Scientists are testing a prototype device that can one day rescue incapacitated astronauts who will explore the surface of the moon.
This week, two astronauts took the Lunar Evacuation System Assembly, or LESA, to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The goal is to see if the technology can help astronauts who will be wearing their heavy and bulky suits could rescue a crewmate in the event of an accident on the lunar surface.
In Case Of Emergency
LESA, which was developed by the European Space Agency, is a pyramid-like structure designed to lift a fallen astronaut from the ground and onto a mobile stretcher before bringing them to the nearby pressurized lander. The process should take less than 10 minutes.
"There is no way an astronaut could carry their fallen crewmate over their shoulder while wearing an EVA (extravehicular activities) suit," explained Hervé Stevenin, ESA head of spacewalk training and Neutral Buoyancy Facility operations. "Our objective was to bring all the rescue actions into the working range of the EVA-suited astronaut to ensure a rapid and safe rescue."
To test, two astronauts and the crew of NEEMO 23 brought LESA to the underwater habitat Aquarius in the Atlantic Ocean to simulate the surface of the moon. The astronauts, ESA's Samantha Christoforetti and NASA's Jessica Watkins, will deploy the prototype during an underwater spacewalk this week.
Christoforetti and Watkins will try to use the prototype while wearing their EVA gloves and keeping the constraints of a real EVA suit into account. An EVA space suit simulator from the French company Comex will play the role of the injured astronaut.
"Recognising the importance of providing astronauts with the capability to rescue an incapacitated crewmember during lunar exploration, we began working on potential concepts four years ago at ESA's astronaut center," added Hervé.
LESA will be staying at Aquarius for nine days. Hervé said that the feedback from Christoforetti and Watkins will inform the further development of the device.
This is the second version of LESA. An earlier prototype was tested by astronauts Pedro Duque and Kjell Lindgren during the NEEMO 22 mission in 2017.