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  How ready was NASA for microgravity work?

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Author Topic:   How ready was NASA for microgravity work?
Duke Of URL
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posted 02-21-2010 12:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Duke Of URL   Click Here to Email Duke Of URL     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've seen documentaries and read books where Gene Cernan and others talk about how we "forgot" Newton's laws when it came to space walks and doing work in zero-g.

I also saw a thread with a John Glenn interview from 1961 where he addressed this problem directly. In fact, a video shows an astronaut in the vomit comet actually turning over as he attempts to manipulate a bolt.

My question is simple. To what extent was NASA prepared for the difficulty of working in space? Were they surprised, was the problem a matter of degree or were they unaware of the trouble trying to work in space would be?

The seeming familiarity of John Glenn with the difficulty clashes with Cernan's account of how unprepared he was.

Gene Cernan never struck me as someone who wouldn't know exactly what he was doing at any time.

John Charles
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posted 02-21-2010 06:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for John Charles     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As far back as the early 1960s, NASA, the Air Force and private industry were studying astronaut performance capabilities in weightlessness using parabolic airplane flights, air-bearing tables, weight-offset suspension devices and underwater techniques. The problems were well-understood by some groups, and not by others.

In particular, the underwater work funded by NASA Langley predicted the problems that would be experienced by Cernan, Collins and Gordon on their Gemini EVAs, but NASA Houston did not accept Langley's insights until almost too late.

In addition, judging from the debriefs, it seems that the teams training the various Gemini astronauts did not always completely integrate their lessons learned.

In fairness, memory of long-ago events is a volatile thing. Also, Cernan was quoted in a documentary for the general public, which usually requires short, pithy, dramatic statements rather than long, boring, factually-complete statements (something to remember when reconstructing history long after the fact).

MCroft04
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posted 02-21-2010 07:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MCroft04   Click Here to Email MCroft04     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
We talked about this at dinner with Dave Scott last year at the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation show at Kennedy Space Center and he felt that Gene's problems were primarily due to not having enough training time having moved up to prime crew. However, Collins and Gordon had more training time and we all know the difficulty they had on their Gemini EVAs. By the way, Dave felt that had he been able to do his EVA on Gemini 8 that he would have nailed it.

Duke Of URL
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posted 02-21-2010 07:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Duke Of URL   Click Here to Email Duke Of URL     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I read elsewhere that Scott Carpenter sent in an early memo on underwater training.

I heard Buzz Aldrin, by embracing it, not only did his EVA perfectly but earned his Apollo XI seat. Is this true, false or for another thread?

Proponent
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posted 02-21-2010 11:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Proponent   Click Here to Email Proponent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Duke Of URL:
I've seen documentaries and read books where Gene Cernan and others talk about how we "forgot" Newton's laws when it came to space walks and doing work in zero-g.

I recall a passage in Michael Collin's book Carrying the Fire in which he says something to the effect of "we really should have paid more attention the difficulty that Ed White had closing the hatch at the end of his EVA."

Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-21-2010 11:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
These are what I am told are rare photos of Buzz Aldrin training in neutral buoyancy at at the McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Maryland (circa 1966), with trainers G. Samuel Mattingly and Harry L. Loats.

Duke Of URL
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posted 02-22-2010 11:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Duke Of URL   Click Here to Email Duke Of URL     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
When did Carpenter send in his memo on underwater training? Did he help astronauts train? He was at NASA during the Gemini program and it's hard to believe they wouldn't ask for help from him, especially after the Sealab missions.

It seems he might have had something to say about the physical and mental stresses of doing work in a difficult environment as well as experience living in close quarters for an at-the-time long duration mission.

Jay Chladek
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posted 02-23-2010 12:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There is a difference between personal experience doing something and agency experience. NASA being the big organization it was in the 1960s had a lot of things on its plate and sometimes tended to learn the wrong things about experiments. As such, success or failure in early parabola flights probably was dismissed as not quite the same as what it would be in orbit since they didn't really get a chance to try things long enough to get good data.

In Cernan's case, he wasn't the victim so much of training wrong or doing necessarily the wrong things, but also by the equipment. All those factors contributed. The ideas that they tried on Gemini 9 were to use the tether as a means of locomotion by snapping it kind of like a whip. He didn't have the fancy manuevering gun Ed White had to pull him out and back to where the AMU was bolted to the craft. The Gemini craft also had no hand holds aft of the entry hatches. So one might liken it to climbing rocks in zero gee as you don't make much progress if you can't get a hand on anything. As such, he could maybe hand hold the teather down to the Gemini, but once he let go and tried to cling to the craft, he would end up floating away again. Getting back in the Gemini also was a chore (as it was with White's spacewalk) as you try to get in and seated, yet you bounce in the seat and begin to float back out again. In a sense, what could have helped that would have been a simple grab bar at the bottom of the instrument panel to brace one's self inside.

But at the same time, Gene also overheated partly due to the Gemini suits using gas temperature to regulate the suit temperature. As such, getting overworked in the suit resulted in heat buildup (not helped by a tear in the thermal insulation in the back of the suit) and that resulted in Geno sweating in the suit so bad that he fogged up his visor. Both Mike Collins and Dick Gordon encountered similar problems. The heating crisis wasn't solved until Hamilton Standard working on the life support system for Apollo came up with the liquid cooling system which is still used today in shuttle EMUs. Indeed the suits today get torture tested before flight by the astronauts as they essentially work out in the suits to raise their body temperature to see how the suits will cope.

As for Buzz, on Gemini 9 when they had the launch shroud not come off the Agena Docking Target vehicle, mission control discussed what could be done and Buzz suggested Geno should spacewalk over with a pair of cutters and cut the strap. NASA heads who heard this wondered what the guy was thinking as it sounded nuts due to the potential dangers involved with all the stored energy of the strap during cutting. One apparently even wrote after hearing this that he didn't want Buzz Aldrin flying ANY mission in space.

By the time Gemini 12 flew, the EVA plans were curtailed quite a bit as mission planners realized they were a bit too ambitious in their goals. Water training helped, but the first EVA was a standup one as I recall and for the second one where Buzz went fully outside, the Gemini was equipped with plenty of handholds and footwells to get to the aft portion to do work and to the Agena itself. Buzz did very well on his energy management, not overworking himself or getting the suit temperature too hot. In a sense, while he didn't necessarily earn an Apollo 11 seat (that decision was a couple years away yet) he did certainly earn his astronaut wings and respect. Prior to the flight, when there were plans to potentially fly the AMU on Gemini 12, Deke still wanted Gene to fly it since he had the most experience with AMU training for Gemini 9, even though Buzz was prime crew for 12. But when the AMU was removed from the manifest, Buzz got his shot and he went all the way with it.

As for Dave Scott, naturally we will never know since the stuck thruster scrubbed that EVA. But I have to wonder if his comment might be colored by a bit of Air Force pride over a Navy man like Gene Cernan in being able to do the job better. If Dave had done an EVA, he probably would have done okay since the tasks weren't quite as ambitious as trying to get to the back of the craft to strap in and fly the AMU. But chances are he would have experienced problems using the tether to move himself and probably would have ended up with at least as many problems as Collins and Gordon. The lost EVA opportunity meant that they crammed a lot of stuff into Gemini 9's flight plan. I think Gene was as well prepared as anyone could be though since he and Stafford trained just as heavily as See and Bassett did for that flight. In fact Gene comments in his book that both he and Charlie were in pretty good physical shape from all the training prior to the crash in St. Louis that claimed the lives of Gemini 9's prime crew.

MCroft04
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posted 02-23-2010 08:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MCroft04   Click Here to Email MCroft04     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jay, well said (or written)!

John Charles
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posted 02-25-2010 08:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for John Charles     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Chladek:
If Dave had done an EVA, he probably would have done okay since the tasks weren't quite as ambitious as trying to get to the back of the craft to strap in and fly the AMU.
On Gemini 8, wasn't Dave Scott supposed to strap on a backpack containing propellant for a hand-held maneuvering unit? That backpack was mounted in the adapter section just where Cernan's AMU was on Gemini 9.

music_space
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posted 02-26-2010 11:16 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for music_space   Click Here to Email music_space     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From "On The Shoulders of Titans - A History of Project Gemini", p. 373
In prior training, the crews had used zero-g aircraft flights to get the feel of weightlessness and to devise techniques for working. But experience had shown that this kind of training was useful in a very limited way, mainly for practice in getting into or out of the spacecraft. Pilots had to move fast and brace themselves before the airplane finished the Keplerian trajectory with its high-g pullout. In space, they found that everything had to be done slowly and deliberately.

mikej
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posted 02-26-2010 09:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mikej   Click Here to Email mikej     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
While he may be biased because it was his spacewalk that went poorly, Gene Cernan has a number of things to say in this regard on various pages of Last Man on the Moon:

Upon learning that he would be backup pilot on Gemini 9 and learning that he'd train to use the AMU and "fire its hot little rockets to fly around in space":

Charlie and I buckled down to work. We planned to overcome the problems that Ed had encountered the old fashioned way -- with brute strength -- because we had no other alternative.
About his spacewalk:
One of the first examples of how things were moving too swiftly came with my spacewalk. Ed's only jobs were to test the spacesuit, a hand-held propulsion device, and the umbilical cord... Now we leaped to an unrealistic schedule of two and a half hours of hard work for me... Good idea, but faulty assumptions...
On his first moments out of the spacecraft and the umbilical:
I hadn't even done anything yet and was already losing the battle. There had been no advance warning on the difficulties I was having because everything I did was new. I was already beyond the experiences of White and Leonov...
On the aftermath:
...we had just not anticipated the problems astronauts would encounter if they tried to work, as well as just walk, in space... Dr. Charles Barry observed, "The difficulty of physical labor in a hard-suit environment is one of the big revelations coming out of this flight."

kr4mula
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posted 03-01-2010 10:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for kr4mula   Click Here to Email kr4mula     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As Jay mentioned, Cernan was limited by the air cooling system of his suit. It was his overheating plus the visor fogging that brought an end to the EVA. Suit designers just hadn't anticipated Geno's huge physiological work loads (in fact, this influenced the decision to go to liquid cooling for Apollo). I wonder, though, if they had a liquid cooling garment (LCG) that would've kept Cernan's temperature and humidity down, would he have kept his cool (pun intended) long enough to figure out the intricacies of EVA? Could he have gotten the job done (particularly the AMU), or was his (and the controllers') mindset such that he would brute force it no matter what?

Jay Chladek
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posted 03-03-2010 11:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hypotheticals are always tough to discuss as it takes previous experience to come up with something such as the LCG design for suits. I would say though that if Gene had an LCG, it likely would have helped at least keep the fogging down since that is primarily what it was designed to do. Of course, even with the lack of decent handholds, not good footwells around the AMU and nothing really to move around but a teather, it still would have been tough going.

Gene also mentioned his suit was a bit stiff and part of his problem was overcoming the inflated nature of it, which even at 5 psi (compared to zero psi outside) made the thing act like a balloon. The suit designers on Apollo came up with the convolute design for the joints and that helped quite a bit to overcome the limitations of the previous joint designs. Of course, experience had to be gained on how NOT to do something before headway was made in how to do it.

Given the difficulties Gene experienced, I wonder he had a chance to compare notes with Alexi Leonov regarding their respective spacewalks (Ed White died before astronauts started meeting with cosmonauts on a regular basis as I recall). Alexi had to lower his suit pressure to a dangerously low level to get back into the balloon airlock on Voskhod 2 and in one sense, he had just as much difficulty as Gene had (Gene sort of had to become the human pretzel in his seat until internal pressure in Gemini abated enough to allow his own suit to deflate).

moorouge
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posted 03-04-2010 03:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Chladek:
As for Buzz, on Gemini 9 when they had the launch shroud not come off the Agena Docking Target vehicle, mission control discussed what could be done and Buzz suggested Geno should spacewalk over with a pair of cutters and cut the strap.
It's a long time since I wrote about Gemini 9 but my recollection is that the problem was that a technician had taped together a bunch of wires to get them out of the way and had forgotten to remove the tape. If it was suggested by Aldrin that Cernan EVA to cut them free, then this is something I don't remember.

What I do remember are the discussions Stafford had with the ground about his suggestion that he use the Gemini to nudge the shroud free. I think this was rejected on the grounds that it might cause an electrical discharge despite Stafford's views that it was feasible.

Lou Chinal
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posted 03-04-2010 10:38 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Buzz Aldrin did suggest that Cernan walk/float over to the Agena and cut the tape. I heard him say so myself. He regrets the idea now. If I can quote from memory, "it seemed like a good idea at the time". I think it was at the Astronaut Hall of Fame, in March of 1993.

ColinBurgess
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posted 03-04-2010 10:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ColinBurgess   Click Here to Email ColinBurgess     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The answers to many points raised and discussed in this thread, including first-hand accounts from most of the participants (Stafford, Aldrin, Cernan, Gordon, Collins, Leonov, etc.) can be found in the chapter "The Ballet of Weightlessness" in the book Francis French and I co-wrote, In the Shadow of the Moon.

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