DATE May 17, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim discuss the making
of their documentary, "Startup.com"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.
Now that the financial world has come off its Internet high, people have
already begun to look back with nostalgia and bewilderment on the '90s and the
heady days of start-ups. A new documentary, "Startup.com," tells the story of
one recent Internet company's rise and fall. The film is directed by Jehane
Noujaim and Chris Hegedus and produced by D.A. Pennebaker. Hegedus and
Pennebaker also collaborated on the 1994 documentary "The War Room," about the
first Clinton presidential campaign. "Startup.com" follows two childhood best
friends, Kaleil Tuzman and Tom Herman as they struggle to make their idea of
linking local government to its constituents via the Internet into a dot-com
success and the consequences their business venture has for their friendship.
Here's a scene from the beginning of the film. Kaleil and Tom have just
started pitching the idea for GovWorks to investors, but already their
relationship is suffering.
(Soundbite of "Startup.com")
Mr. KALEIL TUZMAN: Tom, Kaleil. We need to have a strategy discussion
immediately. I don't care if we--I miss the first data meeting and you miss
the rest of the ...(unintelligible), because we're giving different messages
to different people, and we can't do that. We can't have a meeting with
Strong Capital where we give one message and you walk in the room and say, `I
disagree, I disagree, and this is the other way we're going to do it' kind of
thing. It's really, really painful for me to try to make this successful when
I feel like I have to fight at each juncture, every single day, on the same
issues, man. Please call me as soon as you can on my cellular.
BOGAEV: When I spoke with Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim earlier this week,
I asked Jehane if she thought GovWorks was going to be a winner when they
first started filming.
Ms. JEHANE NOUJAIM (Documentary Filmmaker): Initially, we thought that we'd
be done with this film in six months, and they would be hitting their IPO, and
they'd all become millionaires and they'd be funding our next film and we'd go
get to visit them in their amazing mansions and exotic countries. But that
But the other side of it was we could see pretty early on that it was going
to be an interesting dynamic between Kaleil and Tom, because if you think
about starting a company where you hire all of your friends, and you get
investments from your parents and your parents' friends, and a number of other
people that are important in your life, it becomes a real personal struggle
to make the business successful, and you could tell early on that Kaleil and
Tom were coming from very different places. Kaleil had been trained at
Goldman Sachs, where you say exactly the right thing at exactly the right
time, and was just a very trained business person. And Tom, on the other
hand, would come up with these brilliant ideas, but he'd play devil's
advocate. And he's kind of an artist in a way, and he'd throw them out and
he'd drive Kaleil crazy.
And so really, the first week after Chris and I started filming, you know,
they got into a major argument about needing to stick together as a team. So
we could see early on it was going to be an interesting story between the two
of them. But we also thought early on that they'd be successful, because, you
know, they were such hard workers and such ambitious people on the team.
BOGAEV: Jehane, could you define for us what, exactly, the idea was behind
Ms. NOUJAIM: The idea--and I always joke with ex-GovWorkers today, because
I'm, like, `You guys have all moved on to your other jobs, and I'm still
talking about what the idea of GovWorks is,' you know? It's to facilitate
interactions between local government and its constituents. So it's basically
to build--that's the quote that Chris and I have heard 500,000 times--and what
it is is really putting government online, making a town hall online, so that
you can pay your parking tickets online, communicate with your mayor and this
type of thing.
BOGAEV: Which you would think government would want to do itself, that it
wouldn't need a start-up company to come around and do it for them.
Ms. NOUJAIM: That was what was so frustrating for Tom, because Tom initially
wanted to build an engine to be able to sell to governments. The governments
would be able to brand themselves, you know, like California would use their
engine, GovWorks' engine, but still have a site which looked like California's
site. But then what happened was the mantra of the day was kind of like, `Go
big, be God online, be the first to market,' and they just had to do
everything, and they had to be this GovWorks which all of the, you know,
cities and people were going to go to, to deal with their cities, and that's
where the government just didn't, you know, move fast enough and didn't really
want to have somebody else branding their site.
BOGAEV: So that's where the inflation started, right from the beginning.
Ms. CHRIS HEGEDUS (Documentary Filmmaker): Right. I mean, the idea was, you
know, a little blown out of proportion to what the business plan really was.
But I think a lot of the Internet sites fell into that, because there was such
a push to be the biggest one out there and really claim the space on the
Internet frontier for your idea, and that meant being there first and being
Ms. NOUJAIM: But Chris and I would think, like, `Oh, gosh, this is getting
to be so big and out of control,' but then, you know, we'd sit back, and we're
not business people and we've never been to business school, and then we'd see
all of these people investing millions of dollars into the idea, and then
Kaleil was getting to go sit next to President Clinton, talking about the
digital divide, and you start to doubt yourself. And you're, like, `No, no,
this thing is going to really work, because everybody is supporting it.
Everyone's right there.'
And the VCs were totally proponents of them going really big, so Kaleil would
go out and pitch these ideas and get spurred on from the VCs, and then come
back to Tom and say, `Oh, gosh, this needs to be built, like, yesterday,' and
then Tom would have to run around and change their whole technology, because
it was a changing business plan. So that's where the difficulties started to
BOGAEV: Well, somewhere along the line in all of that, Kaleil eventually
edges Tom out as co-CEO, and the film really focuses on their relationship as
opposed to the ins and outs of the business dealing and the actual building of
this Web site and the application. How did you make that decision as
directors, to focus on their relationship and what you thought it said about
this Internet story?
Ms. HEGEDUS: Well, I mean, we always were more interested in, you know,
rather than in the process, but what the process does to the people that are
involved, so, you know, we were looking at a very personal story, and, you
know, right off, we knew that it was going to be a story about these two
friends, so we kind of stuck pretty closely to watching how their relationship
would go, and, you know, the effects, really of, you know, having to make this
incredible choice of, you know, what to do best for the business or what to do
best for the friendship.
And it became apparent that, you know, it was going to come to some kind of
head at some point, because it was exhausting. It was exhausting for both of
them, and they were kind of in over their head. You know, there was a lot of
unknowns for them, and you could see the strains in the relationship, I think
especially with Tom, who--he actually came on board in the company probably
six months before Kaleil left his job at Goldman Sachs to try to kind of
figure out how to make the transaction engine and different things, and he had
a lot more responsibilities. He had a daughter, and after a while, you could
just see the strain of working, you know, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
It was really going to, you know, come to someone, and, you know, I think it
came to Tom first.
BOGAEV: Tom pretty quickly resorted to lawyers to deal with his firing,
basically, and eventually Kaleil had Tom escorted off the company premises by
a security guard. Their relationship seems to deteriorate so fast on film.
Is that how it played out in life as you witnessed it?
Ms. NOUJAIM: It was pretty fast that day. I mean, there had been troubles
before, which you see, when Tom has these conversations with different people
in the office, but the day that Tom had to leave the building, that all
happened in a day, and it escalated because all of a sudden Tom felt like he
had no control. Here was this company that he started, that it was being--it
was coming very clear that he was about to be ousted from, and so he called up
for legal advice, and the legal advice was `Don't leave the office, you know?
`Don't go anywhere, because once you go someplace, then that could ruin your
employment agreement, because they could argue that you just all of a sudden
left your job, so you need to stay in the office.'
And then Kaleil felt all of a sudden, like, `OK, Tom just told me that he was
going to take a leave of absence, and now all of a sudden, he's staying in the
office? And I'm telling employees that Tom is gone, but Tom is there telling
people what to do,' and all of a sudden Kaleil felt like he was losing control
over the situation. And Kaleil on his side had all of the legal counsel for
GovWorks and had all of the investors and board calling him up and telling him
what to do.
So it did escalate very fast, and it was a very difficult, painful thing to
watch, because here were these two guys who care about each other very deeply,
and all of a sudden, there were all of these external circumstances and people
involved in their lives, which were just splitting them apart.
BOGAEV: Well, you two must have gotten to know these two men so intimately
after filming them 24-7 for almost a year. Were there times during the shoot
when you saw things falling apart or you had an insight into their
disintegrating relationship or the failing company and you thought, `I should
really step in here and give these guys some perspective,' times when it was
hard to stay objective?
Ms. NOUJAIM: Totally. I mean, Tom's mom completely put me on the spot the
other day, because we were giving--at the opening of our film, and Tom's whole
family came, which was wonderful, and we had a question and answer, and she
said, `You know, you were basically living with these two guys. How did you
remain objective?' And all I can say is first of all the fact that, you know,
Chris was around helped me maintain a little bit of objectivity, but it was
really painful for both of us to watch this, especially when Tom and Kaleil
were splitting up, because we knew things. We knew both sides of the
situation. You know, we were both very close to Tom, very close to Kaleil,
and we knew what was happening on Tom's side and what was happening on
Kaleil's side, and it's very tempting to step in and say, `Listen, this is
really what's going on. So, you know, can you deal with it with this
knowledge, just know this. He cares about you and that his lawyer's telling
him this.' But you just can't, because you know that there are more
conversations that you're not aware of, and you know that there's--you can't
play God in this situation, because that--you know, you can't play with
reality, 'cause it's bigger than what you know.
So we just didn't. We didn't--I mean, we talked to them, you know? There
were a lot of conversations back and forth in the car when we were filming,
but we generally didn't reveal--although it was tempting--we didn't talk about
any information that we had gleaned through filming, because that crosses some
kind of trust barrier that you don't want to be crossing.
BOGAEV: In the end, what did Kaleil and Tom walk away with? How much had
they raised and what did they have in pocket when the GovWorks was all
Ms. HEGEDUS: In the end they raised $60 million, and they lost it all,
basically. They didn't walk away with anything. The only person that really
walked away with some money was a third founder that, in the end, didn't leave
his job and join the company, and they made a settlement with him, so he made
some money. But other than that, I think everybody lost their money.
BOGAEV: What are Tom and Kaleil doing now?
Ms. HEGEDUS: Tom and Kaleil are back together again. They have a new
company called Recognition Group, which advises and consults with companies
that are in distress, so they're pretty much learning from what happened to
them and, you know, trying to help others with the knowledge.
Ms. NOUJAIM: And they're making revenue. In their first month, they've made
revenue, so it's great.
BOGAEV: I'm talking with Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim about their new
film, "Startup.com," about the rise and fall of an Internet business.
Hegedus, along with D.A. Pennebaker, made "The War Room," a documentary about
the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign. We'll talk more after the break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: Back with filmmakers Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim. Their new
film is "Startup.com."
Chris, I'd like to talk about actually making the film. It's all in cinema
verite style with handheld camera. I would think in editing the film, putting
it together without a narration track so that it would make sense, that there
must have been some challenges with this story, because it's so complicated.
The thing with "The War Room," the fact that it was about a presidential
campaign that we all lived through, was that to tell the story in cinema
verite all you had to do was just remind us of what happened and bring up some
campaign posters or you could use clippings or throw on some newscast footage.
But this story, about a very particular dot-com, was very complicated and a
little hard to follow what was happening when. Was it challenging for you to
put it together in a way that you wouldn't lose the audience?
Ms. HEGEDUS: Yeah, but they all are. I mean, that's--you know, one of the
things is to make the film seem very seamless. I mean, it was the same thing,
really, in "The War Room." I mean, some of the problems and things that we
were following were also quite complicated and political and detailed, and,
you know, the thing is is to, you know, weed through those to the essential
elements of what's happening and try to always focus on personality and
character, because, you know, that's really what these films are about is
BOGAEV: Now some of the scenes where shot in board rooms and in venture
capital firms, and they're notorious for being security conscious. How did
you get access to these places? Do you, Chris, have tactics that you learned
from your experience on other films?
Ms. HEGEDUS: Yeah. Well, you know, we did everything we could to get in.
You know, sometimes, you know, we would say we made "The War Room," and that
would kind of impress them, because, you know, if Clinton let us in, or
Clinton's campaign let us in, you know, why wouldn't they? And, you know,
sometimes that worked and sometimes it worked that, you know, Jehane and I
were just, you know, these two women, you know, that were following these guys
around, and a lot of times, you know, we looked very unthreatening, so they'd
think, `Ah, you know, we'll let them in, you know? It doesn't look like much
is happening here but a home movie.' So, you know, you use whatever device
you can to get in.
Ms. NOUJAIM: And then other people were just, like, `No way.' I mean, where
we're filming through the window, we got there, we'd already put radio mics on
Kaleil and Tom, and the guy said, `No, this is going to be a pretty brief
interview; no cameras' to Kaleil and Tom, but we actually hadn't had a chance
to meet him, and we're sitting there listening to what's going on, and they
were completely being slammed. And it was the first time that somebody had
really, you know, picked their business plan apart. And we were just, like,
`This is just too good,' so I ran around the building and found a window and
filmed behind the tree and haven't had any repercussions from it so far, so,
you know, we'll see.
BOGAEV: Now looking back, do you feel--I don't mean to be crass, I'm sure;
these are your friends, you cared for these people--but did you feel in any
way lucky that you picked a losing proposition?
Ms. NOUJAIM: Well, initially, first of all, we wanted to follow a start-up
that was going to make these guys into millionaires and follow these guys
getting rich. And then we thought this would be really great if this company
ended up being really big, there was a huge marketing campaign and they ended
up being the next Microsoft, because then we'd have the story of, you know,
the two guys that started in their, you know, little kitchen and then became
this amazing company, and this is the behind-the-scenes story.
And so we were, of course, you know, had two heads about us when Kaleil and
Tom split up, because we were very interested in the personal story, and part
of you is just torn apart, because here are these two guys who you care about
splitting up. But the other part of you is, `Yeah, I mean, it is good for the
film.' I mean, people were joking later that their misfortune was our
fortune. So, yeah, in a way, it was, and definitely when we were editing and
all of these dot-com companies are falling, we realized that, you know, we'd
gotten more than just a story about guys becoming rich or just a story about
two people and their struggle between their friendship and the business. But
we'd covered a whole market bubble. So, yeah, it was. It was lucky.
Ms. HEGEDUS: We just showed the film the other night to Kaleil's
grandfather, and he called up Kaleil on the cell phone after the movie and
said to him, you know, `Kaleil, it was great film, you know? You're wonderful
in it. And remember, you know, failure builds character.'
Ms. NOUJAIM: Yeah.
Ms. HEGEDUS: And--you know, so there is that aspect of, you know...
Ms. NOUJAIM: It was great.
Ms. HEGEDUS: ...when you watch people go through something that's really
difficult, you know, it is very powerful.
Ms. NOUJAIM: And you see them as human beings, you know? I think that it
would be more difficult--I think there would be much more criticism out there
of them in the press if they'd been these millionaires, you know, because you
really see the human side when they have to go through this very difficult
time. So I think we were aware of that when we were filming the breakup as
BOGAEV: Although I have to say at the end of the film--it ends with them
driving around into the sunset in their SUVs--and it's hard to muster up any
Ms. NOUJAIM: Yeah. That's a rent-a-car. Kaleil likes his car.
Ms. HEGEDUS: Uh-huh. But yeah, I mean, he was pretty successful before. He
worked for Goldman Sachs for, you know, about six months before this.
BOGAEV: Well, that's the thing, though.
Ms. HEGEDUS: He got a pretty good paycheck from Goldman Sachs.
BOGAEV: That's the thing about these stories. These--yes, they lived through
a really tough time, but how much did they really risk or lose in the end?
They go on, these men start--men and women--start new companies, they get new,
bigger and better jobs.
Ms. HEGEDUS: I think you risk a dream, you know? I mean, they really had,
you know, a dream there, and they wanted to really do something. And, you
know, that's what went for them, and I think that's what's more upsetting than
any money that was lost.
BOGAEV: Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim, I want to thank you very much for
talking with me today.
Ms. NOUJAIM: Thank you.
Ms. HEGEDUS: Thank you for having us.
BOGAEV: Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim's new documentary, "Startup.com" is
already playing in New York, opens in LA and San Francisco tomorrow, and in
other cities later this month.
I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Jim Newman discusses what it's like doing construction
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.
Space tourist Dennis Tito reportedly paid $20 million to the Russians to get
to the International Space Station. Jim Newman got there the old-fashioned
way, as a mission specialist on the space shuttle Endeavour. In 1998, he and
his team members helped assemble parts of the space station and ready it for
scientists yet to come. Jim Newman is a physicist who was accepted into the
astronaut program about seven years ago. He's set to return to space this
January when he'll work on repairing and improving the Hubble Space Telescope.
We invited him to join us today to talk about what's involved in performing
construction in space and how work on the International Space Station is
progressing. When I spoke with Newman earlier this week, I asked him what
still needs to be completed.
Dr. JIM NEWMAN (Astronaut): In order to make the space station a real space
station, it needs an airlock. And that is what is expected to go up in June,
about the middle of June, I think, now. The final piece that will make it a
true space station, the airlock, will be delivered and installed. And once
that is there, then when the shuttle is not visiting the space station, the
space station crew members will nonetheless be able to go outside in their
space suits, do a space walk for doing repairs or further assembly, as
required. Right now, the space shuttle has to be there, and the astronauts
and cosmonauts use the shuttle's airlock in order to go outside and do the
space walks that are required for the assembly of the space station.
That's the last major piece that gives us that capability. There are a number
of other pieces coming up. Right now, we have one laboratory module, the
United States' laboratory module Destiny. There's also going to be a European
Space Agency laboratory module, a Japanese space agency laboratory module.
Those will be coming along as well. So we'll need more solar arrays for
power. We'll need a habitation module at some point, so that we can house
more crew members at a time. And we should also be getting a cupola, which is
a way for the astronauts to look outside while they're doing some of the
robotic operations and see it firsthand.
BOGAEV: This is with the big arm that can move things around, fix things.
Dr. NEWMAN: Exactly.
BOGAEV: That is affixed to the space station?
Dr. NEWMAN: Yes. On the last assembly flight, which just returned a week or
so ago, the Canadian-built robotic manipulator system was delivered to the
space station and deployed successfully. That arm will be used for installing
some, if not most, of the major components that are still coming up. And all
of that hardware is now--just about all of that hardware is now at the Kennedy
Space Center being processed for delivery to the space station.
BOGAEV: Could you tell us what the space station looks like? What shape it
is, how big it is?
Dr. NEWMAN: Right now, the solar arrays are the predominant feature, and in
fact, the solar arrays reflect enough of the sun back towards the Earth that
you can see the space station as a bright star in the early morning or late
evening as it happens to go by wherever it is that you live. And there's a
site on the Internet where you can go to, spaceflight.nasa.gov, and you can
actually find a good picture of the space station and when it will be going by
overhead so that you could actually see, as I said, as a bright star, your
space station going by overhead.
So if you can image in your mind about four or five Styrofoam cups and connect
them together, one after the other, in a straight line right now, and then to
put on a set of solar arrays on top of the middle one. And that is roughly
what it looks like right now, just a number of modules connected together.
Eventually we'll add a few more Styrofoam cups out in front, which will be the
European and the Japanese laboratory modules. Hopefully we'll add another
module which will be a habitation module, and then perhaps a few more over the
BOGAEV: I'd like to talk about what you had to deal with putting this thing
together. When you were part of the space shuttle Endeavour crew in 1998,
part of your assignment was on a space walk to do some mechanical repairs and
installations on the outside of the space station. Could you talk about how
you adapted these construction techniques for the environment of space? How
did you just hold yourself on to the thing without floating away?
Dr. NEWMAN: Well, Barbara, the space walk is actually an amazing experience.
And Jerry Ross and I trained for that flight for a couple of years. And we
trained for it in a large swimming pool where they put us in a space suit, put
weights on our legs so that we're neutrally buoyant, we don't float up or sink
down, and then we can actually take advantage of the zero gravity when we are
in space to actually maneuver ourselves around very easily and to move large
objects if needed. And what Jerry and I did was, working in these space
suits, we did go outside and hooked up a number of power cables.
Essentially, if you can imagine making a laboratory or an office building in
space, you still have to have your power, your data cables; eventually you're
going to have fluid lines. And Jerry and I hooked up computers, again, on the
outside, cables, an early communications system. And by taking advantage of
the unique environment of space and planning for what the capabilities of a
person are, you preintegrate a certain amount of the job, which means do it on
the ground, and then the rest of it you say, `OK, we'll have them connect
these cables here, have them install this large structure there,' and then you
can go practice it in the pool and make it all come together and work.
BOGAEV: How did you crawl around on the surface of the ship? Are there
handrails that you hold on to?
Dr. NEWMAN: Exactly. What we did is we used a number of existing handrails
and we installed a whole bunch of others in order to make it easy to crawl
around. So a space walk is really a misnomer since there's nothing to walk
on. We really space crawl around the space station. And in order--from a
safety point of view, we have a safety tether which connects us to the space
shuttle or to the space station so that you can't float away. And if there
were to be even a problem with that, we actually also have what's called a
little jet pack. We call it SAFER, Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue, a little
jet pack that has some nitrogen thrusters which we can use to guide ourselves
back to the space station, should we become separated.
BOGAEV: Because otherwise you would just be stuck there in space. There's
nothing to push against to move forward or...
Dr. NEWMAN: Exactly. And that's why we make sure we always are tethered
safely to a structure of some sort or another, because it would be very
embarrassing to float away from the space station.
BOGAEV: You can say that again.
So say you go to tighten a bolt or loosen a bolt in space; what keeps you
from--just your body turning around the bolt rather than the bolt itself
Dr. NEWMAN: Well, Barbara, you've just identified the major problem of
working in zero gravity, and that is that you have to be well restrained in
order to, as we call it, react the torques and forces. On the Earth, gravity
holds us so firmly to the ground that it's pretty easy to react, to put in the
force needed to turn those bolts. But every once in a while, you know, if
you have a really hard bolt, you'll still reach your hand out, even on the
Earth, and grab a hold of something in order to really pull against it. But
we have to do that all the time in space. And we did, we unloosened a whole
lot of bolts and tightened up a number of others. And on subsequent flights,
they've been installing fluid lines with high connections and doing all sort
of things like that.
So the key to working in space, either inside the space shuttle or space
station or outside, is to set up your work site in such a way that you can
work efficiently. Anything from typing on a computer--when you type on the
computer, your fingers push against the keys and that will push you away from
the computer. So you have to restrain yourself one way or another to do
something even as simple as type on a computer. And when you're outside, you
have to either have your feet in a foot restraint so that both feet are
captive and then you can use both hands on the task, or if you're a
free-floater, then you have to grab a hold with one hand on to a handrail and
then put the electric drill, essentially, with the other hand and then react
it all through your hands.
BOGAEV: One of the more unusual aspects of working in space is that on the
space station, you're spinning around the Earth, I think it's at more than
17,000 miles per hour? Is that right?
Dr. NEWMAN: Mm-hmm.
BOGAEV: And you're...
Dr. NEWMAN: About 17,500 miles an hour.
BOGAEV: Which takes you in and out of sunlight every 45 minutes. Does that
affect your construction work?
Dr. NEWMAN: Well, it actually doesn't affect the construction work too much
because we have really good helmet lights so that we can, when a period of
darkness is coming up when the sun's on the other side of the Earth, then we
simply turn on the helmet lights and we can continue on. When we get to the
sun side of the Earth, then of course we can turn the lights off, but it's so
bright that we'll often put down our sunglasses in the space suit, which is a
gold visor, in order to cut out some of the sun because then there's way too
The other effect of the day/night cycle every 45 minutes, day, 45 minutes of
night, is that things on the sun side get very hot. If you can imagine in the
middle of winter outside on a cold night and you're standing in front of a
very hot fire, one side of you is going to get very hot, and the other side of
you is going to be very, very cold. And that's the way it works in space.
The side of you that is facing the sun can get quite hot, well over 100
degrees, and the side that is away from the sun can get quite cold, well over
minus 100. So the suit has to be able to handle that, and we have special
heaters in the gloves, for example, to keep our fingers from becoming
BOGAEV: My guest is astronaut Jim Newman. He was a crew member on the first
assembly flight to work on the International Space Station. His next mission
is to repair and work on the Hubble Space Telescope. It's scheduled for
Let's take a break now, Jim, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: I'm back with astronaut Jim Newman. He's been on the crew of three
NASA space flights. He worked on the construction of the International Space
Station, and he's due to leave in January on a mission to perform further
repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope.
American businessman Dennis Tito recently returned from his short vacation on
the International Space Station. He reportedly paid anywhere between $12 and
$20 million to the Russian government for the jaunt. NASA was dead-set
against this originally. Could you go over for us NASA's objections to
tourists in space?
Dr. NEWMAN: I think that philosophically, NASA has no objections to tourists
in space. In fact, NASA is very much encouraging of commercialization of
space. It's simply a question of timing. I think Mr. Tito's contract with
the Russians was originally intended to be executed on the Mir Space Station,
which was a Russian asset and therefore was wholly within the realm of the
sort of contract they should and could make on their own. However, the space
station is in the midst of its initial assembly and construction. And
typically, we see when tourists are admitted to a construction site that
occasionally there's problems, and certainly special precautions have to be
So I think that from the point of view of the well-being of the crew, the
well-being for Mr. Tito and the preservation of these billions of dollars of
assets, that NASA appropriately voiced its concerns about the timing of the
mission. In the end, I personally believe in space tourism and hope that we
make space flight sufficiently safe and sufficiently inexpensive that anybody
who saves up some money or perhaps the equivalent of an around-the-world
cruise or two can go into space. It's a truly marvelous experience. And I
don't know of anybody who doesn't support that concept.
I think in this case, it was an unfortunate conflict between the Russians'
desire to fulfill their contract and the operational needs of a construction
site in space. If NASA had not voiced concerns and something had happened,
there would have been, I think, a public outcry to the opposite effect, and
that is, `Why would we allow an American citizen to take this risk?' We do
believe in the commercialization of space very strongly. It's simply a
matter, I think, of timing and making sure that the stage is set so that it
can be done responsibly.
BOGAEV: I'm talking with astronaut Jim Newman.
Did you grow up wanting to be an astronaut? Were you one of those little kids
enthralled with the lunar landing?
Dr. NEWMAN: Absolutely, Barbara. I was 13 years old when the people first
went to the moon. And I looked at that and said, `Man, that looks like a
really, really exciting thing to be doing.' And it's something that I've
always, since that time, wanted to be involved in.
BOGAEV: Well, you studied physics. You went to Rice University. Did you go
there because it's in Houston?
Dr. NEWMAN: That was part of the reason. And after graduating from Dartmouth
College, I realized that it was time to take seriously this goal, and so I
decided to come down to Houston, which of course is where all the astronauts
live and work here at the Johnson Space Center. And so I went to Rice
University for my PhD in physics. And I learned basically that the most
important thing to do in grad school is to learn a lot and do a good job. So
I kept my nose to the grindstone so that I could eventually get an interview.
And I was fortunate enough to get an interview. And, in fact, I was fortunate
enough to get four. It took me six years and...
BOGAEV: What happened in the first three?
Dr. NEWMAN: Well, I was awfully young, actually, for my first interview. I
was only 27. And those of us on the other side of 27 realize how young it
really is. And so I was just glad to be interviewed at that stage. And then
I came down to the Johnson Space Center to work and to gain experience, worked
here as an instructor actually training astronauts and flight controllers.
And so I got to know the system here, and they got to know me. And I
interviewed a couple more times, unsuccessfully, as I was improving my skills
and learning things that have stood me in good stead later. But finally I was
successful in 1990 and was admitted into the astronaut program.
BOGAEV: Do they tell you when they turn you down why you didn't make it?
Dr. NEWMAN: Not exactly, because it's really hard to say. There are so many
qualified applicants for so few spots that it comes down to, at some level,
the personality of the selection committee in that particular year. And it
just took me that many tries, I guess, perhaps to grow up enough or to find
the right selection committee. And it turns out with--for example, there's
2,000 to 5,000 applicants for on the order of maybe 15 to 20 spots. And a
significant number of the successful applicants, about two-thirds, come from
the military; about one-third from the civilian. And so the competition is so
keen that there just aren't enough spots for all the qualified people.
BOGAEV: What's the longest you've lived in space?
Dr. NEWMAN: I've been in space a total of a little over a month, 32 days, and
the longest flight was 12 days. So I've had 10-, 11- and 12-day flights.
BOGAEV: What are you working on right now today in order to prepare for your
mission in January?
Dr. NEWMAN: As soon as I leave here, Barbara, I'm going to be heading over
to a briefing where we're going to talk about Hubble Space Telescope
contingency space walks. We've been practicing the normal things we expect to
be doing: replacing the solar arrays, putting in this fantastic new camera.
Come next year when we finish with the refurbishment of the Hubble, the
pictures that you see should be 10 times as good as they are now, and they're
So we've practiced the normal things quite a bit, but we also practice the
contingency: What happens--what are we going to do if we can't deploy the
telescope again if one of the latches is stuck? Well, we'll go outside and
we'll unscrew this bolt and then that will cause the latch to release and
then we'll be able to deploy the telescope. Or what will we do if this
breaks? And we spend a lot of our time, in addition to just training the
normal things, is we train what happens if.
It's sort of like defensive driving to the max. In defensive driving, they
teach you what are you going to do if a tire blows right now? So you're
always thinking about that. What are you going to do if that guy swerves in
front of you? What are you going to do if? And that's what we do in the
space program all the time. We're always thinking what are we going to do if?
And so that's what we'll be working on today.
BOGAEV: Jim Newman, I want to thank you so much for talking with me today.
Dr. NEWMAN: It was my pleasure, Barbara. Good day.
BOGAEV: Astronaut Jim Newman.
Coming up, a review of the new novel by Philip Roth. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Novel "The Dying Animal," by Philip Roth
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
The new novel from Philip Roth is called "The Dying Animal," but book critic
Maureen Corrigan says nothing seems to be waning when it comes to Roth's
Let's see. The New York Times called the book `flimsy and synthetic.' The
Washington Post heralded it as `yet another triumph from perhaps America's
finest living novelist.' The Los Angeles Times and The New Republic reviews
basically took the position that the book's language is mesmerizing and its
structure, a tour de force, but that its subject, rutting and fretting about
rutting, is banal and outmoded.
What else could it be but the latest novel from Philip Roth. No other
canonized novelist in America generates this kind of uproar. Roth is to
American fiction what Allen Ginsberg once was to American poetry. He's a
provocateur, a brilliant exhibitionist who even at the most refined literary
event can't help stripping his clothes off and waving his genitals at
Ginsberg, in his later years, allowed himself to get rehabilitated. But Roth,
who's in his 70s now, looks like he's going to be a dirty old man until the
bitter end. In fact, the conscious choice to be a dirty old man, the courage
required and the emotional costs exacted by embracing an ethos of sexual
freedom are the themes of Roth's new novel, "The Dying Animal."
Because it deals with old age, mortality and desire, because its language is
dazzling and because it's short, "The Dying Animal" reminds me of "Death in
Venice," Thomas Mann's classic novella about a horny old man trying to
bed a boy at the beach, except no one ever discusses Mann's novella in those
vulgar terms because Mann's elusive high seriousness doesn't invite such
Roth, however, revels in combining high seriousness with vulgarity, comedy and
rudeness. So his novels receive the same payment in critical kind. For my
money, "The Dying Animal" is every bit as profound as other, more dignified
meditations on desire and death. In fact, because it is so rooted in the
messy corporeal realm, "The Dying Animal" makes a reader even more aware in a
sensate way of the grim losses of old age.
`What do you do if you're 62 and you realize that all those bodily parts
invisible up to now--kidneys, lungs, veins, arteries, brain, intestine,
prostate, heart--are about to start making themselves distressingly apparent,
while the organ most conspicuous throughout your life is doomed to dwindle
into insignificance?' The speaker posing that paradox is David Kepesh, the
hero of two previous Roth novels, "The Breast" and "The Professor of
In the present time of "The Dying Animal," Kepesh is 70. The novel is
fashioned as a dramatic monologue in which Kepesh ruminates on an affair he
had some eight years earlier with Conseula Castillo, the voluptuous,
then-24-year-old daughter of right-wing Cuban exiles. The fact of the affair
itself is unremarkable. Ever since the sexual revolution of the mid-'60s
when, Kepesh tells us, he issued his own declaration of independence from
marriage and fatherhood, he slept with scores of women, mostly students.
But as Kepesh acknowledges, sex is a very risky game, and sex with the near
physically perfect Conseula turns into an obsession for him. She eventually
breaks off the affair, then years later turns up at his apartment, hairless
and terrified, announcing she has breast cancer. When Conseula calls him from
the hospital after her mastectomy, Kepesh must make a crucial decision: Don't
go and preserve his emancipated manhood unto death, or go and lose himself to
love, which to him is a kind of death of the self.
The critics who fault Roth for misogyny and an obsession with sexual relations
have a lot of material to work with here. But sex is Roth's enabling myth,
the subject he needs to return to again and again in order to write. Roth
took the title of his novel from Yeats' great poem on old age, "Sailing to
Byzantium." And just like Yeats needed all that mythic nonsense about phases
of the moon and gaiers to jump-start his poetry, Roth needs the elemental
tension of sex in his books as a template for his cynical observations, his
social commentary, his humor, his epiphanies, his genius.
Roth's seeming inability to fully depict women is in part mitigated by his
frequent use of the male first-person narrator, as in "The Dying Animal."
What Zoe Heller in The New Republic elegantly called `a failure of empathy,
and ultimately of literature' is a distressing but not fatal flaw. I know, I
sound like one of Roth's own masochistic cliched female characters when I say
this, but in the case of his novels, I'll put up with his erotic obtuseness
for the sake of the literary relationship.
BOGAEV: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed Philip Roth's new novel, "The Dying Animal."
BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.