06:54 AM

USRA Scientists Undergo Suborbital Scientist-Astronaut Training

Three scientists with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) successfully underwent training this week to gain familiarization with human suborbital spaceflight. Dr. Joanne E. (Joe) Hill, an astrophysicist with USRA working at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and Dr. Scott J. Wood and Dr. Ramona Gaza, both with USRA's Division of Space Life Sciences which carries out work for NASA's Johnson Space Center, participated in the first such course being offered by the National AeroSpace Training and Research Center (The NASTAR Center). The two-day course ranged from altitude training and high-performance centrifuge training to learning about the industry and the opportunity to perform low-cost, hands-on projects in space. Research experiments that will take advantage of the coming era of commercial human spaceflight are already in development. Dr. Hill, an astrophysicist working on the design of new X-ray polarimeters to study persistent celestial sources and bright explosions from the early universe, points out, 'Sub-orbital flights will cover altitudes ideally suited to studying the relationship between lightning and terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs), in particular the gamma-ray and electron emissions which will be readily observable between 60-100 km.' Upon completion of her training, Dr. Hill commented, 'The sub-orbital scientist astronaut training was a fantastic opportunity, giving us a first hand experience of the physical effects that we would have to endure if we were to fly an instrument on a sub-orbital vehicle. The launch profile applied to the centrifuge felt so realistic, it was a real thrill!'

According to Dr. Wood, a USRA Senior Scientist in the Neurosciences Laboratory at Johnson Space Center's Human Adaptation and Countermeasures Division, 'suborbital flights will provide a unique opportunity to examine the neural adaptive mechanisms during and following G-transitions which has not been feasible during other flight programs due to limited crew access in the early mission phases.' Dr. Wood's research is focused on the adaptation of sensorimotor function to altered sensory environments, such as space flight, as well as enhancing the diagnosis and rehabilitation of balance-related clinical disorders.'

Dr. Gaza, a USRA Scientist in the Space Radiation Analysis Group at Johnson Space Center's Habitability and Environmental Factors Division, says 'Performing radiation measurements at 100 km will enable a thorough characterization of the suborbital radiation environment and aid with validation of existing radiation transport models. In addition, such measurements will provide pertinent information for radiation protection of the crew and passengers of suborbital commercial spaceflight.' After completing the two-day course, Dr. Gaza said, 'The suborbital scientist-astronaut training held at The NASTAR Center was an amazing and very exciting experience that I would recommend to anybody interested in learning how 6Gs feel! I enjoyed both the altitude chamber experience and the centrifuge simulated flights and I learned a lot from them!'

Dr. Frederick A. Tarantino, USRA President, said, 'This was a wonderful opportunity for Joe, Scott, Ramona and we were very pleased to sponsor them. We are hopeful that the promise of low-cost access to space for hands-on, university-class missions via human suborbital flights will soon be realized.'

The NASTAR Center course was organized in a partnership involving Dr. Alan Stern and Dr. Dan Durda of the Southwest Research Institute. The upcoming Next-Generation Suborbital Researcher Conference in Boulder, CO February 18-20 will focus on the future of suborbital science.

The Universities Space Research Association, established in 1969 by the National Academy of Sciences, is a private, nonprofit consortium of 104 universities offering advanced degrees in space- and aeronautics-related disciplines. USRA's mission is to conduct leading-edge research, develop innovative technologies, promote education and policy across the breadth of space science, and operate premier science and technology facilities by involving universities, private industry and government.