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Astronauts in Training
05.27.04
The most exciting day for anyone who wants to travel into space is the day he or she is selected to be an astronaut candidate. Then the real work begins. It can take up to two years of training to become a fully qualified astronaut. Candidates must learn the basics of the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. They must also learn how to be part of a team by flying the NASA T-38 training jets.

The 2004 astronaut candidate class
Image above: Being selected to be an astronaut candidate is exciting. Credit: NASA

Astronauts also take classes. They must learn many things besides science. They also learn about medical procedures. Many times, they have to give speeches, so they take public speaking classes. In order to be prepared for any emergency, astronauts take survival training.

If you are going to be a crew member on the ISS, you will also have to take language classes. You will need to be able to talk with the Russian Mission Control Center.

Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility

Space Vehicle Mockup Facility
Image to left: In the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, astronauts practice what they will be doing in space. Credit: NASA

In order for astronauts to get a feel for what they will be doing in space, they practice on life-sized models. These models are called "mock-ups." The Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility (SVMF) is where they practice. In the SVMF, astronauts practice using the Space Shuttle Orbiter and parts of the ISS. In these mock-ups, astronauts will learn how they will move about.

Preparing for Microgravity

How do astronauts practice for being in space? There are many things to learn about being in the almost weightless condition known as microgravity.

KC-135

Image of the KC-135
Image to right: Astronauts feel weightless for a short time in the KC-135. Credit: NASA

This plane is also known as the Weightless Wonder or Vomit Comet. It provides about 20-25 seconds of zero gravity. For this brief amount of time, astronauts feel weightless. Sometimes, even experienced astronauts get sick in the KC-135. That is where it gets one of its names.

The Precision Air-Bearing Floor

The Precision Air-Bearing Floor
Image to left: Astronauts learn how to move large objects in space using The Precision Air-Bearing Floor. Credit: NASA

One part of an astronaut's work may include moving large objects in space. This can be easy because there is no friction to push against. But, this also makes the job hard. There is no friction to make the large objects stop! They could float and float and float.

The Precision Air-Bearing Floor allows astronauts to move huge objects as they might in space. It is a large, smooth metal floor. The large objects have air forced through them. It is like a large air hockey table.

The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

Two astronauts in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory
Image to right: Astronauts use the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory to practice extravehicular activities. Credit: NASA

To practice extravehicular activities, or space walks, astronauts go underwater. The astronauts use the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), a huge "swimming pool." The NBL pool is 62 meters (202 feet) in length, 31 meters (102 feet) in width and 12 meters (40 feet) in depth. The pool holds 22.7 million liters (6.2 million gallons) of water.

Astronauts float in the water while they practice on full-sized models of space vehicles. They may spend up to seven hours at a time under water.

Although astronaut candidates may have their college degrees, school is just beginning for them when they are selected. There is still much to learn.

If you are interested in how astronauts train, read these articles:

Behind the Scenes: Training
Mission Preparation and Pre-launch Operations
Two Ton Hockey Pucks
Edspace Astronaut School
Oops! Preventing Human Error
When I Grow Up
Astronaut Training
Star City
Weightless Wonder
Astronauts Take a Dive

Adapted from The Making of an Astronaut
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