In training with scientist-astronaut candidates
Published 15 May 2018 by Benjamin Pothier
The artist-researcher Benjamin Pothier, after having explored the Atacama desert for a Mars Analog expedition and participated in a Space Art performance, attended recently a training for scientist-astronaut candidates in Connecticut. Here is the story.
Groton (Connecticut), correspondence (text and photos):
I left Jason Reimuller and Chris Lundeen, respectively Director and Coordinator of PoSSUM, a training program for astronaut-oriented citizen science, in Santiago de Chile nearly a year ago, where we scaled the highest active volcano in the world during a “Mars analog” expedition in the desert of Atacama. So it is not without certain emotion that I met them again on the morning of April 13 in Connecticut, United States, at the Survival Systems facility, to observe a space flight training for astronaut candidates.
I also found Casey Stedman, an astronaut candidate with whom I had already shared an adventure in the Atacama. After much catching up, American coffee and a few donuts, in an atmosphere of small American city that would not deny the scriptwriters of Twin Peaks and which did not leave us during our stay (like the saxophonist disguised as Santa Claus who delivered a musical birthday greeting to one of the waitresses at the restaurant at the small airport in Groton), I discover, little by little, the rest of the “class” of this academic program to be out of the ordinary.
Science, not fiction
The courses are heterogeneous, with the differences of age and nationality, the program has parity as well as the representation of the LGBTQ Community: The program Possum keeps its promises to form a future generation of commercial astronauts and scientists. A vision of the future of space exploration that is open and inclusive that would not renounce Eugene Wesley Roddenberry, legendary screenwriter of Star Trek.
The only difference being that it is not science fiction, but true science, in the sense that this is scientific accessibility to the general public which covers a near complete preparation for the astronaut profession. If such initiatives now appear, it is certain that the space sector is back in full expansion.
I am here as an astronautics advisor accompanying a film team shooting an international documentary, and we are going to attend a world premiere that reflects this new “Space Race”. The PoSSUM astronaut candidates have just spent two weeks in open sea and in the Survival Sytems dunker facilities to perform different training and emergency water landing preparations.
This morning, the side of the Survival Systems training pool is occupied by a replica of the NASA Orion capsule…
The astronaut candidates are training in an emergency evacuation of this capsule, which is intended to send men and women to the Moon and Mars in the next few years. And they are going to do this while testing a commercial spacesuit developed by Final Frontier Design.
It is difficult to describe the intensity of the days which will follow… There is first the professionalism of the candidates and the team which oversees the training, the thoroughness Ted Southern’s, the CEO and co-designer of Final Frontier Design, gestures as he adjusts the spacesuits before each test and drive… while asking me politely not to photograph the interior of combinations to proprietary reasons.
Then there is Ken Trujillo, this space exploration veteran, former flight instructor on many of the missions of the U.S. space shuttle and his Zen master smile, his unwavering calm. He who has also prepared ISS Extra Vehicular exercises and participated in open sea crash training for a whole generation of astronauts, shall ensure the smooth flow of PoSSUM tests.
The tension is palpable before the start of each test, as the team climbs into the capsule, before that imposing articulated arm does not drop off above the swimming pool. The only difference with the tests of the Golden Age and that of space conquest being—without a doubt—the forest of smartphones brought by the end of each arm before each test…
What I remember and take from this hyper competitive environment, is the support of the other candidates at the edge of the swimming pool each time that one of their peers, dressed in their space suit, tries more or less to prevent themselves from drowning while moving to the life raft (rescue boat) … with the sole support of water wings, two inflatable buoys located under the shoulders and inflated to maintain their heads out of the water…
A cooperative vision of the future of the space exploration that forces one to reflect on the ability of the human species to evolve in response to the very real environmental problems that threaten us on earth, and that these scientist-astronaut candidates may soon have the opportunity to study from space.
See the previous columns of Benjamin Pothier for Makery