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Swimming With Spacemen In NASA's Giant NBL Pool

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the deep-space-end dept.

NASA 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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Export Controlled Tools (5, Insightful)

stoolpigeon (454276) | about a year and a half ago | (#43069609)

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.

Depends on country (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43069795)

I'm guessing it's more about keeping details away from North Korea & Iran, not Russia.

Re:Depends on country (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | about a year and a half ago | (#43069881)

Are we worried about their manned space programs?

Re:Depends on country (1)

sribe (304414) | about a year and a half ago | (#43070087)

I'm guessing it's more about keeping details away from North Korea & Iran, not Russia.

You really think Iran doesn't get details if Russia does???

Re:Depends on country (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year and a half ago | (#43070117)

Oh please! It's more about keeping details away from us...

Re:Export Controlled Tools (1)

Ukab the Great (87152) | about a year and a half ago | (#43069939)

"As for the rest of the astronauts' tools"

Don't go there, girlfriend.

Re:Export Controlled Tools (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43071511)

My guess is they are covered under ITAR, Which unless authorized US-Citizens and US Persons(Green Card Holders) can touch and see them.

Re:Export Controlled Tools (1)

Macman408 (1308925) | about a year and a half ago | (#43073871)

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.

What? (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about a year and a half ago | (#43069739)

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

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43070343)

Because of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physics

101'x202'x40? (2)

Hatta (162192) | about a year and a half ago | (#43069855)

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

Re:101'x202'x40? (1)

Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) | about a year and a half ago | (#43070261)

How many Olympic swimming pools would fit into this thing?

Re:101'x202'x40? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43070365)

9, plus a kiddy pool.

Re:101'x202'x40? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43070475)

Could you please convert to either libraries of congress or microfortnight per furlong?

Thanks in advance!

Oblongs! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43069965)

Oblongs Oblongs

Down in the valley where a chemical spill
Came from the people living up on a hill
Live a family by the land filled with hazardous foam
In their happy glowing home

What about resistance? (1)

kannibal_klown (531544) | about a year and a half ago | (#43070091)

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... and they use it OVER AND OVER AND OVER to practice their repair maneuvers. But isn't that training kind of not perfect since you're practicing to do these movements in an environment where there's resistance? As opposed to space, which will be a near-vacuum so your motions will be a lot quicker and thus risk screwing up your orientation / rotation more.

It's like training with a weight belt on... take it off and you're flying. But, faster movement in space screws up your orientation more.

Re:What about resistance? (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year and a half ago | (#43070159)

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.

Re:What about resistance? (1)

HPHatecraft (2748003) | about a year and a half ago | (#43070517)

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.

Re:What about resistance? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43071015)

I suspect the resistance of the water is insignificant compared to the resistance of the pressurized suit.

Re:What about resistance? (1)

deadweight (681827) | about a year and a half ago | (#43071763)

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 before the budget cut (1)

Animats (122034) | about a year and a half ago | (#43070101)

NASA PR must have wanted to get this out before the budget cuts kicked in.

First thing that came to mind. (1)

Westwood0720 (2688917) | about a year and a half ago | (#43070187)

The movie Armageddon where the horny smart guy says "So, are we going swimming on this asteroid?"

Looks like (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year and a half ago | (#43070211)

Patrick Stewart showed up for a cameo

Having visited it as well (5, Interesting)

Anubis IV (1279820) | about a year and a half ago | (#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.

Re:Having visited it as well (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about a year and a half ago | (#43070463)

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

Re:Having visited it as well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43071947)

The Simpsons, S21E11 I think. Homer and Bart are on the vomit commet 0-G simulator. Homer "Race you to the cockpit boy". Bart and Homer start belching their way forward. :))

Re:Having visited it as well (1)

timeOday (582209) | about a year and a half ago | (#43070877)

(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?

Re:Having visited it as well (1)

DaTrueDave (992134) | about a year and a half ago | (#43071159)

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.

Re:Having visited it as well (1)

Cramer (69040) | about a year and a half ago | (#43073257)

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")

Re:Having visited it as well (1)

Macman408 (1308925) | about a year and a half ago | (#43073929)

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.

Re:Having visited it as well (2)

The Raven (30575) | about a year and a half ago | (#43075103)

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).

Orbital dynamics: only the best non intuitive results for the past 60 years.

Re:Having visited it as well (1)

Macman408 (1308925) | about a year and a half ago | (#43081061)

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 - however they quickly determined that it posed no threat to the ISS, and it burned up in the atmosphere about 9 months later as its orbit decayed.

A week after it was lost, you could see it from the ground with binoculars, traveling several minutes ahead of the ISS, not with it.

Re:Having visited it as well (2)

eric2hill (33085) | about a year and a half ago | (#43071271)

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

Re:Having visited it as well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43073147)

When you see the rig they use to lower and raise the astronauts, you get an idea of how serious it all is.

Those of use with a clue already knew.

Re:Having visited it as well (1)

pz (113803) | about a year and a half ago | (#43073457)

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?

Re:Having visited it as well (2)

hairyfish (1653411) | about a year and a half ago | (#43074725)

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

Metric (2)

Barryke (772876) | about a year and a half ago | (#43071099)

Gallons and feet? How many bladders does that weigh?

NASA is metric.

Re:Metric (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43071465)

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

Re:Metric (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43071583)

"largest indoor pool in the world " is freaking boring.
It's not that big compared to any Olympic swimming pool.
San Alfonso del Mar in Chile holds a swimming pool that is 1km*80m with a max depth of 35m.
It holds 10 times as much water as the NASA pool.

Re:Metric (1)

FatAlb3rt (533682) | about a year and a half ago | (#43072707)

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.

World's biggest air hockey table (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43071199)

NASA has another zero-gravity simulator: the world's biggest air hockey table. It's only 2D, but is otherwise a very nice simulation of zero gravity physics.

Disappointing ... (1)

IwantToKeepAnon (411424) | about a year and a half ago | (#43071797)

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 :/

What's in this facilities future? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43073087)

Given the cuts in funding, the slow but inexorable wrapping up of space exploration (and if the government isn't going to do it you know they won't let private enterprise really get involved) and the general trend toward disassembling the American industrial and technological complex, I figure this place will slowly be shuttered as not needed in the sustainable new world order. Why would we need to explore space and look for other planets to colonize when we're just getting the disease known as MAN to understand the problem it is on this planet?

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