A job as a space shuttle astronaut something of a breather? From the family's point of view, that's not far from the truth, according to Dolly Hauck, wife of shuttle pilot and commander Frederick Hauck. ``Actually, we looked on going to NASA as a chance to have Rick at home more than he would have been had he stayed in the Navy,'' she says.
When Captain Hauck entered NASA's astronaut training program in 1978, the Navy's peripatetic life style was about to close in on the family, explains Mrs. Hauck. ``He was reaching the point in his career when he would have been leaving probably once every year for a few years, and at that time our children were teen-agers -- and that would have been more difficult, perhaps, for them than having their father as an astronaut.''
Her husband, who strikes one as the solid, quietly competent kind of individual we'd all like to have at the controls of our jetliner, says the whole family was a little sad to leave their Washington State home on an island in Puget Sound for the humid, skyscrapered environs of Houston, where NASA's space program is headquartered.
Now, seven years later, daughter Whitney is married and son Stephen is a sophomore at Tufts University in this Boston suburb, alma mater of both his parents. At the time of our interview, the Haucks were back at their old campus to take part in ceremonies honoring Captain Hauck as an outstanding alumnus. They had swooped into Boston on the way home from a tour of Europe.
So what are the challenges, and benefits, of having a husband and father who is sometimes in orbit, literally?
``They [the children] have had some opportunities that perhaps they wouldn't otherwise have had. Certainly I have,'' remarks Mrs. Hauck. She then adds, with barely hidden enthusiasm, ``I had tea with Prince Charles last week. How many people have done that?''
Aside from travel and meetings with prominent people, there are the hours of vicarious space travel put in by spouses of astronauts. When Rick is on a mission, she says, ``It's a combination of being excited and nervous -- enjoying it and at the same time being very glad when it's over.''
During the first of Captain Hauck's two flights in the shuttle, during June of 1983, he was the pilot, and ``because he was a crew member as opposed to the commander of the mission, I felt extremely confident,'' she recalls. The second flight, last November, was a different matter. Her husband commanded that mission, and as a longtime ``Navy wife'' Mrs. Hauck knew he bore the responsibility of success or failure.
Part of that responsibility involves the tricky task of landing the shuttle, which at that point in its flight is essentially ``a glider,'' explains Captain Hauck.
His wife, too, was well aware of the challenge of landing the craft, and during the mission it occurred to her that one of the flight's goals, the retrieval of two nonfunctioning satellites, would mean that ``you come back with a heavier load than you normally come back with. And I thought, oh boy . . .!'' But, naturally, she says, the folks at NASA had thought of this before she had and had programmed the space vehicle accordingly.
Retrieval of those failed satellites was a first-ever attempt at salvage in space, with considerable money and prestige resting on its success.
``There was a lot of pressure on everybody, the crew and the spouses,'' Mrs. Hauck recalls. From the commander's point of view, it boiled down to seeing a duty and carrying it out, whatever the odds.
``During the mission I can't say that I was concerned about it,'' says Captain Hauck, with unaffected calm. ``You take it each step at a time. But I was concerned before launch that the possibility of not bringing back those satellites could be looked upon as a failure. It was entirely possible that we would not bring back both of them.''
They did, of course, and the kudos rang from Mission Control at Houston all the way to staid corporate headquarters of Lloyds of London, which had insured one of the satellites. Lloyds, in fact, acted as host to the Haucks on their recent weekend in England, in thanks for the millions of dollars the firm saved when the satellite was shepherded safely back to earth.
The just-completed trip to Europe was one of a number the Haucks have taken as representatives of the US space program. After the '83 mission, they toured eight countries in Europe with astronaut Sally Ride and her husband. ``Then Dolly and I, along with another member of that crew and his wife, went to Indonesia. We had carried an Indonesian satellite into orbit,'' says Captain Hauck. From there it was Japan, then Hong Kong.
From their travels, the Haucks have concluded that, as he puts it, ``Space has more or less a universality to it. I found it throughout the United States, and in every place I've been overseas. It's the frontier spirit. Everyone is caught up in it, doing new and different and exciting things.''
Mrs. Hauck thoroughly enjoys accompanying her husband on these earthly goodwill missions, but she thinks it's important to recognize that the role of an astronaut's wife has changed as the role of women generally has evolved. Now, she says, many of the wives go to school or pursue their own careers. A career in real estate (a ``top producer'' in her office, her husband interjects proudly) makes many demands on her own time and energies.
``It's a question of being necessarily independent and having your own interests -- which are probably more important when you're married to an astronaut, perhaps, than when you're not . . . because it could so totally encompass you so that you could feel like you had no other identity than being . . . part of the entourage.'' And, she adds, ``I'll never be good at that.''
With the regularity of shuttle flights (there have been 15 to date), is it possible that having an astronaut in the family will eventually become a relatively ho-hum matter?
``I don't think it will. It's been two times now, and I don't think I will ever be blas'e about it,'' says Mrs. Hauck.
And the astronaut himself -- is it old hat to him?
``Going into space the second time, it was nice to build on the experience of the first time. There was no longer any uncertainty as to how I would react to the space environment.'' He pauses a moment, then adds, ``People might be concerned about whether I got sick or felt horrible -- what's it really like? The second time you're doing it, you can pass those concerns to the side and concentrate on fun aspects -- and even on enjoying yourself.''