My Life Depended on 150,000 Pieces of Equipment – Each Bought from the Lowest Bidder

Alan Shepard? John Glenn? Wernher von Braun? Gus Grissom? Gordon Cooper? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend an astronaut was asked how he felt sitting in a space capsule while preparing for launch or travelling in orbit around the Earth. He replied with a trenchant comment about equipment and low-bid contracts. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: On April 26, 1963 a columnist in a Bryan, Texas newspaper printed a remark ascribed to astronaut Alan Shepard although the word “supposedly” was used to signal uncertainty. Shepard was the first American to travel into space. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Here’s one of the comments Astronaut Alan Shepard supposedly made before he crawled into his space capsule for the first trip into outer space by an American: “Just think, the contract on this thing went to the lowest bidder.”

A few days later, on May 1, 1963 a columnist in an Amarillo, Texas newspaper printed a more elaborate quip ascribed to John Glenn who was the first American to orbit the Earth: 2

Astronaut John Glenn is supposed to have said: “My life depended on 150,000 pieces of equipment – each bought from the lowest bidder.”

Similar remarks have been attributed to other astronauts, and QI conjectures that the colleagues of the space program shared the quip with one another. During a 1998 interview Glenn directly retold his version of the joke, and QI believes he created the most interesting version.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading My Life Depended on 150,000 Pieces of Equipment – Each Bought from the Lowest Bidder


  1. 1963 April 26, The Bryan Daily Eagle, Eagle Items by Brett Martin, Quote Page 2, Column 4, Bryan, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1963 May 1, The Amarillo Globe-Times, Putting Around Curtis with Putt Powell, Quote Page 15, Column 1, Amarillo, Texas. (Newspapers_com)