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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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