Aquanauts who participate in NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) at Aquarius Reef Base are on the cutting edge of exploration technology. Hervé Stevenin, NEEMO 19 aquanaut and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut trainer, is part of a team that is currently testing a scientific airlock aimed for use on a new habitable structure called Gateway. The airlock is part of ESPIRIT, a European module of Gateway, which is designed to enable refueling and provide telecommunications between the Moon and Earth. ESA will begin to assemble Gateway in 2023.
While ESPIRIT is still in early development, Stevenin had the opportunity to work with an airlock concept in Marseille, France. The concept for ESPIRIT’s interior was tested underwater to simulate the weightlessness of space. The team used 3D models to represent the hardware that the astronauts will operate inside Gateway to learn whether the astronauts have enough room to install hardware onto the payload table and perform any necessary checks before moving it through the airlock tunnel that leads to outer space. While more work needs to be done to refine the concept for ESPIRIT and streamline its design, this project demonstrates man’s insatiable desire to explore distant frontiers.
The training that aquanauts like Stevenin undergo during NEEMO helps prepare them for what they will experience in space. As a space analog, Aquarius is hard to beat.