No cake­walk

Cos­mo­nauts un­dergo gru­el­ing train­ing be­fore blast­ing off

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

STAR CITY, Rus­sia — Wear­ing hel­mets weigh­ing 100 ki­los, spin­ning in a cen­trifuge and ex­er­cis­ing while weight­less: Rus­sian cos­mo­nauts and as­tro­nauts from abroad have to un­dergo a gru­el­ing train­ing process be­fore blast­ing off into space.

Helped by an in­struc­tor at the famed Star City out­side Moscow, cos­mo­naut Sergei Ryazan­sky slowly puts on his hel­met as he hangs from the ceil­ing sus­pended by a thick metal cord and prac­tices open­ing a lock while wear­ing a thick space­suit.

The 42-year-old cos­mo­naut is no novice. He has al­ready spent five months aboard the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion in 2013 and 2014 and was sched­uled to re­turn for an­other mis­sion on Fri­day, teamed up with US as­tro­naut Randy Bres­nik and Ital­ian Paolo Ne­spoli.

“In weight­less­ness, the weight of the hel­met isn’t felt. But the cos­mo­nauts feel great pres­sure which makes them swell up and be­come very stiff. They have to make an enor­mous ef­fort to walk, bend their arms or move their legs,” said in­struc­tor Dmitry Zubov.

Space­walks are es­pe­cially tough be­cause they are of­ten car­ried out weeks af­ter as­tro­nauts ar­rive at the or­bit­ing space lab­o­ra­tory when their mus­cles are al­ready grow­ing weaker due to lack of grav­ity.

“I adore space­walks. That’s the most ex­cit­ing part of the flight,” said Ryazan­sky, who com­pleted three space­walks on his first space trip. Two space­walks are planned for his next stint on the ISS.

To­day we don’t get free apart­ments and cars. But there is still that ro­man­tic at­trac­tion.” Sergei Ryazan­sky, cos­mo­naut

“The most im­por­tant thing for a cos­mo­naut is know­ing how to mas­ter your emo­tions,” said the deputy di­rec­tor of the cos­mo­naut train­ing cen­ter, Yury Ma­lenchenko, who has made six space voy­ages, the last of those last year.

“When you train for a long time on Earth to go out into space, you feel like you don’t have emo­tions any more.

“But when the air­lock opens and you look down be­fore tak­ing the first step into the void, you feel like you’re go­ing to plunge down,” said Ma­lenchenko, who has done stints both on Rus­sia’s ditched Mir sta­tion and the ISS, fly­ing out on a US shut­tle and a Rus­sian Soyuz craft.

Nausea-in­duc­ing

Two of the tough­est ex­er­cises are the zero-grav­ity sim­u­la­tion on nausea-in­duc­ing flights in Soviet-era planes and hurtling around in a gi­ant cen­trifuge to pre­pare for the rig­ors of take­off from the Earth’s sur­face.

While in­side the cen­trifuge, the fu­ture space vis­i­tors ex­pe­ri­ence forces of up to 8G and their body “weighs” eight times more than usual.

“At first you feel like you’re in an arm­chair, as if you were driv­ing a pow­er­ful car at high speed,” said cos­mo­naut Alexan­der Lazutkin who spent six months on the Mir sta­tion.

“Then you go through some very un­pleas­ant sen­sa­tions. You feel like you can’t breathe, it feels as if your stom­ach is glued to your back. Your tears flow be­cause your eyes are pushed back in the cav­i­ties by the ef­fect of the over­load.

“You start breath­ing very quickly. You feel your heart beat­ing very quickly, And you re­al­ize that if you re­lax, you risk los­ing con­scious­ness im­me­di­ately,” said Lazutkin.

Cos­mo­nauts no longer en­joy the glory in Rus­sia they had in the Soviet era, but the pro­fes­sion is still pres­ti­gious and dreamed of by chil­dren. Yuri Ga­garin, the first man in space, and pi­o­neers such as con­struc­tor Sergei Korolyov are still looked up to as he­roes.

“Their ex­am­ple made a big im­pres­sion on us and in­spired us,” said Ma­lenchenko.

“To­day we don’t get free apart­ments and cars. But there is still that ro­man­tic at­trac­tion to the job,” said Ryazan­sky.

Twenty-seven cos­mo­nauts are cur­rently train­ing at Star City. Apart from phys­i­cal ex­er­cises, they also study medicine, as­tron­omy, IT, div­ing, para­chute jump­ing and even for­eign lan­guages.

NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Rus­sian cos­mo­naut Sergei Ryazan­sky tries on his galax­ian garb for size at Star City space-train­ing cen­ter near Moscow in May.

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