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Spaceport America
The central hub of Spaceport America in New Mexico. (credit: Spaceport America)

My suborbital life, part 4: My research spaceflight training countdown to launch

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It’s just T-5 days to launch on my first space mission, which is set for liftoff on Thursday, November 2, from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico. Spaceport America is Virgin Galactic’s operations base for commercial suborbital missions.

My essay today is about training for this mission. Unlike space tourists, those of us going to do research in space are there to work, and that means a whole different level of training than is needed just to ride aboard the vehicle as it goes through its flight paces. Most of that additional training is to ensure we’ll be ready to get our work done in the compressed timeline of just minutes during the actual spaceflight-altitude portions of the mission.

Unlike space tourists, those of us going to do research in space are there to work, and that means a whole different level of training.

Toward that end, I’ve been in almost daily procedures run-throughs for my research flight for several weeks. Additionally, to support being physically ready to perform at a high level after launch and in microgravity during the spaceflight, I undertook a refresher high-G training course last month on the NASTAR centrifuge in Pennsylvania. That involved six high-G runs up to 5.5 Gs, significantly exceeding the Virgin Galactic suborbital launch and entry profiles. I also did a series of Zero-G Corporation training flights over the past couple of years.

On Saturday, October 28, my training will enter its last phase when I arrive in New Mexico to begin on-site training at the launch site. The main task after arrival on Saturday will be our flight suit fitting.

Then Sunday, October 29, is “L-4”, or launch minus four days. The focus of that day will be final payload preparations and a first tour and practice of the flight operations inside Virgin Galactic’s precise, high-fidelity spaceship Unity trainer.

Stern and VSS Unity
Myself in August in front of SpaceSpaceTwo after it landed at Spaceport America following the Galactic 02 flight. (credit: Alan Stern)

The pace picks up on Monday, at L-3 days. That day is focused on suit training, seat training, and high G classroom lessons for launch and entry.

On L-2 day, my crewmates and I will undergo G-awareness training in aerobatic aircraft flights, and further mission simulations with our research gear in the high-fidelity Unity cabin trainer. Then we’ll train on emergency equipment, and we’ll have some availability to interact with media who are attending the launch.

On Wednesday, November 1, which is L-1 day, we’ll do another mission sim in the Unity cabin trainer, have a master class with previous flyers on Unity, and conduct a full launch day dress rehearsal and a launch readiness review. Then we’ll have some time off before showtime (our spaceflight!) the next day.

I’ll be blogging more details over the next week, but what’s above is the general plan, and I want you to have that inside view of what we’ll be doing as launch training goes into high gear and then culminates with the flight.

For now, I’m continuing with procedures training runs and really raring to go. As Virgin Galactic’s founding chief spacecraft designer, aerospace legend Burt Rutan, likes to say, I’m “looking up, WAY up!”

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