ESA preparing astronauts for lunar exploration

Stephen Kuper

The European Space Agency is beginning research and development into ensuring astronauts are prepared for the rigors of lunar exploration. 

ESA preparing astronauts for lunar exploration
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As part of the long-term planning, the European Space Agency has successfully wrapped up a moonwalk simulation in Lanzaroe, Spain, as part of Pangea-X, a test campaign bringing together space exploration, high-tech survey equipment and geology. 

European astronauts and spacewalk experts made use of electronic aids, upgraded geological tools used during the original Apollo missions and improved scientific protocols to improve the understanding of the rigors of space and lunar exploration.  

ESA spacewalk instructor Hervé Stevenin and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer collaborated with geologists and engineers to simulate a lunar spacewalk in the volcanic Lanzaroe area. 

“We are merging lunar geological knowledge and spacewalk skills to develop European expertise in moon surface exploration,” Stevenin explained. 

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Human exploration of space and lunar environments places a number of unique constraints on astronauts, in particular, bulky space suits are one such constraint. The new operational concepts and equipment prototypes being tested take into account the limited movement allowed from wearing spacesuits.

Wearing a pressurised spacesuit, it is not possible to kneel down or bend over. The thick gloves make collecting samples difficult, arm movement is constrained by articulated joints and field of view is limited due to the helmet.

“We do not have a lunar spacesuit for these tests, but after spending many hours training with NASA’s spacesuits, we are accustomed to the limitations of mobility. We applied this knowledge – and our body memory – to testing the lunar tools," Stevenin said.

To enhance the efficiency of future expeditions to the moon, communication between the scientists and astronauts is a key part. Cameras fitted in the spacewalkers’ gear transmitted live video to the scientists. Wide angle videos, 360 panoramas, close-ups and microscopic images were sent to the spacewalk coordinator and scientists monitoring the activities from mission control.

Samuel Payler, research fellow at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, said, “The next generation of lunar explorers will be trained in relevant scientific disciplines, but there will always be more expertise on Earth.”

Maurer and Stevenin received planetary geology training through ESA’s Pangaea course. However, they were advised by a team of scientists in mission control to help them select the most scientifically interesting samples.

These Pangaea-X dry-runs are testing the waters for future exploration with a space gateway, from which a lunar spacewalk coordinator could guide astronauts on the moon in cooperation with a planetary geologist in mission control on Earth.

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