Our Swedish Astronaut, Marcus Wandt, visited Ideon Science Park on Friday. He was invited and presented by Region Skåne – utveckling & innovation and the Swedish National Space Agency. Marcus took the stage to share his experiences from preparing for and taking his space journey which took place in January this year.

While sharing how he prepared for his first space journey, he also shared what his emotions were as he got set for the trip, what it felt like to board the spaceship, settle in it, and get sent off into space by this powerful, fully automated machine.

Even though Marcus had never considered becoming an astronaut, his way toward becoming one seems straight. He has a background as a fighter pilot and engineer. When he applied to the ESA astronaut force, it all went fast:

“I was activated quickly. A lot of things happened in a short time,” he says. “ Less than two weeks after getting a call that this was happening, I was told I had to start training for a space flight.”

It was the fastest space training ever done.

“The day after the new year, I went into quarantine in Florida for 14 days. There are two reasons for this: the first is to not get sick and the other one is to not bring a virus or the like to the space station. That would be a problem for the astronauts already being there.”

Even though he had already seen the program, he realized that the two prep weeks would be extremely busy:

“There are a great number of stakeholders involved. They all want you to learn things about their respective parts: NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration wants you to know everything about the space station as well as nominal operations. European Space Agency – ESA wants you to know about the research programs and maintenance – the tinkering that I will have to do while at the station. SpaceX wants you to know everything about the space wagon…”

Nevertheless, he managed the training and was fully trained when arriving at the space station.

“But there were still a lot of things to go through once there”, he says.

The last few days before take-off were spent at the John F Kennedy Space Centre, walking through the timeline in detail.

“We made a general repetition of the takeoff plan. Everything is planned by the minute”, he says.

Marcus shares his experience and thoughts on the elevator ride up to the ship entry. He describes how he enters the elevator, looks at the panel, and hits the button marked ‘space’ to get to the top, the crew arm which will take him to the spacecraft. Once up there, he waits until they have fueled the rocket:

“Then and there, looking down in the space between the vehicle, and the dock, I started thinking about the power of this thing; the burning, flaming energy, the 1.7 million pounds of thrust that will be spitted out, thousands of km per hour and all that is going to happen now. I will go up in space in a vacuum, dock with a space station, and work for a few weeks. It kind of struck me, then and there.”

He says he considers what he is thinking and says that he is happy that he feels a bit nervous. After all, it is natural:

“I need to have respect for what we are doing, there are risks. I need to feel something. If I did not, then something would be off.”

When he gets into the capsule, he thinks about how small it is:

‘But then, once I am in it, in the cockpit – it feels like home.”

Once in the vehicle, he does a thorough check:

“I make sure everything is sealed. I always do this during training, but this time I do it with extra care. I listen to the noises; the hissing of the valves, the sound of the fuel making its way into the vehicle.“

The rocket is 100 % autonomous and automated. You cannot do manual inputs.

“Unfortunately for me, as a pilot of course it would be fun. But this is how it works.”

The take-off is immediate.

“I was expecting a more hesitant take-off”, he says. “I did not foresee this enormous power. I have done a lot of G-force with Gripen and centrifuges to practice the precise profile to know what it feels like when it is spinning. This was a very different feeling that I did not expect. My brain started screaming ‘This is super-fast!’ My brain and I were happy then.”

You can tell that Marcus thinks a lot about how his brain reacts to different things.

Once in space, he felt happy, too.

When the booster is separated, it flies back and lands.

“This is something I am in awe about; I’ve always wondered how this will ever be possible. But it works.”

“Once the booster has flown off, you start accelerating again.”

The ride enters a second stage.

“There were more vibrations than I had expected”, he says. “Then they stop, and you are suddenly in microgravity. You open your harness, take your space suit off, watch earth from afar and float in space.”

“As soon as you get up in the microgravity, working is efficient and convenient when working.  There is no up or down. You might as well work with your head down. It is incredible how fast your brain adapts.”

Marcus gives us a house tour and shares images from the different rooms, as well as his bedroom, which he calls ‘casa’. “You’ve got to attach yourself when sleeping so that you don’t float away.”

We’re invited to peek into the spaceship and get a feeling of what it is like to float around in microgravity, moving around in the ship.

He shares what goes on in his head. When in space he analyses how his brain adapts to the physical circumstances.

“One thing my brain did not get was spotting items floating around plain eyesight. Perhaps it is the result of a cognitive load.”

He is otherwise fascinated by how quickly the brain learns how to use this new way of moving.

Marcus shares the view from the cupola, which has seven small windows and is very deep but offers a 360 view of Earth and space; pointing out the aurora borealis, the thin lines of the atmosphere, and the sight of earth.

“It is like art”; he says. “This certainly has a different scale than what you see when just flying. You can almost see history play out on earth.”

He was surprised about the darkness of space.

“While Earth is colorful and beautiful, space is pitch black. You cannot see the stars.”

Marcus has flown a lot of different planes.

“But the view I got here, peaking out of the spaceship cupola was different. This was a new feeling. Getting such an overview really felt special.”

 

About:

  • Marcus Wandt was born on September 22, 1980.
  • He is a Swedish Astronaut and member of the 2022 European Space Agency – ESAy Astronaut Group.
  • In January 2024, he became the third Swedish astronaut to visit space, after Christer Fuglesang and Jessica Meir.
  • From 2003 to 2014, Wandt was a fighter pilot in the Swedish Air Force, flying the Saab JAS 39 Gripen.
  • In 2004, he joined the Swedish Air Force Flying Training School, where he received basic flight training.
  • He received a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Chalmers University of Technology in 2007.
  • From 2013 to 2014, he trained at the United States Naval Test Pilot School where he graduated at the top of his class to become an experimental test pilot.
  • In 2014 he joined SAAB Aeronautics as an experimental test pilot, before being promoted to chief test pilot and head of flight operations in 2020.

 

About ESA BIC and our role in it

Ideon Science Park is a part of the European Space Agency – ESA Business Incubation Centre, which has the largest network of incubators dedicated to supporting space-related startups throughout Europe

A few of our start-ups have adapted space innovations and technologies to develop new products and solutions that can be used on Earth. Two of these startups, Mantis Photonics AB and Adamant Quanta, have been accepted into the ESA BIC program, which Ideon is a part of, as a part of ESA BIC Sweden. ESA Bics are located all across various European countries.

Startups that are a part of the program get access to office space, technical support, and ESA resources for a period of typically up to two years. The program includes funding, incubation support, access to networks, and business coaching.

The ESA BIC program aims to stimulate entrepreneurship and innovation by leveraging space technology and expertise to address challenges and create economic opportunities in various industries.

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