Like many children of the 60’s, after seeing the Apollo 11 moon landing, Michael became fascinated by rockets and space travel. So when Michael and his wife Desma, learned from Caroline Ferguson, that there was a NASTAR training course scheduled for around the same time they planned to be in the USA, Michael just knew he just had to be there.
NASTAR – or the Basic Sub Orbital Space Training Course, is available for non-aerospace industry participants, subject to application and space availability (no pun intended). The key requirement for participating was to pass the FAA Class 3 Airman’s Medical certificate, which Michael was able to do in his native New Zealand, well before departing. Not for the faint hearted, the tests were extensive and particularly focused upon the heart, requiring a full ECG profiling. Michael passed with flying colours and took off on the trip of a lifetime.
The course was held on the 9th and 10th June at the NASTAR Centre in Southampton, Pennsylvania, USA (near Philadelphia).
Day 1. started with an excellent guided tour of the NASTAR facilities followed by classroom lectures on the physiology of space flight upon the body, particularly the effects of G forces. The lessons included practical training in how to counteract the forces to prevent G-LOC (G-force induced Loss of Consciousness). The theory was excellent and necessary preparation for the first sessions in the very impressive Phoenix centrifuge. Here for the first time you become familiar with the experience of Gz (head to feet) and Gx (chest to back) forces and how to counteract them in practice. The day concluded with a most enjoyable dinner with fellow participants, and a chance to compare notes with the 5 other trainees, made up of two Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts, one astronomer/scientist and, two Astronauts (A4H) trainees.
Day 2. began with classroom sessions covering other biomedical factors that can affect G force sensitivity plus an interesting and inspiring look at the history and likely future of commercialisation of spaceflight with pioneers such as Virgin Galactic.
In the afternoon, there were a series of very realistic, simulated sub-orbital flights. The first run was at 50% and subsequently 100% of actual flight G force loads. The first set of “flights” that all participants did simulated the Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two launch, coasting and re-entry profile. This was of special interest to everyone and in particular those who will fly on the Virgin Galactic service when it is up and running in the near future. There was a choice for the final centrifuge sessions. Either repeat the Virgin Galactic profile or experience the XCOR Lynx, which has a somewhat different launch and re-entry G force profile to the Virgin Galactic system.
The whole course was an absolutely fantastic experience. Seeing the engineering and science applied practically in the NASTAR facility plus the theoretical knowledge gained were of great interest and very valuable. Sharing the experience with a group of initial strangers soon to be friends was inspiring. But as expected the ultimate highlight of the course would have to be the centrifuge “flights”.
The course concluded with a simple graduation ceremony and mutual congratulations all round.