kenstauffer

Honesty and space flight

6 posts in this topic

On Apollo 13, the networks did not carry the capsule broadcast live, is it moral for mission control to withold this from the astronauts?. If the atronauts had explicitly asked if the networks showed their broadcast what should mission control had said?

On Apollo 12, lightning caused problems during the launch. Ground controllers were able to verfy the safety of going to the moon. However they had some concern that the pyrotechnics for the re-entry parachutes might not work. Was it wrong to say nothing of this fact to the crew?

In both cases, mission control seems to be limiting the information given to crew (rather than outright lying), in order to protect the crew from the facts of reality. Are these examples of lying? What principle makes these interactions justified? Are these just real-life examples of life-boat scenarios?

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In both cases, mission control seems to be limiting the information given to crew (rather than outright lying), in order to protect the crew from the facts of reality. Are these examples of lying? What principle makes these interactions justified? Are these just real-life examples of life-boat scenarios?

These are hardly lifeboat-type scenarios. The typical lifeboat scenario is your life or the life of an innocent other. I would not even call these emergency situations. Choosing not to volunteer information is certainly not lying; lying is deliberately changing the truth. If you choose not to tell your wife about her surprise birthday party, that is not the same as lying and telling there is none if she asks you about it. Sometimes there are just more appropriate times to tell people something you wish them to know, but choosing to wait till those times is not deliberately faking reality.

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On Apollo 13, the networks did not carry the capsule broadcast live, is it moral for mission control to withold this from the astronauts?. If the atronauts had explicitly asked if the networks showed their broadcast what should mission control had said?

On Apollo 12, lightning caused problems during the launch. Ground controllers were able to verfy the safety of going to the moon. However they had some concern that the pyrotechnics for the re-entry parachutes might not work. Was it wrong to say nothing of this fact to the crew?

On the apollo 12 situation, I would consider it fine to withhold information from the crew. Once launched, there is nothing that can be done to fix the rocket and the crew understood that going to the moon was an extremely risky situation.

Telling the crew when nothing could be done about it, would just increase the stress level more when they have already got to heavily focus on the mission.

The Apollo 13 situation on the other hand, being on TV could have been part of the compensation for going on the mission. I think withholding information about something that you have promised another, does amount to deception.

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On the apollo 12 situation, I would consider it fine to withhold information from the crew. Once launched, there is nothing that can be done to fix the rocket and the crew understood that going to the moon was an extremely risky situation.

Telling the crew when nothing could be done about it, would just increase the stress level more when they have already got to heavily focus on the mission.

The Apollo 13 situation on the other hand, being on TV could have been part of the compensation for going on the mission. I think withholding information about something that you have promised another,  does amount to deception.

But isn't the real difference between the two situations that in the first "the atronauts[sic] had explicitly asked?" I do not think their reason for asking much matters, but rather since they directly asked then to say otherwise would be lying. They certainly could try to forestall an answer until the astronauts get home (something like "we'll talk about that later") but to answer by saying that the networks did carry it would be a lie.

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How does the hierarchy of command work during NASA missions? Is it similar to the way things work in the military, where there is a chain of command and single person is explicitly responsible for all decisions (including what to tell and not tell the astronauts)?

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How does the hierarchy of command work during NASA missions? Is it similar to the way things work in the military, where there is a chain of command and single person is explicitly responsible for all decisions (including what to tell and not tell the astronauts)?

I should have posted this sooner, in time for last week's 35th anniversary of Apollo 13. It does a good job of describing the hierarchy of Mission Control at NASA's Johnson Space Center in the Apollo days. The same basic structure applies today, and most of the console positions have not changed, even down to the callsigns. The LM specific portion has been replaced with a space station specific organization -- my old stomping grounds.

Some comments:

"The flight director may take any action necessary for crew safety and mission success." The article mentions that this line was added to the Flight Rules -- it's Rule #1, actually -- because a flight director had been overruled on a call during the Mercury Program. But, it doesn't go into detail.

The mission in particular was John Glenn's, and the technical issue was instrumentation. A warning light had come on raising the concern that the heat shield might be loose. Against Chris Kraft's wishes, NASA management brought Glenn home early and left the retro pack on during reentry. It turns out that aside from a faulty microswitch which caused a false alarm about the heat shield, there wasn't a thing wrong with Friendship 7. Mission Control obsesses about instrumentation to this day.

And to give an idea of how thorough the pre-flight sims were, the Training Division had what they called "green cards" to simulate events that couldn't be done with the computer. They noticed that one of the CAPCOMs wasn't taking his systems training seriously. CAPCOM stands for "capsule communicator": an astronaut who is the only one to talk directly to the crew but who is also second in command in the control center.

One day, a training guy handed both the flight director and the flight surgeon green cards. The flight director clutched his chest, gasped, and keeled over. The flight surgeon ran over to his console, checked his pulse, and declared him dead. At that moment, the consoles started lighting up with systems malfunctions. The CAPCOM got the message.

I've read four of the books cited at the end of the article, all of which I heartily recommend. Jim Lovell's Lost Moon (which inspired Ron Howard to make Apollo 13 and was released in paperpack with the same name) is a detailed account of the events from his perspective: think a book length version of the IEEE article. Failure is not an Option and Flight are both autobiographies, so they span much longer time frames than just the Apollo 13 mission. Gene Kranz, the quintessential NASA "company man", never explicitly criticizes anybody publicly. Chris Kraft, on the other hand, has no problem describing who is a hero and who is a zero. Lastly, Apollo -- written from the perspective of the engineers and flight controllers -- is the best history of the glory days of NASA that I have ever read. One of its authors, Charles Murray, I believe is a Libertarian; but if so it never manifests itself in Apollo.

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