10 Surprising Facts About Astronaut Training

Survival Skills Are Tested
Astronaut candidate Susan J. Helms gathers pine branches to create bedding under a tent she has constructed from a parachute while participating in wilderness survival training. NASA

In space, there's no shortage of hazardous situations. From micrometeorites to equipment snafus, astronauts must be ready to deal with all kinds of threats in low-Earth orbit. And then there are the return trips. Space agencies take great pains to ensure that their crews make it back home safely. Still, there's always a chance that something could go wrong.

What happens if a returning vessel is blown off-course and lands in dangerous territory? It's for this very reason that space agencies around the world put their astronauts through wilderness survival training. Back in the Apollo era, NASA's lunar program candidates were regularly tested out in the jungles of Panama. The men would attend survivalist lectures and then test their new skills at some remote location. (Buzz Aldrin remembers getting advice on how to hunt iguanas) [source: Wagener].

More recent classes of NASA astronauts have spent this phase of the training process in rural Maine. Guided by survival specialists from the U.S. armed forces, today's astronaut candidates go through plane crash drills, practice first aid and get acquainted with the emergency supply kits they'll have in space [source: Metcalf-Lindenberger].

Other astronaut hopefuls from various space programs around the world have been made to rough it in places like Nevada's sweltering deserts or Russia's frigid forests. Plus, the European Space Agency will sometimes leave its trainees adrift in the Mediterranean Sea [source: McKinnon].