Musgrave: I think it’s a heck of a fun thing to do. Exploration is drama—it’s human drama. [Space tourism] is a theme park ride, it’s a very high-altitude theme-park ride. It is entrepreneurial, and you’ll get some new technology out of it.
A&S: Who impresses you? It could be a historical figure or someone alive today.
Musgrave: I’ve got lots of people—[Wernher] von Braun was one of them. He’s maybe my ultimate space hero, because he read science fiction. He was a dreamer, and he was an incredible communicator. His vision was unbelievably large. From his teen years on, he was loyal to spaceflight—that’s what he wanted to do. And he pursued it through the doctorate in physics. The dramatic story of him and 118 Germans coming to this country in 1945, and eventually the fact that our moon program rested on that man’s shoulders—it’s just unbelievable. I got to know him well, personally and professionally. He was a charismatic presence. If you were within 100 yards of him, you felt him.
A&S: You’ve flown on six space shuttle missions. Did being in orbit ever start to feel routine?
Musgrave: No. I was relaxed, but you don’t miss a minute that you can [be looking out] the window up there. You cannot get enough of Mother Earth. Now you’re looking at the heavens too: the stars, the aurora, and shooting stars. Mother Earth is the most powerful image. And you can’t get enough of playing in an environment you were not evolved to be in. It’s the art of the mission: how smooth you can pull it off one day after another. How smooth you can get things done. Not in a compulsive way. But it got better every minute—every flight got better. I got better too.
A&S: In what way did you get better?
Musgrave: Being able to conduct spaceflight—what I could get done up there. I flew in my forties, flew in my fifties, flew in my sixties. But I was also a communicator at Mission Control for 25 missions. I understood that world. I flew with 27 different astronauts. I flew with 17 rookies. Spaceflight is not reflexive—it’s not kick the tires and light fires. It’s a very complicated artistic business—being good. So experience pays off. You have to like the space business, not just the flying [on the shuttle].
A&S: Why did you write a book about the T-38?
Musgrave: When I joined NASA 43 years ago, I looked at the airplane, and I said it’s the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen in my life. And that’s why it’s successful, that’s why it’s being extended by the Air Force. You can’t improve upon it, because you can’t come up with something that’s more beautiful. I looked at that and said, “My goodness. This is my machine.”
A&S: Are there any aircraft that you wanted to fly but didn’t get a chance to?