• Wayne Koons stands before the restored Freedom 7 capsule at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.

Wayne Koons oral history project, Interview 2

Friday, October 15, 2004

(Transcript from NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project)

Interview 2:

Edited Oral History Transcript

Wayne E. Koons

Interviewed by Rebecca Wright

Houston, Texas – 15 October 2004

Wright: Today is October 15th, 2004. This oral history is being conducted with Wayne Koons in Houston, Texas, for the NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project, continuation of the October 14th interview. The interviewer is Rebecca Wright, assisted by Sandra Johnson and Jennifer Ross-Nazzal.

We thank you for coming back today and continuing where we left off yesterday, [when] we had just started talking about the beginning of your transition from working with the STG [Space Task Group].

Koons: Of course, there was a period of time there that was pretty much taken up with learning to be a civilian and learning how to work with the people in the Space Task Group. Other than that little project with the long-line retrieval, I didn't have any specific assigned duties.

I think at some point there I got assigned to do a paraglider operations assessment, and we formed a committee that included Jim [James A.] Lovell and some other people that I don't remember right now. John [G.] Zarcaro was on that group. The proposal was that the Gemini spacecraft would deploy a paraglider at ten or twelve thousand feet and glide to a land landing. People were anxious to get out of the ocean environment.

Maybe the reason I was assigned to chair that was that somebody figured out that the paraglider flew about like a helicopter in autorotation, with a power failure. It had about that sort of glide characteristic. I don't really remember any of the specific things. I think one thing we concluded was that the crew's visibility out those little windows on the Gemini hatches was going to be pretty poor—not like a helicopter, where you have all kinds of visibility and you can readily assess what the winds [are] doing to you and look for a landing spot and so forth. The Gemini crew, on the other hand, was pretty much looking through a peephole. It didn't give them a whole lot of visibility. In particular, it didn't give them any visibility downward.

We noted also in most anywhere in the United States, if there are not infrastructure obstacles like telephone poles and bridges and things like that, then there are natural obstacles like rock outcroppings. It was pretty hard to find a sizable area that would compare to the area where the Soviets land their spacecraft now, which is pretty much just unbroken prairie. That was one of our observations.

I think our work there was pretty much overtaken by the assessment of whether the paraglider was really feasible to put in the Gemini. There were some people who were working very hard to get it in. The contract was with North American Aviation [Inc.]. They were contracted to provide that paraglider. We had a bunch of people here at the Center who were very involved, including the Center Director, who really wanted [the paraglider] to work.

As we looked at it, we concluded there were a bunch of things [to consider]. I remember Pete [Peter J.] Armitage observing that the paraglider is great while it's stowed, and it's great once you get it out, but the problem is getting from the first state to the second state. There [are] just a lot of things that have to happen to get that paraglider out of the canister and deployed. It was a pretty large wing. It had inflatable booms and keel, and the first problem was generating enough gas to inflate that boom.

Then you had to be concerned about what if you've got a small rip somewhere, that the boom's going to start to lose pressure and your flying characteristics are going to go to pot. You may not get it deployed correctly. Even if you do get it deployed correctly, then [there are] some fairly heavy little winches that are required to maneuver the spacecraft. You have to actually shift the length of the suspension lines to maneuver. Your vertical velocity is like thirty feet a second, which is enough to spoil your afternoon if you hit going that fast, so it was necessary to flare, which involved a line payout sort of thing. It was all just pretty complicated.

Then the overlay of the crew not being able to see very well and practically forcing you into a deal where you had to have some kind of ground guidance, some sort of a ground control function to give them guidance and help them with energy management, wind alignment, landing spot selection, and so forth, it was really getting pretty complicated.

All that was complicated further by the fact that this was a non-redundant system. The paraglider had to work. If it failed, the only option then for the crew was to eject. I've never met a pilot who was anxious to leave his airplane. So the crew was not very enamored of that idea either. So it was a pretty difficult thing, and we worked pretty hard at it, but a lot of the hard work we put into it was consideration of "Maybe this isn't going to be such a good idea for this series."

The other complication was you had to fly with—or a good possibility was, that you'd fly with some little rockets that would trigger to attenuate the vertical velocity just before you touched down. That was another thing that was looked into. Anyway, at some point, the decision was made to abandon the paraglider, and we went back to parachutes. That all happened in the early sixties, in the formative years of the Gemini Program. As it turned out, we stayed with the water landing for all the Gemini flights.

An interesting thing that happened during that time, and it sort of impinges on the paraglider, was that the medical people were becoming concerned about the effects of extended weightlessness, or no gravity, on the crew, and the phenomenon [in Earth gravity] is called orthostatic hypotension, which just means that they've been in a weightless condition so long that their arteries and veins become essentially deconditioned and allow the blood to pool in the lower extremities when you stand up in 1-G. This is not unlike what happens to a pilot when you do an accelerated maneuver like a pullout from a dive or a hard turn in a dogfight or whatever. So there's a body of knowledge about that, but there was no experience with this extended [duration] thing.

So that sort of bore on the paraglider question, because the crew coming down in the paraglider was seated bolt upright, and this was just immediately after being weightless for some period of time. So if the blood draining away from the head was going to be a problem, they were going to experience it at a very bad time. But that was also a concern [regarding] their ability to take care of themselves post landing wherever they would come down, whether it was water or whatever.

So in cooperation with the medics, we set up a series of tests, and we actually combined weightless simulation, which was done by just having people stay in bed for two weeks. We put them directly into a—we [called] it the egress trainer. It was a boilerplate spacecraft that had crew support couches, and they went from the bed rest directly into that. Then we had a mechanical agitation system that simulated motion in the open ocean, where the objective was to find out if we had a critical problem here where the crew would literally go unconscious immediately after landing.

The medics were quite convinced that we had a problem, although we hadn't proven it yet, and we'd even gone so far with spacecraft design to look at things like providing some sort of [air] pressure [bladders] in the suit, similar to a G suit, that would actually squeeze the lower extremities and cause the blood to be pushed back up toward the head and neck. There was another consideration that said, if you've really got a problem here, the easiest way to do this would be to just flood the suit, just pump water into the suit, which would balance the [blood] pressure, and the suit, in fact, would become the support.

I never thought that was a very good idea, because if something happens and you have to jump out, having a suit full of water is not a good condition to be in if you have to leave the spacecraft. So I voiced some objection to that idea for that reason.

As it turned out, the testing, I think, indicated that it was a sort of a problem but it didn't persist very long. People readapted within a few minutes, or if they could get themselves into a [near] horizontal position for a little while, then pretty quickly you overcome the effect of the weightless period. Anyway, that was sort of an interesting sidelight.

Another thing that I was given responsibility for was to come up with the shipboard retrieval equipment. These were basically cranes that we used to lift the spacecraft out of the water, the cradles, and all the other accessory things that it took to get the spacecraft out of the water. This was happening at a time in which the Gemini and the Apollo Programs were both ongoing. At that point they were pretty much in parallel. Gemini was using technology that was going to permit it to be ready for flight much sooner than Apollo, but we had the two [spacecraft]. The two spacecraft were—one was just about as well defined as the other at that point.

So I [set] my design guys the objective of saying, "Can you come up with a set of retrieval equipment that can be used for both?" In other words, we'll design, basically design [it], size-wise and weight-capability-wise, to handle the command module, and then we'll adapt down to the smaller Gemini spacecraft. That was not only for the lifting and handling equipment, but it also was my responsibility to provide the deactivation equipment for the propellants, the reaction control system propellants that were on board.

So [to] the people who were doing that work, I gave the objective of, "Come up with your deactivation equipment that will work for both spacecraft so we don't have to produce two sets of it." At the rate that the agency was spending money at that time, that's probably a fairly minute savings, but I thought it was worthwhile to pursue that if we could.

On the retrieval equipment, the cranes, there was very good reason there to use the same crane for both programs, because it took modification to the ships. These things went on destroyers, the old World War II[-era destroyers] (and I can't remember the class name), but those ships had to be modified. They had had so much topside gear added over the years that they were bordering on unstable as far as the propensity to turn over in a rough sea. So, years ago, the Navy had found that every time they added topside equipment, they had to add ballast down at the keel in order to maintain the [center of gravity] so that the ship was stable and would remain upright when it was agitated in a really rough sea. So, having the same equipment and then adapting these cranes to fit on the destroyer required quite a bit of structural change to provide hard points that could take the loads.

In addition to all that, there was the expense of building the cranes. If we could use the same thing for both programs, it was going to be a savings. The training would become similar. There were just a number of factors that led us to conclude that having the same piece of equipment for both programs was going to be a good idea. So that turned out to be a sizable design activity.

By this time, I was a section head. I had several designers devoted to that. In an attempt to ease the problem, this [stability] problem for the ships, we tried to make the equipment as lightweight as possible, and that led us to use a material call T-1 steel, which is a higher strength than standard cold-rolled steel. I think it had been originally developed for bridge-building. Of course, aboard ship, you have a big corrosion problem, so we used a process called Dimetcoat, to try to make our equipment as corrosion-proof as possible.

We made the control box as simple as we possibly could. We put a lot of effort into making the little control box so it was intuitively obvious to the sailor that was running it what the switches were going to do, or the controls, so there was a minimum training [time] for him. He didn't have to learn a maze of switches. It was something that was natural to operate.

One of the problems that were more apparent with the Apollo spacecraft, since it's quite a bit larger, was that in order to get the hook engaged into the lifting bail, or the lifting loop on the top, you would have to put somebody on the spacecraft to actually engage that hook. And the hook was pretty heavy. So we tried to figure out how to do that without having somebody try to scramble up the side of the spacecraft. We came up with two gadgets which were unique, at least as far as the Navy guys' experience.

We had a tool shaped sort of like a very long-legged question mark, and we put a lead line on that, and then there was a little shuttle in it. Then we'd snap it around the bail, activate the shuttle, and it passed the lead line from one side of the question mark to the other. So then when you pulled that tool back, you had the lead line threaded through the loop on the spacecraft. The Navy guys who used that thought that was just terrific, and they all wanted some, because every time they had to tie up to a buoy or a lot of things they encountered in small-boat work, they thought that would just really be handy to have.

The other thing was we spent a lot of time on the design of the hook. We were deliberately using stretchable nylon line for the lifting. Riggers flinch when you talk about stretchable nylon, but that was the right thing to do here because it avoided high snatch loads if the spacecraft happened to be going down on a wave and the ship happened to be rolling away from it. As the line came taut, you could get a really huge snatch load and probably just yank the loop right out of the top of the spacecraft, which would leave you with a real problem with no way to handle it. So we were using this high-stretch nylon line that really had a lot of spring to it to avoid that.

Also, as that hook was being taken aboard a spacecraft, in order to avoid damage as much as possible, we made the hook as light as possible. We used a material called 17-4PH, which is a very high-strength steel, and it allowed us to make it just as light as we could. Then the design became this pretty unique design. I don't know if there are any of the things around [still]. It sort of looked like a hook, but it didn't look like any typical hook that you've ever seen. It was designed specifically to fit the lifting bail on the spacecraft.

Rockwell had come up with a very novel design there. Instead of having a large loop of cable or whatever on top of the spacecraft, they had come up with the idea of using a number of small cables which were bound together by a sheath. Then when you started lifting on it, the sheath would break and these small cables would spread out on the hook. So instead of having a large cable bent into a tight radius over the hook, [where] you take quite a penalty as far as the strength of the cable, you now had several small cables laying over the hook, and your net loss of strength due to being bent was much less. It was a clever design, and it worked well. We had to make the hook with a flat bed in it so it comported with that particular action.

The other thing, still in order to avoid putting a swimmer on the spacecraft, in order to engage the hook into the bail, [was that] we had to figure a way to get the lead line to actually pull the hook through the bail so that it was engaged, and we did that. We solved that problem with a tapered neoprene snout on the [tip of the hook]. The way that worked was, as you pulled the lead line, the narrow end of the neoprene would start around the loop. If, say, it was in a ninety-degrees-out-of-whack position, then as you got more and more of the snout through, it became stiffer and stiffer as you worked it toward the hook. Pretty soon, then, it would actually flip the hook around to line it up with the bail and snap it into place. It would also work well if the hook was as much as 180 degrees out-of-whack.]

That also worked very well. It was pretty slick. I've watched the training a number of times in the movies. It was very seldom that you got fouled and couldn't actually engage the hook into the bail.

Anyway, all this work was going on. About that time I had responsibility added. I was a member of the Landing and Recovery Division and the head of a section there. [That was] a line division which was part of the Flight Operations Directorate. My supervisors, I guess, concluded I didn't have enough to do, because they created a negotiated new position with the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office. I think my new additional title was Recovery Systems Manager, if I remember right. This was a dotted-line relationship with the Spacecraft Program Office.

[My job], generally speaking, was to look at all the equipment and systems and how they functioned from the time of main parachute deployment through landing, through the retrieval and through getting the spacecraft and the crew back. It was looking [at] hardware and procedural interfaces. [Will] the way we're going to do it work right with the hardware we have? Is one aspect of the hardware going to work right with another? This turned out to be a very interesting and challenging [effort].

Some of the people involved with different pieces of this, [like the] electronics people, who were generating the location aids, didn't really talk to the mechanical people who were doing the retrieval loop, who didn't really talk to the reaction control system guys who were dumping propellant during the descent, who didn't really talk to the parachute guys who were popping off drogues and then dragging main chutes off the upper deck. It wasn't that they ignored each other; it's just that they didn't [always] understand the intricacy of how those things had to work [together].

We had a number of problems. One thing, and it's easy for designers to do this, they tend to think, "Oh, the spacecraft is coming down. It's like this model that sits on my desk, and it going straight down, so the parachutes are going to go straight up." Well, no. In fact, it may be over the other way around, and the parachutes may be dragging their lines over the structure or whatever, and it may give it a really nasty yank when the chutes inflate.

So we had to talk about those kinds of things. We had to look for things like sharp edges on the structure that might cut the parachute lines. Incidentally, we found a bunch of sharp edges. That got to be a major witch-hunt on the upper-deck design, because there were lots and lots of sharp edges, and every time we looked, we found some more.

It was a nuisance to the upper management to have to keep going back and cleaning these things up, but the potential for real harm was there. You could really have a problem due to this. So we just stayed persistent with it and kept saying, "We've got to make all this stuff work right."

Rockwell [International Corp.] tended to think of post-landing as—as near as I could tell, [the] mental image that they used was Long Beach Harbor [California]. They didn't have any experience with open sea, didn't really have any appreciation for the wave action and so forth. They were just virtually opposed to the idea of doing any testing to see how the spacecraft would perform in an open sea and what kind of ride it would give the crewmen.

When we said, "Look, our studies indicate that in some [contingencies] the crew may have to stay in that spacecraft for three days," this was just all totally new to them. They had never thought of that. They assumed we land, we get out, and go have coffee in the wardroom. It was not something that they had ever really thought about. When we noted to them that in a rough sea state you're not going to be able to open the hatch, the crew's going to have to stay inside buttoned up, then it became apparent we were going to have to have ventilation, which meant not only a fan with a motor to run it, but it also meant that the [battery power] had to be [budgeted] so there was power to run the thing.

Now we get into the phenomenon that I ran into, that I'm sure a lot of people ran into again and again, you know, they say, "You mean we've got to take that all the way to the Moon and back just to run a fan?" It was like, "Surely you guys can figure out some other way so we don't have to do that." The design was very, very critical, and the very most weight critical thing you were designing was the command module, because that ultimately was the piece that got back. So whatever weight you put on it affected everything from liftoff all the way through every mission phase, with the exception of the lunar excursion.

It affected everything, so we had to be extremely careful, on the one hand, making it so it was safe and appropriately designed for the landing and post-landing. But on the other hand, everybody was motivated to keep the weight down. So we were in a balancing act there trying to get this done.

We had to provide a post-landing beacon so that the search aircraft could locate it if it was in some remote location. At that time our planning model said that this or that or whatnot may happen, and even though we're planning to land somewhere west of San Diego [California], we may wind up somewhere off of South America if we were forced to come back at some different [time] on the Earth orbit missions. Or on the lunar missions, people were pretty jumpy about being able to control that entry. It's a very, very precise thing to capture and not overshoot and not undershoot and control the heating and everything. So there was the potential for some significant miss as far as landing point on the lunar returns, at least as those early studies indicated.

So we were involved in making sure that the spacecraft was designed to land and be self-sustaining for a good long period of time. In a contingency situation, we were looking at three days before we might get rescue people to the spacecraft.

Let's see. I'll have to come back later to two things. One is the search-and-rescue aircraft and the work that was involved there, and some other things that are slipping my mind right now.

The landing itself, when the spacecraft hit the water, was another thing where the loads were not [initially] appropriately accounted for. Rockwell made a test in which they used a double trapeze sort of a rig. They'd made a boilerplate spacecraft with a flight lower heat shield, the spherical part of the heat shield, and they used this trapeze rig to drop it so that it hit at a certain velocity vertically and horizontally in a little test pond. Their intent was to demonstrate the spacecraft was strong enough to withstand the landing at sea.

They did the test. There was a major structural failure, and the spacecraft sank in a few seconds. So obviously we had some work to do on that. There was a structures group formed to work on that, and I was assigned as part of that Tiger Team to work with Rockwell.

I think Rockwell reacted very well to that problem. As we got involved in that, we found that they had not really written their loads analysis to account for things like the shape of the wave as they hit it. They were pretty much looking at flat water or a sinusoidal wave, whereas the actual surface of the sea is a myriad of different shapes and angles as you hit it. I think their reaction was very appropriate, because as they looked at that, they said, "You know, if we had a worst case of swing on the parachute, horizontal velocity due to wind, vertical velocity," which has to account for a single parachute failure (you're coming down on two instead of three), orientation, the orientation relative to the direction of the motion, which is not controlled, and then stack up the worst kind of sea, side-of-a-wave kind of thing that we can think of, it's probably not possible to make this thing so it'll [survive landing] in that condition.

At this time, computers were still pretty green devices. This was in like the '63-'64 time frame. For the most part, the only computers available were what today you call mainframes, the big machines that take up a room or two. They proposed to do a Monte Carlo analysis of the landing loads, at which they'd take all these factors that I just mentioned and randomly, or with appropriate statistical distribution, have them occur. Then you'd run a whole series of combinations of these conditions on a computer. The product would be a single set of velocity and orientation and whatnot, and you would statistically combine these things so that you didn't combine worst case on worst case on worst case, because the probability of worst cases all happening simultaneously is almost zero.

So there was some substantial opposition to that from people, particularly within NASA, who were used to doing slide-rule analysis, you-stack-up-all-the-loads-and-design-for-it kind of approach, and they were not at all enamored of this Monte Carlo analysis. I think maybe the name put them off a little bit. So we had a substantial tussle about whether or not to concur with Rockwell taking that approach.

My part in that was that I actually believed that Rockwell had a good approach, so I kind of took a beating from time to time when I would attempt to represent that as being a satisfactory way to do the job. Also in my job I had a couple of dynamicists in my section, and they got very closely involved with the modeling of the sea surface.

It all turned out to be a very highly technical kind of thing, but as it turned out, we came up with a relatively low-weight modification to the spherical heat shield that resulted in—of all the landings, we never did have a problem. We made some more tests that combined loads in a way that this computer analysis indicated was appropriate that was close to the worst case, and it [withstood] the loads all right.

One thing that became apparent as we went along was that the [center of gravity] of the spacecraft had grown up away from the spherical heat shield, and we got into the condition where the spacecraft would float stably in either of two positions or two orientations. One was, as you would think of it, with the conical area up and the spherical heat shield down, and that was called Stable One. But it was also stable standing on its head with, actually, the main hatch out, but all the upper deck down [under water].

There were some guys at Rockwell who attempted to prove that was okay by taking a boilerplate out into Long Beach Harbor and running back and forth inside it to try to show that three guys dashing around inside throwing their weight back and forth could bring the spaceship upright. That wasn't hard to discredit, because, first of all, their boilerplate didn't have any installed equipment and by the time you got all the control panels and storage lockers and couches and struts and everything else in there, there wasn't any room for people to dash around at all. They could just really squirm around, was more like it.

Also, the thing that could happen in an open ocean, as we proved with [a] test spacecraft, [was that] you could be in Stable One and get flipped over into Stable Two if a wave hits you just wrong. This really was a design penalty. We had to penalize the spacecraft in order to correct for this problem. It was not feasible to move the center of gravity down so that the metacenter was above [the center of gravity] and only have one stable flotation position. So we had to undertake some active method of making this thing float upright.

The solution was actually proposed by Rockwell, and I thought it was a very clever solution, even though it was relatively heavy and nobody really wanted to do it, but it had to be done; and it was the three uprighting bags that you see on some pictures. You'll see these big balloon-like things. I think they're maybe three and a half feet in diameter or something like that. These were stowed under the main parachutes or beside them so that they were available, and then they were inflated by little compressors immediately after landing. We had to, of course, find an intake place for the compressors to suck air that was going to be above the water in either stable condition.

It took two or three minutes to bring the spacecraft upright when it was in Stable Two, but it really had to be done that way. You couldn't leave it in Stable Two, because the crew was in a very awkward position. They were sort of hanging in their straps and not really able to move around without stepping on the control panel. All the location aids were under water. The intake vent for the ventilation fan was under water in that condition, and the lifting loop was under water. So even if you had it in that condition, this loop was four feet under water and pretty hard to get [to] to go ahead and pick the spacecraft up. So it really was necessary to fix that.

The design was these three bags, which were, in themselves, a very clever design, because they were each supported or tethered on one cable, but the cable actually ran to the far side of the bag through a little tube that was through the bag, so that the bag, as it inflated, actually crawled along the cable and tightened itself up against the spacecraft. So it made it possible to stow the bag somewhere else and then, as you inflated it, have it crawl into position. It was a really innovative design, and whoever at Rockwell came up with that should have had a good pat on the back, because they did a good job with the design.

One of the jobs that paralleled all this that was going on was that we were designing both Gemini and Apollo egress trainers, and we did that design in-house for Gemini. The designers who worked for me had done a number of boilerplate spacecraft for training, like for the Navy to use for practicing open-sea pickups and whatnot. The helicopter people were still involved, and they were a backup at this time, not to pick up the Gemini, but they were used to deploy swimmers and to pick up the crews in some conditions.

Anyway, we needed a number of boilerplate spacecraft, and we had designed a low-cost boilerplate steel spacecraft to use for handling and retrieval training, and then we made one of aluminum because we needed to check out the flotation characteristics, and we had to get the moments of inertia right. In the steel, all the weight was concentrated in the skin of the steel boilerplate, which was not characteristic of the spacecraft. It had most of its weight internal, and the skin was relatively lightweight. So we made an aluminum boilerplate and then put a combination of ballast and flotation devices in it to make it float the same as a flight spacecraft and to get the inertia as close—we never got it exactly, of course, but to closely match the inertia so its behavior in an ocean environment was good.

We ran some tests with that to check it out—how's it going to behave, what's it going ride like. We had some [couches and] restraints in it so the crew could experience what that was like. We actually, then, converted that spacecraft into [the Gemini] egress trainer. We improved the fidelity of the couches. We redesigned the hatches so that they worked very similarly to the flight hatch, and we used that thing for crew training [for] egress.

We used it to develop the flotation collars. The flotation collars were designed by the guys in my group on sort of an outline basis, and then all the details were worked out with the shops over at [Naval Air Station] Pensacola [Florida], which is where those things were actually built. They were actually built in Navy shops over at Pensacola. That was true of both the Gemini flotation collars and the Apollo flotation collars.

So we had made that aluminum spacecraft and did a lot of testing with it. Then we actually did a long-duration test, in which we put some people in it and left them out at sea—I don't remember how long, but it was quite a while—just to make sure that it was going to be satisfactory.

For the Apollo command module, we took a little bit different approach. Rockwell actually made the egress trainer. It had a spacecraft number, a hull number. It was Spacecraft 007, which everybody got a big kick out of because the James Bond movies were big at that time. We ran a series of tests on that, and we actually ran the formal qualification test of that spacecraft for the post-landing environment, did it out here in the Gulf. We sat around and waited for a while until there was some pretty rough weather available, and then took it out and tossed it in the ocean and dumped it into Stable Two and went through the whole [sequence], you know, upright it and make sure all the location aids work and make sure the fans work. The guys weren't very happy about it, but they had to stay in there for a while.

Wright: And who did you use? Was it NASA employees that were your test subjects?

Koons: It was just crossing my mind as I was saying that, I remember that Walt [Walter] Cunningham always gave me a rough time about that because he did not appreciate getting stuffed in that egress trainer and doing that, although he was just kidding. So I know Walt was involved. I don't remember who we used for a crew in the longer-duration testing. Milt [Milton L.] Windler's section actually ran the tests. I provided the hardware and worked the procedures, and my people were involved in it, of course, but I don't remember. I just didn't set that up. It was Milt Windler's people who actually conducted the test.

Another thing we were involved in, talking about contingency landings—the Air Force was at that time deploying some long-range search-and-rescue airplanes which were called the HC-130H. These were C-130s which were configured with additional internal fuel tanks. They'd actually taken some KC-97 fuel tanks and adapted them to fit on the pallet system in the back of the 130. They were able, by a combination of shutting down engines deliberately to conserve fuel as they burned off fuel, and careful altitude profiling, to [stay] up well over twenty-four hours aloft without refueling.

These guys were deployed, or were to be deployed; they were used for a number of things. The Air Rescue Service used them for [rescue], of course—they had an extensive mission because [the United States was] operating principally B-52s. During that time frame, there was lots of Cold War stuff going on, and we frequently had airplanes up over the North Pole and ready forces in a near-combat mode at a lot of times. So Air Rescue Service had a real job. They had lots and lots of crews to cover and try to provide rescue service for.

We got involved in two things that went on with the HC-130H airplane, and I was assigned as liaison to the Air Force for that effort. We had two things. One was that we wanted to have a very sensitive receiver on board that could really reach out from a high altitude and hear that little 2-watt or 5-watt, or whatever it was, beacon on the spacecraft, so that if we had a wide miss of some sort, say, on the Apollo reentry—this is the kind of modeling we were doing, the sort of thing we were trying to anticipate. We said, "If they really miss widely, we may have a cross range as well as a downrange discrepancy. So there's a pretty good chunk of ocean, like several thousand square miles, that they might be in, and we're going to have to cover it pretty quickly, because we've got to figure out where they are and get some aid to them." So we wanted a really sensitive directional receiver in the HC-130H.

Their avionics people, as I remember, were in Orlando [Florida] at an Air Force base there, and we worked with them quite a bit to figure out what kind of receiver could go in there. If you look at an HC-130H, it's got a little smooth hump up on top right behind the cockpit area, and that houses that special receiver [antenna].

They were glad to have it, because they could also be used for the personal beacons. If a pilot ejects, he's got a little mini-beacon as part of his survival equipment. Later, just a few years later, that became also a two-way radio, but at that time it was just a little locator beacon. So the Air Force was glad to have this capability, and we worked with them and shared costs with them on equipping those airplanes with that [receiver].

The other thing that was really interesting was, they wanted the capability to pick people up with the 130, which sounds kind of far-fetched. But actually they were running tests with a company called All American Engineering [& Manufacturing, Inc., which] had made the hook-and-winch combinations that were used to snatch the returning camera modules out by Hawaii, which didn't get a whole lot of publicity because they didn't really want [the public] to know what they were doing, but it still got reported in that time frame.

The surveillance satellites that we had aloft would eject a camera module periodically. This is in the days before we had broadband, and we could transmit a better picture electronically than you could on film. They were actually ejecting film capsules and recovering them in the air. I suspect the reason they wanted to recover them in the air was they didn't want them down where anybody else could get a hold of them, because it wasn't too hard for the other guys to figure out if a spacecraft or satellite had ejected a device which was going to make an entry, it wouldn't be too hard to have a submarine there waiting.

So they did this air-to-air retrieval, and that was a pretty foxy maneuver. You tried to smack the parachute of this thing with the belly of the airplane. As it went aft, then, there were some hooks hanging over the rear end which went into reinforced shroud lines and snatched the thing and began to pull that camera pod along. Then there was an energy-absorbing winch inside that paid out line that allowed [the pod] to be accelerated up to where it matched the speed of the airplane. Then you'd just reel it in, and you had your camera pod. It all worked pretty well.

So the Air Force was working with the—the way they stated requirements was they didn't say anything was a requirement until they were sure they could do it. So they were tinkering around with a requirement to pick up people from the surface, and they, quite naturally, had turned toward the All American Engineering device. They were looking at take a couple of bamboo poles and rig a line up and have the airplane fly low and drag his hooks through the line and take the guy on the ground, who'd be in a parachute harness, and just snatch him and take him. It worked fairly well.

We had some real reservations about it, [though]. We had a term that we called man-rating. All the handling equipment and just anything we did, before we put a person in it or used a flight crew in there or whatever, we wanted to make sure that it was man-rated. I never heard that term defined. I think our understanding of it was, you want to make sure that the man that you're working with is still going to be alive when you're through, this is all over and that you haven't done any harm to his person.

So we had some real questions that that system was going to be man-rated. If you started analyzing potential failures, there were a lot of things that could happen that weren't too classy. Just the slightest malfunction on that winch and you could pull the guy up and smack him back into the ground at 100 knots or so. It was easy to get a partial engagement and then just flat drop him, have him come off the hooks. It was [also] a pretty violent thing for the guy to experience. I mean, he really got a good yank.

They were doing this with dummies. I don't think they ever did it with a live person, but the dummy got a real—it was a real snatch-and-go kind of thing, even with the energy-absorbing winch and whatnot, because you still had to accelerate that winch drum and all that massive cable or nylon line or whatever you used. It was a pretty violent thing to do.

There was a competitive system. It was a really unique experience to get acquainted with a fellow named Robert Fulton, who happened to be the grandson of the guy who invented the steamship. Robert Fulton had an engineering company up at Danbury, Connecticut. He had bought the old airfield there, and his office was in the control tower. I was up there one time, and it was really a neat place to have an office, just windows all the way around.

He had three or four really good designers working for him and a couple of shop guys, and he cranked out novel gadgets. That's what he did, and he did it very well, and he made a lot of money at it.

One of the things he had developed was a system to retrieve the frogmen when they would go in and, say, do a mission in an enemy harbor. He used little boats with no transoms in them, and he'd set these two boats so they were facing each other, maybe fifty or eighty yards apart with a line between them. The high-speed powerboat that came in to get them would make a high-speed run in and it would simply grab that line with a hook or something midway between these two boats, and never slow down. So the speedboat would make a swing into the harbor in this [clandestine] mission and snag that line.

The geometry effect was, as the speedboat moved along, these transomless boats with our frogmen in them would slowly come up out of the water and start moving with the boat. The effect was that over a period of a half a minute or so, they'd come up to full speed, the water would drain out of the transom, and they'd be being pulled along by the speedboat back to whatever mother ship had originated all this activity. That was one of his basic inventions.

He had then conceived that this could be done with airplanes to pick people up off the ground, and he had, in fact, demonstrated that several times. The basic way you did it was to put a fork, like a Y or two legs of a Y, sticking out at the front of an airplane. At the base of that Y was a device that engaged the line. The way you picked people or an object up off the ground was that the people on the ground would send up a balloon on a 700-foot line. The airplane would come by at 500 feet and engage the line and snag it. The device that snagged it was just a pair of points that twisted so they engaged the line. Then as the airplane continued, the load on the ground would first go straight up because that's the way the line was, and as the airplane continued to pull on the line, the load from the ground would gradually swing into motion, and gradually rise and accelerate and finally wind up in a tow position behind the airplane, being pulled by this Y on the front of the airplane.

Then the chore—and this is where things sometimes got dicey. Then working either out of the side of the airplane, out of a hatch, or off a ramp at the rear if it were an air-drop-style airplane like a 124 or 119 or something, you had to get a hold of that line and pull your load in, whatever the load was. This had several advantages.

By putting fending lines on the tips of that yoke in the front, you could actually have a miss and not be catastrophic. You just simply pushed the line aside as the airplane went by, and you could come around and try again.

Secondly, it was actually not a critical flying job. It was not really particularly difficult to hit that line, and usually the guys would hit it within a foot or two of the centerline of the airplane. Lockheed [Aircraft Corp.] had a test going one time for the Air Force, and I got to ride along. They let me fly one. This was in a [C]-130. It was not particularly difficult to get lined up and hit that line dead center, so it was pretty reliable from that standpoint. It was graceful, in that if you did miss, you could fend the line off and not cause some kind of problem like yanking the guy fifty feet in the air and then dropping him.

The other advantage it had was that it was very gentle for the guy riding. The person you picked up got a very gentle ride. They hardly ever saw more than about 2-Gs acceleration. They just simply went straight up and then sped up and wound up in a tow position behind the airplane. The line transfer was what was truly tricky, to get the line transferred and hooked up to a winch and bring the guy on board.

So we took the view with the Air Force that they really ought to start learning about this particular system because it had a lot of inherent reliability. It had the advantage, if the guy that you're trying to rescue was in a bunch of trees, you could take him out of the trees. You could literally take him straight up, right out of the trees. So you didn't have to have a big open area in order to operate it.

You could do it at night. You'd just string some little lights on the line and power them with flashlight batteries, and it made plenty of light. If it was foggy, you couldn't do it, but if it was just dark and you were under the cloud cover, why, it was not difficult at all to get lined up and hit the line at night.

It had the capability of being done with more than one person, just depending on how you sized the lines and materials and everything. Plus, the advantage was, if, say, you had sized it for two people, if there was only one person on there, it didn't make a bit of difference. It still worked exactly as it did with two people, whereas with the snatch system, where you'd fly down close, you had to even know pretty well what that guy weighed before you picked him up, because you had to adjust that winch pretty carefully.

So we saw a lot of advantages in what we came to call the Fulton system. There ensued a months-long discourse with the Air Force, because they were trying to get their [C]-130s configured and get their H-models on line and deployed with Air Rescue Service. Eventually, they came to our point of view, and the Fulton system is what was installed. We sized it for two people at a time.

The Air Force provided the capability to do long-range search, very long-duration searches. They could stay airborne over a day and then actually go down and deploy frogmen, [and] the Navy normally provided the guys who did that. Say you were out in the South Atlantic somewhere and there weren't ships anywhere around—put a flotation collar on it, stabilize the spacecraft, get the hatch open so the crew could have some fresh air, and then if the situation warranted, we could actually pick them up from the sea or land or wherever, and get them back. So that was very interesting.

The utilization of that system has never been publicized. It's just not. And part of the reason for that is some of the applications were classified. So I don't know. Fulton told me, as we were working with this early on, that the Navy had actually used it a few times and adapted it on different airplanes. He said that the first man that was ever picked up was a guy who had died at one of the Arctic listening stations. I don't remember what airplane they used. I think maybe it was a B-29. They flew up and picked the body up that way. He said, "That's the first time we actually ever picked up a man." It was a guy who had been in a snowdrift, and they dug him out when it was possible to send him back. That was the first time, but it has been used a number of times to do actual rescues.

By and large, the events over the years have [caused] helicopters [to] become much more capable, with longer-range and higher speed. [So], the need to have this capability [in the C-130s] is much reduced.

Can we take a break for a minute?

Wright: We sure can.

[Tape change]

Koons: The next thing that happened turned out to be a significant chunk of effort in the Apollo Program for the recovery people and for the crew people. What happened was that one day Pete Armitage grabbed me and said, "Come on. We've got to go to a meeting." It was that kind of a thing.

I was amazed at what we got into. The full title of the organization that we met with was called the President's Interagency Committee for the Prevention of Back Contamination. So help me, that was the full title. That's what this group called themselves. It was a collection of scientists. We had veterinarians from some office; Department of Agriculture, I guess. We had biological warfare specialists from the Army's Fort Dietrich [Maryland] facility. We had people from the communicable diseases centers [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] in Atlanta [Georgia]. The chair of this committee was a fellow named Dr. David Sensor, [and], as I go through this, you'll see it was really good that he was the chairman, because he was a very reasonable guy to work with.

The first meeting with these folks was truly an eye-opening experience. I mean, it was amazing. These are literally laboratory scientists. I remember at that first meeting one guy showed up for the meeting, wearing his white lab coat. We're in the ninth floor conference room [that's coat-and-tie territory], and here's this guy in his lab coat. There's another guy in there with a full set of whiskers, smoking [a Sherlock] Holmes pipe, a great big one. It had a bowl about that size [demonstrates]. These guys were laboratory people. They had no idea of what goes—other than what they'd seen on TV, they had no idea what goes on with getting a spacecraft back from a mission.

The [stated] concern was that we would pick up something on the Moon and bring it back and contaminate the Earth's biosphere. That's the best way I can express it. What that something might be was not known. It [was] just that it might be something.

Of course, you immediately say, "What in the world could that be?" That was not the issue. The issue was that it was possible. Somewhere beyond your imagination, this kind of thing might happen.

As we discussed this, we said, "What would you do? What would you expect to do to prevent this from being a problem?" Of course, their concern was some kind of plague which would run away and destroy the Earth's population, or some kind of plant disease that would wipe out all the green stuff on Earth. At the outer limit, that's the kind of worst-case catastrophe that they would mention. I never did get a real thorough feel for how any of this was going to be possible, but these folks were all convinced, and they had a lot of clout because somebody had persuaded the President to appoint them to come down and tell us what to do.

We engaged in some discourse that day. We said, "What is it you think we should do?"

It was things like, "You have to absolutely isolate the spacecraft so that nothing can get away." At this point, now, of course, you're familiar with the mission profile. The lunar module has been abandoned and left in lunar orbit, and the service module was pickled off a couple hours before we came into the atmosphere, so now it's just the command module.

They said things like, "We have to decontaminate the command module. We have to make sure that nothing gets from the command module into the ocean when it lands."

One guy sat there and literally said, "You know, the best thing would be if you could have a big flask on the deck of the carrier and maneuver the carrier under the spacecraft so that it landed inside that flask and then slap the lit shut and isolate it." That was beyond anybody's imagination, how we could ever do that. This fellow was describing a laboratory solution in the real world. He, of course, had no idea how you would ever maneuver a carrier or the fact that that was probably impossible. I mean, you could probably try that a hundred times and never do better than hit the carrier somewhere, [and certainly not in the flask].

Pete and I mostly tried to listen and ask questions and say, "What have you really got in mind here? What is it you think we really need to do?" We came back from that first meeting just kind of incredulous, saying, "Do we really have to do this? What is it we have to do?" It was a very nebulous thing that we were confronted with.

They had vaguely outlined laboratory concepts again. The way they contained highly pathogenic organisms was with double containment. They have two barriers around it, and the space between the two barriers is pumped down to a lower pressure than either the inner or outer environment. Then they do either incineration or very careful filtering of the air that they pump out of this inner space.

So they were talking about things like double barriers and decontamination and whatnot. So we did just some rough work and concluded that they really needed an education on the realities of what you have to do in order to retrieve a spacecraft. We also [decided] we'd better give them some realistic talk about what you do in secondary landing areas and contingency landing areas, and all the sorts of things that have to be addressed in order to ensure crew safety and ensure that you get the spacecraft back.

The kinds of things that these guys were talking about had a very high potential for being really dangerous. Aside from being really difficult to do, it could be really dangerous to the crew to do this. So we went through several iterative steps with these people. We gave them a pretty thorough briefing on how we deploy forces, the fact that we always had to be ready for the spacecraft to land not only five miles from the ship, which, as it turned out, was fairly typical, but it also might be fifty miles or it might be five hundred miles, and we had to be ready for all those kinds of contingent situations.

Once we finally got enough idea of exactly what they had so that we could do some hard conceptual work, we created a cost model, which frightened us. It didn't seem to bother them, but it was a real big number. But the thing that we wound up that conversation with, that part of the briefing, was, "Whatever it cost, you're talking about doing something here now that is going to cause us to compromise the safety of our crew and to compromise the reliability of getting the samples back to the Lunar Receiving Lab. So we think we should keep talking about this, because we're not positioning ourselves so that we're very comfortable with what we're doing here."

So we went, again, through several iterations, and we proposed some ground rules. We proposed that, "Okay, we will provide the maximum level of containment, whatever that is, only in a nominal prime landing site, where there's no spacecraft anomalies, no weather anomalies. In other words, we're looking for pretty much a blue-sky day [when] nothing goes wrong. Then we'll do the maximum amount of containment and prevention, whatever that turns out to be."

Another ground rule we proposed was, "We will never do containment at the expense of crew safety. If anything happens that we've got a problem that we may lose a crewman or a rescue person or recovery people or anything else, we're going to abandon containment right now. We're going to quit that, and we're going to concentrate on keeping our people safe."

Third was that we would provide reduced levels of planned containment for contingent situations. In other words, the further you get off nominal, the less containment we're going to provide. We had talked with them enough about how we do it. We'd shown them some movies and gone through some briefings and shown them force deployments and that sort of thing, and they readily agreed to those ground rules. So at that point we pretty much felt that we had something we could work with. We said, "Okay. We'll go start talking about what we might do and come back to you with a hardware and procedures briefing."

I remember in that meeting—this is a little vivid aside. Of course, it was going to be my job to do this design, whatever it was. I was going to have to get this done. I remember sitting there thinking, "What an absolute nuisance. The probability of this ever being a real problem is just so low that I really hate to spend the time on it."

So I privately concluded a couple of things. One was, I was going to try to do this so it had a minimum interference with the ongoing program. I didn't want to turn this into an obstacle.

Secondly, I concluded that whatever we did here, the virtuous side of it was that it was going to help us in preserving the integrity of the lunar samples. Forward contamination was the technical term for that. Whatever we did here was going to be an aid in ensuring that those samples that we got back from the Moon were just as pristine as we could keep them. I think everybody understood the real need to do that. If you're going to do science on those rocks, they'd better be just exactly like they were when they were on the Moon, or your science is not valid.

I asked a question which sort of had a humorous little outcome. I said to these fellows, to the committee, "I would like to ask a question." I said, "You know, when we start in doing design work, we like as much as we can to have specific things that we're designing for." I [asked], "What would be the representative thing that we should design to protect the Earth against?"

Some guy answered, and he said, "You should design to protect against the most virulent known Earth pathogen," whatever that was.

I [asked], "What is that?"

And he answered me. He gave me an answer which didn't mean anything; it was a big long name. It was some really nasty bug they had in a bottle up at Fort Dietrich.

So then I [asked], "Could that thing live on the Moon?"

"Oh, no."

So we kind of got everything in context at that point.

The solution that we worked up for this problem was, first of all, we did have to make one spacecraft modification, and that was to provide some filters on the air that was exhausted from the spacecraft when you ventilated post-landing. They were really anxious that we not get stray bugs or Moondust or whatnot scattered out in the ocean. So there were some filters added to the spacecraft. So that, as far as I can remember, was the only thing that actually impacted spacecraft design.

Of course, anybody who's watched the movies or whatever of the landings knows basically we wrote a spec [specification] for a house trailer, what it amounted to, a box that would accommodate the three crewmen and one recovery guy (as it turned out, one of my people) and a doctor. So we said, "We're going to button up five people."

At that time, the target isolation time was six weeks. We had to keep everybody buttoned up for six weeks to make sure no illness or whatever developed. This box that we developed wasn't any [one] thing that was really a technical design challenge, but, rather, the challenge was to have it do all the things it had to do. It had to be able to sit on the ship and condition its internal air and whatnot using the ship's power, which is one kind of electrical power. The basic thing this thing did was it had to be sealed up, and then we provided a fan on it which held it at a negative pressure so that any leaks were inward. Then we had a very tight, thorough filtration action on the air that was exhausted by this ventilation fan.

We had to have the communication equipment in there so the crew could talk to the press. That's a necessary part of the deal.

We had to be able to handle the lunar samples. They were initially taken into this box—I'm talking now about what we were doing spec-wise—and then cleaned up, and they were hustled back to the Lunar Receiving Lab here just about the fastest way we could get them back. The crew in their box came along later.

But anyway, we had to be able to seal up and decontaminate the sample box containers and get them out of our quarantine box. Then [the quarantine box] had to be capable of being hoisted to get it off the ship. It wasn't really convenient to provide a great long extension cord to keep it powered while it was coming off the ship, so we put a self-contained power unit on it and a little generator.

While it was dockside and then being transferred to the—you know, if you're talking a typical mission, say, where the ship docks in Guam or Hawaii or somewhere, you dock the boat, the ship, and transfer the quarantine container to the dockside, get it on a truck, take it over to the airport, put it on an airplane, fly it back to Ellington [Field, Houston, Texas], put it on a truck again, take it down to the Lunar Receiving Lab, and dock it. Then it stays there.

One of the challenges was, you have all different kinds of electric power that you get from these. Onboard ship, you have one kind of electric power. On the airplane, it's different. Different places you might wind up dockside in different parts of the world, you may have different kind—you may have 220 volt 50 cycle or 60 cycle, or you may [have] 110 volt whatever. So we had to be able to—I think the ship's power was 440 three-phase, 60 cycle, and the aircraft was 400 cycle power. So that turned out to be the most complicated thing to design, was the power-conversion equipment that we included on the thing. Then the recovery engineer, who was in there, had to know how to do all the switching to keep all that working. That conceptually was what we did.

So we promulgated a request for quotes. Our initial cost estimates had been up in the several million dollars, and then we had been able to whittle it down, and we thought we could probably bring this in for under two [million], just based on our on estimates. But anyway, we put out requests for quotes. We got several bids from people who were in the two-million-dollar range for this. This was an acceptable cost.

But we had a really innovative approach proposed by a consortium of Melpar [Inc.] Corporation and the Airstream Trailer Corporation. So that's what we wound up with, was an Airstream trailer. We visited their factory a couple of times, and those people were really proud of what they were doing. They made those trailers without any wheels, of course. They built them onto a pallet which was compatible with all these handling requirements that we had to meet, and they sealed it. They did an extra special job of sealing all the riveted joints. Then the internal configuration was somewhat different from what they were used to doing. The big picture window that you remember, seeing the pictures of the crew looking out through this picture window, that was a unique thing. Of course, then we had a [pass-through] lock that we used to get the [lunar] samples out. That all worked out very well.

We had a lot of peripheral equipment. It finally worked out that the normal way to egress the crew was to pick the spacecraft up from the ship and set it up on the deck and then set up this plastic tunnel and have the crew egress that way. That was one way to do it. Another way, as I think John [C.] Stonesifer described to you, was to actually put containment suits on the crew and spray them down with a disinfectant and then move them to the quarantine facility, and then later, set the spacecraft so that the plastic tunnel was set up. The recovery engineer then went over to the spacecraft and retrieved the samples and brought them back into what came to be called the Mobile Quarantine Facility, or MQF. The samples then were wrapped up and decontaminated and passed out through the lock so they could then be handled just like ordinary cargo.

It was interesting. As this all went along, the people we were working with kind of got into the spirit of how we were trying to accomplish this. These laboratory guys got more and more [involved]; an example of the thing we always tried to do was to try to get the people you're working with, whether it be Navy guys or Air Force guys or whoever, to see the problem your way and to try to help you solve your problem.

These people on the quarantine committee got pretty much into that spirit, and we were able to do some fairly simple things that were satisfactory. We used ordinary household Clorox for the decontaminate. That's what was used in the lock to wash down the sample boxes before they were passed out. There was some other agent that they used at the spacecraft. But basically, they accepted some really ordinary