It’s one of the deepest ‘swimming pools’ in Europe, but for three years has been helping preparations for a human return to the Moon. ESA’s Neutral Buoyancy Facility at the European Astronaut Centre has been the site of the ‘Moondive’ study, using specially weighted spacesuits to simulate lunar gravity, which is just one sixth that of Earth.
The three-year study took place in the Centre’s 10-m deep Neutral Buoyancy Facility (NBF) near Cologne in Germany. This is one of four such immersion tanks worldwide – the others are in the United States, China and Russia – and is used to train astronauts for ‘extra vehicular activity’ (EVA), also known as spacewalks.
With International Space Station operations moving towards an international lunar return in the late 2020s, ESA’s NBF has been used to investigate moonwalk procedures for the lunar surface.
Moondive was run by a consortium led by the French company, COMEX, which specialises in human and robotic exploration of extreme environments. Footage is also seen from precursor project Moonwalk, including simulated EVAs off the coast of Marseilles, funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme.