PoSSUM Day One

We’re just getting to the end of Day One here at Project PoSSUM 1503. It’s been non-stop since we arrived in Daytona Beach, starting almost immediately when we pulled in last night with presentation from Dr. Perry Bechtle, former Blue Angel Navy Flight Surgeon, talking about flight physiology. Already my expectations have been exceeded by the quality of this program, and I’m am excited for what Sunday is going to bring.

Pathways to the Sky sculpture outside the Embry-Riddle's College of Aviation’s Hagedorn Complex
Pathways to the Sky sculpture outside the Embry-Riddle’s College of Aviation’s Hagedorn Complex.

First, let me thank everyone that donated to my GoFundMe campaign. I appreciate all the generosity you’ve shown, and I feel compelled to share lots of updates for you.

The day began with a long 4-hour session with Dr. Jason Reimuller the principal investigator of Project PoSSUM.  We started with a group introduction before moving on to an overview of the research and outreach objectives of the project. We covered the aeronomy research that led to the development of the project, and got deep into the details of upper atmospheric effects that lead to the formation of noctilucent clouds. Suffice to say my notebook had over 16 pages filled in the first 4-hours.

Dr. Reimuller introduces Project PoSSUM.
Dr. Reimuller introduces Project PoSSUM.

The afternoon brought another big name into the classroom, Dr. Erik Seedhouse, whose accomplishments are too long to list here, but is easily most recognizable for his prolific authorship of dozens of space related books. Major topics covered by Dr. Seedhouse included Spaceflight Life Support, and Space Physiology. If 16 pages of notes from the morning wasn’t enough, in only two hours I added another 12 more.

Following a quick break, we covered the PoSSUM instrumentation before heading over to Embry-Riddle’s Aviation Sciences building to check out the PoSSUM simulator for the first time.

The PoSSUM simulator at Embry-Riddle.
The PoSSUM instrumentation in a simulator at Embry-Riddle.

If you thought the day was over, you’d be wrong. After a quick dinner we regrouped to a keynote speech by veteran spacesuit designer, Nikolay Moiseev for a discussion about the fundamentals of spacesuit design and operation.

Nikolay Moiseev presents Space Suits 101.

We’ll be getting up bright and early to head over to the Southern Aeronautical Medical Institute Facility for a “flight” in their decompression chamber that will simulate the atmosphere at 25,000 feet. Sounds like there will be a video of the simulation, which I will share as soon as I can!

The best pictures from today are available on Flickr in my PoSSUM Day One album with Creative Commons Attribution licensing.

The PoSSUM Adventure

Welcome to my PoSSUM journal! You can follow my adventure here, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Many of you already know about my participation in PoSSUM this upcoming week, but few of you are aware of the tremendous expense this is for me personally. If you have a few dollars to invest in my future career as an astronaut, please consider giving me a donation. I’ve set up a GoFundMe page (GoFundMe.com/SpaceRoss) where you can donate to help offset the cost of this next step in my career. I appreciate it!

On Friday, October 9th, I’ll be departing for Embry-Riddle Air Force Base in Daytona Beach, Florida. There I’ll join a class of “scientist-astronaut candidates” for a week’s worth of training with the PoSSUM Project research team. (Press can learn more by downloading the PoSSUM Press Pack).

PoSSUM stands for Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere, which is where some very interesting atmospheric science occurs. In particular, PoSSUM intends to study noctilucent clouds, which are clouds that form right at the edge of space, between 76 and 85 kilometres altitude. Their name means “night shining” in latin, because they are illuminated by sunlight long after sunset. These clouds are thought to have a strong correlation with global climate change, which is why they are an interesting research target.

Noctilucent clouds at sunset. Photo by Flickr user jepaulsen.
Noctilucent clouds at sunset. Photo by Flickr user jepaulsen.

Part of our training will teach us how to operate the scientific instruments for the Notilucent Cloud Tomography Experiment. These instruments will image the notilucent clouds in 3D, similar to the way a CAT scan produces a 3D image of the human body. Other experiments will precisely measure the temperatures and densities of the atmosphere along the flightpath.

When commercial spaceflight becomes available, PoSSUM plans on being ready with a large contingent of scientist-astronaut candidates. Spaceplanes like the XCOR Lynx will be outfitted with PoSSUM instruments, and their suborbital flightpath, which crosses the edge of space at 100 kilometers, will be perfect for collecting data about notilucent cloud structure.

The XCOR Lynx spaceplane. Photo taken by Flickr user 24oranges.
The XCOR Lynx spaceplane. Photo taken by Flickr user 24oranges.

The PoSSUM training will prepare us for the rigours of launch conditions by taking us on high-G aerobatic flights. We’ll also learn about high-altitude, low-oxygen environments, and the physiological dangers of hypoxia. Afterwards, I’ll join the PoSSUM team in Ottawa for the second component of my trip, which will test their microgravity spacesuit on zero-G parabolic flights.