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The following is an excerpt from the book The Space Tourist's Handbook
by Eric Anderson and Joshua Piven
Published by Quirk; November 2005;$15.95US; 1-59474-066-6
Copyright © 2005 Eric Anderson and Joshua Piven


Prolonged weightlessness is the most unusual and challenging aspect of space travel; it is also the most fun. Zero G (also called microgravity) makes even the most basic tasks (eating, sleeping, using the bathroom) difficult to master.

High-G environments are less pleasant, but they are an unavoidable part of any space vacation (particularly during launch and your return to Earth). Before entering orbit, you will undergo extensive microgravity and high-G training to help you acclimate to your new environment.

Zero-G Training: How to Maintain Control in Weightlessness

Your parabolic, zero-gravity flight will offer a host of new sensations: The plane will be traveling at speeds much faster than those of a commercial airliner, you will be climbing and diving at steep angles, and you will “float” for the first time. The following tips will help you prepare for your weightless experience.

01: Stay Calm. It is natural to be scared and nervous in any new environment. However, panic tends to be self-reinforcing and creates additional problems, including muddled thinking, difficulty in solving problems, hyperventilation, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. Remember that you can handle the situation, and that there are trainers here to help if you need it.

02: Wear Comfortable (but not too loose) Attire. Remember: In microgravity, things tend to fly around. Do not wear an open coat or jacket, a dress or skirt, or accessories (handbags, scarves) that may come loose and cause a problem.

03: Hold On. At least for your initial zero-G session, do not attempt to float freely or do back flips. Hold tight to the handrail until you become accustomed to the strange sensation of weightlessness. Try to get a sense of how fast or slow your body moves, and how much energy is required to move arms and legs a particular distance.

04: Avoid Motion Sickness. It is critical to stay seated (or lie flat) during the ascent (“overload”) of your zero-G flight: Most motion sickness occurs during this high-G period. In microgravity, avoid sharp movements of your head to reduce motion sickness. You will be given a special motion sickness bag that looks like a plastic grocery sack: You must use it if you feel you are going to vomit. The in-flight doctor will offer assistance, should you need it.

05: Listen to Your Instructors. It is critical that you pay attention to your zero-G trainers and follow all their instructions. Do not attempt to move about the aircraft until you are told it is safe to do so. Remember, personnel are here to make sure you enjoy yourself, but also to keep you safe.

Zero-G Training: How to Run Circles Around the Aircraft

One of the most enjoyable activities during zero-gravity training is running around your aircraft. The fun part is the ability to run up the walls of the cabin, across the ceiling, and down the other side (think Spider-Man). While executing the run quickly takes practice, the skill itself is not hard to master if you follow these steps.

01: Take Smooth, Gentle Steps. Fast motions may send you tumbling head over heels into the center of the cabin. Relax your muscles while you concentrate on each part of your run: cabin wall, ceiling, cabin wall, and floor.

02: Picture Your Run Not as a Sprint, But as a Leisurely Stroll. Using minimal pressure, just touch your toes to the sides of the cabin. The pressure you apply should be forward pressure (to propel you forward), not downward pressure (as if you were walking on Earth).

03: Take Long Strides. As each foot touches and then floats off the wall of the plane, move the other leg slowly forward, taking a long stride before touching down again with the other foot.

04: Use Your Hands. Throughout, you may need to use your hands to maintain position. Using a crawling motion while floating, gently touch the ceiling and then push off until you are comfortable walking upside down. It may take several times before you get the hang of it.

05: Repeat. Once you become proficient, you should be able to walk around the perimeter of the cabin at least twice during each weightless parabola.

High-G/Zero-G Training: How to Prevent Motion Sickness

In general, motion sickness occurs during high-G periods, not during microgravity. However, the duration and intensity of motion sickness is highly variable from person to person. The following tips will help you avoid or overcome motion sickness during high-G/zero-G training.

  • Eat, But Sparingly. Just before your zero-G training, have a light meal, but do not gorge. You are more likely to become nauseated on an empty or overly-full stomach.

  • Close Your Eyes. Most experts recommend keeping your eyes closed during the high-G periods of the parabolic flight. Do not try to look around or focus on nearby objects: Both actions may cause you to become disoriented nauseated.
  • Stay Still. Limiting movement, especially head movement, will reduce motion sickness. The high-G environment also serves to make movement difficult.
  • Focus. Keep your thoughts on your goal: traveling to space. Realize that this difficult training is all a part of the incomparable joy of space travel.
  • Keep Perspective. While it may seem to be lasting forever, remember that high-G training is just a short part of your overall training regimen. It will all be over soon.

High-G Training: Basic Communication

Astronauts train for years to complete specific mission tasks during periods of high-G loads, particularly launch and deorbit/reentry into the atmosphere. As a space tourist, you will be expected only to endure, not perform. Nevertheless, you will undergo a physical training course that includes high-G loads, simulated via centrifuge, to prepare.

Speech requires the expansion of muscles in the chest and abdomen. Since these muscles are compressed during periods of high-Gs, normal conversation is difficult to impossible. Follow these steps to make speech easier and more understandable.

  • Be Brief. Avoid conjunctions, pronouns, and unnecessary adjectives. Do not say, “Could you please stop the machine now? I’d like to get off.” Rather, say, “Stop. Now. Want. Off.”
  • Be Concise. Don’t force your trainers to decipher complex commands or requests. Don’t say, “If this centrifuge were to malfunction, in which direction would my body be propelled?"
  • Speak in Short Bursts. Make your point using a single exhalation. Do not attempt to say, “Excuse me (pause, breath). If I could have a moment (pause). I’d like to know when this segment will be over?” Rather, say, “Time left?”

High-G Training: How to Escape an Uncontrollable Aircraft

Though it has never happened during a space tourism trip, the slim possibility of a major malfunction on a high-G aircraft always exists. You must be prepared for immediate action should your pilot decide that ejection is necessary. The details below outline the steps necessary to survive a high-altitude, high-G ejection.

01: Stay Calm. Studies have shown that the majority of deaths during ejection have occurred because pilots panic and eject too early, when airspeeds are too high. While your pilot is likely to eject you (rather than have you eject yourself), it is critical that you stay calm and wait for the ejection command. If you panic and eject too early, you may be killed.

02: Listen to Your Pilot. Your pilot is a highly trained, highly skilled aviator who understands aircraft dynamics and proper ejection survival procedures. You, on the other had, may be on your first flight in a high-performance fighter jet. Just because you feel that the aircraft is out of control does not necessarily make it so: Your pilot is likely to be able to recover from most mishaps. Always pay attention to and follow your pilot’s instructions.

03: Stay Focused. An ejection command is just that: an imperative to be followed, not questioned. Your pilot will never say, “Eject! Eject! Just kidding . . .” If you hear the word “Eject!” it is only for obeying, not for discussing. If your pilot does not eject you (or directs you to eject yourself), pull the ejection handle; depending on the aircraft and seat manufacturer, the handle will be located between your legs or on the left or right side of the seat. (Your pilot will identify its location before your flight.)

04: Maintain Proper Position. Keep hands, arms, and legs in tight to your body when you eject. (Your seat may be equipped with arm and leg clamps that deploy during ejection to assist you.) Many injuries during ejection occur from windblast, which causes severe flailing of appendages and may result in dislocations, fractures, and retinal injuries.

05: Prepare for a Rough Ride. Your seat is actually a small rocket, and when it fires you will travel up a rail and out of the cockpit at very high speed, with acceleration as high as 20 Gs. Several seconds after ejection, you will feel the very hard tug that accompanies the sudden deceleration caused by drogue parachute deployment, which occurs automatically (hopefully). The drogue chute serves to slow your acceleration before your main parachute is deployed. (The drogue will generally deploy only during high-speed/high-altitude ejections.)

06: Land. Your landing is likely to be fast and hard, and may cause ankle, leg, or back injuries. If possible, try to approach the ground from a slight angle, not from directly above, and roll onto your shoulder as soon as your feet touch down.

High-G Training: The TsF-18 Centrifuge

The centrifuge is used for simulating both high-G environments and physiological weightlessness. The world’s largest centrifuge, the TsF-18 in Star City, Russia, can generate up to 10 times the force of gravity for manned training and up to 30 times for unmanned experimentation. During the simulation, you will experience:

  • Soyuz Launch Through Insertion Into Earth Orbit: Maximum 4 G, duration 9 minutes
  • Orbital Flight: Weightlessness simulation, duration 60 minutes
  • Spacecraft Deorbiting and Reentry: Maximum 6.5 G, duration 7 minutes

First, you will be dressed in a jumpsuit with attached sensors that monitor your heart rate, breathing, and other vital signs. Next, you will be placed in the “cockpit,” actually the TsF-18’s cabin, where you will be seated in front of a video camera used for observation. A speaker and microphone are
used for giving instructions and two-way communication. The technicians will tell you when you move to new segments of the launch simulation.

01: Eat Lightly. A small meal is recommended an hour or two before your “ride” on the centrifuge.

02: Relax. Because there is little you can do to physically prepare your body for the uncomfortable sensation of high Gs, mental preparation is key. Try to relax. Keep your limbs loose, and try to find a comfortable position in the cabin’s seat.

03: Acknowledge Your Fears. Brave people are not fearless. Rather, they acknowledge their fears and seek ways to overcome them. Do not be afraid to tell yourself (and the technicians) that you are feeling nervous or apprehensive. Fear is a natural reaction to the unknown, and nothing to be ashamed of. Remember, you are a space tourist, not an astronaut with years of training.

04: Breathe. Breathing during high-Gs will be labored and difficult. To reduce nausea, try to breathe from your abdomen, not your chest. If you hold your breath, you will pass out more quickly; though this may seem preferable to being conscious in the spinning centrifuge, it will only serve to make
you repeat the failed segment.

05: Know That You Are in Control. It is helpful to realize that you have the ability to stop the TsF-18 at any time: During the simulation, you will hold down a button on the “dead man’s stick.” If you cannot take the G forces any longer, release the button to stop the centrifuge.

Though not precisely the same as a centrifuge, a very tall, very fast roller coaster can simulate higher-than-normal G-loads. If time permits, take several rides on such 'coasters to better acclimate yourself to the physical sensations of high gravity.

Copyright © 2005 Eric Anderson and Joshua Piven

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