Interview: Astronaut Hall of Fame inductees
The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame 2006 inductees: Brewster Shaw, Charles Bolden and Hank Hartsfield. (collectSPACE) May 8, 2006
— Clad in brown, blue and orange pressure suits, the 2006 class of Astronaut Hall of Fame inductees (as depicted in their official NASA portraits and reprinted on posters and programs given to their ceremony guests) visually emphasize the different periods of Space Shuttle missions for which they were being honored.
The trio of former shuttle commanders — Henry "Hank" Hartsfield, Brewster Shaw and Charles Bolden — were welcomed into the Hall this past weekend by nearly 20 of their fellow inductees out of the 60 that the Florida Hall honors to date. Addressing a crowd seated underneath a massive Saturn V moon rocket and which included their families, peers and the general public, this year's class was hailed by the commanders of their first spaceflights.
Apollo 16 Command Module Pilot and Hartsfield's STS-4 crewmate Ken Mattingly reminisced about his pilot, who joined NASA's ranks in 1969 and who supported from the ground the mission that would put Mattingly in lunar orbit. It would be nearly 13 years before Hartsfield would fly in space himself, on the the shuttle's fourth and final "test flight," leading to it being deemed "operational" by NASA. He would go on to fly twice more and, after departing the space agency, serve as Vice President of Raytheon, one of its contractors until his recent retirement.
Shaw's first flight came aboard Columbia in 1983, seated to the right of Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle veteran John Young. He followed that mission — the first to carry Spacelab to orbit — with a 1985 flight on Atlantis, during which his crewmates practiced space station construction techniques. Shaw's rarely seen and never used in space blue spacesuit came after the Challenger accident, as a prototype of the more familiar orange launch and re-entry garments still worn today. His last mission on a classified flight for the Department of Defense was in 1989. Today, Shaw is the Vice President and General Manager of The Boeing Company's NASA Systems division.
Robert "Hoot" Gibson praised his pilot Bolden for their flight together, STS-61C, which landed only 10 days prior to the loss of Challenger. Bolden next piloted the mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope, followed in 1992 by NASA's first Spacelab flight dedicated to studying our planet from orbit. Bolden last commanded the first shuttle mission to include a Russian cosmonaut among the crew. He now leads an aerospace consulting firm.
Hartsfield, Shaw and Bolden spoke with collectSPACE at the Astronaut Hall of Fame the day before their induction.
The 2006 class of Astronaut Hall of Fame inductees stand before their newly-added tributes at the Florida museum. (collectSPACE) To begin, what does being inducted mean to you?
Hank Hartsfield (HH): "It's thrilling to me because it's recognition by peers, members of the [selection] board, people that I worked with a long time and that means a lot to me. I don't know how to explain it. I was thrilled when I got the call, I didn't expect it, it was something out of the blue. I think anyone would feel good about having their peers vote for them and recognize them as having made some significant achievements in the areas we all chose to work."
Charlie Bolden (CB): "I didn't know very much about the Hall of Fame except for the last few years and I had never been here before this weekend. One of the things I have learned over the last few hours having met the [Astronaut Scholarship Foundation] scholars is that the importance of being inducted is that it allows me now to become a role model for kids that want to do what we've done. I think that's really important because traveling around and visiting a lot of schools, I don't talk to a lot of kids that want to be astronauts any more. So it's really great to see some kids that are inspired by the thought of having an opportunity to be a human being in space."
Brewster Shaw (BS): "Well, I believe in using human beings to explore our universe, and I think the United States of America should be a leader in that endeavor, which I call 'a great human adventure' because I think it is. So, anything like this that provides an avenue for people to learn more about our space program and to be supportive of our space program I think is worthwhile and I am sure happy to support that."
The Hall of Fame prides itself as exhibiting the largest collection of astronaut personal memorabilia. As new inductees, do you know yet what you will be loaning?
BS: "Actually, I wanted to see what the layout was going to be first before trying to select things. They have asked for things like flown flight data files, those are checklists and cue cards and stuff like that, which most of us have. Once in a while you hang on to a flying suit or something like that, that might be appropriate. I wanted to see the layout and evaluate what would be appropriate, so I don't know the answer yet."
CB: "I thought about it and like Brewster, I wanted to see what was here. The unfortunate thing for me is that most of the things that I think would be appropriate and that I would like to have here, I don't own, I don't possess.
"Brewster mentioned flight data files, some of the flight data files that come from the flights, personal notes and things like that — when I came out of the program, they went to the National Archives. I had a big fight with the National Archives about retaining my own notes and the like. Those are things that would really be appropriate."
Forty-five years ago today [May 5] another of the Hall of Fame astronauts, Alan Shepard became the United States' first man in space. Where will we be in space 45 years from today?
CB: "I'll let these guys [referring to Hartsfield and Shaw] who just came out of the community answer but I know where we would all like to be. I know where I thought we would be today, prior to Challenger. I thought we would be beyond the Moon and on the way to Mars now. I know that may sound like folly to some people but I really did. The [space] program was robust, we were flying relatively regularly. I thought we were on target to be well beyond where we are today.
"I have to admit to being somewhat discouraged when I look at funding that is going into the program. I mean, these guys live with it now, Hank did — I've been away from the program since 1994, so all my observations are from without. As a person from without, I just don't see the fiscal support that we need to be where I know I'd like for us to be 45 years from today."
BS: "Forty-five years from now, I would think we have a global space program, that meaning an international space program. There are other countries that really have big ambitions relative to human spaceflight and human exploration. Of course we have our own as laid out by the President a couple of years ago. The Chinese, Russians, Japanese, Europeans, a lot of people want to be involved in human exploration of our universe.
"I think in 45 years we will have figured out how to do that even better than we have on the International Space Station. You remember the movies 2001 and 2010? We'll have something like that going 45 years from now. We should have already been to Mars and we will be thinking about where we want to go after that."
HH: "I would also think that we would have a permanent station on the Moon..."
BS: "...ala Antarctica or something like that..."
BS: "...if it makes sense once we get there and find out what's there. And I think Charlie's point is right on. It's going to take a national commitment, its going to take a global commitment, and with that commitment is going to have to come reasonable funding levels each year or we won't make the kind of progress that people will be looking for and then we won't make progress at all."
CB: "And I don't mean to be a doom and gloomer — it probably sounded that way. I have two grandkids right now. I have six-year and three-year-old granddaughters — we all have grandkids. I often wonder how I am going to sit down with my granddaughters ten years from now and explain to them why we didn't do some things that we should have done by the time they reach 16 years of age and each of them is getting ready to go off to college.
"So I work every day to try to make sure that I don't have to explain that to them. That we do what's right and it can be done but Brewster hit the nail on its head, it's going to take a national commitment. And it's going to take a national commitment to open up to the other spacefaring nations and allow them to be a part of an international effort because for one thing, it's just too expensive. You can't do it solo any more, if we ever could.
"I am extremely happy to see that we may be getting ready to work with the Chinese. I think that's phenomenal, if we're really going to do it."
BS: "I think we ought to give [NASA Administrator] Mike Griffin a chance to go over [to China] to have a chat and follow his lead."
The end of the Space Shuttle Program is now in sight with Congress and NASA setting a 2010 deadline for the orbiters to be decomissioned. Should the end be date driven or by the completion of the space station and/or a last repair mission to the Hubble Telescope?
BS: "Those are not mutually exclusive. We are going to fly this summer and then we'll fly again this year at least once, maybe twice.
"We'll get back up on the step because we'll have fixed the issues and we'll continue to improve the foam on the tank. So we can easily get back up to 4-5 flights a year, so by the end of this decade we can have completed assembly on the International Space Station. So they are not mutually exclusive.
"I think we can do both of those. The President has said those are the first two steps of his exploration initiative. If we can do that, we will be off and running."
Hank, your first mission was the last before NASA deemed the Space Shuttle 'operational'. In hindsight, with the agency again considering the shuttle a test vehicle after the loss of Columbia in 2003, was it ever operational?
HH: "'Operational,' to me, is a tough term to explain.
"At the time, it seemed to us, it was stretching a little bit to say it was operational. We had flown the vehicle four times. You'd never call an airliner ready for passengers [after four flights].
"In my view, the whole time we were flying it was a test vehicle, although we called it operational. We used it and did a lot of great things with it. It is a unique vehicle. It does something that no other vehicle does; it's the only vehicle around that can carry big payloads back to Earth safely. So, in that respect it's unique. Unfortunately, it's expensive to operate but its still a unique vehicle. I don't get alarmed about someone saying it is a test vehicle because it really is — or saying it's operational. It's not operational by the way I look at it, having been a test pilot and looking at airplanes."
CB: "Hank just talked about the fact that we are all test pilots. There are a lot of different kinds of test pilots. I have never been an experimental test pilot. I went to test pilot school and trained to be an engineering test pilot. So what I have done all my life after that is to do engineering tests or developmental tests. And that's what I always viewed the shuttle as: it was a developmental test vehicle that we were using as a test bed, if you will, for follow-on vehicles and systems.
"I think people who didn't understand the world of testing were probably led astray into thinking that it should be called an operational vehicle. We have some operational airplanes that, yeah, they are [operational] in one-respect but when they are at Pax River [Patuxent River Naval Air Station Complex] or somewhere, they are developmental test vehicles because we are changing their configuration all the time. We're putting different airfoils or equipment on them. So they are constantly in testing and that's how I always viewed the shuttle."
Finally, as visitors come to the Hall of Fame and view your displays, what message do you hope they retain from the experience?
BS: "Some things are worth doing in life. Exploring our world is one of them and we haven't figured out how to do it better than have human beings involved yet. I think that keeping that going, keeping our curiosity, maintaining programs that help us learn about our world and our existence so that we can extend our existence or protect our existence as a species for as long as possible is worth doing. I would hope that people will support that."
HH: "I support exactly what Brewster said. I think it's human nature, at least it's my nature to want to explore and understand things and to understand what takes place on other bodies away from Earth: Mars, the Moon, wherever. The more we can learn about that, the more things we learn about ourselves, how to protect our own environment and how to protect people and give them opportunities that we didn't have before. So its essential that we do this. That's my view.
CB: "I am just fascinated by [the Hall of Fame]. I would hope that we'd be able to bring school kids in here, have them walk down this wall and find something in common with everybody here.
"A kid comes in from Wisconsin could say 'I've heard stories about Brewster Shaw about how he used to be a long haired hippy, playing a guitar, so there is hope for me,' (laughs) or some kid from Columbia, South Carolina and says 'Hey, I think I can do that.' I go back to what I said at the very beginning. I've enjoyed the weekend so far because I think I now understand a little bit better the intention of the Foundation and the scholarship program. I think that's really important."
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