Space Flight Training: Don’t Leave Earth Without It
at the 25th Annual International Space Development Conference
Abstract: At the same time developers are racing to become the first to complete and certify a civilian space plane, thrill seekers in search of the next incredible adventure are placing the cash deposits necessary to secure their positions at the front of the flight line. Filling the seats of suborbital space planes will be the same doctors, lawyers, stock brokers and computer professionals who are flying jet fighters, racing cars, jumping from planes and diving with great white sharks today. As such, they are likely to be over 40, overweight and unprepared to handle the physical and mental demands inherent in suborbital flight. Companies like Rocketplane, Ltd and Virgin Galactic have announced plans to provide pre-flight space training to their customers in the days just prior to a client’s scheduled space adventure. This paper contends civilian space flight training is simply too important to be left until the last moments before take-off. Prospective space flyers should be encouraged to enroll in a civilian space flight training program now, for advance training will prove a benefit to both passengers and those who hope to host them.
“I am a Founder/Member of the Virgin Galactic astronaut program and am seeking aeronautical experiences relevant to my space flight, currently scheduled for 2008”. Those words were written on an application to purchase two L-39 jet flights from Sarasota, Florida based Incredible Adventures. It took a 70-year-old pilot from Connecticut to point out what should have been obvious to the adventure company all along. Customers both want to, and should, begin preparing for their suborbital adventures now, and not just days before a scheduled flight. What follows below are the top ten reasons for making civilian space flight training available today.
I. Reason One: Because Alan Asked for It
What’s interesting about 70 year-old Alan is that he’s already had more preparation for space than most. He’s flown 80,000 feet high at more than 2 ½ times the speed of sound in a Russian MiG-25. He’s climbed Kilamanjaro and skydived at the North Pole. He is an experienced hang glider and pilot of small planes. Alan’s future plans include a zero-gravity adventure with Florida-based ZeroG Corporation. Since the only official civilian space flight training program currently available is the one offered by Russia to its Soyuz passengers, Alan has been forced to create his own suborbital flight training package. If someone with his level of high-flying experience feels the need to start training now, two years before his scheduled flight, one can be sure others, especially those with little or no flying experience, are feeling the same way.
II. Reason Two: Because Customers Don’t Know G
Although most suborbital flight candidates will have heard the terms “g” and “zero-g”, their personal experience with changing gravitational forces has likely been limited to the quick pull of elevators and rollercoasters. Customers need prior experience of high-g and zero-g in order to be capable of fully relaxing and enjoying their space flight. You don’t want someone who’s spent $200,000 or more for a suborbital flight to be too nervous or nauseous to enjoy the view. You also don’t want to be the passenger sitting next to someone who becomes violently ill or suffers a panic attack at 300,000 feet.
Incredible Adventures has seen first-hand the effect g-forces can have on customers and the benefit that comes from flight preparation. IA’s General Manager, Galina Andreeva, will tell you “nerves” can have as much of an effect on a customer’s well-being as g’s. That’s why she takes care to thoroughly explain to each customer what they can expect during a flight and does everything possible to make sure a customer feels comfortable climbing into a cockpit.
That said, telling someone what will happen during a high-performance flight is no substitute for the experience itself. That’s why Incredible Adventures strongly recommends all MiG flight customers complete a flight in an L-39 jet trainer prior to moving on to the “main event”, a more expensive, supersonic flight in a MiG-29. The company observed early in its history that those customers who completed a subsonic trainer flight before climbing into aMiG enjoyed their MiG Over Moscow adventure much more. Completing a less-expensive trainer flight first allows a customer to get over any initial nervousness about flying in a jet and to adapt to the sensation of wearing a flight helmet and pressure suit. An unplanned benefit to the L-39 trainer flight has been the knowledge it gives the Russian test pilot who accompanies the paying passenger. Pilots say they are more comfortable performing high-g maneuvers in a MiG if they’ve already seen how the customer has reacted to milder maneuvers in the trainer.
Companies developing suborbital vehicles have a vested interest in making sure their customers will enjoy every second of their flights to astronaut altitude. Happy customers lead to more happy customers and unhappy customers can spell disaster for a business. Suborbital flight customers are going to arrive at the spaceport with the high expectations that come along with the flight’s high price tag.
According to ZeroG Corporation’s Edwin Lorse, one of the challenges they’ve faced marketing their zero-gravity adventures has been overcoming the reputation NASA’s zero-g plane earned for being “the vomit comet”. The company has managed to keep the actual number of customers who become ill on a flight to a very small percentage by controlling the flight profile and carefully instructing participants prior to the flights, yet customers still must be convinced the flights will be enjoyable because of the reputation other weightless flights have earned. Customers who spend their entire time at astronaut altitude grasping an airsick bag are likely to give your suborbital plane a nickname you’ll never live down. Properly preparing a customer for what will be experienced is a necessary part of the sales process.
III. Reason Three: Because Not Everyone Will Have the Right Stuff
As a condition for participation, any customer wanting to fly in a Russian jet fighter must first submit a completed medical questionnaire, a copy of a current EKG and a certificate of good health from a personal physician. In the 12+ years Incredible Adventures has been arranging high-performance fighter jet flights, only three applicants for MiG flights have been rejected for medical reasons. This is in spite of the fact the average customer is overweight and out of shape. The reason almost anyone can fly is that a MiG flight can easily be customized to suit the physical condition of the passenger. The physician at the airbase can dictate the maximum allowable g’s recommended based upon a passenger’s health profile. A pilot can always end a flight early if he deems it advisable. That will not be the case with a suborbital flight. One flight profile will need to fit all of the passengers on board. On one occasion, Incredible Adventures was forced to land a zero-gravity flight aboard the Russian Space Agency’sIL-76 MDK early out of concern for the health of one of the passengers. This is the space equivalent of one bad apple spoiling things for everyone. No one is going to want to be responsible for ruining a $200,000 experience for others.
A doctor’s exam only picks up the potential physical problems. No doctor can predict how a customer will react to wearing a helmet and pressure suit in a confined environment or how someone will react to flying upside down. (IA’s Russian General Manager, who has no medical training, will tell you taller customers are more likely to get airsick than shorter customers.) Discovering one doesn’t have “the right stuff” will be sad. Discovering the fact just days before a flight when the $200,000 you’ve paid is non-refundable would be beyond sad. Making civilian space flight training available now allows individuals to make informed purchase decisions.
A civilian space flight training adventure could possibly serve as the “consolation prize” to those individuals deemed unable for medical reasons to travel 50 or more miles high. Someone’s blood pressure or heart condition could rule out a suborbital flight but not necessarily disqualify them from getting a “taste of space” through enrollment in a modifiable training program.
IV.Reason Four: Because Safety Matters
Space flight will never be safe. It will always be inherently risky and people will need to acknowledge they may die as a condition of participation. That said, every effort needs to be made to make civilian space flights as safe and comfortable as possible.
According to Chuck Lauer, Director of Business Development at Rocketplane Kistler, their Rocketplane XP will carry a pilot and three customers. With no flight attendant or crew member on board to focus on passenger comfort and safety during flight, it becomes extremely important that each passenger is well-prepared for the experience. A pilot needs to be able to focus entirely on the flying of the space plane. The distraction an unprepared passenger could present may prove dangerous.
V. Reason Five: Because Knowledge is Power
Data collected through civilian space flight training can help rocket plane developers understand customer comfort levels before they finalize vehicle designs. Simply having verifiable data regarding the average height and weight of prospective passengers can help in the configuration of the space planes. When Zero Gravity Corporation introduced zero-gravity flights in a modified Boeing 727, they initially advertised a program including 20 weightless parabolas. Several flights later, they discovered too many customers were becoming ill and they were forced to modify the program to include fewer periods of weightlessness. Space flight training centers can serve as the testing grounds for suborbital flight developers. Training programs can be customized to closely model each developer’s unique flight profile.
VI. Reason Six: Because People Need a Reason to be Excited Now
A space flight training adventure people can participate in now will generate more excitement for suborbital and orbital flight programs. Opening a center for the training for civilian astronauts should provide a tremendous boost to those hard at work developing suborbital and orbital vehicles by giving added credibility to their endeavors. Lt Col Skip Holm, a pilot with more combat flight hours than anyone else in the world and a principal in Mach 1Aviation, summed it up best, “More interest equals more rocket nozzle noise which equals more customers, which equals even more rocket nozzle noise, which can be yeah!!, never-ending rocket noise.” The establishment of a training center for suborbital flight customers will be a sure way to convince prospective customers that suborbital flights really are just a few years away.
VII.Reason Seven: Because There’s Money to Be Made
One customer has already asked Incredible Adventures for a space flight training experience. Others have shown their interest in space training adventures through the purchase of the company’s flights to the edge of space in Russia and US and Russia-based zero-gravity flights. Until the first suborbital plane takes flight, a civilian space flight training program will be the closest to space flight the average individual can get. People will be willing to spend thousands to assure themselves the hundreds of thousands they plan to spend later will be well spent. The money to be made could prove to be significant. Historically, over 30% of IA’s customers live outside the UnitedStates, indicating a potential customer base of not just Americans but individuals from around the globe. A financially successful flight training center will help motivate investors to support other space tourism enterprises.
VIII. Reason Eight: Because Not Everyone is a Millionaire
A civilian space training program can serve as a rocket ride with training wheels. It can be a space alternative for those who want to go to space but can’t afford a suborbital flight until time and progress brings the price down. A civilian space flight training program can be the flying equivalent of buying a starter house. It can help someone fill a need for space while they are accumulating the funds necessary to travel to astronaut altitude.
IX.Reason Nine: Because the Media Needs a New Story
Interest in civilian space flight ignited when Dennis Tito became the first civilian to fly to the International Space Station. Interest was further fueled when Scaled Composites won the $10 million dollar X-Prize for developing a vehicle capable of flying 100 km high. The media needs a new space story soon or the momentum will be lost. Enough customers have paid the $20 million to fly with the Russians that a new customer fails to captureworld attention and rocket tests, while exciting to vehicle developers, don’t make good TV. Keeping civilian spaceopportunities at the front of people’s minds is the key to building a successful new space tourism industry.
The opening of the world’s first civilian space flight training center will produce a wealth of human interest stories. One can imagine images of men and women of all ages, races and sizes wearing pressure suits and images of supersonic jet fighters flying over the desert. The operators of a space flight training center can use the media attention to help educate the public about the upcoming availability of suborbital flights and the conditions to be expected during a civilian space adventure.
X. Reason Ten: Because We Can
Incredible Adventures has teamed with California-based Mach 1 Aviation to develop the outline for a civilian space flight training program which uses high-performance military jets to simulate space flight conditions. The training will be an extension of Mach 1’s current projects with the Science and Flight Institute Foundation along with NASA and the Joint Propulsion Lab (JPL) and is expected to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) very soon.
The training program will consist of three separate and distinct phases, with the first two phases being available almost immediately upon FAA approval and the final phase aimed for completion prior to the start of suborbital flight service. Ideally, a prospective space flyer would purchase and complete all three phases of training prior to a suborbital flight, but the training segments can be purchased separately and completed over an extended period oftime. An intention to complete a suborbital flight is not a condition for enrollment.
The first phase has tentatively been titled the “subsonic” phase. Day one of this training would begin with a lesson in atmospheric theory. Individuals will learn the effects atmospheric pressure changes can produce, including oxygen deprivation and the absorption of nitrogen, and the possible remedies. They will then receive instruction in how atmosphere relates to aircraft flight in a class that covers atmospheric tables, atmosphere pressure, Mach number, aircraft handling and aircraft flight profiles.
The most exciting part of this first phase of training for an individual will likely be the first introductory flight in an L-39, a Czech-made jet trainer currently flying in the US. A thorough pre-flight briefing will go over flight maneuvers and their relationship to space flight and how sustained 4 g maneuvers can be performed to simulate an orbiter launch. Participants will also learn about GLOC, gravity-induced loss of consciousness, and how GLOC training can be used to build g tolerance. During this first L-39 flight, participants will also be introduced to negative flight and weightlessness.
Day two of the subsonic phase of training will represent many participants’ first encounter with pressure suits. Individuals will spend the morning learning about pressure suits and how they are used in space and in high-performance jet flights. Before climbing into the L-39 for a second flight, participants will review pressure differences, suit hook-up and operation and aircraft safety and emergency systems. During the flight itself, an individual will experience how pressure suits operate in sustained g, weightlessness and negative flight.
The second phase of civilian space flight training as proposed by Incredible Adventures and Mach 1 Aviation has been given the working title “supersonic”. It begins with an introduction to very high performance aircraft and an orientation to the MiG-21 jet aircraft. Time in the classroom will be spent learning about supersonic flight and how flight maneuvers relate to space flight. Topics covered will include GLOC training, zero-g and advanced physical clues.
After a review of the aircraft and safety and emergency systems, participants will complete their first flight in the MiG-21. They’ll receive an orientation to high-speed maneuvering, buffet-loaded sustained g flight, and large atmospheric pressure and altitude changes. They’ll also learn about zoom climbs, pressure changes and density changes.
Pressure suits are added on the second day supersonic training. Classroom sessions will cover spacecraft considerations for space flight, pressure suit adaptation and physical adaptation to sustained g, altitude changes and zoom climb. The flight that follows the work in the classroom will focus on supersonic maneuvering, GLOC and weightlessness training, handling sustained g and advanced pressure suit training.
Mach 1 Aviation can provide the qualified instructors to conduct this program and L-39s and MiG-21s are readily available in the United States, so the first two phases of a civilian space flight training program could be delivered easily to large numbers of individuals. The first two phases of training can be completed in just four days.Individuals would be encouraged to complete the training as soon as possible and then return once per year for a brief “refresher flight” in either the L-39 or MiG-21, to insure g-training remains current.
Phase three of the civilian spaceflight training proposed by Incredible Adventures and Mach 1 Aviation is currently called “the rocket phase”. Mach 1 Aviation is currently developing a two-seat rocket jet, with completion tentatively set for 2007. The rocket jet will take civilian space flight training to a whole new level. Plans for this vehicle are still classified, but the vehicle will be capable of a full power rocket launch, supersonic flight and a shuttle approach landing.
Traveling to astronaut altitude will be an adventure unlike any other. Customers for suborbital flights who want toget the most out of their flight experience should begin preparing now, by enrolling in an approved civilian space flight training program. The training will be real, the excitement unmatched, and the result a safer, more enjoyable, incredible space adventure.
Contact Jane Reifert: 800-644-7382 email: email@example.com
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