|Advanced Crew Escape Suit|
|Astronaut Eileen Collins wears an Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES) while practicing escape techniques from the Space Shuttle. |
Candidates 2004 - Training Journals
During the last weeks of March, we participated in a training exercise where I finally felt like an astronaut. You might be asking, “Haven’t you been at this training for quite awhile?” Good question, but when most of us think of an astronaut we think of him/her in his/her pressure suit and helmet walking out for launch carrying their portable oxygen and cooling system. Case in point, I recently watched an interview with Tom Hanks about the filming of “Apollo 13” where he stated one of the highlights of his film career was putting on the suit! Well, we finally got to “put on the suit!”
Each individual went for an extensive fitting based on very precise measurements taken late last year. There were more than one hundred measurements taken, many of which were of the hand alone. Based on the measurements and a bit of good old fashioned trial and error, we had an ACES or advanced crew escape suit (or “pumpkin suit,” for obvious reasons) put together for each of us.
Dressing is a chore and you need at least one set of helping hands. You start by putting on a diaper. You read this right…..a diaper. The suit takes a long time to put on and take off and, well, you get the picture. Next, we put on a layer of lightweight polypropylene underwear, followed by heavy long johns with tubes running through them. The tubes carry cold water that helps keep you cool in a really hot suit. We also wear heavy wool socks. If it seems odd that we bundle up nice and warm in an already hot suit, and then try to cool it with water, well it is. However, we need to be able to keep warm in case of an abort over the Atlantic Ocean. If we ever end up sitting in a raft for a few hours in the cold North Atlantic, we’ll be glad we’re wearing all those warm clothes. The next layer was a g-suit which helps us deal with returning to Earth’s gravity. Basically, these are pants that inflate really tight to help keep the blood in the upper half of your body and hopefully near your brain. Remember, your heart and arteries don’t have to work nearly as hard in zero gravity, so it takes them awhile to get used to life back here on Earth. Then on come the suit, boots and the latch-on gloves. Finally, it is time to put on the helmet. When the glass mask is pulled down, it can be a bit claustrophobic but you do get used to it.
Now that we were all dressed up we needed some place to go, and for this training event it was out of the shuttle – in a hurry. We practiced all kinds of escape scenarios including on the launch pad, in the air, and on the runway. Remember, the crew compartment changes orientation depending on what the shuttle is doing, so each event was something new.
When finished, the suits where taken off and put away for another day and it was back to the classroom. I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first time “in the suit,” especially since I was wearing it while dangling from a sky-genie and sliding down the side of a space shuttle.
The Astronaut Candidate Class of 2004