Apollo Guidance Computer History Project
Interview with Professor Richard Battin, September 30, 2002.
This interview was conducted with Professor Battin on the morning of September 30, 2002, at his office at MIT. The intervieweres were David Mindell and Alexander Brown.
ALEXANDER BROWN: As you know, I've been working on the history of the Apollo Guidance Computer for the last couple of years. And one of the things that has come up is that it seems that the Mars probe, the interplanetary recoverable probe was a really important early predecessor. And all the historical records that remain are the big report, and the preliminary report, and there's really no sense of what else was going on. So I was hoping that we could just talk about that, at least in part, today. You were at MIT in the early '70's, left briefly, and then came back. So were you involved right at the start of the interplanetary project?
RICHARD BATTIN: The fact that that had started was what motivated me to come back to the lab. I left because I had been at MIT for a long time, and I had been at the Instrumentation Laboratory for five years, and thought maybe I should, in all fairness to myself, go try something else.
But that was a bad move. I should not have done that. I went to work for Arthur D. Little and found that I was working on things like inventory control. And then I found that while I was gone they were building the Polaris system, which I could have been working on. And then all of a sudden the Russians launched their Sputnik. And then I talked to my friend Hal Laning. And he's busy trying to get Mars and the Earth on the computer. And I'm doing a bunch of things that I'm not really interested in. I'm traveling all the time and I don't want to do that either. So I came back. I was gone probably a little less than two years. So the worst thing I ever did was leave MIT, and the best thing I ever did was to come back.
ALEXANDER BROWN: The Mars project was already going?
RICHARD BATTIN: It was going in the sense that Hal had already calculated a trajectory by hand and trying to coast from Earth past Mars and back to Earth. And Milt Trageser and-- Probably the main honcho there was trying to define what this little spacecraft would need. The reason for, of course, doing all this was that they felt that space was the thing of the future, and they wanted to get in there and start learning about stuff, and the best way to learn is to try to design some--specify some project and then try to do it.
ALEXANDER BROWN: Sputnik was launched at the end of 1957.
RICHARD BATTIN: In October, yeah.
ALEXANDER BROWN: Are we talking early 1958 when this big feeling that space was the new frontier, was that in the air?
RICHARD BATTIN: I don't know exactly. My guess is that Hal started working on the round trip trajectory. And they were putting together a report, which was probably in the spring of '58, which would be enough time later. And I think I returned to the lab that summer.
DAVID MINDELL: Can we start with your own background and sort of your education and how you got into engineering and how you ended up here.
RICHARD BATTIN: Sure. I'm just trying to figure if it would be valuable to write that down. Certainly this introduction starts really on the first year or so of activities of me with Hal Laning, on the Atlas guidance system, the algebraic compiler - all of that stuff is in here.
I almost never went to work for the Instrumentation Laboratory, because I'd never heard of it. In June 1951 I was getting my doctorate in math. And it was not a good year for jobs. So I was doing the usual thing. And I was told that there were people who had Ph.D.'s in math who were--the only job they could get was feeding IBM cards into machines. That's horrible.
But we ere married and we were living at the married student housing, which was about where the tennis court is now, the covered court, a little bit beyond that. And a friend of mine lived in the same court. And he said, "I understand you're looking for a job." I said, "Yes." He says, "Well, why don't you try the Instrumentation Laboratory. They're hiring." I said, "What's the Instrumentation Laboratory?" I had never heard of it. So if I hadn't talked to him, I would not be here.
DAVID MINDELL: How about even further back. Where are you from, and where did you do your undergraduate work?
RICHARD BATTIN: I did all of my work at MIT. I started in the fall of '42. And the reason why I was--and the war was on. But I graduated from high school in 1942 at 17 years old.
DAVID MINDELL: Where?
RICHARD BATTIN: From Forest Park High School in Baltimore, Maryland. And I came to MIT. Another classmate and I we were the first to ever go to MIT from Forest Park High School. And I had never heard of MIT either until a few months before I applied.
So in my freshman year I was a civilian. But since it was 1942 I decided I'd better join up. I was going to be drafted. So I signed up for the Naval Reserve. And the Naval Reserve mobilized us on the 1st of July of 1943, and assigned me, as an Apprentice Seaman to MIT. So I was one of the D-12(?). The only thing it did to my education was that, instead of doing two semesters a year we did three semesters a year; instead of graduating in June '46 I graduated in June '45. And in June '45, by the time we graduated, the war in Europe was over. And while I was in Midshipman School, which is where you go after you graduate as an Apprentice Seaman to become a 90-day wonder. In fact, I was at the last class there, and this was at Columbia University where they were running this program, and we were the last class of Apprentice Seamen to become Midshipmen, because the bomb was dropped in August of that year.
So when we graduated, they didn't send us all home. We had some service time. They were giving points for people in terms of their service. I think if you did that calculation, I wouldn't have enough points for 30 years. Figure that out. So it looked like I was going to be there for a while. I actually was there for a year.
ALEXANDER BROWN: You were a mathematics major here?
RICHARD BATTIN: Yeah. But I was an undergraduate EE major. And I did applied math. Actually I was busy in the Meteorology Department, because it was during the flows over the curved surfaces like the weather on the earth.
And I started teaching. I came back to MIT in 1946 in the fall. I graduated in '45 and then spent that time. I was discharged in August of '46. So I decided I would go back to MIT. The reason for going back to MIT is my girlfriend was at Wellesley, and I wanted to see her. Of course, we were finally married.
But I started teaching in 1946, freshmen calculus. And except for those two years when I was at Arthur D. Little, I've taught ever since. So I think I have some sort of a record. So, anyhow, I was a half-time instructor in the Math Department and a half-time graduate student. So it took me five years to get my doctorate. So I graduated in 1951, and then went to work for the Instrumentation Laboratory. And as I was saying before you came, I left for no good reason other than the fact that I had been at MIT for so long I ought to really look at the outside world.
So that was a bad mistake. And when I found out, after the Sputnik, that Hal Laning and Milt Trageser were doing planning on a Mars probe, and I'm working on things I'm totally disinterested in and traveling a lot, when I didn't like to travel-- So I left in less than two years, came back and stayed at MIT until I retired from the Draper Lab in 1987.
And then, since I always was teaching, I talked to Lenny Miller, who was the head of the department at that time. I said, "Hey, you've been paying the Draper Lab for my services to teach, and I'm retiring. I would like to continue teaching, so why don't you just pay me instead?" So he said, "That sounds good." So I've been doing that ever since, and nothing will stop me. Nobody said, "Hey, somebody else would like to teach that course." In fact, I asked a few years ago. I said, "Is there somebody who is planning on teaching astrodynamics?" He said, "Why? You don't want to do it?" And I said, "No, I want to do it." He said, "Well, what's the problem?"
So anyhow, that's my history in a thumbnail sketch.
ALEXANDER BROWN: How did you
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, we didn't know anything about celestial mechanics. When we were working on the Q Guidance System-- I think all of this is pretty much in the introduction there. We were doing celestial mechanics without knowing it. I remember one time going to Hal Laning and saying, "Hal, you know, this program we've written for missile guidance," I said, "Do you know what this thing is?" I said, "It's the eccentric anomaly." And he said, "I never heard of that." And I said, "That's a celestial mechanics term." So then I said, "We'd better start learning some celestial mechanics."
The best way to learn it is to teach it, so I a course called astronautical guidance. In 1960 it was tried out. And then the first class was 1961, in the spring. And one of my students in that class was Buzz Aldrin. And the next year one of my students was Dave Scott, on Apollo 15. And a year or two later it was Ed Mitchell, who flew with Alan Shepard, on Apollo 14.
The Mars probe, all the detail is, as I say, in that in that paper, together with the references which you have been able to find. I had somebody write to me and wanted to get a copy of the Q System Report.
ALEXANDER BROWN: R 125?
RICHARD BATTIN: Have you got a copy of that? Where did you get that?
ALEXANDER BROWN: The MIT libraries.
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, somebody wrote to me, and I'm lucky I had a copy. And I had a Xerox copy made. Now, the thing that I haven't been able to find is Report R-235.
ALEXANDER BROWN: That's the big five-set volume?
RICHARD BATTIN: Yeah.
ALEXANDER BROWN: I've got Volumes 1 through 4, and the MIT Museum has a 1 through 5 on microfiche.
RICHARD BATTIN: I have one because, you see, the thing got classified because it had data in there on the Centaur Rocket, which we were planning on using to launch our probe if it ever got launched. So we had some stuff in there, which I don't think it was secret but at least it was classified. And the one volume that I had-- This is really very important to me because the one volume that I had is an unclassified one, and it's got a lot of stuff in there, but it was missing some things. What was missing was some of the work that we did on round trips to Venus, and I've been really wanting to have that, for reasons which you won't believe. A guy is suing me. Well, the interesting thing about the lawsuit is that nothing has happened. I haven't even talked to my lawyer for probably a year and a quarter. And I think I figured out what was happening, because he had negotiated with the other lawyer that the whole issue would depend upon the validity of the documents in the Draper Laboratory that they have under their control. And they agreed to that.
Now, they had a further agreement, though. This guy is really a screwball. Hired a forensic expert to come up and they made him walk into the laboratory, provided he would give them reports. So he did samples of testing the ink and what have you. He used to work for the FBI.
But anyhow, though, we never heard anything from his report. So I made the mistake of insisting that my lawyer, MIT lawyer, try to get a copy of that report. And the reason that he hadn't given anybody a copy was because the guy never paid him for the report. Lucovich is his name. I guess he saw his case going down the tubes, so he paid for it.
And then the forensic guy put in some little things, which he said that I couldn't determine these negatives that are in the file there. He said, "I couldn't really determine this ink on those negatives." Or, "I couldn't get any information about the ink. I couldn't extract it." Because there was ink in the margins. He said, "So I don't know really. That doesn't-- I can't tell. But I see that that the envelope that it was in that ink was not manufactured before 1971."
With that information he says, "It's clear to me that what I saw was a negative which had been substituted 10 years later." How would you pick that kind of conclusion? You don't know how old the negative is. And you've got this envelope, which he can identify as 1971. So the contents of it are certainly no earlier than that. Well, that's ridiculous. The whole thing doesn't fit that way. But he wanted to give him a little nugget.
So my lawyer, when he saw that, he says, "Oh, God." He said, "Now I won't be able to go for a summary judgment because he's thrown some dust up there." But he said, "Don't worry. I've got another approach. And it will take longer but the outcome will be the same." That was over--almost a year and a half ago now. So what I say, then, is if the guy tells, he says, "We've agreed," then the judge has agreed that based on the MIT records I don't have to prove I'm innocent. I had nothing to do with it because I don't have anything to do with those records. Draper doesn't have to prove that they didn't do something. You've got to go prove that there was a conspiracy and that these things were offered.
What are you going to do, and so forth? You didn't have any proof. You've just been lashing out." But, anyhow, the information I was looking for was in those early writings.
I don't need a copy of them. If I just know where they are and can look at them.
ALEXANDER BROWN: The MIT Museum has them. As I said, they're in circulation in the library.
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, why is it I never was able to find them? I wonder if some of my early stuff is in there too.
ALEXANDER BROWN: It might not be under your name. You just have to be a little imaginative when you search for it, because sometimes it's not cataloged properly.
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, the lab didn't have them. They were going to be searching their warehouse, and then they discovered that all the stuff in their warehouse that occurred before 1970, unless somebody wanted it, was thrown out, destroyed. So if they had anything that I was--that would be useful to me for that case, it didn't exist. And MIT claimed they didn't have anything.
DAVID MINDELL: A lot of Draper stuff ended up at the museum.
RICHARD BATTIN: Okay.
DAVID MINDELL: A lot of Draper's personal papers. There was an amazing amount of Apollo stuff there.
RICHARD BATTIN: We regarded it as something that NASA was going to say, "Wow, this is good. And we're going to fund you." And they didn't do it. They gave us some money, and the money was used primarily for computer development. And the little computer that we were working on for the Mars probe turned out to be the Apollo guidance computer, or the grandfather of the Apollo guidance computer.
RICHARD BATTIN: What is it I started to say? Oh, about the Mars probe, that they-- The little space that--you've seen it, haven't you, the little wooden model?
ALEXANDER BROWN: That is the one that's hanging in the Draper Lab?
RICHARD BATTIN: Yes, that's the one. There was only one. And we had a box that it just fit into to carry it to Washington, or anybody who had the money and wanted to fund this thing. And, of course, the computer, the size of it was determined and the idea of the core rope and all of that was all part of that little computer.
A digital computer, certainly a general purpose computer, had never even been put into any missile or what have you. The Polaris had a computer but it was not all digital. It was an analog-digital thing. Some things were done digitally, but it certainly was not general purpose. So that was a major achievement for that. And NASA, I guess, felt that it was and kept us working until we got the job.
ALEXANDER BROWN: Who was working on that project?
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, the computer was Hal Laning and Al Hopkins and Ramon Alonso. We didn't have any money. The money we got from NASA for six months was $50,000. You couldn't even buy coffee and donuts today for that money. So they wouldn't support. Our original source of money was the Air Force ballistic missile trials we were working on. And the reason we use money there was because they had a little clause in the contract that said that you could use up to a certain amount of money to do whatever you want to as long as it's relevant to guidance, like an R and D thing
And so we interpreted that to mean that we could work on space flights. I remember very much that little period there where we were working on something which, I would say, nobody is going to really fund this. And the world is going to pass us by. And I'd wake up worrying what's going to happen? And then all of a sudden the first thing you know, we got the Apollo job.
DM: Was that a surprise when it came in?
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, we were involved with the space task group, and had been to some of their meetings, and we didn't know whether there was ever going to be a project. I mean, if we're going to go to the moon. And when Kennedy said we're going to go, then great. But I hope we're on board. And it turned out that just eleven weeks after Kennedy's speech we were signed up as the first contractor, prime contractor, for the Apollo program.
ALEXANDER BROWN: How did that come about?
RB: There is the story about Webb and Draper being good friends, and the story that Draper always told. Bob Seamans is the guy to talk to because he'll tell you his version of it. You probably saw that Bob Chilton was the head of the Guidance Unit at Langley in Norfolk. He was impressed by the fact that we had worked on navigation for which would be self-contained. That was very important and it was a requirement that it be self-contained, because the Russians might really fight unfairly and try to screw up any transmissions, radio transmissions to the spacecraft. It had to be able to navigate by itself. And that's what we were working on.
So Chilton gave me his own copy of memo that he had written, it was classified--everything was classified--recommending that the Draper Lab, or the Instrumentation Laboratory, be selected for doing this, because, he says, "They're already doing it and they're way ahead of everybody and anybody else." So I don't know what the real story is.
ALEXANDER BROWN: Did Draper know about this work you were doing?
RICHARD BATTIN: Oh, he was so ecstatic. He knew. But, no, his major activities was his gyro development. And he had enough confidence, particularly in Hal Laning and the rest of us that, "Do what you want. If you can get support, great." But, I was going to say about how he and Jim Webb worked this out between them. I think everything is true that he knew Jim Webb. But I don't know the story which is the way Doc Draper would tell the story.
DAVID MINDELL: Was there a sense at the laboratory, then, about the work that they had done in the previous 10 or 20 years and the Second World War work and prior control work that they had done? That's something that you were aware of as a student who came in in the '50s?
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, in those days the laboratory was not really much of a laboratory. It was Doc Draper designing flight instruments and having some students wire stuff together, and he'd put it in his own little airplane and go out and try them out.
I joined the lab in '51. I think there were 200 people there including everybody, not just professionals. It was very small. And the laboratory had one requirement, which was that we could not bid on jobs. We had to be sole-sourced. So the fact that we got the guidance job meant that we were chosen. We didn't bid on it.
And when it was all over and we were talking with Bill Tindall about our future, he said, "Look," he said, "with the space shuttle," he said, "You guys will have something to do with it. But you won't be able to do what you did in Apollo. You won't be in charge and it won't be your system." "Even though," he said, "I figure you're the best ones." But he said it couldn't happen. There's no way we could justify sole-sourcing when there's always companies that are in the same business, and we'd hear from their senators immediately if we tried to give that job to the lab. So that was kind of discouraging for this period of time, though, when we were prime contractor, and to realize that that was the end. Our laboratory would never get a job like that again.
ALEXANDER BROWN: Even from the Air Force?
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, from the Air Force, but not from something that-- I mean, sure, we could work for the Air Force on the secret stuff. Nobody would complain about that. But they were very careful-- After the thing first started they were very careful to make sure that everything connected with Apollo was unclassified. As I say, when it first started, everything was classified, including a little memo about our self-contained activities on what we thought was on a classified project.
And then, of course, we'd put in the Centaur data, and that immediately put everything under lock and key. So I thought that I would never see that report which you have found.
ALEXANDER BROWN: You had said you were looking for support. Was that part of lab culture that if you had a project that you were interested in you had to go look for support?
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, yeah. This was the first one that I was ever involved in where we were starting something. My early experiences of the backup guidance system for the Atlas was this was a job--in fact, it was a backup system that we were working on for the Q(?) system. They could ask us to do that. It wouldn't be something that you would compete necessarily, because it wasn't a big project and it was-- We were into the self-contained business, and that's what they were looking for as a backup. The original ICBM's were going to be radio controlled until suddenly, somebody with some sense said, "Hey, you know, that may not be a good idea if you're trying to fire these things at an enemy and the only way you can communicate with it is vulnerable to his interference."
So if it had been the primary system we probably wouldn't have had the job because there would be other people looking at it, too.
ALEXANDER BROWN: Were you unusual as a mathematician until then?
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, Hal Laning was a mathematician. He did his undergraduate work in chemical engineering at MIT. And I did my undergraduate work in EE. The only reason I wound up in the Math Department was because when I came back for graduate work, I wanted to teach. I wanted to stand up in front of a class and teach.
And my friends in the EE Department said, "Hey, we can offer you a lab assistant." I said, "I don't want to do that. I want to teach this." He said, "You can't do that here. He said, "But, if you want go to the Math Department, there you could do it." So they walked me down the hall and introduced me to the head of the department. So he said, "Yeah, you can teach Freshman Calculus. So if they had offered me Freshman Calculus in the EE program I probably would not have flinched. It was just because I really wanted to teach.
ALEXANDER BROWN: Did you consider yourself an engineer then among all these engineers at the lab?
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, I was an engineer in the sense that-- The kind of work that Hal and I were doing was engineering, but we were looking for guidance techniques and navigation techniques which would have to be implemented with hardware. But conceptually the thing we were interested in was not the final way of putting it all together. Though Hal was more into that than I was. In fact, he and Ray Alonzo really designed the computer and came up with the idea of the core rope.
ALEXANDER BROWN: The extra money from NASA ... the transition from Mars to Apollo. Once you got the contract in 1961 for Apollo. Since that's the ... (inaudible) more people ... (inaudible)
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, you would think so. But we had a hell of a time even talking to people in the laboratory to transfer out to come to work for our little-- We finally did get some people, but primarily by a little pressure, Draper saying, "Hey, you know, these guys need help. Help them." But we didn't have people wanting to-- I thought we'd be spending a lot of time interviewing people, because the line would be long. We hired a couple of people that were barely qualified and, in fact, turned out to be bad choices. Bad personality wise, but also weren't making any contributions. One or two of them ended up suing the department because, suing the lab, because they didn't get as big a raise as they thought they ought to get. The real reason is that they weren't doing anything. It was useful. So it was not easy to get going.
ALEXANDER BROWN: So you had to hire people from outside?
RICHARD BATTIN: Yeah. But eventually, when we were really under--as they explained in that little paper, we really solved our problem by hiring companies to come send 30 or 40 people to come live with us and be assigned tasks to do in various aspects of programming the guidance computer. All of the guidance systems which we built, hand-made the first one or two copies of, were actually built by Raytheon, but built to our specifications and our design. So, there were a lot of people working but they weren't wearing the MIT hat.
DAVID MINDELL: You said that you were really the simultaneous inventor of the Recursive Estimator?
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, that is described in this chapter here only to the extent that-- I didn't know anything about Kalman and there's this little thing which came out of the--one of the papers that's referenced here. This little bit of math here is really the basis of a recursive formulation of the guidance system. And, then I say, unbeknownst to me at the time Rudy Kalman was also addressing the estimation problem from more generality. His papers were very hard to read. He purposely made them that way; I don't know why.
But, it was about a year after that that I learned about Kalman from Stan Schmidt. They were implementing what best they could figure out from Kalman, at the Ames Research Center, which is NASA. They told Jim Miller and I to try to explain what Kalman's thing was. Well we really had a maximum likelihood formulation. It looks like it's pretty much the same as this. And I said "We've tried to prove that it was" and I said, "Well, let's do it recursively by making one measurement at a time using our system and see if you get the same results that you do. Sure enough we did. So I found out we were really doing the same thing and Kalman's paper was, as I say, was published within a month of this.
It turns out, especially the way I teach my course now, it turns out that this whole thing was what Gauss would have done if he had felt a need for it. The system is nothing but the least recursive formulation of least squares. And we didn't know that at the time we were doing it, but it became apparent later on that that's what it was all about.
I had a nice little thing happen to me this summer. They had a new award called the Guidance Navigation and Control Award; it's given every other year. And I got it this year. It's only the second time it's been awarded It's very new. -- Art Bison got the the first -- Do you know Art Bison? He's a Stanford professor. But he was the first recipient. As I say, I didn't know anything about it until I found that I've been selected for it. And what I didn't realize is they made a big deal out of this in that they had Art Bison present me the award, and had a few things to say and then I had a few things to say. And it turns out that the next time this happens is to be two years. I've got to introduce the new recipient.
And when he was talking finally about me, he mentioned this-- We were poking fun and he said, he mentioned the fact that-- He said probably it ought not to be called a Kalman Filter. It should be called the Kalman-Busey-Battin Filter. I knew he didn't really think that, but it was nice to have him say it.
DAVID MINDELL: Did you build on earlier estimation work?
RICHARD BATTIN: No. Hal and I were doing-- Well, the thing which is in that early paper, which-- the "Navigation Theory for Round-trip Reconnaissance Missions to Venus and Mars" by Laning and Batton. That was done in August of 1959. That was really the way we had been thinking of doing the Mars Probe. It was clear that when the Apollo thing came up, that we could not count on--we hadn't even thought about it at the time--pre-planning the mission to the extent that was required to get values for some of the matrices that appear in there.
The only way our little Mars Probe would have worked is if we could know exactly when we were going to launch this thing. A lot of preliminary numerical work to get the stuff to go. So it was not well thought through until we had to face up to how are we going to this on Apollo. And there's no way in our little computer that we're going to be able to save up measurements and try to massage all six dozen measurements and to come up with a knowledge of where we are and how fast we're going. We just can't do that. So that's what got me interested in trying to do the thing recursively.
DAVID MINDELL: Because there were so many decision points?
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, not just that. But we knew that you couldn't pre-plan an Apollo mission and wire a core rope saying that we're going to go on such and such a day at such and such an hour and, if you don't, then we've got to get some new data. I mean, the data is wired into the computer. And we each can't do it this way.
I had sleepless nights trying to figure out what--now that we've got this job to do, how were we really going to do it? And that was the idea of doing it in the recursive fashion and also doing it where the reference-- We were also on the reference trajectories until suddenly it occurred to me that we really don't need a reference trajectory. All we need is our current estimate of where we are. And that's the reference trajectory.
ALEXANDER BROWN: The ground navigation data would be on board there, that was done on the ground?
RICHARD BATTIN: The only time that that was done for real was the first time we ever really did the navigation as the prime. We wanted to try out. After we were successful we were able to convince NASA that they did need to navigate instead of doing it self-contained. We said, "We don't need to do that because we can do it all from Houston. They've got big computers. We've got radars around the world. We don't need that stuff."
And they said, "Well, wait a minute. What if something happens and the guys are out there and you can't communicate with them?" "Oh, I guess we better leave that stuff in there." And then it was tried out for the first time on Apollo 8. And Lovell was the navigator, and he made the measurements. The computer navigated to the moon and home, and even though there were updates because they had to update state vectors if they going to do velocity correction. But, other than those everything was-- Everyone agreed that we didn't need that ground data at all.
DAVID MINDELL: It was said by the other group that we've interviewed that they felt the Apollo 8 was as much of an accomplishment as Apollo 11.
RICHARD BATTIN: Yeah. Said so in my paper too. That was really exciting.
ALEXANDER BROWN: A lot of them said that Apollo was the technical high point. But from there on, there was still a lot of work.
RICHARD BATTIN: Oh, absolutely. The program could have ended, would have ended-- In fact, everybody was very sure that Apollo 13 would be the last flight; we'd never get those guys back and you might as well forget it. We'll never go to the moon again. In fact, I think that's why they stopped. They had three more flights that they could have done. I think they stopped because all we're going to do-- Every time we go we're jeopardizing people's lives. And that's okay. We've always done that. But now maybe we should quit while we're ahead. Don't wait until you do kill somebody.
ALEXANDER BROWN: Did this profession change quite dramatically after Apollo?
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, the Apollo Program was only a part of the laboratory. I mean, it changed for the NASA group. But, as I also pointed out in there, that just right after Apollo 8 all of those people who you named left--Fred Martin, Jim Miller, John Miller. All the people bailed out. They wanted to go capitalize on the fact that Apollo 8 was a success, and now is the time for us to get out of here while we have a reputation, because if we try to land on the moon and it doesn't work, then we don't have a reputation; we have a bad reputation, so-- They never said any of this, but we suspected that was the case. They wanted to go out and start a company while they didn't have to try to explain why we didn't land on the moon because we screwed up. Oh, I didn't know you had seen all those people.
ALEXANDER BROWN: Where did your career go after Apollo?
RICHARD BATTIN: All of a sudden I became somebody who was, nobody ever said anything, but it was-- You can do anything you want to do. You don't have to be-- So I did. I did. I did a lot of research papers that-- Sometimes I felt guilty, like, you know, I'm really working on something that I was getting paid to do but I am working on something that I'm very interested in. There was nothing written down. It was all whatever came to me.
Nobody ever said, "What are you working on? Why is that important? And what has that got to do with what the lab is doing?" I was just lucky. There's people that told me. I said, I had all the freedom of a professor without any of the obligations. So I was very very fortunate.
DM: What was your sense-- What's the direction of the lab? I mean, many of the people we spoke to, who are quite a bit younger than you, during Apollo, they said, "You know, it was the first job that I ever did. It was by far and away the most interesting thing I've done. And after that-- I mean, Eldon Hall will speak quite eloquently about what he saw at the lab and what he was involved in, and never seemed to quite get the same level of intensity that Apollo did.
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, it's probably the same sort of feeling as the astronauts. "I've worked, I've trained and I've been to the moon. Now what am I going to do?" I mean, Buzz Aldrin, I think, has the biggest problem with that. He became an alcoholic, which he isn't any more.
Well, it's like George Bush, when he's no longer President, he's still a young man, "What am I going to do?" I don't think in his case that that's a big problem. But I'm sure that Clinton probably feels that way. "I can't aspire to be President any more."
ALEXANDER BROWN: You didn't feel that way?
RICHARD BATTIN: Well, no. I would have if I hadn't done all the stuff that I had put in there. I mean, I just started writing my book and stuff and making contributions to things that I was interested in. And nobody ever said, "Hey, you're not being paid to do that." Nobody said stop. And I was doing what I like to do, and I thought I was making a contribution because all the people seemed to be using my stuff that was going out.
DAVID MINDELL: When you were working with the astronauts either as a teacher or in the design-operation stages of Apollo, was there any tension about the issue about automation and how much the guidance should be automated versus what role the astronauts should have in the system?
RICHARD BATTIN: One that I remember specifically was Pete Conrad. Pete Conrad was--he was a very humorous guy and very much not someone you would expect to really be an astronaut. He was very cocky , so he remembered something that I told him--because he repeated it several times to other people. He was talking about the astronauts are not happy with the system. They knew that this system has got to change.
And so I told him a story - something about a plane that had landed and then didn't take off. And they were telling the passengers, "Sorry, we can't go. It's got these problems, dah, dah, dah." So finally they made an announcement on the plane-- They decided they needed to replace some piece of equipment and they said it's going to be very hard to do. So when all of a sudden they announced to the passengers, "We're taking off in an hour," someone said, "Oh, I guess you did replace that equipment." They said, "No. We replaced the pilot, because the pilot didn't want to fly with it.
And so Pete remembered that and he used to tell the story. "If you guys don't want to fly it, you know, it doesn't mean you're in charge. We'll just get somebody else."
site last updated 02-01-2003 by Alexander Brown