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This NASA source states that the mission was terminated after Neil Armstrong used 75% of the RCS propellent to cancel the rotation from the OAMS thruster failure. If the mission had enough RCS left to have a safe re-entry and policy was to not use the RCS until the end of the mission anyways, why did they not attempt to dock again and complete the mission?

As a second question, if they had not undocked from Agena and had used the RCS to recover anyways, would they have still terminated the mission?

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I haven't been able to find the Gemini rules online. But we can infer what they stated based on comments in the Gemini VIII post flight report.

MCC-H made the decision for early mission termination. This decision was based on data which showed RCS propellant remaining in both rings to be less than half the amount loaded. Also, both rings of the RCS had been activated and significant propellant had been used. Mission rules required termina­tion of the mission under these conditions.

So the situation was:

  • Primary attitude control system failed and unusable.
  • Backup attitude control systems have been activated early and significant propellant has been used.

This is what we would have called in Shuttle a "zero fault tolerant" situation. In other words, if anything else bad had happened to the RCS, the crew would have died. When the mission rules were written, they must have stated that this type of situation called for early mission termination.

The truly interesting thing about this situation is that the flight director followed the mission rules, terminated the mission early, and it ended his career as a flight director.

As Wayne Hale writes:

NASA management found out about the situation after the crew was in the ocean. According to the legend, Hodge did not take the time to pick up the phone and call the Program Manager, the Center Director, or even his boss, the Chief of the Flight Director office. The situation was stable, and even though waiting around was not necessarily a good thing, there was no reason that a couple of hours delay would have significantly increased the crew risk. Upper management was severely out of sorts with Blue Flight because they were not called in to review a critical action that really could have waited, despite what the Flight Rules called for.

Bottom line: John Hodge never served as Flight Director in Mission Control again.

Which is why we sarcastically referred to the Flight Rules as "Flight Guidelines".

There are only two ways to mess up in Mission Control: following the Flight Rules, or not following the Flight Rules.

Update: Hale goes on to say

But that is not the point of the fable. The moral of the story for all rookie Flight Directors is ALWAYS INVOLVE YOUR MANAGEMENT. Any time that a critical action can reasonably be delayed for even a few minutes GET ON THE PHONE WITH THE BOSS. No matter what the Flight Rules say. After all, it’s just your career on the line.

Note: the linked Post Flight Mission Report is a terrific reference on this mission. Highly recommended.

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    $\begingroup$ Reading the second half of this is a bit painful. It's no wonder they had the later organization safety issues, with precedents like that being set. There should be no punishment for following flight safety rules to 'failsafe.' $\endgroup$ – Saiboogu May 6 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed, (and I do not defend their actions) but management was angry because they were not informed more than because the rules were followed. Hale goes on to say "But that is not the point of the fable. The moral of the story for all rookie Flight Directors is ALWAYS INVOLVE YOUR MANAGEMENT. Any time that a critical action can reasonably be delayed for even a few minutes GET ON THE PHONE WITH THE BOSS. No matter what the Flight Rules say. After all, it’s just your career on the line." $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble May 6 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ Another reason to keep your boss in the loop: I learned, early and painfully, in my military career, that ALL negative developments, personal or professional, were to be reported ASAP to your immediate superior. Perhaps the primary rationale to this unwritten rule was to protect said superior in the likely event that she gets questions about the precipitating event (most likely from her boss) - she would then want to be able to answer said questions instead of being "blindsided." In the NASA case, said superior is likely being protected against press inquiries... $\endgroup$ – Digger May 7 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ Brilliant and comprehensive answer. Thank you so much! $\endgroup$ – kikjezrous May 7 at 19:30

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