Practising your moonwalk in one of the deepest pools in Europe
20 April 2018
Using specially weighted spacesuits to simulate lunar gravity, astronauts are practicing walking on the moon, underwater, to prepare for a return to the Moon.
ESA’s Neutral Buoyancy Facility at the European Astronaut Centre is the site for ‘Moondive’ study – taking place in a 10m deep ‘swimming pool’, this is one of four such sites in the world. ‘Moondive’ was run by a consortium led by the French company, Comex, which specialises in human and robotic exploration of extreme environments.
The International Space Station plans an international lunar return in the late 2020s so ESA has been tasked to investigate various moonwalk procedures.
Hervé Stevenin, ESA’s Head of EVA Training and NBF Operations at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC), explains: “The beauty of the water immersion in the ESA-NBF is that we can simulate not only long-duration weightlessness but also partial gravity, such as on the Moon or Mars, by fine-tuning the negative buoyancy of the astronauts and all of the equipment they use.”
“We wanted to assess how the NBF could be adapted to enable tests of EVA equipment, tools and operational concepts in simulated Moon gravity,” states Peter Weiss, Head of the Space Department at Comex.
“We focused on the techniques and technology we will need to prepare astronauts for future missions to the Moon. The idea was to come up with a database of items, tools and tasks that astronauts may have to handle on missions to the Moon, not just for training purposes but also for testing and validating new equipment and ways of doing things.”
“The Moondive study has been very successful,” adds Dr Weiss, “leading to the first ESA spacewalk simulation ever in partial gravity within the NBF. We used an exoskeleton reproducing the bulkiness and movement limitation of a pressurised spacesuit, and then performed tests of lunar surface geological sampling at the bottom of the ESA water tank.”
“It’s really amazing to experience for yourself something this generation has only seen on video pictures,” says Hervé, “how the optimum walking strategy in this finely-tuned negative buoyancy turns out to be to kangaroo jump, just like the Apollo astronauts did on the Moon.”
Video courtesy of Comex