The protagonist in this one is a young man hoping to become a space pilot. Early on in the story, he clashes a bit with one of his professors over the physical stress induced by takeoff and reaching orbit. He argues that the force required to escape Earth's gravity would render any man unconscious. The professor dismisses him in class, and there are a few chuckles. Later on, the professor meets with the student privately. He admits that the student is right, and because of his understanding of things (along with his talent), he is offered the chance to become a candidate for the program.

The protagonist joins in the space program, and it is there we learn that the solution to the problem of being knocked unconscious is that a second personality is created that only manifests itself when a person is unconscious. This personality is called [pilot name]-2. Thus, if the pilot's name was David (I'm can't remember his actual name in the story), the subconscious personality would be David-2. David-2 would actually handle all of the flight operations, and the "real" David wouldn't be aware of the flight at all.

The twist in the story comes when the spacecraft has an emergency situation. A small (centimeter across or so) meteorite punctures the hull and it is decompressing. David-2 is unable to deal with the situation, due to his seat restraint buckle jamming, and all seems lost. It is at that point we learn there is a third personality, David-3. David-3 is an emergency backup that was created without the pilot's knowledge. This personality is programmed to do what is necessary for survival, at all costs. David-3 forces open the heavy metal release, with his fingers, breaking one after the other until the clasp gives way. He is then able to seal the breach and save the day.

Publication Timeframe

It sticks in my mind that this one is very old - 1930's or 1940's. The central theme of Man not being able to endure a launch into space seems very dated and before the days of the "Space race" of the 50's and 60's.

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    The concept of a split personality for astronauts is presented in Sturgeon's short story Bulkhead. And I remember an early story with a drug called h by Van Vogt, The Rulers, featured in 1944's Astounding, which looks cut from the same cloth of yours - so far as positing a third personality which could control and supersede the first two. – LSerni Jan 28 '17 at 20:55

I'm pretty sure that this is Captain Bedlam by Harry Harrison - published in 1965. I asked the same question in April last year.

Short story - spaceship pilot needs second personality to fly ship

Ran al'Thor's quote from Building New Worlds, 1946-1959: The Carnell Era, Volume One:

"Captain Bedlam" (69), reprinted from the December 1957 US Space Adventures, proposes that humans can't stand up to the stress of space flight, and the only way to get around the problem is to induce a second personality to pilot the spaceships. The main personality never sees space and experiences only periods of amnesia. But the protagonist gets into real trouble, and his main personality wakes up just long enough to see the stars, before the third personality is invoked to deal with the emergency at the cost of considerable injury.

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  • Adding the quote seems important to provide context without having to click through. :) – FuzzyBoots Jan 30 '17 at 13:37
  • That's definitely it! The mention of the pilot having a brief glimpse of stars before the third personality kicks in rung a bell with me. – Helbent IV Jan 30 '17 at 13:47

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