Joe Kerwin Skylab ShuttleSpace Station

Joe Kerwin had been involved with the Shuttle since completing his Skylab assignments in the mid-1970s and undertook CB technical assignments in the design of the crew station, the controls and medical monitoring equipment. He was also on the selection board for the first group of mission specialists from 1976-78, becoming their first "boss". In addition, he became the lead astronaut for planning in both the operational Shuttle missions following the Orbital Flight Tests, and for the roles and responsibilities of the crew during rendezvous and the deployment and retrieval of satellites using the Canadian-built Remote Manipulator System. According to some sources, Kerwin was an early candidate for assignment on the STS-13 (later redesignated STS 41-C) Solar Max mission, but before the crew could be announced, he was named as NASA's senior science representative in Australia. He returned to JSC in January 1984 and became Director of the Space and Life Science Directorate, a position he held for the next three years.

In his 2000 Oral History, Kerwin remarked: "I can't think of anything spectacular to tell you about those years. Everything went pretty much routinely, waiting for space station. Waiting for a flight on Skylab, at least from my perspective, that was the big thing. We were very happy when [President Ronald W.] Reagan announced the permanent presence in space in 1984, authorising NASA to begin the process of developing a space station. I think we have not progressed in the most stellar fashion in the last sixteen-and-a-half years. We should be there by now.''1 Expressing his disappointment at not seeing a permanent American space station in orbit by 2000, Kerwin stressed that he was not blaming the administration or leadership, but rather the promotion of the station. This was a major new space project, and the agency had tried to broaden cooperation with new partners, expand their objectives and develop a station that was "all things to all people.'' But they could never quite get control of the schedule and budget. Kerwin believes that NASA might have done it had it not been for the loss of Challenger two years into the space station programme. The combination of trying to recover from Challenger and delivering a space station was too much in too short a time frame. At the time of Kerwin's interview, it was still six months before the first resident crew would be launched to ISS. Despite the involvement of the Russians since 1993, there were still significant hurdles to overcome before ISS could truly be seen as the next step after Mir, or even Skylab.

Kerwin would be involved with ISS, but not from within NASA. In April 1987, he retired from the US Navy with the rank of captain and also resigned from NASA, accepting a position with Lockheed Missile and Space Company (based at their Houston office) as chief scientist for the space station project. He became manager of EVA systems at Lockheed between 1987 and 1990 then manager of Manned Systems Programmes until 1998, when he joined Wyle Laboratories (also in Houston) as Senior Vice President for Life Sciences, Systems and Services. Wyle is a support contractor for the medical effort at JSC, and as Kerwin explained, "My people are the extra hands and feet for the research laboratories, the medical operations and training, the medical equipment development, and building the crew healthcare system and exercise hardware for Space Station. So I'm now (2000) a supporter, a contractor rather than a manager at NASA, but still on the team, still helping the space station to get on with it."

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