Space tourists to train in New Mexico

Virgin Galactic’s rocket riding school

Virgin Galactic

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. (KRQE) – Winded and fresh off running the last leg of the 180-mile Spaceport America Relay Race with her Virgin Galactic team, Beth Moses is still an energetic private space travel cheerleader.

“It’s an amazing time in history,” she said.

“It’s a shift in access to, and usage of, and infrastructure in human spaceflight, from strictly career and government programs to private programs for all sorts of new reasons and purposes,” Moses said.

As chief astronaut instructor for Virgin Galactic, the former NASA aerospace engineer is in charge of training private future astronauts for their journey to space on board Virgin’s SpaceshipTwo.

She is also leading the design of the interior of the spacecraft.

After two fatal accidents during the years of development, SpaceshipTwo is still undergoing tests in Mojave, California.

However, Virgin founder Richard Branson recently told The Daily Telegraph that he would be very disappointed if he was,”not into space myself next year and the program isn’t well underway by the end of next year.”

Training for every future astronaut will take place during a three day course at New Mexico’s Spaceport America.

“It’s in order to prepare for the spaceflight and make sure all the customers get exactly what they want out of their spaceflight,” Moses said.

That training premise is quite different from the astronaut training program she ran at her previous job at NASA.

“In a career astronaut training or test and development program, you’re really targeting the completion of a specific task like assembling a space station. Connecting cable A to cable B,” she said. “Whereas, for the Virgin Galactic future astronauts, it’s the complete opposite. You’re preparing to enjoy something on your own terms and get the most out of it for yourself.”

Moses says while the training will be customized to help space travelers realize their personal goals, there are still standard safety procedures to learn and other mission familiarization.

“So part of the goal of the training program is to make sure that folks arrive in space without any surprises. Understand what’s happened up to the point that they got to space. The noises, the sights, the sounds, the g-forces,” Moses said.

While Virgin’s final training program is not yet complete, Moses says future astronauts at Spaceport America will learn about suiting up, practice procedures in a cabin mock-up, spend time with their crew mates for the flight, and tour mission control.

There will be no Zero-G training provided in a plane like NASA’s old Weightless Wonder, however.

The space agency once provided realistic weightlessness training to generations of astronauts in a series of converted large jets. The jets would be maneuvered through a parabolic arc, making the people inside float around the cabin for about half a minute at a time.

Today, NASA only uses a large pool and various suspension devices to simulate weightlessness on the ground for its new astronauts.

Space travelers who attend the Virgin Galactic training in New Mexico would need to arrange their own realistic reduced gravity training through a company called “Zero-G.”

A ticket on Zero-G’s converted jetliner costs about $5,000.

Moses says even if Virgin’s space travelers do not seek outside training on weightlessness and high g-forces, they will be adequately prepared during their courses at Spaceport America.

“We’ll just address exactly what to expect and exactly how to get the most out of both of those,” Moses said.

Moses sees the advancement of Virgin Galactic and other private space access companies as a milestone in human history.

“It’s kind of an amazing moment in time where the experience of — and access to, and return on — astronauts going to space is about to become exponential or asymptotic. Where so many more folks will be able to enjoy spaceflight than have been able to do so before,” Moses said.

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