Gallery: Diving For Spacewalks Is Way Tougher Than You Think

If you’ve spent any length of time underwater, you appreciate just how much drag it creates on your limbs — especially if you’re wearing a little clothing or carrying around diving equipment. Now, try to imagine using a pressurized spacesuit in that environment. You’re already puffed up like a balloon and have the drag to contend with.

Few of us will get that experience — NASA won’t let just anybody try on an expensive suit — but luckily for us, a person saying he is a diver (identifying himself only as Zugzwang5) posted about the experience on Reddit. The pictures alone are incredible, but the insights the diver provides show just how tough an astronaut has to be to get ready for spacewalking.

Using the spacesuit compared to a wetsuit, wrote Zugzwang 5 on Reddit, was “incredibly cumbersome”. He says he’s a contracted diver for Oceaneering working at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, which has a model of the International Space Station in a huge pool for astronauts to practice spacewalking. Usually he’s inside a wetsuit, but the spacesuit was a completely different experience, he said.

There’s so much resistance from the suit and the water every motion takes tremendous effort. You might not guess it from my pictures, but I’m actually pretty fit, and I was exhausted by the end of the day. The hardest thing to get used to was moving up and down in the water column. I’ve been diving so long controlling my buoyancy is basically a force of will at this point, having to actually crawl and direct myself up and down was such a weird feeling.

A diver at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston tries out a spacesuit during a practice dive in December 2014. Credit: Zugzwang 5/imgur

Near the end of the marathon session, the diver had to bring back a simulated “incapacitated” astronaut to the airlock underwater, which he wrote was an extremely difficult task — especially while so tired.

So, for a real astronaut to pass their final evaluation they have to do a flawless incapacitated crew member rescue. this is actually very difficult as safely manipulating another suit is even more tiring and cumbersome than just moving your own. not only that but the airlock is very small, and safely (using proper tether technique) hooking someone else up into it is a surprisingly complex procedure where you have zero extra space to work with. Thirty minutes usually ends up being hardly enough time for the new guys, and even a vet will take more than 20.

You can check out the entire gallery at this link. Also, look at a past one the diver posted about the spacesuit fitting.

Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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