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Running up and down 7 flights of stairs with an exoskeleton weighing 30 kg was challenging for the muscles. Using a screwdriver to open a metallic box containing loose wire wearing three pairs of gloves required manual dexterity. But then this was only during the selection procedures for the next analog astronaut class of 2015.
Since then a lot has changed. I am amongst the privileged ones to actually become part of this class. So the training began… The lifestyles including nutrition and fitness routines of the next generation of ÖWF analog astronauts where already evaluated during the selection process. Now it was time to optimize them. Training and nutrition plans were determined by our biomedical engineer team members Viviana Mucci and Oliver Simonsen. A further detailed interview made the priorities clear: eat a lot of protein and build up upper body and core strength. And this I tried. I ate eggs every day, bought protein bars, did push ups and planks. A lot of planks. And then the second training block came up where I had my first donning, i.e. suiting up.
On Saturday of the second analog astronaut training block it was time: I was allowed to be the first one from our analog astronaut class of 2015 and the first woman to wear the suit. A time slot of three hours was blocked for the donning. As it was our first fitting, we thoroughly got talked through the procedures. The donning process includes putting on a lot of layers: special undergarment, the exoskeleton and the aluminium coated upper layer including the hard upper torso (HUT). The moment I was wearing the HUT was the moment of full awareness of the weight that surrounded me.
Suddenly I noticed all the enthusiastic people in the room. There were cameras and photographers, suit techs, my fellow analog astronaut trainees and I was getting warm, very warm. Reluctantly, Sebastian Sams from the tech team turned on the fans and a breeze of fresh air soothingly spread in the suit. Yet, this instantly made the sound level in the suit rise and I couldn’t make out the voices from the people around me anymore. It was a great moment, as I suddenly separated from the outer world and started vanishing into another space. The only communication from now on was over the head phone. Here I heard my fellow analog astronaut Stefan Dobrovolny who constantly kept me company. Also, the ‘old’ experienced analog astronaut Christoph was there. He gave me valuable tips about relaxing positions in the 48 kg suit. With the words ‘I am a Mars Pioneer’ the helmet was closed and I was detached from the outer world. I was in the suit. Finally! The weight of the suit on my body was completely forgotten. It was a great feeling and the smile on my face did not cease.
The suit is called Aouda X, after the princess in ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ by Jules Verne and wearing it made me feel like one of those adventurers. A dream of mine came true: to wear a space suit once in my life! As great as it was, it was also hugely motivating. I was only wearing the suit for approximately 30 minutes. Proper EVAs (Extra-vehicular-cctivities) usually have a length of 3-6 hours. I realized that every pain I feel now during the workouts will be a benefit once I am in the suit again. And that is exactly where I want to be.
This post was written by Carmen Köhler
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