BB Video - Diving into Space: Miles O'Brien in NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Lab


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Boing Boing Video guest contributor Miles O'Brien brings us this special report on the same day NASA astronauts complete their final space walk -- and zero-g repair job -- on the Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission #4.

Miles says:

Astronauts spend a lot more time training for missions than flying in space. But I wouldn't feel sorry for them as the training is an amazing adventure unto itself. They practice in airplanes that fly a roller-coaster pattern to give them brief stints of weightlessness (the so called Vomit Comet); they get to zoom around in supersonic T-38 training jets; they fly approaches to shuttle runways in a Gulfstream jet rigged up to fly (or more accurately, plummet) like a real orbiter; they get time in high-fidelity full motion simulators; they use virtual reality goggles to practice tasks they will perform in space - and if they are a spacewalker, they get to spend a lot of time in a huge swimming pool in a former hangar at Ellington Field - near the Johnson Space Center in Houston - learning the nuances of working in the void.

Astronaut John Grunsfeld, who is an astronomer and a huge fan of the Hubble Space Telescope, invited me to join him during one of his 6 hour "runs" in the big pool - officially known as the Sonny Carter Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. I watched him as he practiced the most challenging spacewalk of his long career - the resuscitation of the Advanced Camera for Surveys. Worried as he was about accomplishing this intricate task - not designed to be done by the thick, gloved hand of a spacewalker - when he did the real thing the other day (Saturday) it went of without a hitch - unlike the other 4 spacewalks of the fifth and final Hubble Repair Mission.

The spacewalks are now over - and a shuttle crew has left Hubble behind for the last time. The telescope is in the best shape it has ever been in - Hubble's "Perils of Pauline" tale now mashed up with "Benjamin Button". The eye above the sky will begin a new phase of scientific discovery making astronomers pretty happy right about now. But for those of us who are passionate about sending human beings into space, and have enjoyed watching this adventure unfold over the past 19 years, it is the end of a great era - a wistful moment.

Miles is the only reporter who has ever dived in the NBL.

Hubble crewmember Mike Massimino, shown above doing Hubble telescope repairs today in the Atlantis cargo bay, is on Twitter: @Astro_Mike. You can follow Miles O'Brien on Twitter, too: @milesobrien. His features at trueslant.com are here. Catch his launch coverage at spaceflightnow.com. Official NASA STS-125 mission page is here.


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