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All manned spacecraft have had seats in an "on-back" angle for launch. What is the benefit of this seating position for a manned spacecraft launch?

This a example of the "on-back" seating angle

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  • $\begingroup$ The answers are fine, but the real benefit of tolerating high-g environment better is much better concentration which is critical for taking any manual actions in an emergency. $\endgroup$ Dec 17, 2013 at 20:39

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The human body tolerates G-forces best if they're perpendicular to the spine.
When you apply a G-force along the spine, the blood will gravitate towards the feet, leaving the head starved of blood, which induces loss of consciousness. Having the head at the lowest position helps to prevent these blackouts.
3G is tolerable even if you're facing down, by the way. The seating position in capsules is chosen to support the body during landing (the forces in reentry and landing are larger than during launch).

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  • $\begingroup$ From wikipedia "The human body is better at surviving g-forces that are perpendicular to the spine. In general when the acceleration is forwards (subject essentially lying on their back, colloquially known as "eyeballs in"), a much higher tolerance is shown than when the acceleration is backwards (lying on their front, "eyeballs out") since blood vessels in the retina appear more sensitive in the latter direction." $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Jul 2, 2022 at 21:14
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Interestingly, the Soyuz capsule has seats that change orientation at landing time.

They are mounted appropriately for absorbing G-Loads the best at launch. Then seconds before landing, the seats change orientation to prepare for better shock absorption during landing.

Apollo's seats had shock absorbers for landing, and required certain depths for 'travel' which was an issue they had to consider when they designed the Skylab rescue Apollo for the worst case of a disabled Apollo at Skylab. They would need to carry at least 4 people, (one pilot up, 3 down, more likely 2 up so they could work as a team and three down) which meant 2 rows of seats, which the travel requirement caused issues with making it all fit.

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let us take the shuttle

"Space Shuttle (takeoff): 29 m/s2"

which means 29/9.8 $\approx$ 3g In such a case the force acting on the body would be tremendous, so if your seating position is in the opposite direction, the force is strong enough to crush your ribs (chest) and the broken bones from the ribs can even penetrate leading to death or it can cause breathing problem and even cardiac attack.

If the seating is "on-back" angle for launch much of the force during the acceleration would be transferred to your back side of the body to the chair so less force is felt by your heart.

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    $\begingroup$ Fast-jet pilots pull 9g in a more-or-less vertical seats. 3g will not crush your ribs. $\endgroup$ Dec 17, 2013 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ An alternative way to put it would be to say a 70kilogram astronaut would encounter the exertion of carrying an extra 140kilograms (+; $\endgroup$
    – Everyone
    Dec 18, 2013 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ @PeteKirkham while jet seats are vertical, jets don't usually accelerate up. the engine provides thrust forward, hence the seat is faced forward for the same reasons. presumably that 9g acceleration vector would not push along the pilot's spine. $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2018 at 7:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Florian, there is no jet that can provide anywhere near 9g acceleration from the engine. Acceleration from the wing is vertical. $\endgroup$
    – prl
    Nov 22, 2018 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ @FlorianCastellane the 9g comes from lift from the wings in tight turns. Some jets can 'stand on their tails' - i.e. they can provide 1g of thrust, but the force due to turning is much higher. $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2018 at 20:26

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