Bucks aerospace center helps travelers prepare for out-of-this-world experience

I kind of blacked out for a second there. My vision fuzzed up like TV static, and then blinked off.

It was the first stage of G-lock, reaction to the unearthly forces that set upon a body when that body is trying to break the Earth’s orbit.

I never left the Earth. I was sitting on the business end of a powerful centrifuge at the National Aerospace Training and Research Center in Southampton, Pa., in Bucks County. It’s getting ready for the next frontier in tourism: outer space.

“People are looking at suborbital space flight and, in some cases, they think it is nothing much more than a commercial flight from New York to L.A. Nothing can be further from the truth,” said Glenn King, the director of training at the NASTAR center. “Your aircraft is going to be much smaller, the velocity and speeds are going to be much greater.”

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The flight is fake, but the forces are very real. The centrifuge simulates actual space flight, creating gravitational forces (G-forces) up to nine times greater than Earth’s. NASTAR is the official training center of Virgin Galactic, the outer space arm of Virgin Airlines and one of the leaders in the race to privatize manned space flight.

However, those civilian passengers will not be required to go through training. The Federal Aviation Administration, in an effort to encourage development of the fledgling industry, only requires companies to inform passengers of the hazards, not train them on how to deal with those hazards.

Once real passengers start feeling the adverse effects of commercial space flight, the FAA may start to impose regulations.

“On the other hand, if they come back just fine, that indicates they don’t need to do that,” said Michael Lopez-Alegria, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry group. “The point is, we don’t need to make decisions until the industry is more mature, and has enough data on which to base regulations.”

Glenn King, who is in the business of training, says not being trained can, at best, make the trip uncomfortable. At worst, it can literally knock you out.

Like it nearly did to me in the video.

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