There is a golden rule among the one hundred or more federal agencies that headquarter in Washington: thou shalt not scoop the White House. It's been like that since World War II. Administrations come and go, but the no-scoop rule remains. Nowhere is it written. Nobody recites the rule when breaking you into a new government job. It's just there, like the humidity in July and August.
After five years on the old Washington Evening Star staff, I was well aware of the rule and lived by it carefully during my first four-plus years with NASA (1959-1963), even though the circumstances were different.
Because politics was what it was in the 1950s, Lyndon Johnson, Senate Majority Leader and a Texas Democrat, was the midwife of the process that delivered NASA. Johnson and Congress also delivered something in 1955 that produced the Interstate Highway System, a happening that all politicians and most voters understood all too well — even if the freeway builders did have to invoke a little national defense to sell the concept. In the event of war, freeways could be used as landing strips to launch planes in the nation's defense.
The Eisenhower White House press office broke the release date by 12 hours on a 1955 announcement: the U.S. would join in an international effort to put up an artificial earth satellite in the next year or so. It was to be called the International Geophysical Year (IGY). The Moscow press office said the same thing. The difference was that the Soviet Union did what they said they would do when they said they would do it.
In late 1958, NASA inherited a moonshot from the U.S. Army. Like so many other things NASA inherited in the legislation creating the agency in October 1958, this particular moonshot didn't work too well. But it was considered a success by some of us new hands because it only missed the moon by 20,000 miles. Three or four earlier moonshots — lofted by the U.S. Air Force — barely cleared launch pads before blowing up in thousands of pieces. No wonder the Air Force's unofficial motto was: Shoot your troubles away!
A messenger girl who worked in the Public Affairs Office told me her father, John Victory, was the oldest employee of NASA and its predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Since I had gone to work for NASA only weeks earlier, I figured I qualified as the youngest (as in newest) employee.
Mr. Victory stopped by later. He told me NACA was chartered in 1915. Congress awarded the agency $5,000 and told the agency "to return to the Treasury all moneys not spent." Victory said NACA didn't get around to hiring anyone full time until he went to work at Langley Field, Virginia, about 120 miles south of Washington, DC.
Meanwhile, the Washington cutting-edge science establishment was doing its best to discredit the airplane flight work of a pair of bicycle repair brothers named Wright from Dayton, Ohio. The Wrights had flown a device with wings and a motor for a few seconds off a sand dune in North Carolina in 1903. Washington kept waiting for Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, and others to come up with a real airplane. The Wrights finally took their idea to Europe just in time for World War I.
Victory, then marking his 40th year with NACA-NASA, told me he was fond of spending his winters in Florida. He was planning to retire shortly. So I got on the phone and booked him as a speaker with service clubs every 300 miles between Washington and Jacksonville. He said he wouldn't mind the drive.
A huge ruckus was detonated by a one-paragraph "filler" story on page one of the Washington Post on May 1, 1960. The Russians reported shooting down a U.S. spy plane during a pass over Russia. The pilot, Gary Powers, was alive and in captivity.
Fifty or so members of the White House press corps sprinted across Lafayette Square to NASA offices when told the plane was part of a NASA high-flight test program. NASA said, "What test program?" The reporters raced back to the White House. The White House said NASA deputy administrator Hugh Dryden knew all about the test. Back to NASA.
Finally, a week or so later, President Eisenhower cancelled a trip to Paris where he was to negotiate something with Prime Minister Khrushchev. All because the CIA had this airplane (the U-2) that could take pictures at 80,000 to 100,000 feet. And somehow NASA had been written into the cover story.
At the end of it all, NASA put out a motherhood news release which said: Everything NASA has said in the past week or so regarding the U-2 was said in good faith. We all loved President Eisenhower for the wonderful things he did during World War II. But after the U-2 incident, it was time for him to move on.
For me, it really began when John F. Kennedy himself accepted my full-out immediate release of space information as it developed, a week or so before Al Shepard's Mercury flight. I had made similar proposals to White House Press Secretary James Hagerty's information office in the Eisenhower days but got nothing in the way of an answer.
Until that point, we were operating under Pentagon rules because our missions were flying on Pentagon boosters. The Pentagon, like the Russians, never released anything until there was "fire in the tail" of a missile. An earlier rule in the NASA charter said: the agency will make known the results of its experiments. I hammered on that as if it was gospel.
But it all changed when JFK's press secretary Pierre Salinger, along with JFK himself, called my temporary office in Cocoa Beach. It was the only time a President ever called me. Salinger said the President wondered how good the Mercury escape rocket was. Laughter on the Washington end. I had the numbers. It had worked 56 out the last 58 attempts. More laughter. It sounded like JFK saying, "Let's give it a try."
"You got it," Salinger said. At which point I remember joyfully throwing the phone at the ceiling of my Holiday Inn Cocoa Beach office. Never did that, before or since.
The late 1950s-1960s became the cork-popping beginning of the Space Age, just as the late 1930s-early 1940s gave humanity an idea of what world war means.
Some Al Shepard memories: A week or so after his post-Mercury flight parade up Pennsylvania Avenue, Shepard was again in Washington for some sort of function at NASA HQ. I invited him to lunch, and we went to the National Press Club, on 14th St. in midtown Washington. The place was jammed; we had a drink at the bar and then moved to a table.
In the course of that hour, or maybe it was even 90 minutes, not one reporter, editor or waiter came over to our table for his autograph. I was pleased almost to the point of being struck dumb — I never would have guessed that could happen. It was obvious Shepard was having a little trouble believing it as well.
As we exited the club, Shepard proved to be a first rate name-dropper. "I've got to run," he said. "I've got an appointment — with U Thant." The then-head of the United Nations had an office in Washington as well as New York.
The flight phase of Project Mercury, 1961-63, was away from Washington — Cape Canaveral is 900 miles south of the Capitol — but half a dozen of us that were part of Mercury maintained Washington addresses. The other thing that was strange was we were using borrowed or rented property — the Air Force owned most of the Cape — to do Mercury.
In the course of 1961-63, everyone eventually "transitioned" to Houston, the new home of the human space flight program NASA was building on a swamp-flood plain 20 miles south of Houston. But during the Mercury years, NASA more than once lost its New York and Washington-based press corps at the Cape due to civil rights conflicts all over the southern United States. For a time, Martin Luther King and NASA shared a common theme: "We shall overcome."
In fact, two days before I left Washington driving my family to the new "promised land" in Houston was the famous black March on Washington, August 1963. That was when King delivered his "I have a dream" speech. Hundreds of thousands — including me — turned out to hear the speeches on the Mall in Washington. It was the first time the federal government gave everyone administrative leave — a day off without counting against vacation time.
King's speech that day went over only so-so, as I recall. It became a classic only after he was assassinated five years later in Memphis.
While the Washington march was totally peaceful, other happenings in the '60s and early '70s were anything but peaceful. Civil rights marches bled into Vietnam protests, which torched hundreds of American cities. Space became a secondary news story, even during Gemini in the 1965-66 years.
By early 1962, NASA Houston was operating out of 20 rental buildings scattered along the Gulf Freeway, the highway that ran 23 miles between downtown Houston and the Clear Lake site of the new center that was to open in the spring of 1964. In those two years, somehow NASA signed up about 2,500 technical people from an area within 100 miles of Houston. They didn't have degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or Stanford. They came from the University of Houston, Rice and community colleges in places like Beaumont, Texas.
NASA administrator Jim Webb was the dominant individual in NASA in the '60s. Webb was a bright, fast-talking man from Tally Ho, North Carolina. Staff members called him the fastest mouth in the South. He worked for Harry Truman as head of the Bureau of the Budget and later served at the State Department. Truman dropped by NASA one day in the early '60s. In the middle of a briefing I gave him, the ex-President busted out laughing: "That Mercury thing is so small. How would a fellow take a pee in something small?" The Mercury spacecraft had half the volume of a phone booth.
During the Eisenhower years, Webb went to work in the oil business in Oklahoma. No matter where in the world you work, Houston was and is the center of the oil universe. Houston and oil were also the political domain of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
It was Houston Inc. — Rice University, Oveta Culp Hobby at the Houston Post, various oil corporations, LBJ — all had a hand in putting NASA in a 2,000-acre center location just off the Houston Ship Channel 23 miles southeast of downtown Houston in 1961.
Robert Gilruth oversaw the Houston center. In 1962, Gilruth was awarded the coveted Robert Goddard Trophy at a black-tie ceremony at a Washington hotel. I noticed after the ceremony in the bar of the Mayflower Hotel, Gilruth kept fidgeting with the wrapping paper on the one-foot square bust of Goddard under his bar table. The great engineers of the world trooped by to wish Gilruth well. Finally, I looked under our table and figured out what Gilruth was doing: he had made a hole in the bust paper so he could give the Goddard bust victory sips of his martini.
Christopher Columbus Kraft worked for Gilruth at Langley, before coming to Houston as Flight Director. He assumed future space pilots would be very busy fellows and would need all the help the ground could give them. Which is one of the essential points made by the board investigating the loss of the Columbia shuttle in February, 2003.
Back in Washington, Webb insisted on returning every phone call from the White House and Congress. Brainerd Holmes, fresh from establishing the Distant Early Warning Line across the Arctic Circle, came to work for NASA to put the Apollo program on a computer. Holmes, from the Boston area, was the first head of NASA's Office of Manned Flight in Washington.
One day Holmes fielded a call from a Houston congressman about what NASA was going to do with a $400 million supplemental budget. Holmes didn't know about Webb's phone rules. The next scene, according to Holmes, was Holmes and Webb standing in front of President Kennedy at the White House. Holmes knew Kennedy slightly from Boston.
Smiling, according to Holmes, Kennedy asked Holmes how he would feel about returning to his company in Boston. Holmes assured the President he was eager to get back to Boston. Webb said nothing.
Earlier, Holmes' office had selected a way to reach the moon. Lunar orbit rendezvous won out over direct ascent or earth orbit rendezvous. Contractors were selected. This took more than a year.
Then Webb announced several major industrial appointments. AT&T (American Telephone and Telegraph) would oversee certain test functions and General Electric (GE) would look over the shoulders of Apollo contractors and NASA. There was little or no direction on how these giants were to dance with partners.
Meanwhile, I put in place a new system of reporting what was going on in space in Houston. It recognized Houston as the new space place in April 1964 when the Clear Lake center opened. It also thanked Houston for going extra miles for NASA, the new kid in town.
From NASA-Houston Administration, I learned in 1964 that the 2,500 people working there made an average of $10,000 a year and were on average 28 years old. Ten years later, after I had left NASA, the same work force was 35 years old and earned $20,000 a year. There were many changes in people, missions and effort during the '60s. The largest was the loss of JFK in 1963. I was among the 400 people at a dinner in Houston — what came to be known as the Last Supper — before he went to Dallas.
Alan Shepard was always, in current pro football parlance, the show-me-the-money astronaut. While most astronauts lived in above-average homes in Houston suburbs with names like Timber Cove and Nassau Bay, Al and his beloved Louise lived 25 miles away in a skyscraper apartment in one of downtown Houston's wealthiest neighborhoods. Al was part of the elite moneyed crowd in Houston. He made all the opera house openings, and major sporting events in the posh splendor of the corporate suites at the Astrodome.
NASA Headquarters asked for White House guidance when Shepard became a banker in suburban Houston. President Kennedy memoed back, "What's wrong with making a little money on the side?" Shepard made lots of money in banking and real estate development in the Clear Lake area near the center.
His best hit was a six-iron he took along on his Apollo 14 trip to the moon. Always a good golfer — he shot in the low 80s — the six-iron shot out of deep lunar sand got him a house in Pebble Beach.
Scott Carpenter bore his Chris Kraft-imposed exile silently after his Mercury flight. Meanwhile, Glenn was eager to do some political water-testing. I recall a visit to MIT's guidance lab in Boston where all Glenn did all day was sign autographs for professors and the like who worked in the lab modifying some guidance hardware for Apollo missions. John said he could understand the autograph routine if it had been a public event, but this was a high-security contractor lab.
Glenn got a soft-drink company to foot the bill for a tour of Australia and Japan after Carpenter's Mercury flight. He took leave. This did not sit well with Schirra who was about to fly his picture-perfect Mercury mission. It burned Wally, and I think he told a couple of reporters as much at the Cape. Schirra complained that Glenn had not supported his pre-mission needs the way other Mercury pilots had. It was one for all and all for one with the Seven.
Frankly, I don't think Wally would have found anything John had to say in the way of support as useful in his Mercury flight. It was longer, with different objectives. It was also a "textbook flight," according to the engineers in charge. There were no false signals of landing bag deployment. Everything was nominal. We kidded Wally that if he had just strayed a little west in his landing, he could have achieved the first 24-hour Mercury flight by landing on the other side of the dateline.
Still, John was the documenter when he knew he was being pushed by Wally innuendo. I recall in that 15-hour flight from Midway Island where Schirra had landed, via Hawaii back to Houston (in a slow KC-135), John was writing in longhand every time I woke up. At one point, I asked him what he was doing. Glenn was working on a multi-page statement which he called his "don't push me too far" speech. I never saw it — he wasn't about to let me read it — but Glenn told me the crux of it.
We went directly from the airport to Rice University for Wally's first post-flight press conference. Wally was nothing but super-smile Schirra when it came to his introductions of the other players at Rice.
We held the press conference at Rice, by the way, to acknowledge the role of the Rice Board of Trustees in making land available for the space center. People on Exxon's board, Oveta Culp Hobby and others all decided to deed the 2,000 acres at Clear Lake to Rice, who in turn deeded the land to NASA because Rice could realize some considerable government grants and education recognition down the line. Exxon also reserved a 100-acre drilling site in the middle of the land gift and all the mineral rights under all the land for future exploration.
The Navy has a passion for naming commands or theaters by initials. A Chief of Naval Operations, for example, is a CNO. The commander of the Atlantic Fleet is CinClant.
Schirra and I were going down a receiving line at a social function in Honolulu. One of the honored guests was Hewlett Johnson, the Red Dean of Canterbury, there in brilliant red vestments representing Presbyterians everywhere. I heard Wally greet the churchman with something appropriate like, Your Eminence. And the cleric responded by recognizing Wally as one of the American astronauts.
Then chatting the man up a little, Schirra said, "You're the head of the Presbyterian Church throughout the Pacific."
The Dean smiled and nodded. Then Wally hit him with this: "That makes you COMPresPac (compress pack), right?"
Al Shepard clammed up pretty tightly about any physical ailment, partly because he was secretive and partly because of the Christian Scientist church his wife Louise belonged to, which doesn't believe in too many diseases. The other part was that the older astronauts simply revolted one day and would report no disease even if fatal.
In the beginning, three medical heavy hitters — including the head of the Cleveland Clinic, and the head of the Lovelace Hospital in Albuquerque — came down hard on Deke Slayton for his atrial fibrillation — which Deke managed to cure himself over time simply by taking over-the-counter vitamin tablets. But the medics seemed bound and determined to run the show in the early '60s.
Bill Douglas was an MD the guys could trust, but Bill left the program early to maintain his relationship with the pilots. Bill got the air force to assign him to a small medical office at Patrick Air Force Base — the Cape. The pilots would have nothing to do with Dr. Chuck Berry or any of his deputies in Houston.
Going back to Al. He had to check into Hermann hospital in Houston once for a disease which makes your eyes bulge. He was there only over a weekend. I was his only visitor — and he conned me into treating the background information I had as in-response-to-queries-only. There were no press queries so nothing was released.
I remember getting stopped in the middle of Wisconsin for speeding — I was trying to make a plane connection in Chicago and finally did. The state cop looked at my driver's license and said, "Don't you have something to do with the space program?" Wow, I thought, saved again. Then he asked if I knew Deke Slayton. He went on to tell me that he and Deke had gone to high school together in Sparta.
Then he dropped it on me: he wanted $50 to cover the cost of the speeding ticket.
Broadcast Journalist Edward R. Murrow was Kennedy's Voice of America guy for a while. He made himself popular by publicly asking why NASA didn't have any black astronauts. But Robert Lawrence, the best black astronaut candidate, got killed at Edwards while flying.
When the second group of astronauts — called "the new nine" — showed up in Houston in 1962, it was almost as if a wall separated the first group from the second group. The Seven were busy working on their Mercury missions. And Gemini didn't start flying until March 1965.
The Nine were joined by 14 more astronauts in 1963. But no groups were separated by design or accident as cleanly as group one and group two.
In group two, Frank Borman joined a group of early astronauts who insisted on being self-accountable, and he ranks near the top of that list. Borman always struck me as the ultimate West Point cadet. He worked his fanny off to get where he got.
I recall in 1965 Wally Schirra and Borman were off touring Asia, and Australia was the last-but-one stop. They no sooner got back to Houston than we had to have a big grief session for the original lawyer who signed them to the LIFE magazine contract.
I was shooting the breeze with Borman, the ice man, when he suddenly turned on me with, "Do you have any idea how brilliant Schirra is?" To help him, I said no. Whereupon he did about 20 minutes of Wallyisms from their just-completed tour.
Jim McDivitt, also group two, was brighter than bright, as in smart. I can't say that about too many of my Michigan friends. He was also the first Catholic in the astronaut ranks. We lived across the street from each other in Nassau Bay. McDivitt's first wife was a good Catholic girl from Cleveland — I grew up in Akron, 30 miles south of Cleveland. She knew more about the Cleveland Indians than anyone on earth. Good Catholics and all, damned if they didn't get divorced after they left the program. She went back to Cleveland and he went back to central Michigan.
Gene Cernan, from the third group, lived one block away. My older daughter Maura used to have an open-ended babysitting contract with the Cernans and also with Dick Gordon's family, who lived across the street from the Cernans. Buzz Aldrin lived in the same area and loved to stop at my house on the way home evenings for liquid inspiration.
On the first astronaut geology hike into the Grand Canyon — early 1965 — I went along because of a rush of press people on the south rim. We took an 11-mile trail into the canyon with frequent stops. "Wonder what's been going on here in the last couple million years," was the standard gotcha line of our Harvard-trained hard-rock geology professor guide.
At the bottom of the canyon, we spent the night in some VIP guest cottages. About 100 yards from the cottages, Shepard, always the competitor, elbowed me and said, "Let's sprint." We took off running. He won by a yard or so.
The next morning we took a trail only 7 miles long up to the canyon rim. We could hike out or ride donkeys. It was easier on the blood-pooling cramped legs to walk rather than to ride.
We flew 10 manned Gemini missions in 21 months between March 1965 and November 1966, which meant we were flying every six or seven weeks. Even the shuttle never approached that frequency. Plus the fact that on off-days we worked in critical Apollo booster test flights.
Each of the three space "tragedies" — the Apollo 1 fire being the first — got a very special treatment from management. Most of the experts came from Langley. In those days, Langley was like the Vatican. In the beginning, there was Langley. The Space Task Group originated at Langley.
Late in the day after the Apollo fire, we had all been working flat out without rest. We finally broke for a meal at a favorite seafood restaurant in Cocoa Beach. There were five or six of us. I recall Frank Borman, one of the pilots, joining our table. We chatted for more than hour. Then Borman put his head down in a cardboard plate of shrimp skins, and went to sleep.
A week or so after the fire, Joe Shea and I went to New York for a couple days to sit down with some people. One was [Walter] Cronkite. Another was the lead space writer at the [New York] Times. Jules Bergman at ABC. Roy Neal at NBC. We didn't tell them anything every one else hadn't been told. Just some hand-holding was in order.
The Apollo fire and investigation ate up almost two years. Borman worked long and hard as a member of the 204 fire board, as the senior astronaut member.
Meanwhile, Tom Paine, from General Electric and a Republican, became associate administrator of NASA.
Webb never forgot his Democrat base. Right before Richard Nixon won the White House in November, Webb resigned. Paine was No. 1 at NASA when Neil Armstrong stepped out on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969.
Then the set-up Apollo missions were flown beginning in October, 1968.
Grissom, who was killed in the Apollo 1 fire, was Schirra's next door neighbor in the Clear Lake area. Schirra appeared to have promised Gus' ghost that he would do the Apollo 7 mission correctly. And he did, despite lots of disputes with mission control about when items were going to start and end.
The most important thing about the Apollo 8 mission was how it came to be. The mission concept didn't exist until shortly before it was flown. As I recall it was approved as a mission, plus the Christmas timing, a week or 10 days after the Apollo 7 Schirra-crew flight. Specifically, it was approved the night Bob Hope did his television show in the MSC auditorium which honored the Schirra crew. Borman and crew got to the Hope show late cause they were still being briefed on the 8 mission well into that evening.
The NASA manned flight program never attempted such a bold step before or since. All of the elements were ready for flight to the moon but the lunar module wasn't ready to land on the moon. So why not try it?
George Low gets the credit for orchestrating the [Apollo] 8 mission. He went on to become NASA's deputy administrator in the '70s. Low's story has never been told. How he grew up in Austria as World War II was consuming Europe. He was the original the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music/gunfire kid. He and his German-speaking mother escaped. Probably walked out through Switzerland. I tried my damnedest to get him to open up on his emergence, but he refused.
Borman decided the crew would read from Genesis after going into a Christmas Eve orbit around the moon. He went so far as to mention to Chris Kraft his plan to do so pre-launch but said nothing to me. He apparently had cleared the Bible reading with Chris Kraft and no one else. Nor did Kraft say anything to me, knowing full well the impact such a reading would have on the largest audience NASA had ever had for a space event. It was very effective, even for those of us who had no idea it was coming. Kraft, a Bible-thumper in his own right, kept it totally quiet.
The only dinger during [the Apollo 8] mission was Borman getting sick on liftoff, running through the first 24 to 30 hours. The rules said the mission should have been aborted.
Borman wasn't about to let that episode detract from the mission. He got the good old fashioned space barfing upset, knew it would go away, and it did. Meanwhile, he didn't mention it to any of the medics and there was evidence that he made his crewmates promise not to mention it as well. Borman requested and received private séances with various doctors. He finally got some medical help from Doc Berry on a line so secure that even the CIA couldn't access it. This aspect of the flight has never come to light.
The issue of astronaut illness privacy got serious once Frank Borman barfed his way to the moon. Kraft once told me in a simulation that if I didn't follow his direction on in-flight emergencies, he would personally pull my plug and have me escorted out of the control center. Then came the Apollo 9 emergency — Rusty Schweickart barfing — which delayed his part of the mission. Here I was in the spring of 1969 "testing" astronaut onboard illness secrecy once again.
Julian Scheer, who ran NASA public affairs, had a competitive relationship with me. He saw an opportunity and took it. A few months earlier, Administrator Webb had decided to leave the agency. It was Webb who had asked me to take the public affairs job in Houston in 1963. So Scheer put a Michigan kid, Brian Duff, in charge of public affairs in Houston. When Scheer told me to come back to Washington and take all the time I needed to find another job, I called my office in Houston and told my secretary to send the wire I had left in her care. It said: "Upstick special assistant post. As you read this, I am no longer an employee of NASA." So Scheer had my decision before I reached the elevator outside his Washington office. I went back to Houston that evening and to London the next day.
My immediate post-NASA period was busy. In addition to working for British television broadcasters ITN during the last eight Apollo missions, all but two of which landed on the moon — 10 and 13 didn't — I also worked for The Economist, edited by my ITN colleague Alastair Burnet (now Sir Alastair), Newsweek out of New York, and CBS Records. My speaking agent in Boston booked me into a dozen talks in Europe alone.
In 1971, America's first domed stadium, the Astrodome complex in Houston, sent me to every capital in Europe to pedal the idea of putting family-fun complexes all over the continent.
In early 1972, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) made me an offer I couldn't refuse: Director of public relations for the broadcasters with home base in Washington, DC. Maybe the second best public relations job in the United States, the movie industry job being first. The day I reported to the new job, the first phone call I got was from Julian Scheer. He told me he had been fired from NASA. Something about an international astronaut autograph selling scandal. I tried to sound sad. But I admired Scheer's courage in making that call to me.
After living 10 years in Washington while working for the Evening Star and NASA, commuting there for another 10 years while living in Houston, I felt good about moving back to Washington. But I miscalculated. My new wife — we married about a year after the Apollo fire — and our augmented family had other ideas about life in the fast lane in McLean, Virginia. There was Jan's child from a previous marriage and my two children from the earlier encounter. We discussed the issue for weeks and finally put it to a one-person, one-vote decision.
I lost 3-2. We packed up and made the 1,500 mile drive back to Houston and our beach house in Galveston. I went to work as a news editor for the Houston Chronicle which meant driving 120 miles a day. The Chronicle is a morning paper so I left for work at 10 in the evening and got home at 6 in the morning, in time to get the kids up, make their breakfast and get them off to school. Jan preferred working to sitting at home watching the surf come in.
In 1978, with the kids out of high school and away at college, Jan got itchy feet and took a job with NOAA — sometimes called the "wet" NASA — in Charleston, S.C. I went to work for the Charleston Post. We lived in a house on the Atlantic Ocean.
Two years later, Jan was promoted to NOAA's regional headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida. Surprise. I went to work for the St. Petersburg Times.
Two years later we moved back to Galveston. We used the next two years for a lot of travel, trips to every corner of Mexico, cruises to the Caribbean and Alaska. Every time we went back to Galveston, it seemed we got caught in a tornado or a hurricane or both — four or five in one year.
We tricked the weather gods. We moved to El Paso, Texas, where they have never had a hurricane or a tornado. Good self-respecting desert. We started a weekly newspaper there, covering east El Paso. In time, we found it cooler and more inviting at 7,000 feet in a cherry orchard on a mountain in southern New Mexico. We've been in High Rolls since 1989. It's 800 miles to Los Angeles and 800 miles to Houston, and about 2,300 miles west of Washington.
I liked airplanes because they got me from here to there in a hurry, but, God, don't ask me to try to land or take one of the things off. That's not for me. I was not into flying, so I never got into what it was like to be up there in space. I didn't give a damn.