Wednesday 1 October 2014

Fly Me to Space!

Imagine boarding a spacecraft to get to your holiday destination.  Out of the world indeed! But how do you prepare yourself for the flight?  What type of spacecraft will you be travelling in?  

Currently most space tourism companies are based in the USA with a handful in Europe. Some of these companies may have former astronauts onboard as advisors, and of course they have the option of consulting NASA or the European Space Agency when the need arises.  
Image credit: NASA
Offerings are varied.  There’s the Earth-based programmes for the ‘faint-hearted’ that gives the full space travel experience without leaving Earth.   The adventurous on the other hand will get to do the following:

1. Lunar mission
An expedition to the Moon

2. Orbital spaceflight
Spend several days in space, travel at 28,164 kph (17,500 mph), circle Earth every 90 minutes, view Earth from over 321.87km (200 miles) above

3. Suborbital spaceflight
View Earth from space, fly into space 100 km above Earth, experience weightlessness

4. Zero Gravity Flights                                                          

There may be more lined up in the near future.  Do bear in mind that you won’t get large groups of tourists flying to space with you as seats are limited and of course it’s costly.

Preparing For Your Trip

This is one holiday you have to ensure you are fit.  You just can’t book a flight, pack your bags and be gone within the hour.  In the first place, you don’t bring any fancy luggage!

Image credit: NASA
Selection & Training
Extreme pressure.  Weightlessness.  Bundles of energy, stamina and strength.  Do you have what it takes?  How’s your general fitness level (physical and mental)?  

After you have expressed interest, you have to:
1. Go for a medical examination
2. Ensure you are between 160cm (5’3") - 185cm (6’1") in height
3. Ensure you are between 50 kg (110lbs) - 95kg (209lbs) in weight

If you meet the basic requirements, you’ll be allowed to go through a rigorous training similar to what astronauts go through but much more brief.  The training not only gets you mentally prepared for space flight, but also helps you understand the incredible level of technology that goes into space flight. 

The training regimen may include:
1. Zero-G training & centrifuge training
Centrifuges are small capsules that give you the opportunity to feel what it would be like to experience a high-G environment, similar to what a rocket launch would feel like, without leaving Earth.
2. Space simulators
Learn the basics of being at the controls of a space shuttle such as the Soyuz Simulator used by cosmonauts at their training site in Star City, Russia.

3. Training inside the cabin of spacecraft to familiarize you with its surroundings.

Requirements & Packing Lists
Clothes.  You can’t bring along your favourite clothings if you’re going to the International Space Station (ISS).  Your clothes will be chosen months in advance from either Russian or US clothing supplies.  However you have the option of two versions of Russian coveralls - heavy or light-duty - to work in aboard the ISS.  Not much choice.  If you’re travelling in a Virgin spacecraft maybe you’ll be able to!

Equipment.  Bring your own if you plan on doing research of any sort. 

Food.  Bring along your favourite food if you have.

Any single item you bring into space must be checked out long before your trip.  So think over carefully before you decide what you want to bring.

What type of spacecraft will a space tourist fly in?  Something comfortable, noiseless and fast, similar to the aeroplanes we are used to but better of course!  Besides that the chief concern is safety.  How safe is a spaceflight?  Will safety be compromised in the pursuit of profits?
Image credit: EPA/Virgin Galactic

Safety Concerns
In the 30 years of NASA’s space shuttle programme, 132 manned shuttle missions has been launched but 2 had an unfortunate demise - Challenger and Columbia.  Russia's Soyuz programme too suffered a similar fate - 2 fatal accidents in just over 100 manned missions. However the Soyuz hasn't had a fatality in nearly 40 years.

‘Safe’ does not mean no accidents at all.  Commercial aviation is considered safe but mishaps happens and yet people still travel by air.  Mishaps averages about one fatal accident per 1 million operations.  It is hoped that spaceflight is able to emulate such high safety standards. However we need to remember that commercial aviation and spaceflight are not the same.

An excerpt from the article “Redefining safety in commercial space: Understanding debates over the safety of private human spaceflight initiatives in the United States” by Michael Boucheya & Jason Delborneb states that:

The cost of the spaceflight program, the technical requirements for designing a vehicle, the track record of the launch vehicle, and the experience of the launch provider are all incorporated into what defines safety in human spaceflight.

Travel at your own risk but you have to do your homework and background research!

Readings on Spaceflight Safety

Shared by Azni
Learning Specialist, Petrosains

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