IT TURNED OUT to be totally unnecessary for me to manually fly those last two roll reversals. Columbia had been flying like a champ. It has all those sensors: platforms for attitude control, gyroscopes, and accelerometers. Its computers take all the data, assimilate it instantly, and use it to fire thrusters, drive elevons, or do anything needed to fly the vehicle.
They are much faster at this than any man. The orbiter is a joy to fly. It does what you tell it to, even in very unstable regions. All I had to do was say, “I want to roll right,” or “Put my nose here,” and it did it. The vehicle went where I wanted it, and it stayed there until I moved the control stick to put it somewhere else.
WE HAD DONE IT! The whole package. And done it just far better than anyone—including me—imagined. I headed right for the underbelly of the orbiter. There was not one tile missing. Not one! Considering how many human beings worked on that rascal, the complexity of putting those tiles on, and the beating they took, that’s a wonder. It’s the finest bricklaying job that’s ever been done. American workers can do a heck of a job, and the bottom of that vehicle proved it to the world.
People ask me what the space shuttle means. Before I can answer that, we’ll have to make the shuttle operational. A new crew, Joe Engle and Dick Truly, is scheduled to take Columbia up for five days this fall. They will test its handling under less conservative conditions than we did, and their flight will have a pallet of earth-viewing sensors. After two more test flights, the shuttle will be in business. By 1984 there could be 12 shuttle flights a year. As many as 40 a year by 1990.