Train Like a Cosmonaut in Russia

Train Like a Cosmonaut in Russia

Star City” is the romantic nickname for the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center outside of Moscow, Russia. Gagarin, of course, became the first human in space, flying aboard Russia’s secret Vostok spacecraft. That was on April 12, 1961. Earlier, in 1957, the strange mechanical beeping of the first satellite, Sputnik-1, took the U.S. by surprise and launched the “Space Race.”

More than 50 years later, the Space Race has wound down, and the world is left with the International Space Station and the Russian Soyuz rockets that take space travelers and scientific gear to and fro.

Star City is where these space travelers train. And you can, too on MIR’s Inside the Russian Space Program tour.

Outside the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Outside the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Out-of-this-World ExperiencesCosmonaut training activities available to laypeople are geared toward satisfying the kid in everyone who has ever dreamed of space flight. These four adventures are based out of Star City:

  • Zero-G Flight
    • Take the ride of your life on a zero-G simulation flight. Float, soar, cartwheel and hang weightless in the padded cabin of an Ilyushin-76 military transport aircraft as crew members stand by to assist.
  • Centrifuge High-G Training Ride
    • Feel what 4 Gs is like on a familiarization ride on the world’s largest centrifuge, the TsF-18, a long arm with a capsule on one end where the cosmonaut trainee sits. Used for checking and improving G-load tolerance, the centrifuge can be described as a gigantic amusement park ride.
  • Orlan Space Suit Training
    • Don a Russian-engineered Orlan space suit created especially for spacewalks. Learn to open and close hatches and complete a series of operations designed to simulate typical space tasks.
  • Underwater Training in the Hydrolab
    • At the massive Hydrolab (the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory), crew members acquire skills for operations on the external surface of the orbital station (i.e., spacewalks) under simulated weightless conditions.
Cosmonauts practice underwater training in the Hydrolab to prepare for space walksPhoto credit: Christopher Prentiss Michel

Cosmonauts training underwater in the Hydrolab to prepare for spacewalks
Photo credit: Christopher Prentiss Michel

What to Expect: Zero-G Flight“Bouncing off the walls” takes on a literal meaning on a zero-gravity flight. You’ve seen the videos from the Space Station, right? Men and women floating gracefully from place to place as if they’re under water, grabbing in slo-mo for an escaped toothbrush. Look like fun?

That’s what a zero-gravity flight is all about. You get to experience the weightlessness of space without giving up years of your life training to be an astronaut. You load up into an Ilyushin-76 wide-body military transport aircraft with padded walls and floor. The crew members buckle you into your safety suits and give you the safety lecture.

Then the plane flies a series of parabolic arcs, and at the top of each one, as the plane heads down, everything and everyone not tied down suddenly becomes weightless and floats upwards towards the ceiling. The crewmembers are there to help you get oriented – and to launch you down the length of the plane like Superman, or spin you in the air like a beach ball, or play catch with each other, with you as the Frisbee. The weightless periods usually last for 25-30 seconds, and there can be 15 or so of them. That’s about the number that un-trained people can enjoy without starting to feel a little dizzy.

The photos the participants take of each other during these flights invariably show them grinning with delight. MIR’s President, Doug Grimes, has been on several zero-G flights and he loves them. In his photos, he and his fellow travelers look like kids at a carnival, bouncing off the walls.

Zero gravity, but 100-percent fun! MIR President Douglas Grimes is floating, second from right

Zero gravity, but a 10 on the Fun Meter. MIR President Douglas Grimes is floating second from right
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

What to Expect: The CentrifugeThe U.S.A.’s first astronauts were said to have dreaded their time strapped into it. It was their least favorite training exercise, like an amusement park ride gone bad. In fact, scientists had considered using amusement park rides for research and training in the fledgling space program, but they found that the testing modules needed to be stronger and more durable. So engineers designed and built a huge centrifuge for the astronauts to train in and test their ability to withstand G-forces, which can cause a person to experience a narrowing of vision and then total blackout.

When you opt for your own experience withstanding the G-forces of a rocket launch, you step into one of these giant human centrifuges. You climb into a pod on the end of a long arm, and as soon as you are securely strapped in, it starts to twirl. For three long minutes.

The most intense roller coasters usually don’t subject the rider to more than 3 Gs. On this ride you can experience up to 4 Gs, typically below the threshold that causes some people to black out. (Star City’s TsF-18 centrifuge is capable of delivering a mind-boggling – and stomach-churning – 30 Gs.)

Testing and training on the centrifuge has been extremely important in learning how to keep space travelers and jet fighter pilots safe and awake under debilitating G-forces. Special coping maneuvers and compression suits have been created based on the results of years of experimenting with human centrifuges.

Your experience will be safe, controlled and comparatively mild; the most you will learn from the experiment is how strong your stomach is.

Star City's Centrifuge  Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Star City’s Centrifuge, like a giant amusement park ride 
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

What to Expect: Orlan Space Suit TrainingThe third cosmonaut-training exercise a MIR traveler can participate in is the Orlan Space Suit Training. The Orlan suits are the ones used by cosmonauts when they leave the International Space Station for an EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) to perform experiments or routine maintenance. It has a rigid torso and flexible arms and is entered by a rear hatch in its backpack.

Since it’s designed for use in zero gravity, it’s extremely heavy – 231 pounds, in fact – so during training, you and the suit are suspended from a boom. You are moved to a collection of simulators where you learn to open and close hatches or to maneuver along your tether cord. If you were actually going to complete an EVA space mission, you would log countless hours in the suit to familiarize yourself with its characteristics and to train your abilities while encumbered by it. It’s another slo-mo experience, but with a couple of hundred pounds added rather than taken away, as happens in the zero-G flight.

Orlan Space Suit Training Photo credit: Christopher Prentiss Michel

Orlan Space Suit Training
Photo credit: Christopher Prentiss Michel

Travel to Russia to Train Like a Cosmonaut

MIR has over 30 years of travel experience in Russia, with affiliate offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Siberia offering on-the-ground support, and tour managers that clients rave about. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

You can opt to train like a cosmonaut on MIR’s Inside the Russian Space Program, which travels from Star City to the Baikonour Cosmodrome during an 10-day exploration of the Russian Space Program.

Chat with one of our destination specialists by email or by phone at 1-800-424-7289 to start planning your travels today.


(Top photo credit: Douglas Grimes)

PUBLISHED: August 26, 2014

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