After graduation, the military students were allowed to select their own USAF assignments, with first choice going to those with the highest grades. Both Musgrave
and Joe Allen topped their particular classes11 and if Chapman had been in the Air Force, he, too, would have had a wide choice, because he graduated second in his class. This was at the height of the Vietnam War, so he was a little surprised that the best students all wanted to be fighter pilots. ''I admired their spirit, but dodging SAMs over Hanoi didn't seem like the best possible career move. I would have selected something a little less lethal. Test pilot school, perhaps.''
Others, however, were finding it hard going. One month after flight training began, Brian O'Leary came to the conclusion that he simply couldn't handle the flying part of being an astronaut. He also had an overall ambivalence to classroom studies, and was quickly being left behind. He therefore decided to tender his resignation from the astronaut corps, which did not really surprise anyone, even though in his book he blamed the attitudes of the test pilot astronauts to the scientists and a perceived lack of future flight opportunities.
On 22 April 1968, O'Leary called Deke Slayton to say he was resigning from the astronaut corps, saying that he had flown fifteen hours and had soloed, but after much soul-searching he had decided to call it a day. ''I guess flying isn't my cup of tea,'' he weakly admitted. Slayton was said by some to be understandably furious (although one of O'Leary's group suggested to the authors that there was ''hearsay evidence of just the opposite''), and in such a competitive field, there was very little sympathy or support from many of his peers. Another scientist-astronaut said that O'Leary should not have applied for selection if he didn't think he could fly: ''What the hell did he think astronauts did?''
Chapman, on the other hand, was far more committed and decided to ride it out, just to see what NASA had in store for him. He knew that the national objective at this time was just to get men to the Moon and back, and only the best, most experienced pilots would be on the first flights. Once NASA had demonstrated that men could land on the Moon and return safely to Earth, there would be a need for scientists to follow in their path.
On 23 August 1968, NASA announced in a news release that another of the Excess Eleven had withdrawn from the Astronaut training programme. Tony Llewellyn had been undergoing flight training at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas, since 4 April. He had completed the first phase of training involving thirty flying hours in the propeller-driven T-41A, and had completed his required solo flight in the light aircraft. He had then begun approximately forty hours of dual flight training in the T-37 jet trainer, but he had already begun to harbour qualms about his ability to complete this assignment. He said that it had become apparent to him that he was not progressing as well as he should, and he held discussions with NASA and Air Force officials prior to his scheduled solo flight in the T-37. Based on their advice and his own doubts about his ability to go any further, the thirty-five-year-old scientist decided to tender his resignation and withdraw from the programme. His departure from the Astronaut Office effectively reduced the total number of NASA astronauts to fifty-two, and the Excess Eleven down to just nine members.
Following their return to NASA from the US Air Force, the nine remaining scientist-astronauts from the second group maintained their flight proficiency in NASA's Northrop T-38s. Instruction from NASA instructor-pilots was received periodically, as well as any time it was requested, and part of their proficiency included the oral and flight examinations every six months.
Training and conditioning to the zero-G environment was also started. The only true zero-G experience available was derived from parabolic flights carried out in NASA's KC-135 jet aircraft, a military version of the Boeing 707 jetliner. A simulation of orbital weightlessness could be sustained for up to thirty-five seconds during a series ofparabolic dives and ascents. One moment the participants would be calmly floating around the padded interior of the KC-135, and the next they would be pulling two-and-a-half G as the aircraft was dragged upwards for the next parabola.
Neutral buoyancy was another reasonably effective method of simulating the weightless environment of space, and remains an important EVA training tool for astronauts to this day. In the early Apollo days, neutral buoyancy training was undertaken using traditional scuba gear, a Kirby-Morgan type of helmet which provided both air and communication, or in a pressurised spacesuit weighted to be both neutrally buoyant and also rotationally stable in the water. With this in mind, the scientists undertook a preliminary scuba training course at the Navy
Underwater Demolition School at Key West, Florida. Their course included swimming instruction, underwater physiology, snorkel and scuba equipment familiarisation, malfunction procedures, depth diving, rapid ascent from depth, underwater navigation and some underwater ocean experience.
Spacesuit training was also started early in their programme, requiring a basic knowledge of the suit and its system hardware, as well as the inter-relationships between total pressure, differential pressure, suit flow, inlet and outlet gas temperatures, oxygen and carbon dioxide, water flow to the liquid cooling garment, inlet and outlet temperatures of the water, metabolic rate and thermal balance. However, they would not wear the bulky suits at this time for, as Bill Thornton pointed out to the authors, all of the Apollo suits were individually custom-made units that wouldn't have fitted most of them.
Since ejection from an aircraft or an off-nominal de-orbit and entry in a spacecraft could bring astronauts down anywhere in the world within around fifty degrees of the equator, survival training similar to that carried out by all previous astronaut groups also fell to the scientist-astronauts. Desert survival training was conducted at Fairchild AFB in Pasco, Washington, while jungle survival techniques were studied outside Albrook AFB in Panama. For water survival, the men trained at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida. At Perrin AFB in Texas, vital training was given for ejection, free
fall and parachute canopy manipulation procedures, as well as parachute landings on land, in trees, or in water. To complement all of this survival training, the men were given instruction by NASA experts on the contents and use of all survival equipment carried in their T-38 jets, and in the spacecraft they might fly. These courses followed a standard routine, comprising two days of lectures and laboratories, two days in the field with instructors, and finally two days alone in the field with the appropriate spacecraft survival kit.
Story Musgrave felt that their survival training was ''excellent,'' but it was time to move on in their programme. ''Further, and more, briefings and schematic reviews on the Apollo spacecraft and the Saturn booster vehicle were conducted at this point and initial instruction on the Skylab space station was also begun at this time. Study of the Apollo spacecraft included [the] electrical power system, communications, environmental control systems, sequential electronics control systems - automated launch aborts and Earth landing systems, for example - propulsion, and attitude control system, guidance and control systems, structures, hatches and docking mechanisms. A similar division and part-task approach was taken to the study of the Skylab space station. Part-task systems training in the Apollo spacecraft simulators was begun following the completion of the briefings and schematics reviews.''
NASA wanted all astronauts to maintain their proficiency by flying thirty or forty hours each month, but it was not easy to find the time, as the work on Apollo was building to a crescendo. When Phil Chapman's family returned to Houston early in 1969 after his Air Force training, he had become a fully qualified jet pilot, and he soon found himself flying all over the mainland United States attending technical meetings and giving public lectures about the space programme. Unlike other astronauts, however, he spent most of his time helping with the development of equipment for the lunar landing.
As an example, the Apollo Command Module was designed to enter the Earth's atmosphere under automatic control. If the guidance system failed, the pilot could reenter by flying manually, using a display that showed the deceleration as a function of time. If the deceleration was too great, the descent path was too steep and the capsule would burn up; if the descent path was too shallow, the capsule would bounce out of the atmosphere. It was not clear that a pilot could handle the controls under the stress of atmospheric entry, so Chapman flew many simulated manual trajectories, pulling seven or eight G in a Command Module mock-up mounted on a centrifuge. The conclusion was that manual re-entry was feasible, but only if the pilot had practised it beforehand.
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