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  Mercury - Gemini - Apollo
  Gemini: Reluctance to use ejection system

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Author Topic:   Gemini: Reluctance to use ejection system
john.nukecop
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From: Duluth, GA, USA
Registered: May 2014

posted 05-01-2014 11:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for john.nukecop   Click Here to Email john.nukecop     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Forgive me if this has been already discussed ad nauseam, but when I searched the forum, I could not find anything specific. I was recently reading the oral history of Thomas Stafford, and he was asked why he and Wally Schirra did not eject from Gemini 6 when their Titan II launch vehicle shutdown immediately after ignition.

After discussing the lack of motion and the lack of a "liftoff" call, he added the comment that had they ejected, they "would have been two Roman candles going out, because we were 15 or 16 psi, pure oxygen, soaking in that for an hour and a half."

Stafford then went on to add that "it would have burned the suits. Everything was soaked in oxygen. So thank God. That was another thing: NASA never tested it under the conditions that they would have had if they would have had to eject. They did have some tests at China Lake where they had a simulated mock-up of Gemini capsule, but what they did is fill it full of nitrogen. They didn't have it filled full of oxygen in the sled test they had." (source, pages 12-5 to 12-6)

I have repeatedly heard or read seemingly veiled comments regarding the unwillingness of the astronauts to eject from Gemini (and it was fortunate in this case that they did not) but I always wondered why?

Someone wittier than I wrote that ejection seats take you from to an environment where death is certain to an environment where death is a possibility, but given that the astronauts spent a fair amount of time sitting on aircraft ejection seats, I was always puzzled by the apparent specific reluctance to punch out of Gemini. Certainly the angle and the altitude seemed tough for an on-the-pad ejection, not to mention the accelerations that would be experienced.

I appreciate that this was before the Apollo 1 experience and before the Bonderenko accident became common knowledge, but I wonder if anyone else has insights into reasons that ejecting from Gemini seemed to be a bad idea.

space1
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From: Danville, Ohio, USA
Registered: Dec 2002

posted 05-01-2014 12:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for space1   Click Here to Email space1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have read other posts where people have described the Gemini ejection seat as being at the edge of limits for safety. This was due to the need to get far away fast in the event of a pad explosion. An astronaut could be injured enough from an ejection (backbone injuries in particular) as to be unable to fly in space. But I don't have any data or references to back that up.

Regarding the pure oxygen soaking of the suits, I wonder if the rapid escape and exposure to air would mitigate the risk to the astronaut. The escape rocket doesn't start to fire until the seat catapult has pushed the seat most of the way out of the cockpit. Also the ignition source (escape rocket) would be downstream from the astronaut.

tlifan2
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From: Lawrenceville, GA 30043
Registered: Feb 2014

posted 05-01-2014 06:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tlifan2   Click Here to Email tlifan2     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
John Young apparently witnessed a test of the ejection seat where the hatch failed to open. The seat and the test dummy still punched through the hatch. Maybe that was in the back of the mind of the Gemini 6 crew when they had the opportunity to use them.

sts205cdr
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From: Sacramento, CA
Registered: Jun 2001

posted 05-01-2014 08:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for sts205cdr   Click Here to Email sts205cdr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Young is said to have turned to Grissom and said something like "That's a hell of a headache, but a short one." Abort modes have never been entirely popular in the Corps.

Tony Guidry
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From: Lafayette, Louisiana, USA
Registered: Jun 2009

posted 05-01-2014 10:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tony Guidry   Click Here to Email Tony Guidry     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
John Young's comment about the Gemini ejection seats reminds me about another comment he made at a JSC Open House presentation a few years back. In describing the ejection seat option he and Bob Crippen had aboard the Shuttle on STS-1, he stated words to the effect "Crip and I could have ejected, but I imagine we'd have been pretty crispy after flying through the 5,000 degree exhaust plumes of the SRBs".

moorouge
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From: U.K.
Registered: Jul 2009

posted 05-02-2014 01:34 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Though said about Schirra's Apollo 7 flight, it perhaps was also appropriate about Gemini 6 and the fact that the ejection seats weren't used.

Mike Collins made the comment that a "...spacecraft wouldn't dare blow up with Wally on board!"

alanh_7
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From: Ajax, Ontario, Canada
Registered: Apr 2008

posted 05-02-2014 10:11 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I may be wrong but I think there is a general reluctance to use the ejection seat in any air or spacecraft. Abandoning the aircraft would be a most frightening experience and often leads to serious injury or even a worst case situation.

Rocket sled tests, etc., are one thing, but I would imagine there would be a great deal of reluctance to use an escape system that had never been fully tested on an operational vehicle at launch.

David C
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From: Pasadena
Registered: Apr 2012

posted 05-02-2014 11:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for David C     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A pilot's attitude to ejection seats is psychologically complex. The decision to eject has many variables and sometimes has to be made very quickly. You need to have an instinctive knowledge of the seat envelope and your aircraft's performance and handling limitations.

I always viewed a no-notice ejection as being a bit like putting it all on black at roulette. Perhaps a fun way to start a night in Vegas but you better be darned sure that you're fresh out of options before you spin the wheel on your life.

A seat that's expected to seriously injure you will load those odds further. I had a friend who ejected and was permanently injured (by an early seat and could not fly jets again), the investigation subsequently determined that ejection was the wrong course of action that day.

We were taught a logical decision tree for evaluating scenarios in advance or if time permitted and most guys have a good think ahead of time. I'm certain that Wally would have played out the whole Gemini pad ejection situation in detail, well ahead of that day.

Other views might be described by "eject in time" or "if in doubt there's no doubt", all of them can be appropriate in different situations depending on seat and aircraft performance. And let's face it, everyone's more comfortable in a familiar environment where you have some influence over your fate - the cockpit; rather than what is (for most) a quite novel environment and where you exert no control - the "panic rack"; so there is a natural reluctance to eject.

Also Wally started out in (effectively) pre-ejection seat days, and the early jets he flew would have had seats with less than glittering performance. That would inevitably have influenced his general view of ejection.

I can't remember if Wally had ever previously ejected.

Peter downunder
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From: Lancefield, Victoria, Australia
Registered: Apr 2012

posted 05-05-2014 02:43 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Peter downunder   Click Here to Email Peter downunder     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I suppose there's a list somewhere for astronauts that have had to eject though their careers. Mike Collins and Pete Conrad come to mind. And of course Mike required surgery after ejecting.

sts205cdr
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From: Sacramento, CA
Registered: Jun 2001

posted 05-05-2014 08:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for sts205cdr   Click Here to Email sts205cdr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Armstrong ejected in Korea, if I recall correctly.

Glint
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From: New Windsor, Maryland USA
Registered: Jan 2004

posted 05-05-2014 11:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by sts205cdr:
Armstrong ejected in Korea, if I recall correctly.
...and again on that flying bed thingy.

nasamad
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Posts: 1915
From: Essex, UK
Registered: Jul 2001

posted 05-05-2014 03:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for nasamad   Click Here to Email nasamad     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think I remember Dave Scott may have ejected at some point but I can't remember my source at the moment (I don't have his book to hand as it's in storage at the moment).

sts205cdr
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Posts: 567
From: Sacramento, CA
Registered: Jun 2001

posted 05-05-2014 04:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for sts205cdr   Click Here to Email sts205cdr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Actually, while attending ARPS, Dave Scott stayed in the F-104 at the time of impact with the runway while Mike Adams elected to eject. They both made the right decision.

Paul78zephyr
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Posts: 381
From: Hudson, MA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 05-06-2014 08:14 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul78zephyr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
"Its death...or the ejection seat."

-Wally Schirra

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