Former Navy SEAL Survived ‘Hell Week’ En Route to Space

Astronaut Chris Cassidy training for a spacewalk in NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Credit: Robert Markowitz

If a meteor hit the station, or a fire suddenly broke out, you’d want some pretty quick-thinking people on board to solve the problem. Thankfully, Chris Cassidy — a former Navy SEAL — is on his way to station in just a couple of weeks as a part of Expedition 35/36.

SEAL training is perhaps the most vigorous military program in the world. Even a quick look at the tests candidates must pass makes us feel exhausted. You need to master a suite of skills that range from demolition to navigation to, of course, fast swimming. There’s something called “combat diving”, which is supposed to test how well these Navy people “perform in stressful and often uncomfortable environments.”

And don’t forget “hell week.” Candidates only get to sleep four hours in 5.5 days. They rack up 200 miles of running through physically training for 20 hours a day. (No, those numbers are not typos. It’s real.)

Cassidy — who by the way, passed that gruelling SEAL training on the first try without getting hurt or going crazy — told Universe Today last week about what he would do should he be faced with an emergency in space.

I think just the training that I got in the field, training in the early part of my Navy career, and during my time being an astronaut will all combine together. What I know from combat in the Navy, there’s a sort of calmness that comes over people who are well-trained and know what to do. Muscle memory kicks in, and it’s not until after the thing is over that you realize what you went through.

I kind of think that’s how me as an individual, and we as a crew, will respond to any dicey dynamic event like that. Just work through the procedures that we’ve been trained, make the place safe if we can, and if we can’t, we are trained to evacuate. And the procedures all get us to that point.

Cassidy further joked that some of the humor SEALs use might not be appropriate in his most recent job title; former SEAL and International Space Station Expedition 1 commander William Shepherd once told Cassidy he might be “kicked out of a NASA meeting” if he used some of the language.

More seriously, though, Cassidy said he is particularly looking forward to doing experiments measuring bone mass on the International Space Station. Since that research has applications for people on Earth (particularly those facing osteoporosis  he said it’s a demonstration of how spaceflight can help further health work on the ground.

His ultimate goal? “To be called back [to station] a second time.” Let’s hope he makes it.

Cassidy and his crewmates Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin are scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 29. Here a look at some of the final training the crew received at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia: