Article Six - Day Six
By Phil Reeder
Another early start for me with the opportunity to once again explore and take as many pictures as I liked as I discovered new and interesting areas at Space Camp.
7.30 am to 8.00 am
Breakfast, and I know I keep saying this but the food really is first class.
8.00 am to 8.30
Travel to Aviation Challenge
8.30 am to 9.00 am
Land Survival. Now imagine the situation. You have crash landed or bailed out over hostile enemy territory and have to survive until you are either rescued or can make your way to safety. How do you do it?
The land survival part of the training covered what you could be expected to have with you when you crashed or bailed out. How to make use of it with regard to providing yourself with shelter, and how to live off the land with regard to food and water requirements. Once again an excellently given lecture which even covered the colour of the fruit which was safe to eat and the colour of the fruit which was not.
9.00 am to 10.00 am
From the early days of flight, to the flights of today via the space shuttle, there has been one primary factor which has been common to anyone making a trip into the air - gravity.
It's the thing which keeps us on the ground, and it's the thing we have to negate to get up into the air. The faster you go up, the more it tries to pull you down, and the more it exerts its presence on the human body, until you reach low Earth orbit, and the zero gravity environment of space.
The machine used to simulate the force of gravity on the human body at lift-off is called the centrifuge, and the one at AC is best described as an enclosed two person cockpit or cabin, which is mounted on a long arm, which has the ability to spin you very, very, very fast.
As a group we made our way to the main AC building for the next phase of our training programme. The standard safety lecture was given by Stunts - Layback in the acceleration couch, relax, and once motion has started DO NOT move your head to the side. We split into groups of two and each group made their way up the stairs which led into the centrifuges cabin. Carol and I were first up (SEE PICTURES) and taking our seats Stunts strapped us securely in and told us that we would be moving or spun-up as it's referred to a speed which would have the affect of putting 3.2 gees or 3.2 times the force of gravity on our bodies.
Suppose you weighted 11 stone normally. At 3.2 gees you would feel like you weighted 35.2 stone - get the picture. For reference it is my understanding that shuttle astronauts experience 3.5 gees during launch.
Stunts gave us each a head set with microphone and then went on to explain the safety features built into the training. Whilst in motion we would be constantly monitored via an over-head camera and Stunts would be asking us both via the head set if we were ok? An additional feature of the acceleration couches is a pressure switch which we were required to keep the index finger of our right or left hand (depending on which couch you occupied) over, and which we were to push at the slightest feeling of uncertainty about what was talking place.
Stunts then went on to explain that once we reached 3.2 gees he would be asking us to try a few simple exercises firstly moving our arms and then our legs so that we could experience what its was like to try and move under the force of the 3.2 gee acting on our bodies.
Stunts sealed the cabin and a few minutes later we felt the forward motion start. It's an interesting experience, as the faster you move forward, the more you can feel your body starting to get heavier and heavier until we reached what we assumed was the 3.2 gees. At this point we were asked to raise our arms and then our legs and Stunts went on to explain that if we were having difficulty doing this, just imagine what the shuttle astronauts must feel like at 3.5 gees, and they had switches and buttons to operate on the way to low Earth orbit.
All too soon the experience was over, and as I felt the forward motion start to slow I could feel a normality start to return to my body (and its normal weight). Did I enjoy it? - YES. So much so that when I got the chance to have a second go, I did.
Centrifuge training over we made our way back to bus and were transported about three miles from the Camp to a local floral and garden centre for the next item on the agenda - The Picnic.
11.30 am to 12.30 pm
The picnic with its packed meal and drink gives you the opportunity to get away from the Camp for a while and try and relax and unwind before the last few individual agenda items, the start of the LDM planning sessions and the start of the LDM itself the following day.
It's a strange experience to be quite literally one minute in the ultra high-tech worlds of space and aero-space that you find at Space Camp and Aviation Challenge, and the next minute be in the near primitive environment of the flora and fauna we found ourselves in, only a few miles from Camp. I have to confess that it does serve to bring you back to earth and to relax you for what you imagine (well at least in my case) is going to come next.
Picnic over we made our way back to Camp and into one of the corporate rooms above the MCC for the next agenda item.
1.00 pm to 1.30 pm
The next item on the agenda was a yet another guest speaker slot which featured a lecture on the environmental and life support systems to be found on the International Space Station, currently under construction in earth orbit. The speaker, a young lady called Munsi Roman had traveled from the nearby Marshall Space Flight Research Centre where she is employed in the post of Team Leader for the development of the life support systems used on the ISS.
Once again an incredibly detailed and well given technical lecture, which was given in a way to cover both the knowledgeable and less knowledgeable of us in the room.
1.30 pm to 2.00 pm and longer
As Munsi Roman left, her lecture over, Jeff made his way in for what would be the start of the preparation for the Long Duration Mission - the assignment of the LDM positions.
The LDM is split into three distinct sections:-
1. Launch to docking with ISS - this includes orbital EVA operations
2. ISS on-board experiments and external EVA operations
3. Un-docking from ISS to landing - with orbital EVA operations.
The assignment of positions is not something which is taken lightly, and takes into account the many, many factors which have been determined since the start of training on day one. Here's how Jeff saw things for the start of the mission - launch to ISS docking with orbit operations:-
Commander - Carol
Pilot - Bill
Mission Specialist 1 - Phil
Mission Specialist 2 - Mike
Mission Specialist 3 - Greg
Payload Specialist 1 - Carolyn
Payload Specialist 2 - Cliff.
I'll cover the positions for after ISS docking and un-docking in the next article, which covers the LDM itself from pre-launch to landing.
As soon as Jeff had finished assigning positions for the LDM the discussion amongst the group started. The next item on the agenda, the indoor/outdoor Sims to be held in the museum was cancelled to enable more time to be given to planning for the LDM. This spilled over into the next agenda item, the planned indoor teambuilding exercise and we finally broke up for short break at about 3.30 to give use time before the next agenda item which was due to start at 4.00 pm
4.00 pm to 5.00 pm
The next scheduled agenda item for the students of the Advanced Adult Space Academy Programme was Advanced ECLSS - or Environmental Control Life Support Systems.
One of the most interesting lecturers I have ever attended as it covered both verbal communication with an attempt at a practical application. (SEE PICTURE).
In the UK we have a saying "taking the piss" which means making fun of someone to their face. You could say ECLSS is a more practical application of this, as in this instance it meant attempting to construct a means, using various different types of fillers to take urine out of the liquid it is part of, so that what you are left with is a purified form of water that can once again be drunk.
Remember that for the most part everything which is used in space has to be transported there first before it can be used. Water is no exception to this, and as water is not a light substance, it makes sense to try and recycle as much water as possible to try and cut down on the weight which has to be transported into space in the first place.
Of course we did not use real urine only a yellow coloured liquid substitute, but using various different types of filters (the trick we found is to get the filters in the right order and in the right size proportions for each filter) we finally had yellow liquid going in at the top of the filter and clear liquid coming out of the bottom, so you could say we managed to take the piss after a fashion. It's certainly one lecture I will forget in a hurry and yet another example of the incredible detail with which things are covered at Space Camp.
5.00 pm to 6.30
As soon as we left the Challenger auditorium, the site of the Advanced ECLSS lecturer, the discussion once again reverted to the LDM and continued all through dinner and onto the next scheduled agenda item which was the Mission Planning Event for the LDM.
I had a rough idea of what was going to be expected of me during the LDM, as a Mission Specialist for Phase One of the mission (and Phases Two and Three as well as it turned out) it would be my job along with at least one or more of my team mates to go EVA and fix or construct something, or carry out some form of experiment outside the confines of the orbitor.
Having this knowledge enabled me to sit back to a certain extent and watch my team mates in action. Remember each and every one of them is a veteran of many years at Space Camp and for the most part this planning for the LDM is something they have done on more than one occasion. The dedication to detail is something that had to be seen to be believed with this group. Plans were made and refined. Ideas, given the previous years knowledge they had, were put forward, discussed, and from this lists were made of things that needed to be done. These lists were then redefined into a more workable format.
It was round 6.15 when Jedi suddenly put in appearance to say her farewells to the group, as her trip to New Mexico was due to start early next morning. As she said her goodbyes to each of us in turn, she handed each of us a very special patch, whose origins escape me, which had the words "Advanced Academy - Astronaut Graduate" on it. That patch now has pride of place on my flight suit back here in the UK.
7.00 pm to 7.30 pm
Travel to Aviation Challenge(SEE PICTURE)
7.30 pm to 8.30 pm
The next item on the agenda was one which had, had me puzzled since I had read its title on the agenda sheet for Day Six - RTLS.
My enquires to my team mates had been met with a - wait and see. It therefore came as a great surprise when we got to AC and I found out that RTLS stands for Return To Launch Site. It stands to reason if you think about it, given the detail with which the Advanced Adult Space Academy programme is run, that if all the training for the LDM takes place in Huntsville, Alabama, the crew will have to return to the launch site at Kennedy Space Centre for the start of the mission.
The Mark III simulators at AC (SEE PICTURE) had been configured for the T-38 Talon two seat trainers and we were given a very in depth flight briefing (flight headings, recognition codes, etc) for the flight to Kennedy Space Centre.
Given my previous experience at AC with firstly the F-18 Hornet and the T-38 Talon, I decided that it would be a good idea if I flew "rear" for the trip back to Kennedy (SEE PICTURE). I suppose it was the "mind-set" that I now found myself in which went with the thinking, yes I could possibly get the plane onto the runway (eventually), and from there get it into the air, but if I made a mess of the landing and crashed there could have been some form of consequences for the LDM, and that I did not want to risk. I flew "rear" with Mike and after a few interesting manoeuvres to get the plane into the right approach angle for landing we touched down, taxied to the hanger, and there waiting for us on the runway was our shuttle ready to go.
The landing was followed by a quick mission debrief, and food had been provided by the AC staff for a quick meal before our return trip to Camp at just after 8.30 pm.
9.00 to ?????
The return trip to Camp completed we made our way to the MCC and the Enterprise simulator for the next stage in our pre-launch preparation for the LDM, which was due to start in just over 12 hours. On-board supplies including bedding, food, water, a series of pre-selected experiments to be carried out after docking with the ISS and other miscellaneous items were all transferred to Enterprise and stowed securely for launch.
Once this stage of the pre-launch preparation was completed we congregated as a team in the Camp's Cafeteria for more LDM planning. I forget what time we finished but it must have been going on for mid-night and we broke up to try and get some sleep for what turned out to be the hardest, and most enjoyable, 24 hours I have ever spent in my life.
Hindsight is an incredible thing. If I had known in advance how big this project was going to be, and how many subject areas I was going to have to cover, I would have tried to get an appropriate set of photographs for each of the individual things we did. As it is there have not always been photographs available to go with the text, so what I have attempted to do is fill in this shortfall with photographs which show some of the incredible facilities which are available for use by the students at Space Camp and Aviation Challenge.