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  Command decisions: CDR vs Mission Control

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Author Topic:   Command decisions: CDR vs Mission Control
moorouge
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posted 04-18-2016 12:50 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Recently I heard Tom Stafford say that he told Deke Slayton immediately prior to Gemini 9 in no uncertain terms that once the vehicle left the pad he was the commander and would make the decisions affecting the crew. Stafford went on to make two more flights, both as commander.

Wally Schirra told the ground much the same thing on Apollo 7. His crew were castigated by Slayton and never made another flight.

Can anyone explain the difference?

David C
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posted 04-18-2016 02:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for David C     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It's the same as being an aircraft commander. Stafford was privately stating the obvious — his command privilege. Schirra had a very public row with the chain of command, never a good idea. There are much better ways of handling such things, but Schirra was past caring. Unfortunate for his subordinates.

Then there's the technicalities of whether or not you've disobeyed a direct order. Stafford did not, the situation never arose, and the phrasing was such that I'd say he never received an actual order. Schirra on the other hand put himself in a much more dubious position.

moorouge
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posted 04-18-2016 05:11 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Perhaps I left out the most important part of my query regarding Stafford's disagreement with Slayton. It was over what course of action was required of him in the event of a specific happening in the course of the '9' flight.

Stafford left no doubt that he would not follow that instruction.

One Big Monkey
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posted 04-18-2016 05:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for One Big Monkey     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm going to take a guess that Stafford's comments relate to the "This is what you should do if Gene dies on the EVA" conversation, which is a bit different to "No, I am not turning on the TV camera"!

I've often wondered about the 'none of them flew again' statement. It's widely reported that this was a definite decision, but is it recorded anywhere or just assumed?

Schirra did state before Apollo 7 that he had no intention of staying around for a moon shot given the time it would involve in training and acting as back up. Of course this isn't the same as "I'm not interested in any kind of space flight", but what other sort of flight was around at the time?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 04-18-2016 05:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
Stafford left no doubt that he would not follow that instruction.
Stafford is fond of telling this story, as is Cernan, each with their own flare. It is certainly a great anecdote, but it is not necessarily a historical account of how command decisions would have played out.

Fortunately for history, Stafford, nor any other Gemini command pilot, had to make this call, or override a contrary call from Mission Control. But had he (or any of the others) been put in this scenario, it would have almost assuredly been (a) considered based on the outcome and the gravitas of the situation, and (b) resulted in Mission Control asserting its ultimate command as part of the post-flight recovery.

But that would be a footnote to the first in-space loss of an American crew member, a tragedy that would require a top-down review of all decisions made by those in space and on the ground.

David C
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posted 04-18-2016 07:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for David C     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
It was over what course of action was required of him in the event of a specific happening in the course of the '9' flight.
Yup, I knew what you were referring to. Every time Stafford relates the incident he phrases it very slightly differently. I'm guessing you heard it related in England recently.

In any event, he didn't, in my opinion receive a direct unambiguous order to basically kill them both rather than embarrass NASA. In no version I've heard does Slayton state "you are being ordered, do you understand?" or similar formal wording. He also never responds with anything like "are you disobeying an order?"

Secondly, regardless of Stafford's reply, his boss was happy and even if you consider it to be an order, it was not disobeyed, the situation never eventuated. Every now and again, a commander can be placed in positions like this and has to make a decision and may have to subsequently argue his or her case.

Rusty53
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posted 04-18-2016 10:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rusty53     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think there is a big difference between Stafford saying he would be in the best position to make this or that decision during the flight of Gemini 9A, and the way Schirra and his crew castigated the flight controllers on the ground. In my opinion, it bordered on being unprofessional. Why would any one want to have that kind of thing repeated by having anyone of the crew of Apollo 7 fly again?

David C
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posted 04-18-2016 10:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for David C     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Rusty53:
In my opinion, it bordered on being unprofessional.
In my opinion it crossed the border. Then again, even Apollo CDRs are human beings.

Kite
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posted 04-18-2016 02:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Kite     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have noticed a discrepancy between the two versions of a potential fatal EVA by Gene Cernan on Gemini 9A.

In Tom Stafford's autobiography "We Have Capture," on page 88, Deke Slayton has a private word with Stafford saying "NASA management has decided that if Cernan dies up there, we can't afford to have a dead astronaut floating around in space. You've got to bring him back."

Cernan's version in his autobiography, from which I quote, states that in the event of him being incapacitated Deke told Tom the only choice would be to cut me loose, close the hatch and return to Earth without me.

I realise that many years later people remember things differently but having recently attended the lecture by General Stafford in Pontefract I am inclined to accept his account of this story as he was the one who spoke directly to Slayton. Incidentally, I could find no reference to this matter in Slayton's autobiography "Deke! U.S Manned Flight: From Mercury to the Shuttle."

David C
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posted 04-18-2016 02:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for David C     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I wouldn't call that a discrepancy so much as different aspects of the same story. One is Stafford's conversation with Slayton, the other is what Stafford may actually have decided to do if the situation arose.

onesmallstep
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posted 04-20-2016 12:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for onesmallstep   Click Here to Email onesmallstep     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This brings up a fascinating debate, one which has spanned generations and, literally, oceans. For it was the masters of sailing vessels that gave rise to the term "captain's prerogative." Even though instructions and well-laid plans may start a journey, what happens during a voyage, whether intentional or by accident, can be altered by the decisions of the person in command.

As far as spaceflight is concerned, the decisions, real or hypothetical, taken by Gemini 4 and Apollo 9 commander Jim McDivitt bear some examination. I'm sure he had a lot of discussions with mission managers — and Ed White — about the scenarios if White would have been incapacitated during his spacewalk on Gemini 4. It would have been a terrible decision, as McDivitt himself has said in interviews, to cut loose and abandon his best friend.

And the EVA could have turned out almost like Gemini 9A's: In the official Gemini history On the Shoulders of Titans, White returned to the cabin exhausted, sweat going in his eyes and his faceplate fogged over. If this would have happened during the EVA, I'm sure McDivitt would have curtailed it early like Stafford did on 9A. Only White's athletic training and physical condition saved the day, I think.

On Apollo 9, Rusty Schweickart's sickness almost scrapped the planned EVA outside the LM to test the PLSS backpack, but McDivitt made a judgment call after seeing that Rusty was feeling better and could proceed with a modified EVA plan. A wise call by the mission commander.

As far as consequences faced by the entire crew after a commander's decision, other than Apollo 7, the day off demanded by Bill Pogue after the so-called "mutiny" incident on SL-4 is also worth noting. I'm sure one of the positive outcomes of that was the crew scheduling for future space station missions like those on ISS.

Fra Mauro
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posted 04-20-2016 12:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Regarding the "mutiny" of the SL-4 crew; it didn't seem to generate bad blood between the crew and MCC, and besides, there wasn't much that could be done to discipline the crew, since the flight assignments were non-existent for the next few years.

David C
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posted 04-20-2016 12:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for David C     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Good points. Something else to bear in mind is that the CDR in Apollo days had the full title of spacecraft commander, and absolutely not that of mission commander. The difference is crucial, and rarely understood.

DeepSea
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posted 04-20-2016 01:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for DeepSea     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by onesmallstep:
I'm sure one of the positive outcomes of that was the crew scheduling for future space station missions like those on ISS.
Crippen noted as much in his JSC Oral History, and that the experience was used in developing later missions with regards to crew workload.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 04-20-2016 01:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In 2013, Skylab and International Space Station crew members came together at NASA Headquarters to mark the 40th anniversary of the United States' first orbital workshop. During a panel discussion, the topic of time management came up.
"We dealt with problems having to do with scheduling and productivity," said Gerald "Jerry" Carr, who commanded the final Skylab crew. "We came to some solutions that worked very well. It took a while to get there... but those solutions that we came across were used on subsequent missions to some degree."

"We tried to make sure that got into the planning for the operations aboard the International Space Station and on the [space] shuttle," Carr added.

"I think we're still working that issue," replied [Kevin] Ford. "We've gotten a much better feeling, I think, now that we are up there to do work that the ground can't necessarily figure out how long it is going to take you to do everything."

Separate and subsequent discussions that I have had with Skylab and space station crew members suggest that, depending on the approach of the individual, the same issue that resulted in the Skylab disagreement persists to some degree today on orbit.

Blackarrow
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posted 04-20-2016 05:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As has been discussed at length elsewhere, the issue of "commander v Mission Control" might have — but did not — come up on Apollo 15 when Jim Irwin suffered heart irregularities in lunar orbit after returning from the lunar surface. Dave Scott, as commander, was not informed of the problem.

I have argued (in "Footprints in the Dust" and on this forum) that Mission Control may have withheld the news specifically to avoid a "who's in charge" argument. Had Scott been told, he has made it clear that he would have had a full and detailed debate with Mission Control about the issue.

It is possible that he might have decided that subjecting Irwin to the stresses of donning his spacesuit and assisting with Worden's deep-space EVA wasn't worth the prize of recovering the SIM bay film cassettes. We'll never know, because Mission Control didn't tell him, thus depriving Scott of his right, as commander, to decide what was best for crew safety and mission success.

moorouge
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posted 04-21-2016 01:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
May I come to the defense of Schirra and the Apollo 7 crew? This flight was intended as an open-ended mission lasting up to ten days. All the major objectives were accomplished in the first few days and there was a suggestion made at the time that the remainder of the flight was to be used not just to gain extra information but also to test the reaction of the crew to additional pressures. If this was indeed the case then Flight Directors Lunney, Kranz and Griffin picked the wrong crew for such psychological exercises. Schirra was well known for what Naval authorities called his "non-regulation independence" and Cunningham was reputed to have a fuse only marginally longer than that of his commander when faced with officialdom at its blundering worst.

On top of this Schirra developed a cold and both Cunningham and Eisele displayed similar symptoms probably caused by breathing the pure oxygen in the cabin.

The eighth day saw hostilities with Mission Control renewed after the postponed tv show. They started as Donn Eisele removed his bio-medical harness as there were parts that were running hot. Already the crew had to mend loose and broken wiring several times and, backed by Schirra, Eisele had had enough. They reached the "bitter end" and, mindful of the spark that caused the Apollo 1 fire, refused to undertake any more repairs.

Cunningham too was beginning to rebel having had his fill of 'Mickey Mouse' operations. At one point, when told that a test might require him to repeat an operation forty times he replied, "I would like to go on record here by saying that people who dress up procedures like this after lift-off have somehow or other been dropping the ball the past three years."

Schirra supported his crew by saying a little later, "I wish you would find out the name of the idiot who thought of this test. I want to talk to him personally when I get down." He followed this with a final, "I've had it up here and from now on I'm going to be an onboard flight director for the updates." This, as one can imagine, did not go down well at Houston, though there were those who quietly supported Schirra's stand, agreeing that officials should listen to the opinions of the astronauts.

The final cause of friction came with re-entry when Schirra won his argument with Slayton that the crew would not wear helmets so they could clear their noses.

Following this there were hints also picked up by the press in Houston that Schirra was to face a full "normal" inquiry on his return to the Manned Spacecraft Centre to settle the recurring theme of the flight as to who had ultimate control.

From the above it can be argued that there was just cause for the crew to be somewhat testy and that they were placed under greater stress from the ground caused by changes made on the spur of the moment to the flight plan than any crew either before or since. It would seem that the Apollo 7 crew and particularly Cunningham and Eisele, paid the price for daring to question this interference. Which again begs the question - were this crew unfairly victimised?

Jim Behling
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posted 04-21-2016 09:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
...the same issue that resulted in the Skylab disagreement persists to some degree today on orbit.
A big part of that was transitioning from the space shuttle type scheduling where the amount of work was maximized for the short duration of the flight and the mentality that flight was like a camping trip/vacation where as many activities are planned as possible. Whereas a station tour is like temporary housing between two house moves. You still have to work, do housekeeping, prepare meals, and perform maintenance. It is not as frantic as a vacation.

Jim Behling
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posted 04-21-2016 09:06 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
This flight was intended as an open-ended mission lasting up to ten days. All the major objectives were accomplished in the first few days...

From the above it can be argued that there was just cause for the crew to be somewhat testy and that they were placed under greater stress from the ground caused by changes made on the spur of the moment to the flight plan than any crew either before or since.


If the most of the objectives were accomplished early and it was an open ended mission, it seems that the crew would have a lot of time on their hands and would be able to handle flight plan changes.

Rusty53
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posted 04-21-2016 08:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rusty53     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In regards to the Apollo 7 "mutiny", I was taught that it's not so much what you say, but how you say it.

moorouge
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posted 04-22-2016 01:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
With the fortieth anniversary of the Viking probes to Mars approaching I'm reminded of a comment made by Carl Sagan in 1977 — "Spacecraft may be manned or unmanned. The latter are much more obedient."

moorouge
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posted 04-23-2016 01:01 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The commander of a manned mission could initiate any inflight action (including abort) that he deemed necessary for crew safety.
The above quote is taken from the Launch Mission Rules Document for the Apollo 11 flight. These rules were clearly defined and could not be delegated.

If this was in place for the Apollo 7 flight, then Schirra was clearly within his rights to query some of Mission Control requests. Or was this rule introduced following the '7' flight to clarify the situation as a result of the disagreements.

In both cases I come back to my original point that it would seem to be grossly unfair for the powers that be to take it out on the crew of a commander who was merely exercising his rights. Or did Mission Control and Slayton take exception to the fact that Schirra, Cunningham and Eisele wanted to test the limitations of this mission rule?

It would seem that the '7' crew paid the price for daring to ruffle a few feathers and tread on the egos of those with their feet safely on the ground.

Jim Behling
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posted 04-23-2016 05:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
If this was in place for the Apollo 7 flight, then Schirra was clearly within his rights to query some of Mission Control requests.
It doesn't matter if was in place or not. There was no matter of safety in the requests Mission Control (except for the helmet issue), so Wally didn't have a leg to stand on.

Rusty53
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posted 04-23-2016 07:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rusty53     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Who would blame Schirra for having a chip on his shoulder after the death of his good friend Gus Grissom, but his objections to additions to the flight plan (it was a test flight after all) became personal.

Cunningham and Eisele were big boys, they could have let their commander do his thing but they chose to join in. Why would NASA brass want to put up with these personalities on future missions?

Alf767
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posted 04-23-2016 08:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Alf767   Click Here to Email Alf767     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Let me offer an aviation vs space flight comparison regarding this discussion. After all Wally was a Naval Aviator before he was selected as one of the original 7 astronauts.

In aviation the captain is the final authority as to the operation of the aircraft. Wally was the commander of Apollo 7 and obviously felt he was the final authority as to the operation of the first flight after the fire of the test flight of the Apollo spacecraft.

I'm a 767 captain and my "final authority" is always challenged by management when I have to make a tough decision. Insert management with Mission Control.

Wally knew he was retiring, lost his best friend on the pad he just blasted off from, had a cold and he felt lousy. He was the man in command, Mission Control be damned regarding flight plan changes and last minute experiments added and Donn and Walt were obviously on their own.

Wally flew on Mercury aboard Sigma 7 when Atlas boosters blew up. He made a instant decision not to pull the D ring and eject on Gemini 6. And then he signed up to back up Gus on Apollo.

I think Wally was fully justified to assert his command authority during Apollo 7 and basically tell Mission Control to go to hell... when he needed to and when they deserved it.

ea757grrl
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posted 04-23-2016 10:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ea757grrl   Click Here to Email ea757grrl     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Regarding Apollo 7, I'd like to strongly recommend the chapter about the flight in "In The Shadow of the Moon" by Francis French and Colin Burgess. It's the best and most balanced explanation I've yet read for the differences between the spacecraft and Mission Control on Apollo 7, and I believe it will provide insight for those interested in this particular subject.

moorouge
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posted 04-24-2016 02:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jim Behling:
There was no matter of safety in the requests Mission Control (except for the helmet issue), so Wally didn't have a leg to stand on.
There were safety issues as this quote from a previous post of mine indicates:
They started as Donn Eisele removed his bio-medical harness as there were parts that were running hot. Already the crew had to mend loose and broken wiring several times and, backed by Schirra, Eisele had had enough. They reached the "bitter end" and, mindful of the spark that caused the Apollo 1 fire, refused to undertake any more repairs.
I would contend also that a crew made fractious and overtired by requests over and above those programmed are more likely to make errors and that this becomes a safety issue.

Jim Behling
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posted 04-24-2016 08:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Overtired by what? They were in a basically automated spacecraft and with orbital mechanicals, it didn't need a pilot at the controls except for the few maneuvers. What were they to do for 16 hours a day?

Jim Behling
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posted 04-24-2016 08:29 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Alf767:
Mission Control be damned regarding flight plan changes and last minute experiments added and Donn and Walt were obviously on their own.
It was a mission costing more than a 100 million dollars, NASA (mission control) was within their rights to get as much out of it as possible. And like the post above, what else would the crew be doing for 16 hours per day for more than 7 days?

moorouge
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posted 04-24-2016 08:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I refer back to the LMRD document. If the flight commander thought it was a safety issue at the time, then it was a safety issue and it mattered not what Mission Control thought or what one thinks of the situation in hindsight.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 04-24-2016 09:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
I refer back to the LMRD document...
Referring to that document, it also states:
In the event of communications loss between the Manned Space Flight Network and the spacecraft, the command pilot will assume responsibility for mission conduct as described within the flight rules.
That implies, at least to me, that if communications are not lost, that Mission Control has responsibility over mission conduct. The CDR can initiate actions for crew safety (per the rules), but it is ultimately Mission Control that decides if that action was merited.

In fact, the document states it even clearer:

When a conflict of flight plan activities occurs, the flight director will determine the priority of activities.

Headshot
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posted 04-24-2016 12:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Of course there remains that old issue of what would Alan Shepard had done while piloting Antares to a lunar landing if the radar had not locked in. Mission rules and Flight might have dictated that he abort, but Shepard and his ego were in the driver's seat.

Had Shepard overrode Mission control, we would not be talking too much about the significance of the Apollo 7 and Skylab 4 events, no matter what the outcome was.

David C
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posted 04-24-2016 01:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for David C     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Alf767:
In aviation the captain is the final authority as to the operation of the aircraft. Wally was the commander of Apollo 7 and obviously felt he was the final authority as to the operation of the first flight after the fire of the test flight of the Apollo spacecraft.
I too, for what it's worth, have held several military and civilian aviation commands. To expand on your answer, because that is rarely if ever completely true, those with no command experience may find the following helpful.

For convenience, "the operation of the aircraft" may be divided into safety and mission. Depending on the organisation employing you in a command role it is typical for the commander to have the final authority on the day with regards to safety. He or she may have to subsequently argue their decisions with management. Should you find your point of view does not align with management repeatedly for whatever reasons, you may find your employment terminated. It is less common (for example in a major airline) for the aircraft commander to have final authority as to the mission. The machine is not your personal property to do with as you please, it is loaned to you whilst you are entrusted to do a job.

To take an extreme example, imagine you are a commander of a Huge Airlines Boeing 767. You are scheduled to fly from JFK to LAX with a load of passengers. You are unlikely to have the authority to decide to leave the passengers behind, load up with cargo and fly to DFW. However, at the gate the company may tell you they need that jet in DFW and you're operating a different flight number on the same aircraft. In this case you retain safety authority from chock to chock, but are required to execute the flight (mission) assigned to you in accordance with company and FAA regulations. However, if as you taxi out a thunderstorm moves in with reports of severe windshear and out of limit winds on the departure runway you not only have the authority to delay takeoff, you are required to make that decision. Between these extremes you may have the authority to decide between taking/offloading passengers and accepting minor delays, etc. — or you may not.

In a different world you may be tasked to use your F/A-18 to destroy a specific target regardless of cost. There will be an original plan, but things change. Here you have authority to achieve the objective in whatever way you see fit, and are absolved from the responsibility of having to bring your airplane back in one piece.

Obviously the above is an oversimplification to illustrate the difference between safety and mission. Every organisation and situation is different. Flight test itself adds a load of considerations not normally applicable to operational vehicles.

Similarly, it is important to recognise the difference between spacecraft command, mission command, or the vague term "flight command". These have evolved over the history of aviation and spaceflight. In the old days the Captain was pretty much it. That has not been the case in most organisations for a very long time. It was not, and is not the case at NASA, although personalities on both sides of the line tested the limits of their authority.

Schirra was the commander of the Apollo 7 spacecraft. He was not the mission commander.

All times are CT (US)

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