Anonymous asked in Science & MathematicsAstronomy & Space · 9 years ago

A crack in the heat sheild?

If on project Mercuary or Gemini, was there a plan for if the capsules couldnt reenter (Like if the heat sheild cracked).

I know they have a plan like that for the shutle with the STS 300s, but was there something like that in the pre- apollo days?

4 Answers

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    For the Apollo lunar missions, there wasn't any contingency plan. The spacecraft was coming in like a bat outta hell from the moon, and there was no way to get a "backup" spacecraft up there to the astronauts.

    There also wasn't any practical way to inspect the heat shields on either Gemini or Apollo, because they were covered until it was time to reenter. The equipment module (the white part of a Gemini capsule) covered the Gemini heat shield, while the service module covered the heat shield on Apollo.

    One you jettisoned the equipment module or the SM, you had a very limited amount of time before the batteries were exhausted, and the spacecraft would become unmaneuverable (not to mention no radio for communications, or any way to circulate the remaining oxygen). There wouldn't have been time to do any sort of inspection, much less sit and await rescue.

    I've read through a fair amount of Gemini and Apollo documentation, and I didn't see anything that indicated that a cracked heat shield was anything but Loss of Crew and Vehicle (LOCV)

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  • 9 years ago

    In most of the missions to date, there was no back-up system or plan.

    On those early flights, there was always an escape rocket above the capsule to separate the capsule from the rocket, if the rocket went out of control. On the Shuttle, there is no launch escape system.

    For some of the later Gemini missions, that is correct that a second empty capsule was kept on stand-by.

    After losing Columbia, there has only been one mission without a back-up plan. That was the mission to service the Hubble Telescope. The orbit pattern could not reach both Hubble and the ISS.

    There really was not alternate recovery plan. These were test pilots flying into the unknown. I remember Apollo 13. The whole world was sitting on the edge of the seat. That was the ultimate emergency recovery. Although the movie does take some artistic license, the movie does depict the incident in true light. Most people figured they were lost.

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  • 9 years ago

    The heat shield would have to be inspected. Few of the Gemini missions had scheduled "space walks". None of the Mercury missions did.

    Nope, no plan. Just grit your teeth and hope for the best. (LOL)

    Now, if an event were to occur that virtually guaranteed shield failure, then a back-up launch would have to be readied. I'm almost certain the Mercury program kept the retro rocket pack in place, covering a portion of the heat shield on re-entry of John Glenn's "Friendship 7" craft, after telemetry readings could not confirm a secure lock of the equipment. No other mission in Mercury or Gemini or Apollo reported any problems with the condition of the heat shield.

    Source(s): My memory, my history books. Louisville astronomical Society
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  • Jeff D
    Lv 7
    9 years ago

    In general, there was no alternate recovery plan. Some of the later Gemini missions involved two capsules, so theoretically the second one could have been sent up empty if the first one developed a serious problem. Otherwise, they just improvised. For example, during John Glenn's Mercury mission, ground control received a signal indicating his heat shield might be loose, so they decided to leave the retro rockets attached to the capsule during re-entry to help hold the heat shield in place (normally they'd have been jettisoned after firing). I believe they later concluded the signal was faulty.

    Of course, Apollo 13 was the ultimate in improvisation.

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