An Astronaut’s Training in Weightlessness

Doing Repairs in Space

How do you train an astronaut to function in the hostile, freezing vacuum of space? Spacewalking astronaut outside the station, fixing a problem upside down.To repair or replace faulty equipment and complete mission objectives, all while wearing a cumbersome, bulky spacesuit? The International Space Station (ISS) is a technological marvel, but it’s been in continual use since Nov 2nd, 2000. That makes the ISS 16 years old. Equipment malfunctions or gets damaged by space debris. Essential components wear out.

So in space, who you gonna call?

No one.

Even the people who designed and built the ISS won’t come.

Even Astronauts Use Duct Tape

The astronauts living in the Space Station have to do the maintenance and make all the repairs, using whatever tools and materials they have on hand. I almost added, “Sadly in outer space there is no duct tape” but decided to do some quick fact checking. I discovered that to a working astronaut, duct tape is awesome! It was even used to repair the moon buggy’s fender during Apollo 17’s lunar landing in 1972.

Special Training in a Weightless Environment

NASA realized the importance of practicing repairs or mission-oriented tasks in a weightless environment. To simulate the conditions found during a spacewalk or EVA, NASA scientists created the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. The NBL has a gigantic pool, containing accurate, life-sized metal “mock-ups” of outside sections of the ISS. Two astronauts on a platform, being lowered into the water.

Astronauts are lowered into the pool in specially-adapted space suits. Each astronaut is made “neutrally buoyant,” so that they float suspended in the water. With the help of a team of divers, the astronauts practice making repairs, replacing damaged parts and doing routine maintenance on the outside of the Space Station.

Astronaut under water in his spacesuit, surrounded by two scuba divers.This underwater training is very important. During a spacewalk, you have to do everything right the first time. Carelessness or lack of experience can get you killed.

NASA’s attitude? “Practice makes perfect.” Individual members of the crew repeatedly practice each step of their assignments in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab’s pool. They can’t swim in their spacesuits, so a pair of divers maneuvers them from one station to another, so they can complete each task.

Two astronauts in the space station, demonstrating weightlessness with fruit.Astronauts do the same assignment underwater over and over, until they become comfortable with each step.

Later on, when they leave the safety of the International Space Station, their earlier experience of doing the same series of tasks underwater becomes critical.

A mistake can kill you.

We’re in Training Too

Just like the NASA astronauts, we too have future tasks we need to receive training for. God is our divine Mission Control Director. He knows us; what challenges we’ll eventually face, and what future assignments He’s calling us to.

So what does a Christian’s preparation and training look like?

Developing a Christ-like Character. God doesn’t trust the immature Christian with certain tasks, because the sins they still have will cause them to be very destructive. A slandering, greedy, easily wounded Christian can harm a lot of people.

A more mature Christian will do serious damage to Satan’s kingdom here on earth.

Receiving New Hearts. Another type of preparation? Having our hearts divinely tugged in a new direction. One woman shared her testimony of suddenly developing a strong heart for the people of India. Wisely, she prayed and asked God; “Is becoming a missionary to India Your calling on my life?” If the answer was “yes,” she asked the Lord to give her husband and two daughters the same heart for India. This was “the fleece” she laid down to determine God’s will (See Judges 6:36-40).

Then she waited. Sure enough, everyone else’s heart got stirred up in the same way. The whole family received the call to become missionaries to India.

Spiritual Gifts. God also equips us with the spiritual and natural gifts we’ll need as we step into new assignments.

Training in Treading Water. Of course, the Holy Spirit will often “throw us in over our heads;” learning to walk by faith is key.

Times of Tempering. We will go through dark times of testing, trial and heartbreak. Steel only becomes strong after it’s tempered in the fire. Christians often are the same way.

The International Space Station orbiting above the earth.

A Word of Warning

I believe we can frustrate Jesus’ plans for our lives. We can, by our disobedience or rebellion, disqualify ourselves from stepping into the greater destiny God has for each of us. Everything the Almighty asks us to do has a specific purpose; He doesn’t waste our time or His own with meaningless exercises.

Like the NASA astronaut submerging underwater to turn the same bolt on the same panel and replace the same piece of equipment for the 8th or 9th time, God has His reasons. We get impatient, but our time of preparation is important.

Remember, it wasn’t only the astronauts who had to be prepared. The on-board fuel, life-support systems, the booster rockets, “the launch window” and the weather all had to come together at the right time to create the right conditions for “lift off.”

Resources:

NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab-Here’s a short video exploring the astronauts’ underwater training. (link)

Duct tape-Two kinds of tape are useful in a weightless environment. This article tells of all the ways working astronauts have used duct tape. Having some on board saved the lives of the Apollo 13 crew.  Click here.

“Zero Gravity: It May Not Be What You Think” Yes, astronauts float in outer space and experience weightlessness, but why? After all, gravity still tugs on the moon and keeps it orbiting the earth. (article)

 

 

 

 

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