Astronauts injured on lunar surface could be saved with this ESA device

21 Jun 2019

NEEMO 23 crew members Samantha Cristoforetti (ESA) and Jessica Watkins (NASA) testing LESA. Image: ESA/NASA-H Stevenin

ESA and NASA have tested a new device designed to rescue future lunar astronauts badly injured on the moon’s surface.

While Mark Watney in The Martian had to be rescued as part of an elaborate and death-defying effort on Mars, engineers at the European Space Agency (ESA) have designed something just as important for the moon, but a little more realistic.

The Lunar Evacuation System Assemble (LESA) is a pyramid-like structure designed to be deployed by a single astronaut in lunar gravity to rescue an incapacitated crewmate. In less than 10 minutes, an astronaut can lift their crewmate on to the mobile stretcher and get them on their way to a nearby pressurised lander.

With ESA and NASA both keen to establish lunar bases in the decades ahead, such emergency devices will be crucial given the near-endless possibilities of an injury occurring on an unforgiving moon.

The prototype was tested as part of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 23 mission following the testing of an earlier prototype under NEEMO 22 in 2017. As part of this mission, astronauts train for missions in space using the underwater habitat Aquarius.

A vital tool

ESA’s head of spacewalk training and neutral buoyancy facility operations, Hervé Stevenin, said LESA is the world’s first prototype for a system that will allow the rapid recovery of a fallen astronaut on the moon’s surface by a single spacesuit-wearing rescuer. The biggest factor taken into consideration when it was designed was the bulky nature of spacesuits, with their gloves making it to quite difficult to carry things in space.

“There is no way an astronaut could carry their fallen crewmate over their shoulder while wearing an EVA suit,” said Stevenin. “LESA can be transported like a golf caddy and placed close to the fallen astronaut to provide a lifting mechanism and a stretcher that is easy to manoeuvre.”

ESA astronaut Samantha Christoforetti and NASA colleague Jessica Watkins are evaluating the latest version of the LESA during an underwater spacewalk this week, attempting to drag a spacesuit with the equivalent weight of an average astronaut.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic