Looking back

Thirty-six years have now passed since Curt Michel resigned from NASA, but several issues can still ignite deep-seated feelings of disappointment and even resentment. For one, he is grossly unhappy with several assertions made about him and his work in Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham's autobiography, especially the implication that he was given, according to Cunningham, "the astronaut equivalent of firing.''

"Absolutely not true!" was Michel's retort, referring to these comments as "Walt's repetition of office gossip.'' He also spoke about his wife Beverley's dislike for his involvement in the space programme. "She figured I'd just get myself killed and she'd end up getting the shabby treatment from NASA that the actual widows have experienced. It didn't help that things just dragged along and she wasn't an officer's wife used to being part of a second tier support group. I heard about this constantly, but after [Duane] Graveline's experience, no one was inclined to discuss doings at home.''

Years later, having returned to Rice full time, Michel was prepared to pass up a much higher paying job in order to stay in academia. But when he joined NASA in 1965, he had found that there was an immediate and ongoing financial imposition, particularly for the scientist-astronauts. "When I joined, NASA assigned me to a GS grade that paid almost exactly what Rice did. After about two years of tiny automatic rises I asked what was needed to get a real raise and I was told I needed to fly in space! That was the pattern with the military guys: whenever they returned from a flight the president gave them a raise in rank.''

Michel is also convinced that his resignation had a lot to do with a scientist-astronaut finally being selected to an Apollo lunar mission. "Joe Engle was originally assigned to the seat that Jack Schmitt ended up with. This was pretty ironic because Joe was a pretty good friend of mine and Jack might never have gotten the flight had I not resigned. The National Academy was supposed to be looking after us scientists, but those big shots weren't going to spend much time worrying about day-to-day working conditions at NASA. However they had to pay attention when you slam the door behind you. It got their attention before NASA managed to launch every last Apollo mission without a scientist on board. I'm not sure Jack ever realised this.''

On the question of his relationship with NASA these days, he is openly succinct. "Did you know I've never been invited to any NASA celebration of the space program? Some flunky probably wrote a note in my file claiming I was an 'enemy' of the space program because I had resigned. Engineers can come and go, but not astronauts.''

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