MERCURY PROJECT SUMMARY (NASA SP-45)

 

20. ASTRONAUT'S SUMMARY FLIGHT REPORT

By L. GORDON COOPER, JR., Astronaut, NASA Manned Spacecraft Center

 

Summary

 

[349] The MA-9 flight marked the conclusion to the United States first manned space-flight program. From their initiation into the program in 1959 the seven Mercury astronauts participated as a specialist team, and their combined experiences, both in space and on the ground, constitute a valuable contribution to the nation's manned space-flight capability. The launch checkout activities constitute one of the most valuable portions of this experience, and the MA-9 flight demonstrated once again how critical this period is both to the preparation of the spacecraft and the pilot. The sensations and experiences of the flight were generally similar to those reported by the pilots of previous flights with the exception that better dark adaptation was obtained and therefore more dim light phenomena could be seen. During the MA-9 flight, the zodiacal light and what may have been the daytime airglow were observed for the first time. While some new observations were made on phenomena such as the airglow and space particles, the appearance of the earth features and weather patterns generally seemed to be similar to the description of the previous pilots. As on previous flights, several photographic studies were conducted and the results of these exercises have proved to be valuable. A series of new experiments and evaluations of Mercury systems were conducted, with generally good results. The mission appeared to be relatively routine until a malfunction in the control system late in the flight made it necessary to control attitude manually during retrofire and reentry. The flight of Faith 7 concluded after some 34 hours in space with a landing within 4 1/2 miles of the primary recovery ship, the USS Kearsarge in the Pacific Ocean.

 

Introduction

 

When the seven of us came together as a group for the first time at Langley Field, Virginia, in April 1959, neither we, any of the newly created NASA Space Task Group, nor anyone in the country knew what our exact roles as Project Mercury Astronauts would entail. We were unsure how we should train for space flights, how we would become familiar with the spacecraft and its many systems, or even how the pilot would be integrated into these systems. We were all starting from scratch, from the ground floor in manned space flight.

 

Looking back now on more than 4 years of concentrated training, detailed study of spacecraft systems, attending countless hundreds of coordination and planning meetings, participating in hundreds of hours of hardware development and checkout, we can all recognize that in some cases there would have been more efficient ways of doing things. However, considering the limited knowledge in this space business in the spring of 1959, I consider it remarkable that Project Mercury ran so close to its originally planned time schedule. Few programs in the history of airplane development ever ran as close, and no airplane program ever had so many unknowns staring the test operations team in the face.

 

By correlating all that we have learned in the last 4 years and properly applying it to future manned space programs, we should be able to increase the efficiency of our next program. This application of experience will be important because taking the step from the successful missions of Project Mercury to manned interplanetary flights involves many stumbling blocks and unknowns. These uncertainties must be uncovered and solved in a logical manner.

 

Back in 1959, the pilot was one of the real unknowns in space flight. No one could really say for certain how a pilot would react or how [350] well he could perform in a space environment. Partially for this reason and because unmanned flights were scheduled as part of the development program, the Mercury spacecraft was designed to perform the mission automatically. Manual controls for spacecraft control and systems management were included primarily as backups to the automatic program. From the start of the program we encouraged the concept of the pilot being a primary part of the overall system. Throughout the manned flight phase, this concept has become more and more of a reality.

 

While we adopted the team concept during most of our space-flight training, we were required to be at so many places and cover so many areas that each man was assigned a specialty area to monitor closely and brief the others periodically.

 

"Faith 7" was the name I selected for the spacecraft which performed so well for me until the electrical problem late in flight. I chose this name as being symbolic of my firm belief in the entire Mercury team' in the spacecraft which had performed so well before, and in God. The "7," of course, as in the names used by the others before me is representative of the original astronaut team. This flight report will present a discussion of my entire flight

 


astronauts inspecting camera equipment

Figure 20-1. Astronaut Cooper and Shepard discuss MA-9 camera during prelaunch activities


 

experience, but I shall attempt to summarize the flight sensations and observations of the other astronauts and relate their experiences to my own. Beginning with the prelaunch activities which are so necessary to preparing for the mission and concluding with my landing in the Pacific after 34 hours of weightlessness, I shall try to discuss the many experiments and system operation in which each of us took part.

 

Preflight And Launch

Spacecraft Readiness and Checkout

 

The period from the time the spacecraft arrived at Cape Canaveral until the time it was mated with the launch vehicle was the period where the pilot and his backup became completely familiar with the spacecraft and all its various systems (fig. 20-1). We learned all the individual idiosyncrasies of system. We also became familiar with many of the members of the launch crew and learned whom to call on for expert advice on each system. It was also during this period that we had an opportunity to discuss the coming flight with team members who had flown before (fig. 20-2 and take advantage of their experiences.

 

The preflight phase was used to incorporate certain modifications into the spacecraft and

 


astronaught in spacesuit

Figure 20-2. Astronauts Glenn and Cooper discuss items of the pilot's personal equipment during the MA-9 prelaunch period.

 

[351] to add some pieces of equipment necessary to meet operational requirements. Because of the limited usable cockpit space and the even more limited center-of-gravity travel and gross weight of the Mercury spacecraft, these configuration changes were always a soul-searching problem. Regardless of how they were accomplished, additions often resulted in some type of compromise to the pilot's comfort, freedom of movement, and/or operational smoothness.

 

The natural tendency was for everyone to want to improve on existing equipment and to add worthwhile experiments that could be fitted in. Space flight is so expensive that no one wants to waste a single second of orbital time. However, we all discovered that the entire flight is compromised when all equipment, all experiments, and all the flight plan detail are not frozen early enough to check out each piece of equipment and allow everyone, particularly the pilot, to become thoroughly familiar with all procedures.

 

On all our flights the cockpits have been cluttered to the point where the space remaining for the astronaut and the equipment with which he must work is very limited and inefficiently arranged. In most cases getting some of the equipment located and moved about provided more exercise than did the special onboard exercise device. Stowage of equipment is a very real problem that too often is not given enough consideration.

 

As the flights lengthened, a detailed flight plan and abbreviated checklists for experiments and operational procedures became a real necessity. It is impossible for a pilot to remember all the details of times, amounts, and so forth, of the many experiments and tests to be conducted. Proper formats and storage for these items had to be developed during the preflight preparation periods.

 

Integrated Checkout

 

Faith 7 passed all the spacecraft tests in fine shape and was taken to the launch complex to be mated with the Atlas 130D launch vehicle. At this time, a buildup of integrated launch vehicle and spacecraft tests, system by system, was initiated and proceeded until the program was culminated in a fully integrated simulated flight from countdown to recovery with all systems operating. This series of tests was felt by all of us to be a necessity not only to check out all the systems, but to train the launch crew, the pilots, and the personnel of the worldwide network.

 

Countdown

 

I believe that we can very readily shorten the time that the pilot is in the spacecraft prior to launch. I was busy enough with the countdown activities that time did not drag, but I did have time to take a short nap during this period. It seems to me that to conserve the pilot's energy it would be desirable to accomplish more of these checks with the backup pilot prior to insertion. Of course, you do need a few minutes to shift around and get settled, see that the equipment is located properly, before you are prepared for the flight.

 

Most of the countdowns in Mercury went fairly smoothly as a result of the practice that the launch crews had acquired on simulated flight tests. The first attempt to launch MA-9 on May 1~L was delayed for a diesel engine that would not operate to drive the gantry back. Then it had to be postponed because a critical radar set became inoperative. I was in the cockpit for some 6 hours before we scrubbed on that first day. I was quite tired but felt ready to recycle for another count the following day.

 

The countdown on May 15, 1963, went almost perfectly. Everything was really in a "go" status and I think everyone felt that we were going to have a good launch. And it was!

 

I had thought that I would become a bit more tense as the count neared minus 1 or 2 minutes, but found that I have been more tense for the kick- off when playing football than I was for the launch on May 15. I felt that I was very well trained and was ready to fly a good flight.

 

Powered Flight

 

It is a wonderful feeling when the engines light and you have lifted off. The long period of preparation is over, and at last you are ready to settle down to your work.

 

The acceleration is not disconcerting or degrading at the levels encountered in the Mercury flights. In fact,; it gives one somewhat the same feeling as that of adding full throttle on a fast car, or a racing boat, or a fighter airplane. The pilot can easily monitor several of the more [352] critical parameters, including his attitudes, throughout the entire launch phase. The task that he is given to do should be uncluttered with minor details if possible, but he is fully capable of functioning as an intricate part of the system throughout the entire launch. I was surprised at how many things I could keep track of and feel that I had plenty of time to do the exact item planned.

 

On previous flights, it had been noted that vibration encountered in the region of maximum dynamic pressure was feeding through the couch to the helmet and causing slight blurring of vision. We found that this could be eliminated by adequate padding between the helmet and the couch. I had approximately 3/4 inch of foam rubber between my helmet and the couch and experienced no blurring of vision.

 

Booster engine cutoff (BECO) is very distinctive, by the decrease in both the acceleration and the noise. It was just as I had expected it to be from talking to the others.

 

John Glenn and Scott Carpenter had discussed with Wally Schirra and me how they had encountered some springboard effect from the guidance while in the latter phases of the sustainer flight. Wally Schirra experienced very little or none of this effect. I had an almost perfect sustainer trajectory with almost no guidance corrections at all, so it was an exceptionally smooth and almost perfect insertion.

 

Sustainer engine cutoff (SECO) is also quite distinctive, in the same manner as BECO. This is followed by the noise of clamp rings and posigrade rockets. The spacecraft is in orbit.

 

Orbital Flight

Insertion

 

We had all run many full launch profiles on the centrifuge, so I felt very well prepared for all the powered flight, but there is some difference between the transition from positive acceleration on a centrifuge back to 1-g and the transition from positive acceleration on the flight to zero-g. I felt somewhat strange for the first few minutes. The view out of the window is a tremendous distraction as the spacecraft yaws around and the earth and the booster come into full view for the first time. We all noted a strong desire to concentrate on the tremendous view out of the window. Atlas 130D was only about 200 yards away from me. It was certainly beautiful. I could read the fettering on the sides and could see various details of the sustainer. It was a very bright silver in color, with a frosty white band around the center portion of it. It was still wisping vapor from the aft end. It was yawed approximately 15° to 20° to its left. I had it in sight for a total of approximately 8 minutes. The front end was slowly turning in counterclockwise rotation.

 

Despite these distractions, the many hours of training took over and we all proceeded to do our tasks as scheduled. After a few minutes I readily adapted to the new environment and felt completely at ease. weightlessness is extremely comfortable. After a pilot has once experienced weightlessness in space flight, he should almost immediately adapt to this condition when exposed to it again. We all even tended to forget we were weightless.

 

I agree with Scott Carpenter that the cockpit did seem to be somewhat differently located in respect to myself upon insertion into orbit You move up forward in the seat, regardless of how tight your straps are cinched. The equipment storage kit on the right seems to be at a different angle to you than it is when you are on the launch pad. I did feel very distinctly that I was sitting upright. Most of the time I felt as if I were lightly floating. A couple of times I felt almost as if I were hanging upside down because of the feeling of floating into the shoulder straps. Because the spacecraft was weightless, equipment stayed where it was whenever I let go of it. Nevertheless every time I "dropped" something, I had the tendency to grab below it, expecting it to fall.

 

You really need to have a low workload the first pass in order to collect your senses, acclimatize yourself to this new situation, and to organize the flight activities. I felt that was not on top of the situation as completely as I would like to be right after insertion. Although I was thinking about all the items to done and of how to do them, I did not feel completely at home. I felt that I was in strange environment and was not at my best, until perhaps halfway through the pass. By the end of the first pass, I was feeling really adjusted to my new surroundings.

 

One indication of my adjustment to the surroundings was that I encountered no difficulty [353] in being able to sleep. When you are completely powered down and drifting, it is a relaxed, calm, floating feeling. In fact, you have difficulty not sleeping. I found that I was catnapping, and dozing off frequently. Sleep seems to be very sound. I woke up one time from about an hour's nap with no idea where I was and it took me several seconds to orient myself to where I was and what I was doing. I noticed this again after one other fairly long period of sleep. You sleep completely relaxed and very, very soundly to the point that you have trouble regrouping yourself for a second or two when you come out of it. However, I noted that I was always able to awaken prior to having a task to do. I did not encounter any type of the so-called "break-off phenomena." Although this flight was very enjoyable, a thing of delight, it still is a strange environment to a human being and you have every desire to get back to earth at the planned time.

 

Comments on Systems Operation

 

The automatic control is rather sloppy due to the wide limit cycle it operates within. It is no problem as soon as you get accustomed to it. I found that Grissom's and Schirra's description of the manual proportional flight control system was very accurate. It is a rather sluggish system until you learn to use short blips. The fly-by-wire low is much more precise with the crispness of control produced by the firing of the 1- pound thrusters.

 

I found that orienting the spacecraft after drifting flight was quite easy on the day side and not too difficult on the night side, although orientation on the night side takes more time unless there is moonlight or broken clouds or land masses below. Stars and star patterns are more difficult to recognize because of the limited view through the window. You can slowly drift until you find a star pattern that is recognizable and from this you can pick up a zero yaw star. If you have moonlight, or any broken cloud masses or laud masses, you can pick up zero yaw very readily if you turn all the lights off in order to become dark adapted and pitch down to approximately -20°.

 

Speed is very apparent when flying over clear or broken-cloud areas. However, if there is a solid cloud deck underneath you and no other motion cues are available, you have a very slow, floating feeling.

 

When I was drifting, the changing view out the window was not at all disconcerting, and the random orientation caused me no concern. In fact, it is a very relaxed way to travel. I might mention an item here on the natural dynamics of the spacecraft. When rates were near zero, and the spacecraft was powered down, I never observed any rate greater than 1°/sec about any one axis. Generally, if there were a rate about one axis as great as this, there were no rates about the other two axes. These rates would switch from axis to axis and more shall likely only two axes would have any rate at all, and these rates would be between 1/4°/sec and 1/2°/sec, at the most. Frequently, for long periods of time, the spacecraft would have absolutely no rates at all and would be almost completely motionless. The one axis that appeared to have more predominate rates than the others was the roll axis; and the rate, almost invariably, was to the left, approximately 1/2°/sec.

 

Although my suit temperature was satisfactory, like Wally Schirra I had to adjust the water flow continually to attempt to hold temperature in limit. The condensate pump that was added just prior to launch failed; so that the condensate tank filled up and the suit was very moist all the time.

 

The valve on the drinking water container was leaky, and I was unable to place water into the plastic freeze-dehydrated food containers. Therefore, I ate only the bite size foods.

 

Visual Sightings

 

During the day, the earth has a predominately bluish cast. I found that green showed up very little. Water looked very blue, and heavy forest areas looked blue-green. The only really distinctive green showed up in the high Tibetan area. Some of the high lakes were a bright emerald green and looked like those found in a copper-sulphate mining area. The browns of the Arabian desert showed up quite distinctly, but the Sahara was not quite so brown. If you are looking straight down on things, the color is truer than if you are looking at an angle.

 

[354] I could detect individual houses and streets in the low- humidity and cloudless areas such as the Himalaya mountain area, the Tibetan plain, and the southwestern desert area of the U.S. I saw several individual houses with smoke coming from the chimneys in the high country around the Himalayas. The wind was apparently quite brisk and out of the south. I could see fields, roads, streams, lakes. I saw what I took to be a vehicle along a road in the Himalaya area and in the Arizona- West Texas area. I could first see the dust blowing off the road, then could see the road clearly, and when the light was right, an object that was probably a vehicle.

 

I saw a steam locomotive by seeing the smoke first; then I noted the object moving along what was apparently a track. This was in northern India. I also saw the wake of a boat in a large river in the Burma-India area.

 

At times during the day, the pattern of the sun coming through the window was hot on my suit. I could also feel heat on the inside of the window right through my glove. Like Scott, I never tired of looking at the sunsets. As the sun begins to get down towards the horizon, it is very well defined, quite difficult to look at, and not diffused as when you look at it through the atmosphere. It is a very bright white; almost the bluish white color of an arc lamp. As it begins to impinge on the horizon line, it undergoes a spreading, or flattening effect. The sky begins to get quite dark and gives the impression of deep blackness. This light spreading out from the sun is a bright orange color which moves out under a narrow band of bright blue that is always visible throughout the daylight period. As the sun sets farther, it is replaced by a bright gold-orange band which extends out for some distance on either side, defining the horizon even more clearly. The sun goes below the horizon rapidly, and the orange band still persists but gets considerably fainter as the black sky bounded by dark blue bands follows it on down. You do see a glow after the sun has set, although it is not ray-like. I could still tell exactly where the sun had set a number of seconds afterward.

 

At night I could see lightning. Sometimes five or six different cumulus buildups were visible at once. I could not see the lightning directly, but the whole cumulus mass of clouds would light up. From space, ground lights twinkle, whereas stars do not. I could not distinguish features on the moon. It was a partial moon at night, but it appeared full when it was setting in the daytime. It was quite bright at night, but on the day side it was a lightish blue color.

 

I immediately saw the airglow layer, which all the orbital pilots have seen, in which the stars appear to fade as they pass through it and then reappear below it before disappearing behind the horizon. The earth has a sharp horizon even at night. At the time, the layer appeared to be about 12° to 13° high. It was, of course, actually lower than this as discussed in paper 19.

 

At two different times, I saw a faint glow just after sunset or prior to sunrise; it was somewhat cone shaped. and I believe it was the faint glow of zodiacal light. It was not exactly perpendicular to the horizon. I had a feeling that this was just a glow off the sun. It was not as bright as the Milky Way. Another night phenomenon that I noticed occurred when I was over South America looking east or northeast. It appeared to be the lower edge of a cloud ceiling on an overcast day. It did not appear to have an upper edge. It was not distinct and did not last long, but it was higher than I was, was not well defined, and was not in the vicinity of the horizon. It was a good sized area, very; indistinct in shape. It had a faint glow with s reddish brown cast. It seemed to be quite extensive, very faint, and contrasted as a lighter area in the night sky. It may have been the same high airglow layer that Wally reported.

 

When there is no moon, the earth is darker shall the sky; there is a difference in the two blacks. In general, there was more light from the sky: the sky is 21 shining black as compared with 21 dull black appearance of the earth. There is a distinct line at the horizon and the earth is the darker.

 

I saw the lights of Perth, Australia, and a bright orange light from the British oil refinery to the south of the city. If there is moonlight, then cloud layers and ground features can be seen. The moonlight was bright enough to detect motion of the ground. On several occasions I could see light from cities on the ground through the clouds. On the last night pass, I [355] used the light of Shanghai glowing through the Clouds to help me line up in yaw for retrofire.

 

At times I could see the glow from every one Of the thrusters. I saw a tremendous amount Of John Glenn's fireflies regardless of my attitude They appeared to come out from the spacecraft and go back along the flight path. I could see some of them for as long as 30 or 40 seconds. I could see them coming directly out of the pitchdown thruster when it was activated I had the feeling that the direction of their motion back along the orbital path was distinct enough that they could be used as a rough yaw reference.

 

The first indication I got of the sun coming up behind me was the lighting of the clouds from underneath. I noted the clouds getting lighter and lighter, and I could still see the stars. Suddenly, my window would get into the oblique sunlight and appear to frost over just as an aircraft canopy does. This was the result of a greasy coating on the inside of the outer pane, which completely occluded my vision under these lighting conditions.

 

Experiments

 

Since MA-9 was so much longer than previous flights, I had ample time to conduct numerous experiments. The first orbital flight had very few experiments. As the experimental program increased and the flights lengthened, the number of experiments carried on board increased. In addition to the experiments all of us have tried to make as careful observations as possible. We have been told that these observations of new phenomena can provide some of the most valuable data on features such as the spectacular colors in sunrises and sunsets, zodiacal light, airglow, space particles, stars on the day side, and various distinct earth features (see paper 19).

 

Photography. All the orbital flight pilots have carried along a hand-held camera of some type for color photographs of interesting phenomena. These have all yielded some good photos of the earth from a new vantage point.

 

Several photographic programs were carried out during the orbital flight program. Scott Carpenter took horizon definition pictures for MIT, and Wally Schirra made an evaluation of several different filters for the Weather Bureau. These two studies were extended on my flight.

 

In addition, I attempted to get dim light photographs as well as movies (see paper 12).

 

Ground light experiment. The ground light experiment was attempted on all the orbital flights. However, weather precluded John, Scott, and Wally from seeing it. I was fortunate enough to have excellent weather and saw the ground light as scheduled. The lights from the town of Bloemfontein, S. Africa, were more distinctive than the signal light and helped me to locate it.

 

Flashing light experiment. On the MA-9 flight, we tried a new experiment designed to provide information that would help us on future rendezvous missions. A 5.75-inch-diameter sphere with two xenon-gas discharge lamps which strobed at approximately one flash per second was ejected from the spacecraft into its own orbit. In this orbit, it moved back and forth relative to the spacecraft so that it would appear at different distances.

 

At 3:25:00 I went to fly-by-wire low, slowly pitched up to the -20° mark on the window, deployed the flashing beacon, and there was a loud "cloomp" as-the squib fired and it departed. I then caged the gyros and powered down the ASCS a-c bus. I never did see the beacon on that first night after it was ejected. However, I was having some difficulty finding my 180° yaw and the spacecraft may not have been properly alined for making the observation. I tried unsuccessfully to observe the flashing beacon early on the day side also.

 

On the second night side after deploying the flashing beacon, shortly after going into the night side, I spotted the little rascal. It was quite visible and appeared to be only 8 to 10 miles away. I deliberately moved off target, waited until 5:40:00 and eased back to 180° yaw and saw the light again, at which time it appeared to be around 12 to 14 miles away and still quite visible.

 

On the third night side after deploying the flashing light, I had no anticipation of seeing it at all; but at 6:56:00 ground elapsed time (g.e.t.) there it was, blinking away. It was very faint and appeared to be at a distance of about 16 to 17 miles. I would say it was approximately the brightness of a fifth-magnitude star, whereas on the second night side after deployment it had appeared to be about that of a second-magnitude star.

 

[356] Systems Difficulties Encountered Towards the End of the Flight

 

Partial Pressure of oxygen in the cabin slowly dropped throughout the flight to about 3.5 psia.

 

I was worried that the network might get concerned about this on the next to the last pass. Also, the partial pressure of CO2 in the suit circuit had gradually increased to a reading of 3.5 mm Hg . I suspected the gage and went to emergency rate flow and did not get any apparent decrease in this reading. However, I did not stay on emergency rate flow very long. I recognized that my breathing was more rapid and deep. The PCO2 gage indicated that we were up over [i on the gage setting just prior to retrofire. However, I could have gone on emergency O2 flow and accepted slightly higher suit temperatures because of the fans shutting down, which reduces suit circuit flow.

 

On the 19th orbital pass, I had been switching the warning light control switch to the "off" position in order to darken completely the interior of the spacecraft and thus become dark adapted. When I returned the switch from the "off" to "dim" position, the--0.05g green light illuminated. I immediately turned off the ASCS 0.05g switch fuse and the emergency 0.05g fuse. Thereafter, we made three checks to verify that the ASCS 0.05g relay functions were operative. Since the amp-cal was now latched into the reentry mode, the attitude gyros were no longer operational.

 

The 250 v-amp main inverter failed to operate on the 21st pass. At about 33: 03: 00 g.e.t. the automatic changover light for the standby inverter came on. I had noticed two small fluctuations in the ammeter just previous to this time and had gone through an electrical check; everything appeared normal. The temperature on the 250 v-amp inverter was about 115° F. The temperature on the fans inverter w as about 125° F, and the standby inverter was about 95° F. At this point the light came on and I checked the inverters. The 250 v-amp inverter was still reading about 115° F on temperature, but it w as indicating 140 volts on the ASCS a-c bus voltage. I shell turned it oaf. At that time I selected the slug position (manual selection of the standby inverter for the ASCS) and found that the standby inverter would not start. I put the switch back to the "off" position of ASCS a-c power and elected to make a purely manual, or fly-by-wire, retrofire and reentry.

 

Analysis of these malfunctions illustrated that the entire Mercury network had developed all operational concept of teamwork that culminated in an almost perfect example of cooperation between the ground and the spacecraft on the MA-9 flight. Almost everyone followed the prestated ground rules exactly, and the radio discipline was excellent.

 

Retrofire

 

All of us believed that we could control attitude manually during retrofire. However, the flight plans call for autopilot control. Nevertheless, because of failures of one type or another, Wally's was the only flight in which only the autopilot controlled attitude during retrofire. John had trouble with a low-torque thruster and elected to assist the autopilot with the manual proportional system. Scott had a problem with the horizon scanner and controlled during retrofire with the fly-by-wire and manual proportional systems. I had a malfunction associated with one of the control relays which eliminated my autopilot as well as my attitude indicators. Therefore I had to initiate retrofire, use window view for attitude reference, and control the spacecraft with the manual proportional system. This was no problem, though I did have some difficulty reading the rate indicators due to the large variation in illumination between the inside and outside of the spacecraft. This disparity in illumination became a problem because I had to shift back and forth for attitude reference outside and readings of the rate indicators inside. In order to be ready for retrofire which had to occur just after first light, I oriented the spacecraft to the retrofire attitude on the night side. Night orientation is no problem, but it does take considerably longer, because yaw determination is more difficult than on the day side.

 

As with the others, there was no doubt in my mind when the retrorockets fired. They produce a good solid thump which you can see and hear. However, our sensations at the time they fired were different. John Glenn felt like he had reversed direction and was going "back toward Hawaii." Scott Carpenter felt that he came to a standstill. Wally Schirra and I did not feel that the motion of the spacecraft changed.

 

[357] Reentry

 

After retrofire, there is 21 period of several minutes prior to the start of reentry (0.05g). As you approach 0.05g, the spacecraft control becomes sluggish and feels as though it wants to start reentry.

 

As in the retrofire case, all of us knew that u e could reenter on manual control. However, the light plans generally called for autopilot control during reentry. Nevertheless anomalies of system function resulted in partial manual control in all but Wally's flight. I used manual proportional control on MA-9 since I had lost the ASCS and standby inverters during the 20th orbital pass. The reentry worked out very successfully and showed again that the pilot can accomplish this control task very adequately.

 

I found that the oscillations of the spacecraft were not difficult to damp until I descended to an altitude of approximately 95,000 feet. At this point, the amplitude of spacecraft motions increased as they normally do and it took a substantial increase of control inputs to keep within comfortable limits. The oscillation became more severe at approximately 50,000 feet, but I deployed the drogue parachute at 42,000 feet, as planned, and the spacecraft w as quickly stabilized.

 

The g-forces are more sustained on reentry than on launch but are still easily tolerable.

 

During reentry there was no uncomfortable increase in cabin temperature. If the pilot is performing a manual reentry, he will be perspiring profusely when landing, but mostly because of the work load rather than the increased temperature.

 

Landing And Recovery

 

Landing at a rate of 30 fps with the landing bag down is a good solid jolt, but certainly tolerable. In fact, one does not really have to be in an ideal position and braced tightly to be able to take this momentary shock in good shape.

 

There have been varied opinions among the pilots of all the Mercury space flights as to the sensations encountered upon landing in water. When the spacecraft rolls over and goes under the water, there is a natural tendency to wonder if it will sink or float and whether it will right itself. One item we stressed in training was that of preparing during the descent on the parachute to evacuate the spacecraft immediately after landing in the event it starts to sink. If the pilot knows that the recovery forces are in the immediate area, this first period on the water is considerably more relaxed and enjoyable.

 

By the time the landing occurs, the pilot is perspiring profusely. The air from the snorkels is quite cooling, but the cabin is fairly warm and humid.

 


astronaut climbing out of recovered spacecraft backwards

Figure 20-3. Astronaut Cooper climbs out of Faith 7 after the 34 hour MA-9 flight.


astronaut greets ship's captain and officers

Figure 20-4. Astronaut Cooper stands on the deck of the USS Kearsarge immediately after egressing from Faith 7.

 

[358] Almost the full gamut of recovery procedures were used in the course of the Mercury program. The recovery procedure is greatly simplified if the spacecraft lands near a recovery ship. In this case, the spacecraft can be lifted out of the water directly onto the deck. However all the procedures would he simplified even more if land landings were made.

 

When I first stepped from the spacecraft on hoard the USS Kearsarge I felt fine (figs. 20-3 and 20-4). As I stood still waiting on a blood pressure check, I began to feel dizzy. I mentioned this to the doctor s, who shell started moving me along. As soon as I took two or three steps, I immediately began to feel clear-headed once more. and at no time did I become dizzy again.

 

Concluding Remarks

 

After my recovery in the Pacific, the aeromedical specialists conducted their prescribed tests designed to glean as much from my flight as possible. Upon my return to the launch site, a series of formal debriefings covering every aspect of my space flight experience were begun. In these debriefings, I found it useful to refer to my previous training, and that of my six colleagues, in describing my sensations and observations. In the 4 years since we were first initiated into Project Mercury, a great deal has been accomplished and a great deal has been learned. Many of the anxieties and misgivings of space flight have been relieved. Although relatively brief, our early training was intensive and complete, and its effectiveness has been proven, we believe, by our ability to participate actively in the operation of the spacecraft. AI Shepard's flight was our first manned launch, and this initial experience in getting the spacecraft, launch vehicle, and the man ready at the same time was valuable. As a result of losing Gus Grissom's spacecraft, our landing and recovery procedures were promptly changed. In John Glenn's flight, a serious control system malfunction and a somewhat frightening but erroneous signal that the heat shield had been released caused some concern among us on the ground, but John's manual retrofire and reentry completed his mission successfully. Scott had a problem in the control system also, but his manual retrofire, although not quite as precise as he would have liked, brought the Aurora 7 spacecraft home. Wally Schirra, after bringing his suit temperature under control, completed a "textbook" six pass mission and landed just under 5 miles from the USS Kearsarge.

 

As I think back over my mission, which actually began right after Wally's flight, it has been an exciting experience indeed. The specific training for my 1-day mission, the many engineering reviews of the changes required for the Faith 7 spacecraft, the physical conditioning, and even the low-residue diet were all memorable parts of the prelaunch preparation. The initial experience of prolonged weightlessness and the magnificent view of the earth takes a while to get used to just as it did for all the orbital pilots, but once I was accustomed to the new surroundings, events and activities proceeded as scheduled. In fact, until that in famous moment in the 19th orbital pass, it seemed like another Wally Schirra "textbook" flight. Only three more passes stood between me and a routine landing off the bow of the USS Kearsarge. When I received the first indication that the sequencing system had malfunctioned a number of interesting experiments and systems evaluations had been completed, with just a few more to go. Then, with the sudden electrical anomaly and the sequence of events which followed, I knew I had a job ahead of me. Unlike Scott's case, however, I had sufficient time to contemplate a plan of action and collaborate with the flight-control personnel on the ground. Their valuable assistance was instrumental in the completion of my successful retrofire, reentry, and landing.

 

Now that Mercury is over and we stand at the threshold of more ambitious programs, the lessons each of us have learned will be constant tools with which to accept and accommodate new developments. Mercury has been only a beginning for the seven of us. The job at hand is to work to meet our new challenge in space with the same enthusiasm that everyone exhibited throughout this program.


Previous Index Next