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Sonny Carter Neutral Bouyancy Laboratory, 1997 OCEA
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The Sonny Carter Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory was built to facilitate training of NASA astronauts preparing for the assembly of the international space station. Serving as a simulated weightless training and testing center, it is the largest enclosed diving facility in the US, including a 6.2 million gallon, 40-foot deep tank - accommodating life-sized replicas of space hardware. The design includes special structural details in the tank floor, supported by its walls, to accommodate vertical and horizontal movements. Thousands of mechanical tension splices were made on horizontal and vertical reinforcements. To keep the water clear and moving at less than one foot per second, accommodations were made within the structure to embed piping for the elaborate filtration system into the pool’s walls and foundation. Control offices and deck structures are supported by the pool walls, which include pool skimmers and sockets for portable jib cranes located around the perimeter.


For cost savings, the design of the facility called for conversion of an existing abandoned building. Innovative systems and methods as well as careful consideration of the proximity to existing building structural elements were used to achieve the 28.5 foot deep excavation and other aspects of the facility’s conversion. The tank was designed to meet ACI “Environmental Engineering Concrete Structures” standards, and construction joints and concrete mix designs were given careful attention to minimize shrinkage-related cracking. Several waterproofing systems on the inside and outside of the tank minimize any leakage; the tank’s cantilevered design serves to resist outward pressure when the pool is full and inward pressure when empty to allow for tank and water quality maintenance activities. 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Haynes Whaley Associates Inc.
McDonnell Douglas Realty Company (Boeing Realty Corp)
 Photos:Exterior: Nicholas Phillips, Flickr (used with permission)
Parachute Recovery Testing: James Blair - NASA - JSC

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