ASMSA grad meets space legend

6 years ago


On March 9, 2012, The Sentinel-Record (Hot Springs) published an article about Class of 1996 grad Brian Shiro meeting Neil Armstrong at a recent conference in California. Shiro is co-founder of Astronauts 4 Hire.

ASMSA grad meets space legend

By Jim Newsom

The Sentinel Record

Brian Shiro, the 1996 senior class president of the Arkansas School for Mathematics and Sciences and a co-founder of Astronauts for Hire, had a close encounter with space flight history recently when he and fellow commercial astronaut trainees met briefly with Neil Armstrong.

Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, was the keynote speaker at the third annual Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference at Palo Alto, Calif., Feb. 27-29.

Shiro and fellow Astronauts for Hire attended the conference along with some 400 other suborbital flight researchers. He said the commercial astronaut program “grew out indirectly” from the first NSRC conference in 2010.

“It’s a very rare opportunity to have someone of Armstrong’s caliber show up at conference,” he said in a telephone interview from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, where he is a geophysicist with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

“The fact that he came out really says a lot about how he sees, I think, the development of this industry. It was an honor to be there with him.”

Shiro and A4H members who attended the conference initially met Armstrong after he spoke to the gathering about the 1950’s X-15 rocket-propelled flight program, which preceded the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the astronaut program.

“I, along with a couple hundred other people, went up there to try to talk with him,” Shiro said. “He was gracious and let each person come up in turn and speak with him for a minute and shake his hand and take a picture.”

And if shaking hands with arguably the most famous astronaut of all wasn’t enough, Shiro said Armstrong “stuck around all day at the conference, which was unexpected.”

“One would think that he would just leave and duck out. But no, he stayed all day and went to some of the sessions,” Shiro said. “You could see him in the hallway talking to people in small groups.”

Shiro said he and other A4H members subsequently “went up and talked with him again.”

“We didn’t talk too long, but being in his presence is influencing enough,” he said.

Shiro said the A4H’ers “didn’t want to press him too much” about the commercial astronaut industry.

“He just said, ‘Good luck.’ We didn’t really get into it,” Shiro said. “We were there to absorb his information instead of the other way around. Absorb his aura is a good way to put it. I’ve met other astronauts, but certainly he’s the most famous. Without people like him coming before us, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Shiro said A4H will soon complete its training program manual for commercial astronaut positions.

“Once we get the training program fully published, we can point to it as the standard for which we’re training, the qualifications that we’re reaching,” he said. “We’re targeting that for this summer. Then we will qualify the first group of people.”

Shiro said that “just like in the military, we plan to award silver wings to people who complete the training program, then once you actually do your flight, when you officially become an astronaut, you get the gold wings. Then you’re really an astronaut.”

He said A4H astronauts expect to venture commercially into suborbital space within two years.

“There’s a good chance that at least one person from the organization will get a flight within the next 18 to 24 months,” he said. “There’s a joke in the industry that everything is two years off. No matter when you ask, it’s always two years off. We take that with a grain of salt.”

Shiro said A4H is “definitely pursuing opportunities and sooner or later someone will do it.”

In the meantime, Shiro said A4H trainees are closely encountering weightless parabolic flight conditions aboard a specially designed jet.

“We’ve had a couple clients for parabolic flight campaigns, the Zero-G flights. One happened last year; an Australian client who hired us to test their product.”

In addition, Shiro said A4H and client Vital Space will soon test a new biometric monitoring system designed for use by space-flight participants in a May reduced-gravity parabolic flight aboard a structurally-modified 727 aircraft at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base near Houston.

“It’s this easy-to-wear, lightweight thing that monitors all your vital signs like blood pressure, heart rate and blood oxygen. All the things that would be on an intensive care unit bed has been miniaturized and you can wear it. This is commercially available right now in the medical community. The idea is, can we use this in the micro-gravity environment of space?” 

A news release states that A4H “will undergo up to four flights with 40 parabolas, each granting 25 seconds of near zero-gravity” to test the ViSi Mobile System from the Sotera Wireless Company.

“The project is facilitated by NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, to which Vital Space and Astronauts4Hire submitted a successful joint proposal chosen by NASA in October 2011.

Shiro said parabolic flight is “the arc pass to the sky in which you get 25-30 seconds of weightlessness in each arc.”

“Then at the bottom of the arc, you get two Gs, so you get more gravity than normal. So you’re going through this roller-coaster and re-doing that 40 times, times four flights, in testing this equipment and our response to it and how useable it is,” he said. 

Shiro said the same general effect is felt during elevator flights “when the elevator starts to go down and jumps a little bit, for a brief second you’ll weigh less.” He said it’s equally similar to a roller-coaster ride.

“When the roller-coaster goes over the top of its arc, if it’s going fast enough you will sort of lift out of your seat,” Shiro said.

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