Astronauts searching for life—underground

Aug 28, 2012
Astronauts searching for life--underground
Astronauts exploring Sardinian caves. Credits: ESA–R. Bresnik

Astronauts dream of finding new life and for a select crew that dream might be within reach this week—albeit deep underground instead of in outer space.

An of six astronauts will start training for a caving adventure designed to prepare them for spaceflight.

, an abbreviation of Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising and performance Skills, prepares astronauts to work safely and effectively and solve problems as a multicultural team while exploring uncharted areas using space procedures.

The sunny island of Sardinia in Italy will welcome the astronauts from all the partners of the International Space Station. After a week spent learning the safety procedures and basics of exploring caves, the astronauts will venture underground on 7 September for six days.  

Caves offer many similarities to . Working in isolation from the outside world in confined spaces with minimal privacy as well as coping with technical challenges and limited supplies are conditions that astronauts have to live with in space—and underground.

Astronauts searching for life--underground
A ‘cavewalk’. Moving in a cave is similar to a spacewalk. It requires safety tethering, 3D orientation, with no-touch areas (speleothemes) and exclusion zones (dangerous paths). As in a spacewalk the view is stunning. Credits: ESA–V. Crobu

The experience is designed to be as realistic as possible. A dedicated mission control will monitor the crew from a base station at the entrance of the cave. Briefings are held twice a day as they are on the .

The crew is allowed only one shipment of supplies during their stay underground. They will have to choose the equipment carefully and give mission control at least 24 hours' notice to prepare the cargo.

Looking for life 

The opportunity to conduct research will not be lost. Just as in , the astronauts have a busy schedule performing scientific work as well as testing new equipment and procedures.

Astronauts searching for life--underground
Life spotted in cave. Credits: ESA–F. Sauro

A large part of the Sardinian caves are unexplored or uncharted. The 'cavenauts' will have to navigate safely through passages while deciding which areas to explore. They will draw detailed maps of their progress to ensure they make it back to base camp and to help future cave explorers.

This year the astronauts will be searching for life-forms as well. "Nobody has systematically looked for life in these caves," says ESA astronaut trainer and CAVES course designer Loredana Bessone.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

"Finding life big and small is always good, so I am very excited we will be looking for exotic bacteria and cave dwellers such as anthropods."

The astronauts will use the same safety protocols as used on spacewalks and they will also test a new communication system.

With support from their trainers, the will analyse their team-working skills and leadership qualities during the two-week course. A 'cavewalk'. Moving in a cave is similar to a spacewalk. It requires safety tethering, 3D orientation, with no-touch areas (speleothemes) and exclusion zones (dangerous paths). As in a spacewalk the view is stunning.

Explore further: Video: MAVEN set to slide into orbit around Mars

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cave crew returns to Earth

Oct 24, 2011

Take five astronauts and instead of sending them into space take them underground. ESA’s CAVES venture prepares astronauts to work in an international team under real exploration conditions. The latest ...

Tim gets his feet wet

Apr 18, 2012

ESA astronaut Timothy Peake will soon dive to the bottom of the sea to learn more about exploring space. A permanent underwater base almost 20 m below the waves off the coast of Florida will be Tim’s ...

Recommended for you

Video: MAVEN set to slide into orbit around Mars

39 minutes ago

A NASA mission to Mars led by the University of Colorado Boulder is set to slide into orbit around the red planet this week after a 10-month, 442-million mile chase through the inner solar system. 

Dawn operating normally after safe mode triggered

49 minutes ago

(Phys.org) —The Dawn spacecraft has resumed normal ion thrusting after the thrusting unexpectedly stopped and the spacecraft entered safe mode on September 11. That anomaly occurred shortly before a planned ...

Repaired Opportunity rover readies for 'Marathon Valley'

51 minutes ago

With a newly cleared memory, it's time for Opportunity to resume the next stage of its long, long Martian drive. The next major goal for the long-lived rover is to go to Marathon Valley, a spot that (in images ...

Image: Rainbow aurora captured from space station

3 hours ago

Auroras occur when particle radiation from the Sun hits Earth's upper atmosphere, making it glow in a greenish blue light. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst has one of our planet's best views of this phenomenon, ...

Experts: Mystery fireball was Russian satellite

7 hours ago

People from New Mexico to Montana saw the bright object break apart as it moved slowly northward across the night sky. Witnesses described it as three "rocks" with glowing red and orange streaks.

User comments : 0