Dear NewSpace Visionaries,
what is it like to be an astronaut and what skills do you need? Those questions are in my head since I was a little child. With the opportunity to visit the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne I got a few answers from a person that was closer to the final frontier, the German Astronaut Gerhard Thiele. First of all, it´s the third German astronaut (Jähn, Ewald) I talked to and I can say for sure, astronauts are awesome. A little bit like superheros. But to be a superhero they have to train for years. They get lessons in engineering, medicine, biology, public relations, flying a sojus and so on. That´s the reason they are in facilities like the EAC in cologne. But what the hell am I talking about this in NewSpaceVision? Just think about an imaginary Astronaut Centre in twenty to thirty years. Maybe it looks a little bit like this with NASA, ESA and yes… a NewSpace company.
Nobody knows exactly when this period will start. German Astronaut Gerhard Thiele is sure that for our generation it´s gonna be normal that astronauts are from private companies. Maybe in ten years, he added. So if we think of SpaceX for example. Do you think they´ll have their own astronauts? I bet they will. But building a huge training facility like this? Sharing with other organizations like ESA and NASA is smarter I think. But then they won’t have lessons in the machine in the middle of the picture above. Why? Because they gonna fly with a dragon and this is a simulator of the sojus. This time I couldn´t go into the simulator, but four years ago back in 2012 I could. Sitting in a sojus was such an awesome experience that I´ll share the two following old pictures of my first visit in the EAC with you. It´s like playing a cracked Russian version of a space videogame with your gamepad. All astronauts have to learn the Russian language because everything is written in Russian. If the automated docking sequence doesn´t work the crew will dock to the ISS seeing Russian letters while looking through the small window as you can see on the right picture. That requires a lot of experience and hard work. If you fail you crash the ISS. No restart. Game over. I was sitting in the commander chair and just did that.
Back to my visit in 2017. If you are in the main hall of the EAC you don´t know where to look first. As a NewSpace Visionary inside this building you are the happiest person on earth (under 400 km altitude of course). Here you can see the Columbus space laboratory training facility. I think you know what I mean when I say awesome.
We all have seen videos of astronauts inside the ISS. But being inside such a module myself even when it´s only a 1:1 model is inspiration for me that will last for the next decade. With gravity you walk through it and think in left right top down. Let us have a look at the next picture and then imagine there is no left right top down and everything looks the same. The German Astronaut Thiele said one of the most important things in space is precise communication. If you get an instruction from earth it must define every degree of freedom of your action. So Thiele explained that even if you´ll get a trivial instruction you´ll ask: Okay, I´ll really do this and that there, right?
Most favorite window of the universe:
The day of an astronaut is full of appointments. To organize that there is a control room in the EAC. You can see everything important like position of the ISS. If the crew is asleep or not and the individual calender of each crew member. The following picture will give an impression. The person (dark suit) near the monitor in the background is Gerhard Thiele. For all of you with a nonlinear vita just read his on Wikipedia and you´ll see that this can lead you to space. Thiele changed university and travelled through Columbia, Ecuador and Panama for more than a year. So enjoy your life!!! You still can be an astronaut. Especially if you are a NewSpace Visionary. Thiele made the day even better. He said if you are a mid-twenty or even 30 you´ve got the perfect age to be in the next astronaut program. As an engineer I´ll definitely apply in a few years. Even if there is only a 0.06 % chance. You can´t loose.
I wanted to know what the recruting process looks like. Around 8000 to 9000 people applied for the last crew of six astronauts. You think it´s impossible and depends on your luck? Yes, luck does play a role but it´s not that much you think. They´ll test your skills in so many ways that it will not only depend on luck. Maybe if you are under the last 20 applicants it´s luck to be one of the six who´ll fly into space. But to take the first step with an invitation to the first round it´s a 10% chance. They really invite over 900 applicants to the well known DLR test. There they will test your cognitive skills like memory, reactivity, stressresistence and logic. Thiele who got the insides because he was project manager of the astronaut training said they will test each subskill of all categories at less two times with different methods. That´s only the first round.
In the next few rounds you have to prove your team skills your fitness and all other things you need as an astronaut. But imagine your sitting in the train and someone asks you where you are going to and you answer: Well, I´m in the astronaut recruiting process and just have to make a few tests. Wish to see the faces. 🙂 But what´s about your degree? Well, degree of a university is quite a must have. You don´t need an engineering or physics degree. There are material scientists, biologists and medics as well. The most important thing is that you are an all-round nature. Even if you are a medic you need a few technical skills. And you have to be a sportsman. While his time as an astronaut Thiele was once checked by a medic to analyse Thieles lung functions. The measurements were crazy bad and the medic said that if they are right, Thiele normally could not stand there. Thiele was marathoner so his lung was really huge. His superhero lung just made him really close to fail the test because the test was not designed for marathoner or superhero lungs. After he told the doctor that he is a marathoner everything was okay and he passed. Remember that when you fail the test in future.
To be a diver is an advantage, too. To simulate zero gravity here on earth the EAC has a huge pool with a ISS module inside. I´m not kidding, there was a huge sign: BATHING NOT ALLOWED!!!
So the last pictures for you are taken in the entrance hall. There was a huge ISS hanging down the ceiling. If you see this model and one real module in the main hall you´ll get an idea of the impressive size of the ISS.
If you´ll ever get the chance to visit the EAC in Cologne. JUST DO IT!!!
I hope you enjoyed my first blog post. Sven and I will write about more events in the future. We want to share our experiences with you. If you got an awesome space experience and want to share it here just ask us. Space is for everyone.
Live long and prosper