If you’ve visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, I’m sure you’ve seen the Underwater Astronaut Trainer tank. You may have even peeked inside to see people playing basketball, performing an “extravehicular activity” (EVA), or just practicing moving around in microgravity. But, did you know that YOU can go down in the tank, too? You can!
The Discover SCUBA experience kills two birds with one stone- you get to learn the basics of SCUBA diving while experiencing the effects of simulated microgravity, like astronauts! The tank is 24 feet deep and 29.5 feet in diameter, which means it holds a LOT of water! It’s a replica of the tank at the Marshall Space Flight Center that was used in real astronaut training, which is no longer in use.
We arrived a few minutes early to sign waivers, but once the paperwork was done, we got an in-depth training session. Breathing 24 feet underwater is a very unnatural idea, and I have to admit I was a bit nervous! I was happy to sit down and go through some points before we even got wet. We learned some of the SCUBA hand signs that help people communicate underwater and the top four rules of SCUBA. Next, we got in the tank! The water was comfortably warm- like bath water. There’s a 4-foot deep platform at the top of the tank where we practiced what to do if we ran out of air or if our goggles came off. Once our trainers were comfortable with how we performed those tasks, we descended! I was so surprised at how much of a difference two rungs on a ladder made. I had to pop my ears every two feet!
At the bottom, there were several activities to keep us busy. I grabbed a ball that was near my feet when I first got to the bottom and slam-dunked it in the basketball hoop, just to realize afterwards that it was a 13-pound bowling ball! There are also golf balls, a 100-pound ball, rubber pool toy rockets, and a PVC structure to put together. It was so interesting to experience trying to move around and seeing how different things react in simulated microgravity. I tried to pull from my experience at Space Camp to move, but it was still hard! One thing I was really, REALLY looking forward to was popping my head up to the porthole and interacting with a kid, and I did!
SCUBA sessions are by appointment only, and a minimum of three people is required. You have to be at least 14 to dive, and kids 14 to 18 have to be accompanied by an adult. The adult doesn’t have to swim, but does have to be present. You’ll want someone to take photos through the port holes, anyway! The experience costs $99.00 and takes from 2 to 3 hours, including training and time at the bottom of the tank. This price also includes a day pass to the Space and Rocket Center, so you can dry off as you ride Space Shot! They provide the equipment, so you just have to show up with a bathing suit, a towel, and a change of clothes. Because the vests are a little scratchy, they require you to wear a T-shirt as well.
I had SO much fun at the Discover SCUBA experience at the Space and Rocket Center. I would definitely recommend it to everyone- space enthusiasts, diving enthusiasts, and adventurers all around!