Authors: David Hitt,Heather R. Smith
Garriott described the feelings of the career astronauts toward the payload specialists as “uncertainty” and compared it to when his class of scientist-astronauts joined the all-pilot astronaut corps.
When we came into the Astronaut Office, I can imagine that the pilots were thinking, “Geez, these old fuzz-hair university types, can they hold their own here, do they know what’s going on?” In the same way, these [payload specialists] are really university types here. Are they really motivated to fly, can they hold their own, and so forth? And I very quickly found out that yes, indeed, they could. They were on par with all of us. We were very much of the same kind of breed, in my opinion. We got along extremely well. Everybody got along fine. And after thirty years, they’re still some of my best friends. So it was a very pleasant and positive experience for both
[mission specialists and payload specialists] as far as Spacelab I is concerned. I think that is generally true for most of the flights, though not necessarily in each individual case. When you get up to twenty, thirty people, you’re bound to find some rough corners somewhere. I can say on Spacelab I, it was a remarkably positive experience for all of us.
While Garriott did not recall any resentment over payload specialists taking slots that otherwise might have gone to career astronauts, he also noted that in the case of
-9, the payload specialists had trained for as long as the newest
astronauts had been in the corps.
Brewster Shaw, the pilot for
-9, said that, being in a crew that was mostly rookie space flyers, it was interesting working with veteran astronauts Garriott and Young.
John and Owen were the only two guys who had flown. [Robert] Parker had never flown. I’d never flown, and Ulf and Byron had never flown before. So John and
Owen were the experienced guys, and they kind of were the mentors of the rest of us. It was fun to watch Owen Garriott back in the module, because you could tell right from the beginning he’d been in space before, because he knew exactly how to handle himself, how to keep himself still, how to move without banging all around the other place. And the rest of us, besides he and John, the rest of us were bouncing off the walls until we figured out how to operate. But Owen, it was just like, man, he was here yesterday, you know, and it really had been years and years.
Garriott was among the very small number of astronauts to have the experience of flying on both the Saturn IB rocket and the Space Shuttle. “The launch phase is remarkably similar, because both vehicles have a thrust which is just a little bit more than the weight of the vehicle. You start out at very low acceleration levels,” Garriott explained, comparing the g-forces of the vehicles’ initial accelerations to what one would experience in a car.
It keeps building up a little bit, but the important thing is it’s steady. When you accelerate in a car, you accelerate for three or four seconds and then you reach the speed you want to be at. Here, you keep on accelerating. So you keep up an acceleration which is increasing up to maybe three or four gs. But it takes about eight and a half minutes, nine minutes, to get to space on either one of the two vehicles. As you lift off, there’s quite a bit of vibration with either vehicle. Once you get above about one hundred thousand feet, first of all, you stage, you switch to a smaller engine on a second stage, and you’re above most of the atmosphere so the vibration diminishes. Then it just becomes a nice steady push, and you continue that push at about three to four gs, all the rest of the way till you’re into orbit. All of a sudden you’re bouncing up against your straps. So the launch is remarkably the same, in my view, between a Saturn and a shuttle.
With the development, training, and launch complete, it was time for the real business of
-9 to begin. The crew worked for twenty-four hours a day, divided into two shifts. The commander and pilot each were assigned one shift, and the scientists were split between them. Each crew member was on duty for about twelve hours, with a brief handoff between shifts. The astronauts then had twelve hours off duty, during which to sleep, eat, get ready, and enjoy the experience of being in space.
Shaw remembered that he and Young would spend the majority of their work shifts on the orbiter’s flight deck.
You didn’t want to leave the vehicle unattended very much, because this is still
-9, fairly early in the program. We hadn’t worked out all the bugs and everything, and neither John nor I felt too comfortable leaving the flight deck unattended, so we spent most of our time there. We had a few maneuvers to do once in a while with the vehicle, and then the rest of the time you were monitoring systems. After a few days of that, boy, it got pretty boring, quite frankly. You spent a lot of time looking out the window and taking pictures and all that. But there was nobody to talk to, because the other guys were back in the back end in the Spacelab working away, and, you know, you just had this, “Gosh, I wish I had something to do,” kind of feeling.
While he and Young were not heavily involved in the research part of the mission, Shaw did recall being part of one experiment, designed to study how humans adapted to working in space.
I did “Helen’s balls.” . . . Helen was a principal investigator, and she had a bunch of little yellow balls that were different mass. . . . Since there’s no weight, there’s only mass, in zero g, we had to try and differentiate between the mass of these balls. You would take a ball in your hand and you would shake it and you would feel the mass of it by the inertia and the momentum of the ball as you would start and stop the motion. Then you’d take another one and you’d try and differentiate between [them], and eventually you’d try and rank [the] order of the balls. . . . And, quite frankly, that’s the only experiment I remember doing.
Garriott used his second flight as an opportunity to make history in a way that had a lasting legacy for the space program. When Garriott was younger, his father took an amateur radio class with him, and the two became ham operators. After he was assigned to
-9, Garriott got permission to take an amateur radio rig with him on
and was able to make contact with people on the ground. “I’d say fifteen to twenty hours was reserved for use of the ham equipment . . . after the working day was over,” Garriott recalled. “I found that quite interesting and enjoyable, and it turned out to be a very positive thing from the standpoint of the ham radio community.”
While Garriott mostly talked with whomever he happened to get in contact with, he had prearranged a few conversations. “There were a few high-profile people that that’s the only way you’ll be able to get in touch with them. Normally, when you just want to talk to anybody, you use a call signal
that’s called ‘
.’ And if you call
from space, you’ll probably get a hundred answers, so you’re way overloaded. So if you want to [reach] one particular person, you have to specify a time and frequency that’s kept private.”
One of the preplanned calls was to Garriott’s hometown of Enid, Oklahoma. “I made arrangements to talk with them and my mother . . . with one of the local hams on the radio,” he said. “Another one was [Senator] Barry Goldwater, who is a very well-known ham in the Senate and always looked after amateur radio very well from that position. And another internationally known, great enthusiast was King Hussein from Jordan.”
For the hundreds of other people Garriott talked to in addition to those preplanned calls, he used a tape recorder to log the contacts. “Everyone I could discern answering my call, I would repeat back their call sign, as many as possible. And then I listened to every one of those tapes. And I had another friend go through the whole list, and we responded to everyone whose call sign we could pick out of there. So there were, I don’t know, four or five hundred people that all received a card called a
, that’s another special symbol that’s used by hams as a symbol of a contact between two people.”
Garriott’s initiative to use amateur radio on
-9 created a lasting legacy. Almost thirty additional shuttle flights carried ham radio and used it to talk to schoolchildren and other groups, allowing students to ask questions of astronauts in orbit during organized events. Years later, amateur radio became a fixture on the International Space Station, with its first crew conducting a ham radio conversation with a school within weeks of boarding the station. Thousands of students have had the chance to talk to orbiting astronauts as a result of the amateur radio contacts begun by Garriott.
That legacy paid off for Garriott himself in a very special way many years later. In 2008 Garriott’s son, Richard, became the first second-generation American space flyer as a spaceflight participant on a Russian Soyuz flight to the International Space Station. While there, Richard was able to use the equipment on the Space Station to talk to his father on the ground. As unique as that experience was, it had an even deeper personal significance for the elder Garriott. “My father and I got our ham licenses together back in 1945, and his call sign was
. Mine was
. Now, normally, when a person dies, they reserve that for a little while, but then they’ll eventually reissue the call sign. So after my father died, which would have been back in ’81, it hadn’t been reissued yet. So my son got his license [in 2006],
and they allowed him to have his grandfather, my father’s, call sign again.” During his son’s flight, Garriott was able to respond to a contact from his father’s call sign, now used by his son.
Garriott recalled another amusing communications-related incident during the
-9 flight. Given the historic nature of the first flight of an international astronaut, a video link was set up between the shuttle, President Ronald Reagan, and West German chancellor Helmut Kohl. The link was to include Commander (and moonwalker) Young, German astronaut Merbold, and the U.S. payload specialist, Lichtenberg. In order to save the time of the three crew members to be featured, the two mission specialists and the pilot were asked to help set up the link and then turn it over to the others. In response to being treated as second-class astronauts, the trio made a silent protest—when the link was established for testing, the video showed Garriott, Parker, and Shaw in a classic “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” pose, with one each covering his eyes, ears, and mouth. “What we were told was that was a hilarious, humorous scene in the control room and that it got into
While Garriott’s launch experiences were fairly similar between the Saturn IB and the Space Shuttle, his landing experiences were not. Initially, he explained, the return to Earth begins similarly on both vehicles. A slight slowing causes the vehicle to dip into the atmosphere, creating an unforgettable glow as the air around the spacecraft heats up. “On the shuttle I happened to be sitting right beside the side window on the mid-deck, so you see all of the blue and yellow flames coming by. Then you get a little lower, it will turn to orange and reddish flames as the temperatures drop down a little bit.”
At that point, the differences between the two reentries begin to be obvious.
As you really get lower, on the command module you have to pop drogue chutes to orient your spacecraft. When you get down to about ten thousand feet, I believe it is, the main chutes come out, and then you finally get down to a big splash in the water. That’s quite different than coming down in a glider. You’ve been used to seeing the rate at which the Earth moves by [from space]. Once you get down to a lower altitude, the Earth starts moving by faster and faster, because you’re lower, you’re closer to it. So it’s interesting to see those two comparisons.
The landing of
-9 was more than a little unusual. According to Shaw, “We had another lesson on the landing of
-9, and the lesson was, never
let them change the software in the flight control system without having adequate opportunity to train with it.”
The shuttle’s flight control software interprets what actions it needs to take based on the inputs the commander makes on the stick, and how it responds depends on what point it is at in the mission. The settings that Young and Shaw used during training were replaced for the actual flight, which changed how the vehicle handled.
“I don’t remember if we knew about that or didn’t know about that,” Shaw said,
but certainly when John started to de-rotate the vehicle, it responded differently than he had trained on. So here we are. John’s flying the vehicle. I’m giving him all the altitude and airspeed calls and everything, and you feel this nice main gear gently settling onto the lake bed. . . . There were only two of us on the flight deck, as I recall, because we still had the ejection seats in
at that time. They hadn’t been taken out, so there was no room for another seat. So . . . the other four were on the mid-deck, and you hear this, “Yay!” and clapping when the main gear touched the ground very gently. Then John gets the thing de-rotated and we’re down to about 150 knots or so when the nose gear hits the ground, and it goes “smash!” So it changes from this “Yay! Yay!” to “Jesus Christ! What was that?” That was just really funny, and I got all of that on tape, because I had a tape recorder going. And poor John, he was embarrassed because of this, the way the nose gear hit down, but it wasn’t his fault. They had changed this thing without him being able to practice using the new flight control system. So that was a good lesson.
The crew learned the next day that
had also suffered yet another problem during the reentry and landing—a fire in the vehicle’s auxiliary power units. “We had one
shut down, and then when we shut the other two
s down, normally after landing, it turns out one of them was also on fire,” Shaw explained.