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Why spacewalk training involves getting very wet

NASA completed its latest spacewalk at the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday, March 13, successfully carrying out various maintenance and upgrade tasks on the outside of the orbiting outpost 250 miles above Earth.

Such extravehicular activities (EVAs), as they’re officially called, can last up to seven hours and, as you’d expect, require a great deal of training and preparation back on terra firma.

The European Space Agency’s Thomas Pesquet is one such astronaut currently undergoing spacewalk training ahead of a planned ISS mission in April 2021.

The training is taking place at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and involves copious amounts of time submerged in water — in full spacesuit gear — as part of simulation exercises. The watery environment provides a degree of weightlessness that helps astronauts get used to similar conditions outside the space station.

NASA has just posted a 43-minute 4K video (below) showing one of its underwater training exercises in which Pesquet can be seen working on a mockup of the ISS while communicating with personnel at “mission control.”

“Astronauts practice spacewalks in NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory,” the space agency explains in notes accompanying the video. “The training pool is the largest indoor swimming pool in the world, holding over 23 million liters of water, but it is still not large enough to hold the complete space station. Instead, specific parts of the station structure are used as needed for training.”

During such an exercise, support and training divers stay close by to guide the astronauts during their tasks, while during an actual spacewalk, mission control and other astronauts on the ISS are constantly in touch.

NASA describes spacewalks as “the most challenging task for an astronaut,” adding that the events are like “marathons that require concentration and physical exertion for six hours at a time, with no food or bathroom breaks.”

Commenting on the training video in a tweet, Pesquet said, “Forty minutes of spacewalk training in 4K … I am told it is relaxing to watch, for us it was hard work and concentration!”

To find out more about daily life on the space station, check out this collection of insightful videos made by the astronauts themselves.

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