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NASA Oral Histories

“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

Astronaut Scott Carpenter sits in an armchair as he talks on the phone with President Kennedy following his Mercury -Atlas 7 flight

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.

We’ve often been asked, ‘What did we discover when we went to the Moon?’ We discovered the Earth . . .

Dick Gordon

NASA Astronaut who flew on Gemini XI and Apollo 12

Discovery and New Frontiers Oral Histories

The NASA History Office is currently collecting oral history interviews to document the experiences of individuals who have dedicated their time and expertise to the Discovery and New Frontiers planetary exploration missions, including lessons learned, science objectives and methodologies, mission proposal processes, team dynamics, and management decisions.

Read the oral histories about Discovery and New Frontiers Oral Histories
Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this enhanced color global view of Pluto.