do, and they were leaders in it.

MAUER: But why MSC for the Shuttle?

GILRUTH: We just thought that--certainly it wasn't going to be the Cape, because they were not in that kind of business. It was either Marshall or us. I don't know. Marshall could have done it. But we were going to run out of a job, too, and we thought this might be a good one for us.

MAUER: On July 22, 1969, Mueller asked Marshall to create a Configuration Evaluation Plan for Space Shuttle. You sent a TWIX to von Braun on August 11, 1969, concerning this Configuration Evaluation Plan, in which you suggested that the various NASA centers share the work. You even detailed how the division of labor would be. You specified what you thought would be good for Marshall to do, MSC to do, and various other centers. But von Braun didn't take to this idea, and he cabled you back saying there really wasn't enough time. Do you remember that exchange?

GILRUTH: Yes. I thought I called him up. I didn't remember trying to do it with a TWIX.

MAUER: Well, there was a TWIX. You may have called him up besides, but I've seen the TWIX. I know it exists.

GILRUTH: I'm not saying it didn't. I don't say it isn't true. I'm sure it is true if you have the things there. But I don't remember. I know that we were thinking about what was going to come next. We had always liked airplanes. We were thinking, gosh, it would be fun to build something like that. But I really don't know that I was that young that I was anxious to charge on it. We'd been through a lot, with what we'd just finished, going to the moon, and those things did not seem quite as big to me as they used to.

MAUER: That's a good perception, right there. I'm just asking you these questions because I've been working on the Shuttle and I'm curious.

GILRUTH: I know, in my Wright Brothers Lecture, I showed some pictures of what a possible Shuttle might look like. So I know that I was interested and we were doing this work.

MAUER: In indirect communication, Andre Meyer, who was keeping these handwritten notes that are still preserved, there was a comment from September of 1969 in which he had heard, and this is a direct quote, "Gilruth no longer favors any, even an EOS," and (that means Earth Orbital Shuttle, Space Shuttle) contained Space Station. People at your center were understanding that you were becoming doubtful about whether Space Station was the way to go. Do you remember what your thoughts were in this period about the Space Station and developing doubts about it?

GILRUTH: I don't. I don't remember what happened to the space station in those years.

MAUER: It's not so much what happened to space station. I was wondering if you remembered your thoughts about the space station, because you've indicated that earlier you thought that would be a really good follow-on project. Did you start to doubt it?

GILRUTH: Yes. But on the other hand, we had done a lot of other things, and here was Marshall, with its Space Station Lab.

MAUER: Yes, the SkyLab.

GILRUTH: SkyLab, and it just didn't seem that this was the time to talk about building a space station, because they were making this SkyLab, and it was a Space Station.

MAUER: Were there also money concerns involved in your thoughts?

GILRUTH: Of course. You knew that you couldn't do but so many things, and we were doing a lot of things.

MAUER: Also your budgets had been going down since 1966.

GILRUTH: That's right.

MAUER: How did that affect the way that you viewed future planning?

GILRUTH: It was a concern. And I couldn't see anything on the horizon that was going to change it particularly. There was need for some kind of change in the world situation. We didn't have the same kind of competition that we were getting from the Soviets. We had pretty well buried them with Apollo. Here we were, king of the castle, and people were saying, "Well, we put up a lot of money for that. Now we've got that pretty well settled. Why don't we do something else that needs to be done?"

MAUER: That's true. However, you're the director of a large center that has many buildings, a lot of expensive equipment. You have a lot of specially trained people that can do space well.

DEVORKIN: It took you an awful long time to build that up.


MAUER: Now, if you don't have something to do after Apollo, what are you going to do, put locks the door and just leave?

GILRUTH: But it had done its job. We put the men on the moon. We did what we said we would do, what we built the buildings for. Surely, we would like to continue on with a very active program, but it was up to the country to have that program. If they don't come up with it, you don't really have a leg to stand on.

MAUER: It was up to the country to come up with that program. Is that the way you felt about Mercury or manned space in 1958? Did you feel like the country had decided upon it?

GILRUTH: Absolutely. They wanted to challenge the Soviets. They wanted to see if we could beat the Soviets in space.

MAUER: So, what was going to be done in space, from your perspective, the country decides on it and then your job as an engineer and a manager is to go out and do what the country wants.

GILRUTH: Yes. You do what the country wants. You won't do it on federal funds if the country doesn't want it, I'll tell you that.

DEVORKIN: What do you think of the process by which the country comes to these decisions?

GILRUTH: It's very difficult. It's a hard process to manage. You can't do it. But it is the way it is.

DEVORKIN: But what you have talked about though is, you didn't know--no one really knew-- how much the country wanted it until and the Congress saw public reaction to Shepard's first flight. Then there was no question.

GILRUTH: That's right.

DEVORKIN: Of course, we were already in a race, because Gagarin went up. But the Russians were still going up. They were building a space station, and they were very methodically moving towards a permanent presence for man in space. Did this not enter into at least your deliberations for the post-Apollo era, knowing that the Russians were there?

GILRUTH: They weren't there then. That came a little later. We knew they had talked about a permanent stay in space. They are now permanently in space, I believe.


GILRUTH: And have been for some time. I don't know how exciting that is to the American people. It is certainly something that we haven't done. But I don't know whether that would cause Congress to appropriate large sums of money to build a Space Station. I don't know. Maybe they would. But you can only find out if you try.

MAUER: What was your relationship with Congress as a center director? How much did you go up and testify before Congress?

GILRUTH: Oh, I did some of that.

MAUER: What is the center director's role in the budgetary process, in dealing with Congress?

GILRUTH: I think we have people in Washington that are much better at that than I am. I was better when the Congressmen would come to the center and I would show them and tell them what we were doing. Show them around and maybe take them out to dinner in the evening. Let them meet some of the astronauts and things like that. They loved to do that.

MAUER: What about OMB and the center director? What contact did you have with OMB or its predecessor, BOB ?

GILRUTH: We had contact with the people of OMB and BOB. Nice people.

MAUER: What sort of contact?

GILRUTH: They would come and talk with us, with me, with the right people, to get a feeling of what was going on, what kind of people we had and what our problems were. Not just the ones they saw on paper, but talk to people.

DEVORKIN: Did you ever talk with them in earnest or talk to them to lobby for a relaxation of the one-year procurement cycle?

GILRUTH: I don't know whether I ever did or not. I don't think I did.

DEVORKIN: Did you know of others in NASA who lobbied about theone-year cycle ?

GILRUTH: No, I don't. I do know that was a problem. It was sort of an unnecessary problem, I thought.

DEVORKIN: You don't ever remember being directly involved.

GILRUTH: I've forgotten if I did.

MAUER: Let me come back to the Space Shuttle. Once again, you may well not remember much about it and if you don't, fine. I'd still like to ask some questions. On October 20, 1969, George Low wrote a memo for the record that detailed a series of meetings. The first one was on September 14th, 1969 at Lake Logan, where you got together with von Braun. You agreed with von Braun that MSC should do the orbiter and the two-stage fully reusable Space Shuttle, and that Marshall would do the booster. Then October 13th at Cocoa Beach in Florida, you and Low and Rees met and talked over this. October 15th, you and von Braun met at OMS here in Headquarters, and then finally on the same day, you, von Braun, Lucas, Rees and Low met with Mueller to give them the plan that you'd developed for how to manage the Space Shuttle in Phase B. Mueller thanked you for your plan and then never acted on it. Does this series of meetings ring a bell with you?

GILRUTH: I do remember it now that you mention it. I never would have thought of it. Anything that George Low is involved in generally worked out. I don't know whether this ever worked out.

MAUER: No, it didn't. But I was just wondering, do you remember why it was that you decided to meet with von Braun in the first place and talk this out?

GILRUTH: I think we all felt that it was important to have a way of getting these jobs going. I don't think we had too much confidence in some of the leadership.

MAUER: In what sense?

GILRUTH: We got together to see if we could think of a good way of parceling this up so that it would be an amenable system and people would put their shoulders to the wheel and make it go forward.

MAUER: One thing that Mueller wanted and did do was to have control of Phase B contracting of the Shuttle at Headquarters. The plan that you and von Braun agreed upon was one in which the responsibility would be basically divided between MSC and Marshall, in which the expertise of the two centers would be represented. MSC would do the orbiter, and Marshall, the booster. But Mueller didn't like this. Do you remember the meeting? What was the atmosphere of the meeting?

GILRUTH: I don't remember the meeting. I knew there were some problems like this going on. I don't know why Mueller wanted to do that. I think he had a little different idea than we did.

DEVORKIN: I think we'd be really interested to know what those differences were. You don't have to be too specific, but in general, in terms of style, can you describe a little more what those differences were, the way Mueller saw the world and the way you saw the world?

GILRUTH: Gee, it's very complex.

DEVORKIN: For the record, Mrs. Gilruth just spread her arms off to apparently opposite ends of the universe.

GILRUTH: We managed to do most of the things we had to do in those days, in spite of problems, management problems.

DEVORKIN: What was it that, where there were sparks?

GILRUTH: I think that you're bound--I don't care what the subject is, sometimes some people make sparks. This was a case where, no matter how right either side might have been, there were sparks that were caused. We still managed to hold the whole ship together. I felt that that was a pretty good thing, that we were able to do it.

DEVORKIN: Was this true in the Webb years, or did it get worse in the Paine years?

GILRUTH: I don't know. I think it was always a little bit flaky just how things were going to go. It wasn't as much fun as it had been in the past. It's not an easy thing to describe or to condone. Certainly, I don't think it would have been the right thing for Wernher and I both to lay down our swords and bare our breasts to the problems, you know. We were trying to do what we thought was right.

DEVORKIN: Was there anyone you traditionally went to, to get around Mueller when you had to?

GILRUTH: I used to go to Webb and talk about my problems sometimes.

MAUER: Could you do that with Paine after he came in?

GILRUTH: Yes, I talked frankly with Paine. He certainly knew how I felt about things. He is a good man. I leveled with my bosses. I found that I could not get a feeling of mutual transmission of thoughts back and forth very well, at times, with Brainard and with George Mueller. We just sometimes weren't on the same wavelengths. But I'm sure they always tried to do what they thought was the very best.

DEVORKIN: In both cases, you indicated that they didn't have a tradition or an experience--a life in flight engineering aeronautics.

GILRUTH: That's true.

DEVORKIN: To what degree do you point to that as being the cause for your differences?

GILRUTH: I think it might be just coincidental. I've known people that had only contact with electrical engineering and electronics that were very good people to work with and made very good managers, even though it might have quite a bit to do with flying. So I think it was just the clash perhaps of personalities.

MAUER: It's a question of clashes of personalities, but there's also a question, particularly early on in a project before all the work has been done how do you design it and what constitutes a good design. There's a lot of critical technical issues and it takes a lot of work.

GILRUTH: Yes, and a certain discipline. There's a discipline for working with things that fly, that is different than other fields of endeavor. A certain kind of rigor.

MAUER: In spaceflight there's even a different discipline between putting a satellite up and then putting human beings up.

GILRUTH: Yes. Of course.

MAUER: When the studies for Phase A on the Shuttle came in, there was apparently with you and your top managers at MSC some concern about what had been done. In the late fall of 1969, Low wrote a memo to you and then you sent that memo with your own cover letter off to Mueller, talking about the need to go beyond parametric studies and get into point design studies. Does that ring a bell with you?


MAUER: Apparently you had a meeting in which Melton Silvera preserved some notes, the notes date from January 26, 1970. I don't know if that's the precise date of the meeting. You, Low, Faget, and Kraft met. The concern that was expressed was that, as it stood at this time, very early 1970, it looked like it was going to be a long time between the completion of Apollo before the Shuttle would fly. You and these other men were very concerned about this. Do you remember that meeting? Do you remember those types of concerns?

GILRUTH: No, but I remember that concern.

MAUER: The focus apparently was on whether it would be better togo with existing technology. There was a 250,000 pound thrust engine, high powered engine, that was under development by Pratt Whitney. There was the existing F-1 engine. Kraft proposed an in-house study. Your question and Low's question was, "How do we get a vehicle operational by 1975?" Does that ring a bell with you?

GILRUTH: Not that particular meeting, but I know we were concerned about what was going to come after things ran out.

MAUER: NASA is moving towards the Shuttle. This concern is that the way it is being done in the main line has problems. You're saying to the rest of NASA, "Look, we need to look at a bit different way to do it. We need to try and focus upon getting into space again sooner than we are." Does that ring a bell with you?

GILRUTH: Not particularly, but then we were always hopeful that we could do better than what it usually took.

MAUER: Do you remember the DC-3 study? There was a much smaller payload vehicle using existing engines.


MAUER: I realize there's something we haven't asked Dr. Gilruth. It's on a personal level. You personally oversaw most of the launches of astronauts that destination had before the Shuttle. You saw a lot of launches personally.


MAUER: You saw all the Mercury ones. Did you keep going for Gemini? Did you keep going over to see Apollo?

GILRUTH: Yes. I was mentioning that the first time I missed a launch is when Hugh Dryden died and I went to his funeral. I think I was at most of the launches in Apollo and Gemini.

MRS. GILRUTH: You didn't go to any of the regular Apollo launches until 17. You stayed at Mission Control.

GILRUTH: That's right, yes, I did. I was at Mission Control most of the time. But I was at Mission Control. I did go to some. I thought I ought to go to one of the Apollo launches.

MRS. GILRUTH: Apollo 17 and Apollo-Soyuz.

DEVORKIN: For the record, then, most of them you were at Mission Control, not at Kennedy, until 17 and Apollo-Soyuz.

MAUER: Particularly the launch that stands out in everybody's mind is Apollo 11, because that's the first time that human beings actually stepped upon the moon.

GILRUTH: You bet.

MAUER: That had to have been a tremendous personal experience for you. You must have sweated your way through that mission.

GILRUTH: You know, the mission before it was almost as tough, because they did everything except back down on the moon. They got in the LEM and they flew down to within 40,000 feet of the surface, but they didn't land, as they were told not to. People used to tell me that I had no control over the astronauts. I'll tell you, those boys were wonderful. Gosh, it would be hard to go that far, to be the first man on the moon, and not do it.

MAUER: That's a great point.

DEVORKIN: How did you feel, telling them to do that, or was it your decision?

GILRUTH: It was my decision, but I was lukewarm on the decision. I felt if we got that far we should land.

MAUER: Did it make much difference? Did that trial run help Apollo 11 in a measurable way?

GILRUTH: Of course it did.

MAUER: I mean, as opposed to going ahead and landing in 10 instead of 11.

GILRUTH: It seemed to me as somebody who knew how hard it was to do, if we got that close to doing what your whole project was about, it might have been a good idea to have landed and then come back. But that isn't what we decided in the cold light of the evening or whenever it was. We had a big meeting with everybody involved. We decided it was better to make sure that we had everything that we could do and we didn't know what we were going to run into on the surface, what kinds of problems we might have in lift-off. So we said, we'll do everything but that and the next time we'll make the landing. So that's the way we decided it. That was done by our best people thinking. Not in a sudden thing but the cold light of day, we decided that they should just do everything except land.

DEVORKIN: You said it was decided by your best people.


DEVORKIN: Who made that decision?

GILRUTH: These would be the top people in the center. I think that Wernher and company had a hand in this, and the people in Washington. Management Council probably.

DEVORKIN: Did you ever get any pressure from the astronauts inthis regard?


DEVORKIN: Did they consider this to be too strong a psychological burden?

GILRUTH: No. There was no argument with the astronauts.

MAUER: What about the selection of astronauts? Slayton was the man who selected them, but did he come and talk with you about the selection?

GILRUTH: Of course he did. He had a proposal of who they should be, but he was not the one that made the final decision. He had a lot of influence in who was going to be it, that's true. But he was not the person who had the power of selection.

MAUER: Who was that person?

GILRUTH: Me. I didn't do it by myself, either. I worked with my colleagues, like George Low and people like that, in whom I had great confidence. I also consulted the top people in Headquarters.

MAUER: What were the principles? By the time people had been selected in the astronaut crew, they were all top people. So now you have to pick the people to fly out of a very select few individuals to begin with. How did you make the decisions, which ones fly, particularly the really key flights, Apollo 8 or Apollo 11?

GILRUTH: Well, actually you've got to say that Slayton had a lot to do with that, because he--I don't know how he did it. But they were all good, and he might have used dice or something, to figure out who--

DEVORKIN: Do you ever remember sitting around in the evening with George Low saying, "My God, it's down to a crap shoot"? Did it ever get to that?

GILRUTH: No, it never got to that. But it was sort of a -- I'm sure that Deke had ideas. I'm sure he didn't use the fact that he was the head astronaut, for anything, other than trying to pick the people he really thought ought to go in a certain way, and he worked at that all the time, and so I felt as far as I'm concerned, he did a very good job.

MAUER: How did he present the information about the people he was recommending to you? What was his process of briefing you about the range of choices that he was recommending to you? Do you remember?

GILRUTH: Sure. He would just tell me who he thought would be thebest for the next crew. I'd ask him the questions I had to ask about why, what he based it on. If there was something that I knew about this young man, where he might have had some problem physical problems or something, was he all better from those? Of course he wouldn't have been picked if he hadn't been. As you say, they were all very high caliber people and all would have done a good job.

MAUER: One of the more controversial selections was Shepard to go to the moon, because he came back onto flight status. He hadn't been in a backup crew the way that other people had.

GILRUTH: I know. There was some criticism of that. On the other hand, here was a guy that was the first man to fly. He was sick, he had his ear problem. He worked like heck to get it fixed, finally got well, wanted to fly. It's pretty hard to tell him that he was too old or something. I thought it was a good decision to fly him.

MAUER: But it was a cold light of day decision. It's not just pure emotion. There were a lot of reasons.

GILRUTH: Yes, that's right.

DEVORKIN: We're at the end of this tape. I want to know where you stand?

MAUER: I only have one or two questions more I can ask, that come into mind at the moment.


MAUER: I'm just about finished. I have here a xerox from the MSC Roundup Meeting, center newspaper, from January 21st 1972. It's kind of the good-bye piece, when you were moving from MSC to Headquarters. How was it that you came to make the decision to become Administrator Fletcher's head of the development of personnel? I'm looking, here for the exact title of the office.

GILRUTH: Key personnel.

MAUER: Yes, director of key personnel development.

GILRUTH: Right. I was going to try to help him find good people. Help him with who the people were who should be promoted.

MAUER: First of all, why did you decide to leave MSC?

GILRUTH: Let me tell you. My wife was ill, and I wanted to spend more time with her. I wanted to keep with NASA, but I wanted a job that was less demanding and where I could do what I felt I needed to do. She was ill and we wanted to have time to do a little traveling, visit people that we hadn't seen in a longtime. The space program had been very demanding, and so that was the reason. I took this job because I thought I could do some good for NASA. At the same time, I didn't have to work every day. I had lots and lots of leave.

MAUER: How long were you in that position?

GILRUTH: About a year, I guess. I'm not really sure now. Three years? Was it three years? But I don't think I had that same title. I think I was a consultant to the administrator or something like that, for the others. I had this one for about a year.

DEVORKIN: Did you move directly back to?

GILRUTH: No. No. I resigned completely before we moved back here.

DEVORKIN: So you remained down in Houston.


MAUER: So both you and von Braun ended your careers at Headquarters.

GILRUTH: But not being there. We reported to Headquarters, but did not live there.

MAUER: Let me come back to Apollo 11. I still want you to tell us what your reactions were to Apollo 11, to seeing the launch and the whole process. Were you down at the Cape for the whole mission?

GILRUTH: I did not go to the Cape but I watched from Mission Control on T.V.

MAUER: Long before 17.

GILRUTH: I think that's right.

DEVORKIN: How did you feel?

GILRUTH: Of course I was elated, especially when they actually came down and we saw them get on the carrier. We knew they had it made. When the men got back in the hands of the recovery teams.

MAUER: But you couldn't relax until then?

GILRUTH: Of course. They had to go through quite an experience to come back in the command module. All the parachutes had to come out and all those things. Every one of those things had to work. Of course, we had a backup parachute in the command module. Everything had a backup that possibly could have.

DEVORKIN: But as you just said, from Apollo 10 to 11, everything else had been done, once at least, except for the landing.

GILRUTH: That's right.

DEVORKIN: So what did that mean to you?

GILRUTH: It meant that we had a very good chance of coming off all right. That's true. But when you think of all of the things that they had to do, there was still plenty of chance for something to go wrong.


MAUER: As Apollo 13 showed. What was your reaction to Apollo 13?

GILRUTH: I was glad that we had the LEM still on board so that we could bring it back home. We were lucky. We were unlucky that we had that explosion, but we were lucky that it happened before we jettisoned the Lunar Module. You bet.

DEVORKIN: Was there any sense that the program had to be abandoned at that point?

GILRUTH: Oh no. We went ahead with the next flight.

DEVORKIN: I'm thinking of these failure points, that you had found one?

GILRUTH: I don't think we ever found what caused the explosion. We'd many flights with that same equipment. We've had many since. I don't remember now whether we did find anything that we changed, or not. We certainly tried to find something that we could change.

DEVORKIN: I'd just like to ask you a last question, which is most open and general. As you look back on your career, which is quite a long, complex one, what do you see as the most satisfying part? That you would like to simply identify and maybe discuss. Or something we haven't even covered.

GILRUTH: I think the most satisfying thing to me is the memory of all of the years and the developments over those years, to have been an active participant in so many of the great things that the United States of America has done in aviation and in space flight as well. I can't pinpoint any one place that stands out, but the whole picture, the whole memory book of the things are fun. It's fun to look back at, and it would be fun to have a more vivid memory, perhaps, of some of it. But I have enough memory to appreciate the opportunities that I've had and the fun that I've had in being a participant in these things.

DEVORKIN: Did you ever have a feeling at some point in yourlife, where you had made enough contributions to flight and to your country, where if you didn't make any more contributions for one reason or another, you had at least paid your dues, and everything else beyond that was gravy?

GILRUTH: I like to feel that I've paid my dues, but I think I got value return in the fun I had in doing all of these things. It has been fun. It's been fun just reminiscing with you people about them. You've been very kind, when I couldn't remember half the things, but I did enjoy it.

DEVORKIN: Very good. Thank you so much.

MAUER: Thank you, Dr. Gilruth.

GILRUTH: I enjoyed it.

1 Loyd Swenson, James Grinwood and Charles Alexander, This New Ocean (Washington, DC. NASA, Scientific and Technical Informationn Division, 1966)

2 Swenson et. al., This New Ocean.

3 Courtney Brooks, James Grimwood and Loyd Swenson, Chariots For Apollo (Washington, DC NASA, 1979)

4 Brooks et. al., Chariots For Apollo, page 127.

5 Brooks, et al., Chariots For Apollo.

6 Brooks et. al., Chariots For Apollo.

7 Swenson et. al., This New Ocean.

8 Swenson et al., The New Ocean.

9 McDougall, The Heavens and the Earth.

10 Brooks, et al., Chariots For Apollo, Page 73-76.

11 Brooks, et al., Chariots For Apollo.

Gilruth 5 || Table of Contents

Rev. 09/06/96

© 1996 National Air and Space Musuem