Ever since NASA launched the first space shuttle in 1981, children everywhere dreamed of being launched into space. Although the space shuttle program was retired in 2011, childhood dreams can still become a reality. NASA astronauts still travel into space to maintain operations of the International Space Station, a spacecraft orbiting around the Earth.
Initial training for astronauts lasts approximately two years. Astronauts begin with military water survival training and SCUBA certification. They are exposed to both high and low atmospheric pressure conditions. In addition, trainees learn to handle emergency situations related to changes in atmospheric pressure. They receive flight training that exposes them to periods of weightlessness for 20-second intervals. Astronauts are also trained in the Russian language, ISS and space shuttle systems, extravehicular activity, and robotics skills.
NASA astronauts go on missions to the ISS to study space and the effects that living in space and low gravity have on humans. Although missions only last three to six months, astronauts must spend two to three years training for these missions. Astronauts fill the roles of commander, pilot and mission specialist.
Pilot and Commander
Commanders are responsible for the safety of the flight, crew and equipment during flight on both the ISS and the shuttle to the ISS. The pilot assists the commander in operating the flight and ensuring a successful mission. Pilots also assist with extravehicular activities, deploying and retrieving satellites, and other mission operations.
Mission specialists plan crew activity, experiment operations and other shuttle activities. They conduct spacewalks or extravehicular activities, use the remote manipulator system, and are responsible for experiment operations. In addition to extensive knowledge of mission objectives and all shuttle systems, mission specialists must know the other systems and equipment used for experiments. They are responsible for payload operations. Payload operations are experiments and other specialized tasks conducted by the payload specialist. Payload specialists are not astronauts, but they accompany astronauts on missions to perform specialized tasks and scientific experiments.
Future of NASA Astronauts
Currently, NASA astronauts work aboard the ISS, but their role will expand as NASA's exploration into space deepens. Astronauts are helping to develop and will operate a new vehicle designed to explore deep space called the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. In addition, NASA plans to fly to an asteroid by 2025 and will send astronauts approximately five years after a successful robotics mission. In some cases, astronauts will remain on the ground to assist with research projects and developing new technology.
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