Two astronauts practice in the Neutral Buoyancy Simulator at Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Ala. Training underwater helps astronauts see what it's like to work in microgravity.

Dennis Keim/NASA

Astronaut Training Environments

Astronauts have to be prepared both for general space travel and for their specific mission. To get them ready, NASA has a variety of environments for astronaut training.

Some training facilities and simulators include:

  • The Jake Garn Training Facility: The Garn facility at JSC houses a functional space station simulator, which familiarizes astronauts with the in-orbit laboratory systems of the International Space Station.
  • The Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (SVMF): Like the Garn facility, the SVMF at Johnson Space Center consists of components that prepare astronauts for station operations. The Space Station Mockup and Training Facility (SSMTF) is a full-scale replica of the International Space Station, providing as much realism as possible to match conditions that will be experienced upon the orbiting space station.
  • The Virtual Reality (VR) Laboratory: Astronauts preparing for spacewalks or robotic arm operations test their skills in the VR Laboratory at Marshall Space Flight Center. In a simulated microgravity environment generated by powerful computers, astronauts -- each wearing special gloves, a video display helmet, a chest pack and a controller -- learn how to orient themselves in outer space, where up and down are indistinguishable and where even minor tweaks with a thruster can send someone spinning off into space.
  • Yuri A. Gagarin State Scientific Research-and-Testing Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC): With the end of the space shuttle program, the Soyuz craft is the only way for astronauts to reach the ISS (though independent programs may soon change that). That means astronauts of many nationalities must train at the GCTC in order to familiarize themselves with Soyuz systems and controls.

At the end of the advanced mission training phase, an astronaut is finally ready to carry out his or her assigned mission.