ESA astronaut Timothy Peake’s crewmates on this year’s Neemo underwater training can rest assured: Tim is training as a rescue diver at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne.
This summer, Tim will spend almost two weeks in an underwater base off the coast of Florida for mission Neemo. An underwater base is one of the best ways to recreate the isolation and weightlessness of living and working in space – on Earth.
All ESA astronauts are trained as Advanced Open Water scuba divers and certified to the standards of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, better known as PADI.
ESA’s astronaut training centre in Cologne, Germany decided to train astronauts that have not yet been assigned a mission to the level of PADI Rescue Diver, which will expand their diving expertise.
“The better diver you are, the better you will be at spacewalks,” explains Hervé Stevenin, head of the Astronaut Training Unit preparing ESA astronauts for spacewalks.
“Scuba diving is as close as it gets to experiencing weightlessness on Earth for long periods of time.
“This Rescue Diver Course builds confidence, as it makes divers consider the safety of others, preventing problems and managing emergencies.”
Last week, Tim started rescue diving training tailored to an astronaut’s needs. A normal course takes around three days to complete, but Tim has a two-week intensive schedule.
After a full day of preparations, he entered the Neutral Buoyancy Facility for hands-on training in the European Astronaut Centre. In this 10m-deep water tank, Tim practised all rescue diver techniques with eight PADI-certified trainers.
Tim must prove his skills in mock rescue situations. His trainers act out emergency situations that could occur in real life. Tim is unaware of what awaits him – then he has to react accordingly and rescue the situation.
Tim is enthusiastic about the training: “This is by far the best diving training that I have experienced. The practical rescue exercises have really given me that extra confidence to know how to act in an emergency situation and to become familiar with diving equipment.
“I am very grateful to the training team who have made the exercise scenarios very realistic but also great fun too!”
To qualify as a PADI Rescue Diver, a final exam is held in open water. Tim will undergo this exam with colleague ESA astronaut trainees Thomas Pesquet and Andreas Morgensen in a lake near Cologne in August.
Splashdown for the Neemo mission is on 11 June. Follow Tim’s mission on the astronaut blog and Twitter through the links to the right of this page.