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  John Young: A surprising choice for STS-1?

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Author Topic:   John Young: A surprising choice for STS-1?
stsmithva
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posted 06-24-2008 11:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stsmithva   Click Here to Email stsmithva     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am certainly not questioning that John Young did a great job, but was he a surprising choice to command the first space shuttle mission? He began his astronaut training almost exactly two decades before the flight, and had already mastered all the hardware and software necessary to do two Gemini and two Apollo missions. Wouldn't it have been simpler to choose an astronaut who had trained exclusively for the shuttle, and therefore didn't have distracting preconceived notions? Or was it so important to have a veteran astronaut in command?

Maybe I sound like I think he was overqualified, or already had his head full of obsolete knowledge. I realize that to have mastered the equipment and procedures for three spacecraft (or more, if you count the Apollo modules separately) the man was smarter than me by an order of magnitude or two.

hlbjr
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posted 06-25-2008 07:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for hlbjr   Click Here to Email hlbjr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Actually, I think he was the very best choice. He had far and away the most experience in the astronaut corps and had demonstrated the skills and temperment to do the risky job. There would have been shock if he had not been picked (and say for example Brand, Engle, Lousma, Haise, Mattingly etc. had been picked). All of those other names would have done a good job also but the best bone goes to the biggest dog.

Delta7
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posted 06-25-2008 08:36 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Young was an excellent choice, and far and away the most experienced Astronaut at the time. A case could have been made, however, for Fred Haise or Joe Engle, due to the fact that they both had a couple of actual Shuttle landings under their belt, having flown Enterprise.

328KF
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posted 06-25-2008 11:07 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The previous shuttle landing experience of Engle or Haise comes to my mind too, but one has to consider has the actual "selection" was made. No one in the office at the time had any doubt of the danger involved in flying an untested ship and all of it's hazards (SSME turbopumps, SRB's, tiles, etc.)

Young's anticipated book might shed some light on this, but I am not aware of how he was actually picked. I suppose he knew the dangers better than the rest, was the senior astronaut to make the recommendation for crew assignments, and likely felt it was his duty to fly it instead of sending someone else.

I do recall his statement from the pre-launch press conference where he stated something to the effect of "I got to pick who goes and I picked me!"

However it happened, he was the right man for the job and handled the flight and the landing with great skill that could only come from his decades of experience.

kr4mula
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posted 06-25-2008 01:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for kr4mula   Click Here to Email kr4mula     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There may have been some discussion within NASA on this, but Young was in the best position to get (or to make sure he got) the job. The crew was announced in March 1978, but I suspect he was the choice long before that. He had been the chief of the astronaut office since 1975 (acting chief in '74). He was also the only remaining member of the first three astronaut classes, making him the most senior astronaut both in years and missions under his belt. You can see how few of the Apollo era guys stuck it out until the shuttle flew. It's not surprising that, even discounting Young's inside track, NASA would want its most experienced pilot at the controls of the first mission for the vehicle that would define the agency for the forseeable future. That's not to mention that it was the first such vehicle not to have a single unmanned test flight. And don't forget that Young also contributed to the development of the shuttle in a number of ways.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 06-25-2008 01:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by 328KF:
Young's anticipated book might shed some light on this, but I am not aware of how he was actually picked.
In 2006, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of STS-1, I interviewed both John Young and Bob Crippen about their mission and asked Young why he felt he was chosen to command the mission:
I think it was pure luck. There was 20-some guys in the astronaut office and they would've all killed to be the first guys to fly. I guess I was picked by the guys in the leadership, like George Abbey and the people that ran the Johnson Space Center, like Chris Kraft.

I guess they picked me because I was the only guy left with a lot of experience in space.

quote:
Originally posted by stsmithva:
Wouldn't it have been simpler to choose an astronaut who had trained exclusively for the shuttle, and therefore didn't have distracting preconceived notions?
According to Young, that is why Crippen was chosen for STS-1:
I thought it was a good idea to fly with Crip because he had done the work on the software. He had over 600 people out in Downey, California working with him on [the] software. Of course, the Space Shuttle is all software-driven. Back in those days, fly-by-wire software-driven systems were kind of unusual and new in airplanes. So, it was good to have Crip along because we had 110 pages pages of software and 154 switches in the spacecraft were powered by the software. You could throw a switch and you were actually putting words through the computer to open or close valves and things like that.

Jay Chladek
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posted 06-25-2008 02:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Young also had high altitude flight experience, test flying F-4 Phantoms. In fact before he was selected as an astronaut, he flew an F-4B in "Project High Jump" which ultimately set a climb record for the plane (he didn't set the highest record though).

John Young also had a knack for telling it like it was and not taking anything. He could weigh what was in front of him and decide between what was required, what was nice to have and what wasn't needed for the specific mission and decide accordingly. It could be said he was almost a merger between the no nonsense attitude of Gus Grissom and the won't take no for an answer attitude of Wally Schirra.

Delta7
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posted 06-25-2008 04:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by kr4mula:
There may have been some discussion within NASA on this, but Young was in the best position to get (or to make sure he got) the job. The crew was announced in March 1978, but I suspect he was the choice long before that. He had been the chief of the astronaut office since 1975 (acting chief in '74). He was also the only remaining member of the first three astronaut classes
Actually, Deke Slayton and Al Bean were still active at that time. Deke was the OFT Manager, but I remember him holding out the slight possibility of "flying the Shuttle" in an interview. Bean took over as acting Astronaut Office Chief and head of the Astronaut Candidate Training Program, but at the time was talking about making Shuttle flights (I remember a video clip around 1977 of him saying "I've been an astronaut for 14 years, and have flown twice. With the Shuttle, I'll be flying several times a year." He kind of surprised everyone when he announced his retirement shortly after STS-1 (a decision he said he had reached a couple of years earlier, but told few people of).

Still, nobody could match Young's over-all experience.

Max Q
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posted 06-25-2008 04:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Max Q   Click Here to Email Max Q     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Lets face it the records show that John did a top job. But I still think that the Shuttle launch of STS-1 was the ultimate in all up testing and should have been done un manned as the Russians did with Buran but alas Shuttle was not that advanced.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 06-25-2008 04:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Max Q:
...but alas Shuttle was not that advanced.
To the contrary, STS-1 could have been flown unmanned with the addition of a (relatively) simple cable (now flown aboard the orbiters) allowing the ground to trigger the landing gear remotely.

But the space shuttle was designed to be piloted and at some point humans had to ride it, so why not put a crew on the first flight?

mjanovec
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posted 06-25-2008 05:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
But the space shuttle was designed to be piloted and at some point humans had to ride it, so why not put a crew on the first flight?

This logic wasn't used for earlier manned programs, however.

The simple reason for flying an unmanned first flight is that you don't know how well all of the systems will perform. Until the vehicle is exposed to the full stresses of a launch and recovery, you simply don't know how well every part will function.

I admire the bravery of the STS-1 crew to fly that mission. But in retrospect, one ould make a convincing argument that unnecessary risks were taken by not first flying unmanned.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 06-25-2008 05:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by mjanovec:
This logic wasn't used for earlier manned programs, however.
All prior programs to the shuttle however, were flown unmanned to test primarily the booster, not so much the spacecraft itself. It would be interesting to learn if there was ever a proposal, however early or unsupported, for a boilerplate orbiter.

Speaking of the orbiter, it was tested unmanned during Enterprise's approach and landing tests.

My primary point though, was in response to the suggestion that Buran was more advanced than the space shuttle simply because it could fly unmanned, which I would dispute for the reasons cited.

Blackarrow
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posted 06-25-2008 06:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
When I first heard that John Young would fly the first Shuttle mission, I was very apprehensive. To me (then and now) the 12 Moonwalkers are special, because they alone, out of all the hundreds of billions of humans who have walked on the Earth, had set foot on another world. I was concerned that one of those unique individuals was putting his life on the line to do something that others could have done. But of course anyone who was given command of an Apollo lunar landing mission had the very skills necessary to maximize the chance of success on STS-1, so the choice of Young was understandable. But I was still sweating out the re-entry even more than would have been the case if, say, Engle or Haise had been at the controls of Columbia.

mjanovec
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posted 06-25-2008 06:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
All prior programs to the shuttle however, were flown unmanned to test primarily the booster, not so much the spacecraft itself. It would be interesting to learn if there was ever a proposal, however early or unsupported, for a boilerplate orbiter.

The difference is that the orbiter itself IS one the "boosters" in the shuttle design. It's three engines are critical to achieving orbit. (So a true boiler plate would be out of the question.) The orbiter was an untested booster in flight...at least in terms of the launch phase with solid rocket boosters attached. If NASA had a policy of flying boosters unmanned for the first flight, it should have carried over to the shuttle program.

Also, I would argue that unmanned Mercury and Gemini missions were less about testing the booster than they were about testing the spacecraft. There was plenty of data on Redstone, Atlas, and Titan performance prior to the unmanned test flights for the manned space program. Even the early Saturn boosters had flown before being utilized for the Apollo program.

Indeed, some of the unmanned launches were done primarily to test the heat shields of the spacecraft, to know how well the ablative surface withstood re-entry. One could easily argue that if any spacecraft needed an unmanned flight to fully test out the thermal protection system, it was the shuttle.

carmelo
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posted 06-25-2008 06:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for carmelo   Click Here to Email carmelo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have read that the first (very early) choise for STS-1 was Engle-Truly. Is correct?

Ken Havekotte
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posted 06-25-2008 08:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ken Havekotte   Click Here to Email Ken Havekotte     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
No, I think it was announced by NASA on March 11, 1978, of the shuttle astronauts that will first fly Columbia into orbit. The names of four two-man crews for the first Columbia orbital flights were named; Young, Crippen, Engle, Truly, Haise, Lousma, Brand, and Fullerton. At the time of their announcement, it was anticipated that Young-Crippen, chosen for the maiden voyage, will fly within the next 12 months!
It was a sadely misplaced confidence as the shuttle would be delayed a further 2 years at least because of complex financial, technical (mainly with the application of the TPS-tiles), and management issues.

Paul78zephyr
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posted 06-25-2008 09:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul78zephyr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In Jim Lovell's book Lost Moon I believe he mentions that he had given some serious thought to staying with NASA after Apollo 13 and had even had begun doing some work on the design of the Space Shuttle. I wonder what would have happened had he been on active astronaut status in the late 70's/early 80's? He had experience - 2 Gemini and 2 Apollo missions. And he was the first man to travel to the vicinity of the moon twice and ultimately one of only three to do so. Had he stayed with the program would he have been a strong candidate for command of STS-1?

Delta7
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posted 06-25-2008 09:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Paul78zephyr:
Had he stayed with the program would he have been a strong candidate for command of STS-1?
No doubt.

carmelo
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posted 06-25-2008 09:54 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for carmelo   Click Here to Email carmelo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Like Pete Conrad, if was still in NASA in late 70s.

Delta7
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posted 06-25-2008 10:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There were several experienced Astronauts who at one time or another mentioned that they considered staying around to fly the Shuttle. Tom Stafford, Dave Scott (until the stamps/Fallen Astronaut Statue deal), and Gene Cernan, to name a few. Any one of them would have been an outstanding choice for STS-1, although it would have been interesting if several of them actually did stay on.

Max Q
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posted 06-26-2008 06:01 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Max Q   Click Here to Email Max Q     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
My primary point though, was in response to the suggestion that Buran was more advanced than the space shuttle simply because it could fly unmanned, which I would dispute for the reasons cited.

After the Colombia Disaster the Shuttle was modified to allow it to be landed remotely, I still feel that Flying an un Man rated system on a manned mission was un necessarily risky. But would any of us have knocked back a seat if a free ride had been offered I think not.

OV-105
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posted 06-26-2008 08:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for OV-105   Click Here to Email OV-105     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think getting the first flight was just a perk of being Chief of the Astronauts. They all seem to get the cherry flights.

Brandenstein, STS-49 First flight of Endeavour and Intelsat reboost.

Gibson, STS-71 first Shuttle-Mir docking.

It would not surprise me if the last Shuttle flight's CDR is Chief.

When I got to talk to Hoot Gibson at the STS-58 landing it was right after he had become Chief and he said that they would not let him assign himself to a flight for 1 year when he took the Chief spot. I had asked him if he planned to try to get a flight on Discovery so he would be the first to fly all five Shuttles (at that time). All he said was that is an interesting thought with a smile.

Delta7
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posted 06-26-2008 10:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Supposedly, Hoot (as Chief of the Astronaut Office) wanted Steve Nagel to command STS-71, but George Abbey (newly returned to JSC from Washington) put the kibosh on the idea. Abbey initially maneuvered to have one of his "favorites", Jim Wetherbee, get the mission, but when that failed twisted Gibson's arm into taking the mission himself. However, Gibson insisted on letting it be known that it wasn't his own decision (Brandenstein had incurred the enmity of many of the astronauts by picking himself for STS-32 and STS-49 while he was Astronaut Office Chief, and Gibson didn't want to repeat that "transgression".)

OV-105
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posted 06-27-2008 12:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for OV-105   Click Here to Email OV-105     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The way we all secound guess who got what flight and why, we can only guess at what happens when the Astronauts start doing it too. Brandenstein on STS-32 seemed right to me since it was the same flight as STS-51D to do before the remanifest after STS-51E was cancelled.

Michael Cassutt
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posted 06-27-2008 12:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Michael Cassutt   Click Here to Email Michael Cassutt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To return to the original question, it would have been surprising had Young not gotten command of STS-1.

He was the senior astronaut in the office, he was chief of that office, he had more varied experience than any other astronaut at that time, he had also demonstrated his continued willingness to be a team player by taking the backup command of Apollo-17... and he was considered by his peers and by those above him (Kraft and Abbey) to be a very capable engineering test pilot.

Because of his X-15 experience, Engle was a possible alternate choice. But the most likely competitor to Young, circa early 1978, was actually Mattingly, who had been more actively involved in Shuttle development than any other flight-experienced astronaut. Haise would have been competitive, too.

Jay Chladek
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posted 06-27-2008 02:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by OV-105:
The way we all secound guess who got what flight and why, we can only guess at what happens when the Astronauts start doing it too. Brandenstein on STS-32 seemed right to me since it was the same flight as STS-51D to do before the remanifest after STS-51E was cancelled.
You want a glimpse at what astronaut second guessing can do, read "Riding Rockets" by Mike Mullane and "Sky Walking" by Tom Jones as both have sections that cover the internal feelings of each astronaut author when specific crewmembers were selected (or in Tom's case when one was pulled from a flight). And both cases did involve George Abbey to some degree.

As for Hoot, man I would love to have the opportunity to write his biography. Of the shuttle astronauts, he is one who has seen and done it all just about.

ea757grrl
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posted 06-27-2008 06:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ea757grrl   Click Here to Email ea757grrl     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To add to what Jay wrote, "Dragonfly" by Bryan Burrough also gets into the politics of crew selection, including George Abbey's role in the process and the pressures on various Chiefs of the Astronaut Office, including Hoot Gibson. Very interesting reading.

Delta7
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posted 06-28-2008 03:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Michael Cassutt:
But the most likely competitor to Young, circa early 1978, was actually Mattingly, who had been more actively involved in Shuttle development than any other flight-experienced astronaut.
I'm curious as to why Mattingly wasn't selected as one of the original OFT Commanders in 1978. Not to take anything away from Vance Brand, but Brand didn't become available full-time as a Shuttle astronaut until the latter half of 1975, while Mattingly had already been a dedicated Shuttle guy since 1972.

Michael Cassutt
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posted 06-28-2008 04:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Michael Cassutt   Click Here to Email Michael Cassutt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Delta7:
I'm curious as to why Mattingly wasn't selected as one of the original OFT Commanders in 1978.
Ah, Mattingly was assigned, with Hartsfield, to the unannounced "E" crew. (The four OFT crews announced to the public in March 1978 were designated A through D.) There was also an F crew with Weitz and likely Overmyer. See the various oral histories on the JSC website -- Mattingly, Hartsifled, Weitz.

Why weren't these teams announced? Probably because the number of OFTs was cut from six to four not long before. In any case, Mattingly-Hartsfield wound up flying the fourth OFT -- a DOD payload that was not expected (as of March 1978) to be one of those four.

FFrench
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posted 06-30-2008 08:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Michael Cassutt:
he was considered by his peers and by those above him (Kraft and Abbey) to be a very capable engineering test pilot.
And he was Navy...

Delta7
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posted 06-30-2008 10:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I seem to recall that the original plan was for all four original OFT crews to fly all the OFT missions. Meaning if there was an OFT 5, it would have been flown by Young and Crippen, and so on.

I'm just curious as to why Mattingly wasn't among the original 4. Seemed like a no-brainer to have him command one of the crews. I'm sure there's an explantation, although it could simply have been GWSA.

NavySpaceFan
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posted 07-01-2008 08:18 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for NavySpaceFan   Click Here to Email NavySpaceFan     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A bit off topic, but not much, is the question of why George Abbey was so pro Navy? All service bias aside, what made him choose Navy astronauts over USAF or civilians for shuttle flights? Has anyone ever found out?

Michael Cassutt
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posted 07-01-2008 10:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Michael Cassutt   Click Here to Email Michael Cassutt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Francis was having a bit of sport with his John Young-Navy comment. Young was actually retired by that time so was technically a civilian, as were three of the four OFT commanders. Engle was USAF. What was that about Navy prejudice again?
quote:
Originally posted by NavySpaceFan:
A bit off topic, but not much, is the question of why George Abbey was so pro Navy?
I think this has been over-stated -- or mis-directed. While he did graduate from the Naval Academy, Abbey spent his military career in the Air Force. Many of his best friends were USAF officers The easy explanations for favoritism -- cronyism or the old boy network -- don't seem to hold.

One thing to keep in mind when looking at the subject: when people talk about "Abbey" in this period (early Shuttle) they actually mean "Kraft-Abbey-Young". While you wouldn't necessarily get this from Mike Mullane's excellent book, there were other parties involved in astronaut office decisions.

Michael Cassutt
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posted 07-01-2008 10:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Michael Cassutt   Click Here to Email Michael Cassutt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Delta7:
I seem to recall that the original plan was for all four original OFT crews to fly all the OFT missions.
At one point the plan for OFT crewing was A B C D A B, true. But there were other schemes on the table, too.
quote:
I'm just curious as to why Mattingly wasn't among the original 4. Seemed like a no-brainer to have him command one of the crews. I'm sure there's an explantation, although it could simply have been GWSA.
Most likely it was Mattingly's role as DOD coordinator -- he and Hartsfield were aimed at the first of many dedicated DOD missions, none of them planned for the orbital flight test program as of March 1978.

Jay Chladek
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posted 07-01-2008 04:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Another thing about DoD missions is they were usually kept under wraps for quite awhile compared to all NASA missions. As such, although Mattingly wasn't announced as early as the rest of the crews, I have to wonder if he was tentatively assigned in connection with the DoD payload and wasn't publicly announced until later when it looked like the payload was ready to go.

Given his role as a coordinator, flying a DoD payload (albeit a small one) would still have some challenges to be tested. Communication and signal encryption would need to be tested, as would potentially support from the MOCR and the LCC that were modified specifically to control the DoD flights. Get those tests out of the way sooner and there would be no need to worry about them when the first dedicated DoD mission flew over a year later.

Greggy_D
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posted 07-03-2008 06:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Greggy_D   Click Here to Email Greggy_D     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If Young was The Chosen One, then why didn't he fly the ALT's? It only seems logical....

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