At the NBL with Astronaut Col. Terrence Wilcutt
After lunch we drove to NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) also known as the Sonny Carter Training Facility. This is where the astronauts train for Extra Vehicular Activities (EVA's) - better known as "Space Walks". The NBL training facility is located near Ellington Field (that's where all those cool T-38 aircraft are hangared) and is named in honor of the late astronaut M. L. "Sonny" Carter, who was instrumental in developing many of the current space-walking techniques used by the astronauts. Could not have picked a better place to have a discussion on training and methods and techniques used to build a world class "team".
Entrance to the NBL, the Sonny Carter Training Facility
The NBL is quite impressive. It's 202 feet in length, 102 feet in width and 40 feet in depth and contains 6.2 million gallons of water that is filtered and cleaned every 24 hours. Angie Prince who is the Branch Chief of EVA training gave us a very thorough overview of the NBL and the training that her team and the crews go through. For every hour of actual EVA the astronauts go through seven hours of simulated training in the NBL. Every time they have astronauts in the water she has a full team of physicians, safety divers, camera crew/divers and "mission control" going through all of the details and choreographing every aspect of the EVA. She said that after each training session they debrief in great detail. Every astronaut is "graded" after each training session. She said that the simulations are so "real" that many astronauts have thanked her and her team while on an actual EVA because the training was so close to the real thing. The selection of the training crews and the training they go through for these simulations was at a level I have not encountered before. They set the bar pretty high and then put together a training program to pull everyone involved to that high level. It was absolutely impressive!
The ISS mock ups are at the far end
They hoisted up two astronauts that were training for an EVA
Angie is the Chief of the EVA Training Branch
Next Part 3: Dinner at the "Starship Gallery" at the Houston Space Center. There is an actual Goddard rocket, Gordon Cooper's "Faith 7" Mercury capsule, Gordon Cooper's and Pete Conrad's Gemini V spacecraft, the Apollo 17 Command Module "America"... and many more...