A holiday in space
In the next 50 years, or sooner, we may even be taking holidays that are out of this world. Quite literally. Commercial companies are selling tickets for a short ride in space for the cheap price of $200,000 per ticket. But if we all decided to jump on a spaceship and leave our lovely little blue dot, chances are, we wouldn’t do too well. It’s a lot for our body to process. One company, called Blue Abyss, is hoping to change all that… Izzie Clarke spoke to the company’s directors, Simon Evetts.
Simon - We've got something that's akin to the aviation industry in the very very early days where there was just a few planes, right now we've only got just a few commercial spacecraft. Well it will grow exponentially in the decades ahead. If you think back to the Gold Rush days, 150 years ago, you had lots and lots of people rushing to go and try and find those little gold nuggets. They needed the right equipment, they needed the right knowledge. How do you pan for gold? How do you work out where things are and what to do? We're going to be those individuals, that company, that provides the spades if you like, and the knowledge for the many thousands of people who are going to go into space in the future. We need a way to prepare and train people to be able to go into space. And where at the moment can they do that if they're not a government astronaut? Nowhere. That's what Blue Abyss will be. It will be providing that capability.
Izzie - Okay so this is for, I’m not a NASA trained astronaut. This is say if you and I wanted to buy a ticket to go out into space, we could do so and then get ready for that at a centre like Blue Abyss?
Simon - Exactly that. There are elements of preparation for space that a regular person can get here and there, but there is nowhere that has everything all in one place to the standards that will be required for either a member of the general public, like you and I, or even for professional astronauts in the future.
Izzie - How does that even work? What sort of processes would we have to go through?
Simon - Somebody who's going to go into space will need to be familiar with, and be able to be comfortable, with high levels of G, as you go into and return from space. They will need to be comfortable with weightlessness itself. They'll need to be knowledgeable with regards to emergencies that can happen and what they should do. They would need to know what's going to happen to their body when they go into space so that they're prepared and not surprised. And all of these things can be provided by a center like Blue Abyss.
Izzie - Well I was going to ask… How can you do this? Obviously to practice, we can't send people up into space. So how do you get around that big problem?
Simon - It's really taking the more important elements of a space flight and being able to replicate those as best we can on the ground. Which we can do if we have the right apparatus. A long-arm human centrifuge can enable us to spin up to high G. So when we're sitting in our chairs, right now, if we lift up our arm, our arm is 1G. The weight of our arm is the normal weight that we experience. If that arm were suddenly five times its normal weight, you'd find it quite hard to lift up. That would be someone feeling 5G, except all of their body would be feeling five times heavier than normal. And that occurs when we're accelerating fast. So a centrifuge with somebody in it, if it's accelerating fast, will increase the centrifugal force. The Gs you feel. That's what happens when we're in a space rocket, or space vehicle, that's launching off into space and is accelerating fast. So the G profile, the length and type of G that is experienced in a launch to space can be replicated in a long-arm human centrifuge. So that person then is comfortable, understands the feeling, and is able to cope with those feelings when the real event happens. But also weightlessness through a parabolic flight service and the ability to be able to train and to get a feeling for being in space through a neutral buoyancy pool.
Izzie - What is the importance of this parabolic fligh?. How would we see that if we were to go into space?
Simon - Well parabolic flight provides short parabolas, like going over a hump back bridge, where at the top of that hump you get 20 to 30 seconds worth of weightlessness. That's like a mini version of what will be the sub-orbital flights that are coming where someone will experience three, four or five minutes of weightlessness. And although a parabolic parabola only gives you a few seconds, you can still use that to prepare for certain elements that you'll need to know about and be comfortable with in these forthcoming flights. Like for instance how to get back into your seat and buckle yourself up safely.
Izzie - And aside from some of these actual physical trainings that really put us through our paces. What else would other trainings provide that we need to be aware of that you don’t necessarily think of when taking on a mission like going into space?
Simon - Well there needs to be a number of briefings so that the effects of being in space on the human body are understood. There are effects from most of our physiological systems when we spend time in space. For example, the first few days in space most people tend to have space motion sickness. What we really need to understand that to deal with that to try and minimize it
Izzie - With the training program that you'd offer, how long would that take?
Simon - We’re going to offer short and long packages. Some of the short packages would be individual elements. It it could be a high-G half day, could be parabolic half a day. Then the fuller training courses would be probably in distinct one week portions. How much is done will depend on what that individual is going to do. Are they going to do a some orbital flight; are they going to go into orbit? And so they'll be different length courses with different elements according to what is needed