It’s the final episodes of Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes? airing on Sunday 1 October at 8.00pm on BBC Two. The remaining candidates are on Florida’s Space Coast to face the toughest tests of the entire selection process. The question astronaut Chris Hadfield wants the tests to answer is this: would I want this person in the seat next to me waiting for launch?
Thirty thousand feet above Fort Lauderdale their motor skills will be given a thorough workout as they perform a task in the back of an airplane – whilst being weightless in microgravity. None of them has experienced anything like this before. It’s something that astronauts practise ahead of launching to the International Space Station but, as trauma specialist and former NASA researcher Dr Kevin Fong, notes: “This plane is also known as the Vomit Comet for a very good reason.”
The candidates head for the Florida Keys where they have been given access to the only undersea laboratory in the world, used by NASA to train its astronauts for missions in space. Chris Hadfield spent two weeks at a time beneath the waves in the Aquarius Habitat testing out technology he would use in space and training with his crew. The candidates must learn the emergency procedures required on board – but they won’t discover which one they will be tested on until they have dived to the habitat on the sea bed, 3.5 miles off the coast of Key Largo.
Being an astronaut carries tremendous risks. When Chris Hadfield sat on the launch pad aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis he faced a one in 38 chance of dying. For the candidates’ final task in Florida, Chris wants to determine whether they have contemplated the effect of these risks on their family and friends. As he puts it: “Space flight is punishingly dangerous. You can’t wait until you’re walking out to your spaceship to start thinking about the danger.”
After this revealing test the candidates head back to the UK and to London’s Science Museum where, in front of an invited audience of family, friends and experts from the series, they have one final chance to persuade the panel that they alone have what it takes to be an astronaut. Who will be the candidate whose application will receive Chris’s backing when the European Space Agency next asks for recruits?
Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes? Episode 6 (of 6) airs on Sunday 1 October 2017 from 8.00pm-9.00pm on BBC Two.