Four private astronauts were strapped into a centrifuge, scaling mountains and learning to pilot a spacecraft before their flight to space – the first-ever crewed space mission without any “professional astronaut” on board.
The crew is preparing to launch this next September as part of the Inspiration4 mission aboard a SpaceX Crew dragon spatialship. The mission, privately chartered by billionaire Jared Isaacman for supporting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, has recruited three crew members in addition to Isaacman for the trip that will circle the Earth for several days. The crew includes Isaacman, St. Jude’s physician assistant and childhood bone cancer survivor Hayley Arcenaux, data engineer Chris Sembroski and geoscientist, science communicator and artist Sian Proctor.
And, since the crew was announced, they have been training tirelessly and preparing for the mission they seem very excited about. “It’s something you dream of for your whole life,” Proctor told Space.com.
Although the crew is made up of “non-professional” astronauts, or people flying in space who are not affiliated with NASA or any other space agency, that doesn’t mean they don’t need to. to fully prepare for their mission in space.
“If you look at the definition of an astronaut, it’s someone who has been selected and is training for a space flight mission, and that’s exactly what we do,” said Proctor.
Related: Meet the winning team of the Inspiration4 competition
Training for a mission in space
To start their space flight training, the Inspiration4 crew started with a centrifuge. Shortly after the crew’s announcement, the private astronauts attached themselves, one by one, to the centrifuge at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In this initiation into the training, they were spun in circles and experienced the G-forces (gravitational forces) that they are supposed to feel on their actual trip to space.
The spinning of the centrifuge was “awesome,” Proctor told Space.com. “Everything is great. I’ll just say that.”
After their passage through the centrifuge, the crew prepared for the intimidating next stage of their training: a perilous trek. The four private astronauts scaled the side of Mount Rainier in Washington to a base camp thousands of feet above sea level. Backpacking trips like this are a tradition and an important part of training of astronaut crews before their missions.
These outdoor trips place the crew in an environment that requires them to work together and face unexpected challenges and obstacles. Although the side of a mountain is different from the interior of a spaceship, such a trip can help crew members learn to support each other, communicate, and navigate difficult circumstances together.
“NASA astronauts have a history of engaging in the cohesion and bonding of the crew” through such journeys, said Proctor. “You do something that’s a little unique and out of your comfort zone, then you get to the point where you’re like, ‘I don’t know if I can go on’, but then you reach deep and move forward, and you continue. And that’s part of the bonding experience. “
Amazing time with the @ inspiration4x team on Mt. Rainier this weekend. All goals are complete. I am so impressed. Thank you @RMIExpeditions and @EViesturs for this difficult and rewarding experience. pic.twitter.com/nnuEpjhVncMay 4, 2021
“It’s not a threat to life. It’s more just this whole idea of endurance and survival and relying on each other and bonding through that,” Proctor added. Proctor compared the training to her many experiences as an analog astronaut, during which she lived with crews of researchers at remote facilities on simulated space missions. Proctor spent four months on a simulated mission to Mars at HIGH SEA (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) research facility on the slopes of Mauna Loa in Hawaii.
After braving the elements together in Washington State, the crew first reunited at SpaceX head office in Hawthorne, California. There they began the more in-depth training for the mission.
Proctor, who will be the pilot for the mission, practiced and explained what it will be like to pilot SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle. “The Dragon capsule is self-contained,” she says. So, “ideally he’s going to fly and do the mission and all that … and me as a pilot, my job is to make sure that whatever is supposed to symbolically happen does it.”
She added that she would work to pilot the craft with Isaacman, who will command the mission. “Together we are working the system,” she said. “It’s very similar to flying an airplane where … he’s in the left seat as the captain and then I’m in the right seat, but we’re both pilots.”
This training at SpaceX continued to bond the crew. “It’s really important to support each other,” said Proctor, “and to really understand how we work as a team.”
“I think that’s one of the things that when people think of NASA and astronauts, a lot of times we think of them as individuals, but in reality they are a crew. They trained together to become this integrated system… you understand what each other’s job is, but you also understand how to support everyone, ”she added.
Now, about four months before the mission takes off in September, the team still has a lot of training ahead of them to make sure they’re all as prepared as possible for their journey around Earth. One of the upcoming trainings that Proctor looks forward to is also something NASA astronauts do before their flights, which involves training jets.
NASA astronauts are required to log a certain number of flight hours with T-38 planes and, according to Proctor, their training is heavily inspired and modeled on the training of NASA astronauts. “As a kid I always wanted to fly a fighter plane,” she said, “so I’m really excited that it’s part of our training.
Email Chelsea Gohd at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.