Project PHEnOM Astronaut Training

A week ago, I got what may be the most important email of my life.

Over the last few months, I have been networking like crazy in the hope that I could land a job in the space industry right out of college. While largely unsuccessful, that effort led me into contact with Project PHEnOM – short for Physiological, Health, and Environmental Observations in Microgravity. They are one of the first commercial suborbital astronaut training programs, and were looking for candidates for their first team.

I was skeptical, both of its legitimacy and of my chances. Legitimacy because, well, it’s one of the first programs like it out there. How did I know they would deliver on the goods? Did they have qualified staff and connections in place? After talking with them, I realized that  they not only have a good background – their CEO is a former exercise scientist at Johnson Space Center – their training program is also cross-linked with several well-known universities for college credit.

As for my chances, NASA accepts less than 1% of >6000 qualified applicants during their astronaut selection rounds, so I had good reason to believe I wouldn’t make the cut for PHEnOM even though the qualifications are much less stringent for suborbital astronauts. I thought their response would be somewhat like the ones I’ve gotten from other space companies: “You have a good skill set but your experience does not match what we need for this position right now. I hope you will apply again!”

So imagine my surprise when I got the acceptance email.

Over the past week, I’ve been scrambling to get the word out and raise money for the program. Because it doesn’t come cheap – $12,500 total, with $3,000 of that due later this month. So far, my GoFundMe campaign has gotten 18% towards the first deposit. If it does not reach 100% by the end of this month – or if I don’t get alternate funding – this will be a very short adventure. I really hope you can help out.

I will, of course, be blogging about my experiences as often as possible. Here’s a brief taste of what’s to come from my acceptance email:

The onsite skills training for 2016 is scheduled for August 15 – 20 in St. Augustine, Florida, and will include:
  • Aerobatic flights with Patty Wagstaff. This is to train us to endure the G-forces involved in being an astronaut.
  • Commercial space suit familiarization and operator training with Final Frontier Design. FFD is a spacesuit company based out of Brooklyn, NY.
  • High-altitude chamber rides/hypoxia awareness training with Dr. Paul Buza of the Southern Aeromedical Institute (in addition to the training, we will begin a formal research study with Dr. Buza during this time).
There will be two additional onsite group trainings in 2017 which include a week-long mission simulation training using REAL Air Traffic Control scenarios and formal grading by professional flight training instructors in our own simulator. The mission simulations will progress from fixed wing aircraft through commercial spacecraft simulations, and will involve the Mission Support Specialists and the Citizen Scientist-Astronauts working together as cohesive teams.
During the same time, we’ll participate in a workshop on the use of UAV/UAS for remote sensing and mapping for some of our ground-based research work.
The second onsite skills workshop in 2017 will be 10 days and will include emergency egress and survival training, and a NOLS wilderness expedition (similar to the course that NASA uses).
Throughout the entire program we will work together as a group to prepare grant proposals, write abstracts to present at conferences, and develop research protocols. We will also work to advance and develop new technologies with an eye towards commercialization. We have an academic partner (Middle Georgia State University School of Aviation) that has a great composites lab who will be helping us with prototyping and the design and construction of our simulator. They are currently contracted through NASA to develop a variety of elements of the James Webb Space Telescope.


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