You don’t have to be a professional astronaut to go into space
Meanwhile, companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin plan to travel much more expensively to suborbital space, where customers can experience microgravity and Earth vision for a few minutes. Virgin Galactic plans to run in the end more than 400 flights a year—A mix of travel and tourism missions for scientists conducting experiments and research in microgravity.
All of these new opportunities will make us rethink what astronaut training means. And it means that almost anyone will be able to go into space if you are rich enough.
A new era
At one time, preparing for marketing was a two-year process. The first astronauts selected for the Mercury program were to be military pilots with college degrees and flying under their belts for 1,500 hours. They also had to be under 40 years old and 5 meters and 11 inches shorter. The Gemini and Apollo programs were opened to civilian applicants, the height barrier was raised to 6 meters, applicants older than 35 were taken in, and more importance was given to educational training.
As part of the training for these programs, contractors were required to take classes in literal rocket science and spacecraft engineering. They had to learn medical procedures. They had to take public speaking courses and be ready for the media. A, and a lot of training was also done in the air, on the ground and underwater, in order to prepare the astronauts physically and mentally for the stresses and experiences they had to endure.
Even a couple of decades ago, you almost completely needed a clean medical history for NASA training. If you said something like “if you have occasional migraine headaches,” the automatic disqualification was a “period,” says Glenn King, director of space flight training at NASTAR (National Aerospace Training and Research (NASTAR)). More than 600 people for orbital and suborbital missions focused on companies like Virgin Galactic.
Future generations of private astronauts will not have to jump half a hoop. “The right things” have changed. Only the FAA has it clear safety guidelines around training private astronauts. It’s up to companies to approach things the way they see fit.
“What we’re looking at now is basically a paradigm shift in space training,” King says. “The private sector looks to the general public to have the desire and the finances to go into space.”
“Even if you’re a NASA astronaut these days, you don’t have to be a specimen of a sharply tuned athlete,” says Derek Hassmann, director of operations and training at Axiom Space. The agency’s physical demands are more relaxed than ever.
Private companies have taken to NASA signals. King says the NASTAR center has already started training some private astronauts with disabilities (Something the European Space Agency wants to start doing for its astronaut corps). One of the confirmed crews of Inspiration 4 is Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old medical assistant at St. Jude Hospital who survived childhood bone cancer. His treatment consisted of twelve rounds of chemotherapy and he placed a titanium rod in his left thigh bone. He won’t stop going into space this fall.
The other two Inspiration 4 passengers will be selected through a raffle and an entrepreneur competition. People who registered for the draw had to make sure they were six and a half feet tall and less than 250 pounds tall. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has paired the trip to orbit with a “lively roller coaster ride,” and anyone who manages that “should be fine for flying over the Dragon.”
That’s definitely brilliant. When a giant rocket expels you from the Earth’s atmosphere, you will experience g forces in a matter of minutes, which will cause your body to stop without stopping, and you will probably not be able to keep your teeth clenched. For the most part, however, NASA, Axiom, and other teams believe that disqualified health conditions are like arrhythmias that cause heart failure or a high risk of developing a cerebral aneurysm.
There are no problems you can treat in space that could lead to serious complications or death. “If there is any medical condition in which a crew member may become ill or disabled in orbit, we try to perceive those things,” Hassmann says. But if flight doctors believe that these risks can be properly addressed before the flight, they may not be disqualified.
In June 2019, NASA and its partners announced that the ISS would open visits by private citizens. For the axiom, it was an opportunity for astronauts to travel to space and learn what it is like to live and work in an orbital space station. It plans to market its own in 2024.
“These missions will allow us to practice all the things we need for the Axiom station down the road,” Hassmann says. Ax-1 will be led by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría. He will be joined by three companies: Israeli Eytan Stibbe, American Larry Connor and Canadian Mark Pathy.
López-Alegria will make her fifth trip into space. He has spent years training professional astronauts under NASA. The other three have just arrived in space, although Stibbe is a former fighter pilot and Connor (71) is trained as a private pilot. They are paying $ 55 million each for admission.
These three will start training six or seven months before they start. NASA contractors will teach them how to live and work on the ISS, making simulations to respond to emergencies such as pressure loss in the cabin. At some NASA and other facilities, they can simulate what a decompressed chamber feels like to people in space suits. But a big part of that training is to make sure astronauts are accustomed to the look and feel of their new habitat. They will learn how to perform common daily functions, such as preparing meals, brushing teeth, using the bathroom, and preparing for bed. It will still take time to adjust to microgravity, but at least they will have strategies to make the transition smoother.
“It’s about simple things that are very different when you’re in microgravity,” Hassmann says. “I’ve worked with a lot of NASA astronauts over the years, and they all talk about this period of adaptation, physically and emotionally, when they get to space. Our crew is only on a 10-day mission. So it’s in everyone’s interest to prepare as much as we can on the ground so that they can adapt quickly and get down to things that are important to them. “
The Ax-1 crew will be trained for this environment at the Johnson Space Center, where NASA has a complete model inside the ISS. They will also perform parabolic flights that simulate weightlessness. In the future, Axiom wants to take this type of training home and focus it specifically on the company’s space station environment. Other training centers, such as NASTAR, run human centrifugation facilities to deal with the strong forces g experienced by practitioners on start-up and re-entry.
The second part of the Ax-1 training will aim to introduce astronauts to the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which will take them to the ISS. They will get used to sitting inside, interacting with panels that control functionality and control data, and so on. SpaceX operates primarily from facilities in Hawthorne, California. Crew Dragon operates autonomously, so crew members will only need to perform direct actions on their own. But if something goes wrong, they need to be willing to take steps. On Ax-1, López-Alegría and Connor will serve as mission commanders and pilots, respectively, and will lead the flight to the ISS. They will need to know how the Crew Dragon works.
About a month before the start, the workouts will move to Florida, closer to the starting point. The crew will perform several dry races on what the launch day will be like as well as what to expect when the Crew Dragon descends to Earth and splashes into the ocean.
And finally, there is the training according to the mission carried out by Axiom. Each crew member wants to do a lot of things while on the ISS — science experiments, social media advancement, advertising activities, and more. “We have a team at Axiom that works with each crew member to design their own orbit plan,” says Hassmann. “Often these people don’t know what they can do up there, let alone what they would like to do.”
This isn’t too much of a difference from what NASA itself does, but it compresses into a much shorter amount of time, with no wholesale education on spaceflight. And in the end, Axiom hopes to do most of that training on its own, without NASA support.
Changes on the horizon
The training regime that the astronauts on the axiom will perform is as intense as it is for NASA astronauts, but it’s still pretty full. But as private spaceflight becomes more common, the training of astronauts should be more relaxed. This is largely due spacecraft they basically fly themselves; there is simply no need for many groups of systems to interact. “I hope that this training will continue to evolve and be more effective,” says Hassmann.
This means that more time is provided to train people for very specific activities and purposes during the mission, such as conducting a specific science experiment or recording a choreographed video. “Training programs have evolved to cover needs that were not historically present in astronaut training,” says Beth Moses, a senior astronaut professor at Virgin Galactic. “Nowadays people are buying time in space, where they choose what they will do and need tailor-made training to enable that.”
These things should help drive another important trend: shorter and shorter workouts. “Right now we’re starting to shift from the old paradigm of NASA-style two-year-old training to classify ourselves as astronauts,” King says. “I think the commercial industry can get day-to-day training. I think that’s where the industry will start.” That will almost be a condition if companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX carry dozens or hundreds of crew missions into space each year.
6 steps for private astronauts:
- Get a space card: Sure, that will cost you tens of millions of dollars on a mission seat, but you can be lucky and be selected for something like the SpaceX Inspiration 4 mission.
- Pass health exam: The times for any automatic rejection of medicine are gone, but all companies will be tested to verify their proper physical and mental health. If you have something similar to heart disease, you probably won’t get over it.
- Getting into space: This can include walking on parabolic flights that simulate weightlessness, being exposed to g-forces through human centrifugal installations, and understanding how to do simple daily tasks in space, sleep, eat, and use the bathroom.
- Emergency drills: Many things can go wrong in space, such as losing cabin pressure or being forced to cancel a mission and return to Earth in the short term. Everyone needs to learn what their role is in these times of crisis.
- Learn what you are doing in space: Training centers will work with clients to find out what types of activities they want to do and provide instructions on how to accomplish these tasks. A scientist may want to learn how to do an experiment. A tourist can learn to transmit video to Earth followers.
- Preparing for the big day: Finally, private astronauts need to rehearse what the starting day is like, and make sure what happens and what they need to do if they change their plans.