In this article, we’ll explore 11 key ways astronauts prepare for space travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
Going to space is no easy feat.
Astronauts undergo rigorous training to prepare their minds and bodies for the extreme conditions of spaceflight.
1. Complete Military Water Survival Training
Before heading to space, astronauts complete military water survival training. This intensive course teaches them how to stay alive in the ocean while waiting for rescue. Skills include treading water while fully clothed, swimming long distances, and getting out of a simulated helicopter crash. Mastering water survival gives astronauts confidence to handle any emergency water landing on return to Earth.
2. Practice Spacewalks in a Giant Pool
To prepare for spacewalks outside their spacecraft, astronauts train underwater in a huge indoor pool called the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Wearing a pressurized spacesuit weighing over 200 pounds, they practice tasks like construction, maintenance, and repairs. The water provides a zero-gravity environment that mimics the feeling of floating in space. This realistic rehearsal builds the skills needed to work safely in the vacuum of space.
3. Experience Zero-Gravity Flights
Astronauts take special “vomit comet” flights to experience weightlessness. These planes fly in parabolic arcs, climbing up and then diving down steeply. At the top of each arc, occupants float freely for 20-30 seconds in zero-g, before feeling twice their weight as the plane swoops downward. These flights acclimate astronauts’ bodies to microgravity and train them to perform tasks without gravity’s influence. The nickname comes from the nausea sometimes induced by the cycles of zero-g and high-g forces.
4. Train on Motion-Based Simulators
To prepare for the forces of launch and landing, astronauts use motion-based simulators. These machines move and tilt to mimic the intense g-forces and disorientation experienced during critical phases of spaceflight. Simulators provide a safe way for astronauts to get used to these sensations and practice operating controls under rapidly changing conditions. This training ensures they can maintain focus and operate equipment properly when it really counts.
5. Learn to Fly Nasa’s Space Planes
Before heading to space, astronauts must become proficient pilots of NASA’s unique space planes. The Space Shuttle may be retired, but the agency relies on the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner capsules to transport astronauts to the International Space Station.
Astronauts devote countless hours to mastering the complex controls and emergency procedures for these spacecraft in simulators and actual flight tests. This intensive training ensures they can operate the spacecraft safely if any issues arise on launch day.
6. Study Robotics and Spacecraft Systems
Operating in space requires extensive knowledge of the complex systems that keep astronauts alive and enable them to complete their missions. Astronauts thoroughly study the environmental control systems, power systems, propulsion systems, and robotics aboard the International Space Station and visiting spacecraft.
They even train underwater wearing spacesuit mockups to practice spacewalks and servicing sensitive equipment using intricate tools and procedures. Mastering these systems takes persistence, but it equips astronauts with the skills to handle any anomaly during their mission.
7. Train for Emergency Scenarios
Astronauts undergo intensive training to respond to emergencies that could occur during launch, orbit, or landing. They rehearse emergency evacuation procedures in case they need to exit the spacecraft quickly after landing. Fire emergency drills prepare them to react swiftly in the event of an onboard fire or rapid depressurization.
Astronauts also practice quickly diagnosing technical issues and performing repairs during simulated equipment failures. Repeated emergency response training embeds life-saving instincts astronauts may need to survive anomalies on their mission.
8. Learn to Live In Confined Spaces
Astronauts must adapt to living in the close quarters of a spacecraft or space station. They train for long periods inside simulated spacecraft modules and habitats. This allows them to become accustomed to moving around efficiently in tight spaces and coordinating activities with crewmates.
Astronauts prepare mentally and emotionally for the isolation and lack of privacy inherent in space travel. Learning to thrive despite confinement and crowding helps astronauts maintain their morale and focus during missions.
9. Practice Space Station Maintenance
Astronauts spend time becoming proficient at routine maintenance and repairs aboard the International Space Station. They train extensively using mockups and virtual reality simulations to practice skills like replacing components, troubleshooting issues, and handling emergency repairs.
Learning specialized technical skills equips astronauts to keep the space station operating smoothly. Hands-on practice builds the capacity to quickly address equipment failures and malfunctions that could occur during months or years living on the station.
10. Learn Russian Language Skills
Since the United States and Russia have been partners in space exploration for decades, many astronauts learn the Russian language. On the International Space Station, English and Russian are the two main languages used. Astronauts must be able to communicate effectively with their Russian colleagues during missions.
Learning even basic Russian allows seamless cooperation on joint projects in space. It also enables astronauts to understand instrument labels and instructions written in Russian. Knowing some of the language and cultural backgrounds facilitates camaraderie and good relationships between the multinational crews.
11. Pass Extensive Medical Exams
Astronauts must pass rigorous medical standards and exams before being selected for spaceflight. Doctors assess overall health, physiological resilience, and potential risks or preexisting conditions that could be exacerbated in space. Astronauts undergo screening for heart disease, blood pressure issues, vision problems, and much more. They are closely monitored before, during, and after space missions to ensure their health and safety.
While in space, the extreme environment and confined quarters mean illnesses can spread rapidly between crew members. Meticulous medical vetting helps minimize these risks. The examinations also test the physical strength and endurance required for spacewalks and emergency survival procedures. Passing the extensive medical clearance process gives astronauts the best chance of completing missions safely.
What Preparations Are Made Before Going for Space Travel?
Astronauts go through years of specialized training to prepare for space travel. This includes training on spacecraft systems, spacewalking, robotics, science experiments, emergency procedures, living in space, and learning to work as a team. The training takes place at space agencies like NASA, ESA, CSA, JAXA, etc.
How Do Astronauts Mentally Prepare for Space Travel?
Astronauts use techniques like visualization, mindfulness, and mental rehearsals to prepare for the psychological challenges of space travel. This helps them stay focused, and calm under pressure, and maintain motivation during long missions. Mental preparation aims to build resilience, adaptability, and emotional regulation.
How Do Astronauts Prepare Physically?
Astronauts follow intensive physical training regimens to prepare their bodies for microgravity, spacewalks, and other rigors of spaceflight. This includes strength training, cardiovascular conditioning, fine motor skills practice, and building bone and muscle mass. Their training aims to prevent muscle atrophy and bone loss in space.
How Long Do Astronauts Prepare for Space Travel?
Astronauts typically train for 2-5 years before launching into space. The length depends on their prior experience and the mission requirements. Long-duration missions like living on the ISS require more extensive preparation than short trips. New astronaut candidates begin with 2 years of basic training before mission-specific preparation.
Astronauts undergo rigorous mental and physical preparation to get ready for the extreme conditions of space travel. This includes years of specialized training in technical systems, spacewalking skills, science experiments, health and fitness, teamwork, and coping strategies. Thorough preparation is crucial to ensuring astronaut safety and mission success in the harsh space environment. With proper training, astronauts can achieve amazing feats of exploration beyond Earth.