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STS-1 25th Anniversary Interview with Bob Crippen
04.12.06
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Podcast Script: STS-1 25th Anniversary Interview with Bob Crippen

News Sounder. Narrator V/o: You’re listening to NASA Direct

Opening Music

Diller: It’s been 25 years since the launch of mission STS-1, the first flight of America’s Space Shuttle…I’m George Diller from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Joining us now is Bob Crippen, former astronaut and Kennedy Space Center Director, who along with John Young, made history as they lifted off that morning of April 12, 1981, Young, a seasoned space-flyer, and Crippen a rookie astronaut…

Hugh Harris: T-minus !0, 9,8, 7, 6, 5, 4, We’ve gone for main engine start …we have main engine start (roar of engines) we have liftoff , liftoff of America’s first Space Shuttle, and the shuttle has cleared the tower…

Bob, how and when were you selected to be an astronaut?

Crippen: I sort of came in through the back door with six of my friends. I was selected to be an astronaut on a military program called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory back in '67 and that program got cancelled in '69 and NASA ended up taking half of us, seven people over into the astronaut office and I was one of those.

Diller: As a rookie astronaut, did it put you at ease being teamed with John Young, who had already logged quite a few hours in space?

Crippen: Oh yeah, man, if you want to go into space first time on a new vehicle that's never been flown, you want to go with a pro. And I was going with a pro. John is certainly that -- great guy.

Diller: Tell us what was going through your mind on launch day as you were strapped into your seat aboard Columbia?

Crippen: You know, when you work really hard for something for a long time it's almost impossible to believe that it's coming true. And obviously I was sort of in that mind state, I really thought when we were going to fly that it was going to take a lot more countdowns on the pad. We actually did scrub once, but I figured we'd scrub several times since it's a pretty complicated vehicle. But we were lucky and got off on the second try.

Diller: Can you describe the moments leading up to lift-off for us?

Crippen: When we moved the engines, engine bells around just prior to lift off to check everything out -- the computer does all that automatically -- and you could feel them swinging up in the cockpit, it kind of shook the front end just a little bit. And then when the main engines lit off and I watched them come up to proper RPM on my instruments, you could hear them. It was really loud and then when the solids lit off there was no doubt you were headed someplace. We just all hoped it was in the right direction. It was a nice kick in the pants. It wasn't all that violent. I've compared it to a catapult shot coming off an aircraft carrier, which both John and I have got some experience in. It was a nice solid push . It had a little bit of shaking to it, especially when you went to go, supersonic -- but nothing so violent so you couldn't read your cue cards and your instruments and that sort of thing, but I was mainly in the mode of "Hey, let me make sure I'm doing my job so I don't screw up…”

DILLER: As you began to hurl towards space, what kinds of views were you seeing out your window?

Crippen: Well you know from liftoff to main engine cutoff is eight and a half minutes going 17,500 miles an hour. There’s not a ride like it anywhere.

I believe it was only after we got the first maneuver off that I began to enjoy the outside view. We actually could see the external tank out in front of us and it was, it was fantastic. We actually stayed in our seats until we got off the second burn once we had our orbit established. And it was then when we started to climb out and get a chance to look at the Earth, but again you couldn't focus on that, my initial job was to get the payload bay doors open.

Of course, then I got a little surprise when we opened up the doors. That was when we discovered that there were some tiles missing off our OMS pods, nothing too serious, but it got a lot of people excited, I think, down on the ground.

Diller: What was it like to live aboard the shuttle for two days?

Crippen: Especially at that time, living inside the shuttle was a little like camping out. Of course we only had two of us on board, so you've got a lot more room, but we ended up sleeping in our seats. The food system had come a long way since back in the Mercury, Gemini days, and we had good food to eat. But you had to pay attention to housekeeping, not get things too dirty.

The real pleasure was having the chance to enjoy being weightless, and the other was to, when we had some spare moments, which wasn't a lot, since both John and I were pretty busy, to spend some time looking out at this beautiful spaceship Earth that we're all lucky to inhabit.

Diller: Describe to our listeners your most enjoyable moment or experience in space.

Crippen: It was such a neat experience being weightless, and it was such a neat experience to get a chance to look at the Earth, I have a hard time differentiating between which one was the most enjoyable. They were both fantastic.

Diller: You must have seen some incredible views during re-entry…describe those.

Crippen: We were on the dark side of the Earth when we initially started to see outside the window this soft pink glow, which is a lot of little angry ions out there going very fast. We were hitting them very fast. But it wasn't a big fiery thing like they had with the capsule kind of entries where you had an ablative material that was burning off. It was a nice pink glow that I've kind of likened to flying down a neon tube or something. And then when we started to hit sunrise, it went away with just a little bit of light from the sun… Looking down at the Earth, you started to pick up a sense of speed much more than I had noticed on orbit. Of course you're going very fast when you're on orbit, going around the world once every hour and a half. We were slowing down already coming in on entry…

…Then we could see the California coast and John and I had flown out at Edwards a lot of times…

NAT. SOUND -Crippen over com: “One hundred thirty-five thousand feet”…”What a way to come to California…” com fade-out…

Crippen: When we first got comm with the ground over California, I made some wise remark like, "What a way to come to California." Because I was excited, the vehicle was working so well and we'd gotten through some of the more critical parts of re-entry, of course we still had landing coming up.

Diller: Describe that landing for us.

…For landing, we came in over Edwards about 40,000 feet,(NAT SOUND CapCom saying , “Columbia looking good..real good..”) and John was flying and we set up for a big circling pattern coming in to land down on the lake bed and John did a super job of it, especially with touchdown.

…John touched down where it was one of those kind of the landings where, when you're sitting in the back of the airliner and you know that the pilot has done a good job, I was ready to applaud. But we were very busy, so it was, it was a super moment for both John and I.

NAT SOUND: CapCom: “Welcome home Columbia – beautiful…

Diller: Having been the first two people ever to fly a spacecraft back to earth, what were you feeling as you prepared to egress Columbia?

Crippen: The first time they got to the hatch to open it up, John came bounding out. Meanwhile I was still up doing work. I felt like I could float down the stairs. But it was a wonderful feeling. Certainly we were only on orbit a little over two days so we had no adverse effects from being weightless at that time.

Diller: Would you say that flying the first space shuttle flight changed your life?

Crippen: You know, both John and I were trained as test pilots, and having the opportunity to fly the first flight of something like a space shuttle was the ultimate test flight. And the fact that it was the first one, and the fact that we're now celebrating our 25th anniversary of that flight, you know it certainly has stood out in my life and perhaps opened some doors for me that would not have been opened for me if that had not occurred.

But I did get to do some great things. The fact that I had the distinct honor of coming there and being the director with you guys at KSC was one of the highlights of my life that, maybe, doing that first flight, help make that possible too. I'm not sure.

Diller: Having participated in the transition from one vehicle system to another, what are the major lessons learned that can be of help in developing the new Crew Exploration Vehicle?

One of the things that has been the problem with the shuttle was it being such a complicated vehicle. It took us a lot of time and man hours, which means money, to turn the vehicle around and get it ready to fly again. So having something that is straightforward and simple to test and change components out, getting simplicity and the capability to turn the vehicle around is extremely important. And then of course the other thing was the nature of the shuttle was, that we couldn't put a crew escape system in it, I'm not sure whether a crew escape system would've helped. But it might have.And that is something we want to make sure that we do a good job with on the CEV.

Diller: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Crippen: The space shuttle has been a fantastic vehicle. It is unlike any other thing that we've ever built. Its capabilities have carried several hundred people into space, it's carried thousands of pounds of payload into space. It gave us Hubble, it gave us Galileo, it gave us Magellan. And it's allowed us to essentially build a space station, although we've got some work still to do on that. So it is something that has been truly amazing and I'm honored to have been a part of it along with thousands of other people that made it possible.

Diller: Thank you, Bob.

Thank you for listening to this podcast from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I’m George Diller.

Music out.

Sounder w/Narrator: You’ve been listening to NASA Direct.

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