Life as an Astronaut

Life as an Astronaut

Introduction

Have you ever dreamed of being blasted into space in a powerful rocket and exploring worlds far beyond our own? The life of an astronaut definitely sounds like an exciting one, but only a few people out of thousands and thousands are chosen. This is because space is a dangerous place. Only the most well-trained, experienced and highly respected astronauts are ever given the opportunity to experience it for themselves. So exactly what is involved in becoming an astronaut?

How do you become an astronaut?

Before applying to become an astronaut, it is necessary that you have university degree. As well as this, it is also recommended that you have a graduate degree (a Masters or PhD) in an appropriate field. Some examples of appropriate fields may be engineering, biological sciences, physical sciences or maths.

It is also very important that you have several years of work experience in a related field. If you are interested in becoming a shuttle pilot, for example, you should have plenty of experience flying commercial or military jets.

Even if you have all the educational requirements and experience to be eligible to apply to become an astronaut, the selection process is still very long and difficult. It is a true test of the applicant's dedication and passion in wanting to pursue their dream.

A rigorous selection process takes place in order to identify applicants who will go on to become 'astronaut candidates'. Before any candidates are selected, all applicants must undergo very thorough medical and physical examinations, as well as a series of detailed interviews.

Eventually, a selection committee chooses applicants whom they feel have the right blend of skills, training and education. It is also important that these applicants are able to work well in a team and under stressful conditions. Successful applicants then become astronaut candidates.

What is involved in astronaut training?

Astronaut candidates are put through challenging, exhaustive and sometimes brutal training procedures. This is necessary to make sure that potential astronauts are fully prepared for any situation which may arise in space. They need to prepare their bodies and minds thoroughly. They need to prove that they are able to survive anything and can make responsible decisions under extreme circumstances.

Astronaut training involves taking many classes on various topics. These classes include lessons on the detailed workings of space shuttles as well as the basic sciences such as astronomy, geology, and meteorology. Together with these classes, astronauts are expected to do a great deal of reading. They must study space shuttle manuals and computer software information relating to shuttle operations.

As well as a lot of theory, astronaut training also involves many physical tasks. Several of these tasks are designed to train the astronaut's bodies to cope with severe conditions. Some survival tasks, for example,  include swimming in a very heavy and awkward flight suit, parachuting into icy, choppy waters and being dragged through dust and dirt face first. These tasks may sound inhumane, but astronauts must be able to prove that their bodies can survive almost anything.

Finally, much of the astronauts' training is carried out in highly realistic simulators. Simulators are machines that are able to almost exactly replicate (copy) the conditions that astronauts will experience in space. This means that all aspects of space missions can be rehearsed and perfected before heading into space.

Astronauts are able to spend time in full-scale models of space shuttle compartments. They can experience take-offs and landings using the simulators. They are also able to experience the weightlessness of being in space through the use of an 'altitude chamber'. 

Only after undergoing extensive training are a very small group of astronauts selected to participate in space missions. Other astronauts work in many important and varied positions on the ground.

What do astronauts wear?

Astronauts must take special safety precautions when in space. Specially designed space suits are worn during launch, when they are outside the shuttle in space, and for the return to Earth. Space suits serve many special purposes. As there is no atmospheric pressure or oxygen in space, space suits are designed to provide the astronaut with atmospheric conditions similar to those on Earth.

Another important function of the space suit is to provide the astronaut with a protective barrier. Astronauts need protection from solar and cosmic radiation because in space there is no protective layer from the atmosphere. Space suits are also insulated and therefore protect against extreme temperatures in space. Finally, space suits are designed to protect astronauts from flying objects. A collision with a piece of space debris could be potentially harmful or even fatal to astronauts. 

What is life like inside the space craft?

When on a space mission, astronauts need to be able to carry out normal day-to-day activities within the spacecraft. The biggest difference between living in the spacecraft and living in a similar compartment on Earth is the weightlessness of everything.

Things like eating, sleeping, staying clean and using the bathroom are much more difficult in space. Try to imagine doing all these things without gravity. Objects would float rather than stay where you placed them. Water and bodily fluids would not naturally be drawn downwards. Even dust in a spacecraft does not settle on surfaces but remains floating in the air. Believe it or not, astronauts need to vacuum the air.

The food eaten by astronauts is generally dried or packaged and is prepared thoroughly before launch. Examples of foods include cereals, dried fruit, nuts, meatballs, and packaged meals, such as sweet and sour beef with rice.

Astronauts are provided with pouches containing personal hygiene items, such as toothbrushes and combs. Spacecraft are fitted with specially designed toilets which use air rather than water to flush away bodily wastes. Special systems transport oxygen around the craft so that astronauts can breathe inside without their space suits. Recycling devices collect water vapour from the astronauts' breath and recycle it for experiments. 

How do astronauts spend their days in space?

There are many varied tasks that astronauts must carry out from day to day. Some of these are completed inside the spacecraft and others outside. Some of the main tasks include routine monitoring and maintenance of the craft as well as scientific testing and experiments.

Many different types of experiments are carried out in space. Sometimes external companies request that experiments on their products be carried out in space in its weightless environment. Other experiments are carried out as part of research into future space travel. An example of this might be experiments to test particular effects of space travel on the human body.

Working outside the craft, astronauts may complete tasks such as working with satellites, completing experiments, collecting samples from space and constructing space stations.

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