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Astronaut Candidates 2004: | Home | Journals
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Astronaut Candidates 2004
IMAGE: Astronaut candidate Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger
NASA astronaut candidate Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, one of three mission specialist-educator candidates in NASA's 2004 astronaut class, poses with a T-38 jet trainer aircraft at Ellington Field.
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Astronaut Candidates 2004 - Training Journals

Journal #6

We reported to Ellington Field in Houston for a week of ground school on NASA’s training jet, the T-38N. The instruction by the NASA instructor pilots was great. These folks love what they do –flying. They also really seemed to enjoy sharing their passion for flight with other people.

Probably the most important skill we learned was proper use of the ejection seat. It is definitely one of those skills that you want to do very well while at the same time hoping you never have to use it. Bailing out of the T-34, which we flew in Pensacola, essentially involved climbing out on the wing and jumping off the back. Sitting on a rocket-loaded chair is another thing altogether, especially when one considers that the T-38 flies so much faster than a T-34. There are nine points of attachment to the ejection seat and an additional three more to put on the parachute harness. When you get ready to fly, it definitely feels like you are strapping on an airplane rather strapping into one.

The T-38 has a front and back seat and both members of the aircrew play an important role in flight. All mission specialists train to become “back-seaters” while pilots are referred to as “front-seaters.” Once qualified as a back-seater, a mission specialist’s main job in the T-38 is to navigate the plane while maintaining air-to-ground communication. Essentially, this two-person team works to conduct the flight more safely and for longer durations than a pilot could while flying alone.

Following ground school, we were ready to go. The first flight took us out over the Gulf of Mexico where many of us traveled supersonic (faster than sound) for the first time. Planes traveling at this speed use the Mach scale, with Mach 1 indicating that the plane is traveling at the speed of sound, Mach 2 would indicate that you are traveling twice the speed of sound, and so on. While it was very exciting to do this for the first time, truth be told, Mach 1.3 just didn’t seem that different from Mach 0.93. There was no noise or shaking that one might have expected. Still, the instructor pilots let all of us take the controls as we flew supersonic which was quite a thrill! Flying a plane at Mach 1 was something I didn’t think I’d be doing this time last year. We also did a zero-g maneuver, which in many ways, was a lot more fun that Mach 1. I could feel myself floating and see things float in the cockpit – a first taste of space flight, even if it only lasted for a couple of seconds.

IMAGE: Astronaut candidate Bobby Satcher Jr.
Robert L. (Bobby) Satcher Jr., one of six mission specialist candidates, gets a closeup look at one of the agency's T-38 jet trainer aircraft.

Our following flights introduced us to the “meat and potatoes” of aviation. More specifically, experiencing why mission specialists learn to operate a two-person jet in preparation for spaceflight. In the aviation world, it is called, “complete resource management” or “CRM.” In a high performance jet there is a lot going on, and due to the high speeds it all appears to happen very quickly. Consequently, good decisions need to be made in a very short time. CRM describes the way that two or more people work together as a team to anticipate and react to situations within a high stress environment.

We will be continuing to train on the T-38 very intensively over the next year, which will call for approximately 100 hours of flight time. Given that a typical flight is between one and two hours long, this will involve quite a bit of “strapping on the airplane.” Over the course of our astronaut careers, we will continue to train on the T-38 on a regular basis. How fun is that?

- The Astronaut Candidate Class of 2004

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 03/25/2005
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