“When you first become an astronaut,” Hadfield said earlier this year from him office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, “your training is like a big pyramid. Initially, it is like the bottom of the pyramid and is very broad-brush, where you cover a lot of topics but don’t get into super-detail. Then you start getting more and more detail on specific things like systems, specialties, and robotics, and then start getting deeper and deeper into each of them.”
“But then, when you get assigned to a flight, you review all those things and then start focusing on things that a pertinent to your increment, and when you get closer to the flight you start putting everything together and do simulations where you have to know the things that you really need to know,” Hadfield explained, adding that this is similar to studying at any university, and then going out into the real world….except that the stakes are much higher in space, and your life can depend on your training.
“The training starts with a lot of theory and classroom and powerpoint and exams through simulations and practical things,” Hadfield said. For example, the morning we talked with him, he had spent an hour learning how to repair the water processing and urine purification systems on the ISS, then went on to inventory management of food, learning how to keep track and store the food. The next day, he was have a “day in the life” simulation where he and Marshburn would spend a day as if they were on the ISS, practicing everything from their daily planning conference and getting their the daily uplink messages, to sampling the indoor atmosphere, fixing broken equipment, and doing inventory.
“We’re going from theoretical to practical,” Hadfield said.
On top of the general training is the specific training for the science and various payloads that will be part of their expedition. That training is often very specific.
“With some we have to get quite hands on, like doing a cardio ultrasound where we the technician, and others where we just have to monitor the power systems,” Hadfield said. “It all blends together and as you get closer to the top of the pyramid, it gets very focused on what you need to know.”
Hadfield is a veteran of two previous space flights on the space shuttle but this will be his first long-duration flight on the ISS.
“Both times I thought, wow, I wish I could stay,” Hadfield said. “To leave earth for awhile, change your zip code for awhile and really leave Earth; I was jealous of that experience. Now after a lot of lucky coincidences and a lot of hard work I get to be one of those who stays for an extended period off the planet. I’m really looking forward to it.”
And there’s a bit of Canadian pride that goes along with this. Hadfield was the first Canadian to operate the robotic Canadarm in space in 1995 and on his second flight in 2001 Hadfield made the first Canadian spacewalk as he attached Canadarm2 to the International Space Station.
And now, in another first for a Canadian, Hadfield will take command of the ISS for the second half of his mission, lead a crew of two Americans and three Russians during the final three months.
Video: Chris Hadfield Suits-up and Signs-off on his final Soyuz Qualification exam