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ESA tests lunar rescue vehicle in undersea mission off Florida coast (PHOTOS)

The European Space Agency has sent a team to the bottom of the sea to test a device designed to rescue incapacitated astronauts on the moon.

The mock space mission saw four astronauts spend 10 days in the ESA’s Aquarius habitat in waters off the coast of the Florida Keys.

Operating at a depth of around 20 meters, the added buoyancy allowed astronauts replicate gravity levels found on the moon or Mars as they tested the Lunar Evacuation System Assembly (LESA).

LESA, developed by the ESA, is designed to help a stranded astronaut on the moon and comes in the shape of a foldable pyramid-like structure on wheels. During a rescue, the machine would open above the astronaut, use pulleys to lift the injured figure and then place them on a wheeled stretcher.

For ESA astronaut Pedro Duque, the experience was both familiar and unique.

“Familiar because it resembled spaceflight – from the mission preparation, timelines, priorities, ‘launch’ when we dived to the base and daily programme meetings – but [it was] unique living and working at the bottom of the sea,” he said.  

The sandy seabed and uneven terrain on the ocean floor around Aquarius offered an ideal moon-like environment, according to the ESA.

LESA, which took six months to produce, had initially been tested at the ESA’s training pool in its astronaut centre in Cologne during simulated moonwalks.

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