NASA astronauts retrain to fly Russian spacecraft

NASA astronauts retrain to fly Russian spacecraft

16 Apr, 03:37 PM

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the 2009 class of US astronauts will enter training without the prospect of flying on the space shuttle. Moreover, at least some of the new hires will have to make their first spaceflight by hitching a ride on a Soyuz, the Russian-built spacecraft that will be the only way to transport people to the International Space Station once NASA's shuttle fleet retires next year, Johnson Space Center director Michael Coats confirmed, as reported by ITAR-TASS.

The agency's space shuttle replacement, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, won't be ready until at least 2015.

Normally, new astronauts spend 54 weeks – more than a year – studying space shuttle systems, in one of the most grueling parts of the old training regimen. But with no chance of a shuttle flight, that year will now be filled with travel to Russia to train for flights aboard the Soyuz capsules that will ferry US astronauts to the space station until NASA completes the Ares I rocket and Orion crew capsule. The vehicles are part of the Constellation program, aimed at returning US astronauts to the Moon by 2020.

Because the US space agency plans to rely heavily on Soyuz for transportation to the space station, astronauts will take more intensive Russian language classes than previous astronaut candidates, Duane Ross, NASA’s manager for astronaut command selection and training at Johnoson’s Space Center in Houston said.

"They needed to have some Russian language familiarity before, but now we are going to up the game on Russian language training," Ross said. There also will be greater emphasis on geology and geophysics as NASA prepares to return humans to the Moon and Mars, Ross said.

Astronauts’ training for ISS missions will take 39 weeks.

NASA received 3564 applications for the 2009 class and whittled the number under consideration down to 40. In the weeks ahead, NASA intends to announce the dozen or so candidates who will not only join a corps of 85 active astronauts, but will learn Russian for free, ITAR-TASS reports.

Tags: space exploration


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