‘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.

NASA Jets Buzz The Capitol

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Earlier today, Thursday, April 5,  two NASA T-38 jets passed over the Washington, DC metropolitan area, during planned training and photographic  flights. The photo above by Paul E. Alers shows the jets flying over the U.S. Capitol building.

See this and more images from the flyby on NASA HQ Photo’s Flickr page here.

Made by Northrop and powered by two afterburning General Electric J85 engines, a T-38 can fly supersonic up to Mach 1.6 and soar above 40,000 feet, about 10,000 feet higher than airliners typically cruise. The plane can wrench its pilots through more than seven Gs, or seven times the force of gravity.

A pair of T-38s fly in formation over Galveston Beach in Texas, showing some of the aerobatic abilities of the T-38. (Photo courtesy of Story Musgrave)

“The T-38 is a great aircraft for what we need at NASA because it’s fast, it’s high-performance and it’s very simple,”  says Terry Virts, who flew as the pilot of STS-130 aboard shuttle Endeavour. “It’s safe and it’s known. So compared to other airplanes, it’s definitely one of the best.”

Today the  T-38 training jets flew approximately 1,500 feet above Washington between 9:30 and 11 a.m. EDT. The April 5 flights were intended to capture photographic imagery.

Check out a great article about NASA’s T-38s here.