NEEMO 23 crew test prototype of rescue device

As astronauts prepare for a return to the moon they train for the worst case scenario: a fellow astronaut needs to be rescued. On the moon, rescue missions are challenging because of the difference in gravity. On earth, the closest environment available to practice this procedure is the ocean floor.

Designed to rescue astronauts on the moon, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Lunar Evacuation System Assembly (LESA) prototype was tested during NASA’s NEEMO 23 mission, a nine day mission aboard the world’s only operating undersea habitat- Aquarius Reef Base.

LESA is designed to be deployed by a single astronaut in lunar gravity to rescue an incapacitated crewmate. The device enables one astronaut to lift another onto a mobile stretcher in less than 10 minutes, before carrying them to the safety of a nearby pressurized lander.

The underwater weight of this suit simulator is equivalent to the weight of an astronaut wearing an Extravehicular Activities (EVA) suit on the moon. It has been used during previous underwater testing, including the Apollo 11 off the coast of Marseille in 2013.

Hervé Stevenin, the head of spacewalk training and Neutral Buoyancy Facility (NBF) operations, told ESA, “With our shared focus on sending astronauts to explore the lunar surface by as early as 2024, joint testing through this very NEEMO 23 mission paves the way for potential NASA-ESA cooperation.”

Through partnerships with NASA, the United States Navy and others, Aquarius serves as a space analog, training platform and remote telemedicine testing facility. It provides a unique opportunity to test human physiological responses to extreme environments, spacewalk and lunar excursion procedures to help better prepare astronauts for space exploration.

This article first appeared in European Space Agency on June 19, 2019.