Spacecraft Egress and Survival Systems

This past week I was in Groton, Connecticut, participating in the ‘Spacecraft Egress and Rescue Operations Course’ provided by Jason Reimuller of PoSSUM fame (links to days 1, 2, and 3/4). The course was a central study of the nominal and contingency operations of the landing portion of spaceflight, and we covered topics ranging from ‘Entry, Descent, and Mission Planning’, ‘Contingency Planning’, and ‘On-Orbit Contingencies’.

Jason Reimuller introduces the Spacecraft Egress and Rescue Operations Course.

In addition to the academic teaching about the history of spacecraft recovery from land and sea, we were introduced to basic survival skills on the open ocean at Survival Systems USA. There we learned about the major threats to survival after landing a spacecraft in the ocean, but the best part was yet to come!

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Survival Systems USA in Groton CT.

After the classroom sessions were finished, we suited up in our flightsuits and helmets, and jumped into SS USA’s dunker tank, where we learned about the difficulties of exiting a vehicle that is rapidly filling with water! Additionally, we learned how to safely jump from a helicopter (using their diving platform), and what we would experience if we were strapped into our seats upside down underwater. It all came in very handy…

The SS USA’s “Dunker Tank” and our simulated spacecraft.

To simulate the worst-case-scenario splashdown of a space capsule, we strapped ourselves into SS USA’s “dunker” vehicle, which could be raised and lowered into the water at various orientations. This apparatus is used by commercial airlines and militaries from around the world to train their pilots and soldiers what to expect when their aircraft crash into water. This was by far the most exciting exercise of the week!

SS USA’s “dunker” simulating an spacecraft crash during a nighttime thunderstorm! MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY!

We were also instructed on ocean survival. In the event that a spacecraft goes off course, it could be hours, days, perhaps even weeks (unlikely!) before a rescue crew could find us, so of course, there are resources available, like food, inflatable rafts, and other survival gear that we learned how to use. I was extremely lucky to have been able to pull the rip-cord on the inflatable raft, and it expanded on top of me! Luckily I knew how to get out from under it… it was all part of the training.

Surviving in an inflatable raft on the Atlantic!

All in all, the Spacecraft Egress and Rescue Operations Course was a great success, and I went away with tons of skills that will be helpful to know if I ever get into a dangerous situation in space… or more likely, out on the ocean!

The happy class, after the completion of our course! 

UTMB Study and NASTAR Centrifuge

I recently returned from a short trip to Philadelphia, where I visited the National Aerospace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center. The reason for my visit? I was participating in a University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) study entitled ‘Commercial Spaceflight Passenger Training Methods’.

NASTAR Crew

Among the participants were PoSSUM graduates: Shawna PandyaAlex McHale, and Final Frontier Design employee Virgil Calejesan. Since we signed up for the two-day experience, we were treated to a classroom introduction into civilian spaceflight, along with breathing techniques and anti-G straining maneuvers, before our “flights” in the centrifuge.

Over the 2 days, we were slowly introduced to different G-forces (Gx: being accelerated forward in our seats, vs. Gz: being accelerated upward in our seats). And, if we were comfortable with the training runs, we moved up to spins that simulated the flight profiles of different types of spaceplanes.

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Overall, the experience was tremendously valuable to me. The centrifuge experience can only be described in comparison to similar experiences I’ve had on roller-coasters, and I have to say, it beats them handily. Not only was the centrifuge less violent than your run-of-the-mill rollercoaster, but the G-forces felt more “pure”. Our maximum accelerations topped out at 6 G’s, which you can see in the video below. How close does it match a real spaceplane ride..? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you once I’ve done it!

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The best part of all this is that you can participate in the UTMB study! Via their website, the requirements are as follows:

Requirements

  • Must be ages 18 and older
  • Must be of adequate health as determined by applicable study criteria
  • Must obtain the equivalent of an FAA Class III flight physical at volunteer`s expense. (Note for Canadians, this is a CASE Category 1 Flight Physical and EKG).
  • Must be able to commit to up to two full, consecutive, days of training (9am – 4:30pm). Training time is based on the training group you are assigned to and cannot be pre-selected.
  • Must be able to show up on time and provide own means of travel, accommodation, etc. for the full duration of the study.

Sign up for the Space Flight Research Program now.

Until next time, here is a two-minute clip of one of the centrifuge ‘spins’. The clip is broken up into segments; first, showing the “flight” portion of the spaceplane, and once rotation of the arm begins, the “launch” phase where the spaceplane’s rocket would be lit. Finally, the “re-entry” phase where I experience a grand total of 6 G’s. Enjoy!

GoFundMe Thanks and 2016 Plans

To everyone that donated to my GoFundMe/SpaceRoss campaign, I want to express my gratitude for your support. With your help, I raised $3,460 to help offset the cost of the Project PoSSUM and Final Frontier Design microgravity campaign back in October.

#gfmcheck

The talented duo of Van Wampler and Parker Rice over at CinemaRaven produced a summary video of the whole experience, incuding interviews with Callum Wallach and Ulyana Horodyskyj, among many others. Invest 5 minutes in watching it, it’s great (and if you watch closely, you’ll see me!):

So what’s next for 2016? Well, I have a couple of big plans afoot:

  1. The NASTAR Centrifuge: I have been accepted into a University of Texas Medical Building’s study concerning commercial astronauts on suborbital flights, and as a result I’ll be experiencing a “spin” on the NASTAR Centrifuge, following the g-force profile of a modern spaceplane. If you qualify, I highly recommend you apply on the UTMB website.
  2. A lecture tour: I applied and received funding from the Canadian Association of Physicists to give my ‘Real Life on Fake Mars’ lecture at seven universities across Canada. The dates are still being worked out, but I will be visiting the Universities of British Columbia, Northern British Columbia, Calgary, Dalhousie, Acadia, St. Francis Xavier, and Saint Mary’s.
  3. Oh, and my regular job: getting a 3D printing course at the University of Alberta off the ground.

Thank you all so much for following my campaign and helping me pursue my dream of becoming an astronaut. Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Microgravity in Ottawa

(Note: if you’d like to help me offset the cost of this experience, my GoFundMe campaign will be up until November 5th. Thanks to everyone that has donated so far!)

A week ago (geez, a week ago!) marks the start of the Microgravity program we participated in, in Ottawa. We joined Integrated Spaceflight at the NRC’s Flight Research Laboratory in order to test the Final Frontier Design spacesuit in microgravity.

The NRC's Flight Research Laboratory hanger.
The NRC’s Flight Research Laboratory hanger.

We spent several hours Wednesday night doing safety briefings with our pilot and flight crew, and most of the day Thursday doing drills of what we were to accomplish on the flight.

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Suited up and ready to fly on the Falcon-20!

Testing consisted mostly of range-of-motion exercises to ensure that the suit was comfortable during the motions an astronaut would be expected to accomplish. In addition to flicking knobs and dials, we went through a range of arm and leg motions, before the fun stuff: seat ingress and egress.

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Seat egress: making sure you can get out of your seat if necessary.

Sadly, our flight was cut short due to an equipment failure with the scuba system,  but we managed to get a good portion of our testing done while having a great time. At one point, I watched a small paint chip spinning lazily while crossing my field of view, making me feel, momentarily, like I was floating in space.

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Seat ingress: making sure you can get back in your seat!

In order to experience zero-gravity, the Falcon-20 needed to fly in a parabolic arc: basically the same trajectory that you’d expect for a ball being thrown (gently) between two people. In fact, a lot of chaos goes into making that moment of calm! The parabola was preceded by a two g-force dive and pull-up (to gain speed) and a two g-force pull-out (to slow back down). All in all, it was a lot of stress on the body… No wonder people get sick! 😉

The photos from within the Falcon-20 are actually screen captures from Integrated Spaceflight’s GoPros… I will be working this weekend to put together a short video of the best clips from my whole experience!

Spaceman!
SpaceRoss!

I will be leaving my GoFundMe/SpaceRoss page up until November 5th, so if you’d like to donate to help support this experience with me, please do! Thanks to everyone that contributed so far, it was the experience of a lifetime!

 

PoSSUM Day Three and Four

I’m writing this sitting in the Canadian National Research Council’s Flight Research Laboratory, as the first group participating in the Microgravity Evaluation of the Final Frontier Design spacesuit are getting ready for their first flight (more on that in a few days after I’ve participated in my parabolic flights tomorrow).

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The Extra 300 and the Super Decathalon awaiting their first flights on the tarmac.

Days three and four of Project PoSSUM were the aerobatic and simulation portions, and participants were cycled through each of the Super Decathalon airplane (high wing), the Extra 300 airplane (low wing), and the PoSSUM suborbital spaceflight simulator at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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Instruments on the Extra 300 indicating -2 to 4.8 G flight (and pilot instructions).

In both the Super Decathalon and Extra 300, pilots ran us through a series of aerobatic maneuvers to simulate the conditions at the launch of the spaceplane, during the micro-gravity phase near the apex of flight, and during the re-entry and deceleration phase. These included banked turns (2 and 3 G’s in Z), loops (4G to 0G in Z), knife-edge (+1 and -1 G in Y), inverted flight (-1 G in Z) and an outside loop (-2 G in Z).

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Embry-Riddle’s Suborbital Spaceflight Simulator equipped with PoSSUM’s instrumentation.

We also simulated the flight path that PoSSUM will take from runway 31 of Eielson Airforce Base in Anchorage, Alaska. PoSSUM scientist-astronaut candidates learned how to and operate the Red camera that will be used for tomography, the wide-field imager, and deploy two other experiments, a mass spectrometer and a density measurement device.

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The Project PoSSUM 1503 graduating class (missing two graduates).

Finally, after writing a short final exam, for which everyone passed, we graduated. After a solid round of congratulations, many PoSSUM graduates took off early to fly home, while others departed for the next adventures: the microgravity flights today and tomorrow. I will update you this weekend!

Again, many thanks to everyone who’s chipped in to help me pay for this awesome experience. I guarantee I will have stories for life because of this experience. If you haven’t donated yet, feel free to check out my GoFundMe page. As usual, I’ve posted more photos on my Flickr page in the albums PoSSUM Day Three and PoSSUM Day Four.