Sunday, April 26, 2009

European Space Agency

Today, we dove at the European Space Agency (ESA) Diving Center in Köln, 20 minutes from my new home in Bonn. It was Horst, Bernd, me, and four teenagers who had just completed their OWC. Diving was excellent. At 17 by 22 meters surface (corners rounded off) and 10 meters of depth, the ESA pool is significantly larger than Montemare. Walls consist of plain concrete, painted in blue, and lacked the decorations and paintings (plastic wrecks and plaster temples) typically found in pools targeting recreational divers. Surprisingly, the absence of decoration made little difference, and we were very happy playing games, or taking pictures. This is not to say that underwater entertainment does not have a tremendous impact on the overall experience. It simply means that e.g. Montemare does such a poor job at decoration that the improvement is too small to notice. Water temperature was a pleasant 24 degrees, and a 3mm full suit was more than sufficient. With a 10l tank and 4 kg of weights (plenty), I spent a good hour, mainly taking photos of my fellow divers.

Normally, there are two large models of exit systems from space rockets and the International Space Station (ISS). Here, astronauts practice extra vehicular activities (EVA) in a dummy suits, before flying to Houston for training on the actual gear. According to our guide, who has also trained astronauts in Houston, space training is very different from normal scuba diving. The astronaut is crammed into a humongous suit, with very restricted movement, and is to stay positioned at a 45 degree angle at all times. He requires three auxiliary (real) divers to get him into the water, watch his umbilical, and achieve neutral buoyancy. A single dive can take the better part of a day, and requires tons of patience. This takes a toll on even the fittest and psychologically most stable space explorers.

Prices were rather steep, especially, given that you have to bring your entire gear, including tanks and weights. Yet, the experience was great, scuba was fun, we received a great tour through ESA, and I even signed up for their club, so I am sure to come back on a monthly basis.