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PSI's Melissa Lane Tests Suborbital Flight Training Techniques

melissa in cockpit
PSI Senior Scientist Melissa Lane spent two days last month in Southampton, Pa. at the NASTAR Center, where she was being tested as part of an FAA-funded study to develop training techniques for future suborbital commercial space travelers to prepare them for their flight. 
The human centrifuge at NASTAR was used to simulate G-forces that would occur during launch to orbit on commercial spacecraft and subsequent re-entry to Earth. The simulation was done by seating the test subject (Melissa) into a closed gondola attached to the end of a large rotating arm and spinning it up to 95 m.p.h. The gondola (simulator) was rotated independently during the spinning of the arm to put the appropriate direction and amplitude of force on the individual inside. During Day One of the testing phase, up to 6 G-forces (i.e., 6 times the force of gravity felt on the Earth’s surface) were applied in both the Z and the X directions, independently. G-forces in the Z direction (head to toe) can cause vision to tunnel with an eventual blackout. G-forces in the X direction (front to back) can induce difficulty in breathing and feel like a huge weight is on the chest. Training included strategies for mitigating and limiting the effects of the G-forces. Throughout the simulations Melissa was biomedically monitored to evaluate heart rate. Her blood pressure was measured both before and after each simulation.
During Day 2 Melissa was put through simulations representing two actual flight profiles of commercial space vehicles. One profile was that of the Virgin Galactic Spaceship (which is dropped from a carrier airplane then ignited to space) and the other was of an undisclosed space vehicle that begins its trip to space by taking off like an airplane from a runway. These launch and re-entry profiles combined both Z- and X-direction G-forces at the appropriate amounts and at appropriate times to simulate the trips into suborbital space and subsequent return to Earth. During the simulations, time was even incorporated into the simulation profile to mimic the time in space before re-entry. In the actual Virgin Galactic spacecraft, space tourists would have about 5-7 minutes of free floating time. In the NASTAR simulator, lack of gravity isn’t possible, so that time was held at the minimum 1 G (much like riding in a car).
Melissa really enjoyed her simulated trips into space and she hopes a real trip is in her future.
Above, In the gondola, Melissa experienced the flight profiles of two different spacecraft going through sub-orbital flights and the simulated views out the window were shown on the screen in front of her.
Below, Melissa is standing by the arm of the centrifuge. The stairs lead to the silver gondola attached to the arm where she rode out the simulated flights for the study.
melissa with centrifuge
Below, The gondola on the arm of the human centrifuge spun at a maximum of 95 mph and produced as high as six Gs during this study. 
centrifuge spins fast

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