DATE March 5, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Chris Kraft talks about his experiences working at
Mission Control for NASA
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.
When the Soviets launched Sputnik into orbit in 1957, NASA didn't exist and
Chris Kraft was an engineer testing military aircraft. He had no expertise in
rocketry or even basic astronomy. Nonetheless, Chris Kraft was tapped as a
member of the original space task group in charge of NASA's first major
program, the Mercury missions. Kraft directed the first rocket launches,
created Mission Control in Cape Canaveral and was the flight director for all
the Mercury missions, some of the Gemini missions and director of flight
operations through most of the Apollo program. Besides the astronauts, Kraft
was one of NASA's better-known personalities at the heyday of the space
program. He was the man in headphones at Mission Control, the last stop in
the chain of command that either gave the go-ahead to launch or to abort a
Kraft has a new memoir, "Flight: My Life In Mission Control." In it, he
writes that early on in the space program, one of the most basic tasks he
faced turned out to be one of the most challenging. He had to build a
countdown to liftoff.
Mr. CHRIS KRAFT (Author, "Flight: My Life In Mission Control"): Well, when
you think about it, the number of pieces of equipment in a missile range, for
instance--the cameras, the telemetry system, the communications system, all of
the support activities--and then you add to that the rocket, the spacecraft,
preparing the human being to get ready to go, the various remote sites across
the world that had to be involved--and so if you're going to bring all this
thing to T-zero and make sure that everything is working to the best of your
ability at that particular moment, now to ensure that that's going to take
place, you want to make sure that everybody runs a test, everybody says, `What
I've got is working and it's doing well and I'm ready to go.' When you stop
to think about that, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces
of this thing that have to do something to say, `Yes, I'm ready to go at a
So when you start building these programs, these tests, and that's what we
eventually call a countdown, for each one of these pieces of equipment, for
each one of these areas--for the launchpad, for the spacecraft, for the guys
that are getting the astronaut ready--when do they have to start? When do you
have to run this test? How much training do you have to do, etc.--that's what
makes a countdown so extremely complicated. Just a single countdown for a
given piece of equipment like a camera that's a long-range camera looking at
the rocket being launched, the guy goes through these tests: does the camera
run? Is the power there? Will it take a picture, and if it does, can I see
through the clouds, etc? But now expand that by a factor of a thousand, if
you will, and everybody's writing a countdown for each one of those things.
Now you can see how complex that gets to be.
BOGAEV: In the process of designing the first Mercury missions, seven men
were chosen from a pool of active duty military test pilots to be the
astronauts. I don't believe there was the term astronaut yet. When John
Glenn was one of the active duty military test pilots chosen to be an
astronaut, you already knew him. You had had a few run-ins with him when he
was then a Marine major and you were working at Langley testing airplanes.
What was your beef with him?
Mr. KRAFT: When you're the lead pilot, which he was in the Navy Bureau of
Aeronautics, for a particular high-performance airplane--in this case, the
F8U, which was one of the Navy's first supersonic fighters--it's your baby.
And so you don't think there's much wrong with it, and you don't like to hear
people saying there's something wrong with it. That was his job. My job was
to run the flying qualities of that airplane, and if it had something wrong
with it, point that out to the Navy so they could make it a better airplane.
That was our job.
I'd found a lot of things wrong with it that their test pilots, who were
company test pilots, knew about but weren't making any issue of. I was making
an issue of them because I wanted to make the airplane better and safer to
fly. And so I had a lot of convincing to do every time I told them that their
airplane wasn't as good and perfect as they thought it was.
BOGAEV: You refer to his--I believe the word is gyrene stubbornness.
Mr. KRAFT: Yes. Yes.
BOGAEV: I had to look that word up.
Mr. KRAFT: And, you know, pilots have a tough time dealing with flight test
engineers anyway. If you read Yeager's book, he says, `Those damn guys at
NACA talked a language I didn't even understand.' Very true. When I told him
that the PV over 2V(ph) of his airplane was .07 and it should be .08, he
didn't know what the hell I was talking about. And I understand that. That's
fine. But it was a way for me to describe the fact that the airplane didn't
roll fast enough. It wasn't that--it was just that we were at odds, back in
those days when he was doing that test, so I knew him before he got to be what
eventually was called an astronaut. So we had that background with each
other, and I think he eventually had a lot of respect for me and I had a lot
of respect for him.
BOGAEV: Now May 5th, 1961, was the first Mercury mission, and there's a
wonderful photo in the book of Alan Shepard in his spacesuit looking up at the
Freedom 7 rocket before he boarded. The story that everyone remembers about
that first mission is that Shepard's biggest problem, at least on the
launchpad, was his bladder.
Mr. KRAFT: Yes.
BOGAEV: He was in the capsule for four hours and he needed to go, and I
assume he told you that; that you were in on this conversation in Flight
Mr. KRAFT: Yes.
BOGAEV: That he couldn't--you would not permit him out, that just wasn't
Mr. KRAFT: That's correct.
BOGAEV: Had you anticipated this issue, the need to go?
Mr. KRAFT: Yes, we had anticipated it, but we hadn't done anything about it.
We had been working on a urine collection device, UCD we called it, but we
didn't have it perfected for that flight. We also didn't expect him to be in
the spacecraft for as long as he had to be before we launched. We got into
problems with the weather. We got in problems with the spacecraft. We got in
a number of problems with the rocket. So that by the time we got around to
getting ready to start the final part of the countdown, he'd been in there a
long time. And as you well know, when the adrenaline is flowing, and it was
flowing that morning, then you have to pee. And so he had to--he said, `I've
got to urinate.' And he said, `Can I get out?' Because, you know, we were in
And now that would have really buggered things up because we'd have had to
open the spacecraft, had to get him out of there and let him go and then get
him back in. So we'd have to restart the countdown at something like T-minus
two and a half hours. So rather than do that, we said, `Go in your pants.'
And he did. And the flow of oxygen dried it up pretty quickly. The next
flight we did have our UCD for Gus Grissom. It was something that you could
attach to the penis and pee.
BOGAEV: You write in your book that at the start of the countdown for that
first mission, you were shaking so hard you couldn't see your microphone, and
it made me think of something Gene Krantz, a later flight director, once said;
that he described launch as an `existential moment,' it's like combat. What
are those seconds like for you?
Mr. KRAFT: This was the first time that we had a man on the end of a rocket.
Nobody'd ever done that before. Mr. Shepard--and you said when we started
countdown, it wasn't there. You never got serious about any countdown at that
time until you got to T-minus two minutes. That's when you knew, when you
went past that point, you damn well better get ready to launch. But now at
that time, Shepard's heart rate was about 220. I don't know what mine was,
but later flights said mine was about 180. If you don't realize that this is
dangerous, that something bad can happen a lot of the time and that this is
the first time that a man is going to be at the end of a damn rocket and
you're not shaking, you damn well don't understand the problem.
BOGAEV: Now in the second manned flight, Gus Grissom was the astronaut and
everything went off pretty much fine, except for the splash landing. Somehow
the hatch blew off prematurely, the capsule sank and Grissom had a tough time
of it staying afloat. NASA never really did find out what exactly happened.
And there have been two camps; some thought Grissom panicked and hit the hatch
detonator, and others thought that it was some unknown malfunction. After all
the investigations into this, what did you think went wrong?
Mr. KRAFT: I believe Gus. When Gus said, `I didn't hit the button. That
damn thing blew off by itself, and the first thing I saw was water coming over
the sill,' I said that is 100 percent correct.
BOGAEV: You thought that then and you think this now?
Mr. KRAFT: I thought that then and I think it 10 years, 20 years and I will
always think that. Gus was a superb test pilot, maybe one of the best, if not
the best, and there was no question in my mind he told us what happened. I
think a lot of people couldn't figure out how in the world that could happen
because in all the tests we ran after that, we couldn't make it happen. We
shook the thing, we hit on it, we did everything we could, and we couldn't
make it go off inadvertently. But Gus said it went that way, and I believed
it. I still believe it.
BOGAEV: Chris Kraft was NASA's first flight director. He directed the first
manned missions into orbit and oversaw the Apollo mission to the moon. His
new memoir is "Flight: My Life In Mission Control." We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: If you're just joining us, my guest is NASA's first flight director,
Chris Kraft. He helped develop NASA's space program from its earliest days.
His new memoir is "Flight: My Life In Mission Control."
I'd like to back up a little bit back to 1962 to John Glenn's first flight.
There was a problem with his flight. There was a question whether the heat
shield was loose or not. And if it was loose, the capsule would ignite on
re-entry. Could you describe the scene in Mission Control and what your
options were for that flight?
Mr. KRAFT: Yes. When the spacecraft flew over the Cape on the second time,
there was a telemetry signal, a radio signal, coming down from the spacecraft
that said the spacecraft heat shield was loose. And that came from a
measurement of a small switch which moved when the heat shield actually
loosened up and then dropped free, down about three or four feet and there was
a bag there which would act as an impact alleviation device when it hit the
water. I heard that problem as it was presented to me--said, `We see this
signal.' And I said, `Well, we haven't had any noises, Glen hasn't reported
anything from the spacecraft. He hadn't heard any noises of the heat shield
being loose. We hadn't had any problems controlling the spacecraft in terms
of anything bouncing around. It's got to be a false signal.' So...
BOGAEV: So you had a gut sense that this wasn't a crisis.
Mr. KRAFT: I was absolutely convinced in my mind that it was a false signal,
and that's not unusual in an insurmated(ph) system. Many times the thing
you're trying to use measure it fails. Not unusual; as an engineer, common
occurrence. So I thought to myself--and I confirmed that by talking to my
other engineers and I talked to Alan Shepard about it, as a matter of fact,
and we all concluded that's erroneous.
Now in comes the chief designer and in comes my boss, and he's listening to
the two chief designers, one from McDonald(ph), one from NASA. And they're
saying, `Well, we think it probably is wrong also, but what if it isn't?' And
so I listened to those arguments, and they said, `Well, if we keep the
retropack on, the straps that hold the retropack will maybe hold the heat
shield up tight against the spacecraft, at least until it gets into the
sensible atmosphere and then the atmosphere might keep it there. That might
be a better chance and a better thing to do in case, in the 1/10th of 1
percent, that it might be right.' So I listened to those arguments and I
said, `I don't think so.' Then my boss said to me, `But I think that it;s
still a good thing to do, so do it.'
I didn't like that direction, but he was my boss at the time and we left it
on. That was a damn bad thing to do because the reason I didn't want to do it
is because you could have gotten a mock cone coming off that retropack that
was still there and burn a hole in the heat shield. And that was what worried
the hell out of me because we had something like that happen before. So after
that was all over, I tell you what I said, `I know a hell of a lot more about
this thing than they know. I've got a lot better engineers telling me what's
going on than they have. And the next time that they tell me to do something,
they'd better think twice about it because I ain't going to do it unless I'm
convinced it's the right thing to do.'
BOGAEV: When you first heard of President Jack Kennedy's goal of landing a
man on the moon, was the moon your first choice or did you have other ideas?
Mr. KRAFT: I didn't have any ideas at the moment because I was so embroiled
in putting a man in orbit around the Earth for the United States for the first
time that the next project was or what the new goals were going to be was
beyond my pay grade. It was my responsibility to get that thing done and done
well and bring the astronaut back safely and measure what we had done. So
when Mr. Kennedy said, `We choose to go to the moon in this decade,' frankly,
it was beyond my comprehension. I didn't know what we had to do to do that.
And the magnitude of doing that was so great, I had no idea how big that job
was. I just knew that it was something that was totally beyond my ability to
cope with the problems that might come up as a result of that. And I was
proven right, too, because the problems almost became infinite to do that job,
compared to flying a man in orbit around the Earth three times and recovering
in the ocean.
BOGAEV: Now a month before the first Apollo mission, during a checkout
flight, a fire broke out in the spacecraft at Cape Canaveral that was manned
by Gus Grissom, Ed White and Rodger Chafey. You were in Mission Control in
Mr. KRAFT: Yes.
BOGAEV: What was your experience in Houston during that crisis?
Mr. KRAFT: Well, I was sick in the stomach. I was about as stunned as I had
ever been in my life before or since. It took two or three minutes to realize
that you just killed three men.
BOGAEV: When did you first know something had gone wrong? What did you hear
in your headphones or what alerted you?
Mr. KRAFT: I heard some screaming. I heard some confused people on the
launchpad, external to the spacecraft. I heard a voice with which I was very
familiar, say `We're on fire.' And I heard another voice, which I was very
familiar, saying, `Get me out of here.' And then I heard silence. And then I
heard people scurrying about, and I was afraid to ask. And then when I did
ask, I got the answer that I knew I was going to get and didn't ever want to
BOGAEV: Was there anything that could have been done to get the astronauts
Mr. KRAFT: In that spacecraft, it took, at a minimum, two or three minutes
for an astronaut to turn around in his seat, crank a crank, which opened the
hatch. And by that time, under these circumstances, where they were probably
dead within a few seconds, there was nothing anybody could do.
BOGAEV: How did the fire start?
Mr. KRAFT: We never really knew exactly what happened because most of the
wiring in the area where the fire did start, which was below Gus Grissom's
couch on the left side, was burned up. But almost certainly, there was a bare
wire there, and almost certainly there was a spark and that's all it took. If
you take a piece of aluminum and put it at 16 pounds per square inch of
oxygen, which is about five times the amount of oxygen I'm breathing right
here, and there's no other gas there but oxygen--if you take a piece of
aluminum and put a flame to it, the aluminum will immediately burn. Some of
the things in the spacecraft under that kind of pure oxygen, at that pressure,
literally exploded. And some of it put off toxic gas.
BOGAEV: Chris Kraft's memoir of his decades as flight director at NASA's
Mission Control is "Flight." We'll continue our conversation in the second
half of our show. I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Let's continue our interview with NASA's first flight director, Chris Kraft.
He helped design the space program from the ground up, directed NASA's first
rocket launches and helped create Mission Control. He was the director for
all of the Mercury missions, some of the Gemini flights and oversaw operations
during the Apollo missions.
When we left off, we were talking about the 1967 fire that killed three
astronauts, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, during a test exercise
for the first Apollo mission.
Now you write that that fire was the reason that future Apollo missions were a
success, that you owe it to that tragedy. How so?
Mr. KRAFT: I think that the whole team of government and industry were
running as fast as they could to get to the moon. And I think as a result,
they were ignoring lessons learned from spaceflights that had taken place
previously. They were making what they considered to be considered judgments.
And remember, anything is a compromise when you make engineering machines,
machines from engineering design.
And so they were running so fast and they thought that that goal was so
important that they did things which were less than the best. And under their
judgment, that was acceptable. After the fire, it was totally unacceptable.
And as a result, the pause that we had to take to prove what happened, to
understand what happened, to fix that environment so it wasn't there anymore
and to make modifications to the spacecraft in many, many critical areas, we
were able to do that in the hiatus that took place after that.
And without those modifications, we would have been a long time getting there
because I think we would experienced a heck of a lot more failures and
probably killed more people in space as a result. That's the reason I think
it was, unfortunately, the catalyst that made it happen properly. And by the
way, you certainly didn't have any trouble getting people's attention after
BOGAEV: I'm talking with Chris Kraft. He was NASA's first flight director
and perhaps one of NASA's best-known personalities in the early days of the
space program. He has a new memoir, "Flight: My Life in Mission Control."
Getting to the moon, there were a number of concepts on how to do it. Looking
back now on the one you eventually settled on, does it seem ludicrous the
whole Lunar module idea where you look back and think, `What the hell were we
Mr. KRAFT: No, on the contrary. I think that very rapidly I came to the
conclusion that that was the only way to do it. You know, when you--if you go
look at the Saturn 5 rocket today lying on its side, like it is at the Johnson
Space Center here in Houston, that thing is 300 feet long, and you look at the
small capsule up on top where the three men flew and they're 300 feet above
ground level. I'd like to take an airline pilot from a 747 and put him on top
of that and say, `Now land that vertically on the Earth.' What kind of answer
do you think you'd get? He'd say that you've lost your mind.
So I think that was--immediately to my idea was talking at a bug, a small
thing that looked the size of a small helicopter, and landing that on the moon
sounded to me like a heck of a lot better problem to deal with then trying to
land a Saturn 5 on the moon.
BOGAEV: It's interesting--getting back to the Lunar landing--how you describe
the landing. That it's also not at all like it is in the movies, and that it
was hair raising for you to watch it in Mission Control. What do we not know
Mr. KRAFT: Well, let me explain that in several different ways. If you're an
airplane pilot today landing at a normal airport, as you make the approach,
you see a tree, you see a house, you see a road, you see a human being and you
know how big they are. Right? That means that you have some idea and
perspective of where you're going and how fast you're getting there. Now put
yourself on the moon. It's full of boulders. It's full of craters. And you
haven't the slightest idea how big they are. You don't know whether that
crater, as you approach, is three feet in diameter or 300 feet in diameter.
You don't know whether that rock you're looking at is 10 feet high or 100 feet
high. You do when you get there. But as you make your approach, you have
nothing as a reference. So landing on the moon the first time, even the
second time or third time, has still got that problem.
Now one thing you had going for you was shadows. OK? So that was the reason
we had a launch window was to make sure that the sun angle was between about 7
and 12 degrees because that at least, as you approached the moon, you could
see these shadows of a big rock or a crater or the rim of a crater. So that
did help a lot. But even so, until you were very close, you couldn't tell how
big things were. So your ability to have a reference was very poor.
BOGAEV: Now evidently there was some question whether there would be a
television for the Lunar landing. How close did you come to not televising
Mr. KRAFT: Well, as long as I was there, not very close. I know that sounds
funny, but let me go back and be a little more realistic. And when we were
designing the Lunar module, every ounce that we put on that spacecraft was
important to us, because we couldn't afford to have this thing overweight
because the heavier it got the more fuel it took and the less margin we had.
So we were battling and battling every day to reduce the weight. We made the
landing gears thinner. We made the wires so thin it was hard to work with.
We made the hatch thin; no seats in there for them to sit down on. No place
them for them to hang a hammock hardly, if they were going to sleep in there,
etc., etc. Every piece of paper we put on there had to go through a
configuration control board because it weighed something.
So in that context, the bosses of the design said, `Are we going to take a
television camera?' 'Cause the camera and the transmission equipment's
probably going to cost us 10 pounds to 15 pounds, and 10 to 15 pounds was a
heck of a lot of weight at that point in time. Now the other side of that
coin is, `You mean to tell me you're going to go land men on the moon for the
first time and you're not going to be able to see it happen? You mean to tell
me that all these people in this United States who paid their money and we've
been telling them about this for the last eight, nine years and you're going
to tell them you don't have a television camera on board? You got to be
BOGAEV: So that was the case you made.
Mr. KRAFT: That's the case I made. And besides that, I want to see it
BOGAEV: You write that you envied the astronauts. That after so many years
planning to get a man on the moon, did you wish you weren't staying behind on
Mr. KRAFT: To be perfectly honest...
Mr. KRAFT: ...no. I never wanted to go.
BOGAEV: Why not?
Mr. KRAFT: Because I was on every flight. Vicariously, I was on every
flight. They only got to fly once. I got to fly every time they went.
BOGAEV: Do you think you could do it, sit there 43 stories up on top of all
that explosive material?
Mr. KRAFT: Not without being anesthetized.
BOGAEV: Knowing what you know.
Mr. KRAFT: You got that right. I mean, let me tell you, if you don't think
that lighting up millions of pounds of thrust, burning millions of pounds
propellant every few seconds is dangerous, you don't understand the problem.
And that's true today when they fly the space shuttle like it was when we flew
Alan Shepard on the Redstone rocket.
BOGAEV: Chris Kraft, I'd like to thank you very much for joining me on FRESH
Mr. KRAFT: A real pleasure.
BOGAEV: Chris Kraft is the former director of NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space
Center in Houston, Texas. His new memoir is "Flight: My Life in Mission
Coming up, kidnapped in Chechnya. We talk with humanitarian aid worker
Kenneth Gluck. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Kenneth Gluck talks about his kidnapping when he was
working with Doctors Without Borders in Chechnya
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
As a humanitarian aide worker, Kenneth Gluck has traveled in many countries
devastated by war--Tajikistan, the Sudan, Liberia and Afghanistan--but he
never experienced direct personal danger before Chechnya. On January 9th,
while working on a project for Doctors Without Borders in a suburb of Grozny,
Gluck was kidnapped at gunpoint and detained for 26 days. Eleven of those
days he spent in a tiny cellar storage area. The identity of his captures is
still unknown. Doctors Without Borders has suspended aid to Chechnya since
Gluck's detention, but report they plan to resume their project soon.
When I spoke with Kenneth Gluck last week, I asked him how the kidnapping went
down on January 9th.
Mr. KENNETH GLUCK (Humanitarian): Well, that day we were in the Stadi Atagee
Hospital. Stadi Atagee is a town in central Chechnya about 20 kilometers
south of Grozny. And it's a place where we've done a lot of work, so I know
the people there very well. We were actually finished for the day. We were
leaving the hospital in the early afternoon so that we could get back to our
base in Ingushetia by nightfall. And we were in a four-car convoy when a car
cut us off. Four men with Kalashnikovs, masks jumped out and surrounded my
car and pulled me out. It was all over very quickly. Unfortunately, we were
having kind of an animated discussion in the car when it happened, so I didn't
even catch the first 15 seconds or so of the attack. And by then, it was
BOGAEV: I think you got injured. You got hit in the back of the head. How
did that happen?
Mr. GLUCK: That was actually after they pulled me out of the car and they
were dragging me to their car. And they were continuing to fire and I tried
to look back to see what was happening with the people in the convoy. Some of
them were very close friends of mine. And they thought I was resisting, so
they hit me once over the back of the head with a rifle butt, which, you know,
if I had any doubts, convinced me not to resist any further.
BOGAEV: They took into a a cellar of a house. What were your basic
Mr. GLUCK: Well, we got to the house where I would spend the rest of the 25
days the very first night and they put me in a cellar. It's a root cellar.
Pretty much most houses in Chechnya or in southern Russia have these things.
It's used for storing potatoes and onions and cabbage for the winter. This
one was about, oh, 40 inches, so you could just barely sit up. And there was
a mattress, some blankets, along with the potatoes and onions and garlic,
carrots and cabbage that most people store.
BOGAEV: Is that what you ate?
Mr. GLUCK: No. They would bring me out of the basement three times a day to
feed me in the beginning, and the food was uninteresting but sufficient.
BOGAEV: You spent 11 days in that cellar. Did you have anything with you to
do or to read?
Mr. GLUCK: Well, I was fortunate in that I was able to take my bag with me
when I was kidnapped, so I had a long book with me in the basement which I
spent most of my time doing. It was on the second or the third day when the
guards gave me a kerosene lamp so that I could read.
BOGAEV: What was the book?
Mr. GLUCK: The book is a history of the Arab peoples by Albert Hourani, which
I read several times.
BOGAEV: You were talking to your guards. What kind of information did they
give you about why you were being held captive?
Mr. GLUCK: They never really gave me any information about why, but, like I
said, around the second week, their attitude towards me started to improve.
At a certain point--it was really one guard I was mostly dealing with--he was
very apologetic. At one point, he said he's ashamed to stand in front of me,
and he realizes what they did was impermissible. I don't know why this
happened. It is around the same time that they gave me a radio to listen to,
which was nice.
But we think that the people we'd been working with, the people in the
hospitals and clinics, they were getting in touch with everybody they could to
say that this is something that's--this is intolerable, and to tell people
about the kind of assistance we had been providing over the last year and, in
a way, to plead my case. It's one of the nice things about doctors and nurses
is that everybody gets sick so they know people on all sides of the conflict
and they have generally treated somebody's mother, somebody's cousin from any
part of society. So they were in touch with people from all around the
BOGAEV: After 11 days in the cellar, they let you come up to be upstairs of
the house and live there. You listened to the radio. Did you hear reports
of your capture?
Mr. GLUCK: Well, they brought me--coming--being moved out of the cellar into
a room in the house was a gradual thing. They gradually let me stay more and
more upstairs, until they let me sleep there. Yeah, I heard lots of reports
about myself. Most of--I didn't get the radio until probably, again, 10 or 11
days into the kidnapping, so I think there had been a decline in the news
coverage. But sure, there were still things on BBC, on NFE. There was no NPR
in that part of the world.
BOGAEV: What happened when they finally let you go?
Mr. GLUCK: From the very beginning, really from the first day of the
kidnapping, I had been telling them just let me go to any hospital. All of
the hospitals know us. We trust all of the hospitals. Said, `Either drop me
off at a hospital or drop me off at the house of the head doctor.' And in the
end, that's what they did. I was taken out--this is the evening of February
3rd, and they took me out at 9 or 10:00 at night; again, drove me about an
hour in two different cars and eventually they stopped in a place and they did
seem to be very apologetic. They apologized many times, saying that this
is--had been a mistake. And when I--I was still very nervous. I still hadn't
really believed that they were going to release me, until they started
returning all of my documents. So they returned my Doctors Without Borders ID
card, my driver's license; they returned the military passes that we had
received from the Russians, and they returned $700 in cash--which was maybe
one of the more shocking pieces--that had been in my pocket when I had been
kidnapped. They only thing they didn't return was a watch, and they said that
`We're sorry, we can't find your watch.' I didn't really mind. It was
about--it cost about $7, and I told them not to worry about it.
And after that, they took me out of the car--I still didn't know where I was
because I was still blindfolded--and they pushed me through the gate of a
house, and it turns out that this was the house of a doctor who I was very
friendly with. I had stayed in his house in the past, and he had already come
out hearing that there were people in front of his house. And he said to me,
first in Chechen, which I didn't understand, and then in Russian, `Who are
you?' since I had a mask over my face. And I was too stunned to really
answer. I didn't know what to answer in any case. And he actually reached
over and lifted up the mask, and then I realized it was an old friend of mine.
BOGAEV: There's widespread speculation that it was Russian forces that
arranged for your detention and an obvious motivation would be to encourage
humanitarian groups to pull out of Chechnya, that this was a faked kidnapping
and it was a good way to shut down the whole humanitarian mission. Did you
buy that? Do you buy that scenario?
Mr. GLUCK: We don't know. Unfortunately, because of, you know, the--it
sounds silly, but the kidnappers never introduced themselves. They never said
who they are, and if they did, I wouldn't necessarily have believed them. We
still don't know who organized the kidnapping or why. We do know that there
would be no reason for either side in this conflict to have kidnapped us.
They both knew exactly what we were up to. We always try to work very openly.
Any Chechen hospital could have told them exactly what we're doing, and we
always traveled well-marked. They knew where we were going, and both sides
knew about us because of our work in the past and because of our reputation.
The Russians certainly knew us because we do a lot of work in Russia outside
of Chechnya. There are very large tuberculosis control projects in Siberia
that are done very closely with the Russian government. There are AIDS
control programs and programs providing health care for homeless people in
Moscow and St. Petersburg. It's not as if we're an unknown quantity to the
Russian government or to the rebels.
BOGAEV: I'm talking with Kenneth Gluck. He's a humanitarian aid worker for
Doctors Without Borders. He was abducted in Chechnya on January 9th; spent 26
days in captivity. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: Back with humanitarian aid worker Kenneth Gluck. While working for
Doctors Without Borders in Chechnya in January, he was kidnapped and held for
26 days. His captors have never been identified.
Could you talk more about the humanitarian situation in Chechnya. You were
working in hospitals. What kind of supplies did they have? What were they
Mr. GLUCK: Well, the hospitals in Chechnya, many of them have been
devastated by the bombing, particularly the hospitals in Grozny, in some of
the more mountainous areas as well. The Villano(ph) hospital, for example,
seven of its 10 wards were completely flattened. In the pediatric hospital #2
in Grozny, I think there's only one wall left standing. A place like that is
not functioning anymore. Pediatric hospital #2 has had to move and just take
over an abandoned building, which they're now gradually repairing, putting in
heat and starting to work. The doctors in places like this have been working,
sometimes for long periods of time, with no medical inputs. So if you're
brought in wounded into a Chechen hospital, very often the first thing they'll
tell the relatives who bring in a wounded person is, `These are the things you
have to find. Go find them and we'll start operating.' Sometimes the doctors
will have a small, private stash of their own for emergency cases, but
unfortunately, they're really not having the equipment they need.
BOGAEV: What kind of care are the doctors and also you aid workers able to
administer in Chechnya in the hospitals under such challenging conditions?
Mr. GLUCK: Well, it's actually a phenomena, but in some of these
half-destroyed hospitals they're doing very sophisticated surgery. They do it
with old, half-destroyed equipment that they've managed to fix. They--a lot
of doctors hid their instruments during the bombing, including--some of them
buried them. I was in one place, it's literally a bomb shelter, where they
had essentially an underground operating theater going on for months. These
are some of the most experienced war surgeons around. They've dealt with so
much war trauma over the last five or six years that they've developed ways of
operating in these conditions. So there's really--I think that's one of the
things that shocked our Doctors Without Borders doctors who came in is to what
extent that they had managed to keep sophisticated health care going in
BOGAEV: Do you feel any lasting residue from your experience, any, I don't
know, dreams? Or when you have a quiet moment does your mind go back to what
Mr. GLUCK: I certainly spent a lot of time thinking about mistakes that I
made, that my team made which allowed us to get kidnapped. Most of what
sticks in my mind is really the people who did all of these things to get me
out, and who really suffered that period probably I think more than I did.
There's one friend of mine, also a Chechen doctor, who I saw the night I
finally got back to the Doctors Without Borders office in Ingushetia, and he
really looked like he had aged 20 years just in that one month. And I felt
that I was feeling much better than he was during that period.
BOGAEV: In your career as an aid worker, have you suffered burn-out?
Mr. GLUCK: These are situations you need a break from, but you always come
back to--you're always, in a way, motivated by the people you work with. I'm
on vacation now. They said, `OK, you've had a rough time. Go and take a
month in New York.' The Chechen doctors I'm working with, they can't leave.
That's their country. And they get up every day and go to work in conditions
that are much more difficult than mine. They're much more at risk by what's
going on there. So--and this is not only true of Chechnya. I remember this
from Sudan. I remember this from Tuchigustana. I remember this from Liberia.
The people you're working with, they have no vacation from their country.
That crisis, that suffering is theirs day in and day out, and they end up
inspiring you. Suffering is--watching suffering does burn a person out, but
watching people cope with suffering also inspires us, and I think that most of
the people I work with, most of the people in Doctors Without Borders, would
say that the inspiration far outweighs the tendency towards burn-out. You
really watch people rise--in a way, rise to the occasion. And that's--it's a
real honor to work in the presence of that.
BOGAEV: Kenneth Gluck, I want to thank you very much for talking with me
today on FRESH AIR.
Mr. GLUCK: OK. Thank you very much.
BOGAEV: Kenneth Gluck works for the humanitarian aid organization Doctors
BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
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