Amr Mohamed was beyond elated when he learned he was one of the global winners of the YouTube Space Lab competition this past March. He had already been named as one of the six regional winners, and was in the middle of an exciting trip to Washington, D.C. to experience a Zero-Gravity flight, see the sites in the US capitol and attend the competition award ceremony. But that was just the beginning of Amr’s incredible space adventures.
The global winners had a choice for their grand prize – a trip to Japan to watch their winning Space Lab science experiment get shot up to the International Space Station (ISS) on a JAXA rocket or a unique space experience few get to make: a week-long space camp in Star City, Russia where the Russian cosmonauts train. Amr reached for the stars, and left his home in Alexandria, Egypt to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime journey.
We spoke to Amr right after his Russia trip to get all the details on what it really means to train like an astronaut.
Q: How long was the flight from Alexandria to Moscow?
A: The flight was about five hours long.
Q: From start to finish, describe a typical day during space camp training.
A: At training camp I’d wake up at 7 a.m. every day, go to breakfast, and start a training session. First order of the day was theoretical study, followed by some practical work and hands-on training. At about 12:30 pm we’d break for lunch, then it was right back to training. I’d have dinner at around 6pm, after which I was able to explore Star City. I checked out the local shops, or grabbed a pie at the local cafe. I really got to experience what it would be like to live and train there.
Q: What was your absolute favorite part of the space camp experience in Star City in Moscow?
A: The Extravehicular activity training was one of the highlights of my entire week of space training. It was amazing to study the space suit, then practice working in simulated zero gravity while wearing it!
Q: How did space camp compare with your Zero-G flight experience in Washington DC?
A: Both were unique in their own way. Also, both experiences complement each other to make the space experience complete.
Q: What did you learn during the training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center that surprised you the most?
A: One of the most surprising things was the amount of theoretical study the astronauts have to do. It’s not all just Zero-G flights and weightless floating.
Q: What did you learn about yourself that surprised you during your trip?
A: My body can handle pressure of up to 4.5 G force and still have a fast reaction time.
Q: In as much detail as you can, please list and describe all the activities you participated in during your week of cosmonaut training, including everything from simulators to classroom instruction.
- Manually docking the Soyuz space craft was like playing a really tricky video game.
- Extravehicular activity training included studying how a space suit works then practicing fixing and controlling the station in simulated zero gravity.
- ISS training involved studying the different aspects of living on board the ISS from the food and drinking water to how to use the restroom on the ISS and sleeping arrangements.
- Falcon suit training to study the flight suit and its features and uses.
- Centrifuge: Being the world’s largest centrifuge and experiencing the crushing force of the descent and flight was amazing.
- Astronomy lessons teach trainees how to navigate space using only the stars, and this training involved studying the constellations very closely. I was really moved when I saw all the massive constellations and galaxies in space during this part of my week.
- Space food training included tasting different space foods and then rating the different foods and meals on a scale from 1 to 9 to help scientists form a complete schedule of space meals of for the astronauts time in space based on their taste preferences as ranked during the rating portion.
Q: What type of physical training, if any, did you undergo?
A: Once you pass the medical tests and the doctors make sure your heart is good to go, there is no additional physical training during space camp. Though, I went swimming in my free time during my week in Star City.
Q: Did your space camp experience help you determine (either in favor of or against) whether or not you’d like to continue pursuing a career in science and space?
A: Space camp training only solidified my certainty that I want to pursue science and space as a career.
Q: What was the food like during training? Did you eat meals to prepare for actual space travel, and if yes, what type of food does that include?
A: I ate regular food during most days of the training. The space food, however, was better than I expected. At the outset of the space food training there’s an informational movie about how the food is prepared; they remove all the food’s moisture (water) and make it into a powder or can it. You get this feeling that it is going to taste terrible but it really wasn’t. For example, the fish was amazing. The Brodiniski bread, however, was terrible just as I expected.
Q: Did you visit other Moscow monuments/historical locations during your trip (ex: Russian Space Museum)? If yes, where did you go/what did you see?
A: I visited the really cool space museum in Moscow and saw all of these amazing space shuttles and rockets. A funny story about my time at the museum: The museum guide was constantly quizzing me during the tour, asking me to guess why the suit has mirrors or why to sit this specific way in the space ship, etc. I always knew the answer because I learned all of the answers during my space camp training. He was blown away. He was really surprised during the whole tour.
Q: Star City, the birthplace of space flight, and the training center itself, named for the first person to travel to space, is very much shrouded in mystery. It’s left off of maps and video footage of the area is rare. Can you give us a peek inside the city and tell us about what you saw and experienced in terms of the city itself?
A: Star City is a very rural city. There is only one cafe and a couple of supermarkets. While there wasn’t too much to do in the city itself, I got to do the best part which was explore inside the buildings of the Yuri Gagarin center: the training, the rockets, the mock-ups. They were awesome.
Q: Did you use your Lenovo Ultrabook during the trip to stay in touch with your family in Egypt/record your activities/upload pictures etc.?
A: Yep! I used my laptop to keep in touch with friends and family back home in Egypt and had a really fast internet connection from the space camp.
Q: Are you getting excited for your experiment to head to the ISS soon? What are you most looking forward to from your experiment being performed in space (watching it live-streamed on YouTube, finding out the results of the experiment, etc)?
A: I am anxiously awaiting the results of my experiment. I really hope the spiders survive.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like us to know about your trip to Star City?
A: It was absolutely awesome! I got to experience something few people get to and it was just incredible.
Amr’s experiment, “Can you teach an old spider new tricks?” will be performed soon on the ISS alongside the other winning experiment by U.S. residents Dorothy Chen and Sarah Ma “Could alien superbugs cure disease on Earth?” Carrying out the experiments will be NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and JAXA astronaut Ahikio Hoshide. The exact date is yet to be confirmed, but will be live-streamed from space from a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop via YouTube.
Gavin O'Hara is Global Publisher for Lenovo Social Media.