HOUSTON -- Several 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series race destinations have run through the rumor mill, but what about outer space?
Drivers Josef Newgarden and James Hinchcliffe have built close relationships with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the 2014 season following a trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., in April and a behind-the-scenes tour June 26 of Johnson Space Center by astronauts Andrew Feustel and Anna Fisher. But, unfortunately, 2015 will not mark the year for the inaugural INDYCAR race in space.
Though a Milky Way Grand Prix is still light years away, NASA astronauts must be ready to train for takeoff at a moment’s notice.
“I’m ready to go back to space today,” said Feustel, who has completed two spaceflights. “That’s my job. We all come here to be astronauts. I’ve been given that opportunity so if I’m asked to train again to go that’s why I’m here. If I’m not here to fly in space then I shouldn’t be here at all.”
Feustel gave the drivers a tour of the facilities where NASA astronauts train for up to four years before making their first space flight. While the program is rigorous, completing training for NASA or INDYCAR is a feat in itself. Like INDYCAR drivers, NASA astronauts continue training while on the job with a mandatory three-hour workout to be completed daily on the International Space Staion in zero gravity.
“We obviously prepare a lot in racing, but these guys are working on one mission for four years,” said Hinchcliffe, of Andretti Autosport. “I don’t think we quite spend four years working on one race. It is all about preparation and execution and to see it in this real environment has been very eye-opening and inspiring.”
The tour was complete at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at Sonny Carter Training Center, a tank 202 feet in length, 102 feet wide, and 40-feet, 6-inches deep where both drivers watched NASA’s space walkers perform simulated tasks on an underwater mock-up of the International Space Station, a training routine that could last up to nine hours daily.
“You really feel passion here,” said Newgarden, of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. “These astronauts talk about their favorite mission and memories of training, while race car drivers speak of the challenges of a certain race. We both have experiences that we’ll remember forever. It’s exciting to hear astronauts talk about their love for what they do, just like we do as race car drivers.”
For now, INDYCAR racing will remain on Earth, but Hinchcliffe, who has been waiting for a spaceflight since his stint at Space Camp as a sixth-grader, is ready to take the trip sooner rather than later.
“I would go to space tomorrow,” said Hinchcliffe. “If there’s a 6 O’Clock, I’d be on it.”
But Hinchcliffe’s space flight will have to wait until after the Shell Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston. Tune in for a recap of the Johnson Space Center tour before the NBCSN telecast at 3 p.m. (ET) June 28 and 29.