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A Closer Look at the Divers

IMAGE: Astronaut Joe Tanner and NBL divers

SCUBA-equipped divers surround STS-97 Mission Specialist Joe Tanner as he trains for a spacewalk in the NBL.

Divers are the backbone of the system and work in one of three major roles: utility diver, camera diver or safety diver. "The divers are the lifelines, teachers and coaches for the astronauts while training for a spacewalk," said NBL Director Ernest Becker.

Through the divers, the astronauts are taught how to open hatches, use tools and move in the weightless environment of the facility. "Most of the task training and timeline training are done at the NBL," said Lisa Spense, an NBL flight lead.

The team determines the most efficient and convenient way to perform tasks needed for a spacewalk. The flight lead puts together a rough procedure, but it is not until the divers hit the water that the orchestration takes form.

Astronaut Scott Parazynski said the divers are as knowledgeable as they are helpful. "They work with [spacewalk] training every day, and they can tell right away if you are developing a bad habit and they help you correct it," he said. "They are really good teachers."

To watch an astronaut perform a spacewalk that has been rehearsed in the NBL is a powerful moment for everyone who works in the facility. "While watching spacewalks," diver Ashley Porter said, "we can take a step back from the everyday work and realize what it is we are doing."

People of the NBL

In place at the Sonny Carter Training Facility is an intricate system of teams working together to teach astronauts how to perform space station assembly tasks, which are the most extensive and complex spacewalks ever attempted.

Read the story of assistant dive operations training officer Gavin Giere.

The Teams

Astronauts: Perform spacewalk and bailout training at the NBL.

Breathing Gas System Group: Produces and controls all of the breathing gas -- Nitrox -- that the divers use.

Communications Operators: Monitor the communication systems during water tests.

Divers: Help the suited subjects with all of their tasks. There is a minimum of four divers per suited subject.

Engineering Group: Works with designing the shuttle and station mockups.

Environmental Control System Group: Ensures test subjects receive adequate suit conditions.

Integration Engineering Team: Decides the configuration of the pool for a set of tests and generates animation of the test configurations to check layout and clearances.

Long Range Planning Group: Schedules the training events that go into the tank.

Mockup Maintenance Group: Performs planned and unplanned maintenance on the mockups.

Medical Team: Always present while divers are in the water to ensure health and safety. Physically examines test subjects and divers before each test.

Reconfiguration Group: Works in the evening to reconfigure the pool for the next day's training sessions.

Robotic Arm Team: Takes care of the maintenance, repair and testing of the shuttle and space station remote manipulator system.

Suited Subject: An astronaut or engineer in the extravehicular mobility unit, or EMU.

Suit Team: Works to ensure the EMU is in top condition for each suited subject.

Test Conductor: Stays with an assigned crew while training for a spacewalk and gives the training manager inputs.

Test Director: Ensures everything runs smoothly, including environmental control systems, gas flow, cooling to suit and communications.

Test Safety Officer: Ensures test safety during the training in the pool.

Tool Team: Provides tools for the training events. These tools are downgraded flight units that are used for training.

Topside Monitors: Sit on the pool deck during tests and ensure the safety of the divers.


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 01/17/2003
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