NASA is preparing for another landing on the moon, and hopes to ensure the next lunar spacecraft is as safe as possible with a prototype focused on the economy of dead astronauts.
To test it, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are turning to the seabed.
With its natural similarities to the surface of the moon, the ocean floor is the perfect environment to simulate a lunar environment. That's why space agencies are turning to the underwater Aquarius habitat in the Atlantic Ocean to run their tests.
ESA has a prototype called the LESA (Lunar Evacuation System Assembly) that allows a single astronaut to implant the structure and lift its incapacitated crew on a moving stretcher before bringing it to a pressurized module.
The entire process of deployment and protection of your crew on the stretcher should take less than 10 minutes.
The extraveletal activities (EVA) that the astronauts use are bulky, heavy and do not allow a wide range of movements.
"There is no way for an astronaut to take his crewmate down over his shoulder wearing an EVA suit," says Hervé Stevenin, head of space training operations and Neutral Buoyancy at ESA. "Our goal was to bring all the rescue actions to the EVA-equipped astronaut's workplace to ensure a quick and safe rescue.
"The LESA can be transported as a golf cart and placed near the fallen astronaut to provide a lifting mechanism and a stretcher that is easy to maneuver. Once the rescuer used the device to lift his mate and attach the stretcher aside from behind, they add wheels to the stretcher and take them to a safe place. "
An earlier prototype of the device was tested by ESA astronaut Pedro Duque and NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren in 2017 during NASA's NEEMO 22 mission.
NEEMO 23 crew members along with two other astronauts – ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins – will put the next version of LESA under test at Aquarius for nine days from this week.
Christoforetti and Watkins will wear EVA gloves, which are pressurized and limit dexterity, and test the LESA in an EVA space suit simulator.
"ESA has been participating in NASA's NEEMO missions for the past eight years," says Stevenin. "With our common focus on sending astronauts to explore the lunar surface in 2024, joint testing through this NEEMO 23 mission paves the way for potential cooperation between NASA and ESA."
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