How does NASA train it’s astronauts for spacewalks on the International Space Station? Mainly, in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. The question often comes up, and this week it was coming from TheChive.com asking “does NASA really need the largest indoor body of water in the world to help train our astronauts?”
Author Lee Hutchinson details a day in the life at the NBL, and provides a unique behind-the-scenes look into all the work that goes into making a successful training event happen. From SCUBA divers to crane technicians to the astronauts themselves, this article is a must-read!
Update: NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will speak with astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, commander of the 16th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) mission, and her fellow crewmate Timothy Peake of the European Space Agency at 3:10 p.m. CDT today, June 20, as they perform their final “spacewalk” of the mission, 63 feet below the ocean’s surface.
On June 11, Metcalf-Lindenburger joined ESA Astronaut Tim Peake and JAXA Astronaut Kimiya Yui along with others to the bottom of the sea to simulate deep-space exploration activities in the 16th expedition of NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO).
In this video, Metcalf-Lindenburger talked to SPACE.com while outside Aquarius, on a simulated spacewalk.
In this article on GM’s media website, they tout a new robotic technology, developed using some of the same principals of Robonaut 2, “that auto workers and astronauts can wear to help do their respective jobs better while potentially reducing the risk of repetitive stress injuries.”
While the GM article continues on about the many benefits to reducing the amount of force required during a spacewalk, they completely miss the boat on the use of this technology in space. While the article outlines how this glove can improve safety and productivity on the shop floor in an auto industry, this would not be the case on a spacewalk.
Since NASA entered into the spacewalking business in 1965, engineers have wrestled with the trade-off of increasing safety margins by bulking up the spacesuit, and providing the astronaut mobility and tactility while working. The glove is the most vulnerable part of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (or “E-M-U” NASA’s spacesuit since 1982), because it has to be to allow the astronaut the tactility and mobility to work productively and in a timely manner.
While GM has a great technology to improve the automotive industry, in this case it doesn’t correlate to improving a spacewalk.
In my opinion, combining this technology with integrated haptic vibro feedback and Halting State style air-writing accelerometer capability might be an interesting solution.
Even though astronauts won’t be going to another planet, moon, or asteroid anytime soon, engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center are hard at work developing the next generation of surface EVA spacesuits. Here, engineer Amy Ross discusses some of the latest testing and technology in a two-part interview:
A great post by Robert Zimmerman that discusses the 2007 Solar Array Wing repair spacewalk by STS-120 astronauts Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock. More importantly, it stressed the point that “things will break” in space, and crews “will have no choice but to know how to maintain and repair their vessels…”
I recommend reading the entire post, but here are a few excerpts, emphasis mine:
ISS is presently our only testbed for studying these kinds of engineering questions. And in 2007, a spectacular failure, combined with an epic spacewalk, gave engineers at the Johnson Space Center a marvelous opportunity to study these very issues.
The results were quite unexpected: The guide wire had broken because it had been hit by a tiny piece of space junk, melting and splitting the wire but damaging nothing else.
Like the sailors of old, space travelers will need to able to repair and even rebuild their spaceships, wherever they are. Any interplanetary spaceship design has got to factor this reality into its design.
Today, Increment 30 Commander Dan Burbank shared the first-ever handshake in space between a human and a humanoid robot, known as Robonaut.
Today on ISS, Robonaut consists of a head, upper torso, arms, and hands and is only capable of performing activities inside the vehicle (known as “IV” to the spacewalk community). Future plans include outfitting Robonaut with a leg-type structure and giving it capabilities to work on the exterior of ISS.
Currently, astronauts doing a spacewalk spend a large amount of time with worksite setup and hardware transfer. With the help of Robonaut, a larger portion of the limited time an astronaut spends doing a spacewalk can be focused on the specific tasks at-hand.
According to an article on Gizmodo.com, engineers in the Human Factors Division of NASA Ames have a patent pending on an ingenious idea that will help astronauts read digital displays during periods of vibration for “five bucks.”
“During the final stages of a launch… the entire vehicle oscillates rapidly. Add that oscillation to the resonant frequency of the large tube that separates the booster and the crew cabin, and you get a crew capsule that vibrates like crazy. When humans are vibrating to that extent, it’s impossible for them to read a digital display. If the astronauts can’t read, they can’t do their jobs. If they can’t do their jobs, no more mission.
“And then the people in the Vibration Lab had a really, really good idea: By simply strobing the display in time with the vibration, they could kill this problem altogether.
“NASA has a patent pending on the technology, although the problems it solves are decidedly not NASA-specific; helicopters, planes, and fast-moving boats have similar vibrational issues, so it’s very possible we’ll see this implemented elsewhere.”