48 Hours a Day

Chapter 286 - Of Elvis’ Poster and Spacesuits

No more weird equipment was being used for physical training. However, how hard it was made them feel no different from basic rocket physics, and aerospace engineering didn’t seem that dry and dull anymore. This time, Anthony performed best among the players, gaining first place in both bench pressing and weightlifting. As for Zhang Heng and the listless young man, they both placed second and third. Judging by the familiar way Anthony stomped along with the equipment, it seemed he was a regular gym buff.

The high-school student didn’t fare well in physical training, placed even behind the knowledgeable middle-aged man. Considering that he was about to go through the National College Entrance Examination, it was perfectly reasonable that he would spend every moment he had studying instead of doing rigorous training. He simply didn’t have the time, even if he wanted to. Unfortunately, the person coming in last was still the plump guy. Through his sluggish performance, everyone now saw why he was kicked out of his previous team.

Where did he find the courage to insist entering the gym when he could only do half a pull-up? Luckily, Zhen Xiong asked to go last. All too soon, she started regretting her decision. Although she was injured and was excused from this session, the captain said she would have to make up for it in the next. While others were busy training, Zhen Xiong simply sat aside and did practically nothing. Since her leg was injured, she focused solely on upper body strength. It was already 11.50 p.m. when the session was over. By that time, all seven candidates were literally dragging their exhausted bodies and minds back to the meeting room upstairs. It was time to learn how to fly a supersonic jet. Since none of them were aviators, the captain was keen for them to familiarize themselves with the T-38 Talon, a supersonic jet trainer. This time, Zhang Heng included, was too fatigued to do anything. Luckily, living conditions provided by NASA weren’t too shabby. Not only did everyone have their own dorm, but it was even equipped with a personal lavatory as well. Their clothes were already neatly arranged in the wardrobe. Usually, Zhang Heng would check his character panel before he slept. However, when he finally entered his room at 2.15 a.m, he was too tired to do anything. All he wanted to do was to lay on the bed and sleep.

Having only three and a half-hours of sleep, it wasn’t quite enough to rid his body and mind of exhaustion. The alarm woke him up with a jolt, before he was asked to get a quick cold shower. After that, he opened the curtains and took a good look at his room. He still had no idea how the other rooms looked like, though.

It wasn’t a large room, a studio-like space around 40 square feet, furnished with every piece of essential amenities. It included a single bed, wardrobe, table, couch, television, and a fridge. The only thing worth mentioning here was the sixties-era technicolor television, a groundbreaking invention for its time. Of course, the picture quality could never be compared with a modern and slick UHD television. That said, its design was unique, coming in a square box-like structure with a thick frame around it. It looked more like a microwave or a fish tank.

Behind the television was a large poster of the movie, Viva Las Vegas, a romance flick featuring Elvis co-starring Anne Margaret. On the poster, both of them were leaning back while looking at the camera.

As his tired mind began to clear, Zhang Heng took out a clean suit of NASA uniform from the wardrobe. He quickly spotted a note stuck on the bottom of an empty basket placed beside the clean garments. (Put your dirty laundry here.]

Zhang Heng followed the instructions, tossing his dirty uniform into the basket. He was famished, but before he could look for any food in the fridge, he heard the captain speaking loudly outside his room.

“Gather up! You’ll all be visiting the space center today. After that, dinner is served at 1800 hours. You will begin your astronaut training at 1820 hours.”

After the first day of torture, all seven players were prepared to face another day of grueling training. Their faces were stoic when they heard the announcement; not displaying much emotion whatsoever. Either they were numb, or not fully awake yet. The schoolkid was the only one excited when he heard that there would be astronaut training later.

Now, the spacesuit used in the Apollo missions was an upgraded Project Gemini A7L suits. They would be further upgraded in the future for the Apollo-Soyuz mission and Project Skylab. Sci-fi movies made getting in and out of the suit a breeze, seeming as if the astronaut could slip into them without much effort. In reality, it was a nightmare to deal with. Take the A7L as an example; a suit that weighed around seventy pounds. The specialized piece of equipment had five different layers. The layer that closest to the skin housed an advanced liquid-cooling system. Mated to a nylon spandex to ensure comfort, above this was a pressured airbag, allowing the astronaut to freely move its joints before another layer of nylon topped it off. Lastly, the outer skin was a protective layer against the heat. The suit’s helmet and gloves were connected to it by metal rings.

That was not the end, for after putting on the hefty suit, Zhang Heng had to carry a portable life-support system as well, allowing him to breathe in outer space. As mentioned earlier, it was connected to the suit’s cooling system, a radiator of sorts. On the left side of the pack was a tall antenna that supported a two-way voice communication. This was the very reason why ultimate fitness was needed for an astronaut. An untrained individual would find it hard to even move in the shackles of the ‘suit.’

Nevertheless, the astronauts would undoubtedly feel better after they entered a zero-gravity environment, what the suits were created for in the first place. Usually, each astronaut would be equipped with three spacesuits. One of them would be used during the mission, the second during training, and the last was a spare. With his trainer’s assistance, Zhang Heng put on the famous fish-tank helmet. Suddenly, he felt like he was sucked into a vacuum chamber, isolated from the world outside. However, it wasn’t completely silent inside the helmet. He could hear a soft buzzing and the sound of the cooling fan from the life-support. After that, the trainer instructed him on how to use the urine bag, before reading what was on the control module for the life support system located on his chest to him. From there, he could monitor and adjust the liquid and power of the life support system.

This was an entirely alien experience for all seven players. Although it was in no way a breeze to learn, it was definitely better than the boring theory lessons and the energy-sapping physical training. Learning to put on the bulky spacesuit was fun, at least. If not for the extreme rigors and constraints that becoming an astronaut required, blasting to the moon strapped to a Saturn V rocket would be nothing less but a mind-blowing experience for 99.9999% of people. In 2001, one of the wealthiest people on Earth actually paid a hefty sum to become a space tourist, a seat that cost him a whopping twenty million dollars. In total, the lucky tycoon got to spend eight days cruising above mother earth on the International Space Station.

At the same time, Zhen Xiong noticed Zhang Heng always glancing at the clock during the training. It was as if he was waiting for something