NASA training simulations have included a wide variety of problems thrown at the pilots and ground controllers -- not only the typical technical failures, but also some unusual outside-world stuff like Mission Control being on fire, a ground controller having a (simulated) heart attack or a pushy politician demanding to be allowed to talk to the crew. (The latter ended up happening in real life).

Is there any record of one of these simulations having involved as part of the script personnel becoming insane, irrational, belligerent, insubordinate, uncooperative, or refusing to do their jobs, and the mission needing to continue while restraining and/or replacing them?

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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft That's E. B. White's The Morning of the Day They Did It $\endgroup$ Aug 3, 2020 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ Excellent suggestion! I've been involved in several mission training exercises and this is a very real possibility for some of these situations. I'm especially intrigued by the "disgruntled mission controller" possibility. I'll have to consider adding some of these to our exercise list next time. $\endgroup$ Aug 3, 2020 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ @TerranceYee I'm vaguly remembering a quote, "don't tell the engineers what is really hard to do. They'll put it in the simulations!" $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Aug 3, 2020 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon "I wish you would stop mentioning all of the potential failures of your spacecraft for which you really don't know what to do because the people who script the simulations are sitting in the back of the room taking notes." - Chuck Shaw $\endgroup$ Aug 3, 2020 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ There was a Shuttle Training Aircraft instructor who liked to, when playing the role of Orbiter Pilot (while the student, playing the role of Orbiter Commander, was actually trying to "land" the thing), act as if he'd lost his sanity during the last two minutes of the approach. He'd never fight the controls, but would do everything in his power to distract the student from the landing task. Sorta fun... $\endgroup$
    – Digger
    Sep 3, 2020 at 17:24

2 Answers 2


I'm pretty sure the answer is yes, in an "analogue astronaut" training mission that happened May-July 2022 at the Human Exploration Research Analogue (HERA) facility in Houston. As that link says, one of the members of the crew is a nurse who specializes in ketamine and other psychedelics as treatment for mental health disorders. I asked around and heard from some folks tangentially involved that the idea was indeed to practice managing crew who might be suffering from various types of altered mental states.

It will be interesting to see if anything published comes out of that.

  • $\begingroup$ I should also say, anecdotally, having a member of an STS crew (played by staff members) "act crazy" was a pretty common element in Space Camp/Academy simulations back in the mid-1990s, if my personal experience is anything to go by. $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2023 at 17:46

For the ground operations launch simulations at KSC (Kennedy Space Center) the tests were all hardware / software failures testing how the teams would react to those failures. Onboard failures, ground equipment failures, etc. I can't speak for the tests they ran at JSC (Johnson Space Center) but I don't personally remember any "team / crew goes berserk" tests. There was enough hardware simulated failures to test the team with.

I guess that the thought of an engineer going berserk during load / countdown / launch really didn't come up because of the process they put engineers through to get on the console for launch. There were several layers of certifications to go through: Level 3 - GSE - Only able to go into the firing room and issue commands to Ground Support Equipment that was NOT connected to the vehicle Level 2 - Test / Checkout - Only able to send command to equipment during the test / checkout getting the vehicle ready for launch Level 1 - Load / Launch (for MPS / SSME / LH2 / LOX console, I suspect that APU / OMS had level 1 for loading propellants) - Able to perform any kind of tests up to and including launch

To get to each of these levels you had to go through a "standboard". First your supervisor has to give you tests on your system and assuming you passed the tests then they would essentially vouch for you for your standboard. The standboard consisted of questions from OTC (Orbiter Test Conductor), Safety, Quality control, Engineering (I am forgetting someone). The questions could literally be anything, with your supervisor stepping in to say of a question was out of bounds.

All this to say that your manager knew you and would not vouch for you if you were not mentally stable. So you wouldn't even be on console for testing.

Addendum, my cert card. You can see I was:

CMPS/CMPL (Main Propulsion System LH2 / Main Propulsion System LOX) - Level 1 - Test/Checkout/Load/Launch

CCME (Space Shuttle Main Engine Controllers) - Level 2 - Monitoring/Test/Checkout

CSME - Space Shuttle Main Engines Level 2 - Test/Checkout

The card: https://gandalfddi.z19.web.core.windows.net/Shuttle/KSC_Certification_Card.pdf

  • $\begingroup$ I don't know if the second paragraph adds anything @GandalfDDl $\endgroup$ Mar 20, 2023 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, the second paragraph was just detailing that it got really sloppy and difficult with just hardware simulations of failures much less throwing human randomness into the mix. In addition, before sitting console you had 2 or 3 "standboards" you had to go through before you got on the launch team. At each of those standboards your manager was vouching that you were ready to go. If they felt nervous about you being on console I doubt that they would allow you to get much further than level 3 (Ground Support Equipment) testing. $\endgroup$
    – GandalfDDI
    Mar 21, 2023 at 4:48
  • $\begingroup$ This seems like an excellent frame-challenge answer to me now: no, because these mitigations were in place, that contingency wasn't tested for. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Mar 22, 2023 at 4:02

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