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Joe Engle was a member of the Stafford - Utkin Task Force. This group was responsible for resolving Shuttle-Mir hardware and operations issues during Phase 1. The task force was led by former U.S. Astronaut Thomas Stafford and Academician Vladimir Utkin from Russia.
"The task force itself was chartered initially by the Gore-Chernomyrdin Committee in 1994," said Engle, during his Oral History.
"The actual requirement or the actual impetus came when our role in the Mir mission was expanded from a one-time visit to a series of 7 to 10 missions. It turned out to be 7 missions, but initially the flexibility was given it to be for from 7 to 10 missions. When, I think, the senior management and also even the administrative officials realized that there was going to be that extensive and that deep of an involvement in the operation and participation of crew members from both sides of the ocean on each other's spacecraft, there was a realization that a better understanding of each other's hardware and operation and how we operate was really needed for safety purposes.
"Up until that time, the agreement was that we would worry about all the procedures and the safety and the training up to our side of the docking interface and the Russians would be responsible for everything on their side of the docking interface. That was okay for one mission, but when 7 to 10 missions became the mode of operation, then I think the realization for better understanding was needed, and the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, when they met, when Vice President [Albert] Gore [Jr.] and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin met, they felt that there needed to be a mode of communications perhaps outside of the normal program office line of communications and outside even the administration's line of communication for issues or problems or events that would come up that could benefit from a totally independent top-level type of communications capability with each other. That vehicle should be made up of people who were knowledgeable and competent in operations and hardware of space flight and could understand each other's problems and help arrive at solutions, perhaps from a different perspective than what the program office might be looking from.
"So, the Stafford Task Force was given this responsibility, and of course General Stafford was a natural for it, because he had been extremely respected in Russia's space program, primarily because of the fact that he was the commander of the Apollo-Soyuz mission and had had a number of very good friends, very close friends, in the space business over there, and they respected him and trusted him. So General Stafford was a natural person to lead this group. His responsibilities here with the other businesses that he's associated with and his other obligations here limited the amount of time that he could devote to this and the flexibility of being able to devote, so he asked me to be essentially his deputy or his assistant and to participate in that role or in the capacity," said Engle.
Engle began his career with NASA in 1966, when he was selected as an astronaut. He was the backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 14, and he commanded one of the two crews that flew the approach and landing test flights of the Space Shuttle Enterprise. Engle also commanded STS-2 and STS-51I.
Prior to his NASA career, he served in the United States Air Force and was a test pilot in the X-15 research program. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Kansas.
Joe Engle Oral History (PDF)
U.S. Mir Residents | Astronauts | Cosmonauts | Teams | Oral Histories | Shuttle-Mir Stories
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Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty