Jerry C. Elliott-High Eagle

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ORAL HISTORIES

Credit: J.C. Elliott-High Eagle

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
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Interview of Jerry C. Elliott-High Eagle by David Zierler on 2020 October 2,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/44901

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In this interview, David Zierler, Oral historian for AIP, interviews Jerry C. Elliot-High Eagle, president and CEO of High Eagle Technologies. Elliot-High Eagle discusses his current work at High Eagle Technologies, where he is focused on developing blood oxygenation solutions relevant to therapies for a variety of health maladies. He recounts his childhood in Oklahoma, his Cherokee heritage, and the early visions he experienced for which he saw his involvement in the moon landing as destiny. He describes growing up poor, and the opportunities which made it possible for him to graduate from the University of Oklahoma as the first Native American to attain a degree in physics. Elliot-High Eagle describes his work in law enforcement and how he almost got drafted to go to Vietnam, and he explains the unlikely events that led to his work at NASA, where he worked over a long career in many positions, including as lead retrofire officer for the Apollo 13 mission, for which he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Elliot-High Eagle discusses the numerous difficulties he experienced at NASA as a minority. He describes the frontier mentality at NASA at the beginning of his career, when there was no precedent for anything that was being developed for the space missions. Elliot-High Eagle explains how his sense of patriotism to the United States only grew stronger in the face of the adversities he endured at NASA, and he describes some of the key differences in his work from Apollo 11 to Apollo 13. He discusses his involvement in efforts to improve telecommunications access for Native Americans, and why he was well-positioned to do this as a NASA employee. Elliot-High Eagle discusses his work on the Apollo-Soyuz mission, and he reflects on the role of space missions amid the broader Cold War competition. He describes his long-term mentoring interest in increasing educational and professional opportunities for young Native Americans, and at the end of the interview he explains how and why he has integrated his spiritual views and experiences within his professional life and pursuits in advancing science.

Transcript

Zierler:

OK, this is David Zierler, oral historian for the American Institute of Physics. It is October 2nd, 2020. I’m so happy to be here with Jerry C Elliott-High Eagle. Jerry, thanks so much for joining me today.

Elliott-High Eagle:

It’s my pleasure, indeed. Thanks.

Zierler:

All right, so to start, would you please tell me your current title and institutional affiliation?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well, I’m retired, but I started another company. I’m president and CEO of High Eagle Technologies Incorporated and we have a patent as of May 21st of last year for cancer and blood related diseases. But then, come to find out that our patent is also good for treating COVID-19.

Zierler:

Oh, wow. That’s exciting.

Elliott-High Eagle:

Yes. It definitely will save lives. I’m have a very difficult time capturing the attention of the federal government.

Zierler:

When did you start High Eagle Technologies?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Oh my gosh. About five years ago when we filed the patent in the US patent office and we were denied four times in five years. In fact, on a telephone conversation with the patent office, they said, “You are not going to get a patent.” And I thought, “We’ll see.” And we got a patent finally. We had to convince them with a heck of a lot of research data and so on but denied four times, a lot of people would give up. We never gave up.

Zierler:

Now I’m curious, Jerry, High Eagle Technologies has a strong biological component, and yet you’re a physicist. What explains that scientific broad-based agenda you have?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well, you could probably say that I’m a scientist and that covers a lot. A scientist’s main job is to seek truth, find answers, and find solutions regardless of the technical discipline. I had about mid-career at NASA decided I wanted to be a doctor and I was gonna go to Baler Baylor Medical College in Houston. I had to have organic chemistry and I took that as a course and a lab at the University of Houston and I was bored to death two weeks into the course. So, I went to the professor and I said, “Sign me outta here.” He said, “I thought you wanna be a doctor?” I said, “Yeah.” But I said, “If I gotta go through this course to get into Baler, I don’t want it.” He said, “Oh, just stick to it. A lot of people are like you. I just give them a C and then they move on.” So I kept the laboratory but I’ve always had interest in medical things. As a side note, I once had a physics professor at the University of Oklahoma tell, “Physics is a relatively simple science. Don’t make it hard. If it becomes ‘hard,’ just call it chemistry and forget about it!”

And then I became a certified emergency care technician, so that kind of fulfilled some of my medical service. But that’s basically how I live my life is I explore and discover, find solutions. At that time, of course, there was no COVID-19 but there certainly was cancer and blood-related diseases. At that time, AIDS was a major problem worldwide and found out that we could treat those kind of diseases and as a side from that, I’m able to sterilize world blood supplies. So, that in itself is a major effort.

Zierler:

Jerry, when you were starting High Eagle Technologies, Inc., how were you looking to distinguish what you had to offer from, you know, much larger players in the field? Pharmaceutical companies, research organizations? What did you consider were the unique things that your company had to offer?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well, our technology, there is no competition. We’re not competing with pharmaceuticals. We’re not competing with anybody. Our technology is first and one of its kind. It’s a revolutionary technology and that’s what pretty much why we wanted a patent at the patent office. They couldn’t find anybody that had anything similar.

Zierler:

And what is that technology? Can you describe it a little bit?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Sure. It’s like a kidney dialysis. It’s taking blood out of the patient, operating on it with our technology and reinserting it back into the patient. We basically heat the blood to a certain degree of temperature, not so high as to destroy red blood cells, and then we also infuse oxygen in the blood and that is one of the basic reasons why it will treat COVID-19. We don’t depend on the lungs to get oxygen, we can do it directly into the blood.

Zierler:

Oh, so people who have lost function in their lungs, they can be kept alive by just inserting oxygen directly into their bloodstream?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Yeah. Exactly. It’s another oxygen delivery system that will support COVID-19 so that became a patent in May 21st last year.

Zierler:

And where are you with the FDA, for example? Getting this approved for use?

Elliott-High Eagle:

We filed the application for emergency use application three weeks ago, the FDA, and have, since your call, recently heard from them on a fast track basis to approve our technology quickly for us in treating COVID-19 hypoxia (lack of oxygen).

Zierler:

And that obviously is a necessary step in terms of getting this technology to hospitals.

Elliott-High Eagle:

Yes.

Zierler:

Well, for the sake of everybody, good luck with that. I hope it happens soon.

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well, there’s a lot of dying patients and their families who are hoping the same.

Zierler:

Absolutely. Well, Jerry, let’s take it all the way back to the beginning. Let’s start first with your parents. Tell me a little bit about them and where they are from.

Elliott-High Eagle:

Both my parents were Cherokee Indian. They both lived in Oklahoma and I was raised by my mother. There was an unfortunate divorce with my father, so my mother became mother and father and my grandad assumed the role of a male and father figure. So, that was the male image I had to pattern after.

Zierler:

And that was your mother’s father you’re referring to?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Yes. Uh-huh. Came from a very intelligent family, very educated family. My granddad barely finished high school and he was such a smart man, during World War 1 when airplanes came about, he taught airplane mechanics at Oklahoma City University in Oklahoma. I mean, that’s how smart he was, based on having just a high school education. And mother was the same way. She was very wise, very educated woman and graduated from college. Majored in English and languages.

Zierler:

Did you have a relationship at all with your father growing up?

Elliott-High Eagle:

None whatsoever. Looking back, it was probably best.

Zierler:

And what was your mother’s profession? What did she do for a living?

Elliott-High Eagle:

She was an executive secretary at the end of World War II for Western Electric Company. So, she had a hard time during the war years and we lived on food stamps and she struggled trying to find a home for us and be able to pay for that. So, she was a tough woman. She and I pulled through it.

Zierler:

And Jerry, where did you grow up? What was your neighborhood like?

Elliott-High Eagle:

There were 12 boys in the neighborhood and one girl. She was severely outnumbered. I was probably the youngest of 12 boys. And it was a nice neighborhood. Those days, there was no TV and there was radio at night you could listen to. During the day, everybody was outside playing games, doing things, inventing things. We used to make kites out of newspaper and tree limbs and we didn’t have to depend upon going to the store and buying anything. If we didn’t have it, we made it. So it was a good growing up neighborhood.

Zierler:

And what kind of school did you go to?

Elliott-High Eagle:

I assume you mean grade school.

Zierler:

Yeah.

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well the grade school was wonderful. It was about one block from where we lived, mom and I lived. And the grade school had great teachers, wonderful teachers, great guidance. It was populated with all kinds of different people, American Indians, white kids. There were no black kids at that time in grade school, but at that age, we never looked at racism. We never looked at, “I’m Indian and you’re white,” or you know, “You’re white and this person’s white.” We were all one body of people and I wish we could get back to that.

Zierler:

And where did you go for middle school and high school? Same neighborhood?

Elliott-High Eagle:

No, they were about a mile away. I went to Taft Junior High School and then I went on after that as grade seven and eight and then grades nine through 12, I went to a wonderful high school that—in those days—at the 12th grade one could take calculus, which was unheard of in most high schools in those days. That enabled me to jump forward when I went to the University of Oklahoma to jump ahead in my mathematics course work. But it was kind of those adolescent days in middle school that I began to explore who I was, what I was to do. And I would get in trouble. I mean, I really detested social studies. So, I sat in the class and when the teacher would turn her back, I’d hurt a paper wad towards the front waste can, see if I could hit it. And just as one got caught in the air, she turned around and saw that paper wad coming at the waste can and then send me to the office.

And I thought—looking back—I could have explained it quite well. I could have explained that, “Well, gee, in my future, I’m gonna be a Retrofire Officer at NASA Mission Control Center that computed return to earth trajectories and all I’m doing is just practicing!”

Zierler:

I’m sure you would have gotten an interesting response for that.

Elliott-High Eagle:

Yeah. In those days, science fiction and in our minds were the only ways we could dream of men getting to the moon. That and Hollywood.

Zierler:

Jerry, did you take physics in high school?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Oh, definitely. Yeah. I took every science. Biology, chemistry, physics, and all the math.

Zierler:

And did you know, when you were thinking about college, that you wanted to major in science? Was that clear to you even before you applied?

Elliott-High Eagle:

That was clear to me at age five and a half. There’s a video on YouTube that talks about the vision I had when I was five and a half years old. I was laying outside the house one hot summer day and I basically heard a voice saying, “Your life’s work is gonna be landing men on the moon.” And I went in real quickly and told mama that and she said, “Where’s the voice coming from?” She opened the door and I pointed to the sun. And she nodded and she says, “Keep the vision. Keep the dream.” So from age five and a half, I knew I was gonna land men on the moon.

Zierler:

How do you understand where that voice came from? What is the meaning you make of that?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well, from my American Indian background. We are a visionary native people, and spiritually my life’s plan came to me from our Creator that day. Mom understood that quite well. And I didn’t understand it, but I knew that I was gonna land men on the moon. Those days I had the oil companies try to hire me and said, “No, thank you, but I’m gonna land men on moon.” Well it wasn’t even NASA, it wasn’t even a space program. It was a feat that no one had ever dared try in history and here I was walking around telling people I was gonna land men on the moon and they used to pat me on the top of the head and say, “Keep the dream, boy.” So I knew that I had to have a preparation and a background in physics and math in order to accomplish that kind of thing. And of course my idols, in those days, were Einstein and Wernher von Braun and I paid very close attention to Wernher von Braun ‘cause he was still living, and he had presented a program on Walt Disney on TV one day about landing on the moon, that just really captured my attention.

Little did I find out that years later on Apollo 13, I went up the elevator to the control center and who was standing in front of me was Wernher von Braun. I finally got a chance to shake hands with him. I knew that preparation was the key of all of it. I had to do well in science. I had to do well in math to prepare me.

Zierler:

Now, did you major in physics right away at the University of Oklahoma?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Oh, definitely. Yeah. I mean, there was no other course that would prepare me except mathematics. Not even minor mathematics, but yes, physics was the direction I had to take. I needed to take. So, I majored in physics and minored in Mathematics. By the way, I was the first Native American Indian to graduate in physics from O.U.

Zierler:

And what year was it when you started at University of Oklahoma?

Elliott-High Eagle:

1961.

Zierler:

So this is really right at the beginning of the “space race”?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Oh yeah. At that time, there was a big political competition between Russia and the United States on launching satellites and who would become first. In 1957, in October, of course, Russia launched their very first satellite, Sputnik, which scared everybody because it was complete surprise that there was a manmade satellite orbiting around the earth done by the Russians and we didn’t know what that meant. So there was a big push to get the United States satellite into orbit also, and it was a horrible mess. Each military department, navy, army, air force, all had their separate programs, none were working together to launch something in space. And every time they went to launch pad and tried to fire off a rocket, let’s say, it would either blow up or something would happen.

Finally, it was Wernher von Braun, he said, “Get me 30 men in 30 days and I’ll put a satellite in orbit.” And he did. That was very impressive and that actually happened in 1958.

Zierler:

Jerry I’m curious—given that you were so focused on being a part of the space mission—if you considered any colleges that might have been sort of more close to the action? Or did you feel like Oklahoma was a good place for that?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well let me answer it this way; I was so poor prior to my first year in college, I dug ditches on the highway 14 hours a day in the sun just to earn enough money at $1.75 an hour to pay for my first semester in college. So I knew what hard work was. And I knew I never wanted to dig ditches again. University of Oklahoma was 19 miles away. It was convenient. It was also—in physics at that time—it was in the top 10 of the nation in physics. And I had a chance for a scholarship to Stanford and I turned it down ‘cause I just couldn’t afford the expense. I couldn’t afford being away from home. So, it was a perfect setup combination with the University of Oklahoma. Being in the top 10, I had some of the finest professors and physicists of the nation there.

Zierler:

Jerry, what professors did you become close with at Oklahoma as an undergraduate in physics?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well, there was one particular professor, named Dr. Stanley Babb and he was a great help, great counselor, and people in his class—out of a score of zero to 100—would average about 20 on his tests. It was difficult. So Stanley Babb was a personable guy, a personable physicist that could come down from his educational background and training to be a real person trying to give you good, sound advice on things. I really enjoyed him.

Zierler:

Jerry, did you gravitate more towards the theoretical side of physics or the experimental side of physics as an undergraduate?

Elliott-High Eagle:

As an undergraduate, there wasn’t any option there. You took everything that you could to get your degree in physics. And of course, there was a wide experimental M theory and you had to have both. We had physics labs and then we got a lot of the theory in class. There was an interesting professor there at the University of Oklahoma who was my professor in sound and acoustics. His name was Dr. C.L. Ricker and he’s the scientist who invented the loudspeaker. And I asked him one day, “How did you come up with that?” And he said, “Well, I was looking at Bell Laboratories one day and on my lunch hour, I used to love to listen to the symphony orchestra.” And he said, “I just wasn’t getting any bass response out of the symphony.” And I said, “Well what’d you do?” And he said, “Well, I just took a piece of paper, rolled it up, made it into a cone, and I held it up against the loud speakers in the radio and boom, I heard base. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I showed it to my boss, and he says, ‘Oh my god. Don’t tell anybody about this.’” That became how the loudspeaker was invented. It’s very interesting a process in physics, sometimes the most innocuous things you do can lead to great intentions and great solutions to problems that you didn’t even think about.

Zierler:

Jerry, what were some of the important laboratory work that you did as an undergraduate or summer work in physics?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well, in the summers, I had to work myself through every semester, so I didn’t really do a lot of things in the summertime. Laboratories were not very good. The equipment was old. You had to look at the principles of what they did. Of course, there were no electronics in those days, in the labs. So, you had to bear with some old, antiquated equipment in order to do some experiments, which was OK. It taught me a lot about you don’t have to have the fanciest, most expensive, most technically advanced equipment to do some basic things.

Zierler:

As you were progressing in your education, how did you get closer toward that plan of—as you say—landing a man on the moon? As you were getting closer to graduating from the University of Oklahoma?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well every course I took gave me one step closer. Finally it got to where I was a senior and I said, “Gee, the next step is I need to go on.” And the Vietnam War was ongoing at that time, and a lot of my friends were not able to pursue advanced degree. So they were drafted. I had graduated and started pursuing my master’s when I got a draft notice. And at the time—this is gonna be a long story, I don’t know if you’re up for it?

Zierler:

Absolutely.

Elliott-High Eagle:

I still had—even when I graduated from college with an undergraduate degree, I still hadn’t had a job. So I knew that I had to work and then go to school, work and go to school. So I wasn’t gonna type for 80 cents an hour. I mean, that’s what a lot of graduate students were doing. I wanted to earn big money. So over $2.00 an hour paid to be a police officer. So I went to Norman, Oklahoma Police Department, told them I wanted to be a police officer. “Well, you have to take a test.” So I took the test and the captain of the force called me to come into his office and he said, “You’ve made the highest score of anybody in the history of the police department.” He wanted to know if I had cheated. I said, “No, sir. How can you cheat on that?” So I became a full-time Norman Police Department officer and a Cleveland County deputy sheriff. So I’d go to school in the mornings ‘til 11 o’clock and then from 11 o’clock to 12, I had time to go and change and be a police officer from noon ‘til 8 o’clock at night every day, even on the weekends. And one particular day, I was in electrical engineering class and I had to wear my policeman officer’s uniform to class because I didn’t have a lot of time between 11 and 12 to go home and change so I used to wear that with my gun and my badge and my handcuffs, which used to freak out the professors, you know, walking down the class with a gun, but they got over that. I got out of class one day, still keeping the vision alive in my mind, “I’m going to land men on the moon. How is that going to happen?” So thinks happen when it’s time and when you’re ready. I had gotten out of class 11 o’clock and there were a lot of students passing in the aisles and I was walking in front of the dean of the College of Engineering’s office and on the bulletin board—this is how I got to medicine—out of the corner of my eye, something caught my attention. It was an 8 and a half by 11 piece of paper handwritten on it saying, “NASA hiring today.” And I looked at that and I looked in the door of the dean’s office and there was a line of boys almost out to the door waiting to be interviewed. So I looked at my watch and I thought, “Well, I’ll just stand in line and if I don’t get interviewed, that’s fine, I’ll have to leave and go to work.” So NASA at those days were just beginning. Everybody wanted to go work at NASA. It was exciting, what NASA was doing. And it was the future, which inspired most people. So the interviews went quite fast. I was surprised. And when it came time for my interview, the man from NASA, Bernie Goodwin, he opened the door and says, “Can I help you, officer?” I said, “Well, maybe.” And he says, “Is my car over parked?” And I said, “No, sir.” He said, “Come on in.” He said, “Why are you here?” And I said, “Well, I wanna land men on the moon.” Here I am dressed as a police officer. He said, “Well, OK. Do you have a degree?” “Yes, sir.” “Do you have a resume?” “No, I don’t.” “Do you have a form 171 government employment form filled out?” “No.” “Do you have a phone that I can contact you?” And I said, “Yeah, here’s my mother’s phone.” And he said, “Well, tell me what you wanna do again?” I said, “I wanna land men on the moon.” “OK. Well I’m in a hurry. Let me pack my briefcase,” and it’s one of these, “Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” things. So he left for the airport and I left to go to a job. Well around about that time, there was an incident on that Saturday night where I was called to arrest a man that was drunk on the street. So my buddy and I went to pick him up and we did and we put him in the back of the squad car that was headed towards jail. “Where are you taking me?” We said, “Well, we’re taking you to a safe place.” “Where are you taking me?” “We’re taking you to jail.” He said, “Well if you take me to jail, I’ll kill you.” And wide-eyed, I looked at my partner and we put him in jail and looked up his record and he had been released very soon from McAllister State Penitentiary and he had already served 30 years for murder already. And so we kinda took his words a little bit more seriously. So a couple of days later, I got a letter addressed to me at the police department saying, “Dear Officer Elliott, I’m gonna kill you.” Well, those are not the kind of friendship letters you wanna receive. So my captain of the police department moved me into his garage that he had made into a one room rental place for students and I slept with my gun at my pillow at night. So I thought, “Well, this is very interesting.” And then mom called and said, “Well you got a letter from the federal government.” I said, “Oh good. What is it?” She said, “You’re leaving for boot camp in 15 days to go to Vietnam” Well this is kind of interesting. The Creator’s put me in a position of where I have to choose. I can choose where I wanna die. I can choose a guy trying to kill me here or go to Vietnam trying to get killed. So mom says, “Well, call your granddad and let him know.” Now, granddad was—in modern terms—known as the medicine man. He was a very spiritual leader, very wise. And he was a farmer in those days. I call. He answered. And I said, “Granddad,” after we got through the initial greetings, I said, “I have bad news.” And he said, “What is it?” I said, “Well it looks like I’m drafted for the Army. I’m going to Vietnam.” “Well, let me tell you about the calf that was just born yesterday. Had a little complications getting him out of his mother, I had to back the tractor up and pull him out of his mother, but he’s all right.” I said, “Granddad, did you hear what I just said?” There was a silence and he said, “Yes, I heard.” He said, “Don’t worry. They’re not gonna take ya.” Well anything else he said in that conversation went in one ear and out the other. It was just denial complete denial. So I called mom back, she said, “You talk to granddad?” I said, “Yes.” “What’d he say?” He said, “Don’t worry. They’re not gonna take ya.” There was silence on the phone and mom said, “Well, I don’t understand all your granddad knows,” but she says, “I know this, whatever he says is the truth. I’m with him.” And I said, “Well you both are in denial. You both refuse to know that I’m gonna go to Vietnam.” So here we are, situation. Here I am, trying to press on, get a bachelor’s degree to go to NASA and they wouldn’t let me finish. I wanted to have a draft board and they said no. One good reason, you can’t get an advanced degree. So my appeal was turned down from the draft board. So then, within those 15 days that I was supposed to leave from boot camp, mom calls again and says, “You got another letter here from the government.” “OK. Read it to me.” She said, “Oh, well this is from NASA. Had you talked with somebody from NASA?” And I said, “Yes. Read it to me.” “Dear Mr. Elliott, we’re offering you a position in the Man in Space program. Please call immediately to accept or not accept this invitation.” This was as a GS7 in the federal government, that was several thousand dollars a year. I thought, “Wow, I’m rich.” Anyway, I called down to Houston. At that time, it was called The Manned Spacecraft Center. So I asked to speak to Bernie Goodwin, the personnel director. And he came on the phone and he said, “Yes, are you that officer I spoke with at OU?” I said, “Yes, sir.” “Well, did you get our telegram?” “Yes, sir.” “Well, are you gonna come and work for us?” And I said, “Well, it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to.” “Why? Did you get drafted?” I said, “Yes.” “Who’s your draft board director.” “Well, it’s Colonel Wilson, sir.” “Well,” he said, “don’t worry. We have General Stevenson on our staff that would be happy to call Colonel Wilson and tell him that your ours.” “OK.” He said, “Now, possession is nine-tenths of the law. You know that as an officer, don’t you?” I said, “Yes, sir.” “Well, you turn in your gun and your badge and your uniform and check out of school, check out your books, and be down,” —this is on a Thursday—“You be in my office Monday morning down here in Houston to get processed.” “Yes, sir!” I told mom that and I didn’t have a car and she said, “Well, you can borrow my car to drive down there. And before you leave, you call your granddad.” Said, “OK, mom.” So, I called granddad and he answers the phone. I said, “Granddad, I have good news.” Before I said the next word, anything, he said, “I told you they weren’t going to take you.”

Zierler:

Wow.

Elliott-High Eagle:

He knew. So that’s how I got to NASA. And of all of the 17,000 jobs down there, the job that they assigned me was a flight controller in the control center for Project Gemini which lead into the Apollo moon landing program.

Zierler:

Well there you go. That’s it.

Elliott-High Eagle:

And it was in the Gemini Program. I started in Tom Stafford’s Gemini 5 Gemini 6 mission and that evolved into the Apollo program. A lot of people don’t know that the Gemini program was an afterthought. It was never designed before Apollo. It was designed because NASA knew that we had to perfect our rendezvous and docking techniques before we could go to the moon. So they quickly gemmed up the 12 mission Gemini program to perfect the rendezvous in docking. So my first job there as a flight controller was in the control center on Gemini 5, Gemini 6, Tom Stafford’s, and it was kind of interesting.

30 days hired in, Chris Kraft—a famous flight director—came in a lull period and walked up to me on my console and said, “Son, I understand you’re just hired in.” “Yes, sir.” He said, “How do you like your job?” I said, “I really like it, but I just came outta school where we read books and we learned a lot of things,” I said, “Are there any books around here that’d help me do my job better?” And he took his cigar out of his mouth and he said, “Son, we at NASA, we don’t read books. We write ‘em.”

Zierler:

[Laughs]

Elliott-High Eagle:

So he put his cigar back in his mouth and walked out. Well, I wrote the very first Aegena Systems Handbook. It was nonexistent. I wrote it.

Zierler:

Jerry, I wanna back up just for a second. What was your sense in terms of the recruitment to NASA? Why were they so excited about you in particular? What is your sense of what you had done to distinguish yourself and get you on their radar where they really reached out and went out of their way to make sure that you joined?

Elliott-High Eagle:

It was a spiritual thing. I mean, it absolutely was a spiritual thing. If you look back at the pattern and the sequences of things that had to come in play, totally a spiritual thing. I was one of very few—if not the only person—hired from the University of Oklahoma. I was the very first American Indian hired at NASA. Very first. I was the very first American Indian that graduated in physics, University of Oklahoma. And I think what impressed them was my enthusiasm and also my security background as a police officer showed that I demonstrated that I was very secure and confident and I had a secret security clearance when I started working at NASA.

But I think there is no rational answer to why did they pick me. The irrational answer was—which is the truth—it was a spiritual thing. I had a vision when I was five and a half years old about landing on the moon. It was NASA’s mission to land men on the moon. It was my mission to fulfill my vision.

Zierler:

Jerry, what did you realize when you got comfortable at NASA? What were the things that you had the most innate talent for? What were the things that came easiest to you on the job?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Everything had to be invented. There were no experts. There was nobody you could go to to say, “How do you do this?” In fact, my first boss said, “If you see something that needs to be done, go do it. Even if it’s not in your job description.” I mean, everyone was at equal status. No one knew any more than anybody else ‘cause we had never done this. And so, I’m a very creative person and I saw that opportunities to use my creativity in a lot of different areas that I saw weren’t being done and weren’t in my job description. I think creativity was the biggest thing that a person can have that you can’t study for. You can’t learn how to be creative. You have to be open to be creative, not limited. People succeed or fail because of limitations that are self-imposed. I had no self-imposed limitations. And in those days, the common slogan was, “Well, the sky is the limit.” Well, we at NASA proved that it wasn’t the limit.

Zierler:

What were the goals of the initial program?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Initial program of Gemini was to perfect rendezvous and docking. That was all. And we did. And once we perfected rendezvous and docking, then we were headed onto the Apollo program saying we know how to do that now. There’s no reason to stop us from going to the moon.

Zierler:

So you understood Gemini—even from the beginning—as a necessary precursor to Apollo.

Elliott-High Eagle:

Oh, yeah. Everybody knew that, “Hey, we’ve got to perfect rendezvous and docking and we have to have a program to do that.” And the government produces reams and reams of documentation on Gemini program, the whole 12 mission program was done on 21 pages. 21 pages. I mean, it was quickly done too. Quickly conceived. And there was a lot of push effort to get that underway ‘cause we couldn’t go to the moon without it.

Zierler:

How big a part of your day were computers? Were computers part of anything that you were doing in those early years?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Oh yes. Keep in mind, we had no computers like we have these days.

Zierler:

Of course.

Elliott-High Eagle:

The only computers that we had were card readers, magnetic readers, IBM 360 mainframe huge computers. That’s all. And that’s what drove the simulations in the control center and ultimately that’s what drove the software for landing on the moon. We didn’t have anything except huge computers. And a lot of the programs written by MIT and AC electronics in those days—were done for the astronauts and then IBM did the mainframe 360 computers for the control center. So the onboard computers were programmed totally by MIT Stanley [??] Labs that helped makes the electronics, which is kind of interesting as a side story ‘cause I attended a meeting at MIT in Boston to listen to a briefing by Dr. Jim Miller who’s explaining some of the APOLLO program computers in the astronaut onboard spacecraft computers. And I proposed a question to him one time.

There is a computer program that they created in the event that the spacecraft engine didn’t achieve enough thrust on the startup, as a safety feature, the program would automatically shut the engine down after two seconds. And that’s when I proposed the question to him, I said, “Sir, I don’t think that’s long enough.” “Oh yeah, that’s plenty long enough.” But MIT had their heads in the sky. I mean, they were not practical reality-oriented. They were theorists. So I went back home and I looked at the engine data for the lunar module and who built it, had some test data and I looked at the test data of the firing of the engine and it was a slow thrust. OK. That means that the MIT program is not gonna work. I mean it’s gonna work, but it’s gonna shut the engine down because it was a slow thrust buildup, it’d take more than two seconds to build up 100 percent thrust.

So I went to my boss, who’s a former rancher and a really a smart guy, and I told him that and he says, “Who are you to question MIT, top scientists and professors up there?” And I told him. I said, “It’s not gonna happen.” So when we came time that Apollo 5 mission to check out the lunar module, I’m sitting in the control center and the countdown came to fire the engine in orbit and Gene Kranz the Mission Control Center flight director, I heard him say, “It did what? It shut the engine down?” And I knew instantly what had happened. Instantly.

So I went to my boss kind of like, “See, I told you so.” He shut the door and he said, “Don’t you dare tell anybody what happened if you knew about this before,” he says, “or I’ll kill your career.”

Zierler:

Wow.

Elliott-High Eagle:

A month later, they transferred me out of his section to a brand new section called Flight Dynamics where I became a trajectory officer.

Zierler:

Jerry, did you stay quiet? Did you follow your boss’s threat?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Oh god, yeah. Yeah.

Zierler:

What was his motivation? Was he looking to save his own job?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Yes. Anyone had known that I had gone to him and told him that, “Hey, this whole problem could have been solved.” We finally finished the Apollo 5 mission on an automated sequencing thing, but we missed the firing of the engine. So it was a big deal. He probably could have gotten fired.

Zierler:

Jerry, I want to ask at this point—now that your career at NASA is really solid and you really understand what’s going on—it seems to me that the skills that you’re using on any given day are quite broad, and so I wonder if you can explain a little how much of your day is about math, how much is about physics, how much is about engineering, how much is about computer science, how much of it is about just being creative and working with people? Can you talk a little bit about the skills that were sort of necessary on a day-to-day basis to succeed?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Sure. All of the above. There was no separation. No separation. In fact, the biggest skill that we could have is our imagination and our creativity brought us through a lot of things. A lot of things that were not admitted, a lot of things that we saw were admitted wrong, we had the opportunity to correct. Even at my level, I mean, people paid attention to what we said. So I think having an open mind, creativity, not being self-limited pulled us through. It was a constant, daily thing. We worked sometimes 12, 14 hours a day. Even on the weekends, we’d come in on Saturday and Sunday. We had a goal for President Kennedy to land them on the moon. And there wasn’t a watching the clock say, “Oh, it’s time to go home.” You went home when you were so tired that you needed to get some rest so you can come back and start again, days; nights and weekends. It didn’t matter.

So personal endurance was a skill. Motivation was a skill that we hadn’t been given to us. We shall land men on the moon in 10 years. Our response was, “OK. We can do that.” I mean, unquestionably doing the impossible. Doing something that mankind had never done before, but only dreamed of. We said, “OK. We can do that.”

Zierler:

Jerry, where were you and what was that day like when Kennedy was shot?

Elliott-High Eagle:

I was on the University of Oklahoma Campus walking out of class when it was on the loudspeakers. “The president has been shot.” And everybody was in shock because of that announcement and everybody was glued to the TV screens, trying to see what was going on. We didn’t know what to make of it. We didn’t fear that the NASA program would be canceled. No, we did not. And ultimately, it was President Johnson that took over Kennedy’s position and he was also the chairman of the space program. So he felt like NASA was pretty secure. And we had to have a goal to land men on the moon to beat the Russians politically, but also scientifically. And the main thrust of going to the moon was a political motivation. Science took a back seat to the war and the funding for the war. We were actually funded initially for over 20 moon missions but due to the war, NASA scaled back to only 17 missions. Apollo 17 was the last manned mission to the moon.

Zierler:

Of course, if it was primarily a scientific proposition, it might not have had the budgetary support necessary to do it.

Elliott-High Eagle:

Absolutely correct. People would not go to the moon to unlock some of the secrets of the moon just because you wanna go to the moon. Very interesting, but no. Keep in mind, at that time, the Vietnam War was going on, taking most of the dollars. So, the whole Men in Space program to the moon was done on a very small budget. We did not have unlimited funds and we still made it happen, based on the limited funds that we were given.

Zierler:

What was next after Apollo 5?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well the next step was to do rendezvous and docking with the command service module, which we began to use our learned techniques of rendezvous and docking from the Gemini program. So that happened. And then we caught word one day, Apollo 8 of course was the first time that we’d gone around the moon, and we did that because we had learned that the Russians were attempting to go around the moon and we wanted to beat them. So on that period of Christmas—I forgot the year—but we sent Apollo 8 around the moon.

There was also a fear—a real fear—that the Russians were gonna land that on the moon, but we wanted to be first around the moon an Apollo 8 wasn’t quite ready, so there was an attempt to configure the Gemini capsule and send a two man Gemini capsule around the moon. And that effort was abandoned because the Russians had had some severe problems with their space craft and had killed some cosmonauts. So we abandoned the idea of configuring a Gemini capsule. That was a classified program in those days.

Zierler:

What were some of the greatest technical challenges as the years were progressing toward 1969?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well, believe it or not, some of the biggest challenges we had was on the ground, not on the air. We had to have simulations of landing men on the moon before we actually conducted the missions, and those simulations were to point out some of the defects in our thinking about what we were doing, and they had to be programmed on these IBM 360 computers and that was a whole separate part of the control center was dedicated to simulations and those guys would sit at their consoles and create problems for us that we had to solve. And that was a big challenge to prepare the ground team to support the crews and to overcome problems that would come up. They’d throw likely problems at us and they’d throw unlikely problems at us and we’d kind of scoff and laugh at that saying, “Hey, that’s not real, let’s not do that.” The simulations prior to the missions were critically important to discover flaws in our planning and operations in the control center. We made mission rule books as guides or “recipes” to follow and help us decide what to do and when to do it should something off nominal occur during the missions. Obviously, the books could not tell us what to do, or if they could, they wouldn’t need flight controllers to make decisions.

But I think getting the ground team prepared—along with the astronaut’s training—we had to do the same training on the simulators that the crew did. And I remember the later module simulator, I’d get in and actually do the lift off and landing and I probably crashed a few lunar modules in simulation, but as far as our training, we had to go through the kind of training that the astronauts did so we understood their job, we understood what they were doing. And all that took a lot of creative thinking, which I might wanna add—I tell this to students all the time—it’s a very important point—we thought our way to the moon before our feet landed on it.

And they would say, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Well, we had to think of all the kinds of things we had to do to prepare to land. Everything came from men’s minds.” And that shows you how powerful our mind is. We thought our way to the moon before our feet landed.

Zierler:

What about your own career trajectory? How fast were you getting promoted in the years up to the moon landing?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Very fast, but the government had an automatic promotion. If you didn’t really screw up, you were promoted from a GS7 to GS9, GS9 to 11, 11 to 12, 12 to 13, and so on. Pretty much an automatic system, which was good because it kind of relieved your mind of a lot of the butt kissing that was going on in the industry, you know, in order to succeed, you had to warm up to your superiors. Well, here, it relieved all of the stress about, “Are we gonna get promoted?” We knew we were. So then we could concentrate and focus on our job, and that was right. That was the right thing to do.

Zierler:

Can you talk about what exactly it means to be lead retrofire officer? What does that job exactly entail?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well first of all, retrofire officer duties was to recover from any abort off the launch pad. If something went wrong and the astronauts were lifted off the launch vehicle by the launch escape system into the ocean, we had to take care of creating safe trajectories all the way from lift off through the whole mission. At any point in the mission, if something was going to require a return of the astronauts home, that became our duties.

Normally on a normal mission, everything was going fine, our primary focus was to compute return to earth trajectories from the moon back to the earth and reentry. We computed the return to earth trajectories and we also had the ability to return them into the oceans, different places, depending if there was a hurricane in one ocean, we could move the landing point to another ocean. A lead retrofire officer was pretty much in charge of everything going right among all the other retrofire officers. The single point of contact for the mission and through things that would come up during astronaut briefings or training or whatever, the lead retrofire officer would look to to answer questions regarding those kind of duties, rather than singling out an retrofire officer.

There weren’t a lot of retrofire officers. There was six. And we all had duties at different times during the mission so that we were covering the clock with our expertise around the clock. So that’s basically it. The lead retrofire officer was called to answer all of the kinds of questions for that mission and the lead would be transferred from one mission to another retrofire officer, then you’d come to lead and so on. So I hope that answers it. There was so much pressure on us flight controllers, one man committed suicide because he could not handle it.

Zierler:

Jerry, on the sociological side of things, as a Native American, did you ever feel like you were treated unfairly at NASA? Was racism ever a part of your reality there?

Elliott-High Eagle:

NASA was a white supremist organization. No question. They did not allow black controllers in the control center, in the mission control room. Minorities? No. No women. No. I remember when they hired the first black person and that was rare and certainly not in the beginnings of NASA. I was sexually abused one month 30 days after I hired in. I was sexually abused by one manager and I couldn’t go to his boss because his boss was also a sexual abuser. And I didn’t wanna go to my boss or anybody else because of fear of somebody coming back at me and maybe losing my job and whatever. I just kept it quiet for many, many years. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever told this story to anybody. I’m not aware this has happening to any employees since, except for racial discrimination which was strongly prevalent among employees as well as managers.

But the beginnings of NASA—of course the Air Force was in charge of the [??] so in the early beginnings of NASA, we had both NASA employees and military employees working side by side. And all of the Air Force and NASA employees were white. But I suffered from racism from pretty much the day I hired in until 40 years later. Yeah. I had things on my desk, cartoons drawn about my American Indian heritage. I didn’t seem that I was allowed the privileges that other employees were allowed. As a for instance, after a successful mission, a few select flight controllers were chosen to attend press conferences to answer questions to the press. They were all white. I was never allowed to attend the press conference.

We were also told strictly that while you’re sitting in control center, you had to be wearing a suit, a white shirt, and a tie. I couldn’t wear my braids, and if I did, I would not be sitting in the control center. My hair had to be cut like a white person’s. I could not have braids, I could not have long hair. I could not wear any of my Indian native jewelry. I had to look like everybody else. I had to look patterned like everybody else at NASA. NASA was—until the day I retired—a white supremist organization. Unfair to women, unfair to minorities. And they created an equal opportunity office ‘cause they had to, but there was nobody to support real equal opportunity. Nobody. The only equal opportunity we had was to prove to others that as every “minority” could compete or excel, just like brilliant people. That the mind and the brain doesn’t know the color of the skin. That’s what allowed me to compete with my brain, which knows no color. NASA has always been managed and operated in a military style management and environment probably due to many NASA managers were veterans.

Zierler:

Were there any mentors or leaders that were allies to you who looked out for you to make sure that you were treated as fairly as possible?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Yeah. Several. I had some very bad leaders. I had some very good leaders that took the time and care to help guide me in my career and put me in positions of where I would excel by showing my expertise. By demonstrating my intelligence, my creativity. That is what “saved” me to maintain employment. They didn’t need me as a person; they needed my brain power. Without those opportunities, I would not have succeeded in a lot of the things that I did.

Zierler:

Let’s talk about Apollo 11. What was that day like for you? Did you know that that was going to be the day or were there some false starts?

Elliott-High Eagle:

No, we knew that was the day. Everybody had questions, “Who’s gonna be the commander that goes to the moon?” And there was a lot of astronauts to choose from. And of course Neil Armstrong was chosen, which was the right choice. But we were all programmed, all the software, all the tests that we’d done, everything had to be right in order to be able to say, “We’re ready for liftoff.” I mean, countless meetings. Countless. The contractors knowing NASA centers and so on, the astronauts. Everybody had to say that, “Yes, we are ready.” So when that day came, I was very proud that the vehicle that landed on the moon was named “Eagle”. Yeah. When Neil Armstrong landed, he called out to us in the control center, “The eagle has landed.” I felt really proud.

And Neil Armstrong was one of the best astronauts among all of them. Even Alan Shepard. Quick story about Alan Shepard, I worked with him for years and Tom Hanks came to show us the Apollo 13 movie before it was released to the public, rented an entire theater and took us all out to dinner. And then we sat there in the theater waiting to see the Apollo 13 movie and I sat next to Alan Shepard and while we were waiting, I said, “Alan, while we’ve got a little time here,” I said, “I’ve worked with you for years and I’ve always wanted to ask you a question that millions of other people have asked you,” I said, “forgive me, I need to ask the same question.” He said, “What is it?” “What did it feel like to be the first American astronaut in space?” And he never cracked a smile. He said, “It’s not a big deal.” And I was shocked because it was a big deal. I said, “Alan, why did you say that?” And again, he never cracked a smile, and he said, “How would you feel if you replaced a monkey?”

Zierler:

[Laughs] That’s great.

Elliott-High Eagle:

‘Cause the first astronauts were monkeys.

Zierler:

That’s very funny.

Elliott-High Eagle:

I thought that was classic. Another quick story since you mentioned Apollo 11, when we went anywhere in the federal government, we had to fill out a trip report, how many mileage and this and that on rental cars. And Neil Armstrong filled out a travel voucher and claimed nearly 400, 500,000 miles at 25 cents a mile on his travel voucher. And of course—and assigned it—firstly, it was a joke, you know, but he got 25 cents a mile on mileage issued and he claimed for the million back at 25 cents a mile.

Zierler:

That’s great.

Elliott-High Eagle:

I have a copy of that travel voucher signed. People have sense of humors.

Zierler:

Sure.

Elliott-High Eagle:

People—they drank a lot, they partied a lot, they played hard, but when it came time to be serious, they were serious. But the only thing that really kept things going alive were people’s sense of humor. My boss, John Lewellyn—who was the section chief in charge of retrofire officers—had one day, his pass taken away at NASA. He did something wrong to violate NASA’s parking policies. Anyway, he was forbidden drive his car onto the facility. Well, he was kind of a cowboy also. He decided that, well, he needed to get to work and how was he gonna get to work? So he hooked his truck up to this horse trailer and brought his horse trailer to the gate and then he rode into NASA on his horse. And he went right up the control center and left his horse there right outside the control center. [Laughs] I mean, you talk about—things like that were humorous, but they were also serious. He was like, “Well, I’ll just ride my horse.” Funny. Everybody had to have a pretty good sense of humor and not take life too seriously.

Zierler:

Jerry, where was your work station? Where were you situated exactly on that morning for Apollo 11?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well, I was in one of the back rooms as a support retrofire officer to John Williams, who was my boss. He was in the control center. MOCR, they call it, Mission Operations Control Room. I was in the staff support room. And again, landing on the moon, he didn’t really have a job. He just sat there occupying a position because there wasn’t anything going on that would require his expertise. So from Apollo 12 all the way to the end of Apollo, I was in the Mission Operations Control Room sitting there on the console, retrofire officer console. So that’s where I was. And everybody was gathered around to support each position in the control center. I mean, each person sitting in the control center had a specific task to accomplish. And as I said earlier, our task was to compute aborts and also return trajectories from the moon back to the earth. So we were a pretty good team.

Zierler:

And so what parts of the position—for your job specifically—were most tense or nerve-wracking and what parts of the mission were, you know, this would be a good time to take a deep breath and you can relax for a minute?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Never relaxed. From the time they lifted off ‘til splashdown. When we saw the chutes open and the capsule fall in the ocean, you could take a deep breath and say, “We did it.” Like when Apollo 13—we didn’t know that the astronauts were gonna come back alive. We knew they were coming back because I computed the return to earth trajectory to bring ‘em back, but the explosion may have damaged that two inch heat shield on the bottom of the capsule that was kind of ablative material that would take the severe thousands of degrees temperature and keep the astronauts from burning up, we didn’t know the explosion might have damaged that heat shield and coming back from the earth at 25,000 miles an hour, the integrity of that heat shield may have been compromised.

So when they came back, there’s a period of a couple of minutes where they go through the ionosphere and you lose communications and that was normal on every mission. But finally at the end of the couple minutes or so, we kept calling up to Apollo 13 and no answer and we kept thinking, “Oh my God,” you know, your heart stops. What happened? And finally, we heard the callout. Then we started breathing a sigh of relief. That was a very, very intense moment. Very. You always had to be alert for what’s happening or what could happen next. In fact, during the planning parts of Apollo and Gemini, we would put together a book of information that says, “If this happened, here’s what action you would take.” It’s called the mission rules book. And that was kind of a guide to record problem analysis. If something would happen, here’s the correct action. And each mission would write a mission rules book. End of story.

Zierler:

I wonder, Jerry, if it was at all a spiritual moment for you when the astronauts actually landed on the moon? Did you feel like a prophecy had come true in real time for you?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Yeah. We accomplished NASA’s mission and my “mission” given to me by the Creator. Yes.

Zierler:

What did that feel like?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well, it’s hard to describe that feeling. It’s so overpowering. You knew that you had accomplished your childhood vision and you knew that NASA had accomplished President Kennedy’s goal for the United States and of course the whole world is glued to the screen and is watching what is happening, even though black and white—we didn’t have a colored TV up on the moon, we had a black and white camera—so, we had invaded the moon, but we had also lost something in the process. We lost the unknown of what is the moon, what is it composed of? What is it like? What’s there? That’s what we lost. We gained scientific knowledge, but we lost the imagination of the moon, if that makes sense.

Zierler:

Absolutely.

Elliott-High Eagle:

People for thousands of years had looked at the moon wondering what’s there and so on. We had lost that. It’s almost like a virgin that had been penetrated and compromised and is no longer a virgin. It’s the same analogy, feeling that I had on the moon. Something gained, but also something lost.

Zierler:

Jerry, your emotions must have been very complex in so far as, as you say, NASA was a white supremist organization, and yet you must have felt incredible pride in being a part of it at the same time.

Elliott-High Eagle:

Oh yeah. As long as I did my job, I was accepted. I wasn’t accepted as a person—it’s interesting, we never think of ourselves as minorities. That’s the name given to us. And our belief is we’re not minorities. That’s the name you put on me to distinguish us from you. It’s another white supremacy thing. “You’re minorities, we’re not.” But yeah. As long as you did your job and you were technically competent, those were the two words that were used. If you’re technically competent, you’re accepted. Interesting thing about the control center makeup are the personnel.

Each person in there came from a different university, came from a different state, came from a different culture, a different upbringing, a different education. And I would always say that the strength of the flight control team was not that we were all similar, no. ‘Cause we were not. The strength of the flight control team was that we were all different. Within difference, there is strength. And that’s pretty much what helped us a lot is each person was from their own background, was able to contribute something that somebody else couldn’t have ‘cause they were a different culture, a different background, a different education, a different upbringing, and so on. The strength was in diversity, not in being all alike.

Not that we didn’t have arguments with each other. I sit right next to a guy from Brooklyn, New York that had a strong Brooklyn accent and thought American Indians were what you saw on TV. But then when it came time for the mission, we were a team. After the mission, it was different.

Zierler:

Jerry, did the discriminations that you faced—did they complicate your feelings of patriotism as an American?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Oh, no. Not at all. In fact, reinforced it. Actually reinforced it.

Zierler:

How so?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well, you have to go back to particularly American Indian culture. We were here long before white man was here. This is our country. Our country. Everyone else was an invader. An alien who come and took our country. But it was the personal pride involved and there was also a cultural pride involved that I was sitting there feeling the success of the moment for myself, however, expanding that thought, I was feeling a personal pride for my culture and all the people and all the American Indians in the country that, among the people that landed on the moon, sat there with one of the cultural people from the different Indian nations. That was a sense of pride for my people. Yeah. Of all the steps that it took to get educated to get at NASA is I carried the banner for not only the country, I carried the banner for my people.

Zierler:

And Jerry, at what point in your career did you feel confident enough or senior enough to take on that ambassador role for Native Americans? When did that happen for you?

Elliott-High Eagle:

In ’76. I went to Sacred Mountain in South Dakota where Crazy Horse had a vision and Sitting Bull and others. It’s a spiritual mountain, these people went there to seek visions. It was a bicentennial year in 1976 and there was no inclusion of the American Indian in that year. No. We had contributed 520 drugs, things that American Indians knew about that pharmaceuticals had made drugs out of. We made tremendous amount of contributions to this country and not being recognized in the bicentennial year. I went to that mountain and I had a vision. I came back and I wrote down some pen scratches of what my vision was and I showed it to another person, and they said, “That looks like it’s gonna be a law, some kind of a thing that the Congress would approve.”

Well, I sent it to the Congress and it went through 535 house of representatives, 100 senators, and President Ford. And signed into law Native American Awareness Week 1976. In the middle of the bicentennial year, the government finally, legally recognized the American Indian. And that came from a vision. I wrote a whole story of that. You send me your email, I’ll send you that story.

That was the second time. The very first time was when I went to the Chemawa Indian School in Oregon and these were orphan kids, Indian kids that lived in this boarding house trying to live there and be educated there. And there was a train track about 12 feet from the school and I visited that school and they said the kids are having hearing problems because of the noise of the train. So that was my very first time I took up Native American causes and I actually got the train track removed a distance far away from school. That was my first American Indian success. I was also involved in the Alcatraz takeover of Alcatraz Island. And that’s another story, also. But that was a first, the Chemawa Indian School. I felt that one person could make a difference. One person has power. And it just showed me if you use the power in the right way, you can accomplish good things.

Zierler:

Jerry, how had your responsibilities changed and increased by the time Apollo 13 was ready?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well my responsibilities were the same on the advent of the Apollo program. I never had anything different. I finished up as a retrofire officer through the Apollo missions and the missions were coming about every month and a half. You’d get through one mission, you’d have another one to prepare for. So by the end of the fall program, I was pretty proficient in what we did. Apollo 13 proved that, also. Send me your email address and I’ll send you some information.

Zierler:

Gladly. Can you talk about some of the changes that might have accounted for the disasters of Apollo 13? What was different that makes you understand all of the problems associated with Apollo 13?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well the main problem was the oxygen tank blew up and there was a heater to keep heat on their oxygen tank and it caused too much heat and it caused the tank to boil. There’s always that despite the technical expertise, you had the probability of failure or risk. On Apollo 11 first moon landing, the success/failure was 50% success, and 50% failure. And that was always a constant, ongoing thing was it might be a technical problem, it might be a human problem. That was always foremost on your mind on every mission. And planning ahead, even in this life after retirement, doing potential problem analysis, saying, “Well, if this happened, what’s gonna be the result of it and then what do you do about it?” And that’s a good philosophy that everybody oughta be doing.

Zierler:

At what point in the mission did you realize that you really had to step up to save the day?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well, we worked in shifts and I was just coming off shift and my replacement was coming on shift. And so, it was a normal mission up to that point and I got my car and was headed out the gate. Just as I was heading out the gate, I turned the radio on and they said, “Breaking news, we’ve had an explosion aboard Apollo 13.” So I did a U-turn, came back to the control center. Everybody was crazy. You could just imagine the chaos. We didn’t know what happened and we didn’t know what was gonna happen.

So at that point, I knew I had to take command. I was the lead retrofire officer. And so, computed the return to earth trajectory, passed the information to the capcom, who was the spokesman to the crew so he could bring up the information. It was interesting, Gene Kranz—the flight direction—had it all wrong. He won’t admit that now, but I know ‘cause I was there. He stood and said, “All right, guys. Let’s settle down. We’re gonna do a direct abort.” Well, a direct abort was to rotate the spacecraft around and fire towards the earth. I mean, it was a rendezvous situation. The earth is going around the sun, so it’s not stationary. So you had to fire ahead of the earth so that that would rendezvous and intercept. Well the problem with that is, they would expend all their fuel and if something happened and shut the engine down, you’re not comin’ home.

So the right thing to do was—and ultimately we convinced him—was to go around the moon for only 50 second—on the way to the moon, we were not in a trajectory that would bring us around the moon. So we had to, first of all, do the correction so that we would orbit around the moon and then fire back towards the earth at return to earth trajectory. So, even our leaders had the wrong idea of what to do and that’s why they depend on people like us that knew what to do. That was when I sensed that here’s my role. I’m lead retrofire officer.

Side story—two months before Apollo 13, I got a jury summons in Houston, court room. Judge Singleton. And I went to Gene Kranz and said, “I don’t know what to do,” he said, “I’ll write you a letter. You take that to the judge.” He said, “Let’s hope that he lets you off ‘cause you’re the lead retrofire officer.” I’ll send you a copy of the—so I went there and of course the court room is filled with people and everybody would get up and give their excuse for not being on his jury and he would say, “Sit down. Next one. Sit down. Next.” Even a pregnant woman, “Sit down.” It came my time and I kept watching what was going on. I says, oh well, I’ll tell him my story. He didn’t even look up. He said, “Son, what’s your excuse?” And I said, “Well, I’m lead retrofire officer on Apollo 13.” “What’s that?” “It’s my job to bring the astronaut crew home from the room.”

And there was silence. It was none of this, “OK, sit down.” It was silent. You could hear a pin drop. Everybody’s expecting him to deny it. He says, “Son,” he says, “as you have noticed, I don’t let anybody off of my juries, but I’m gonna make an exception one time, this time.” I said, “Yes, sir. What’s that?” And he looked up and he says, “Bring ‘em home alive.” “Yes, sir.” And I got off the jury. “Bring ‘em home alive.” And then when that mission happened, I’m just wondering what was going through his mind, if he remembers that young man in his court room that day when he said, “Bring ‘em back alive.” Interesting story.

Zierler:

How concerned were you that you wouldn’t be able to succeed at that moment?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Not concerned. My job was to bring ‘em back. My job wasn’t to keep ‘em alive. I knew they were coming back—as I said before—but my concern was that are they gonna be alive? You know, as I said, the heat shield—we didn’t know if it was damaged from the—so that was my concern. I had a big sigh of relief knowing that they were on a trajectory that would come home. That was my job. That was what we were trying to do.

So I wasn’t worried about my part of the Apollo 13 mission during that time. I was more concerned about the safety of the crew once they entered the atmosphere. Since the atmosphere became about 4,000 feet and then really started getting critical at about 100,000 feet and then the astronauts—by the way—they could maneuver that spacecraft. A lot of people didn’t know that. They had something called a lift vector and you could rotate the spacecraft in a direction full up would be you could fly 900 nautical miles. All the way down, it’d be a ballistic reentry. You just come in in ballistic, whole lot of Gs. And there was a lot of room for the astronauts to maneuver between lift vector up and lift vector down. So the astronauts had the capability of maneuvering long range or short range. A lot of people didn’t know that. The entry footprint was about 900 nautical mile and within that, they could go a little bit to the right, a little bit to the left, and a little bit down range or a little bit short range. So they had that capability if they were about to ‘land’ where they shouldn’t. And I believe—if I recall—there was a hurricane in the landing area during that mission and we had to retarget the ocean. All kinds of problems came up. All kinds, and all the down to splashdown in the ocean.

Zierler:

And Jerry, to get back to that question I asked before about the broad base of skill sets, math, physics, computers, engineering, in those tense moments, what were you relying on most to get your job accomplished? Was it mostly creativity?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Being calm in spirit. Not overreacting to the moment. Having patience, a calm spirit, and being able to think clearer is number one. And then with that, you can start accomplishing solving problems, but if you’re overreacting with your emotions, you can’t think clear. You can’t use your education and your talents. So it was very important to be calm and centered as much as you could. I think those are the things that separated me from other people occupying my position. Not everybody can be that self-controlled, especially during a crisis. I mean, I saw grown men cry in the control center, just coming to pieces. And I think that goes back to my Native heritage also about being spiritually centered.

Zierler:

Yeah. I was gonna ask, perhaps you were drawing on the strength of your grandfather.

Elliott-High Eagle:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Zierler:

Was he alive to see you get the presidential medal?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Let’s see, that was in 1978. I don’t think so.

Zierler:

When did you get word that you were going to be recognized with the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

Elliott-High Eagle:

I don’t remember.

Zierler:

What was that day like for you, to be recognized at the highest levels?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Just doing my job. [Laughs] Yeah. There was no [??] doing my job to the best of my ability. That was my reward. Proof to myself that I could do it and I did it. That’s all the reward that you need.

Zierler:

Jerry, what were your motivations to get involved in improving the communications capacities of Native American communities?

Elliott-High Eagle:

In 1978, NASA invented the very first communications satellite. From that invention, all of your satellites and all of your cable TV programming and everything else came from NASA’s original grandfather settlement, 1978. And when I learned about this research center that was doing this satellite, I called ‘em up, who was in charge of that program, asked ‘em and I said, “I wanna borrow your satellite.” Said, “What?” “I wanna borrow it.” “What do you wanna do with it?” “I wanna conduct the nation’s first telecommunications demonstration by satellite,” and this happened, October 10, 12 and 14 of 1978. Which was the very first national satellite communications demonstration. And I said, “I want three locations in the country on Indian reservations and I want to the White House and the Congress involved for those three dates. I wanna conduct a three-day satellite televised program using your communications satellite.” And they all said, “Fine, we’ll do it.” And we did.

And that show, in ’78, American Indians—not knowing anything about technology or how it works—could talk to the President or the Congress on satellite like you and I are doing now. It was the very first Zoom. Communication has always been the mainstay of American Indian culture to be able to communicate. And it was shortly after that that I had found out NASA invented the solar cell. I don’t know if you knew that.

Zierler:

No.

Elliott-High Eagle:

We had a contract with the Department of Energy to develop the solar cell. It wasn’t the Department of Energy. And we did. We developed the solar cell. And then when I found that out, I said, “I wanna borrow your solar cell.” “Why do you wanna do it?” I said, “I wanna have the very first national solar energy conference in the country and it’s gonna be all American Indians.” “OK. We’ll do it.” Phoenix, Arizona. ’78. And we went out to a Papago Indian Village in the desert of Arizona where there’s very few people and there’s no electricity and the kids studying their books by oil burning lamps, they built a solar-powered village for those people to demonstrate the power of solar energy, clean energy, renewable energy to power their village.

And I had a conference that same week in Phoenix of tribes from all over the country. It was the first solar energy conference—not just American Indians—it was the first solar energy conference in the country. So in one year, I pulled off the solar energy conference and the satellite demonstration all in the same year. And that was a spiritual thing too.

Zierler:

Jerry, I wanna go back to what you emphasized earlier about politics being the primary motivator for the space program, and not the science. I wonder—by the time you get to be—by the mid-1970s when there’s cooperation with the Russians—where you have the international space program—the Apollo-Soyuz Program—and to go back to the metaphor of once you’re on the moon, it’s sort of no longer a version kind of enterprise, right—was your sense that the accomplishment of getting to the moon—in a sense—de-politicized the space race? And so, now that there was a clear winner in terms of who got to the moon, there was now room to not just compete with the Russians, but cooperate with them for science?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Yeah. Some of those walls came down when we had won the space race, essentially. We had won. A lot of people don’t know that the Russians had built an exact copy of the space shuttle. Exact. And how they did it? They went to the US patent office. They ordered all the drawings. And they built the shuttle from our drawings in the US patent office. Interesting. Didn’t cost them anything except the money for the drawings. We spent billions of dollars and then they took it and just freely ordered it out of the—but Apollo-Soyuz, I was elected to go on the management development program to go to Washington, DC and serve one year on the Apollo-Soyuz Program, which I did.

I left Houston and I lived in Alexandria, Virginia and I worked at NASA headquarters for one year on Apollo-Soyuz, which was interesting ‘cause in my college education, I took two semesters of Russian, so I was able to speak Russian and understand a little bit about Russian, which was NASA—not that they couldn’t speak English, they could—but it was nice—from their standpoint—of hearing somebody else speak Russian ‘cause it was a familiar thing and kind of a fun thing, you know, it was to honor them by speaking their own language.

So [??] for the first time he taught in college in the United States. He was from the Ukraine, and started learning how to speak Russian—he stopped one day in class and Mr. Elliott “Do you know any other languages besides Russian?” “Yes, sir. I had three years of Spanish.” “You’re speaking Russian with a Spanish accent.” [Laughs] We stopped him one day—this is worth telling—

Zierler:

Please.

Elliott-High Eagle:

Said, “Look, this course is hard. This course is harder than any math course we’ve ever taken. What does it take to make a name or even pass this class?” And he had a sense of humor, he said, “Well, only three things you must know to make you a Russian.” Said, “Oh, good.” Everybody’s quiet, got their pencil out, start writing. “What are they?” “Well, first you must know the grammar, the alphabet, and the vocabulary. You know these three things, you make an “A” grade in Russian.” Well, that’s the whole thing, you know. I spent more time studying Russian than I did calculus or any other course in college.

I enjoyed my time—Tom Stafford was one of the astronauts there in Apollo-Soyuz, as you know, and it was a very good time to working with Russians on something common between the countries. That also was political motivated, of course. We also did some scientific experiments and some of those experiments were delegated to me to come up with an experimental package of things to do rather than just go up there and shaking hands with the Russians. I guess that was really the first time we’d ever really worked together. And then after that, of course, the Russians would send our astronauts out to the space station, which was another further evidence of cooperation.

I think if countries would learn to work together, especially in technical worlds and keep the politics out of it, countries can work together with a sense of unity, cooperation, and respect for differences. That’s what it showed to me. Yeah.

Zierler:

What were some of the major questions that Apollo-Soyuz was after? What were the benefits of working with the Russians and what was the new science that was the goal of this collaboration?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well, it was a one-year program, one mission program. It was their ability to rendezvous and dock with us to prove that they had the talents and expertise to rendezvous and dock as we did and we proved that. That’s about all I can say. I really was divorced from the politics. Chester Lee—Captain Lee from the Navy—he was in charge of the program on the American side. He was the man I worked for in Washington and I went to him and I said we needed to have more things involved with children with countries. There’s nothing in this Apollo-Soyuz that relates to the common man, children. I said, “This is what we should be showing.” He argued against that. He said, “No. I’m not going to allow that.” So, he kept pretty much to the protocol of cosmonaut to astronaut handshakes and living a little while there and showing both country’s science and engineering techniques. I still feel like that was the wrong decision wanted the public to feel like they were also engaged in working with another country in a way that they had not known before as a peaceful adventure between both countries.

Zierler:

Jerry, when did you get involved with Skylab?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Oh, right after Apollo, Joe Kerwin—who was one of the astronauts—he was a good friend of mine—he was a medical doctor besides and astronaut—and we decided well, what—we were funded for 22 Apollo missions and we only flew 17, primarily because of funding. The funding was diverted to the military. It was Vietnam. So we had all these capsules and everything sitting around. We decided, “Well, let’s make best use of what we’ve got.” And so we decided that we would configure part of the launch vehicle into a medical laboratory to do experiments to see if and when we build a space station, that man can survive in that kind of environment. And that was one of the basic purposes of Skylab was to demonstrate the effects of weightlessness and radiation fields on the human body. And those were necessary experiments ‘cause if we’re gonna do space station or we’re gonna do a long range mission to another planet, it’s best we understand about what happens to the human body when we’re in this kind of environment for an extended period of time. All the Apollos was a three-day mission.

Skylab was several days, continuous. So we got a lot of medical information that helped us plan towards moon bases, going to other planets, the effects of being out of the earth’s environment into the space environment.

Zierler:

Jerry, to return back to the idea in the mid late 1970s of you becoming really an ambassador for Native Americans in the sciences, what were some of the things that you wanted to do in that role? Were there organizations that you wanted to create? Were there scholarship opportunities that you saw for young Native Americans who wanted to pursue a career in science?

Elliott-High Eagle:

I think you know the answer to that question already. [Laughs] Yes. I saw a need to have an American Indian organization that was comprised of members of the American Indian community and also students. And there was not a lot of—there weren’t any programs from the federal government or anybody else that was catering to the needs of the American Indian community for scholarships or encouraging young Native Americans to enter into the fields of science and engineering. So, a friend of mine, George Thomas—another Cherokee—met with a few other people—five people in Arkansas—came together in a meeting and decided we were gonna form the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, which we did, and I named the society.

And that has been the most successful American Indian endeavor and all native organization in the history of our people and the nation, and we have managed to graduate for bachelors and PhDs Native American students gearing towards those technical careers with the caveat that they don’t have to give up who they are or their native culture. They can still be who they are and that’s been—as I said—the most successful program that the government didn’t have anything to do with it. We did it on our own. I was the incorporator, founder incorporator of this organization and filed the corporation papers in Oklahoma. And so, every year, there have been scholarships given to American Indian men and women in all kinds of fields. It’s been something to take pride as an American Indian that we have a way to develop our skills without government involvement, that we did this on our own.

Zierler:

Jerry, that makes me think when you said at NASA there was a certain dress attire that you were required to follow and a certain way that you were required to wear your hair, and yet you emphasized with the society that younger people should be encouraged to think that they don’t have to let go of their heritage as they pursue technical careers. That makes me think, perhaps, maybe society has improved a bit since when you entered your career. That maybe there are now opportunities where heritage can be celebrated and not, sort of, forgotten or covered up.

Elliott-High Eagle:

I think that’s a tongue in cheek. I think people do it not so much as they’re willing to incorporate American Indians, but there has been a statutory law that says you have to have this and you have to have that. Nothing is ever gonna change about racism until people change their minds. That’s where it all comes from. And it’s a kind of a patronizing effort that I see of companies and the Air Force, military and so on. We got Black, we got Hispanic, we got Asian, now we need to have American Indian. Well it’s got its good and its bad. It’s good it opens the door to opportunities to people who did not have those opportunities before. It also, on the other side of the coin, it’s not a severe, meaningful attempt by others to accept the Native American heritage.

Even to this day, people think—well, first of all, people say, “We didn’t know American Indians exist.” You find people who say that. “We didn’t know y’all still exist.” And then people say, “The only American Indians we see are those falling off their horses in cowboy movies.” To overcome that stereotyped image projected on us. That we’re savages, that we’re uneducated, that we’re heathens, that hasn’t happened. And patronizing, but hasn’t happened.

Even when I was going in college, my professors sometimes would say, “Why are you here? Because your kind doesn’t belong here.” Also, “Your kind doesn’t belong here.” NASA said that. “Your kind doesn’t belong here.” Way before the days of equal opportunity. “You’re an American Indian, hahaha.” So I think the biggest struggles that we’ve had as a people has been to overcome the stereotyped image projected upon us mainly due to the media, who have characterized us as savages and people that wild like animals. It was Cherokee forced march from Tennessee, Georgia, Carolina, on the Trail of Tears by General Andrew Jackson and the calvary during the winter when some of my people had no shoes, forced to march in snow and ice, no coats, and were given blankets infected with smallpox to kill off a lot of my people. And they were given to the people to cover up and be warm, but people didn’t know that they were being killed by the country’s first genocide was my people. First genocide.

So it’s always been ever since the coming of the white man to not understand our culture, our people, and to think the worst of us. And that image is perpetuated still now. The AISES, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society Incorporated, is making some foot holes in the truth of who we really are and tearing away that stereotype image to show people we have a mind, we have a brain, we can do great things if allowed the opportunity.

Zierler:

Jerry, in your capacity as a mentor to young American Indians who wanna pursue a career in science, what are some of the things that you’re hearing in terms of the challenges that they’re facing today? Do you see these generally as the same challenges that you faced or are they different challenges?

Elliott-High Eagle:

No. Same challenges. I would say there’s perhaps a degree more of acceptance than I had because as these young people come out with PhDs and great educational successes, they tend to be respected a little bit more than I do. As I said, I was the first American Indian in physics with not any predecessors to me. I broke the ice. And there was that concern at that time still that what we were—yeah. They do face similar things that I face, but not with the strength and civility that I do. They’re able to get into society and accomplish their dreams.

Zierler:

And as you say, the most important thing to—

Elliott-High Eagle:

Let me say, to accomplish their dreams without giving up, compromising, without compromising who they are.

Zierler:

Yeah. And as you said before, the most important thing for change is that people’s minds have to change. That’s the most important thing.

Elliott-High Eagle:

It’s the only way it’ll happen.

Zierler:

And so what evidence do you see, if at all, that that’s happening? And if not, what’s it gonna take to get there?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Changing people’s lives.

Zierler:

But how do you do that, is my question.

Elliott-High Eagle:

By example. When my people come from college with awards and excellence of education and degrees in things, that demonstrates that there’s something else there here, these people have. And we can utilize about the learning and we can utilize that talent to help serve our purpose. We need that. Let me go back to diversification. That’s one of the answers to your question. If my control team at NASA was strong because we were not all alike, we were diversified. Each of us had certain strengths to contribute. That’s what will overcome the racism, is when people finally incorporate a diversified workforce. And I’m not just talking about American Indian, I’m talking about Black, Mexican American, Asian, they begin to realize that there’s real strength in diversity. Real strength in diversity. So that’s how I would answer that.

Zierler:

Meaning that diversity is really actually good for science. It’s not just a token to do a nice thing, that the science actually benefits from the diversity.

Elliott-High Eagle:

That’s what I love about science and especially physics: the brain does not know the color of one’s skin. It isn’t the fact that science benefits from it. What benefits from it is what the outcome of science is. Science, you have to examine the definition of science. It’s an exploration and a discovery process that will lead to beneficial results, hopefully. It could also lead to non-beneficial results such as the hydrogen bomb. But it isn’t science that benefits, it’s society benefits from the positive contributions made. That’s who benefits. And that’s who’s supposed to benefit. Otherwise science, for itself, is just a walking secret that—unless you do something with it, unless you have applications of that—then it doesn’t benefit society.

Today, more carefully than not, scientists are called to whatever they invent or whatever they discover and produce must be examined to the result of it. What I invent or I produce, is it gonna be beneficial to people? And more importantly, will it benefit the earth? Or else I shouldn’t do it. We haven’t had that kind of frame of mind in the past ‘cause people didn’t care about the earth. People didn’t care about people so much, but these days, now, there’s already gonna be a huge food shortage come with too many people. So how are we gonna do that? Well, some answers have been already from the United Nations published Agenda 21, “Well, let’s create a virus to kill off some populations.” That may be a way to do it, but is that an acceptable answer? No.

Zierler:

Jerry, I’d like you to reflect broadly—by the time you had retired from NASA—and to get back to this idea of what science can offer society—by the time you had retired from NASA, to what extent had its mission changed? Obviously it was doing very different kinds of projects, but did you see the fundamental motivations as having changed over your decades there?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Explain what you mean by my motivations.

Zierler:

Meaning the mission of NASA. The things that NASA could contribute to the country and to the world. Had those motivations for what NASA’s mission was, did you see that those had changed?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Yes, they have changed. Nothing stays the same, but the mission of NASA has changed. The leadership of NASA has changed. The direction—to me, NASA, these days doesn’t know which direction it should be taking like a ship airlessly drifting in the doldrums. “Oh, let’s go to Mars.” “OK.” “Well, for what reason? Why should we be going to Mars? What benefits are we to realize, what risk or involvement are involved?” Towards the end of my career, I started with a handful of people, a technology transfer office where we took NASA invented technology and tried to find a corporate world to use that technology through licensing. We would license NASA technology out, somebody would invent something good and somebody in the corporate world would say, “Hey, we could make use or we could make money. We could spur the economy with this or we could make it a better place to live.” That’s what we did for five years and that’s the direction I think NASA should be taking.

There’s literally thousands of good inventions NASA has done with their employees that hasn’t been their mainstream job, and to me, NASA oughta be doing more technology transfer of those inventions into the public so that they can realize the benefits from that. Right now, they just stay within NASA. There is a little bit of technology transfer and commercial invention program existing and it’s not being very effective. A lot of people I talk to don’t even know that NASA has inventions to commercialize. So, there’s not a lot of crossed out communication between NASA and the public on the good things that we have produced that are mined, they’re waiting to be introduced into society. And that oughta be more the focus of NASA’s goal now is to start solving some of the climate crisis, some of the food crisis, some of the things that we’re gonna face in the world that’s gonna come at us and we better be prepared to handle it. And we just might that NASA has some solutions that might help be beneficial in solving those problems. That, to me, was what NASA should be doing now.

Zierler:

And so that begs the question, Jerry, there’s so many people who are worried about these existential issues—food crisis, climate change—what does NASA have to offer both from the science side and the creativity side? What does it have to offer to make these problems more manageable?

Elliott-High Eagle:

I can’t answer it. There’s so many inventions from NASA. You’d have to look through the list of inventions they’ve got and say, “Well, yeah. This one applies to today’s problems or the future coming.” And that’s what NASA should be doing. They oughta be examining their own collection of things that they can benefit society with and go after it, you know, make it happen.

Zierler:

And to focus this question on you personally, of course, you’re interested in benefiting society.

Elliott-High Eagle:

Absolutely. And the earth.

Zierler:

And the earth. And so what were your motivations when you retired from NASA? In what ways did you want to channel your talents and your interests toward those goals?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Well that’s easy to answer, you gotta look and see what retirement means. Retirement means that you don’t play golf every day. Retirement, to me, became an opportunity to reinvent myself. That’s what retirement—it could concentrate and focus my creativity and talents on other areas of the space program, and I did. I did. I submitted a patent from High Eagle Technologies and as I mentioned, it took five years to get it, but my patent will treat cancer, blood-related diseases, and also COVID-19. So I’m doing that. I’m gonna benefit people from the throes of cancer and COVID-19, if allowed. And that’s one of the problems I’m having today as we speak.

I’ve contacted the president, vice president, several senators in Congress in Washington, plus 15 state governors saying, “I have a solution to keep people from dying from COVID today and it works,” and I get no response. There’s too much—the scientist has always been handicapped by politics. Always. Politics has always seemed to take a precedent over the value of what scientists do and can contribute and today is no different. Politics is keeping me from saving lives. I hear on the news media we’re up over 200,000 people dying and the number of infections and deaths in 32 states of 50 states is rising. Why? People are dying from hypoxia created by the Covid virus, and not the virus itself.

Zierler:

The president himself just got COVID-19.

Elliott-High Eagle:

I don’t know if he got it, but I know he was exposed to it.

Zierler:

Yeah. It was confirmed this morning.

Elliott-High Eagle:

Oh it was? Well, OK. The problem goes back to people do not understand science, people do not understand scientists. Science—when there’s so many things happening in the world, you turn to science for the truth. And a lot of people don’t accept the truth. I mean, they should turn to scientists who are seekers of truth and listen and obey, but they’re not. They don’t pay attention. And that’s the problem scientists and science itself has had in every generation. It wasn’t too long ago scientists were burned at the stake for saying that the world was round rather than flat. I mean, you know? Scientists have always been people who are skeptical of, don’t know what to do, and whatever they do, they don’t believe what they do. They don’t accept the truth.

This is important point. When Trump first got elected four years ago, that same month, I sent him a personal letter advocating a restructuring of the federal government. And why did I do that? Because the federal government is operating today as it did over 250 years ago. Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Health, etc. There is not a cabinet level position for science, engineering, and technology. And my urgent letter of appeal to him was to advocate the creation—a cabinet, brand new position for science and engineering and technology. And he wasn’t even answering my letter.

Now, we’re over 35 years behind Japan. 35 years ago, they created a government entity to deal with science. 35 years ago. We’re still operating the federal government on an antiquated system that worked 250 years ago that doesn’t work today. And there’s no streamlining the efficiency of the federal government until there is an emphasis placed on science in the federal government. Oh yeah, science is over here and it’s over there, but that’s segmented. My point was a lot of money is spent and wasted on all these programs over here, consolidate ‘em all into one entity that manages what is to be focused on from science and also the budget that goes with it. That will bring efficiency in federal government operations, but now, no one wants to give up this or that or the other thing combined all in one. “Oh no, we’ll lose this, we’ll lose that.” Again, it’s the politics involved.

Every year we delay the decision to forming the cabinet post to deal with climate science, engineering, and technology. Every year, we’re behind other nations because remember, our military depends upon inventions, health depends upon inventions, corporate world depends on inventions to make money. All of these things come from science and engineering. Where does it come from? It’s not out of here, it comes from people who are engaged in science and engineering and technology and until that emphasis is raised and honored, respected among the federal government, we will continue to act behind China, Russia, Korea, all of the other countries and that will ultimately consume this United States because we’re being out technology by other countries. So lead a horse to water, you can’t make him drink.

Zierler:

Jerry, have you seen these problems, this disconnect between science and society? Have they specifically gotten worse in the Trump administration?

Elliott-High Eagle:

I can’t characterize the Trump administration. I know he’s a businessman, he’s not a scientist. What the Trump administration needs to recognize is that science should be integral part, not separate from business and military, economy. It should be an integral part of it and I think if there’s any criticisms of his administration, it’s that his value to recognize the importance of science and its contributions to assist in further bringing about a better economy and improved health among people and improved environment. Until that happens, we’re still going to have the same problems and they’re only getting worse. There are so many thousands of species of life dying, they will never return to earth, even as we speak. The cutting down of the rainforest.

I mean, one of the things native culture knows is life is a balance and we must live within that sacred circle of balance. In this culture, the importance is at the center and everything revolves around the center. We’re all in the same equidistant from the center. We’re not at the center of American Indian culture. We’re in balance in harmony with life. That’s the life that we must always live in balance and in harmony with all things living, all things going, all things non-living. We’re all from the same Creator spirit, same energy, and therefore truly all related despite religious and cultural differences.

In fact, that’s proven by science because when they look at the DNA molecule, it’s comprised of four chemicals and science has found out those same four chemicals in our DNA is the same four chemicals in other life. Animals, insects, plants. We’re all those things, so we truly are related to everything around us because we have the same four chemicals. And American Indian people knew that without science. Essentially knew that we’re all related to all things and then science came along and proved it.

Zierler:

Jerry, for the last part of our talk, I wanna ask you a very broad question and then another question sort of looking to the future. The voice that you heard when you were 5, it was very specific, right?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Yeah.

Zierler:

It didn’t say to you, “You’re gonna go out and contribute this for humanity and the earth.” It was very mission specific. And yet your goals and your motivations have been much broader than that singular event. So I’m curious, have you had any other metaphysical experiences like that that might have guided you to be the kind of person you’ve become and have the kind of goals that have motivated you to do what you’ve done?

Elliott-High Eagle:

Yeah. Let me say those were not metaphysical, but they were spiritual. There’s a difference. The first vision I had was Native American Warriors Week, 1976 in the bicentennial year. I was told that would never happen. I got the vision from the Creator in February and by October the same year in 1976, it happened. Several House of Representatives and Senators told me a “This is not gonna happen this year.” My earnest reply was always, “This is gonna happen this year.” That encouraged me to go on.

After that, 10 years later, I had a vision of world peace. And I can send you the stories from all of these if you want, like the time I’ve written all these down so you can understand. But the end of that story was that I found myself standing on the equator of the earth in Ecuador on the earth’s equator dedicating the world’s first international site for peace. I was told that’s not gonna happen. Not happening. Not capable. Have you ever heard of World Youth Day?

Zierler:

Yeah.

Elliott-High Eagle:

That was from my vision. I have proof of them and I’ll send you the proof. I got the vision while at NASA formed a committee of people in Houston to try to get this vision into the world. The Catholic diocese was part of my full committee and took this to the pope and then he immersed it and then it became known as the Pope’s Project for the world. It was a legal—well, I didn’t really care because it happened to honor young people of the world. But I did not like the way it happened, but if he took credit, that’s OK ‘cause it was a spiritual thing that came to me and it transformed out of me into the world and I should not criticize the formula explanation. The fact that it happened at all is pretty good.

So those are three big things that motivated me spiritually. Another thing is music. I have over 200 compositions. In fact, I’m just getting ready to copyright one today. Music—I think composed—music can be like most art and 200 and it’s still coming. Last month, I comprised a piece that’s a classical composition of the suite, a prelude in seven suites, it’s a long thing. And it took a year to finish it. And I kept revising it because music comes into this, so this needs to go through. OK? I mean I have the spiritual ability to bring into me manifestation of things that can be visible in the world there were not visible in life before.

Zierler:

Yeah.

Elliott-High Eagle:

So it’s not just science that I have been able to understand from the spiritual world, things come. Things come to me of service to the earth and humanity in the world, primarily. Those are main point. It’s not to make money or gain notoriety. The Creator put us on this earth for purpose is to explore and to discover the secrets that the Creator has placed upon this world. That’s what scientists do. That’s what science is all about, is to explore and discover the things that the Creator has left for us to uncover. That is the vision, concept of science and people involved, scientists.

Zierler:

For scientists who say, “Science is evidence that there is no Creator,” what’s your response to that?

Elliott-High Eagle:

I’d say they’re ego-driven. They wanna be more important than God. It can be proven. So many examples. If you just take the human body, it’s a miracle. It’s a miracle. It’s one of the best designed engineering feats. The Creator must be part scientist, part engineer. I mean, the fact that these organs have these functions and that they all work in conjunction like clockwork with each other in the heart, I mean, what proof can [??] in the world make that would—without fail? The Creator’s pump keeps going, it keeps going, it keeps going. You just have to prove the existence of God by just looking around you and you see it everywhere. How do the birds know to fly south for the winter?

The one thing I’ve learned about science as I’ve been more involved in it is a very important point. Yes, we know how to make electronic things. These days, it’s escalated now to where it’s just unbelievable things electronics does. But today, we still don’t know [??] We still don’t know that way. Sometimes it’s in particles, sometimes it’s wave-like. We still don’t know about black holes. We think we know. There’s a lot of things that would make—from an engineering standpoint—that would work with the Creator’s manifestations and would make things that we don’t understand. I have a basic, simplifying answer: “OK, you call energy. What does that mean?” Do you really understand it by giving it a name? No. You know, have we discovered—this is engineering—have we discovered how to make use of it? Yes. Do I know what it means? No.

So the basic mysteries of life have proven that the Creator does exist. Electrons just weren’t made by accident. Gravity didn’t happen by accident. Black holes by accident. I mean, there has to be an initiation process that produces these things and they didn’t just happen. I find these people are lost in their own inability to be open. There are people who believe that there is no God and their spiritual side not involved. And we both concluded that before we’re born, there are two parts: energy and spirit and that the moment conception occurs, the energy called ego has an earthly job description and it tends to do its duty. And then begins that constant battle between energy and spirit and who’s control. When you’re young, you have to depend upon energy (ego) to take care of you. When you’re mature and grown do you need the ego? Well, yeah ‘cause it controls your emotions, feelings and daily living but your spirit side is blocked. Whereas the secret in the things that I do the ego is in balance within the spirit and that controlling is not a master slave relationship, it’s like a co-partnership. And when that transformation occurred, they knew that the partnership between energy and spirit being at the focal point, that is when I can benefit from the ego and benefit from spiritual side both.

Zierler:

Well, Jerry, for my last question, so many of the things you’ve said are very sobering as we look to the future. The problems that earth faces, that humanity faces, both spiritually and scientifically, and yet I wanna end on a positive note. What are the things that you look to the future in terms of what you can contribute and in terms of where things are headed that give you reason for optimism?

Elliott-High Eagle:

On a personal level, personal scale, my technology, it will treat cancer and blood related diseases. That’s the contribution I’m making to the world. I haven’t gotten any guidance from the spiritual world saying I need to go do something else. I need to be focused on that right now and that’s a big one. It’s a big one. And you gotta keep in mind that life is a four letter word and the middle letters of life are ‘if’. Life is not a guarantee, and life could very well be the Creator’s experiment that life does not have to continue and life does not have to extend and tomorrow we’ll still be here and we’re not. Look at the dinosaurs. What can be more powerful that can overcome dinosaurs and they became extinct just by dropping one meter by them, which became the Gulf of Mexico, killed everything.

Humanity’s the same way. We haven’t always been in this world. There’s been creatures beyond us. And is this the Creator’s attempt at us is to see if we make the right choices in living and the right choices on how to take care of the world, people and all things living and non-living. That’s the Creator. Not gonna tell us how to do things, when to do things, but care to stand back and see if we make the right choices. If we don’t, we’re not gonna be here. It’s just that simple. And do we have to be here? No. And that sounds negative, but it’s not negative. That’s a reality. There is no requirement for humans to be here. And it’s a interesting speculation to see how far we are going to exist. I mean, so worried that the environment for food and clean water and situations of the environment is pointing out that we may very well be on the last throes of humanity and that there is nothing at this point we can’t do. It may very well be irreversible. That’ another reason some in the scientific world are opting for making habits for humanity, garden seeds and creatures to survive if there is no life left on earth.

In the short-term, yes, we can attack cancer, even fight heart disease. But in the long run, we’re in the downhill with technology that can treat, maybe hopefully someday, cure our dreaded diseases. And this business about NASA going to other planets, it’s all talk. It’s all talk. There will not be reason to go to other planets except the moon base might have a depository of seeds that if finally get destroyed on the earth that the moon base would at least preserve a depository of seeds that we could regenerate at some point in time and that’s a positive thing about going to the moon or having a moon base is to capture some of the things that we have here in on earth before the annihilation of the planet. We can repopulate, humans repopulate seeds, things like that, but going to Mars, it’s a very unhealthy environment.

NASA has never learned and never will to combat the effects of radiation on the human body. Radiation changes your DNA structure and cosmic rays, they have a great penetrating power, will change our DNA and when you change DNA, you create radicals and then you create cancer and disease. So I can’t see us going to Mars as a permanent thing to do, establish a Mars base and have people in Martian atmosphere to protect and on the way it takes three years to get there, three years to get back. What damage will occur to the health of those travelers?

So that’s kind of the future I see. I’m not a negative person, very positive, but unless we make some of the changes to what I said earlier about—particularly in the political structure—on how we manage resources, such as a creation of a political infrastructure to meet the scientific and technical demands of today and the future, then we’re gonna forever stay where we are and not grow technically nor scientifically, and may be overcome by other nations. So that’s the secret of our survival is depend on how well we organize to live in the future. And we’re not organized. Hopefully some president someday, hopefully very quickly, will realize the importance of including science into the politic realm. We may very well be the saviors of this world.

Zierler:

Well, for everybody’s benefit, I hope you’re right and I hope you’re proven correct quickly. Jerry, it’s been an absolute honor and a pleasure to spend all of this time with you and your recollections and your insights over a remarkable career are absolutely vital for including in our collection and for preserving in the historical record. I really wanna thank you for spending this time with me.

Elliott-High Eagle:

Thank you for that. Do you have 30 seconds for another quick story?

Zierler:

Absolutely.

Elliott-High Eagle:

On Apollo 11, before we went to Jules Birdman—a famous ABC commentator and reporter—came to interview the flight control team as to what we thought about Apollo 11 and he interviewed everybody and it came my time and he says, “OK, I understand you’re a flight controller” He said, “What do you think they’re gonna find on the moon?” Well, that’s a reasonable question. “An eagle feather.” And he looked at me and he said, “Eagle feather?” I said, “Yeah.” “Why’d you say that?” “Oh, we have ancient legends that our people came from the stars and they probably grew tired and stopped off at the moon and leaned their back up against one of the moon rocks and then dropped a feather.” “OK.” He says, “Why are you working at NASA?” And I thought in my mind, “Boy, I got him now.” And I pointed up and I said, “I’m just trying to get back home.” [laughs]

Zierler:

Amazing.

Elliott-High Eagle:

He went off screaming. [Laughs] He never interviewed anybody else. Enjoyed it.

Zierler:

That’s great, Jerry. Thank you.