CAVES stands for Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills. The three-week course prepares astronauts to work safely and effectively in multicultural teams in an environment where safety is critical – in caves.
CAVES teaches astronauts to explore underground systems as a team, delving deep underground to perform scientific experiments as well as chart and document their activities.
Participants must adapt to living and working together in a unique environment to meet scientific and exploration objectives. Constant attention to safety rules, procedures and equipment is critical to the successful completion of the mission.
The course is run by the European Space Agency to simulate spaceflight. Seasoned International Space Station astronauts as well as rookies participate in the course and share experiences.
Before entering the cave, trainees attend an eight-day mix of classroom and basic caving lessons. They receive technical lectures on topics such as exploration, communication, emergency procedures and the science of speleology.
CAVES presents the astronauts with environments and situations very similar to spaceflight, to help them transfer the learning from their caving expedition to space.
The cave environment provides many space-relevant conditions, including isolation from the outside world, confinement, minimal privacy, technical challenges, and limited equipment and supplies for hygiene and comfort.
Behavioural activities are woven into the course to foster effective communication, decision-making, problem-solving, leadership and team dynamics.
The daily routine is organised around timelines and activity lists. Each day a new cave is visited by the crew where they face new challenges to apply their caving skills. Obstacles, cave mapping, photography and scientific sampling are part of the training.
An important element of the expedition is the daily debriefing, which reflects on the successes and errors of the day, on similarities with spaceflight experiences and on how to reapply successful strategies or improve by learning from mistakes.
Learning is enhanced by the presence of experienced astronauts, who share their valuable flight experience with rookies.