July 12, 2007
NASA’s NBL is perhaps the most well known facility that makes up part of the Sonny Carter Training Facility that opened in 1997. Sonny Carter was a rather extraordinary individual. While on the tour of the NBL, we were told about some of his accomplishments including being a professional soccer player, M.D., flight surgeon in the Navy, fighter pilot, and NASA astronaut. Sonny died in 1991 in a commercial airplane crash while traveling for NASA.
The NBL is a large pool that is 40 feet deep (20 feet underground and 20 feet aboveground), 202 ft. long, and 102 ft. wide containing 6.2 million gallons of water. Its primary purpose is to train astronauts for EVA by simulating micro-gravity conditions. When diving, it was explained to us that astronauts are accompanied by a team of divers that not only monitor the astronaut for medical changes but also to help better simulate the actual EVA.
One particular example was that the astronauts carry tools made from polymers which are switched by the divers for the functional metallic tool immediately before use. Perhaps the biggest difference between the space environment and that created via simulation in the NBL is the presence of significant drag in the NBL due to immersion in water. This is usually overcome by significantly slow movements which decrease the effects of the drag. Another significant difference is that within the actual diving suit of the astronaut, they are not weightless, and so proper sizing is very important.