It’s no secret astronauts go further than other humans on the planet, living in an extremely hostile environment for months at a time. In addition, they’re often required to perform near-surgical precision tasks in zero-gravity environments whilst wearing bulky space suits.
How do the men and woman who frequent the dark of space actually train for such a hostile environment? The answer lies with a complex simulation tank called the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.
What is the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory?
The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) is one of the most advanced astronaut training facilities in the world – used by many astronauts to prepare for missions to space.
Situated in a large indoor pool. the principle of neutral buoyancy is used to simulate the environment of space. Astronauts are weighted in the water by support divers to ensure that they don’t experience the force of the water.
The combination of weightlessness with a full space suit makes it as close to the environment of space as possible.
The facility is gargantuan, and certainly one of the largest and deepest indoor pools in the world. In the water, several components as they appear on the space station are spread around and can be used by astronauts to practice repairs and upgrades.
At different times in the past, a number of vehicles and components have been used in the tank, such as a SpaceX Dragon capsule and even a Space Shuttle cargo bay. It’s essential to prepare astronauts in the tank and ensure training is carried out completely.
Failing to adequately prepare before departure could led to issues while travelling thousands of kilometres per hour around the Earth – something that space agencies would certainly rather avoid.