ISS at 40 feet

HOUSTON -- If you're NASA, how do you train astronauts headed for the International Space Station to work on their assigned tasks in a way that suitably mimics the ISS' zero-gravity environment?

The ingenious answer is with a large-scale model of the ISS 40 feet under the surface of a giant pool.

At the Neutral Buoyancy Lab here, associated with, but a 20 minutes drive from, the Johnson Space Center, that's exactly what NASA does -- bringing in each astronaut with ISS missions coming up and giving them regular underwater sessions during which they can practice many of the steps they'll eventually be performing in space.

As part of CNET Road Trip 2014, I visited the NBL and saw up close how this works, as well as how incredible an ISS mock-up looks underwater.

Please click here for my full story on the Neutral Buoyancy Lab.

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Astronaut pants

Most weekdays, NASA puts two of its astronauts through training sessions at the NBL, where they'll spend six hours underwater, each working with rotating teams of safety-, camera-, and support-divers.

Before the astronauts come out to suit up, though, support teams lay out their suits in preparation.

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All the camera views

In a control room above the NBL pool, technicians monitor up to 21 different camera views of the astronauts' work on the ISS mock-up from in and around the pool.

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Scott Kelly gloves and helmet

Mark and Scott Kelly are part of a NASA experiment to see how space affects both members of a set of twins.

When CNET visited, Scott Kelly was slated to be working in the NBL pool. Here, his gloves and helmet are seen laid out and awaiting his arrival to suit up.

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Orion mock-up

A mock-up of NASA's Orion capsule -- which is the space agency's next manned aircraft -- at the NBL.

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Kelly's under-suit

Inside the main space suit, the astronauts wear a thinner outfit that has integrated components for connecting with the systems built into the space suit.

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Trainer underwater

Part of the ISS mock-up, seen under the water at the NBL.

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Camelbak mouthpiece

Inside his space suit, Scott Kelly had a Camelbak from which he could drink water. The mouthpiece is seen here sticking up from inside prior to his putting the suit on.

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Putting on the pants

Astronauts need a little help putting on their space suits.

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Upsy-daisy

NBL technicians help Scott Kelly stand up after he's begun to put on the space suit pants.

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Connecting the boot

Kelly locks his boot into place.

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Climbing into the suit

With the help of a couple of NBL technicians, Kelly climbs up into the main part of the space suit.

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Scott Kelly

Astronaut Scott Kelly, who along with his brother Mark Kelly, is part of a team that will help NASA study the effects of space on both members of a set of twins.

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Moment of rest

After getting into the space suit, Scott Kelly rests for a moment before putting on his helmet.

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Strapping on headset

Kelly straps on his headset, which will allow him to communicate with the control room and his support divers.

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Helmet on

Kelly now has on his helmet. It's almost time to be lowered into the water for his six-hour NBL session.

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Astronaut

Kelly readies himself for his NBL work.

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Tools

Strapped to the front of his suit, Kelly also has a set of various tools he'll use to work on the ISS mock-up.

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Hoisting out over the pool

Kelly had been standing on a platform, and now that platform is being hoisted off the side of the pool and will be slowly lowered into the water.

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Down he goes

Kelly begins to be submerged.

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Saluting

Kelly salutes as he goes under.

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Just below the surface

Kelly gets his first look of the day at the underwater environment.

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Monitoring in the main control room

NBL technicians in the main control room watch the work taking place on the underwater ISS mock-up.

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On the screen

A monitor in the main control room shows a camera view of the underwater work taking place at the NBL.

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Another view

Another view of what's happening 40 feet below the surface of the NBL pool.

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NBL front door

The front door of NASA's neutral buoyancy lab.

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