Flight training and simulations

To be eligible for a seat on the Soyuz vehicle, astronauts must undergo extremely rigorous training. Training takes place mainly in Star City, Russia, and includes basic training, flight simulations, centrifuge exercises and survival training for hostile environments.

Before they are allowed to depart astronauts and cosmonauts must pass a series of exams, including comprehensive qualification exams.

David Saint-Jacques is wearing the Sokol pressure suit in the Soyuz spacecraft simulator. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

Basic training

To earn a spot on the Soyuz, an astronaut must:

Basic training familiarizes astronauts with the Soyuz's many systems and the Russian components of the International Space Station (ISS). Systems include:

Flight simulations

In order to travel into space, astronauts must first be able to perform the required tasks of their position on the Soyuz. This means an astronaut may spend hundreds of hours in the Soyuz simulator preparing for different situations, such as:

David Saint-Jacques in the Soyuz simulator

It's a snug fit for David Saint-Jacques in the Soyuz simulator during a training session in Star City, Russia. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

These simulations help astronauts:

Centrifuge exercises

The Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, has two centrifuges. These massive arms, at 7 and 18 metres long, can turn quickly to produce very strong accelerations.

The faster the arm turns, the more astronauts feel like they are getting heavier, sort of like being on a roller-coaster!

During the descent of the Soyuz capsule, acceleration may affect how the pilot handles the controls, causing the pilot to make mistakes. The centrifuge therefore plays an important role in re-entry training.

As part of his training, David Saint-Jacques performs simulation exercises in Star City's CF-7 centrifuge. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

Survival training for hostile environments

At the end of a mission, the Soyuz capsule re-enters the atmosphere before landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan.

However, there is a chance that, due to unforeseen events such as bad weather or a technical failure, the Soyuz and its crew may be forced to land in a remote or hostile part of the world.

Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk

Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk takes part in winter survival training in Russia. (Credit: Roscosmos)

In such a case, it could be hours or even days before a search and rescue team arrives at the landing site!

Survival training is therefore crucial for Soyuz astronauts. They must learn to:

One of many scenarios: splashdown

The Soyuz capsule may even drift off its trajectory and land on water rather than on ground! In that situation, astronauts can don a Forel floating suit after putting on several layers of thermal underwear.

Exams

For astronauts to be certified for a mission on the ISS, they must pass a series of exams, including qualification exams.

This is a formal and rigorous process. When the astronauts perform their tasks in the simulator during the exam, every command and every word is analyzed, and the smallest movements are scrutinized to evaluate their:

Exam Commission

Each Exam Commission consists of many examiners:

Day of testing

The crew reports to the Exam Commission prior to entering the simulator.

Les membres d'équipage de la mission Expedition 34/35

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield writes his signature in front of senior officials at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center as part of the formalities preceding the qualification exam. (Credit: NASA)

There is a scripted dialogue exchanged between the crew commander and the head of the Exam Commission. Crewmembers take an envelope containing the exam, sign and date it, and hand it to the supervisor.

A card inside the envelope (hidden from crewmembers) outlines the scenario which, of course, includes a number of unforeseen events!

Bob Thirsk training in a Soyuz Capsule simulator

Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk training in a Soyuz capsule simulator. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

Robert Thirsk's qualification exam

Robert Thirsk's simulated scenario in included:

  • failure of the radio transmitter
  • failure of the rendezvous radar during approach to the ISS
  • failure of the translational hand controller during final approach to the ISS
  • shutdown of the main Soyuz engine
  • depressurization of the Soyuz Descent Module 
  • a major bug in the emergency descent program

But that's not all: the simulation ended with a fire! Robert Thirsk and his colleagues had to:

  • don gas masks
  • extinguish the simulated fire
  • close the hatches to protect the rest of the ISS from smoke

Explore further

Date modified: