SSP17 Human Performance in Space Participants Training like an Astronaut
“Ever trained like an astronaut before? Me neither - until now!” said social media savvy Tara Foster, Space Studies Program (SSP17) External Relations assistant.
Myself along with the Space Studies Program participants in the Human Performance in Space Department stretched our worthy sea legs for a day of real water emergency scenarios.
At around noon, we arrived at the National Maritime College of Ireland. The College overlooks the gorgeous Cobh harbor. The position of this institution is quite fitting as Cobh, formerly known as Queenstown, was the Titanic’s last port of call before sailing off for its fateful journey. After a quick safety briefing, it was time to gear up. We donned blue overalls, boots, a lifejacket and a helmet. We were ready to train like an astronaut.
We started to walk down a 20 meter jetty and as we did, it felt like walking a plank. At the edge of the water stood a structure resembling a launch pad, but this wasn't for rockets, this pad would simulate an emergency disembark from a sinking ship and would drop our survival craft into the water.
When asked “How high is the free fall?” the only answer they gave us was “High.” In actuality, the craft is positioned 10 meters above the Cobh harbor. Yep… we were gonna be dropped.
The Human Performance in Space participants were split into two groups. The first group was deemed the bravest and they boarded the vessel without even knowing what may happen to them. Their fate was sealed when one by one, they piled in the craft and one by one, their excitement and concern increased.
Everyone was strapped inside the vessel and there was no turning back; the door closed behind them with a loud bang! The safety pin squeaked as it was slowly removed and the countdown began…
“Ten, nine, eight…” The fear intensified. “Seven, six, five, four…” A participant gave a wave from the window seat. “Three, two, one….”
Almost in slow-motion the survival craft started to slide in free-fall. The rest of us on the launch pad watched. Our mouths were open and our eyes widened. What the heck where we all thinking?
Then, the vessel splashed down! It, briefly, went under water and bounced in the Cork harbor like a fishing bobber.
Then, it was our turn. We knew what to expect because we saw what happened but, for the most part, we were still pretty nervous. We climbed up and into the emergency craft, strapped ourselves in; there was no turning back.
“Three, two, one!”
We suffered the same fate as our fellow comrades. We felt ourselves falling back to earth just as they did and then, we felt the big bouncy splash. Relief washed over everyone in the craft.
As we disembarked the rescue craft, we were given a warm Irish hello. The clouds had swallowed the entire harbor and opened the flood gates to the Irish call a “lashing” of rain.
Next, we exited the survival craft and headed to the sinking ship simulation. We split into two teams. The first team entered from the top of the ship, down a slippery metal ladder and patched holes spewing massive amounts of water. This ‘bought us more time’ and helped keep the boat afloat before the second team could add a more permanent structure. This simulation required teamwork and a cool head because water was coming in from the unlikeliest of places. Whilst taking the bits of wood that we had on hand, we beat them into the watery holes in the wall.
Luckily, our second team came down the ladder and supplied a more permanent fix for the damaged holes. They applied makeshift structures and whilst using the clamps, they beat the blocks of wood down until the water was just to a trickle. It seems that our good effort would actually save this ship.
After successfully saving the vessel, we headed to the pool. This next activity was about to test our personal fears. Half of us would jump from a height of one meter, and the other, from four. No biggie right?
What was truly fascinating is this final test played on our individual fears. We all had to jump, in some capacity, at a height we were uncomfortable with. From participants with no swimming ability, to those who were deathly afraid of heights, every participant faced their fear and attempted what they felt was impossible.
The participants jumped. They swam across the pool, entered the rescue raft, exited on the other side, climbed upon another raft and made it to the wall. Each person survived the test.
The comradery was flowing from the successful completion of all the tasks; every participant met their personal challenge. Some even took their personal fears one step further and jumped from a whopping six meters into the pool!
Individually, we conquered our personal demon but ultimately, we all stretched past our comfort zones and worked as a team. It was a day well spent pushing ourselves to the extremes. Even though this exercise may be one small step for an astronaut, itÂ was a giant leap for us. This was an unforgettable experience to see what it really takes to train like an astronaut.