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An Incredible Air and Space Adventure
Written by A. Forrer. (Edited by Jane Reifert)  

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Chapter Three - Centrifuge
Wednesday, May 29th - Centrifuge
Wednesday should be a bit less stressful, only tough part is the centrifuge ride. So off we go in the morning. My breakfast time is an hour earlier than Karen so I miss out on her adventure: She met with Lance Bass, singer from NSYNC who is undergoing his medical tests at Star City for his Soyuz flight. She spotted him in the breakfast room and 'stalked' him for an autograph, which he was happy to give. Not that I particularly care about a singer, but if he makes it into space, well, then to me that signature is good as any other astronauts' (with the exception of John Young of course).

Cosmonaut Training - Star City RussiaAnyway, back to the bus and heading out for Star City. By now the streets look familiar, so does the routine medical test. Blood pressure, pulse, bones, the usual. All ok. Cute how everybody leaves the room once the doctor tells me to take off the shirt, as if I'd care about being 'naked' while my thoughts are concerning the preservation of limb and life...They tell me I got upgraded to the big centrifuge (12m vs. 8m). They think that should make me happy, but I just got more nervous. However that is really unfounded as on the big centrifuge one 'only' feels the Gs, but not the motion sickness from going in circles. So I guess it is an upgrade. Then they show me that monster and my heart sinks to my knees, but no time for that: Immediately I'm shoved into a room with nurses who install all the biosensors on my chest. Once complete I climb into the chair, which is as comfy as can be. No wonder, they push cosmonauts in this thing to 12 Gs for emergency reentry sims. My plan is more civilized: Perform an entire flight into space with staging of all three engines and the increased G loads until booster cut out. While I'm being strapped in, an additional pulse meter around my index and the kill switch to abort in my hand, they hand me a pen to sign the waiver. For some reason, that always comes up at the very last second. Not that I wouldn't sign it before, but what is one supposed to do in that position anyway? They all are trying to relax me and one of the guys tells me to smile while under the G loads, that would relax the facial muscles. I'll keep that in mind. Then they move the chair on wheels into the cabin, close the hatch and remove the bridge between the wall and the centrifuge.

I'm looking now at an overhead ring of LEDs, which will come on randomly and I have to press buttons in response to that. A camera above my head watches every facial expression and sure enough they soon ask me over a speaker, whether I was chewing gum. I wasn't, only grinding my teeth. Must still have been nervous, but it is nice to be able to talk to 'them'. Them is a bunch of doctors, centrifuge technicians and my 'mother hen' Marina, my translator. Just before 'liftoff' the cabin moves around 90 degrees into launch position and the arm starts to accelerate to simulate the build up of the launch Gs. After a couple of minutes the first stage is spent and I'm pressed with 3.5 Gs back into my comfy seat. There is no discernible lateral G force, the simulation is fairly accurate. It only gets very odd as the first stage is dropped and the centrifuge comes down to a standstill within no time. I'm pressed against my belts and I think they also tilted the cabin. You can't see that from the outside, but that's at least the motion I feel and it feels very odd. I let out a little cry and on we go with the second stage. After the final stage is spent I'm back on earth, get unstrapped etc. The doctors are all smiles and present me with a tape of in and outboard cameras as well as endless feet of EKG printouts from all sensors. The basic result is, that I'm fine and would have made it. They are stunned at my blood pressure, which was "like a baby". True, after an initial fear I kinda eased into it. They also tell me, that a real cosmonaut candidate before me had a really hard time. He got so nervous, that he didn't pass the test. That's the beauty of being an amateur/tourist: Other than your personal safety, there is nothing at stake. Once you feel good about the experience, there is no more reason to be nervous about and then you actually 'succeed'.

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