To prepare for outer space, astronauts go underground
It turns out that caves are good for space training. But how?
ESA’s team of astronaut trainers in the caves of Sardinia preparing for Caves 2014, a two-week course for astronauts to get to grips with living in extreme conditions
If you are going to space, it pays to hone particular skills, such as being able to live in harmony at close quarters with your colleagues, and mastering the manoeuvres for space walks.
But where on Earth can you practise? Caves can act as a “space analogue”, and the European Space Agency will shortly bring an international team of astronauts into a cave in Sardinia to put them through their paces underground.
It’s the fourth such expedition for ESA’s Co-operative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising Human Behaviour and Performance Skills (Caves).
Course designer and co-ordinator Loredana Bessone describes why caves are a good choice for space training.
“The underground is an environment which creates many stressors also created by space flight, such as an alien environment, the need for special equipment, isolation, confinement, inherent risk, the need for continuous situation awareness and exploration of the unknown,” she says. “Cave progression techniques are also very similar to space-walking techniques. They involve double-tethering, a backpack, use of handrails, 3D movements, limitation in the field of view and forced pathways.”
Next month, five astronauts-in-training – three who have flown to space before and two rookies – will head into the Sa Grutta cave with a support team for several days. The “cavenauts” will collect data about the biology, meteorology and geology of the caves, and they will test underground communications and surveying technologies.
Safety is the priority, says Bessone, but she hopes the experience will also fuel the thrill of exploration.