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tv   After Words  CSPAN  August 27, 2014 8:09pm-8:57pm EDT

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and they said you can invite anybody because the wheels are coming down from nbc in new york and finally they called and said you can invite three astronauts. so i invited neal and john glen and they were in the book and went through jungle training together and that is where their friendship started. alan shepherd was dead so i could not invite him. i invited edgar mitchell and all three came. neal didn't go anywhere but he came down and he and john earlier asked me to come up to cleveland and key note what they call the 500 club in space. their 50th and they had all 19.
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>> that was a relationship you established earlier on. at least after the 1964. he was flying and the slowest
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person ever to answer you. we have a great chapter in the book that involves neal and tom stafford. they were stand offish to the nine like you have to earn your way to the club. they said you need to throw a dinner for them and make it black tie and show them respect.
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he said i will put it together. the first words from stafford's mouth was who is paying for this? tom went to the naval academy. his father had to borrow the money to buy the bus ticket to send him off. neal said the last time that stafford picked up a check she was hitchhiking in europe. they brought in the best of
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wines and when they sat down for dinner, you know, they brought it out and it was supposed to be fried veal with potatoes. and his was fried card board when it came out. and potatoes were you know stinking and the salads were sitting in the sun. are you old enough to remember the turtle club? >> host: i was reading about that the other day. are you a turtle and you had to answer. >> guest: if you didn't you had to buy everybody a drink if you
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didn't answer. >> host: why was he chosen as one of the nine? what were the qualitys he had? >> guest: neal went on this training program and i forget the name of the admiral. he got a scholarship and part of the naval rotc program but it was a special program. it is in the book. we got it right in the book. but anyway, he had gotten in and was supposed to spend two years at purdue and then go for a years training and come back and send the second year at purdue.
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the navy needed pilots and pulled some out and went to training. he went over as a fighter pilot mid shipment. he didn't have his wings but had bars. he was in combat 2-3 months before he got them. september 3rd, 1951 he was born august 5th, 1930. he was that much over his 21st birthday. they went on a run in korea and when they went down for the second pass on the bridge he released his last bomb. he was flying the wing of major john carpenter who was on loan
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from the air force for the nav navy. he was on division lead and as neal came up here was this anti-air craft cable. it took off half of the right wing. he had to fight to keep it going and went 350 knots and 25 feet off the ground. he told me you don't want to do the knots off the ground but me managed to nurse it back up. but he could not land on the carrier because he could not slow it down enough without rolling. he could not get it under 170 knots so john carpenter stayed and nursed it back to d-3. he was picked up by a flight and
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they got him back. when the navy put out the story, they put out he hit a cable. a wire to a power pole. and it took about three feet of his wing tip. he kept trying to get it changed. neal didn't work too hard but he d did not talk much. it wasn't about ego for him. stars and stripes did a story and he just said to me i brought this up and i used the navy version and i said about three feet neal and he said six to eight feet and it was an anti-aircraft cable. so we talked about that and other things that happened on
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the landing we didn't know about. he and i closed the bar together. he said i would like to have the facts known on that. and i said the book we have been talking about obviously the opening chapter and we are talking about your life of flight. not your whole life but your life of flight so i said that would be the perfect opening chapter. i sat down wrote it, sent to to neal, he checked and like it and i said that is the opening chapter. but i could not bring him to the computer because the man couldn't brag on himself. he looked at me and said you are one of us. we got the emmy for the landing even. he said you do it on your own. you are a pilot.
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and i said i could not ever carry your lunch box. >> host: the family said this was the authorized biography? >> guest: no, what happened. are you familiar with growlers? that is rough edition of the book and you can pick out mistakes. i wrote nothing for the jacket of the book. you have publishers that write the grandest things. i think they wrote where was neal's best friend and it was
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all along and i jumped on them and wrote susan weekly who is neal's attorney and she is an attorney for the trust as well and his estate and she is carol, his widow's, attorney. they are a wonderful family but like neal they are private people. and one of the reasons why i don't do autobiographies and anyone with experience like my heroes who taught me what i know said never do a biography because the family will drive you nuts and pick over every
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line. no body in neal's family -- as a courtesy i spent carol the first three chapters and they could look at. it was never a bioography from the beginning. i offered her, i said, carol, you may have any part of the book you wish if you would like to join me and i said the same thing to rick and mark and they didn't want to of course. i don't know if they thought how good a chance i had of getting the publisher i have. but i have been sending them everything and any question they asked and i think mark called up and sent me an e-mail saying he
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resented the line that i said we talked about this for 20 years and i said we can change that but i go back and i said 1992 your father wrote the introduction of moon shot and was paid by michael reagan of turner publishing. he was going through the divorce at the time and i didn't think he wanted to do it. i looked at him and said neal you will do the introduction. because we met with michael reagan in atlanta. so we did that and we talked about this other book and were offered two other things. there is a 20-year run of events there where we were physically talking about it. it is still -- there are people
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living that are witnesses to this. i have stacks of e-mails that i still have of our conversation between neal and i. so there is no question about it. i said, mark, if that doesn't sit well with you it is not necessa necessary. >> host: that is not the jacket cover now. >> guest: they still have it at the bottom of one. of 20 years or something. >> host: it looks biographical to me. but i noticed the choice to do one korea story and then move on instead of boyhood. >> guest: i wasn't interested in if his uncle had one wart or two warts on his nose. we wanted to do the man's
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flight. he was extraordinary and i hope this is what we have done. this is a written recreation of an event based on direct observation which where was there for all of it. along with thorough research and documentation. that is a reptaj. another example was capote's in cold blood. we went out there and wasn't there to witness it but was out the there, interviewed the people, got to know the two killers and was with them throughout the process before being hanged. that was his opinion on that and i love harper lee's "to kill a mockingbird" and that is based
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on her life. and truman capote is in there even. >> host: they were childhood friends. >> guest: and another example is tennessee williams "a streetcar named desire" and that was down in new orleans and "marooned". so this is a technique and what you do. you are just re-creating something you have been a part of and witness too. >> host: you are seeing it more as a recreation. >> guest: what i tried to deal with neal is try to get everything correct.
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there is a transcript of every word spoken by him on the apollo 11 mission. there is back channels here also where they talk to flight directors and whatnot that doesn't go on this official air to ground. now he also told me this direct. i have it quoted as closey as you can get it. where i wrote him or have neal told me this or that during the conversations where they talked about him being the commander of apollo 11. i have transcripts from them where he is giving them to me and he and i talked about it. he told me, for example, they saw when going out on apollo 11,
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all three members of the crew saw a flashing flight. it appeared like it was following them. it flashed, go away, come back. so neal thought it was something manmade and he didn't think it was aliens. buzz and mike got carried away with it. when they got back to the quarantine at houston neal called me and said do you have anything? we got stuff for one another. i said yes, that was a very sensitive spy satellite of our national assets and it had rolled over and died but it was still putting out an orbit and
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if the sun was right you would get the flash when it went over. i told him and he told them. let's get off of this. we are sounding like a hollywood guy trying to make an alien movie. >> host: it fuelled the story for sure. back to the flight story, after korea, the f-15 was the next experience. tell the viewers about that. >> guest: neal finished his degree at purdue and when he was out he wanted to go to the predecessor of nasa because they were doing exploration and flight. he wanted to be a research test pilot at edwards.
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he applied but they liked his record and drive but didn't have an opening at edwards but they had one in cleveland. neal applied and went up there with an old dual p-51 and c-47 and forget what the navy calls it. so as soon as that happened, he goes out to edwards and he gets in as a civilian and he flew everything out there and did everything they told him to there. he was copilot and didn't have to be the first banana. he became outstanding in his x-15 flights. people that don't know what that
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is it is a rocket craft. it could take you to the edge of space but the highest he went was 37 nauticals. and he skipped off the top of the atmosphere and came back and when he came back over base he was supposed to be in position and coming down and landing and he was a hundred thousand feet. he was thinking he was almost at the rose bowl but didn't quite get there. he came back and landed it. and they were taking bets and this was after his daughter's death. chris craft, who was a chief flight director of nasa, the mercury program and gemini, was
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with neal at the research group before nasa. they wanted him in mercury and were disappointed they didn't want him. he had every reason to believe he would be chief pilot. but he realized if i go on space as it is going to be on top of a rocket. he was glad to see gemini 9. >> host: i am not sure he had the opportunity to apply in '58.
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>> guest: they did so much behind the scenes and you had so much speculation and it was so hard to cut through that. people came up and said the reason alan shepherd was selected to be the first in space is because he was navy and john f. kennedy was navy but no. this is the type of stuff that gets going. neal was against that totally. this is one of the reasons he steered away from the present.
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he left the program and went to nasa. next door neighbor with ed white who was the first to walk in space. >> host: that was a strong group. i heard other astronauts say they thought the nine was the strongest group. even stronger than the mercury. >> guest: oh, yeah. they were better qualified but the fact that they were in position to do apollo.
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he flew his turn to fly the gemini 8. he not only flew the first docking in space. but then he flew the first emergency return from space. the way he had to handle that because he was on the other side of earth out of contact with mission control. there is a lot going on with commercial space and they are not doing anything different. but you have to get out and explore and do it in increments.
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the biggest problem we have from going beyond the earth is dealing with the radiation. once we are out of the protection we have to learn how to deal with it. people say why don't we go to mars. we don't know how. if we did go ahead and go and send a crew out there they would be battling idiots when they got there. you need something like that that protects you and do it in increments and neal felt like threes. first, don't get further away from three seconds from communication with mission control and three days that you can get back to earth.
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this is what he felt he should be doing and we wrote enough about it. that should be it. what they are doing has been done for 40 years. we have to go beyond space station and neal wanted that. >> host: i want to return to that at the end.
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>> host: tell about the gemini 8 story? >> that was there bridge between mercury and apollo. it came to neal and he flew to
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gemini 8. he worked every way he could to catch the target. no body had done this. this was a big thing. they had problems doing it. it came off like clock work for neal and dave. and we go to dead and good night and they going to go to sleep and everybody is feeling wonderful. they go out of contact with mission control and they are over china on the other side of earth and all of a sudden this space craft starts spinning and it is brought to neal's attention. his gyro is showing them in a bank. so they started fighting this and suspected it was the agina at fault. the speed was greater and greater and they were almost to
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400 reb revolutions a minute and were close to passing out. neal had to make the decision to get off there or they were going it pass out and they were dead. he made it. in order to get enough rocket power to get off of that he had to fire. we have to get it under control and undocked but as soon as they did that they thought that is. they started spinning again. they realized it was gemini 8. they found the culprit.
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>> host: thruster number eight was it. >> guest: yes, they had to bleed that and get it under control and bleed it of its fuel. they had to then -- the rules call were them to land on the next opportunity. the next opportunity is way out in the middle of the pacific. and they had to come in over china and all by themselves, which they did, because they got through a tracking station and talked to mission control a couple times but they were setup and everything was ready and we lost them and heard from them until the plane was over the water. >> host: you didn't know what happened after the retrofire? they were off the plane.
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it was a dramatic mission. the first american space mission to be terminated and cut short because of an emergency in flight. >> guest: and the decision was nade by the astronauts on board because they didn't have much contact with mission control. they were immediately criticized by second-guessers. but whether craft and bob saw -- they thought neal was having trouble with a controller but once they found out it was a stuck open thruster they said he did exactly what we would have
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dope and they were very impressed with him. when he started to land on the moon, a lot of guys didn't want to fly it, but he had i want to learn where i can get help. >> host: describe this crazy looking machine. >> guest: it looked like a four landing patch like what was on the land. and they had thrusters. they tried to stimulate gravity and had a turbo fan rocket in the center. and this would fly and take them off the earth. when it was ready to stimulate the landing they would use just enough of this big turbo fan rocket engine that would control and take care of a five-sixth of
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the gravity and leave them 1/6th which is watt they would have on the moon. but they could not get away from the wind factor. neal was the first in line to fly. he was doing most of the flying and all of this. he was out there one day and he was flying up and the wind was too tough that day but they did it anyway. he lost all control of everything. he was like hundred feet and three seconds off the ground. but we nailed it down and it had never been nailed down. i went back to the guys that were there. i got it and it was in the book. i talked to the guy in charge of
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it and some people said if he was a split second on the ground he would have been killed. he was 2.84 seconds off before he crashed but that is real close. but when it rolled over and he had no control he knew he had to eject. so he ejected and came down and saved his life and the whole nine yards. hi his his aabilityability because was -- his reason for landing on the moon was he had 61 flights in the in that trainer and he told me it was easier landing eagle on the moon than it was
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flying this trainer. anyway, all of that practice and research he put in it really paid off for him because when they were coming down, it turned out the original target was a crater the size of a football field. so he had to actually fly over the surface of the moon, a hundred feet or so off, he was running out of gas and trying to find a smooth place to sit down. when they spotted this he was down below 50 feet, and he had calculated in his mind that as long as he had eagle below 50 feet and if he ran out of gas it was okay. because under 1/6th gravity it would settle down and not destroy itself. when he did touchdown the best calculations were 16 seconds of
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fuel left. it was a close landing. closest of any in apollo. >> host: why was he chosen as the commander? his first assignment because the backup commander and then commander. he never had to be the second pilot. why chosen as a commander for a pollo? >> the chief astronaut asked him to work with him in california. they had more confidence and there was a lot of talk going around they wanted a civilian and didn't want military but that had nothing to do with it. pete konrad would have been the next one and he could have
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handled it. nixson called neal up and said neal, i want you to know that if you have to abort you will get another chance to land on the moon. i don't want you taking chances to land because you think it is your only chance. and neal made the same promise to the other guys. he was smart enough to know after landing on the moon that was it. he wasn't going to get another shot because that is what kennedy did to john glen. after glen flew the first flight he would never have gotten a chance to fly. he is a national hero and you don't risk his life. and glen and kennedy were good friends. >> host: so great skill and also a bit of luck. maybe that the missions lined up
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in order so he would become the commander. >> guest: when deke and them lined it up 11 was to make the first landing. neal got that one. they talked about it when it went up and circled the moon. they talked about it at mission control and frank was backup commander. they talked about it. you know, he asked about the crew. and i called the crew in the book the misfits. they were not beer drinking buddies but as neal said i wasn't looking for buddies to drink beer with. i was looking for the best guys out there and i thought there is no one better at handling the command level.
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and he said in ph' d program he made buzz mad. there was talk about buzz was mad because he wasn't on the moon and didn't take one picture of neil armstrong on the moon. i asked neal about that and he said what the hell are they talking about? i had the camera. buzz had to put up the experiments. i gave buzz the camera for like a few minutes before getting on board and he did take pictures. in fact he took one of me loading rocks and that is what that picture is. it never occurred to them that the president didn't know any better. that is just the way it was. >> host: i thought buzz had a chest mounted camera?
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>> guest: neal it. but neal passed it to him. he had to take it off and give it to buzz and buzz gave it back to him. later on in crews both have cameras because they had longer, you know, moon walks plus the fact they did some missions more than once. >> host: i know there is a lot of discussion about whether buzz resented being displaced and neal going out first. but neal you say didn't think there was much to this. >> guest: what happened was buzz wanted them to talk to the flight group. the flight group was determining who should go out first. it would have been almost impossible for buzz to go out
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first because he would have to come over neal to go out. it made sense for neal to go out first and for him to be the last back in it. but dick slayton's reasoning was simple. buzz was the lunar project. that was the one sitting on the moon. buzz had to monitor all of the systems. the commander could fly both but the commandship and mike collins and buz was first in line on the systems and everything was working fine. so they didn't know because they were used to working with the systems and heavier gravity how the fluids would settle down and if they would stay settled. this was a lot of concern. buzz is playing like a piano to
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get it all settled. it worked out better than they anticipated. they told us a big lie saying when they land we are giving them a four hour resting and sleeping peer. i said you go all that way and you touch down somewhere else other than earth you want to touchdown on the moon and grab dirt to show you were there. i told neal that and he said you are right. >> host: the sleep was planning period? >> guest: to keep the press from saying they have problems here and this and that and playing up the stories. that is why they use that rouge.
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and i did a story on this and put it on nbc and two million hits. today you would never do that again with so many websites but it is a record out there because they came back and read the story. >> host: we are down to four minutes. how did he deal with his fame? obviously some people thought it was better armstrong went out first because he might have dealt with. but it was a hard thing with his personal to be the most famous person on earth for a while. >> guest: it is true. he thought of things. he was totally dedicated and his family knew what he did and
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supported him. family was important to neal. he was trusted down the line to be the father he was. but it is just like he went out and flew an x-15 mission and janet i am told, i don't know this for a fact, but i am told she resented it. i am the same type of person, i don't know about you, but if i have a job to do and i lose a family member and this happened, i don't need to sit around and grieve for 2-3 weeks. i would rather get back to work. and that is the way he was. getting back on the job because he was devoted to what he did and wanted to get everything right. he used to say don't brag about what you can do. show them what you can do. it was this type of work ethic
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they were familiar with and felt like he was the guy were the job. let's say he had to abort landing. they had a great guy, pete conrad, behind him and they would have learned that much more. the only problem they had going down was at 12:01 and 12:03. when mit designed the computers going down. they had a flight control system with the primary and the emergency. they said you can only run one. buzz looked at it and said this is stupid. if i have to switch from primary it the emergency they have to know where i am and i have to run both. that was executive overload and the alarms came out and they read watt it was and went in and
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landed. >> he wasn't very comfortable with being famous. he tried various things. he was on the challenger investigation. >> guest: he was happy on his dairy farm. he was a small town, 6,000 people boy. i am a small town boy and john glen was the same way and we are all three friends close together and doing things. we were not beer drinking buddies. neal and i would wind up going to williards and we would go in and have drinks and we talked about the thinks that small town people -- mike collins was a

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