How Does Training Underwater Prepare an Astronaut for Space?


No one can become an astronaut overnight.  Becoming an astronaut requires intensive training.  For one thing, astronauts must have a thorough understanding of what their mission entails and how they must complete it efficiently and accurately.  Then, they must understand how to operate their spacecraft and various instruments, as well as how to troubleshoot problems on board.

And, astronauts must be prepared for how it feels to be in space.  After all, none of us have ever had an experience remotely similar to that of floating around in space, far away from our home planet.  In order to ensure that an astronaut is mentally and physically prepared for this drastic change, they must be trained thoroughly.

NASA has been training its astronauts in an underwater tank, and you may be surprised to learn that it’s the best way to prepare them for the conditions of space. 

Being Underwater vs. Being in Space

So, why are NASA astronauts being trained underwater?  Well, if you think about it, the conditions aren’t that far off.  Bear in mind that astronauts in space are exposed to virtually no gravity, and, therefore, will be floating around.  This can be quite an unnerving sensation, and if an astronaut begins panicking due to how unusual this feels, it could cause all types of problems, not to mention interfere with the mission at hand.

Being in water in a spacesuit is a chance to get used to the feeling of floating in such a heavy outfit.  The trainers have gone to great lengths to make the astronauts feel like they’re in space by monitoring the movements that they make while they’re underwater.  To make things even more realistic, NASA has created a replica of the space station beneath the water’s surface.  This allows astronauts to actually feel their way around the space station as though they were actually in space.  This level of preparation can be quite useful as it’s the only way for an astronaut to know what it will feel like navigating the station while in space.  Ideally, it will eventually become second nature.

There’s another benefit to being underwater as part of one’s astronaut training.  Space, as we have heard from astronauts before, is a very isolated place.  That feeling of being alone in the abyss can make anyone feel extremely uncomfortable, at least in the beginning.  Being underwater is quite similar, as there is no ability to communicate and nothing to do but float aimlessly.  This helps astronauts prepare for the mental implications of their next mission.

Currently, NASA is training astronauts for space flights over the next couple of years.  Training is taking place in Texas at the Johnson Space Center, and they are being trained to travel on the Boeing Starliner.  At the moment, these astronauts will be going on their missions alone, but the ultimate goal is to use the spacecraft as a way of transporting people to and from space.  Right now, Elon Musk is busy turning SpaceX into a private transportation service that takes people into space.  Boeing, however, wants to beat Elon to the punch.

NASA astronauts are open to the idea of using the Boeing Starliner to turn space into a tourist attraction.  Many astronauts believe that allowing the general public to see our planet from far away puts things into perspective, making us more likely to be motivated to care for our environment as well as take care of our fellow man.  As of now, only about 500 people have actually entered space.  But, thanks to new technology that’s being developed for space travel, it’s not unlikely that one day people will be able to travel around the Earth just like they would visit the top of the Empire State Building.

And, if NASA is to make space travel more accessible to the general public, more and more astronauts will need to be trained in order to ensure that passengers are well taken care of.  This, of course, involves training astronauts to handle the unique conditions of space, which is why we expect to see more and more underwater training taking place within the next few years.  This type of training is absolutely crucial if astronauts are going to have any sense of what it’s like to be in such a bizarre, alien atmosphere for a long period of time.  And, we can’t help but think that this type of training is actually quite fun.

Conditioning For Space is Key

As you can see, there are many reasons why training an astronaut underwater can best help them prepare for space travel later on.  The conditions are a bit more similar than one would at first believe, and they allow an astronaut to have a general idea of how they will feel once they’ve left Earth. 


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