Meanwhile I stumbled across another AMA on reddit with the Deputy chief of Television and Radio of the apollo missions, now at age 97, who is also a WWII and korea veteran. Worth reading.
I took out the apollo related parts just for the record:
Hate to be a downer, but what were the weeks after Apollo 1 like? How did everyone react?:
Well, I'm a bad one to ask because I was just transferring to NASA, I had just gotten out of the army, when the first Apollo burned up. But yes, people were going crazy ape. Understandable. My wife and I arrived the night of a big party and the owner of the establishment came out very disturbed telling us there was an accident at the cape. And this thing was never going into space. And people kept asking me questions and I knew no answers. I was brand new. But we were getting these phone calls from all over the world. And so what I did was put my wife on the television and had her bring me the information while I was on the phone. I got my answers from TV and the people on the phone got the answers from me. I don't remember getting to sleep for another two days after that.
What do you remember about Apollo 13? Did you think they would make it back?:
No. But they did. Jim Lovell and Tom Hanks visited here in Washington after the movie was made, and I met up with Jim Lovell again. As it happens, Jim Lovell was President of the National Eagle Scout Association, and we met at the National Press Club because they were promoting the movie. Jim recognized me from NASA. I told him that I hadn't slept for about seven days while he was coming back.
All the engineers and everybody else at NASA in Houston were working hard at recovering the moonshot, and they were in real trouble, weren't sure they could get it back. They got a phone call from a grad student at MIT who said he knew how to get them back. They put engineers on it, tested it out, by God it worked. Slingshotting them around the moon. They successfully did. They wanted to present the grad student to the President and the public, but they found him and he was a real hippy type - long hair and facial hair. NASA was straight-laced, and this was different than they expected, so they withdrew the invitation to the student. I think that is a disgrace.
What was your favorite moment during the Apollo missions?:
My favorite moment? I think it was Armstrong landed on the moon with that silly remark. And he insists he didn't give that silly remark, but I listened to it and listened to it and listened to it, and he did.
Also, another story. When they got to the moon, Armstrong was the first one on the moon, and Aldrin passed the camera down to Armstrong. When we got pictures back at 4 o'clock in the morning, everybody wanted them for the newspapers and magazines. I had a whole photographic lab standing by to prepare the stuff for issuance. Problem was, I didn't know who was who because everybody looked the same in the space suits. But I figured Aldrin passed the camera to Armstrong, so the famous picture of the astronaut by the flag, I figured had to be Aldrin. So that's who I said it was. When Aldrin came back, he told me no, first thing Armstrong did was pass the camera back to me. So that is Armstrong by the flag, not Aldrin. We sent out corrections to everyone, of course, and some people printed the corrections, but most people and newspapers still think it's Aldrin. I suggested that after that they have some distinguishing marks, so since then the mission commander has a stripe on his sleeve. But I always feel like that was my contribution to screwing up history.
Did anyone ever actually say "Houston, we have a problem." ? And if so what was happening?:
Yes, Jim Lovell said it when they had an explosion in the propulsion system.
Ask your grandfather to tell us a funny story from his days on the Apollo program.:
Oriana Fallaci, she was a world famous correspondent, particulary a war corespondent, and somebody turned to me and said "Fellaci is coming in, she's going to need a place to stay to sleep, can you find her an apartment?" And I said "hell no! Every apartment in Houston is taken up with hundreds of reporters coming in." And they said "can you help anyways?" and so by god I found her an apartment a mile or two from the plant, a mile or two from NASA. And she fell in love with me. It was a weird situation. And really she was one of those Italians that loved to embrace. The only problem was, I don't think she had a bath in 10 years. And boy, she really stank. Anyways, we had the astronauts being presented to the press in our auditorium, and as the thing went on, Orriana came walking out of the place. She looked at me and said"they are not men, they are machines"... a little while later the Chicago Sun Times came out and made his comment which was funnier - "it's the triumph of the androids."
Any good stories about the crews?:
Ehh some. I stayed out of those things. There was a club called the Turtle club. If somebody said, "Are you a Turtle" you had to answer "You bet your sweet ass I am" or owe them a drink. Paul Haney was the Chief of Public Affairs and he made me a turtle. When one of astronauts was in orbit and his voice was being heard around the world, Paul asked him, "Are you a Turtle?..." The astronaut had to say, "Paul, I'm going to have to owe you a drink."
Are you disappointed with the current state of space exploration?:
Uhh, I don't know. I don't think so. I think that we're still consolidating everything we found out back in '68. It's a long time ago and I don't think they've got everything in line yet. But the next thing NASA has to do is another step forward, Mars, and they have to work that out, and they have to work that out to millions or billions of dollars.