Scientist-Astronauts' Dissatisfaction Surfaces

The scientist-astronauts had kept out of the public discussions of whether pilots or scientists should draw assignments to lunar missions. But in the year and a half after the first lunar landing they grew increasingly restive and their discontent became known within NASA. In January 1971, Associate Administrator Homer Newell spent a day in Houston, privately hearing two or three scientists at a time air their grievances. Practically all of them said, in effect, that they could not keep up their scientific competence under the existing organization and leadership of the Astronaut Office. Most of them expressed no animosity toward Deke Slayton; they simply thought his criteria for crew selection were wrong. He gave no consideration to the scientific activity that most of them had tried to work into their schedules. Even among the pilots, proficiency in science seemed unimportant: one nonscientist who was regarded as the best geology student on his crew was designated command module pilot and thus would never set foot on the moon. They were almost all pessimistic about prospects for science on Skylab and Shuttle unless something was done to change the way crews were selected. Yet none of them felt that resigning in protest was a good way to change the system, and none wanted to leave the astronaut corps.69

Newell jotted down a few points after the meetings that he would later incorporate into a list of recommendations to Administrator James C. Fletcher: that a change in the method of and responsibility for selecting crews should be considered; a geologist should be assigned to a lunar mission as soon as possible; and if feasible, two scientists should be assigned to each Skylab mission. In addition the training program should be restructured to allow the scientist-astronauts to give more attention to their scientific careers.70

After reporting his findings to Fletcher - calling them tentative because he had heard only one side of the question - Newell discussed the problem at some length in the following weeks with Dale D. Myers, associate administrator for manned space flight, and Robert R. Gilruth, director of MSC. Gilruth's (and Slayton's) view that lunar missions required the skills of experienced test pilots prevailed. Myers decided he could not "commit casually to the flight of scientist astronauts on an Apollo mission": a failure on a lunar flight could mean the end of manned space flight for a long time. On March 1 Myers advised the Chairman of the Space Science Board, Charles H. Townes, of the conclusions he and Gilruth had reached:

  1. NASA should, if possible, fly a geologist on Apollo;
  2. Dr. Harrison H. Schmitt is our geologist candidate;
  3. Flight crews are normally announced after they have worked together on backup crews, as Jack is now doing on Apollo 15;
  4. If his training continues to progress satisfactorily, . . . and if all other aspects of crew selection are satisfied, he will be chosen for Apollo 17;
  5. We will make that decision in the same time frame as for previous crew selections, which for Apollo 17 will be no earlier than August 1971 (after Apollo 15). I will review our decision with you at that time.71
This was the best Newell could get for the scientist-astronauts. He continued to work to get two scientists on each Skylab mission, but without success.72

So Schmitt's place on a lunar landing mission was assured, barring some highly unlikely occurrence, but the announcement would be another six months in coming. Meanwhile, a month after Alan Shepard and his crew returned from Apollo 14, Slayton named the crew for Apollo 16: commander John W. Young, command module pilot Ken Mattingly, and lunar module pilot Charles M. Duke, Jr., who had trained together for Apollo 13. Young had logged more time in space than any other eligible astronaut,* having flown on Gemini III, Gemini X, and Apollo 10. Mattingly had come within three days of flying on Apollo 13 but had been taken off for medical reasons [see Chapter 11]. Duke, a member of the third class of astronauts chosen in 1966, had not yet had a flight assignment. Veterans Fred Haise, Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell made up the backup crew.73

* Jim Lovell, the record holder for time in space, was not eligible, having announced before the launch of Apollo 13 that it would be his last flight.

69. Homer E. Newell, Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science, NASA SP-4211 (Washington, 1980), p. 210; handwritten notes on meetings with scientist-astronauts, Houston, Jan. 12-13, 1971, in Newell's notebook, box 28 of the Newell files stored in the Federal Records Center, Suitland, Md., accession no. 255-79-0649; Newell to Dr. Fletcher, July 21, 1971.

70. Ibid.

71. Dale D. Myers to Charles H. Townes, Mar. 1, 1971.

72. Compton and Benson, Living and Working in Space, p. 220.

73. NASA Release 71-31, "Apollo 16 Crew Selected," Mar. 3, 1971.

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