by Staff Sgt. Gregory Brook
42nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
3/14/2014 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala., -- -- To
prepare for the rigors and dangers of space travel, astronauts attend
different training scenarios at facilities all over the world. Some are
highly specialized, immersive environments such as underwater tanks
containing full mock ups of the international space station to practice
functioning in weightless environments. There are also facilities used
by others that can be repurposed to suite the astronauts needs.
Maxwell Air Force Base's Squadron Officer College Project X leadership
reaction course and the Vigilant Warrior training complex here are two
facilities that Peggy Whitson, NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston
training lead for astronaut expeditionary skills sought out to provide a
unique training opportunity for its astronauts.
Designed to develop leadership skills, the LRC and vigilant warrior
field exercises are a series of obstacle course challenges that students
attending schools on Maxwell go through as teams.
The training was modified over the course of a year to fit the
astronauts training needs in a coordinated effort between NASA, and the
Academy of Military Science here on Maxwell, said Lt. Col. Reid
Rasmussen, AMS commander.
Six American and international astronauts participated in training events at the LRC, and the VWTC here, March 3-5.
"The way we ran the LRC for NASA is very different than how we would run
it for our students," said Rasmussen. "They are more highly trained and
come with a much broader skill set than your average lieutenant shows
The events were designed to provide the astronauts with unique training
opportunities based on requirements provided by NASA. The exercise
pitted the astronauts against a specific obstacle goal to be achieved
within a time limit and under a specific set of rules.
They combined a set of physical and mental challenges to test the
astronauts' core leadership training requirements. The astronauts had to
scale walls and climb ropes, cross wide gaps with ropes and transport
simulated wounded people, all while staying in a safe zone to achieve
their goals. To make the situation more challenging some of the
exercises cut off their ability to communicate.
"We worked together in coming up with a scenario that would allow us to
practice some more skills that give us a more extended duration working
together," said Whitson.
While there is an established way of solving an obstacle, the central
theme of the training was an emphasis on team work and
intercommunication in unfavorable circumstances.
"It was a very positive experience, putting us in a situation where we
don't have the solutions," said Maj. Jeremy Hansen, Royal Canadian air
force astronaut. "These specific skill sets don't apply to our job of
flying in space, but what really applies to our job is how six of us are
going to live together in a tin can for six months and make sure that
we operate in a very deadly environment and communicate all the things
that are very important. If you get them wrong, there are significant
prices to be paid."
Throughout the day, some of the exercises were designed to illustrate
the difficulty of an inability to communicate and encouraged the
astronauts to find alternatives.
"Clear, concise, but effective communication is very important'" said
Whitson. "Learning how to read accurate information back to ground so
you can get the job done, particularly in a less than nominal situation
is very important."
An environment like the International Space Station, where people from
all over the world with different cultures and languages come together
to accomplish a specific mission requires the astronauts to be able to
easily adapt to new people and group dynamics, Whitson said.
"It is imperative for us to develop the skill set and understanding of
how to work with someone else, and it's important to be able to adapt
easily to a new group of people and to know what techniques you might
try differently to get the group to bond together and to build a
After the LRC, the astronauts went to the VWTC site, where they spent a
night out in the southern wild, where they built a shelter and set up
communications equipment. The AMS instructors provided them with
distractors and inputs to constantly test their ability to operate in a
high stress environment.
"Our instructor core gets to grow out this experience," said Rasmussen.
"Just getting outside of your comfort zone as an instructor to broaden
some of the things that we are allowing them to do is a way to make our
instructors think a little bit more, be ready to debrief something they
not have ever seen before. It's definitely beneficial to both sides. We
just want to be a good partner and support NASA as they need it."