NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston was designed and built to support astronaut extra-vehicular activity or spacewalk-planning and training using full-scale mockups of the International Space Station.
Located a few miles from NASA's Johnson Space Center, the Neutral Buoyancy Lab is not only a resource for the aerospace industry but also used by multiple external commercial users, including many energy companies.
The massive Neutral Buoyancy Lab measures 202 feet by 102 feet with depths up to 40 feet, and its large footprint offers many advantages over environments at the mercy of Mother Nature. With its climate controlled environment, crystal-clear visibility, video capture systems, sub-surface communication systems, and in-house breathing gas, the laboratory is used by the oil and gas industry for employee training, especially those responsible for maintaining and upgrading the company's marine drilling and platform assets.
In July, San Jacinto College's EnergyVenture campers toured the Neutral Buoyancy Lab and learned how the facility supports oil rig inspections, repairs, upgrades, and refurbishments.
EnergyVenture, a week-long day summer camp for middle school students, focuses on careers in the energy industry. While at camp, students learn about careers in engineering, geology, process technology, welding, and mechanical technology.
With industry support, more than 1,600 students have attended EnergyVenture camps over the last 11 years. Since 2008, Shell Oil Company as the Gold Level Sponsor has provided scholarships for the students to attend the camps at no charge.
As part of the activities, the students go on a field trip and visit an actual facility that supports the energy industry.
Clay Tomlinson, Raytheon's Neutral Buoyancy Lab deputy program manager and lead of the program's commercial industry tasks, said, "The lab is home to a state-of-the-art remotely operated underwater vehicle, which is used to analyze and prepare operational and test situations prior to working in massive bodies of water. Used by many Houston oil and gas companies, the pool provides training in a controlled environment and allows engineers and technicians to practice techniques to effectively develop and use tools to complete maintenance and repairs on oil rigs."
"At the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, we can even mimic the waves — the situation in which the technicians complete their work at a rig or platform in the Gulf of Mexico," said Shane Pennington, safety and mission assurance manager at Bastion Technologies Inc. "The lab also supports this industry and provides water survival training for offshore oil and gas workers."
"As the energy capital of the world, there will be jobs to fill in Houston in oil and gas exploration, refining, and in industries that support the energy industry. The EnergyVenture camps introduce young people to good-paying jobs and careers right in their backyard," said Linda Drobnich, senior business development manager at San Jacinto College.