Training for Space? Start in the Pool

NASA/Robert MarkowitzNASA/Robert Markowitz

Think about it. You're sitting on the bottom of the pool having an "underwater tea party," and you're about to serve your friend a scone: What do her slow, deliberate movements remind you of? Exactly — an astronaut in a zero-G environment.

You're not the only one to make that observation. The world's top space exploration organizations see the parallels, too, and the potential to use pool diving to train astronauts.

NASA/Robert MarkowitzNASA/Robert Markowitz

The University of Essex in the U.K. has entered exploratory discussions to establish just such a pool — envisioned to be the world's largest and deepest at 162 feet deep, and 162 feet wide.

Development partner Blue Abyss says the pool will be the U.K. and Europe's premier marine and space research facility, offering the ability to simulate outer space and deep sea environments in one location.

The deep pool would offer more than just a relatively weightless, visually transparent environment for training. It also offers the kind of practical and psychological isolation that cannot be simulated anywhere else — an environment where the trainee is dependent on an oxygen tank and unable to immediately leave.

John Vickers, managing director of Blue Abyss, told Motherboard online magazine the pool would provide valuable training "especially with a view to the future for Moon and Mars missions, extended periods of isolation with very few people round you, in an environment where you can't just open the door and say, 'I've had enough."

Vickers believes the pool could even be "the world's first commercial astronaut training center," offering would-be astronauts and space tourists a taste of the kind of weightlessness and isolation that mark the outer space experience.

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