In April 2001, astronaut Chris Hadfield had an extremely stressful experience. What made it worse was that he was absolutely alone, in space, incapable of seeing and not communicating with people on Earth.
Space travel comes with its share of indescribably cool experiences – floating, seeing the earth in a way no one else can do that – but anyone who has even seen a space movie knows that stress has crunched into the experience.
It's both physical and mental. Astronauts float weightlessly in a fully enclosed spaceship 248 miles above the ground and orbit the planet about 1
In December, during a tour of the US space camp in Huntsville Alabama, hosted by National Geographic, I took a look at the chaos and stress astronauts regularly face in space. As the camp avoids bringing children and young adults through the kind of physical rigor that astronauts undergo in their own training, there's a glimpse into the kind of frustration astronauts endure every day.
Walking around the rooms, commands hit a console waiting for calls and trying to fix obstacles via a communications relay that sometimes gets blurred; searching through manuals that are looking for the smallest critical information – all that is daunting to a normal person. Throw that person into space and associate these situations with all the dangers and rigors of space travel, and it's pretty clear why, when NASA released their most recent call for astronaut candidates, only 12 out of 18,000 people were selected.
Something always goes awry and has to be solved quickly but carefully.
How will astronauts become models of grace under pressure? Are they just naturally born with the right stuff, or is aerospace psychology doing a few tricks to keep astronauts under pressure?
" You already know what it is like to deal with life situations or death, or you are intensively analyzing a lot of information to find a solution Space travel is only one step higher than this work. "  "I think it's a combination of these things," Dr. Jim Picano, NASA's Chief Operating Psychologist, the Daily Beast. He cited three specific criteria that he says explain why astronauts are so well-equipped to deal with stress. Essentially, the first two are things that astronauts bring with them: an innate predisposition to stress and experience that has influenced astronauts' handling of stress.
Most astronauts already reach the NASA astronaut corps with stress background management, which makes them more capable than the average person, such as fighter pilot experience or intensive academic careers. They already know what it means to deal with life situations or death, or they scour intensive amounts of information to find a solution. Space is just one step above this work. "You already know that you can face stressful challenges, and you think you can overcome those things," he says.
But Picano stresses that training also plays a role. "The training that astronauts receive shapes their confidence in the procedures and equipment they have to deal with spaceflight commands and emergencies, listening to them over and over again and learning how to respond – I think that brings a sense of preparation who allows them to believe that they can influence and change their situation for the better. "
In addition to preparation, there is no substitute – and true tricks such as deep breathing, which allow astronauts to tolerate stress and remain calm. Being an astronaut gives you no life for dealing with pressure; it just brings out the best you already know.
Few experiences epitomize these Trifecta of stress tolerance capabilities as extravehicular activity (EVA), better known as spacewalk. And few people have a more compelling space story to tell than Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who spent a total of 166 days in space, distributed across three different missions.
"Space walks are inherently painful," he told The Daily Beast. "The suit is uncomfortable and resists any movement – you typically come off a space walk at least if you do not bleed," such as from torn fingernails. The pressurized suit exerts its own physical force on the body, which disturbs the movement; Hadfield compares it to a bench press for several hours. Relative levels of pain and distraction are commonplace. The closed nature of the suit also means that you can not help itching or quickly resolve some kind of discomfort on your skin and face.
In April 2001, Hadfield ran his first EVA and was quickly surrounded by problems. He could not get water out of his hydration pack (which works like a CamelBak for space suits). To make the injury even worse, it began to leak, which meant swimming small droplets of water in his helmet. Frustrating, but not a serious problem.
Suddenly he was struck by a burning pain in his left eye that automatically closed his eyelid. He says it feels as if drops of a hard shampoo or soap have fallen into his eyes. Later, NASA arrested the culprit as a likely left-over anti-fog solution on the helmet.
Most people whizzing through Earth's orbit at over 17,000 mph might freak out. But Hadfield is a former fighter pilot; Freaking out is alien to him. He took a punch to take stock of the situation and find out what his options were. "Realistically, it's not like you're helpless or dying – you've just lost one of your five senses," he said almost nonchalantly.
Like a naughty teenager, Hadfield chose not to inform Houston, arguing that people at home might just be unnecessarily worried, hoping that the problem would soon disappear in his eye. But his eyes continued to tear, and those tears carried any impurity that struck him primarily over his nose and into his other eye. Suddenly he was in too much pain to see, "Both eyes were blind."
Again, Hadfield did not want to panic. Knowing that he could not mute his microphone and everyone could hear him, he stayed calm, weighing his options and finally telling his crew and mission control that he could not see. "I knew that if I said that out loud, that would have a tremendous effect below."
" At no time was there a sense of panic, it was only one thing. "
– Chris Hadfield, Astronaut
While Houston was finding a plan, Hadfield's training occurred and he kept thinking about his other options and gathered more information with his other four senses. The suit stayed warm and he could not smell or feel or hear anything that might be indicative of a major malfunction inside.
"I thought that's kind of strange, like lying in a bed," he said. Space walks are intense visual experiences, and Hadfield said that without his eyesight, there were not many visual cues to remind him that he was floating in space. "I had two piercing eyes, but otherwise I could have sat on a sofa in the living room."
NASA decided that Hadfield had to rinse his helmet by turning the purge valve around his left ear and the contaminated air escaping into space. He had to deprive his helmet of oxygen and hoped that his suit would then be properly adjusted by the circulation of new oxygen.
"It put me in the bizarre position of being blind, holding on to the outside of a spaceship and actually listening to my oxygen rushing into the universe," he recalled. "And I'm the only person who can help me up there." If that did not work, it would be up to Hadfield to say they had to move to Plan B.
After about 10 minutes, Hadfield's eyes began to ache, thanks to his tears, which evaporated with the oxygen. He still could not see well, but he could see well enough. Hadfield and his spacewalk partner Scott Parazynski have completed their spacewalk to make another one two days later. Despite the brief panic Hadfield had just experienced, it was as usual.
"There has never been a sense of panic," he says. Hadfield knew how to get back to the airlock when he needed it, and he never felt his life or health was in danger. "It was only one thing."
It takes a lot of energy to call such an experience "just one thing." But if you are temporarily blinded during a spacewalk, "only one thing" is an astronaut.