It is every six year old boy’s dream, but only the select few of them are chosen to represent their country, even the world, and make history. However, being an Astronaut is not easy, it involves intense training and being forced to their physical limits.
The first stage of the training process is the Astronaut-Candidate program. This is the first time a would-be Spaceman goes through training. One of the most famous of these facilities is the Johnson Space Center at Houston, Texas. Training is not only physical, it is also academic. Studies include Shuttle systems, basic technology, basic science, Mathematics, meteorology, geology, astronomy, navigation and oceanography as well as too many others to mention.
Skills the candidates learn are Scuba Diving, land and sea survival, parachute jumping and use of the space suit. The Astronauts-Candidates also receive training in how to survive high and low pressure environments through the use of altitude chambers, a device designed to simulate high and low pressure environments. Another environment the candidates are put through is low or zero gravity. This is achieved through the use of the infamous “Vomit Comet.” The Vomit Comet is a modified KC-135 Aircraft that plummets from thirty-five thousand feet to Twenty-four thousand feet in a space of twenty to thirty seconds, simulating low gravity. The comet returns to it’s original altitude after the fall and is repeated. This cycle happens forty time a day. The pilot candidates learn how to fly and land for fifteen hours a month using NASA’s collection of T-38 jets.
Should the Astronaut-Candidates pass the initial training they are moved on to Formal Training. The first section of formal training occurs during the first year of the Astronaut’s candidacy, which involves reading the manuals and taking computer classes which include propulsion and environmental classes.
The next part of training is SST which stands for Single Systems Trainer. SST is meant to familiarise the Astronaut with the system and recognise malfunctions. The astronaut is accompanied by a instructor with a checklist to check the operations in the same way the Astronaut would on a mission.
After SST comes SMS or Shuttle Mission Simulators. There are two different types of SMS and both are used by Astronauts for many hours before a mission. These are fixed base and motion base simulators. The fixed base includes a mock-up of the mid deck and the flight deck of a Space Shuttle and is used to train the Astronauts in specific missions and launch, decent and landing training, whereas the motion base is just the front flight deck of the Space Shuttle and is used to train Astronaut pilots and commanders in the launch, decent and landing.
The SMS simulates all operations of a shuttle operations from pre-launch to landing by using a machine not unlike a flight simulator. While in the simulations the instructor can simulate malfunctions during a flight to see how the Astronaut will react.
The Weightless Environment Training Facility (WETF) is a huge water tank in which the Astronaut is placed in while wearing a suit. The suit has enough buoyancy to not sink, but not enough to float, simulating Zero Gravity. This process is to train the Astronaut in working outside the space craft (Extra-vehicular Activity, EVA.)
Being an Astronaut is not easy in itself, but the training is extremely hard work, but worth it for those six year old boys like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.