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Thursday, July 8, 2021

CONTEXT: Hand-Flying a Rocket to Space

Both the Apollo command module and Space Shuttle had the ability for the crew to take over manual guidance during the ascent to orbit, but this was a backup mode never used in a mission. One question I've tried to answer for many years is whether crews were actually trained on this mode. Anybody know a pilot-astronaut who remembers?

While manual control of rocket flight is possible (and, as mentioned in the video, people can do a pretty good job of it), for pure rocket flight I'd argue that an “autopilot” is still necessary to provide closed-loop stability augmentation by thrust vectoring. I doubt that human response time is adequate to keep the pointy end up and flamey end down on an inherently aerodynamically unstable vehicle in the rapidly-changing centre of mass and centre of pressure environment of a rocket ascent.

For a humorous aside, see my “Landing by Hand on the Moon”.

Posted at July 8, 2021 11:36