Astronaut Does A ‘Moon’ Walk In The Sea. Better Yet, It’s Just One Of Many Recent Underwater Missions

The black-and-white tones of this photo evoke a famous Moon walk of 1969, but in reality it was taken in Mediterranean waters just a few days ago.

For the “Apollo 11 Under The Sea” project, European Space Agency astronaut Jean-François Clervoy (pictured above) and ESA astronaut instructor Hervé Stevenin took on the roles of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first two men to walk on the moon during Apollo 11.

A major goal was to test the Comex-designed Gandolfi spacewalk training suit (based on the Russian Orlan spacesuits) during the sojourn. The mission was considered the first step (literally and figuratively) to figuring out how Europeans can train their astronauts for possible Moon, asteroid and Mars missions in the decades to come.

“The Gandolfi suit is bulky, has limited motion freedom, and requires some physical effort – just like actual space suits. I really felt like I was working and walking on the Moon,” Clervoy stated.

Even the photos come pretty darn close to the real thing. Compare this picture of Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad during his Moon walk in 1969:

Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad on the moon in 1969. The glow is due to the sun being at a low angle, NASA says. Credit: NASA
Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad on the moon in 1969. The glow is due to the sun being at a low angle, NASA says. Credit: NASA

Water is considered a useful training tool for spacewalk simulations. NASA in fact has a ginormous pool called the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Inside are duplicate International Space Station modules. Astronauts are fitted with weights and flotation devices to make them “float” similarly to how they would during spacewalks.

With trained divers hovering nearby, the astronauts practice the procedures they’ll need so that it’s second nature by the time they get into orbit. (NASA astronaut Mike Massimino once told Universe Today that one thing he wasn’t prepared for was how spectacular the view was during his spacewalk. Guess it beats the walls of a pool.)

The first tests for the Apollo 11 underwater simulations began at a pool run by Comex, a deep diving specialist in France, before the big show took place in the Mediterranean Sea off Marseille on Sept. 4. The crew members used tools similar to the Apollo 11 astronauts to pick up soil samples from the ground.

ESA astronaut Jean-François Clervoy collecting a rock sample underwater off the coast of Marseille, France. He was simulating the Apollo 11 mission underwater  to prepare for future missions to the Moon, Mars or an asteroid. Credit: Alexis Rosenfeld
ESA astronaut Jean-François Clervoy collecting a rock sample underwater off the coast of Marseille, France. He was simulating the Apollo 11 mission underwater to prepare for future missions to the Moon, Mars or an asteroid. Credit: Alexis Rosenfeld

“Comex will make me relive the underwater operations of [Neil] Armstrong on the moon, but with an ESA-Comex scuba suit and European flag,” Clervoy wrote in French on Twitter on June 4, several weeks ahead of the mission.

And ESA promises there is more to come: “Further development for planetary surface simulations in Europe will be co-financed by the EU [European Union] as part of the Moonwalk project,” the agency wrote.

Clervoy isn’t the only European astronaut working in water these days. Starting Tuesday (Sept. 9), Andreas Mogensen and Thomas Pesquet joined an underwater lab as part of a five-person crew. Called Space Environment Analog for Testing EVA Systems and Training (SEATEST), it also includes NASA astronauts Joe Acaba and Kate Rubins, as well as Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi underwater during the September 2013 SEATEST mission in the Atlantic Ocean about seven miles from Key Largo, Fla. Credit: Soichi Noguchi (Twitter)
JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi underwater during the September 2013 SEATEST mission in the Atlantic Ocean about seven miles from Key Largo, Fla. Credit: Soichi Noguchi (Twitter)

“The crew will spend five days in Florida International University’s Aquarius Reef Base undersea research habitat, conducting proof-of-concept engineering demonstrations and refining techniques in team communication. Additional test objectives will look at just-in-time training applications and spacewalking tool designs,” NASA stated on Sept. 6.

“We made it to Aquarius n [sic] did our first “spacewalk” today. From the ocean floor to space: Aquanaut to Astronaut. It is quite the adventure,” Acaba wrote on Twitter on Sept. 10. He walked twice in space on shuttle mission STS-119 in March 2009.

You can follow the livestream here (it runs intermittently until Sept. 17).

And a few days ago, ESA astronauts Alexander Gerst and Reid Wiseman, both bound for the station in 2014, were doing underwater training in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. “Worked with @astro_reid in the pool today, and guess who we met?”, Gerst said on Twitter Sept. 5 while posting this picture below.

"Worked with @astro_reid [ESA astronaut Reid Wiseman] in the pool today, and guess who we met?" joked ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst on Twitter on Sept. 5, 2013. Presumably the joke referred to the protagonist in WALL-E, a 2008 Pixar-animated film that features space exploration. Credit: Alexander Gerst/Twitter
“Worked with @astro_reid [ESA astronaut Reid Wiseman] in the pool today, and guess who we met?” joked ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst on Twitter on Sept. 5, 2013. Presumably the joke referred to the protagonist in WALL-E, a 2008 Pixar-animated film that features space exploration. Credit: Alexander Gerst/Twitter

Space Station Twitter Crew Returns Home

The Expedition 23 crew from the International Space Station landed safely in their Soyuz-17 spacecraft, concluding their five-and-a-half-month stay in space. Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineers T.J. Creamer and Soichi Noguchi were welcomed by sunshine on Wednesday morning in Kazakhstan (11:25 pm EDT Tuesday). This crew may well be remembered as the ‘Twitter Crew’: Creamer posted the first “live” Tweet from space on Twitter from the now functioning internet on the ISS, which he helped to get up and running. Noguchi’s use of Twitter to post hundreds of images from space documented and shared his experiences in space like no previous astronaut, as he garnered over 250,000 Twitter “followers,” and his images were featured on many blogs and news sites.
Continue reading “Space Station Twitter Crew Returns Home”

Atlantis Crew ‘Riding Inside a Fireball’

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At a post-landing news conference, STS-132 commander Ken Ham described the incredible visual effects the crew of Atlantis witnessed as they returned to Earth today. As the shuttle was engulfed in plasma during the hottest part of their re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere, they were in orbital darkness, which highlighted the orange, fiery glow around the shuttle. “We were clearly riding inside of a fireball, and we flew right into the sunrise from inside this fireball, so we could see the blue color of the Earth’s horizon coming through the orange. It was amazing and just visually overwhelming.”

As evidence, ISS astronaut Soichi Noguchi captured Atlantis as that fireball, streaking though atmosphere, just as dawn approached. “Dawn, and Space Shuttle re-entered atmosphere over Pacific Ocean. 32 years of service, 32nd beautiful landing. Forever, Atlantis!” Noguchi wrote on Twitter, posting a link to the image.

Amazing.

Asked about his thoughts after landing, Ham said, “Walking around Atlantis after the flight I realized I probably just did the most fun and amazing thing I’ll do in my life.”

As for Atlantis, and whether she’ll fly one more time, the latest word is that the NASA authorization bill — as it stand now –will include language authorizing an additional shuttle mission.

As for Noguchi, take in all the images you can now from him on his Twitter feed, He, along with Expedition 23 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov, and astronaut T.J. Creamer are scheduled to leave the ISS on the Soyuz spacecraft on June 1 and land on the southern region steppe of Kazakhstan, completing almost six months on the station.

Here’s an image Noguchi took of Atlantis just after it undocked from the ISS last weekend.

Atlantis, as seen by Soichi Noguchi from the ISS, after undocking. Credit: Soichi Noguchi/ JAXA/ NASA