Andreas Mogensen training at NASA Johnson Space Center’s Virtual Reality Laboratory in Texas, USA.
Training for emergencies is crucial everywhere, including on the International Space Station. While astronauts hope they will never have to need those skills, they still need to practice so they are ready should the situation ever arise.
VR to the rescue
As part of ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen’s training for his Huginn mission, he put on virtual reality goggles and “went” outside the Space Station to train for spacewalk emergencies.
When astronauts perform a spacewalk, they go into their spacesuit, climb out the airlock and always stay tethered to the Space Station with a cable. If ever they were to be disconnected however, their spacesuit, or Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), has a ‘Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue’ (SAFER) system which is a small jet-pack to push them back to the Space Station. It uses 24 small nitrogen-gas thrusters, controlled by a small hand controller on the front of the space suit.
Almost like the real deal
The virtual reality system uses several trackers to allow accurate tracking of the astronaut’s hands and body as they train, while the system uses real hardware that is projected in the virtual training scenario., ensuring every move the astronaut makes is passed into the simulator, making the experience as realistic as possible.
To qualify, the astronauts must get back after being “thrown” off the Space Station at 1 kilometre per hour and rotating in a slow spin in each axis. Usually, each astronaut trains each orientation multiple times before being required to pass with a final certifying test.
Andreas passed his SAFER training with crewmate Jasmin Moghbeli.