‘You Cannot Press Pause While You’re Flying A Jet’: Why Planes Help Astronauts Prepare For Space

In between these sweet, sweet video shots of jets in the video above, you’ll find some wisdom about why it’s so important that astronauts climb into these planes for training. Turns out that flying has a lot to do with preparing for very quick-changing situations in spaceflight — whether it’s in a cockpit or in a spacesuit.

“Psychologically, being in an aircraft is very similar to being in a rocket because you are dependent on this machinery,” says astronaut David Saint-Jacques in this new Canadian Space Agency video.

“You are in an uncomfortable cockpit. You’re wearing a helmet, oxygen mask. There’s tens of dials in front of you. You have to monitor all that data; the radio, on many channels talking at the same time. You have to constantly filter out what is important and to make decisions that could have big impacts. You cannot press pause while you’re flying a jet.”

Saint-Jacques and fellow Canadian Jeremy Hansen took part in this video to mark the 110th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first powered flight, which took place Dec. 17, 1903.

And there’s more to this video than jets — you can see astronauts participating in spacewalks and also the ongoing European Space Agency CAVES expedition series in Sardinia, Italy. There’s even a quick glimpse of the Snowbirds, a famous military flying demonstration team in Canada (which Hansen flew with earlier this year).

For more information on the T-38s used for astronaut training, check out this NASA link.

A T-38 plane parked in front of space shuttle Discovery in this undated photo taken by NASA astronaut Story Musgrave, who flew six times in space in the 1980s and 1990s.
A T-38 plane parked in front of space shuttle Discovery in this undated photo taken by NASA astronaut Story Musgrave, who flew six times in space in the 1980s and 1990s.

This Rover Could Hunt For Lunar Water And Oxygen In 2018

In 2018, NASA plans to go prospecting at the moon’s south pole with a rover — possibly, a version of the Canadian one in the picture above. The idea is to look for water and similar substances on the lunar surface, with an eye to learn more about living off the land, so to speak.

Launching anything into space is expensive, so if it’s possible to harvest raw materials off a moon or planetary surface, this could make things a bit cheaper. Specifically, NASA is interested in oxygen, water, silicon and light metals such as aluminum and titanium in the moon’s soil or regolith. (This process is called in situ resource utilization capability.)

“The mission, currently planned to launch in early 2018, will demonstrate extraction of oxygen from lunar regolith to validate in situ resource utilization capability,” said NASA spokesperson Trent Perrotto in an e-mail to Universe Today.

“An essential element of this mission is the ability to travel significant distances on the surface to better understand water distribution in the lunar regolith.”

Building a lunar base might be easier if astronauts could harvest local materials for the construction, and life support in general. Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings
Building a lunar base might be easier if astronauts could harvest local materials for the construction, and life support in general. Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings

So that’s the background. Where does the rover stand in this? It would carry a payload called RESOLVE (the acronym stands for Regolith & Environment Science, and Oxygen & Lunar Volatile Extraction.) And the rover has already been through some field tests to see how well it performs in environments (fairly) similar to the moon.

In 2009, for example, the Canadian Space Agency did a summer field study with NASA, Perrotto said. “The Canadian rover carried the RESOLVE payload during field tests. The tests helped NASA better understand the requirements of a volatiles-sensing payload, and helped CSA understand tele-operation and rough terrain exploration,” he wrote.

At the time, NASA was working to get the payload ready for flight status in 2011, but the mission design has changed since then. The current design (called Resource Prospector Mission) would have RESOLVE, a Canadian Space Agency rover and drill, and a lander. NASA is now looking for somebody to work on the lander.

The RESOLVE payload and Canadian rover during field testing at the Kennedy Space Center near Orlando, Fla. in 2012. Credit: NASA/Dmitri Gerondidakis
The RESOLVE payload and Canadian rover during field testing at the Kennedy Space Center near Orlando, Fla. in 2012. Credit: NASA/Dmitri Gerondidakis

“A request for information was released in July to identify industry interest in a partnership to develop the lander; and an announcement of opportunity is anticipated to be released in early December,” Perrotto wrote.

This mission design is not a guarantee yet. For one thing, NASA is looking at rover alternatives and possibly getting a drill from a United States source instead. It also would depend on funding and agency priorities in the next few years. That said, however, the mission concept is proceeding right now.

In September, Perrotto added, the CSA and NASA did “initial RESOLVE thermal and vacuum testing in September, including a test in [a] regolith-filled vacuum chamber at the NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC) at lunar temperatures and pressures.” RPM passed a mission concept review on Sept. 17 and is in the midst of a preliminary design review that would conclude in fall 2014.

NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems office has started to look at alternative options to understand “technical constraints by the mission and to assess affordability,” Perrotto added. Meanwhile, the payload team is assessing and looking to reduce risks, while the CSA and NASA are working to “refine technologies for ISRU.”

Representatives from the Canadian team also discussed the rover concept at the Canadian Space Society annual conference in Ottawa, Canada earlier this month. More information on RESOLVE is available on the CSA website; last year, the agency unveiled several rovers it developed for moon and Mars exploration.

From ‘Doggie-Doo’ To Derring-Do: New Canadian Space Head Stresses Innovation In First Public Outing

OTTAWA, CANADA – With a booming voice, Walt Natynczyk — in his first speech after becoming Canadian Space Agency president in September — told delegates that he was happy to give up the “dream of retirement” to take on a challenging position.

“Imagine this picture. February. Saturday morning. 7 in the morning. It’s -25 [Celsius, -13 Fahrenheit] and I’m out there, by my lonesome, walking three dogs. None of which are mine. But their owners, who are family members, who I love, are all headed down south,” Natynczyk said.

“As I’m stooping over to pick up another pile of doggie doo, a neighbor — that I love — sticks her head out the door and says, ‘Hello, how the almighty have fallen.’ ” He paused as the room roared with laughter. “Think about it. That’s when I thought it was time to do something different.”

Natynczyk is best known in Canada for leading a large restructuring of the country’s military. He also was (as an exchange officer) a deputy commanding general in the United States, among other positions, and served in Baghdad at the height of the Iraqi war in 2004. His appointment to the CSA had some worried about the militarization of the agency. Natynczyk, however, focused on how difficult the new vocabulary is to master.

Speaking of a recent conversation with quantum researchers — the field that his predecessor, Steve MacLean, went into after leaving the CSA this year — Natynczyk said to them, “The point at which you start losing me is like talking to my puppy; when I start doing this,” — he tilted his head to one side — “you’re losing me.”

Joking that nanosatellites and microsatellites are equivalent to “milk cartons” and “milk jugs”, Natynczyk said one of his main goals is to make space understandable to the typical Canadian standing in line at Tim Horton’s, a coffee chain that is prolific in the country.

His comments on space policy were few. Last year, the Canadian government asked an external group to do a space development strategy for the country, and little has been mentioned publicly since the strategy was released. Natynczyk said conversations are ongoing with other government departments to address the recommendations.

Throughout, he stressed the importance of Canada’s choice to pursue research and development through the universities (with government support) rather than through government directly.

“It’s what we do with CSA, with the universities and so on, looking for extraordinary concepts that are in a higher-risk category and investing in a modest way — perhaps with other government funding … that allow for exponential jumps.”

To The Moon, Jeremy! Canadian Astronaut Thinks Off-Planet Geology During Arctic Trip

It takes gumption to go knee-deep in mud to save a stranded rover. Or to climb up precarious slopes in search of the perfect rock. Oh, and did we mention the location is best accessible by air, with no towns nearby?

Take these challenging conditions, which Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen faced in the Arctic this month, and then imagine doing this on the moon. Or an asteroid. Or Mars. Scary, isn’t it? But that’s what he’s thinking of and training for as he does geology work a few times a year.

“It’s important; it provides an opportunity in a somewhat uncomfortable, risky situation when we’re doing real science,” Hansen told Universe Today of his time in Haughton Crater in Canada’s north. In fact, it’s so important to Hansen that he’s gone on similar geology trips with this Western University group three times.

Geology is now part of the package with basic astronaut training. NASA is hoping to get to the moon or an asteroid in the (relatively) near future, and there have been Congressional questions about the agency’s plans for Mars exploration. No one has firm answers yet. The astronauts, still, are preparing themselves as best as they can if the opportunity arises.

There would be vast differences between Earth exploration and heading to another location, however. Some examples:

While the Haughton Crater expedition is an analog for moon or Mars exploration, certain things will be different from the Earth experience. Here, Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen gathers water -- a feat that would be way more difficult off-planet. Credit: Jeremy Hansen/Twitter
While the Haughton Crater expedition is an analog for moon or Mars exploration, certain things will be different from the Earth experience. Here, Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen gathers water — a feat that would be way more difficult off-planet. Credit: Jeremy Hansen/Twitter
  • Water and supplies. The team Hansen joined had nine people and 29 checked bags for an expedition that lasted just over a week. They could also get water on site at a spot not too far from their camp, reducing the load of that heavy but important substance. NASA’s long-range planning, meanwhile, envisions scenarios such as a month on the moon, Hansen said. Supplies would be an interesting and heavy challenge in that situation. “The next time we’ll go back, what we’ll really be looking to do is travel much greater distances over a longer period of time,” he said. “We’ll be living in a rover for a month, covering 100 kilometers [62 miles] or more, looking for these important outcrops that tell us the story.”
  • Geology. The Earth is an erosive force on geology: wind, rain, glaciation, water, volcanic activity and more alters the landscape. “Sometimes the rocks look very similar” even when they are different, Hansen pointed out. Other places may have different erosion processes (think micrometeroids), making the rocks look strange to Earth-trained eyes.
  • Location. The landscape itself could be challenging for collecting samples. The moon, for example, has “stuff strewn everywhere and pounded into sand”, Hansen said, meaning that astronauts might have to travel much further to see something besides regolith or moon soil. Where Hansen was in the Arctic, by contrast, the group could get to more than a dozen different outcrops in a day of walking.
  • Gravity. The moon has a sixth of the Earth’s gravity. Mars is at about 38% Earth gravity. This means that the machines would need to be designed to work in that environment. For astronauts, it’s riskier to go up slopes or do heavy work in those conditions because their center of gravity is unfamiliar. As this Apollo 17 clip shows, astronauts sometimes fell over on the moon when doing something as simple as picking up as sample bag.
This stain in the rock showed evidence of hot water flowing for million of years after the impact that created Haughton Crater, said Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen. "Could support life? Could crater on Mars? Research may answer," he tweeted. Credit: Jeremy Hansen/Twitter
This stain in the rock showed evidence of hot water flowing for million of years after the impact that created the Arctic’s Haughton Crater, said Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen. “Could support life? Could crater on Mars? Research may answer,” he tweeted. Credit: Jeremy Hansen/Twitter

Hansen’s work in Haughton Crater did turn up some similarities to work at off-Earth locations, though. His crew had to work in a compressed time situation, learning how to find representative rocks from a 14-mile (23-kilometer) wide crater. That’s the same challenge you’d find during a moon or asteroid or Mars expedition.

“We explored not the entire crater — it’s a lot of ground to cover — but we explored some key areas,” Hansen said. “What’s important for someone like me, at my stage of geologist eyes, is to see the key aspects of the crater, those being what types of rocks that are formed and where do they end up in the crater.”

When a big rock slams into the Earth, it excavates material that is normally inaccessible to a surface visitor. Hansen was encouraged to seek the oldest or genesis rocks when on his expedition because, as in other locations, they provide clues about how the solar system was formed. The hard evidence firms up our theories on what happened.

"Explored rocks, learned origins of Earth. Want to do this on Mars someday like @MarsCuriosity but with a return ticket," tweeted Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen, making a joking reference to the Mars One expedition. Credit: Jeremy Hansen/Twitter
“Explored rocks, learned origins of Earth. Want to do this on Mars someday like @MarsCuriosity but with a return ticket,” tweeted Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen, making a joking reference to the Mars One expedition. Credit: Jeremy Hansen/Twitter

It’s not only work in the field that is important, but work in the lab. In past years with Gordon Osinski‘s group at Western, Hansen has gone back to the university to talk with those looking at the rock samples. He asks if the samples were representative, easy to analyze. His goal is to do better with each expedition.

“It’s kind of like learning a fourth lagnguage,” said Hansen, who as a Canadian Space Agency astronaut is expected to speak English, French and Russian at a minimum.

“It’s one of those things — you can cram it all in, but you don’t retain a lot unless you use it repeatedly and continue to practice it. My elegant solution is I spend one, maybe two weeks total a year, working on this. It’s a good use of my time. I keep bringing it back, keep reviewing it and keep going a little further.”

Hansen has a busy summer ahead of him. He’s taking off soon for CF-18 training with the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he got his career start. (Funny enough, in his past career he used to survey the Arctic from the air during Canadian sovereignty operations.)

In September, Hansen is spending about a week underground in Sardinia, Italy as part of the European Space Agency’s ongoing CAVES expedition series. Besides geology, this also provides training in unfamiliar and dangerous environments.

Hansen has not been assigned to a flight yet, but continues to work in the International Space Station operations branch in Houston and to represent the Astronaut Office in operational meetings. Also in training is his colleague David Saint-Jacques. Both astronauts were selected in 2009.

The next Canadian spaceflight is expected to happen around 2018, but could be earlier depending on ongoing negotiations by the Canadian Space Agency.

Chris Hadfield Hangs Up His Astronaut Suit

In a somewhat surprise announcement, Canadian astronaut — and social media icon — Chris Hadfield announced his retirement from the astronaut corps, just weeks after he returned home from his highly successful expedition to the International Space Station.

The wildly popular Hadfield made the announcement at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters near Montreal on Monday. He had called a press conference there to share highlights from his five-month mission, but also announced his retirement as well as his plans to return to live in Canada after spending much of his 21-year astronaut career at Johnson Space Center in Houston or Star City in Russia.

“I’m making good on a promise I made my wife nearly 30 years ago — that yes, eventually, we would be moving back to Canada,” Hadfield said during the press conference.

In posting the above image on Twitter, he said that saying “goodbye to these good people today was much harder than I expected.”

The 53-year-old Hadfield sent a nearly constant stream of magnificent images, informative videos and ebullient Tweets during his pre-flight training and his Expedition 34/35, as well as hosting numerous interviews and educational events with school groups via webcasts from the ISS. With over a million followers on Twitter, his words were read – and widely retweeted — by people around the world.

“I am extremely proud to have shared my experience,” Hadfield said in a statement from the CSA. “I will continue to reinforce the importance of space exploration through public speaking and will continue to visit Canadian schools through the CSA.”

“Chris Hadfield made space exploration history by becoming the first Canadian to command the International Space Station, a feat that instilled pride from coast-to-coast-to-coast,” said Candian Parliamentary Secretary Chris Alexander. “His efforts have affirmed our country’s world-renowned space expertise. I would like to personally thank Chris for his commitment to bringing the spirit of discovery not only to all Canadians, but to the world.”

Sources: CSA press release, CBC

How To Train for a Mission to the ISS: The Soyuz

Expedition 34/35: Canadian Space Agency Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield, Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko and Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn of NASA. The crew launches on Dec. 19, 2012 at 12:12 UTC (7:12 a.m. EST). For the second half of the mission, Hadfield will become the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has been sharing with us how much there is to learn and the training necessary for living on the International Space Station for five months. But astronauts and cosmonauts also have to learn how to fly on the Russian Soyuz, too, as right now, there’s no other ride to the space station.

“Soyuz is a wonderful spaceship,” Hadfield told Universe Today. “It has been refined and honed and perfected for decades, as if they took an early sculpture of something and have continuously whittled away at it to make it more and more purpose-built and improved.”

A view of Hadfield inside the Soyuz simulator. Credit: NASA

The most modern version, the TMA-M, is as good as they’ve ever made it, Hadfield said, with great modifications and improvements in avionics, sensors, computing power.

“So, it is a very capable, well-designed vehicle; a tough vehicle,” he said. “That is heartening and reassuring. It has the full ability to do almost everything on its own, but also full ability for us to take over and do almost everything manually if we need to.”

“There is an unbelievable thrill in getting into your own spaceship. This is the same hatch we’ll use on the launch pad,” Hadfield said via Twitter.

It is so robust that with just a stopwatch, the crews can bring it safely back to Earth and land within a 10-km circle of where they want to touch down.

All the training is in Russian. “Russian digital motion control theory is complex,” Hadfield said. “It took a full year of intensive one-on-one study to become ready to start flying the Soyuz.” This video shows Hadfield working in the simulator:

Hadfield said that not only does he have great respect for the Soyuz, but for the training provided by the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos.

“They simulate it well, and they load us up to our limit of what they teach us,” he said, “getting into the very esoteric and complex things that can happen.”

For example, in full-up simulations where the crew are in the pressure suits, the trainers will do things like fill the cockpit with smoke as if there was a fire on board, so the “dashboard” can’t be seen, and the crew needs to know how to keep flying.

“Centrifuges make you dizzy while they accelerate & decelerate, & REALLY mess you up when you move your head. Otherwise OK,” Hadfield Tweeted.

In this video, Hadfield explains the Soyuz centrifuge, the largest human-rated centrifuge in the world, that puts the astronauts and cosmonauts in the same environment – G-force-wise – that they will be in during the harrowing descent when they return home, plummeting through Earth’s atmosphere and experience 4-8 times the force of Earth’s gravity.

“You need to be able to understand how that feels on your body and whether you are going to be able to work in that environment,” Hadfield said.

“Hatch to Another World – what it looks like to climb into a Soyuz spaceship. We then crawl down into our seats,” Hadfield said, via Twitter.

The Soyuz rocket is just as robust and one of the most reliable rockets ever. “The Soyuz launches all-weather, -40 degrees to +40 degrees,” Hadfield said. “It is rugged, built on experience, it is not delicate. I trust it with my life.”

“It takes these 32 engines to get these 3 humans safely above the air. And that’s just the start,” Hadfield said via Twitter.

“My Soyuz Checklists – from L to R: Launch/Entry, Malfunctions, Orbital Flight. Colour-coded for easy spaceflight,” said Hadfield via Twitter.

Hadfield talks about the Russian technology for the rocket and spaceship he will be flying in:

Hadfield’s son and daughter-in-law gave him a Soyuz-like pre-flight Christmas present:

“My first Soyuz simulator! Summer 1964, nearly 5 years old. Never too early to start training,” Hadfield shared on Twitter.

Previous articles in this series:
How to Train for Long Duration Space Flight with Chris Hadfield
How to Train for a Mission to the ISS: Medical Mayhem
How to Train for a Mission to the ISS: Eating in Space

How To Train for a Mission to the ISS: Eating in Space

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield (right)and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn participate in a food tasting session in the Habitability and Environmental Factors Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

Food is important for everyone, for reasons beyond dietary and health issues, as sometimes just the right meal can make (or break) your day. That’s just one of the reasons why the space agencies involved with the International Space Station put a lot of work into creating a variety of foods for the astronauts and cosmonauts that are on long duration missions in space. And variety is key.

“On Earth, we take for granted that if nothing in your fridge appeals to you, you just go out,” Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield told Universe Today. “But on a long-duration mission in space, you can’t just order a pizza or go out for a burger or Baskin Robbins.”

“Space Vegetables, before and after. Tastes better than it looks,” Hadfield Tweeted.

The primary food on the ISS is supplied by NASA and the Russian Space Agency. Each of the other space agencies provide supplemental food, or special items, too.

“Space food is fine, pretty tasty, and of good variety,” Hadfield said. “It’s limited to food that has a long shelf life, with no refrigeration and no microwave, so it’s a lot like camping food or Army rations. The majority of it is dehydrated, so we add cold or hot water to it, like Ramen noodles or instant soup or powdered drinks. But we have a mixture of Russian and American foods, plus specialty items from Canada, Europe and Japan, so we eat really well.”

“Astronaut Diet – on 4-day prescribed meals of low sodium to test how my body reacts. This is lunch,” said Hadfield.

Crews eat three meals a day, with two snacks.

Hadfield explained the way it normally works is that NASA and Roscosmos each have a menu of hundreds of potential food items.

“So, some days when it is lunch time, our dieticians and food preparation kitchen have us over for a food tasting, and we try a mouthful of about thirty different things for lunch one day,” Hadfield said. “We rank them from 1 to 9, with 9 being ‘I could eat this for every meal for the rest of my life,’ and 0 being ‘this makes me gag.’ We do that in Houston for all the NASA food and in Russia for all the Russian food, and limited tastings for all the food that comes from the other partners.”

Space-grilled chicken. Via Chris Hadfield.

From there, the astronauts put together a list of the food they would like to have in orbit, in addition to the ‘generic’ or staple foods that are always on board. “The food that all the astronauts on average have rated the highest, they try to keep in stock on the ISS,” Hadfield said. “We also have bonus containers that are personal, where you have food that you ranked as ‘9,’ or you can bring in supplemental food from your country – in my case, Canada– so I can enjoy it and also share it with the other crew on special occasions or holidays that you’ll be on orbit for.”

Hadfield launches this week, on Dec. 19, and so will be on orbit for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

During Hadfield’s Expedition 34/35, the Canadian specialty food includes candied wild smoked salmon, smoked salmon pate, cranberry buffalo stix, cereal, dried apple chunks, fruit bars, green tea cookies with orange zest, maple syrup cookies, organic chocolate, honey drops, chocolate bars and maple syrup.

SeaChange Candied Wild Smoked Salmon that will heading to the ISS.

Some of this food was chosen as part of a contest held by the Canadian Space Agency, Canadian Snacks for Space.

The first shipment of the Canadian treats were delivered to the ISS on board the SpaceX Dragon capsule that brought supplies to the space station in October. The second shipment should be sent on an automated resupply spacecraft in February 2012.

Hadfield said the addition of Japanese and Italian modules on the ISS has also resulted in tasty international food being part of the regular ISS rations.

“Italian space food – scallopine, lasagne and freeze-dried pea and carrot blocks. Their tiramisu is delicious!” said Hadfield via Twitter.

Hadfield said the dieticians are interested in the balance of salt content, protein and carbohydrates as they want to keep the astronauts healthy, and to have them maintain their weight. But they also need to have food that is appealing. A well-known problem is that astronaut’s taste buds seems to go flat while in space, so spicy food is appreciated even though it might not be a favorite on the ground.

“The food is important, but sometimes things can happen,” said Hadfield, “like one of the resupply ships get delayed and your favorite food isn’t there, and you have to eat the leftovers of the previous crews, or eat a future crew’s food. So it never goes perfectly. So, part of being an astronaut is not being too picky!

Hadfield said they are provided a wide variety of lots of different food, and you can see Hadfield’s potential menu here.
But, like on Earth, mealtime is vital for other reasons, too.

“The food is important, but we also use dinner as a good time to get together and talk, relax, and be human,” Hadfield said.

“Crew at Breakfast – with our new Expedition shirts shining. Roman (left) is going to be a hoot to fly with,” Hadfield Tweeted.

As for what Hadfield’s last Earthly meal will be before he launches on Wednesday morning, it won’t be anything big or fancy.

“Imagine what it is going to be like to be in a small, cramped spaceship for two days,” he said. “My last meal will be beef broth.”

Note what Hadfield has in front of him in the image above, which he shared this morning via Twitter and Facebook.

Previous articles in this series:
How to Train for Long Duration Space Flight with Chris Hadfield
How to Train for a Mission to the ISS: Medical Mayhem

How To Train for a Mission to the ISS: Medical Mayhem

Astronaut Chris Hadfield with biomedical equipment attached to his forehead. Credit: Chris Hadfield.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is scheduled to launch on Decemer 19 with crewmates Tom Marshburn and Roman Romanenko on a Soyuz rocket, heading for a long-duration 5-month mission on board the International Space Station. We’re taking a look back at his 2-plus years of training for this mission, which Hadfield shared via Twitter and Facebook, letting the public get an inside look at what it takes to prepare for a long-duration spaceflight.

The movie “The Right Stuff” depicted the grueling array of medical tests the early astronauts had to undergo in order to determine if they had… well, the right stuff to go into space. Now, more than 50 years later, with scientists and the medical community knowing quite a bit more about how the human body reacts to micro-gravity, the pre-flight medical procedures aren’t quite as intrusive. But astronaut Chris Hadfield says it is still part of being an astronaut.

“They do a nice job of telling how hard it is going to be, how invasive,” he said in an interview with Universe Today, “but none of that matters when it’s time to go to bed at night, when you’ve got six different probes stuck in you or a loud machine next to you, and you know you you’re not going to get a good night’s sleep.”

“Whether you are flying a spaceship or a T-38, it is good to be prepared,” Hadfield said, along with posting this image via Twitter.

Another part of medical training is having a forced special diet where “you have to document everything you eat, evaluating what happens at the other end,” Hadfield explained, “and they try to be as good and non-invasive as they can, but by its very nature it is invasive, and that’s the way it is.”

Hadfield said he knew about this going into the job. “It is absolutely part of the business so it is OK,” he said.

Hadfield participating in the VC Reflex test, an experiment for orthostatic hypotension, or dizzyness from low blood pressure, one of the most common physical complications of spaceflight. “Space Science: applying electricity behind the ears affects balance and thus blood pressure regulation,” Hadfield said.

Not only are there pre-flight medical tests and procedures, but all space station crew members undergo continual medical tests and evaluations during their time in orbit, becoming test subjects for various experiments as well as keeping tabs on their health while in space.

“We do regular urine, saliva collection and blood draws. We have to be able to take blood from each other or yourself. If you’ve never taken blood from yourself…” Hadfield said, letting the sentence trail off. Fun? Not so much.

“Astronaut physical for Space Station today – 18 tubes and a squeeze ball”

Thankfully, the astronauts don’t always have to poke themselves. “We have volunteers come in all the time and let me stick them with a needle so I can get good at drawing blood,” Hadfield said, “and we do a lot of ultrasounds – carotid artery and cardiac ultrasounds. We need to identify any changes that take place in the heart after extended zero-g. This is all very important for going beyond Earth orbit; we need to understand those changes.”

A day of medical training with dummies. “Somehow the sock makes it worse,” Hadfield said via Twitter.

Not only do the crew have to do medical tests on themselves, but they have to be prepared for any medical emergency, since there usually isn’t a dedicated medical doctor on the space station. However, Hadfield considers himself lucky: crewmate Marshburn is a medical doctor.

“There are various ways to get ill on board – some natural, like appendicitis, stroke, — or you could be in an accident.” Hadfield said, “Someone could bang their head coming around a corner, get pinched between equipment, get the bends coming in from a spacewalk, or be exposed to poisonous gas. Various things can happen.”

“We have full-911 capability on board,” Hadfield continued. “We can react, we can strap someone down, get them on oxygen, inject them with things to get their heart going again, or use defibrillators. We need to know how to intubate people and give them forced breathing. We need to know how to react.”

Medical training includes practicing emergency medical procedures such as stitches.

They have small pharmacy on board, and need to know a lot of procedures. “Of course we always have medical help on-call from the ground, but you could easily have to deal with a burn or something in an eye, so I’ve trained working in an emergency room at a hospital in Houston,” Hadfield said, doing things from making a quick diagnosis to inserting catheters or IVs, or sewing stitches on wounds “ so I can get comfortable doing those things to the human body.”

Astronauts on the ISS practicing CPR: “How do you give CPR without gravity to hold you down? Like this!,” Tweeted Hadfield.

This video shows some of the emergency medical training the crew receives:

Next: Astronaut Food

Additional articles in this series:
How to Train for Long Duration Space Flight with Chris Hadfield
How to Train for a Mission to the ISS: Medical Mayhem
How to Train for a Mission to the ISS: Eating in Space
How to Train for a Mission to the ISS: The Soyuz

Could the Next Planetary Rover Come from Canada?

Prototype of the new Juno rover, a 300 kg rover for a mission to Mars or the Moon. Credit: CSA

The Canadian Space Agency is well known for its robotics but they’ve recently expanded from robotic arms to building prototypes for five new rovers, designed for future lunar and Mars missions. They range from microrovers to full-sized science missions and range in size from 30 kg up to 900 kg. The largest of them, the Lunar Exploration Light Rover, is designed to carry a scientific payload and can be fitted with a robotic arm. It has a range of 15 km, can be operated remotely, or can be used to carry astronauts across a planetary surface.

A version of the Juno rover with tires. Credit: CSA

The two Micro-Rover prototypes, at 40 kg and 30 kg., are designed to be operated in conjunction with larger rovers, and can be tethered to them and lowered into otherwise inaccessible areas.

“On the Moon, permanently shadowed craters provide many interesting areas to find water and other volatiles, Jean-Claude Piedboeuf, Director of Space Exploration Development at the Canadian Space Agency told Universe Today. “These craters have steep slopes making it difficult and risky for a large rover. Therefore, sending a micro-rover tethered to its mother one gives us the ability to explore the bottom of these craters with a minimum risk. Sending only a micro-rover could be an option. However, they are very slow so it is more efficient to have them on a larger rover to cover long distance and deploy them when needed.”

The micro-rovers can also be used to work alongside astronauts, to gain access to small spaces like caves.

The rovers should be mission-ready by about 2020, and NASA is already interested. Most missions to Mars and the Moon involve geology, and sometime in the future, mining. For instance, NASA has an experiment under consideration that entails digging up soil on the Moon and making hydrogen and oxygen out of it. These designs are intended to fit in with those types of activities.

Space robotics technology has long been a point of pride for Canadians, Canadarm was a fixture on the Space Shuttles and made it possible to do things like deploying satellites like the Hubble Space Telescope and was instrumental in building the International Space Station. CSA also built the huge Canadarm 2 and Dextre, the highly dexterous dual-armed robot, both of which reside on the International Space Station. More recently, CSA contributed a robotic arm and other equipment to Curiosity, the newest NASA rover to land on Mars.

Artemis is a light-weight terrestrial prototype that can either be operated by a human nearby or at a remote location, or use its onboard sensors to scan its environment and navigate without the need for a human operator. Credit: CSA

The new rover designs will add to the fine lineage of Canadian space robotics. Once they are deployed on missions to the Moon or Mars, they may end up elbowing the Canadarm and Dextre out of the spotlight. If they do take centre stage, no feelings will be hurt. Many of the same people who worked on the Canadarms and Dextre are involved in the development of the rovers.

“MDA (MacDonald, Detwiler and Associates) was the prime contractor for Canadarm and Dextre and is prime on three rover prototypes,” said Piedboeuf.

With these rover prototypes, CSA has avoided the one size fits all approach to rover design.

“The fleet developed by the Canadian industry for the CSA covers the range of applications we envisage and that will be welcomed by our international partners,” said Piedboeuf.

Though the CSA doesn’t anticipate any other rover designs, these 5 prototypes could be focused “on more specific applications such as in-situ resource utilization or science,” explained Piedboeuf.

If you find the unveiling of 5 new rover prototypes exciting, you’re in good company.

“People in industry, academia and within the CSA were excited to develop these rovers that could be one day on the Moon or Mars,” said Piedboeuf. “The opportunity of working on prototypes of space rovers with challenging requirements and advanced autonomy was a great motivation.”

See more images and information on the fleet of rovers at CSA’s website.