Florida could have a private training center for astronauts

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For half a century, there was only one way to fly in space: to be one of the lucky few chosen by national space programs like NASA or Russia’s Roscosmos.

Being chosen to be an astronaut or cosmonaut meant facing years of training before even being considered for a flight on a space shuttle or Soyuz rocket.

But with space tourism becoming a reality, hundreds, if not thousands, of potential “astronauts” will need to be trained for spaceflight over the next few years.

But where exactly do you go to train as an astronaut?

It could very well end up being a $270 million facility just outside Kennedy Space Center.

Space Florida, the state agency responsible for promoting Florida’s space industry, is working with a company to build a “manned spaceflight service center” near Kennedy Space Center. As is often the case with these offers, Florida space does not name the company planning the facility, which the agency dubbed “Project Beach House.”

At a board meeting last month, Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello said Project Beach House would be a private training facility for astronauts. Space Florida documents indicate that the facility would employ at least 200 people with an average annual salary of $50,000 by 2025.

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SpaceX has already launched four private astronauts from the Kennedy Space Center on the Inpsiration4 mission. Blue Origin launched 14 space tourists, including company CEO Jeff Bezos, on three separate missions from West Texas.

Last July, Virgin Galactic made its first flight into space with passengers from New Mexico. On board were two Virgin Galactic pilots, company founder Richard Branson and three other Virgin Galactic employees.

Of course, the pioneering space tourism company is Space adventuresa Virginia company that partnered with Russia’s Roscosmos to ferry paying customers to the International Space Station on Souyz rockets beginning in 2001. Space Adventures has organized trips to the ISS for six people, including one , Charles Simonyi, who made two trips.

A new company, Spatial perspectivesplans to use balloons to transport passengers to the outer reaches of space in a Brevard County pressurized gondola.

How much training do you need to visit space?

So how much practice does it take to fly in space? It depends.

For people taking fast suborbital jumps like those offered by blue originminimal training is required as flights last less than an hour and are fully automated.

Longer flights will require additional training, if only to learn how to use special toilets that operate in low-gravity environments.

The Inspiration4 crew in zero-G formation aboard a specially equipped 727.

Jared Isaacman, the billionaire behind last year’s Inspiration4 private space mission with SpaceX, attempted to replicate much of NASA astronaut training. He and his teammates were whirled around on a centrifuge, learned to recognize the signs of low oxygen in an altitude chamber, and climbed Mount Rainier together as part of a team-building exercise on several months of training.

Not all future private astronauts will receive this level of training.

“With the number of people who are expected to go into space, the commercial industry does not have the luxury of being able to invest two years in training these people,” said Glenn King, director of advanced pilot training and from space. at the National Aerospace Training and Research Center (NASTAR) in Southampton, Pennsylvania. “The commercial space industry needs to reduce training to weeks or even days to get these people into space.”

Some of the training private astronauts will need will be specific to the vehicle they will be flying in. Other training will involve science or research, if any, that they will perform.

But part of the training will need to focus on preparing future astronauts for the rigors of space travel.

Inspiration4 crew member Hayley Arceneaux during a team building exercise on Mount Rainier.

What does the future of space tourism, travel, look like?

Some space enthusiasts foresee a future where space travel will be as common as air travel today.

But unlike air travel, spaceflight subjects passengers to experiences they probably haven’t had before such a high G during launches that can feel like a heavy weight pressing on their chest and weightlessness in orbit. Even professional astronauts have struggled with “space adaptation syndrome,” a type of motion sickness induced by weightlessness.

This is where companies love NASTAR to intervene. The company has helped train astronauts for Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Axiom Space.

Among the tools he uses is a state-of-the-art centrifuge that can mimic the flight profile of various spacecraft. It also features an altitude chamber that can mimic rapid cabin decompression, gyro chambers to mimic the spatial disorientation of spaceflight, and a disaster simulator that allows participants to practice reacting to different disaster scenarios.

“You need really good equipment to provide authentic, very realistic space training,” King said.

Inspiration4 crew member Sian Proctor prepares for centrifugation training.

And this equipment is not cheap. A high-performance centrifuge alone can cost tens of millions of dollars, King said. “You just can’t go to the juicer store and take one off the shelf and say ‘I’ll take it’ and bolt it to your garage floor.”

King said the cost of space training offered by NASTAR, which focuses on the physiology of spaceflight, can be as high as $15,000.

Of course, $15,000 is no obstacle for billionaire pioneers of private space travel.

The idea of ​​billionaires paying tens of millions of dollars for orbital “rides” has its detractors.

“Here on Earth, in the richest country on the planet, half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck, people are struggling to eat, struggling to see a doctor – but hey , the richest guys in the world are in space!” Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted last summer after Branson was robbed.

But Philip Metzger, a planetary physicist at the University of Central Florida, predicts billionaire space tourism is just a stepping stone to the industrialization of space, which he says is needed to solve some of the biggest problems. pressing issues in the world, such as climate change.

“It’s hard for people to understand. We’re talking about ‘How can we put the industry of the planet in space?’ Metzger said on a UCF podcast last year. “But we’ve been working on these concepts for decades and we really believe that by the end of the century we should be able to eliminate at least half of our industrial footprint from the planet. … And so even if it’s only half, it’s going to be really useful to our planet.”

And while large-scale extraplanetary industry could take decades, Metzger and King say it won’t be long before large numbers of people start traveling to space not for tourism, but for the work, whether as researchers or people building space facilities for those researchers, and perhaps some for tourists.

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So, will specially trained construction workers become the astronauts of the future?

“So we’re going to need an influx of space workers, who are going to go into space and assemble these habitats, and go to the moon, and be there for months at a time to assemble these habitats,” King said. .

It would seem likely that most of them will begin their space travels in Brevard County, the only place in North America that has ever launched humans into orbit.

And in doing so, they will help strengthen two of the county’s biggest industries: space and tourism.

At first, however, there may not be many of these tourists. Instead, those who come will have big wallets.

“They will come in their private jets,” said Lynda Weatherman, CEO of Florida’s Space Coast Economic Development Commission. “It might not be a lot, but it will be top of the line and maybe that number will increase.”

King said about 600 people have already completed his company’s space training, and added that NASTAR is preparing to train many more.

“So we will look at the accelerated program for 2022 and beyond,” he said. “Especially with space workers, you have to start training to go into space. So we’re at the tip of the iceberg for the explosion in commerce to happen.”

A 25+ year veteran of FLORIDA TODAY, John McCarthy currently oversees the Space Team and Special Projects. Support quality local journalism by subscribe to FLORIDA TODAY. You can contact McCarthy at 321-752-5018 or [email protected]

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