An Intro to Private Astronaut Preflight Training in Under 5 Minutes!

This article provides an introduction to the current status of preflight training for private astronauts, covering the following topics:

  • government astronaut preflight training,
  • Federal regulations governing private astronaut training,
  • preflight training without the spaceflight,
  • preflight medical fitness assessment, and
  • preflight training provided by current space tourism businesses.

Government Astronaut Training

United States and Canadian government astronauts undergo a basic training program that lasts for up to 2 years before being designated as qualified astronauts and available to be assigned to a mission. The astronaut basic training includes:

  • History of spaceflight
  • Fundamentals of spaceflight
  • Space operations and procedures
  • ISS systems
  • Life sciences
  • Materials and fluids science
  • Earth observation
  • Space science
  • Extravehicular activity (EVA)
  • Robotics introduction
  • Human behavior and performance
  • Flight training
  • Parachute jumps
  • Physical training
  • First aid and CPR
  • Russian language training (because the official languages on the ISS are English and Russian)
  • Operation of photographic equipment
  • Survival training
  • Media relations

While waiting to be assigned a mission, the astronaut will take on ground-based assignments such as:

  • Acting as capcoms
  • Testing robotic procedures
  • Developing spacewalk choreography
  • Participating in research and development activities
  • Training other astronauts
  • Educating the public about space and motivating young people to study science and math

Also, while waiting to be assigned a mission, the astronaut will continue with training, including:

  • Medical training to be able to respond to medical issues while in orbit, including: drawing blood, ultrasound, sutures, CPR, basic dentistry.
  • Russian language training
  • Survival training
  • Refresher training to maintain their other skills

Once assigned a mission, the astronaut will undergo up to 2 more years of mission specific training which will include items such as:

  • ISS core systems
  • ISS emergency procedures
  • EVA
  • Robotics, e.g. Canadarm remote manipulator
  • Medical
  • European Columbus module
  • Japanese Experiment module
  • Soyuz spacecraft
  • Crew Dragon spacecraft
  • Visiting vehicles
  • Russian language training
  • Payloads
  • In-flight maintenance

Once onboard the ISS, the astronauts continue their training on the following:

  • ISS emergency procedures
  • Robotics
  • Payload
  • EVA

The training primarily takes place at several locations in the US. ISS training instruction takes place at facilities in the US, Canada, Japan, Russia and Europe. Soyuz training instruction takes place in Russia.

The following infographic provides an overview of ESA astronaut training.

Source: ESA

Government astronauts are very highly trained compared to private astronauts.

Federal Regulations Governing Private Astronaut Training

The Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14, 460.51 specifies the only requirement for spaceflight participant training “An operator must train each spaceflight participant before flights on how to respond to emergency situations including smoke, fire, loss of cabin pressure, and emergency exit.”

The training for spaceflight participants/private astronauts varies widely across space tourism businesses. There is no regulated or standardized training curriculum.

Preflight Medical Fitness

The FAA has not established any medical certification requirements for suborbital or orbital private astronauts. Private astronauts and space tourism businesses are expected to make their own judgment calls on medical fitness. The only exceptions are for trips to the ISS. NASA has medical requirements that all private astronauts and commercial crew must meet in order to be allowed to visit the ISS (available below).

Examples of issues that might cause a space tourism business to disqualify a customer for spaceflight include:

  • Mental health condition that could cause an emergency situation during flight, e.g. anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression
  • Medical condition that could cause an emergency situation during flight, e.g. heart disease, pregnancy, diabetes
  • Ability to tolerate acceleration, air pressure changes, microgravity
  • Ability to perform safety procedures, e.g. vision, hearing, mobility, physical strength/ endurance
  • Ability to enter/exit and otherwise fit into the spacecraft, e.g. weight, mobility, height

Virgin Galactic Preflight Training For Suborbital Flight

Virgin Galactic private astronauts receive 3 days of training just prior to launch at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The training includes:

  • Day 1 Welcome Day
    • Tour of Spaceport America
    • Flight suit and gear fitting
    • Introduction to the flight profile
    • High G training
  • Day 2 Cabin Day
    • High G training
    • Spaceship trainer reveal
    • Seat-fitting
    • Microgravity preparation
  • Day 3 Rehearsal Day
    • Spaceship trainer familiarization
    • Full dress rehearsal
    • Preflight readiness review
  • Day 4 Flight Day
    • Fly to space
    • Wings presentation
    • Celebratory party

Blue Origin Preflight Training For Suborbital Flight

Blue Origin private astronauts receive 14 hours of training split over two days prior to launch at one of the Blue Origin facilities. The training includes:

  • Medical clearance
  • Mission and vehicle overviews
  • Launch pad and facilities tour
  • Emergency procedures including fire response, emergency mask usage, exiting the capsule quickly on the launch pad
  • Mission simulation and instruction on in-flight activities including operational procedures, communications and maneuvering in a weightless environment

Axiom Space Preflight Training for Orbital Flight with ISS Visit

Axiom private astronauts receive 17 weeks of training spread over 7 months at various facilities. The training for the Ax-1 mission includes:

  • Space suit fitting
  • ZeroG flight to experience weightlessness and learn how to maneuver
  • G-force training in a centrifuge
  • Survival training
  • Spacecraft training
  • ISS training
  • Payload training
  • Medical training

Space Adventures (RosCosmos) Preflight Training for Orbital Flight with ISS Visit

Space Adventures private astronauts receive 100 days of training spread over 6 months at various facilities in the United States, Japan, Germany and Russia. The training itinerary for the MZ Mission is as follows:

  • Medical clearance
  • G-force centrifugal training up to 8G
  • Hyperbaric chamber training up to 10,000 feet 
  • RosCosmos flight to experience weightlessness and learn how to maneuver
  • Emergency preparedness – how to react to an emergency situation e.g. how to use back-up systems, fire on ISS, depressurization of spacecraft, off target landing on water or wilderness
  • Spacesuit and Soyuz spacecraft seat fitting
  • General physical fitness training
  • Soyuz spacecraft familiarization
  • ISS systems – ISS layout, life-support systems, communication systems, how to eat, sleep, use the bathroom
  • ISS partner segments – training on Russian segment, as well as partner segments Japan, Germany, United States
  • Mission program training

SpaceX Preflight Training for Orbital Flight

SpaceX private astronauts receive several weeks of training spread over 6 months at SpaceX, NATSA and other facilities. The training for the Inspiration4 mission ran from April to September 2021 and included:

  • Spacesuit fitting
  • ZeroG flight to experience weightlessness and learn how to maneuver
  • G-force training in a centrifuge
  • Hyperbaric chamber high-altitude training
  • Team building wilderness trek
  • Flight training
  • Spacecraft training addressing how everything works and what can go wrong
  • Hands-on training in Crew Dragon simulator covering normal operation and operation during emergency conditions 
  • 30 hour mission simulation in Crew Dragon simulator 
  • Medical experiment training including drawing blood samples, performing ultrasounds and taking skin samples

Experience Preflight Training Without Needing To Commit

For individuals who would like to experience a suborbital or orbital spaceflight without having to commit, or pay, for the actual spaceflight – there are options available. The following companies are used by some space tourism businesses to provide training for their customers –

NASTAR provides private astronaut training which allows customers to experience the flight profile of different space vehicles. They offer programs for Orbital Spaceflight Participant Training and Suborbital Spaceflight Participant Training.

ZeroG provides private astronaut training which allows customers to experience weightlessness and learn how to maneuver.

ZeroG provides private astronaut training which allows customers to experience weightlessness and learn how to maneuver.

NOLS provides wilderness survival training.