Yesterday we touched on the wonderful world of saturation diving, and continuing our exploration of scuba diving careers, here’s one that’s out of this world: diving for NASA. Diving…in space? No, not really, but do you know who helps train astronauts here on earth? You guessed it — scuba divers!
At the NASA facility in Houston, Texas you will find the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, a 40-foot deep, oversize swimming pool where would-be space travelers practice for EVAs (Extra Vehicular Activities), also known as space walks. In order to simulate the weightless environment in which they will work and live, astronauts undergo many hours of underwater training. Scuba certified experts are on hand to be the guiding force behind outer space’s next generation of heroes.
In the water, astronauts wear specially equipped space suits similar to those they will wear on space walks. They work with full scale replicas of the International Space Station robotic arms which they will have to deal with in space. Beneath the surface of the NBL pool, trainees practice tasks like installing new hardware on the ISS, or making repairs to complicated devices like the Hubble telescope. Scuba divers work side by side in the pool with the suited up space travelers to help them maintain neutral buoyancy and to solve any problems that may arise. They also monitor the safety of their trainees.
There are four divers assigned to each astronaut. Two safety divers monitor their team and stand by to help in case assistance is needed. Another operates a camera that sends a live feed back to the NLB control room where engineers monitor the training sessions and can confer with the astronauts through a series of speakers contained in the pool. A fourth diver works as a helper, handing tools to the astronauts as needed.
The divers at the NBL are highly trained and experienced, and it’s a tough gig to get. Having excellent buoyancy control and being able to multitask are mandatory skills, as well as having experience in repair or assembly. Divers are contracted by an international engineering company company called Oceaneering. In addition to working with the astronauts in the pool, they check over and set up the scuba gear for the day’s training sessions, much like you would check your own gear before any dive.
Take a dip into the NBL pool and watch this video showing the underwater team in action. Diving for NASA gives you the chance to explore the world below the water, and to be a part of the crew that rockets into the stars above. Stay tuned for part 3 of our Scuba Diving Careers series!