Upon reporting to duty at our Johnson Space Center in Houston, the new astronaut candidates will complete two years of training before they are eligible to be assigned to a mission.
Here are the five training criteria they must check off to graduate from astronaut candidate to astronaut:
1. T-38 Jets
Astronauts have been training in T-38 jets for more than 35 years because the sleek, white jets require crew members to think quickly in dynamic situations and to make decisions that have real consequences. This type of mental experience is critical to preparing for the rigors of spaceflight. To check off this training criteria, astronaut candidates must be able to safely operate in the T-38 as either a pilot or back seater.
2. International Space Station Systems
We are currently flying astronauts to the International Space Station every few months. Astronauts aboard the space station are conducting experiments benefitting humanity on Earth and teaching us how to live longer in space. Astronaut candidates learn to operate and maintain the complex systems aboard the space station as part of their basic training.
Spacewalks are the hardest thing, physically and mentally, that astronauts do. Astronaut candidates must demonstrate the skills to complete complex spacewalks in our Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (giant pool used to simulate weightlessness). In order to do so, they will train on the life support systems within the spacesuit, how to handle emergency situations that can arise and how to work effectively as a team to repair the many critical systems aboard the International Space Station to keep it functioning as our science laboratory in space.
Astronaut candidates learn the coordinate systems, terminology and how to operate the space station’s robotic arm. They train in Canada for a two week session where they develop more complex robotics skills including capturing visiting cargo vehicles with the arm. The arm, built by the Canadian Space Agency, is capable of handling large cargo and hardware, and helped build the entire space station. It has latches on either end, allowing it to be moved by both flight controllers on the ground and astronauts in space to various parts of the station.
5. Russian Language
The official languages of the International Space Station are English and Russian, and all crewmembers – regardless of what country they come from – are required to know both. NASA astronauts train with their Russian crew mates and launch on the Russian Soyuz vehicle, so it makes sense that they should be able to speak Russian. Astronaut candidates start learning the language at the beginning of their training. They train on this skill every week, as their schedule allows, to keep in practice.