Many children often look up at the night sky, dreaming of becoming brave astronauts so they can set foot on the moon and other planets.
But not many children can make their dreams come true, because to become astronauts when they grow up, they will have to go through an extremely rigorous selection process. For NASA’s 2021 astronaut class, the US space agency said it only selected 10 candidates out of more than 12,000 applicants.
According to NASA, basic requirements include US citizenship and a master’s degree or higher in a STEM field, such as engineering, biological science, or computer science. Astronauts must be in good shape and able to pass NASA’s rigorous physical tests.
Since NASA announced the first batch of astronauts in 1959, over the past 60 years, just over 350 people have been able to become astronauts. In a 2020 blog post, Anne McClain, a NASA astronaut, summarized what the agency is looking for in future space travelers: “Acceptable, reliable, tenacious and detail-oriented.”
In the early days of the space race between the two superpowers America and the Soviet Union, soldiers were the first in the queue to become astronauts. Even today, the 12 people who have walked on the moon are all white men. However, NASA’s astronaut corps has become more diverse, and in the upcoming Artemis 2024 mission, the space agency aims to send the first woman and person of color to the moon.
Going back to the selection process, NASA astronaut candidates, known as ASCAN, will have to undergo two-year training to become qualified astronauts. The US space agency will train its astronauts in a variety of environments, including large pools and hot deserts, to test their mettle.
To prepare for adventures beyond the confines of spacecraft, astronauts will train underwater in large indoor swimming pools. They must dive into lakes that simulate the microgravity or weightlessness they would experience while working in space.
Using the spaceship model in the pool, the astronauts will practice spacewalking so that they are not too surprised when they have to leave the spacecraft in the future.
NASA also conducts spacewalk training at its state-of-the-art laboratory at the Johnson Space Center located in Houston, Texas. It is a huge pool, containing about 23 million liters of water, and has a simulation of the International Space Station (ISS), so that astronauts can practice using these hardware in the environment. weightless field.
NASA’s gravity reduction research program began in 1959, according to the space agency. As part of it, astronauts will be trained by flying in a zero-gravity craft, known as a “vomiting comet”.
It moves in a pattern of climbing and then dropping suddenly, causing the passengers on the plane to experience about 25 seconds in a state of zero gravity.
The program involved several types of aircraft over the years, including NASA’s KC-135A family of aircraft, which were retired in 2004. In 2008, a private company, Zero Gravity Corporation, launched take over the operation of zero gravity flights for NASA, according to the US space agency.
The plane also serves as a floating laboratory. The researchers will perform medical studies and test for motion sickness on these flights, as the roller coaster-like movements of the plane often make passengers feel fatigued.
Sometimes, this plane is also used to become a setting in Hollywood movies. Actors such as Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton filmed zero-gravity scenes in the 1995 movie “Apollo 13” on the “vomiting comet”.
Since the launch of the Mercury 7 crew in 1959, NASA astronauts began to learn survival techniques, in case they had to make an emergency landing in a remote area.
In 1964, the Apollo 11 astronauts traveled to Nevada to spend three days in the hot dry desert and practice survival skills. In the picture below, they are wearing clothes made from umbrellas to keep their bodies cool in the heat of the desert.
NASA astronauts have to train in the desert because this environment is the closest to alien environments. As part of training for the Artemis lunar rocket missions, the US space agency said it will conduct two field trainings in the Arizona desert, which has a surface similar to that of the moon.
During the space race, astronauts also train on a multi-axis training device that spins them in a series of frantic revolutions, at up to 30 revolutions per minute.
This machine, nicknamed the gimbal, was designed to help astronauts get used to the disorienting trips they might have to go through in a situation where the spacecraft was for some reason toppling over. in space.
“It was one of the most rigorous tests and training we’ve been through,” John Glenn, a Project Mercury astronaut, said in a NASA video posted to YouTube in 2016. “We really hate that gimbal!”
The original seven Project Mercury astronauts, and the Mercury 13’s 13 women, trained on the gimbal in 1960. However, NASA no longer uses the rotary device to train astronauts. Simply because today’s modern spacecraft no longer requires astronauts to control anything while it is rotating.
During the training of astronauts to go to the moon for the first time, NASA also used a large machine called a centrifuge to test its ability to withstand changes from gravity.
This centrifuge has a rotating arm, with a capsule that can hold a person inside. As the machine rotates, the astronauts will test their ability to withstand extreme gravity.
“Swinging around at the end of that long arm, I act as a guinea pig to demonstrate what a human can encounter when launched into space or when re-entering the atmosphere.” , astronaut Glenn recalled in his 2000 memoir.
In addition, astronauts will undergo psychological and psychiatric screenings to weed out those unfit for the profession of space travel.
As more and more people ventured into space, NASA began to understand the mental burden of space travel. And they are more focused in researching to find the most suitable person. Obviously, you wouldn’t want a companion who’s afraid of tight spaces, or simply afraid of opening hatches, which are ubiquitous on spaceships.
Be aware that going into space is an extremely stressful process. In 2016, NASA’s human research program released a report showing that crew members suffered major changes in sleep patterns, radiation exposure, changes in gravity, and long distances. extended periods of isolation.
After becoming astronauts, crew members on the ISS will have to regularly talk to medical staff, including psychologists, through private video meetings.
Clearly, considering NASA’s ambitious goals of sending humans even further into space — to the moon and Mars, for example — in the not-too-distant future, maintaining mental health astronauts will be a long-term challenge.
Refer NASA, BI