Diving into practice
Over the past few weeks, ESA's astronaut candidates have taken a deep dive—both figuratively and literally—into their basic training, including their first SCUBA diving experience in the Neutral Buoyancy Facility (NBF) at the European Astronaut Centre.
The NBF's 10-meter-deep water tank serves as a simulated environment for initial spacewalk training. True weightlessness on spacewalks cannot be replicated on Earth, but immersing astronauts underwater comes close to simulating the sensation of microgravity. Underwater, astronauts learn how to venture outside a spacecraft while wearing spacesuits, to perform critical repairs and install new equipment on the International Space Station.
This SCUBA diving training in the NBF marked an important milestone for the candidates, as it was their first step toward becoming certified as "NBF Guest Divers". The training involved classroom instruction, a written exam, and two underwater SCUBA skill tests spread across two dives.
The astronaut candidates are now certified to dive in SCUBA within the NBF. This achievement is a first stage in their preparation for continued spacewalk training, which is set to commence in the coming months.
Their next undertaking in the NBF will be surface supplied diving system training and certification. This training, similar to the SCUBA training, will include classroom sessions, a written exam, and two dives, while using a full-face mask and umbilical system.
Once they acquire this certification the candidates will have reached the entry point qualification required to start spacewalk training in the NBF.
Throughout their training in the NBF, the astronaut candidates learn foundational knowledge and skills related to spacewalks such as tethering to the International Space Station, using tools, communicating effectively with crewmates and the control room, and maintaining situational awareness in a complex and challenging environment.