In week four of six part series Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes? the candidates leave the German Space Agency behind and head to a secret location in Sweden to face astronaut Chris Hadfield’s toughest tests so far. Here, in a military installation, the panel will discover who can cope with a crisis in space.
The candidates will be put through a potentially life threatening test of hypoxia – a deadly condition in which the body is deprived of oxygen.
In the vacuum of space if your personal air supply fails on a space-walk it’s crucial that you can recognise the symptoms of hypoxia. It’s a test that divides the candidates and some don’t perform as well as the panel hoped. As Dr Kevin Fong remarks: “The worst possible outcome is if the instructor has to step in to restore their oxygen supply. In a real life situation it would mean that candidate would be dead”.
Then it’s time to face the G-Forces of a simulated launch. The candidates are strapped inside the rapidly rotating capsule of a human centrifuge, which creates such force when it spins that it mimics the ascent of the Soyuz Space Craft into orbit. They must withstand four and a half times the force of gravity, known as 4.5G and to avoid losing consciousness they will need to contract the blood vessels of their lower body and abdomen by clenching these muscles.
After the physical and mental overload of 4.5G they must prove they can still function, by passing a test in Russian, the international language of space.
The final test in Sweden is a presentation, to show the panel that they can communicate complex thoughts and ideas – with a probing Q and A session to prove they have the depth of scientific knowledge required of an astronaut.
While some of the candidates shine, for others it is their worst performance to date. Not everyone makes it through to the next, Operational stage of astronaut selection.
Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes? Episode 4 (of 6) airs on Sunday 10 September from 8.00pm-9.00pm on BBC TWO.