“Memory is the core of oral history, from which meaning can be extracted and preserved. Simply put, oral history collects memories and personal commentaries of historical significance through recorded interviews. An oral history interview generally consists of a well-prepared interviewer questioning an interviewee and recording their exchange in audio or video format.” —Donald A. Ritchie, Historian Emeritus of the U.S. Senate
Why Does NASA Collect Oral Histories?
NASA sees value in oral history because the process provides significant benefits and plays an important role in capturing and preserving the first-hand experiences of individuals, lessons learned, methodologies, and institutional memory. Looking to the future, but taking time to explore the past, helps to explain what enabled projects and programs to succeed as well as what resulted in failures. Oral history can clarify the intent of the people who were on the ground making the decisions and doing the work. Conveyed in their own words, their accounts allow researchers to interpret the events beyond what can be inferred from the official record and documentation. And when documentation is scarce, oral history interviews can fill the gaps.
The important work of collecting oral histories for NASA ensures that the contributions made by dedicated teams and individuals inspire the next generation who will lead our space exploration programs, enable new scientific discoveries, and power aeronautical research. Understanding the past through personal stories serves as a reminder of what has happened and what is possible in the future.
The transcripts available on this site are created from audio-recorded oral history interviews. To preserve the integrity of the audio record, the transcripts are presented with limited revisions and thus reflect the candid conversational style of the oral history format. Brackets and ellipses indicate where the text has been annotated or edited for clarity. Any personal opinions expressed in the interviews should not be considered the official views or opinions of NASA, the NASA History Office, NASA historians, or staff members.
Stories from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA)
Christopher C. Kraft, Jr.
When Chris Kraft was a young student fresh out of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia, he didn't know where he was going next. Having lived in Virginia all his life, he thought the local NACA laboratory was too close to home. He wanted a chance to go somewhere different. But the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton offered him a position in the Flight Research Division, and a chance to train as an aeronautical engineer. Kraft never looked back and began his long and historic NASA career in 1945.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Annie Easley's mother told her, "You can be anything you want to be, but you have to work at it." She later moved with her husband to Cleveland, Ohio, and in 1955 read a story in the newspaper that the NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory was hiring "computers." She applied the next day and was hired two weeks later. Faced with the prejudices of the time period, she adopted an attitude of "If I can't work with you, I will work around you. I was not about to be so discouraged that I'd walk away."
Jack Boyd had always wanted to go to California, so when a friend told him the NACA was hiring at their laboratories, he chose the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory near Mountain View. Two weeks after sending in his application, he received a telegram telling him he was hired as an engineer. Because he had studied supersonic aerodynamics, his supervisor put him in a wind tunnel to devise airfoils and begin testing them at supersonic speeds. That simple choice of moving to California began a 73 year long career with NASA.
Betty Love began work at the NACA High Speed Flight Research Station in California as a "computer" in 1952. She later recalled, "Our office was like a library. Only the hum of the Friedan calculators was the noise that you heard. No one spoke. You weren’t supposed to visit with your neighbor. You were supposed to keep your work right in front of you and do that. You weren’t to go down and visit with the engineers." She attained an engineering position herself and retired in 1973, but Betty continued to support NASA by volunteering and preserving the center's history.
After taking a Civil Service test, Jo Dibella received an offer for a temporary job with the Adjudications Section Social Security Board and moved to Washington, DC, in June, 1937. In early 1938, while working for the Census Bureau, she met someone at a local church concert who told her that the NACA was hiring secretaries. She landed that job and worked for Thomas Neill for 14 years. When Director Hugh Dryden needed a new secretary, she applied and won that position. Jo continued working with Dr. Dryden through the transition of NACA to NASA and until his death in 1965.
Milt Silveira graduated from the University of Vermont in 1951 on a Friday and started work the following Monday morning at the NACA Langley Aeronautical Laboratory. After serving in Korea as a helicopter pilot, he returned to Langley in 1955 and worked on helicopter loads and vibrations. “NACA was an organization that had some of the top people. Most of the time they were the experts in that particular field." Silveira joined the Space Task Group in 1961, moving to the Manned Spacecraft Center, and later retired as the Chief Engineer for NASA in 1986.
Interviews with hundreds of key NASA personnel, all available online.
Saturn Rocket Oral Histories
Read transcripts from interviews with the project engineers who worked on the Saturn rockets.
Stennis Space Center Oral Histories
This anthology of oral history interviews includes interviewees who participated in the Mississippi Oral History Program, the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, Hurricane Katrina and Stennis Space Center’s 50th Anniversary.