The pre-mission regimen of NASA astronauts flying in the Project Mercury space flight program, such as Alan Shepard, wasn’t quite as harsh as some the preparation and training astronauts were ordinarily subjected to:
NASA asked the pilots to go to bed early, but did not require it, or give them chill pills. “On the evening before the flight, the pilot is encouraged to retire at an early hour, but he is not required to do so. The pilot of MR-3 spacecraft retired at 10:15 p.m. e.s.t.”
Spacesuit design through the… space age. The final suit, the sleek Bio-Suit, as designed by Dava Newman, looks far easier to wear and work in than some of the earlier versions, but I wonder how robust, how radiation resistant, and what have you, it would be.
The Mars One project intends to establish a human colony on Mars in just over ten years time in 2023. The undertaking, to be funded privately by creating “the biggest media event ever around it” according to project co-founder Bas Lansdorp, will see groups of four astronauts sent to the fledgling colony every two years.
While the prospect will certainly appeal to the pioneering types among us, there is one significant point to bear in mind, the journey will be one way only, and those involved will see out their days on the red planet. But why would that stop the right people from being part of such a bold and ambitious project?
The only other two celestial bodies close enough are our Moon and Venus. There are far fewer nutrients and vital elements on the Moon, and a Moon day takes, well, a month. It also does not have an atmosphere to form a barrier against radiation. Venus is an veritable purgatory. The average temperature is over 400 degrees, the barometric pressure is that of 90 meters underwater on Earth, and the cherry on top comes in the form of occasional bouts of acid rain. It also has nights that last for 120 days. Humans cannot live on Mars without the help of technology, but compared to Venus it’s paradise!
These will be the very first commercial Pilots-Astronauts, something which will undoubtedly excite the interest of a great many. Successful candidates will have to be very special: both a full course graduate of a recognised test pilot school and highly and broadly experienced. Virgin is looking for pilots with significant experience of both high performance fast-jet type airplanes as well as large multi-engine types – not only that but “prior spaceflight experience is an advantage”.
By using questionnaires to score the mood and behaviour of crews aboard Mir and the ISS, Kanas’s teams showed that constant and high-quality communication and support from the ground is key to helping people cope with long periods of physical isolation. These and other studies show that maintaining communications, honesty and day-night cycles, and keeping the miners occupied, will be key in the four months it may take to rescue them.
The first spacemen might have been distinguished more by their grit than their learning, but today’s astronauts are a more educated bunch. Would-be astronauts at NASA need, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree in science – preferably engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics. In fact, the typical astronaut also has a master’s degree: two out of five have a doctorate. You also need to have three years of relevant professional experience. Strong academic credentials aside, NASA’s roster are a motley crew. Previous astronauts have included a NASCAR driver, a magician and even a weightlifter.
The bottom line is that space is a frustrating, unforgiving environment and you are trapped in it. If you’re trapped long enough, frustration metastasizes to anger. Anger wants an outlet and a victim. An astronaut has three from which to choose: a crewmate, mission control, and himself. Astronauts try not to vent at each other because it makes a bad situation worse. There’s no bedroom door to slam or driveway to speed out of. You’re soaking in it. “Also,” says Jim Lovell, who spent two weeks on a loveseat with Frank Borman during Gemini VII, “you’re in a risky business and you depend on each other to stay alive. So you don’t antagonize the other guy.”
One drawback of being a pioneer and boldly going to places very few, possibly no other, people have gone before, such as the Moon, is finding someone who will insurance your life during such a daring undertaking… the chances are most likely next to zero.
The answer was provided by NASA in the form of “Insurance Covers”, a number of which were given to every crew member and subsequently signed by every astronaut involved, as close to launch as possible. Its value would instantly be high, but would no doubt sky-rocket (no pun intended) should the astronauts never return; the deceased’s surviving family then at least safe in the knowledge that in future they could cash-in their makeshift insurance policy if required.