National Geographic : 1965 Jan
The Making of an Astronaut in the Amazon jungles or the Gobi Desert. Still, we take every step to be ready." Crew members practice their parachute landin-s in Galveston Bay. A boat tows the astronaut into the air, a procedure cheaper and easier than using a plane. Starting a few feet back from the water's edge, he allows the breeze to fill the canopy before signaling the helmsman to pour on i ower. The astronaut launches himself with a few running steps, and his chute lifts him as high as 400 feet. Once aloft he releases the towline and floats down to a wet but safe landing. (setting wet is nothing new in astronaut training, however. "Until we add some sort of gliding capability and landing gear to our spacecraft, ocean recovery is likely to remain the best way of coming down from orbit," says Lt. ('omdr. Alan L. Bean, astronaut spe cialist in recovery systems. "Those thousands of square miles of uncluttered water surface offer a very handy shock absorber." At the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Flor ida, each crew member learns to swim while encumbered by a bulky pressure suit. The Navy swimming pool is also a good place to learn how to untangle himself from parachute shroud lines, how to use his one-man life raft, and how to get into a helicopter rescue sling. Actual practice in getting out of the (Gemini spacecraft begins in the water test basin at Ellington Air Force Base, here at Houston. Using what we call a "boilerplate" Gemini, intended only for tests or training, a two-man team learns to coordinate body movements with the spacecraft to keep from tipping it over. Similar sessions follow in the open water of nearby Galveston Bay (page 132). Survival "Classrooms": Desert and Jungle To learn what to do in the punishing sun of the desert, the astronauts travel to Stead Air Force Base in the dry sagebrush country of western Nevada (pages 124 and 128-9). Before they are turned loose for two days in the wilderness, the astronauts must learn to make emergency clothes of parachute material: sheik-style headdress and flowing robes of orange and white nylon. Despite dire tales of sidewinders and Gila monsters, we've had only one small incident to mar the training. John Young was stung on the ankle by a scorpion, but he took care of his own wound, refusing offers of medical help from the base. "After all," he reasoned, "I wouldn't find any medics wandering around in the Sahara." We've also turned space trainees loose in Clad in hospital white, John Youn (center) andl (us (Grissom (right) inspect the adapter ring that will join the pilots' cabin of their ( emini craft with a section containing vital flight equipment. An engineer checks connections to the fuel chamber that powers control rockets. In this Clean Room at the MIcDonnell plant, air filters trap )5 percent of the atmosphere's microscopic (lust.