Hypobaric Chamber

Posted March 5, 2000 at 5:35 pm 1 Comment
nbloutside.jpg (15154 bytes) Today we visited the Sonny Carter Training Facility to continue the preparation for our zero gravity flight.  This facility houses the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), designed to prepare astronauts for extravehicular activity in a weightless environment. Neutral buoyancy has been used for many years to simulate reduced gravity for the extended duration of time needed to practice on-orbit procedures and test new hardware devices.
The centerpiece of the NBL is a 62-million-gallon, 102- by 202- by 40-foot pool.   While waiting for our training session to begin, we began speculating how long it would take to drink the NBL pool were it to be filled with beer.  We calculated that if there were a beer party at the NBL, every man, woman, and child in Houston would have to drink twelve beers in order to finish off the entire pool. monzychamber.jpg (22817 bytes)
chamberready.jpg (26264 bytes) Our training wasn’t in the pool, however; we were going to be placed in a hypobaric chamber.  A hypobaric chamber is really nothing more than an airtight, cylindrical metal room fitted with a vaccum pump.  You go in, and the air is gradually sucked out, simulating the low-pressure conditions of high altitude.  Chamber runs are used to teach astronauts and Air Force pilots what to expect when there is a loss of cabin pressure.
After being fitted with oxygen masks, we were escorted to the chamber, where we were going to “climb” to the pressure equivalent of 15,000 feet.  Once we reached this altitude, we were asked to remove our masks.  The low partial pressure of oxygen in the chamber prevents sufficient oxygen from getting to your brain, resulting in a condition known as hypoxia.  The symptoms of hypoxia vary between individuals: some experience a euphoria akin to drunkenness, while others simply feel dizzy, but nearly everyone’s mental capacities are severely reduced. chamber.jpg (25264 bytes)
connect.gif (9609 bytes) We were given a worksheet of simple problems to complete while experiencing hypoxia.   As the minutes passed and we became more and more oxygen-deprived, the problems grew more and more difficult.  I was unable to complete this connect-the-dots game, arriving only at dot number 17 after four minutes.  I remember strugging to think in a concentrated fashion about which dot to connect next.
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We were also asked to note the hypoxia symptoms that we experienced.  The guy sitting next to Kate, a student from Florida State University, was so loudly euphoric that one of the symptoms Kate listed on her worksheet after four minutes was “The guy next to me won’t shut up!”

Perhaps the funniest part of the chamber run occurs on the way up.  As the air pressure decreases, gases in the body expand (that’s Boyle’s Law, for anyone who’s taken introductory chemistry), and the result is a symphony of burping and flatulence throughout the chamber.  It’s a good thing we were wearing oxygen masks that covered our noses.As we drove home, Peter remarked that placing him in the hypobaric chamber was somewhat redundant.  “So we go into this chamber,” he said, “and we fart a lot, and we do poorly on a test.  That’s pretty much what I tend to do at sea level.” strangle.jpg (17971 bytes)

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  1. 22/3/08

    Dear,can you please let me know which masks were you using in hypobaric chamber.Were they Scott Pressure Vac II or similar type.What I mean is the masks for use in Hyperbaric chamber,can they be used in hypobaric chamber without any modification.
    Who is the supplier of mask to be used in Hypobaric chamber.
    Regards,
    Awaiting your reply,
    DSKamlapurkar,Pune,India

    Comment by D.S.Kamlapurkar — March 22, 2008 #

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