Jahnavi Shah

PhD Student, Planetary Science

Visit to the Johnson Space Center/Space Center Houston


Over the last two weeks, I had a chance to visit some facilities at the Johnson Space Center and the Space Center Houston. I had an absolute blast visiting these sites and learning many new things!

Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL)

Last week, we had the opportunity to visit the NBL and get a tour of the facility with one of the divers. The NBL is an astronaut training facility which consists of an indoor neutral buoyancy pool; the pool is 202 ft in length, 102 ft in width and 40 ft in depth, and hold 6.2 million gallons of water . The NBL is used to develop flight procedures, verify hardware compatibility, train astronauts, and refine spacewalk procedures. Fun fact: For every hour of planned spacewalk, astronauts must spend six hours in the pool. Trainees wear suits designed to provide neutral buoyancy to simulate microgravity that one would experience during spaceflight. Even though the suits are custom-made, it can snugly fit the trainee to a certain extent. To compensate for gaps or lack of gaps between the body and the suit, weights and styrofoam blocks are added, respectively.

A typical astronaut training day in the pool is about 8-10 hours, including suiting up, 6 hours in the pool, followed by a debrief. During training exercises, trainees/astronauts are accompanied by 2 camera divers and 2 safety divers. During our visit, we got to watch two astronaut candidates perform an Incapacitated Crew Member Rescue (ICMR) exercise through monitor screens (image below). This is a very common drill and is performed regularly.

Mission Control Center

The intern group made a weekend trip to the Space Center Houston. One of the first things we did was take a tour of the Mission Control Center. We visited the current training Mission Control Center. It is located below the International Space Station Mission Control Room. The screen in the image below is the same screen from the ISS MCC (because it was the weekend). A member from the MCC gave us a brief explanation of some of the major roles in the MCC, particularly the Flight Director and CapCom (spacecraft communicator). A neat thing about this MCC is that it will serve as the Orion MCC and the Artemis mission operations will be conducted from here. The goal is to also use this room for future human missions to Mars. This room is actually going to be closed to the public starting in July (for the next 50 years or so), so we all felt very lucky to have had the chance to see it!

Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (SVMF)

We had a walk-by tour of the SVFM from a balcony. The building holds mockups of every major pressurized module of the ISS and the Orion vehicle development mockups. It also holds rover prototypes and other robotics projects such as Valkyrie (next generation humanoid robot). The main purpose of the SVMF is to help astronauts become familiar with the spacecraft and its systems in order to prepare for mission and emergencies that may occur.

Saturn V

Lastly, we visited the Rocket Park at the Space Center which houses the only Saturn V rocket (out of three on display) comprised of all flight-certified hardware. The Saturn V rockets were used during the Apollo program; it launched 27 astronauts into space (during 1967 to 1973) with six successful landings on the Moon. The rocket also launched Skylab, the first space station.

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