Kiwi space tourists in training

LIAM HYSLOP
Last updated 08:12 26/08/2014

KIWIS IN SPACE: John Dunn, a Kiwi surgeon, goes through training to give him a taste of what to expect before heading into space.

KIWI IN TRAINING: John Dunn, a Kiwi surgeon with Sir Richard Branson.

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Nine Kiwi space tourists are embarking on a rigorous astronaut training programme to prepare themselves for their upcoming space flight on Virgin Galactic.

More than 700 people have put their names down for the US$250,000 (NZ$300,000) trip into space with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, including popstar Lady Gaga.

The journeys were not expected to start until 2015.

When they do will last for around two hours and travel 96 kilometres high.

House of Travel space travel agent Katrina Cole said nine New Zealanders were signed up to go and a recent increase in test flights, as well as preparation of local accommodation for the international guests, suggested a launch date could be within the coming months.

Those developments have seen the Kiwi space tourism contingent eager to complete their astronaut training before take-off, Cole said.

The Virgin Galactic three-day training programme, held at Spaceport America's Gateway to Space terminal in New Mexico, involved a thorough medical examination, a detailed outline of the experience for the passengers and centrifuge and zero gravity, she said.

They go through high and micro gravity training to acclimatise themselves with the effect of the g-force and zero gravity they will experience on their flight and how to handle them, she said. John Dunn, a Kiwi surgeon who has completed the training, said the dream of travelling into space was fast becoming a reality. 

The training gave him a taste of what to expect before heading into space, he said. "The extreme g-force provided by the centrifuge training provides a close approximation of the rigours of travelling beyond the earth's atmosphere. "Experiencing weightlessness during the zero-g flights has also helped me understand the physical sensations I can expect while travelling beyond the constraints of Earth's gravity." 

Dunn also got to meet Branson during his training.

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Cole said the goal was to avoid G-LOC (gravity induced loss of consciousness). "G-LOC can cause astronauts to pass out for up to 28 seconds, although that doesn't sound like much - it's a significant gap in a unique experience, they won't want to miss a second."

Alongside the g-force training, the trainee astronauts would be preparing for their flight through private consultations, medical sessions, flight suit fittings and other activities to ensure they are thoroughly familiar with all the safety and emergency procedures. 

"We do not want anything to distract from the flight experience, so the future astronauts will also spend time in a lifelike mock-up of the SpaceShipTwo cabin, where they will test their seat configuration and get to know the cabin setup," Cole said.

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"This will form part of the full rehearsals, so that on flight day the future astronauts are fully trained, comfortable, confident and ready for the experience of a lifetime."

- Stuff

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