Having completed emergency egress and sea survival training last week, my fellow Astronauts for Hire and I next made our way to The NASTAR Center in Southampton, Pennsylvania just outside Philadelphia. There, we spent three days undergoing the Suborbital Scientist Training Program, which provides a good foundation in space physiology for prospective scientist-astronauts. Following the NASTAR program, we went to the Ashton Graybiel Spatial Orientation Laboratory to learn how unusual force environments affect the body's vestibular system.
Following a tour of the NASTAR Center, we spent the morning of the first day in the classroom learning about human physiology at high altitude. For the most part, we focused on how the low oxygen conditions of the upper atmosphere can lead to hypoxia. This prepared us for the afternoon activity where we took a ride in NASTAR's hypobaric chamber. The main purpose of the exercise was to give the participants a chance to experience the symptoms of hypoxia under safe, controlled conditions so that later if we ever are exposed to a low oxygen environment we can recognize the effects it will have on us.
I've been busy this past week training at Survival Systems USA in Groton, CT. Completing Dunker Training and Sea Survival courses has prepared me and my fellow Astronauts4Hire (A4H) candidates well for emergency situations involving water landings, which are the most common spaceflight abort contingency scenarios. Here's what we've done so far:
After half a day of classroom instruction on emergency preparation, we practiced inversion dunking in the Shallow Water Egress Trainer (SWET). While this may seem like some type of waterboarding torture device, the SWET is actually a very important trainer for helping one confront the fear of drowning in order to remain calm and safely egress a submerged aircraft. I learned that I can experience quite a lot of anxiety before being dunked upside down underwater, so this training was important for me to learn how to manage that apprehension so I could get myself to safety.
With the final Shuttle flight only days away, an explosion of articles are coming out about the future of America's space program. For example, this week's cover of The Economist boldly claims that the Shuttle retirement heralds, "The end of the space age." An excellent Washington Post article discusses the uncertainty in store for NASA's astronauts. In that article, NASA's chief astronaut Peggy Whitson says she is advocating that NASA hire "nine new astronaut candidates in 2012 and six more in 2014." An even better Aviation Week article also features an interview with Peggy Whitson, where she describes more details of NASA's expected demand for astronauts in the post-Shuttle era.
"It’s important to maintain new eyes, bring new folks in on a routine basis, even if I have to pick small classes in the four-to-six range. I would rather pick a few new people every few years, rather than have one [large] class between now and 2020... NASA is probably a year or two away from its first post-shuttle-era astronaut selection."
I'd like to write more commentary on this important turning point in history, but I'm currently traveling to begin my commercial astronaut training this week (more on that in upcoming posts).
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