HomeNewsArticle Display

AFRL centrifuge part of NASA’s history-making launch

NASA astronaut Bob Behnken stops for the camera moments before going inside the Air Force Research Laboratory’s centrifuge for his spin during testing Nov. 2, 2018 at the Air Force Research Laboratory's centrifuge facility. (U.S. Air Force photo / Keith Lewis)

Bob Behnken, NASA astronaut, enters the Air Force Research Laboratory’s centrifuge for his spin during testing Nov. 2, 2018 at the Air Force Research Laboratory's centrifuge facility at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force photo by Keith Lewis)

NASA astronaut Douglas Hurley speaks with a NASA engineer just before getting into the Air Force Research Laboratory’s centrifuge. Ten astronauts participated in the testing Nov. 1-2, 2018 – one with Boeing and nine with NASA. (U.S. Air Force photo / Richard Eldridge)

Douglas Hurley, NASA astronaut, speaks with a NASA engineer just before getting into the Air Force Research Laboratory’s centrifuge at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Ten astronauts participated in the testing Nov. 1-2, 2018 – one with Boeing and nine with NASA. (U.S. Air Force photo by Richard Eldridge)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS) --

Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, NASA astronauts who ascended into space in a history-making launch, May 30, were two of the 10 astronauts to undergo testing in early November 2018 in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s centrifuge.

“It’s exciting that our centrifuge was one of several steps along the way to prepare these two astronauts for this upcoming launch,” said Brig. Gen. James Dienst, 711th Human Performance Wing commander. “AFRL’s experts and unique capabilities in human physiology seamlessly translate into the space domain, and we are honored to be part of our country’s historic moment.”

This centrifuge is the DoD’s only human-rated centrifuge, and it was designed to be agile and rapidly adaptable for any possible customer. Nearly two years ago, NASA was its first customer outside the DoD.

The agility of AFRL’s centrifuge rests in its interchangeable cockpits. The AFRL-NASA discussion began a few months prior to testing. Engineers from both teams began working to transform the centrifuge, more commonly used for fast-jet pilot training, into a system for astronaut testing.

“We were able to give NASA engineers 3D models of the gondola in our centrifuge and then they designed their cockpit displays,” said Scott Fleming, 711HPW centrifuge program manager. “We only had to add one shim and shave off an edge of one of the 50 manufactured parts; it was nearly an exact fit.”

For aircrew training, the centrifuge allows students and USAF fast-jet aviators the capability to experience up to nine Gs, or nine times the normal force of gravity, to teach the effects of G-forces on human physiology. Also, it allows for the measure of the flyer’s ability to counteract the effects and prevent G-induced loss of consciousness.

“For pilots, the G-forces are felt through the top of the head in the z-axis,” Fleming explained. “But for astronauts, the G-forces are felt mostly in the chest in the x-axis. They have to still be able to reach forward and accomplish certain tasks on their control panels.”

These tasks, performed 18 months ago, were part of the testing that each astronaut had to accomplish as the centrifuge spun. They also had pre- and post-test questionnaires as well as NASA physicians, who also conducted pre- and post-medical exams to bookend their centrifuge spins.

NASA’s relationship with the Air Force dates back to Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program in the United States, which spanned from 1958-1963 and saw names such as Alan Shepard and John Glenn, among others.

Kevin Rusnak, AFRL senior historian, discussed the history of centrifuges in North America as well as the historical partnership the Air Force and earlier, the Army Air Corps, has had with astronauts and the space program.

“Dr. Harry Armstrong was the first to build a centrifuge back in 1935 for the then Army Air Forces, and as far as we know, he was the first to build one in North America,” Rusnak said. “He had the shops (which was then Wright Field) construct it to do the first aeromedical testing and is considered the father of aviation medical research.”

A second centrifuge was built and used through World War II, but then a third was constructed at Wright-Patt(erson AFB) and used to test and select astronauts for Project Mercury in the late 1950s, Rusnak explained.

“They ran all the astronauts through the testing right here on base,” he said. “Then based on the tests that were run, the Air Force recommended the seven candidates to be accepted for the Mercury program. Those are the ones we now know as the ‘Mercury Seven’ astronauts.”

A couple more centrifuges followed and have been used for a variety of things from testing the endurance of people to the forces of acceleration to the comfort of pressure suits and space suits, Rusnak said. “What happens when you’re wearing a 50-pound space suit and you’re going at four Gs and the suit is pressing against your skin? Researchers at the Air Force Research Laboratory and now the 711th Human Performance Wing ask questions and develop solutions. Like—‘How can that suit be constructed so it’s more comfortable for the astronauts’ and ‘Are they still mobile - can they reach up and flip switches?’”

These questions apply to Air Force pilots too, he explained. “If you’re flying at a high speed or you have to eject, how can your body sustain the G-load and what kind of equipment can AFRL and more broadly, Air Force, provide these pilots to protect them when they’re going at these rates of speed? All this can be tested on our centrifuge.”

Fast forward to what is the next generation of space travel; centrifuge testing and training still remain crucial to both safety and human performance.

“In this new era of commercial space, where you have commercial space companies that are tasked to provide a service, but they may not have that depth of background in physiology—that’s where I think NASA steps in and uses its history and its relationships to make sure that their astronauts, when they use commercial space vehicles, are adequately prepared for what they are going to experience,” explained Boeing Astronaut Chris Ferguson during the 2018 testing.

NASA astronaut and physician, Michael Barratt, who also is a Wright State University alum and worked with AFRL researchers for his master’s thesis, discussed the new space vehicles, the different experience of G-forces in these vehicles in comparison to a high-speed jet, and the importance of readiness during their 2018 visit.

“We’re starting to fly these new vehicles that are very different from the space shuttles, Barratt said. “The shuttle had a very gentle G-profile both upward but especially downward. The new commercial space vehicles – the SpaceX Dragon, Boeing Starliner and even the new Orion – we’re back in the family with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo era where we had much higher G-forces in both ascent and entry.”

Barratt explained that during those (earlier) programs, NASA used centrifuge training both for preparing the astronauts to feel those G loads and to work and learn how to operate under them, but also to inform design, and cockpit strategies and operations.

“With the new vehicles back in the family with those G-loads, we’re basically reviving that whole G-training aspect and every astronaut will start going down this path,” he said. “This is our pathfinder effort – our first time to start spinning people with the G-loads of the new vehicles.”

“Who knows where this will lead,” Ferguson said in 2018, “but I think it’s a pretty darn good start.”

Engage

Twitter
The F-15E Strike Eagle is a dual-role fighter that performs air-to-air & air-to-ground missions, demonstrating… https://t.co/isD6FBEJn2
Twitter
Two Air Traffic Control Airmen discuss their experiences while deployed at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base. @USAFCENT 📹 U… https://t.co/1HtRN8Et93
Twitter
RT @USAFReserve: Reserve Citizen Airman takes the fight to #COVID19 - https://t.co/IM7WSbM0Bz (Story by the @307BombWing) #ReserveReady #Re
Twitter
Airmen assigned to the 62nd Airlift Wing @JBLM_PAO participate during a #JointForce exercise that also included a s… https://t.co/lWfcCDtlPV
Twitter
.@WeaponsSchool trains tactical experts and leaders to control and exploit air, space and cyber on behalf of the… https://t.co/Qy4RBNWGbe
Twitter
HVAC Airmen from the 355th Civil Engineer Squadron @DMAFB work year round to ensure DM Airmen are working at optima… https://t.co/SH4KBhqknQ
Twitter
RT @AirNatlGuard: .@NCAirGuard Airman 1st Class Collins Ampong and @NCNationalGuard Spc. Flack work together to sort and process medical eq…
Twitter
Kymeta Government Solutions has developed a flat panel, electronically steered antenna w/no moving parts providing… https://t.co/Se2rd4X0d8
Twitter
The 31st Fighter Wing conducted the first Elephant Walk in Aviano Air Base history consisting of 31 F-16s, 2 HH-60… https://t.co/gSU2kCX9R7
Twitter
RT @AirNatlGuard: Into the Wild Blue Yonder✈️ 146th Maintenance Group Airmen & 115th Airlift Squadron aircrew collaborated to accomplish l…
Twitter
Staff Sgt. Damion Carbajal provides an inside look at the training and day-to-day life of a Flight Engineer. 📹 Vid… https://t.co/JKsDRlCT8B
Twitter
A 301st Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter flies over a beach shore as a storm begins to form over… https://t.co/z6Pix9XZok
Twitter
The Airmen @DMAFB train w/ @USMC to enhance their #JointForce readiness capabilities, day & night. 📹 U.S. Air For… https://t.co/KHbrH1vSu7
Twitter
The Dental clinic at Ellsworth AFB teamed up with the Maintenance Group to come up with innovative solutions to imp… https://t.co/NXB4G29Kns
Twitter
RT @Join_AFReserve: The start of a new era! https://t.co/mZjL4egK2u … The first KC-46A Pegasus, the new #aircraft replacing the KC-135 St…
Twitter
RT @DeptofDefense: Firefighters with @usairforce 307th Civil Engineer Squadron extinguish a fire during training at Barksdale Air Force Bas…
Twitter
Welcome home! The 71st Rescue Squadron returned from their deployment, to reuniting with friends and family at Mood… https://t.co/wsHquOQ2HO
Twitter
An Airman stationed @LukeAFB checks in & welcomes a new Airman to the base. This is a standard procedure in the mil… https://t.co/Yb4zAxFdgF
Twitter
RT @USAFReserve: 446th medical professionals return home from #COVID19 relief efforts in #NYC - https://t.co/AEt1x7oJCB (Story by the @446A
Twitter
Amn 1st Class Jennifer Hutz, Ellsworth AFB Emergency Actions Controller, calls Philadelphia, Pennsylvania home. 📹… https://t.co/pBfuS5IL2s
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,242,210
Follow Us