How to train your astronaut

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 1:57 pm
Reading Time: 2 minutes

by Mike Atkinson

As far as training programs go they don’t get much together than preparing to be an astronaut. Not only do cosmonauts have to be trained to operate a rather expensive shuttle – they must conduct their duties in cramped conditions with zero gravity.

The first phase starts with two years of basic training. Much of this training takes place in the classroom, where astronaut candidates learn about vehicle and space station systems.

They also study key disciplines — including earth sciences, meteorology, space science and engineering — that may prove helpful in their work in space. Outside the classroom, astronaut candidates must complete military water and land-survival training to prepare for an unplanned landing back on Earth.

This survival training requires that they become scuba qualified and pass a swimming test in their first month. They must swim three lengths of a 25-metre pool without stopping, and then swim three lengths of the pool in a flight suit and sneakers with no time limit. They must also tread water continuously for 10 minutes while wearing a flight suit.


An astronaut ties to swim with a space suit on as required in training. Source: NASA

Once the basic training period is complete, candidates may be selected to become astronauts. You might think this is the end of training, but it’s really just the beginning of the second phase.

In this phase, astronaut trainees are grouped with experienced astronauts, who serve as mentors to share knowledge and experience. The ultimate goal of this mentoring relationship is to make sure each trainee is proficient in all activities related to pre-launch, launch, orbit, entry and landing.

Podcast: Christine chats to Sci Tech educator Tim Young on what astronauts experience in space

Finally, astronauts receive their mission and crew assignments, entering what is known as the advanced mission training phase. In this final 10-month training period, astronauts focus on activities, exercises and experiments specific to their mission.

Since the end of the U.S. space shuttle program, more and more Americans train at Star City, a cosmonaut training facility near Moscow. Here, space-bound trainees receive hundreds of hours of training to help them tackle both routine procedures and surprise circumstances so that they can operate the Soyuz craft in any situation.

Here in Perth, Sci Tech have launched their new exhibition – Astronaut! where you can take on the physical and mental challenges in the astronaut training centre, experience a rocket launch, explore life on the Space Lab and investigate how to do science in space.

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