NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) in Houston was designed and built to support astronaut extra-vehicular activity (EVA)—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 NBL is not only a resource for the aerospace industry, the facility is also utilized by multiple external commercial users, including many energy companies.
The massive NBL measures 202 ft. by 102 ft. with depths up to 40 ft., 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 NBL is used by the oil and gas industry for their employee training, especially those responsible for maintaining and upgrading their company’s marine drilling and platform assets.
In July, San Jacinto College’s EnergyVenture campers toured the NBL and learned about how the facility supports oil rig inspections, repairs, upgrades, and refurbishments.
EnergyVenture is a week-long day summer camp for middle school aged students, focused 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 NBL deputy program manager and lead of the program’s commercial industry tasks said, “The NBL is home to a state-of-the-art remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV), which is used to analyze and prepare operational and test situations prior to working in massive bodies of water. Utilized 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 NBL, 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 NLB 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.
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries, and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has served the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, since 1961. The College is fiscally sound, holding bond ratings of AA and Aa2 by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. San Jacinto College is a 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Top 10 institution, a 2017 Aspen Prize Rising Star Award recipient, and an Achieving the Dream Leader College. The College serves approximately 45,000 credit and non-credit students annually, and offers eight areas of study that put students on a path to transfer to four-year institutions or enter the workforce. San Jacinto College’s impact on the region totals $1.3 billion in added income, which supports 13,044 jobs.