Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex provides sneak peek at new Astronaut Training Experience®
The new Astronaut Training Experience is set to open at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Photo Credit: Ryan Chylinski / SpaceFlight Insider
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Hazy with excitement, you regain your composure. Your vision clears. The sound of heavy boots on metal echos loudly despite the noise around you. The iconic orange gantry comes into view and you wave to the automated cameras. Millions around the world are watching. You are poised to travel to Mars via the Astronaut Training Experience.
Former shuttle astronauts Jon A. McBride (left) and Robert C. Springer (and SFI Technical Consultant) sample some of the equipment at the new ATX. Photo Credit: Ryan Chylinski / SpaceFlight Insider
The race to Mars has already begun but soon visitors to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will be the first to “touch down” on the Red Planet.
“We’re offering something that most people thought they would never get to do in their lifetime,” Therrin Protze, chief operating officer of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex told SpaceFlight Insider. “For anyone who has wondered what it would be like to feel like an astronaut, to train like they train, face the challenges and issues they have to work though while under extreme pressure, Astronaut Training Experience and Mars Base 1 is now available to everyone.”
Opening in segments starting later this month, the new Astronaut Training Experience® (ATX) uses immersive simulation technology to transport participants to the Martian surface, train them to live and work in the harshest environments, and teach them what it’s like to travel to Mars, using real NASA science to address engineering challenges.
A second tract, Mars Base 1, provides the ultimate simulation of not just traveling to Mars, but living and working there for an entire day. Mars Base 1 assigns real-life challenges that require analytic thinking, communication and collaboration to survive and thrive as an explorer of a newly multi-planetary species.
SpaceFlight Insider was granted special access to the preview launch event and got a first hand look at the training simulations.
Upon entering the ATX Center, guests are surrounded by technology and ambiance that replicates actual astronaut training techniques. We found the level of realism and personalization throughout the entire facility to be outstanding. For example participants are handed personalized badges equipped with RFID technology, one swipe and their profile appears at each station and stats begin recording. Video log stations are scattered throughout the training environment and with a swipe of a badge, guests can record their thoughts in the moment. Performance statistics are even made available on the web inside a personal database.
Three separate training areas make up the main ATX environment, each simulating a set of physical tasks actual astronauts traveling to Mars will need to execute.
In this spacewalk training segment guests experience some of the challenges of working in a micro-gravity environment. Teams of two perform a simulated EVA (extravehicular activity) in which trainees complete a mission to repair the space station truss. One team member operates a mission terminal, audio and video linked to the second team member who executes the instructions to complete objectives remotely. Horizontal chairs “float” on air bearings, similar to a life size air hockey table, where small movements produce outsized effects. A wholly unique experience and one that takes a little getting used to.
“The air bearing technology is a very good way to provide this simulation,” explained former shuttle astronaut Bob Springer (who flew twice on NASA’s now retired fleet of shuttle orbiters and who assists SFI as a technical consultant). “If you move a little too fast, you may go past your intended point, if you didn’t tether up you’re are lost in space! It’s a very realistic simulation.”
The Visitor Complex has incorporated an array of features that allows guests to experience what it might be like to travel to the planet Mars in its new Astronaut Training Experience. Photo Credits: Ryan Chylinski / SpaceFlight Insider
Land and Drive on Mars Simulator
In this full-motion simulator exercise teams train to land on the surface of Mars and then drive across the rugged terrain to reach the safety of Mars Base. Teamwork is again at the center and drivers inside the tossing-and-turning rover communicate with a crew at Training Control to avoid obstacles and navigate in difficult conditions.
Visitors will have the ability to learn what it is like to carry out extra-vehicular activities for themselves. Photo Credit: Ryan Chylinski / SpaceFlight Insider
Walk on Mars in VR
With a realistic and immersive feel, guests are transported to the Martian surface using VR goggles and hand controls. Teammates at the control center guide each participant through a series of objectives that require navigating and manipulating objects in certain sequences. Effective communication was paramount in this exercise as the control operator relays location information only he or she can see from their overview position.
Mars Base 1: Full Day Immersion
While the ATX Experience Center uses separate training modules that require analytic thinking, communication and collaboration, Mars Base 1 brings everything together – then goes to the next level. From a shaking and thundering elevator ride up to the Pegasus Capsule, to a seated simulated journey to the Red Planet, trainees are transported onto humanity’s furthest outpost. Upon touchdown fast-paced training immediately begins in three different areas.
Base operations where trainees work together solve emergency scenarios in environmental control, habitat maintenance and rover operations. Engineering where STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields are put to work programming small robots to clear dust off of panels to generate as much power as possible. And Mars life sciences lab where trainees partner with scientists working on NASA’s Food Production by planting, harvesting, and analyzing vegetables and plants as they gather data in a series of controlled experiments.
ATX and Mars Base 1 create an environment centered on teamwork and problem solving skills. While open and exciting for all ages, participants will be challenged to take their love of space and science and “step up” to work together and solve actual problems in the real world. This is what’s most exciting about what the Visitor Complex has created here. Nothing inspires the next generation of explorers like working together to achieve something important.
ATX environment experiences will range from 30 to 45-minutes and can be added to a Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex day. Two, three and five-day camp programs will also be available. The breadth of offerings provide the opportunity to participate based on interest level and specific educational needs. Costs range from $30 – $175. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex opens daily at 9 a.m.
EST with closing times varying by season. Admission is $50 + tax for adults and $40 + tax for children ages 3 – 11. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers annual passes starting at $75 + tax for adults and $60 + tax for children ages 3 – 11. For more information, call 877-313-2610 or visit www.KennedySpaceCenter.com
Ryan Chylinski is a multi-disciplinary photographer, entrepreneur, and space science enthusiast from the flagship city of Erie, Pennsylvania. Chylinski received his BS from The Rochester Institute of Technology in, where he studied computer engineering at the College of Applied Science and Technology in Rochester, New York. Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft. Chylinski is now travelling full-time with the open-source photographic apprenticeship: StrangeUnknown.com and LearnTimelapse.com - inside a different kind of ship of the imagination. His work, and ongoing studies remain closely entwined: Chylinski’s out to ignite the cosmic perspective in artists and entrepreneurs and to inspire a personal exploration of the hidden universe in a very practical way.