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ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli during the CAVES 2013 campaign
Science & Exploration

Underground for outer space with CAVES

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ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Exploration

At first glance the resemblance between the International Space Station and caving might not be obvious, but many similarities exist between working with an international crew deep underground as opposed to outer space.

Lava tubes – caves formed by volcanoes – exist on both the Moon and Mars and could be used to provide shelters for humans during their stay on a planet. Studying microbial life in such environments on Earth we can better understand where to look on Mars.

Deep underground, our senses are deprived of many sounds and natural light. The procedure for moving along a cave wall resembles spacewalking and cave explorers need to stay alert and take critical decisions both as an individual and within a team, just as in space.  

Underground pool
Underground pool

Stress always affects performance. Caves offer a controlled environment for instructors to adapt a situation to keep astronauts under continuous tension. They can introduce problems that need to be solved, the astronauts plan their activities, learn from their mistakes, and improve their interactions.

ESA’s CAVES course – Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills – teaches astronauts to explore the underground system of the Sa Grutta caves in Sardinia, Italy, as a team, delving deep underground to perform scientific experiments as well as chart and document their activities.

Underground ‘cavewalks’ are similar to spacewalks because they require safety tethering, 3D orientation, staying clear of dangerous areas, and careful planning and teamwork.

CAVES focuses on multicultural approaches to leadership, following orders, teamwork and decision-making because spaceflight is a global endeavour requiring cooperation across nations and cultures.

More on this training course in the dedicated part of the ESA website.

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