Stand by for countdown to splashdown… 3… 2…1
Have you ever found yourself on a Friday afternoon wondering what it would feel like to be working as an astronaut on the international space station? How would it feel to be bouncing with zero gravity while trying to screw in an instrument panel? Maybe even what it would be like to try and shoot a bowling ball like a basketball into a hoop? Well buckle in for take-off, we are about to introduce you to another Huntsville adventure that is one of a kind.
The US Space and Rocket Center historically offered an Underwater Astronaut experience to attendees of Space Camp up until last year. Now you, sitting reading this, can schedule your own personal Underwater Astronaut experience. If you are thinking, “Scuba, don’t you have to be certified and have a ton of extra cash for equipment?,” don’t worry a bit. The SCUBA Experience has a rockstar team of certified & trained dive instructors that will take their time with each participant to ensure you are confident and safe during your bottom time. At the end of the dive, you will have not only experienced a one-of-a-kind adventure but you will also earn an exclusive Underwater Astronaut Trainer recognition card as well as friends from your time there.
When you arrive at the US Space and Rocket Center you will meet at the ticketing booth for the museum and inform the talented team that you are visiting to take part in the Underwater Astronaut Experience. After verifying your appointment via your receipt or email from booking they will direct you through the museum to the looking glass windows at the bottom of the tank. There you will see a sign noting to wait until your guide can take you up, this is also a great place for your friends/family that might accompany you to stand and watch you dive down and complete activities. Once your guide meets to take you back, you will head up about 3 flights of stairs to the dive deck, here is where you get the glorious feeling of what you are about to do.
First thing after arriving at the dive deck you will be able to change into your swim gear in their locker room, then you can store your belongings into lockers that are safe and monitored while you are diving. Once you are ready to swim you will fill out a little paperwork and stand by for countdown. Your trained dive instructor will introduce themself to you and give you a little history on the program and what all they have to offer.
A little secret, there is a certified Huntsville rockstar that very well may be your guide. Rocket 95.1’s Jimbo Wood is not only the voice that provides entertainment on your morning commute but may also be your dive buddy and expert. Jimbo didn’t have much of a chance to introduce himself to me, I nearly ran over star-struck and stoked that I would get the chance to learn and dive beside him. Once we were ready to go Jimbo had us walk down to a platform on the south side of the tank then swim over to the north side platform. Here is where it got real, and honestly exciting!
On the edge of the tank sat our dive gear and goggles. We dropped our tank into the water, put it on as easy as a backpack, and waited patiently for Jimbos instructions. A couple of tests before we started learning, like putting dive weights into your belt to ensure you can descend without issue from natural buoyancy. Jimbo took the lead here and started walking us through how to clear your regulator, how to find your regulator if it fell to the side, even how to clear water from your mask if water was to leak in. This was really important, not just for instruction to first-timers, but to ease any anxiety about diving 25ft down for the first time ever. Jimbo took his time to ensure each person felt comfortable and ready to go, he even tested the lessons he taught 2 times underwater on the platform.
It was GO time, we ventured over to 2 ladders that descended the entire depth of the pool, which was great, it allowed us to take our time step by step, equalizing our ears. Once we were on the bottom we had about 30 mins of bottom time & activities to enjoy.
First up was a 13lbs bowling ball, or should I say underwater basketball? We took turns trying to shoot the bowling ball into a rim, pro-tip just dunk it. I recreated Michael Jordan’s free throw dunk about 10 times, simply because it felt cool. Next up was a panel of materials identical to what is used on the International Space Station, we had to screw in the panel to a box on the wall, this was pretty interesting due to your force going backwards as you try to turn the screw. After a successful task we bounded over to the rocket launch system.
There are over 10 pvc pipes tied together going in different directions. At the top you had 3 launch points for a 3D printed rocket that blasts up the 25ft tank and eventually sinks back down to the bottom. Jimbo pointed to which launch order we should follow for rocket 3, Row 1 C turn the knob, Row 2 B turn the knob, Row 3 A turn the knob. Once Jimbo filled the tank with air, FIRE, then look up to watch the blastoff. At this point you will be feeling pretty confident in your diving ability and underwater astronaut ability.
Before we took on the next task we took turns jumping up to the port holes where you may see your friends and family, or even visitors simply looking in. There were a few kids I took by surprise when I popped my head up as they looked in, make sure to wave and interact.
Wrapping up our bottom time we as a team worked together to build 2 different structures out of PVC. This was pretty fun, trying to communicate what connection angle is needed or what size tube. After getting a hang of the hand signals needed to get the task rolling we build a full cube & octagon.
It was time to ascend and dry off, we ventured back to the ladders and slowly ascended clearing our ears as we went step by step. Before heading to the showers to wash off the chlorine, we were able to get a sneak peak at other options offered. DIVR+ is a great experience for anyone 7 years or older, where you will get a virtual reality chance to experience an ocean dive. It interacts with you by blowing air in your face to experience what you would when deep in the ocean. Sea TREK is another option that is similar to the Underwater Astronaut Trainer however you can stay dry from the shoulders up and breathe normally with a specially designed helmet.
No matter what your experience level is, the US Space and Rocket Center along with their talented & certified team will ensure you have an unforgettable experience. Schedule your visit now, also if Jimbo is your instructor tell him I said Rock On!
Gary Henderson Jr. touched down in Huntsville in 2014 and immediately started digging into all that Rocket City has to offer. To his benefit the Tennessee Valley has all that he could have hoped for and more. From hiking to golf and everything in between, you can be certain he is soaking in all the activities while sharing his adventures along the way. Gary is the proud husband to Katelyn Henderson and father to two awesome kids who share his adventurous spirit & love for the Tennessee Valley.