How do you train an astronaut to perform activities in a weightless environment right here on Earth? You train them underwater of course.
For many years, Raytheon Technical Services Company has supported astronaut training in The Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) located at Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. Spanning 202 ft.x102 ft., the 40 ft deep NBL is one of the world's largest pools, holding approximately 6.2 million gallons of chlorinated fresh water.
The NBL was sized to perform two activities simultaneously. Each activity uses sufficiently large mockups, such as the International Space Station, to produce meaningful training content. Astronauts in training can spend up to six hours under the water, preparing for space walks and other activities associated with spaceflight during all three main phases of flight—ascent, orbit and re-entry.
Controlled neutral buoyancy operations in the NBL simulate the zero-g or weightless condition that is experienced by the spacecraft and crew during space flight. Neutral buoyancy is the term used to describe an object that has an equal tendency to float as it does sink. Objects configured to be neutrally buoyant, which is accomplished by combining weights and flotation devices, appear to "hover" under water; and large, neutrally buoyant objects can be easily manipulated in the lab, much like in orbit.
Training in the NBL is an essential tool for the design, testing and development of the International Space Station and future NASA programs. For astronauts in training, the NBL provides important pre-flight training for extravehicular activities (EVA) and helps them adapt to the dynamics of body motion under weightless conditions.
Stop by the Raytheon booth (#203) at NSS to see a space suit up close and personal. To read more, click here.