Johns Hopkins Professor to Train for Suborbital Spaceflight



Charles Hibbitts is about to join a new generation of space explorers.

On Jan. 12-13, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory researcher and 11 other scientists will meet at the National AeroSpace Training and Research Center near Philadelphia, where they’ll learn to work and conduct experiments in the wispy upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere known as suborbital space.

The course, similar to those offered in the space tourism industry, includes classroom instruction, altitude chamber certification and centrifuge training for launch and reentry acceleration – all designed to acquaint and qualify individuals with the physiological rigors of suborbital spaceflight. “It’s going to be amazing,” says Hibbitts. “By tapping into the potential of crewed suborbital missions, we’re launching a new era in space science research.”

The scientists are already preparing research experiments so when suborbital flights are eventually scheduled, they’ll be ready to go. Hibbitts, who designed, built and manages the APL Space Department’s science optics laboratory, wants to climb to the highest reaches of Earth’s atmosphere so he can view solar system bodies at wavelengths that are otherwise obscured by water, methane, carbon dioxide and other atmospheric gases. He’d point a specially instrumented telescope at the surfaces of various bodies, including our moon, to learn more about their chemical properties.

For now, he looks forward to learning about what it takes to fly so close to outer space. “I especially look forward to interacting with the other participants, each of us with our own experiment or other reason to see crewed suborbital research succeed,” he says. “Being the first class in any program is great opportunity, and for it to be suborbital science is simply awesome.”

The first spaceflight training course for suborbital scientists is led by Southwest Research Institute and the National AeroSpace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center. Other institutions sending researchers or educators to the course include Boston University, the Denver Museum of Natural Sciences, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Central Florida and the University Space Research Association.

NOTE: Hibbitts and colleagues will blog and post Twitter updates throughout the training; starting Jan. 12, follow along at The site will also offer video, images and other information on the suborbital flight training program.

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit