Neutral Buoyancy Training in Costa Rica | My Scuba Experience

Neutral buoyancy, or ‘weightlessness’, has long been a central part of training astronauts and cosmonauts for their forays into outer space. The most common and cost-effective way to achieve a semblance of weightlessness on earth is through neutrally buoyant diving otherwise known as scuba diving. Through scuba diving, astronauts can become accustomed to the sense of weightlessness, prepare for EVA’s (extravehicular activities, or ‘spacewalks’), and practice procedures for emergency situations in space. Scuba diving is an incredibly important skill for astronauts to master and Over the years, I’ve been advised by many space professionals to obtain scuba diving experience in order to further my astronaut dreams. During this blustery winter, I was fortunate enough (thanks Mom!) to have an opportunity to become Padi open water dive certified!

Last year I got a taste of scuba diving at space camp in Huntsville, Alabama. We suited up, learned the basics, and swam to the bottom of a 40 foot pool. For 30 minutes, my teammates and I swam while hoisting hundred pound balls, doing flips, and configuring pressure rockets. After this short experience with diving, I was hooked. I went home and raved about how incredible it had been. I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to dive again so quickly. My experience at camp sparked my mom’s interest to start scuba diving, and before I knew it, we were studying for our Padi open water scuba diving certifications!

Living in Minnesota, our options for open water dives were pretty slim, as certification requires four open water dives. We were looking at extremely cold, ice diving in murky lakes. We decided that if we were going to do this, we should do it right. And so we headed to the Pacific Ocean off the remote coast of sunny Costa Rica! Not only was the water warm, but there was plenty of flora and fauna! We were lucky to have extremely clear water on our dives. It is an entirely different world underwater. Motion and vision take on new meaning, while sound becomes almost nonexistent. Schools of fish swim by in mesmerizing swarms, predators lurk patiently along the bottom, and gentle giant sea turtles meander through the water. Every turn and crevice holds a new surprise, a new wonder and beauty to behold.

Equally as amazing as the underwater ecosystem, is the feeling of neutral buoyancy. Neutral buoyancy is achieved through careful balancing of the natural tendency to sink or float, weights, and small amounts of air. After having this balance set, it is possible to control your buoyancy through breathing in and out. As you breathe in, your lungs fill with air and you should rise. Expelling this air causes you to sink slightly. The most incredible part of diving, perhaps even the most incredible feeling of my life, is to close your eyes and simply exist. Neither floating nor sinking, your breaths balancing out perfectly. With no sound and the dim blue light of the ocean, you can imagine you are anywhere. You can picture anything. For me, when I closed my eyes and found this perfect moment of neutral buoyancy, I pictured the Earth rotating slowly beneath me, drifting farther and farther away in the weightlessness of space.

Often, people will ask me how close I am to reaching my goal of going to Mars. This is always a difficult question to answer because my goal is so far in the future. With a plan as long-term and difficult as mine, it’s important to focus it into smaller steps. Through becoming scuba certified, I feel as if I have taken one step closer to becoming an astronaut and going to Mars. I may have a long way to go, but experiences such as this let me look back at my path and recognize how far I have truly come.

Chatting with Luca Parmitano On the ISS | Recording

Thanks to Penny Pettigrew for taking this picture while I talked to Luca!

Thanks to Penny Pettigrew for taking this picture while I talked to Luca!

Thanks to the entire International Space Station Payload Operations Communications Team (Marshall Space Flight Center – Huntsville Alabama) and Mission Control (Johnson Space Center – Houston Texas) and Penny Pettigrew for helping coordinate this amazing opportunity. I was able to speak to my mentor Luca Parmitano on Friday July 26, 2013 while he was orbiting the earth on the ISS. It’s pretty amazing that he was speaking to me from space. What an incredible experience!

It’s taken me awhile to publish this recording here on my blog because I had to sit down and learn how to upload an mp3 to the blog. Turns out this was not that challenging to learn – I just had to make the time! Check out the recording below.


Press the play button below to hear the recording

Transcript of Recording:

Luca: This is Luca.

Payload Communications (PLC): Is this Luca?

Luca: It’s my understanding that you have a guest out there who may be interested in talking to me for some reason.
PLC: We do. Give us just a few minutes to get her in here and we’ll call up.
Luca: Standing by.
PLC: Okay, Luca, we’re back with you on two.
Luca: And I’m on two ready to copy.
PLC: Okay, I’ll let her say hello.
Abby: Hi, Luca! It’s Abby.
Luca: You’ve been quite the traveler haven’t you been?
Abby: Yeah, I guess so. How are you doing?
Luca: Oh, I’m doing great. This is so exciting and always a good time. And secondly I’m on the space station which is always a fabulous time. So I couldn’t be better.
Luca: How is Alabama treating you?
Abby: I can’t imagine it couldn’t be better up there. We’re doing good down here also. Thank you for all the recommendations for things to do while we were in Houston. Oh, and my mom says hi also.
Luca: Hello back to your mom. I’m glad you enjoyed Houston. I really like Houston, it’s a fun city and even though I’ve never been to Huntsville it’d be fun to have a look down there. It was quite a busy day with them and a lot of fun.
Abby: Yeah, it sounded like it was a busy day when I was talking to Penny. She was saying you had a lot going on. That’s good I guess.
Luca: Absolutely. We like being busy. And we’ve been busy up here. There’s never a dull moment so it’s a really exciting to be. The company is fantastic and the view is really outstanding and life couldn’t be better.
Abby: Yeah, I would imagine so.
Luca: Are you still planning to come to Mars?
Abby: Yep, we actually just went today and saw some of the models that are for long duration space flight.
Luca: That’s very excting, that’s very cool. Well, keep going on your knowledge and all the good things that you’re doing and the world will open up for you, I have no doubt.
Abby: Thank you, Luca, and thank you so much for your help. It was great talking to you again.
Luca: Nice talking to you. I think for me now it’s dinnertime. I have no idea what time of day it is over there but enjoy the rest of the visit and have a fantastic time and I’ll see you on Twitter and Facebook and all those cool places on the Internet.
Abby: Yep, sounds good. We’ll definitely be seeing you there. Well, I should probably let you go now and good luck and have fun on the space station
Luca: Great talking to you – anything is possible. So glad to be on the space station, it’s a fantastic place to be.
Abby: Yeah.
Luca: All right, have a great rest of the day and a fantastic visit and see you soon.
Abby: Thank you, Luca. Bye!

What’s Your Mars? My TEDx Talk [Video]

Here it is! My TEDx talk from October 25, 2013! I am so excited to share it with you! I hope you will watch it and if you are inspired by it share it with your friends.

What’s Your Mars? Astronaut Abby TEDx Talk

When TEDx Tampa Bay contacted me over the summer and asked if I was interested in speaking at their event, themed “Exploring the Past, Embracing the Future,” I was so excited. What an honor to be invited and what a great topic! When I speak of the future of human space exploration, I often reflect on the past.  It is because of the amazing accomplishments of the United StatesRussiaCanada and ESA that we can even imagine a future of space exploration. It is because of our past and present that we have the technology we enjoy today in our daily lives.

Yet, my TEDx talk was not directly about human space flight. I wove my own story into my message, as well as some history of human space travel.  My talk explains what I have learned on my own quest to be the first astronaut to Mars. The title “What’s  your Mars?” is reflective of my message, that we each have a dream- a Mars, and by pursuing our dreams, we inspire others and we can change the world. I call it the circle of inspiration. I hope you will watch my talk, and if you are inspired, that you will share it with your friends. It’s an important message and I hope many people will hear it.

Thank you so much for your support!

A Visit to Lockheed Martin Aerospace Facilities

One of my favorite parts about my outreach campaign is that I get to educate the public about the future of the United States Space Program. I have been fortunate to tour many facilities, including ATK at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama where they are working with NASA on building the Space Launch System that will take me to Mars. I was also invited for a visit to the Lockheed Martin facilities in Denver. During my visit with Lockheed Martin’s Scott Norris, I was fortunate to see many cool things including the building of the Orion Spacecraft that will take me to Mars! Here are some pictures of what I got to see during my visit at Lockheed Martin.

In the photo below, I am in front of the Orion composite backshell panel in the Denver composites fabrication shop.  These composite panels have thermal tiles bonded to them and are then fastened to the pressure vessel.  These panels provide thermal and micro-meteoroid protection to the astronauts.

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This is after I checked out the Orion Lidar Vision Navigation System undergoing rendezvous and docking simulations in the Space Operations Simulation Center (SOSC) in Loackheed Martins Waterton facility.

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Here I am front of the “Asteroid Wall” with a six degree of freedom robot that simulates a space craft approaching an asteroid.  This test setup will be used to validate the rendezvous and sample grapple on an asteroid for the OSIRIS-Rex mission.

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The astroid wall is so cool!

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In the next photos, I am sitting in the Orion crew cockpit simulator.  This is where Lockheed Martin and NASA simulate different crew interface designs and test crewed flight operations including rendezvous and docking.  I even docked to the ISS!

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My Big Announcement…”What’s Your Mars?”

Tedx Tampa Bay

The Palladium Theatre in St. Petersburg Florida will be the location for my TEDx talk on October 25, 2013.

I’m really excited to announce that I’ve been invited to give a TEDx talk on October 25, 2013 in Tampa Bay, Florida (TEDx Tampa Bay )! It’s an honor to be a part of this event, where various speakers will be sharing stories from the past as they look to the future. My talk is titled, “What’s your Mars?” and focuses on “Dreaming Big, Acting Big and Inspire others.” My hope is to motivate people everywhere to reach for the stars and find their Mars.

I’ll be sharing the stage with photojournalist Herb Snitzer, entrepeneneur David Etheredge, blogger Tracey Locke, psychologist Dr. Tiffany Chenneville, neurobiologist Dr. Csilla Ari, cancer biologist Dr. Dominic D’agostino, artist Timothy Raines, drum circle facilitators Katherine T. Robinson and Sally G. Robinson, as well as eclectic musicians and faculty of University of South Florida.

#TEDxTampaBay is the hashtag for this awesome event – be sure to follow the hashtag and stay up to date with everything as the event nears!

Wait, There’s More…

Not only am I excited to head to Florida to be a part of the TEDx Tampa Bay event, but I’m excited to invite YOU to a special dress rehearsal for my short TED talk! Hear it live from me FIRST and stay after my talk for a fun Q&A session. I want you to experience my talk right here in Minneapolis on Saturday, October 19 at 3:30 p.m. at Augusburg Park Library.

Register for this free event now here!  Seating is limited. Help give me a great send off on my TED Talk mission!