Many long hours and years of training turn the potential astronauts of today into the spacefarers of tomorrow.
With the advent of the International Space Station, preparing men and women for work on the orbiting outpost has become a highly complex process.
Training is coordinated between the major partners, with each being responsible for instructing astronauts in the operation of the elements it has or will supply to the Space Station.
Three European astronauts are already trained as Soyuz return commanders and are thereby able to fly a Soyuz vehicle single handedly back to Earth in case of an emergency. A useful skill considering that the Soyuz is currently the only on-orbit rescue vehicle available until the Crew Return Vehicle (CRV) becomes operational.
Mission specific training for European elements and payloads, such as the Columbus laboratory and the Automated Transfer Vehicle, will take place for all international astronauts at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany, which is the home-base for European astronauts.
For all potential Space Station astronauts there are three phases leading to a crew member being declared ready for a flight – basic training, advanced training, and increment specific training.
In the first year, basic training provides teaching on space technology and science, medical skills and skills for operational work with Station systems and payloads, including special capabilities such as scuba diving as the basis for spacewalk or extra-vehicular activity (EVA) training.
Advanced training provides Station crews with knowledge and skills related to general operation of the Station elements, payloads, transport vehicles and communication with the ground.
The first Advanced Training Class for the Space Station’s international partners started in April 2001, with astronauts from Japan, Canada, Europe and NASA taking part. It lasts 18 months and is performed at the various training sites in the United States, Japan, Canada, Russia and Europe in blocks of two months.
The final stage of training is known as increment specific (an ‘increment’ being the period between crew exchange aboard the Station) which gives an assigned crew (and backup crew, if applicable) the knowledge and skills required for the planned and contingency onboard tasks of their specific mission. For this, crews train together for about 18 months in order to foster team integration and spirit.