In March of 1966, Dave Scott and Neil Armstrong were 180 miles above the earth carrying out the Gemini 8 mission (rendezvous and docking with an Agena rocket). During a maneuver after docking a roll thruster developed a short and was firing intermittently.
For a few minutes the problem seemed corrected, then a roll rate developed, causing the spacecraft to spin erratically like a small centrifuge. Armstrong took control, fighting the gyrations with the Gemini’s thrusters. As their orbital fuel levels plummeted, Scott cycled the Agena controls once again. Nothing seem to be working. To isolate the problem they quickly decided to separate from the Agena.
When Scott hit the emergency release Armstrong fired the thrusters in one long burst, pulling the Gemini away from the Agena. At undocking the Gemini spacecraft shed almost half its mass. Now, as a much lighter spacecraft, the effect of the continuously firing Gemini thrusters virtually doubled.
The Gemini was now rolling and tumbling. Using every test pilot skill, Armstrong and Scott fought for survival as the spacecraft completed a turn every second.
In the end they managed to stop the roll using fuel normally reserved for the reentry phase, coming in by the skin of their teeth. Later in the debriefing, mission controller Gene Kranz said,
“The crew reacted as they were trained, and they reacted wrong because we trained them wrong. We failed to realize that when two spacecraft are docked they must be considered as one spacecraft, one integrated power system, one integrated control system, and a single structure.”
-Gene Kranz, Failure is not an Option
The other day I was thinking about marriage and this story came to mind. The lesson the scientists learned (when two systems are joined they must be treated as one system) applies to marriage as well.
Marriage is the joining of two separate people into one flesh. While retaining their individuality, different (but hopefully overlapping) interests, and choices, they are also one entity. This is hardly a surprising concept; we know from experience if one spouse is upset it’s going to impact the other.
Nowadays the “solution” so many people jump to is jettisoning themselves from the marriage, or divorcing. Counselors will treat one half of the couple rather than the whole. In my experience, treating only one half isn’t terribly effective. You may have some specific things to address with each half, but the whole marriage has to be addressed if the whole marriage is to survive. Undocking is a last resort, used as a life-saving maneuver, when is is clear that the other half is heading to utter destruction, taking you with it.
I don’t really have anything profound to say on the matter except this: if you are in a rocky marriage and are tending to blame everything on the other person, take a look a yourself and how you are affecting the whole. You are part of an integrated system, not a separate entity.