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Whether it be social, recreational, or professional, some of what represents me is here. Post a comment, or contact me at Dallas@embracespace.ca should you so desire.

The posts are in reverse chronological order, and are pegged by topic on the links to the left. For more of an introduction, please see the About this site page listed above.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Moscow Trip Day 4: Star City/Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre

Continuing our journey through the sites and sounds of Russia, we were fortunate enough to be able to go to Star City, also known as the Yuri Garagin Cosmonaut Training Centre! Here, all cosmonauts, and astronauts, train before going aboard a Soyuz rocket and into space!

Led by Prof. Tolyarenko and a guide from the centre, we learned a lot about what the astro/cosmonauts have to do before being qualified as "space-ready". I had someone ask me the other day, so I will clarify that cosmonaut refers to a Russian astronaut, taikonaut refers to a Chinese astronaut, and astronaut? well, that refers to everyone else who goes to space. 

Crew supplies in front of a module

Training module, more information later in this post.


Some survival supplies, note the fishing lures, hooks, medical equipment.

Some pictures of expedition training.
Expedition training, when astro/cosmonauts learn to work together to survive in the wild, under strenuous conditions. This training has many purposes. The first, is obviously learning how to survive in the wild. When they come down from space, nowadays, they are riding a Soyuz capsule, a "falling meteorite" as Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield called it, and sometimes that meteorite falls off-course. There are many stories of astronauts disembarking from their capsule only to find they are in a swamp, a forest, or a desolate winter wonderland.

The second obvious reason for the training is that it helps condition the astronauts physically and mentally to the stresses of space. The third reason is that the astro/cosmonauts learn to work as a team. Dr. Bob Thirsk, Canadian astronaut who spoke this year at the ISU, discussed the many team-building benefits of expeditions. Learning how to delegate, communicate, work together, become leaders, respect leaders and become followers, work under stress, all extremely important for space activity and these excursions offer a great opportunity. Plus, if science fiction like Enemy Mine and Star Trek's episode "Darmok" have taught me anything, it is that working together through stressful situations can form strong bonds and bring people together quite well.
Covered flare gun, with flare and "regular" bullets to the left



This module was being used quite extensively while we were visiting. Cosmonauts and astronauts were climbing in and out and training on the procedures involved with the module. I did not get a picture of the astronauts and cosmonauts for two reasons: we were rushed through so they could complete their tests, and I felt a sudden hesitation to react as paparazzi. Being in the public spotlight is part of an astronaut's job, but I did not feel comfortable with it that day. Anyhow, walking into the next room, see next picture, we were able to watch some of the inner workings of the module. The astronauts were essentially lying on their backs, facing upward toward the dials and controls, and were going through procedures. The tests they were taking that day were critical; failure would have resulted in their inability to go to space, I hope they all passed!



Switching buildings, we were led to the neutral buoyancy chamber! As you can see in the pictures below, a mockup of the Mir space station is installed on a platform. This platform can then be lowered into a giant pool of water. Once there, the module fills with water, allowing the entire chamber to become neutrally buoyant. Astronauts and cosmonauts can then be fitted with special diving suits which closely resemble those used on extra-vehicular activity (EVA), aka space walks, and can practice the movement and procedures they will need to do in space. Floating in a tank of water is not exactly like the microgravity of space, but it is a decent approximation.


NASA's Johnson Space Center has a similar pool, however theirs works in a different manner. Instead of installing everything on a platform, the equipment is simply moved into place in an empty pool, installed, and then the pool is filled with water. Different approaches, but with the same innovative cleverness, that was the thought running through my mind all through Star City.




Afterward, we were lead to another building, a tall, round building. Inside, I was quite surprised to see this!
Now, my pictures do not do it justice, but this is an 18 metre long human centrifuge!
A crew of two enters from the door seen above, and straps themselves in. The centrifuge can then be rotated around and around the room. The reason for doing this is that there are different levels of acceleration experienced by someone going into space. First, there are the shocks of launch, where gravity is trying to pull you down but 1000 kiloNewtons or 220 000 pounds of force is launching you into space! Then, there are the shocks of microgravity. Once in orbit, you "free fall" essentially feeling weightless the entire time. Finally, upon landing, there are forces in many directions as you fall in your "meteorite" toward the Earth. By spinning, the centrifuge can counteract gravity's pull and replicate some of the forces felt during these flights and help train the astro/cosmonauts accordingly. The most interesting part of this centrifuge, for me anyway, was the fact that the seated chamber itself can rotate in any direction. Most centrifuge's I had heard of simply spun the long arm, but this one could also rotate the chamber allowing for more options and flexibility for testing and training!

It was incredible to finally see Star City. I had heard so much about the training centre in books I have read, and stories I had heard. The Russian space program has been just as innovative and influential as any other and now, thanks to the fact that the Soyuz is the only launcher getting astronauts to space, all astronauts must pass through the same gates, we were standing as close to astronauts as many of us were ever going to. It was a fantastic day and one I will remember always.

Thank you for reading and coming along with me on this trip. As I write this, I have other news for you, but that will have to wait. On a sidenote, I'm almost at 20 000 viewers since writing this blog, so I'd like to thank you all again for sharing in my adventures!

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