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What the Spinning Chair at Space Camp is Actually For

If you’re of a certain age, you probably know know Huntsville, Alabama’s Space Camp best as a prize for winning a ridiculous competition show. And if you ever obsessed over going on that cosmic retreat, you probably wanted to get on that weird spinning chair they always showed in the clips. It’s a serious looking device at a serious facility–what the heck is it for?

I was recently lucky enough to make a childhood dream come true and zipped up my flight suit for a shot at Space Camp. There, as I explain in the video above, I learned that the spinning chair has a more formal name: the Multi Axis Trainer, or MAT. It’s used to give riders a feeling of what it’s like to uncontrollably tumble through space.

Though only for demonstrative purposes today, the MAT is patterned after a real training device, the MASTIF ( Multiple-Axis Spin/Space Test Inertia Facility). MASTIF was used during the Mercury missions to test a pilot’s ability to get a dangerously tumbling spacecraft under control. In space, there is no atmosphere, no friction. A pilot can’t rely on air to help slow down a spin, and so the MASTIF gave trainees simulated control over thrusters, which would allow them to tame the tumble. Cages inside a larger cage allow the MASTIF and the MAT to spin occupants in three dimensions, all while keeping their stomach in the same position to minimize nausea.

So while the MAT looks like pure fun for Double Dare winners, it’s actually the less intense cousin of a very real and very important test device. Oh, and try it before lunch if you ever head down to Huntsville.

Featured Image: C. Baker via Charles Atkeison

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