Astronauts Training

“Past the point of no return”.

It is possible that on long-duration flights, like a mission to Mars for example, an astronaut’s body might reach a point beyond which bone loss or muscle atrophy is permanent despite having Astronauts Training. Such damage wouldn’t prevent the return trip home itself, but it would greatly reduce their chances of surviving once back in Earth’s gravity.

Arguably, with the advent of the International Space Station (ISS), space biology research will eventually make space travel more congenial to the human body, and the colonization of Space will become a reality with the universe as Man’s new frontier. In the meantime, space research continues to make valuable contributions to finding a cure for degenerative diseases like arthritis here on Earth.

What is Space Medicine?

Over two hundred people have traveled into Space to date. Most of them have been highly trained astronauts, but with the completion of the International Space Station (ISS) this is likely to change. Many of us are left asking, is the International Space Station the forerunner to a new frontier for tourism?

Today, sight-seeing in space is only a reality for very rich private citizens. As for living in space, for this decade at least, it is likely to be confined to astronauts. The rest of America will have to wait its turn. But before the average Joe can book a weekend for two at a 5 Star Galaxy Hotel and enjoy exquisite views of the Blue Planet (Earth), space medicos need to overcome some major hurdles. Space flight is hostile to the human body.

Space travel causes serious physiological changes in the human body. Medicine began monitoring these changes with the blast-off by Y. Gagarin in 1961, evolving into the highly specialized field of Space Medicine.

The Effects of Space Flight

Spending as little as ten days in a microgravity environment causes serious physiological changes to occur in the body. For astronauts some of these changes are irreversible.

Space travel causes:

  • cardiovascular deconditioning
  • balance disorders
  • weakening of bones
  • muscles
  • sleep disturbance
  • depressed immune responses

Living in Space

On the International Space Station (ISS) crews comprise of many nationalities.

They live together in a confined place for three to six months or more at a time, performing experiments and operating the spacecraft.

It has long been known that living long-term in a confined environment induces varying degrees of psychological stress on humans, especially space crews.

To help reduce the risk of mental stress, the psychological profile of each astronaut is assessed before they are accepted into training.

Effective crew organization and high-levels of team performance are dependent on psychological compatibility. The ‘required’ psychological profile also varies depending on the type of mission. For short-term missions, performance-oriented leadership might be required, but for extended-duration missions, ‘democratic’ leaders, who have social sensitivity and deep concern for others’ feelings, might be better suited. The psychological status of the crewmembers is a significant key to mission success, especially in relation to work efficiency and sound sleep.

Experience gained from previous space flights has revealed conflicts among crewmembers first begin to occur thirty days after launch, manifesting in hostility toward each other and increased quarreling. Conflicts have also arisen between crewmembers and the ground team, even to the point of the space crew going on strike against the ground team.

Psychological support, such as private psychological counseling and periodic spouse and family conferences with two-way voice and video communication, are provided as countermeasures. As the number of those who have experienced space flight is limited, there is much to be learned about the effect of space flight on mental health.

Life in space isn’t just tough on humans. Spaceships have to weather a severe environment, too, as they endlessly circle the globe. So in addition to biomedical experiments on humans, NASA ran the equivalent of biomedical experiments on Russia’s MIR space station prior to designing, building and launching the International Space Station.

astronauts training

Astronauts Training

In the United States, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) runs the most widely recognized astronaut program at the Johnson Space Center – Houston.

Selection

NASA accepts applications from qualified individuals — from both civilian and military backgrounds. Basic training takes one year. However, successful candidates then have to undergo a one-year advanced training course before they are eligible for space mission.

Aerial view of Johnson Space Center – NASA

Basic Astronauts Training

Astronaut training is highly specialized and requires the efforts of literally hundreds of persons and numerous facilities. It is conducted at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) under the Mission Operations Directorate.

As manned space flight programs have become more sophisticated over the years, so too has the complexity and length training process needed to meet the demands of operating the Space Shuttle.

Initial training for new candidates consists of a series of short courses in aircraft safety; including instruction in ejection, parachuting and survival to prepare them in the event their aircraft is disabled and they have to eject or make an emergency landing. Pilot and mission specialist astronauts training is done by flying T-38 high-performance jet aircraft, which are based at Ellington Field near JSC.

Basic knowledge of the Shuttle system, including payloads, is obtained through lectures, briefings, textbooks and flight operations manuals. Mockups of the orbiter flight, with mid-decks, mid-body and full-scale payload bay, train future crew members in orbiter habitability, routine housekeeping and maintenance, waste management and stowage, television operations and extra-vehicular activities.

As it progresses, the student astronauts training gain one-on-one experience in the single systems trainers (SST) located in Building 4 at JSC. The SSTs contain computer databases with software, allowing students to interact with controls and displays similar to those of a Shuttle crew station. Here they can develop work procedures and react to malfunction situations in a Shuttle-like environment.

Neutral Buoyancy Simulator – Hubble Space Telescope crew training

Learning to function in a weightless or environment is simulated in aircraft and in an enormous “neutral buoyancy” water tank at JSC.

Aircraft weightless training is conducted in a modified KC- 135 four-engine jet transport. The aircraft is able to create up to 30 seconds of weightlessness when flying a parabolic maneuver. During this rather brief period of time, astronauts can practice eating and drinking, as well as use various kinds of Shuttle-type equipment. Training sessions in the KC-135 normally last from 1 to 2 hours, providing an exciting prelude to the sustained weightless experience of space flight.

Neutral Buoyancy Simulator – Hubble Space Telescope crew training

Other major operations training facilities at JSC include the Computer-Aided Instructional Trainer (CAIT) in Building 4, which fills the gap between textbook lessons and more complex trainers and simulators; the Crew Software Trainer (CST), used to demonstrate orbiter software capabilities before students go on to the SSTs; the Shuttle Mission Simulator (SMS), described earlier; the Orbiter Crew Compartment Trainer in Building 9A, used to train crew members for most of their in-orbit duties.

Most of these training facilities are also used by regular members of the astronaut corps to help them maintain proficiency in their areas of specialization.

Since the orbiter lands on a runway much like a high-performance aircraft, pilot astronauts training uses conventional and modified aircraft to simulate actual landings. In addition to the T-38 trainers, the four-engine KC-135 provides experience in handling large, heavy aircraft. Pilot astronauts also use a modified Grumman Gulfstream II, known as the Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA), which is configured to simulate the handling characteristics of the orbiter. It is used extensively for landing practice, particularly at the Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility (DFRF) in California and at KSC’s Shuttle Landing Facility.

Advanced Astronauts Training

Advanced training follows the 1-year basic training course for new astronauts training. The Mission Operations Directorate’s Flight and Systems Branches at Johnson Space Center (JSC) direct this advanced training which includes 16 different course curricula covering all Shuttle-related crew training requirements. The courses range from guidance, navigation and control systems to payload deployment and retrieval systems..

Shuttle Mission Simulator

Astronaut Brand in the SMS training for STS-5 mission – NASA

The Shuttle Mission Simulator (SMS) is the primary system for training Space Shuttle crews. Located in Building 5 at Johnson Space Center (JSC), it is described as the only high-fidelity simulator capable of training crews for all phases of a mission beginning at T-minus 30 minutes; including such simulated events as launch, ascent, abort, orbit, rendezvous, docking, payload handling, undocking, de-orbit, entry, approach, landing and rollout.

Astronaut Brand in the SMS training for STS-5 mission – NASA

This unique simulator system can duplicate the main engine and solid rocket booster performance, external tank and support equipment and interface with the MCC. The SMS construction was completed in 1977 at a cost of about $100 million. The SMS, is operated for NASA by the Link Flight Simulation Division of The Singer Co., Binghamton, N.Y.

Pilot Astronauts Training

A prerequisite requirement to becoming an astronaut used to be jet aircraft and engineering training. Today, scientific education and experience are equally important prerequisites in selecting both pilots and mission specialists.

Pilot astronauts play a key role in Shuttle flights, serving as either commanders or pilots. During flights, commanders are responsible for the vehicle, the crew, mission success and safety similar to the captain of a sea- faring ship. Pilot astronauts are second in command to the Shuttle Commander. The Pilot Astronaut’s duties involve controlling and operating the Shuttle. During flights, commanders and pilots usually assist in spacecraft deployment and retrieval operations using the RMS arm or other payload-unique equipment on board the Shuttle.

Mission Specialist Astronauts Training

Astronaut Takao Doi, mission specialist, representing Japan’s National Space Development Agency (NASDA), participates in an underwater simulation of a scheduled United States Microgravity Payload (USMP-4) space walk. – NASA

Mission specialist astronauts work closely with the Commander and Pilot. They are responsible for co-coordinating on board operations involving crew activity planning, and use and monitoring of the Shuttle’s consumables (fuel, water, food, etc.). They are required to have a detailed knowledge of Shuttle systems and the “operational characteristics, mission requirements and objectives and supporting systems for each of the experiments to be conducted on the assigned missions.” Mission specialists perform on-board experiments, space walks (called extra-vehicular activity (EVA) and payload handling functions involving the RMS arm.

Astronaut Takao Doi, mission specialist, representing Japan’s National Space Development Agency (NASDA), participates in an underwater simulation of a scheduled United States Microgravity Payload (USMP-4) space walk. – NASA

Payload Specialist Astronauts

Completed Payload crew training complex (PCTC) Building 4612, overall view. – NASA

The Payload Specialist Astronaut is one of the newest roles. He or she is a professional in the physical or life sciences, or a technician skilled in operating Shuttle-unique equipment. The payload sponsor or customer makes the selection of a payload specialist for a particular mission. For NASA-sponsored spacecraft or experiments requiring a payload specialist, the specialist is nominated by an investigator-working group and approved by NASA.

Completed Payload crew training complex (PCTC) Building 4612, overall view. – NASA

Payload specialists for major non-NASA payloads or experiments are selected by the sponsoring organization. Payload specialists do not have to be U.S. citizens. However, they must meet strict NASA health and physical fitness standards.

In addition to intensive training for a specific mission assignment at a company plant, a university or government agency, the payload specialist also must take a comprehensive flight training course to become familiar with Shuttle systems, payload support equipment, crew operations, housekeeping techniques and emergency procedures. This training is conducted mainly at Johnson Space Center (JSC). Payload specialist training may begin as much as 2 years before a flight.

Since the STS 51-L accident, (when the Challenger exploded minutes after lift-off January 28, 1986) the payload specialist program has been under review by NASA, and a decision is pending on whether to continue with this special crewmember category.

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