MotoGP Riders visit NASA
Ahead of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) and Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) were given an exclusive inside look at the Johnson Space Center in Texas alongside Kevin Schwantz. NASA uses the Johnson Space Center for the majority of their human spaceflight training and research, the FIM CEV Repsol of space travel and is commonly known as ‘Space City’.
The Space Center is not only used for training astronauts, but also acted as Mission Control during the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle missions. Riding a MotoGP machine is a thrill few people get to experience, but travelling into space is an even rarer experience, as such Iannone and Pedrosa were eager to get even a brief taste of an astronaut’s experience. Astronaut Andrew ‘Drew’ Feustel, who has twice been to space and is planning a third trip very soon, was their tour guide for the day.
They were first introduced to a number of robots and rovers developed and used by NASA. After a brief driving lesson, Pedrosa took Iannone for a spin in an MRV (Modular Robotics Vehicle), a prototype rover to be used in future missions to the Moon, or even Mars. It wasn’t quite as fast as their MotoGP bikes, but was certainly as nimble with wheels which spin in 360° and the ability to be driven sideways.
With the fun completed it was time to get down to work, Iannone, Schwantz and Pedrosa all being taken to the Crew Compartment Trainer (CCT) for some hands on training. The CCT is used to get astronauts adjusted to working in both a horizontal and vertical position. Much like when racing motorcycles, being of a smaller stature was beneficial in the CCT, which was incredible compact and filled with machinery and instruments. Their training continued with a trip inside the International Space Station (ISS) model, where Iannone was able to meet and talk with Italian astronaut and former ISS resident Luca Parmitano.
Iannone and Pedrosa were shown the historic control room from the Apollo mission, which operated from 1965 to 1992, and launched historical missions such as Apollo 11 (first time humans landed on the moon) and famous Apollo 13. Much like in racing, technology has advanced significantly since then but a charm remained and all three riders were amazed that such incredible achievements were made with such simple machinery.
From here, Iannone and Pedrosa were taken to current Mission Control Center, the nerve center of NASA, which monitors the path of the International Space Station, the feeling inside the room slightly less tense than during a launch. Tim Kopra, Tim Peake and Jeff Williams, all astronauts currently in the ISS, and big fans of the riders and MotoGP™, were able to communicate live with the riders with a full audio and video feed. They all had a chance to talk bikes, racing and rockets with Pedrosa inviting them to come to a MotoGP™ race the next time they’re back on earth.
Finally they were taken to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, a giant indoor pool where pilots prepare themselves for the gravity challenges they’ll face in space. The pool, which is 40 feet deep and holds 6.2 million gallons of water, is used as being submerged underwater is very similar to being up in space without gravity. Unfortunately neither rider had brought their swimming trunks so were unable to give it a try. Nevertheless Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Iannone were enthralled throughout the tour, Pedrosa eagerly asking questions and exploring every bit of equipment they had.