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I hesitate to provide much detail because with the last question I asked, I got many of the details pretty wrong, but still got the correct answer here, amazingly, so here goes…

I’ve been trying to find a short science fiction story published maybe in the late 1970's or early 1980s (or not), in a magazine like Analog or Asimov's (or not).

In this story a man was brought into some outfit as a consultant on why all their astronauts using their spacecraft simulator were failing.

The consultant examined the simulator cockpit and found lots of problems, like too many unnecessary displays, bright flashing lights hurting the eyes, air ducts blowing air in the face, annoying buzzers, etc.

Instead of merely writing a report, the consultant tried fixes, like painting over the lights, blocking the air vents, etc. With these patch fixes, the consultant or one of the candidates was able to successfully fly the simulation.

The story ended with the reveal that they knew about the problems with the simulator and were really looking for someone who would not just file a report on the problems but would proactively fix them to see if they were really the problem. Because of what the protagonist of the story had done, they wanted him to go command the space mission, and he agreed.

Looking for title and author. (Unfun fact: I even tried asking a number of LLMs this question, and wasted more time than I want to admit looking up the answers confidently given and finding they were all completely made up…)

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  • 3
    Asking Bard and ChatGPT to find your story is a bit like asking them how to get rich.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 19 at 18:03
  • Yep. Didn't think it would work, but was easy enough to try, and then I got temporarily distracted by the confidence of its lying...
    – Squamula
    Commented Feb 19 at 18:19
  • @Squamula I've been finding the expression "Frequently wrong, but never uncertain" more and more useful.
    – user888379
    Commented Feb 19 at 19:33
  • @user888379 Like Vroomfondel, in a surprising twist... :)
    – Squamula
    Commented Feb 19 at 19:44
  • 1
    @MarkOlson - I actually know a way. You just need to sign here, where it says "Power of Attorney" and I'll do the rest.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 19 at 20:38

1 Answer 1

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It's not a perfect match, but this does have a strong similarity to "Design Flaw" by G. Harry Stine (writing as Lee Correy), published in Astounding, February 1955.

The protagonist, Cal, is an astronaut who crashed his ship by seeming inattention at a critical moment. He believes he unwillingly fell asleep, but the cause is ultimately ascribed to some other mechanical problem.

"The boys are studying the wreckage now. Dwight says they've found the failure. It was mechanical. He says the elevons tore clean off their hinges because the servos—"

Mechanical failure? But I fell asleep! Or did I? It must have been mechanical failure! I couldn't have fallen asleep! I was too excited to fall asleep! Who'd ever believe I fell asleep?

But as he sank back down into that well of blackness, he knew that he had fallen asleep—because he couldn't remember having crashed. Illogical ... impossible ... but it had happened.

The next test pilot also crashes and this time the telemetry records that he definitely fell asleep. They go check things out in the simulator, but ultimately the clue comes from a magazine that another officer is reading that the blinking lights of the radar display, tied to the 13Hz refresh rate, induce narcolepsy.

"Right! There's the culprit! The thirteen-per-second flicker of the screens on that panel does the same thing as that little prism. Maybe Quinn can tell you exactly what it does physiologically, but I went to sleep concentrating on that panel—and so did Ralph Simmons!"

Cal ultimately does end up successfully going back to flight.

It's a problem with an actual spacecraft, not the simulator (though they do use a simulator to test), and it is caused by the spacecraft environment, but it has a similar feel.

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  • Interesting, thanks, I'll check it out. And the reason I'm looking for the particular story I described is that it takes place mostly in an office-like setting, like at NASA, and goes into some detail as to the process -- that's the part I want to revisit.
    – Squamula
    Commented Feb 19 at 22:10

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