UK astronaut resurfaces from 'cave' training

Preparing for the 'Caves' mission in April
21 September 2011

ESA's UK astronaut Tim Peake together with fellow astronauts Thomas Pesquet from France, Randolph Bresnik from NASA, Norishige Kanai from Japan and Sergey Ryzhikov from Russia have been living and working in the dark and humid cave environment since 17 September - a unique training experience, organised by ESA, to prepare them for space.

Cave training is a new challenge for astronauts. Being cut off from the outside world with minimal privacy, new technical challenges and limited hygiene and comfort present a number of psychological issues for those involved. The use of artificial light in constant darkness alters the perception of time and of colour and the absence of natural time cues from daylight may affect the circadian rhythm and sleep patterns.

CAVES 2011 - a 6-day course to prepare astronauts for space

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Similarly to long-duration space missions, the daily routine for the trainees is organised around timelines, decided twice daily by phone with a supporting ‘ground’ team at the cave’s entrance.

Mission tasks include mapping, photography, geological and microbiological sampling. The training might also provide valuable material for scientists studying these caves – many of them unmapped or unexplored. Sampling methods for future planetary missions are also benefitting, along with psychological and medical studies.

Today, 21 September, the trainees will emerge into the daylight, and will go through debriefings similar to those that follow an astronaut's return from a space mission.

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