An eerie image released by NASA reveals how the space agency is gearing up for some rather unique astronaut training.
Captured from inside a giant tank of water at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in the murky light we can make out two figures on a surface replicating that of the moon.
The setup is designed to imitate the conditions that astronauts will experience during the first-ever crewed visit to the lunar south pole as part of the upcoming Artemis missions.
The water tank, for example, goes some way to helping astronauts feel the gravitational conditions on the moon, while the unique lighting setup replicates the dim conditions at the south pole as the sunlight only ever appears a few degrees above the horizon.
“Kill the lights — we’re simulating a moonwalk!” NASA Johnson said in a tweet featuring the photo, adding: “Divers at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory turned off the lights to simulate what an Artemis astronaut might experience at the lunar south pole — long, dark shadows.”
Kill the lights – we’re simulating a Moonwalk!
Divers at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory turned off the lights to simulate what an Artemis astronaut might experience at the lunar south pole – long, dark shadows. pic.twitter.com/naslhzzix7
— NASA's Johnson Space Center (@NASA_Johnson) February 2, 2022
“This testing and evaluation involved turning off all the lights in the facility, installing black curtains on the pool walls to minimize reflections, and using a powerful underwater cinematic lamp, to get the conditions just right ahead of upcoming training for astronauts,” NASA explained.
While getting used to the unique lighting conditions inside the 40-foot-deep pool, astronauts will learn tasks such as collecting samples of lunar regolith using different tools, checking over a lunar lander, and, of course, planting the American flag.
NASA is particularly interested in the lunar south pole as it contains water ice, a resource that’s expected to play an important role in future crewed missions exploring deep space.
“We know the south pole region contains ice and may be rich in other resources based on our observations from orbit, but, otherwise, it’s a completely unexplored world,” NASA’s Steven Clarke said previously.
NASA is aiming to put the first woman and first person of color onto the lunar surface in the Artemis III mission, currently slated for 2025.
Before that, the uncrewed Artemis I mission, set for launch this year, will perform a fly-around of the moon to test the hardware, with Artemis II taking the same route with a crew on board.