NASA Astronauts Test Spacesuits in ‘Moonwalk’ Through Arizona Desert

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by James O'Neil/Getty Images)

In preparation for crewed Artemis missions, NASA astronauts are testing spacesuit mockups in the Arizona desert. The goal is to simulate the Moon’s south pole.

NASA is hoping to send Artemis I around the moon on Nov. 14, but they’re already preparing for sending actual astronauts to the Moon again. Artemis II will bring astronauts around the Moon, while Artemis III will actually land astronauts on the surface of the Moon, hopefully by 2025. With any luck, the delays with Artemis I didn’t push the schedule back any further.

The moonwalk tests in the Arizona desert took place earlier in October. NASA posted its daily logs on the Artemis Project website, sharing the process and results with the public. But, you’re asking, why the Arizona desert?

“The Arizona desert possesses many characteristics that are analogous to a lunar environment including challenging terrain, interesting geology, and minimal communications infrastructure, all of which astronauts will experience near the lunar south pole during Artemis missions,” NASA said in a statement on Oct. 3.

According to the University of Arizona, the desert is the perfect place for moonwalk training because it closely imitates the surface of the Moon. Actually, NASA astronauts have been using the Arizona desert for Moon training since the Apollo missions beginning in 1967.

NASA Tests Spacesuits in Arizona Desert; Here’s What Happened

 NASA brought the Joint Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Test Team to the Arizona desert for a series of tests, and shared the results on their daily log. Filed Test 3 concluded on Oct. 12, and NASA shared the logs on Oct. 18.

Over the course of four nights, the team conducted four simulated moonwalks. They created lighting environments to simulate a Moon-like environment and the astronauts wore mockup spacesuits. The goal of these tests is to prepare astronauts to explore the Moon’s south pole, which has remained untouched. This is much different from the Apollo missions, which landed close to the Moon’s equator.

The test run occurred on Oct. 4 in the San Francisco Volcanic Field north of Flagstaff, Arizona. Astronauts Zena Cardman and Drew Feustel participated in the tests, aided by NASA and the United States Geological Survey. The USGS provided the astronauts with maps and data that would mimic what would come from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.  

On Oct. 5, the first moonwalk commenced. The team went to the base of S P Crater wearing mockup spacesuits. The astronauts tested a camera and Wi-Fi connection system that transferred images directly to NASA in Houston. They plan to use technology similar to this on the lunar surface to communicate with Houston.

Oct. 6 was the second moonwalk, and a lighting cart created a dramatically shadowy landscape simulating the lighting on the Moon. The astronauts also experienced sand and materials that are similar to the Moon’s environment. The third moonwalk switched out the spacesuits for heavy backpacks. The goal of this walk was to test the astronauts’ abilities when they had limited communication.

The fourth and final moonwalk was a full six hours. The astronauts worked to collect samples and data, and the USGS will analyze the samples and share their findings with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Essentially, the spacewalk tests are there for the various teams involved to share lessons learned and to improve technology, plans, and hardware for the Artemis missions.