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Diving Into Blue Abyss

Blue Abyss is building a unique, state of the art aquatic research, training and development facility which will become the world’s deepest pool. G&T is providing cost advice alongside 3PM project managers, Scott Brownrigg architects, Hoare Lea M&E engineers and Pell Frischmann structural engineers. The team will be working with Blue Abyss Managing Director, John Vickers, whose original idea ignited this record breaking project. Read on to find out more about how it developed into such a fascinating concept...

"I never thought I would be the head of a venture to build the world’s first commercial astronaut training facility!"

John Vickers, Blue Abyss Managing Director

Blue Abyss

By John Vickers

During my eight years in the British Army, I qualified as a diving instructor and spent my last year teaching, which was hugely enjoyable. After leaving the army in 1991 whilst I joined a management consultancy, I still often thought about going into a diving-related business.  In 2010 I became involved with a voluntary organisation called LeaversLink, for which I am now Chairman.  We connect those people leaving the UK Armed Forces with businesses to help them find and make the transition towards future careers.  And it is at this pivotal juncture that we encourage service leavers, and even veterans, to consider ‘what is it I would love to do’ rather than ‘what I feel I have to do?’  It was a revelation to me to realise once I left the Army that it wasn’t the end. I have had some fantastic career opportunities which have included senior roles in sales and business development, for some of the world’s biggest companies, to starting up several businesses and developing ideas into products – and I thought (regarding Blue Abyss), I should take some of the same advice.

Blue Abyss

I came up with the idea for the pool back in August 2014.  Following six months of detailed research, and several weeks spent in conversation with family and friends and quiet meetings with industry experts I finally had the opportunity to go public with my idea and it has just snowballed from there. Not only did I want to get involved with a business connected to diving, I wanted to build something extraordinary, something that hadn’t been done before.

In Europe there have been two multi-level pools developed.  Nemo 33 in Belgium currently sits at 34m deep, and Y40 in Italy hitting a depth of an ear popping 40m.  However in comparison the Blue Abyss pool will be eight times bigger in volume and 10m deeper than the two before it.  Working on a scale of this magnitude is a hugely ambitious project but one that I am relishing every day. 

NASA and the European Space Agency are strong supporters of the project and seem keen to use the facility once it has been completed. There is a specific area, at 12m deep, that will allow the space community to train and test their astronauts in an environment that can mimic the weightlessness of space (through neutral buoyancy), but also allow for other facets of training, living in confined, underwater habitats, for instance.  Water is the only medium on earth where 3D movement can be recreated more readily (the other regularly used training environments are parabolic flights), allowing for a good representation of conditions found on the International Space Station. Obviously the breathing equipment you need is slightly different but it acts as a great simulation facility to put both mind and body to the test.  When you achieve neutral buoyancy you can feel as though you are weightless.  It’s a fantastic way to prepare the astronauts for what’s to come and some of the stresses their bodies will be put under during their mission.

The development will also target recreational divers and industrial and the commercial diving community.  Within the complex there will be a state of the art lecture theatre and six classrooms, a hyper and hypobaric suite, a ‘mission control’ high-definition video room for pool supervision and training feedback and an adjacent 120-bed, three-star hotel. Scientists will be able to use the development for research about the physiological effects diving to that depth has on the human body as well as testing new equipment and solutions to cope with the limits of stress which our body can be put under.

"It is a childhood dream come true to be part of such a ground-breaking scheme and one which I feel hugely privileged to be the leader of."

John Vickers

Keep up to date with what’s happening on the project by following us on Twitter @gt_llp

Do you have any questions for John?  We want to hear from you! Tweet us using the link above.  

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