Underwater Space Camp simulates astronaut training

2013-07-09T18:45:00Z 2013-07-10T23:23:06Z Underwater Space Camp simulates astronaut trainingAnna Ortiz anna.ortiz@nwi.com nwitimes.com
July 09, 2013 6:45 pm  • 

HAMMOND | Eleven students suited up in more than 35 pounds of scuba gear and descended into the 11-foot-deep pool.

While they were at the Hammond Branch YMCA, they experienced what astronauts feel in space or on the moon's surface.

This was the first time the Challenger Learning Center hosted the two-day Underwater Astronaut Training Camp.

Rebecca Manis, the center's director, heard of other Challenger centers hosting the program and became interested.

"I wanted to try to bring this to our kids" Manis said. "There's not a lot of things like this in the area."

The students, ages 11 through 14, enrolled in the camp sessions Monday and Tuesday.

They prepared for their day in "space" at the Challenger Learning Center on Monday by learning about neutral buoyancy, density, doing experiments and studying how NASA prepares astronauts for space.

On Tuesday, five scuba instructors from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors volunteered their time to be at the YMCA for the session.

Last summer Manis contacted master scuba diver Steve Easton, who brought together other scuba instructors for the event.

Easton has traveled the world scuba diving. The experience of scuba diving underwater and of being in space are almost identical, he said.

NASA regularly prepares astronauts in underwater simulations at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

Students went through underwater Hula-Hoop obstacle courses and worked together to construct cubes from plastic piping underwater.

Scuba instructor Robert Hughes is a diver at John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

"It's been a lot of fun," Hughes said. "I like working with kids. They're more fearless than adults."

Easton said if the students continue scuba diving lessons after the camp, they can be certified divers.

Camp participant Zach Hatseras, 11, wants to be a space shuttle engineer.

He described the experience as "awesome" and said he wants to attend the camp next year.

Siblings Sarah Thomas and Matthew Thomas went through underwater obstacle courses.

"Science is one of my favorite things," Sarah Thomas said. "I'm very happy I came to the camp. I think I learned a lot of things."

Manis said she would like to have an advanced camp next year for students who had gone through the basic sessions.

Easton enjoyed working with the Challenger Learning Center and is ready to return for another round of camp.

"This has been a great time," Easton said. "I'm already planning for next year's events."

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