Astronauts training underwater


A crane lifts them into the pool, wearing
300 pounds of space suit apiece. Underwater, the safety divers meet them and
carefully remove them from the platform. Each astronaut is carefully weighted to be precisely
neutrally buoyant. (Hey, they don’t call it the Neutral Buoyancy Lab for nothing!)
Once weighted properly, the astronauts hover in the water as if floating in the weightlessness
of space. Since fins don’t work in space, the astronauts
don’t get to wear them here. They must be moved from task to task by the divers. The
divers are also responsible for keeping a careful eye on everything happening. Each
astronaut has 4 divers assigned to him or her. Two are safety divers. Another has a
camera with a cable going to the control room. And there are more cameras mounted all over
the inside of the pool too. In the Test Director room overlooking the
pool, 21 monitors keep the staff informed of everything that happens below. They oversee
the safety of the operation. If anything were to go wrong, the divers can
get the astronaut to the surface in only seconds. In the Test Conductor room, another team is
conducting the training run. The test conductor and team speak directly to the astronauts
through communication gear in their helmets. But powerful underwater speakers allow the
divers to hear everything that is being said, even if they can’t talk back. The point of all this effort is to provide
a learning environment for astronauts where they can practice tasks over and over in simulated
zero gravity, before they are required to do it by themselves in space. Tasks that are easy on land become much harder
in zero gravity. And harder still while wearing a space suit that has to be able to protect
an astronaut from the vacuum of space.

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