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NASA Science

Swimming With Spacemen In NASA's Giant NBL Pool 43

willith writes "I spent two days at NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, watching astronauts dive and getting a thorough tour of the facility. The largest indoor pool in the world contains 6.2M gallons of water and is filled with life-size replicas of International Space Station modules (though at 202'x101' and 40' deep, it isn't nearly enough to hold the entire station). Every spacewalk requires a huge amount of rehearsal, and that rehearsal is done right here in this pool. I talk at length with divers, astronauts, test coordinators, and test directors about how the facility works and what it takes to train folks to work in spacesuits. I also get to talk about the NBL's commercial future, and what's next for the big pool. Plus, lots and lots of pictures!"
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Swimming With Spacemen In NASA's Giant NBL Pool

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  • by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) * <bittercode@gmail> on Monday March 04, 2013 @01:15PM (#43069609) Homepage Journal

    Thinking about these:
    "As for the rest of the astronauts' tools, we were restricted from taking photographs of some because they are export-controlled technology—close-up details of some of the specialized tooling can't be shown to non-US citizens."

    On the International Space Station made me chuckle. Government is always there to provide my kind of humor.

    • "As for the rest of the astronauts' tools"

      Don't go there, girlfriend.

    • Export controls generally restrict just about anything related to a launch vehicle, satellite, spacecraft, or anything else related to space. NASA and other companies have to get licenses to export the technology to another (specific) country; so they can get a license to export it to Russia, Japan, the EU, and other ISS partners, but probably not to North Korea. But if you put it on the internet, everybody gets it.

  • Water? No anti-gravity generators yet? Why not?

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday March 04, 2013 @01:34PM (#43069855) Journal

    Sure it's not 101'x202'x40.4'?

  • Do they do anything to compensate for the extra resistance when moving about? Since training with resistance and then implementing without resistance tends to make a big difference.

    It's a long long article so I don't have the time at the moment to read it all. But I've known about this for years, and always thought it was neat. Especially when I realized that they had to do a bunch of stuff to keep you neutrally buoyant at different depths.

    But my question is: sure, it helps micro gravity for long-term...

    • Not just resistance. How about your sense of balance? Even if you're upside down in the pool your middle ear reacts, and your blood flow is affected.

    • Do they do anything to compensate for the extra resistance when moving about? Since training with resistance and then implementing without resistance tends to make a big difference.

      I hear they are doing lots of pilates.

    • I was wondering exactly this! I do a lot of underwater work. It sucks to not have something to grab - you have to "swim" constantly opposite of what you are trying to do. Want to scrub the rudder? You have to swim at it or you just push yourself off and get no scrubbing done. So I get sent to space to scrub the space station and my years of scrubbing training will NOT work. I'll just launch myself into space for good.
  • NASA PR must have wanted to get this out before the budget cuts kicked in.

  • The movie Armageddon where the horny smart guy says "So, are we going swimming on this asteroid?"
  • Patrick Stewart showed up for a cameo

  • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Monday March 04, 2013 @02:13PM (#43070351)

    I have to add that it's simply awe-inspiringly large. It's so large that there are oftentimes multiple exercises and experiments taking place in different parts of the pool, simply because there's almost no danger of them interfering with one another.

    Also, when I saw the astronauts suited up in the water and it was explained that in the case of an emergency it still takes several minutes to pull the astronaut out of the water, somehow it kinda hit me just how dangerous their space walks are. One of our family friends is an astronaut who has been up four times (and she's the reason we were getting a private tour of the NBL), yet despite seeing her launch and having her well-being on my mind when she's up there, somehow it never clicked until I saw just how immense that pool was. When I realized that all of that water would be trying to push its way into their suits in case of a breach and that the vastness of space is far, FAR greater than that comparatively minuscule pool, I felt like I finally understood.

    As a fun side note, our family friend is rather short (she was once left suspended mid-cabin in the ISS as a practical joke by the others on the mission; she had to rely on the A/C to push her to the walls since she couldn't reach them on her own, which ended up taking 45 minutes, if I recall correctly), so she was actually working at the NBL quite a bit on testing designs for new spacesuits that could fit people of different sizes and shapes more easily. When you see the rig they use to lower and raise the astronauts, you get an idea of how serious it all is.

    • She could've belched or farted to propel herself to a wall. Oh wait, women don't do either...

    • (she was once left suspended mid-cabin in the ISS as a practical joke by the others on the mission; she had to rely on the A/C to push her to the walls since she couldn't reach them on her own, which ended up taking 45 minutes, if I recall correctly)

      That in itself is scary as well. Can you imagine getting out of reach of your spacecraft by just ONE inch and having NO way to bridge that gap?

      • Not so much for outside the ship, but inside the ship or station, I would think a small, telescoping rod would be incredibly helpful for short people to avoid such situations. Add a hook to one end to double the usefulness.

      • by Cramer ( 69040 )

        Inside the craft... you cannot put yourself in the center of the room out of reach of anything. You'd have to be placed there (as she was), or have something in contact with the cabin. This is simple physics: the energy that got you there has to go somewhere.

        (FWIW, you *can* "swim" in the air in zero G. you won't move very fast, but you can generate "delta V")

      • That's why the astronauts have 3 tethers - and at least 2 have to be connected at all times. For example, if they're tethering to a rail on the outside of the ISS, and they need to move to the next rail to get to their destination, they unhook their tethers one at a time, always leaving the other 2 connected.

      • To be fair, they are orbiting. This means that someone just outside the space station is on a slightly different orbital track than the station. Typically this will result in 90 minute (about the length of one orbit) oscillations in position, meaning that from most locations around the ISS, you will cycle back into contact with the station about 90 minutes later unless you gave yourself a notable push away (and even notable pushes would often result in meeting the station again 45 or 90 minutes later).


        • Not true; as an example, consider the tool bag lost by an astronaut on an EVA in 2008. A grease gun leaked in her bag, and while cleaning up the grease, she lost her grip on the bag and it floated away - much the way you might lose grip on the spacecraft in the example above. (It was supposed to be tethered to her as well - either she forgot to tether it, or the clip in the bag failed.) If what you say were true, they'd have to worry about the tool bag returning to the ISS and possibly crashing into it - ho

    • I would have just taken my shoes off and thrown them in one direction.

    • by pz ( 113803 )

      Not only awe-inspiringly large, but filled with optically clear water. Those NASA folks can be really impressive.

      Since astronauts are well-known to be more adept and quick-thinking than most of us, I'm wondering why your family friend wasn't able to use her breath to move faster to the edge of the structure than airflow from the A/C would afford. I'm thinking that a series of well-aimed inhales and exhales would do the trick. No?

    • I have to add that it's simply awe-inspiringly large.

      60mx30m isn't much bigger than an olympic sized pool, although it is 10 times deeper. But even then it's peanuts compared to this thing [wikipedia.org] which is a 1000m in length and holds 10 times as much water

  • by Barryke ( 772876 ) on Monday March 04, 2013 @03:19PM (#43071099) Homepage

    Gallons and feet? How many bladders does that weigh?

    NASA is metric.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      24 000 m**3
      61m long
      30m wide
      12m deep

    • As someone who worked there within the last decade, I can assure you it's not. The ISS yes, but the NBL wasn't always just for ISS sims. The shuttle flight dynamics were all in imperial units.
  • I read the headline as "(how YOU can go) Swimming With Spacemen In NASA's Giant NBL Pool". I am a scuba diver and I'd pay a lot to dive in the NBL :/

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor