ESA's five 'cavenauts' set to explore the caves of Sardinia, Italy

September 15, 2014, European Space Agency
ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano gives a thumbs-up despite being stuck between a rock and a hard place during training for a week he will spend underground on ESA’s 2014 CAVES training course. Credit: ESA–V. Crobu

ESA's five 'cavenauts' and their instructors are set to explore the caves of Sardinia, Italy, where they will live and work during their six-day stay.

After a week of training above ground and in , ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, Roscosmos cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov have begun their descent into the darkness to set up basecamp.

They are joined by an experienced capcom from ESA's astronaut centre, Matthias Maurer, as an astronaut participant. The head of the European team that is the first point of contact with ESA in space, Antonio Fortunato, is acting as 'cavecom' on the surface.

The CAVES course – Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills – is designed to improve leadership, teamwork, decision-making and problem-solving skills.

Just getting to basecamp some 200 m underground and a few hundred metres from the entrance will take up to five hours, with the team traversing rocks and pools in scenarios similar to spacewalks.

To prepare, they received lessons in climbing, safety and operational briefings over the past week, checking equipment and receiving instructions for the experiments they will conduct.

Astronauts on ESA’s underground training course receive lessons in climbing, safety and operational briefings before the start of the course, checking equipment and receiving instructions for the experiments they will conduct. Credit: ESA–C.Corongiu

After walking a short distance, they will sleep tonight in a make-shift camp, before creating their basecamp this weekend for the rest of the stay.

Intense teamwork

For Mathias, the underground stay offers a first-hand view of the team dynamics of astronauts in a new environment while working on scientific experiments far away from home – just like on the International Space Station: "One thing I never doubted was that our team would work together, but I soon realised that this group is made up of very determined and different people.

"Each astronaut has specific preferences, objectives, likes and dislikes... so it will be interesting to see how we will all work together."

Participants in ESA’s underground training course during the week’s training before spending six days underground. Credit: ESA–R. DeLuca

Their time will be spent surveying uncharted areas, conducting biology experiments, looking for micro-organisms and testing new technologies.

The sun is shining in Sardinia and it will take some time for the cavenauts to adapt to the impenetrable darkness and silence of the caves as theystartset off ontheir confined adventure.

Explore further: Introducing this year's underground astronauts

Related Stories

Training astronauts in uncharted caverns

July 14, 2014

ESA trainers and caving specialists recently went underground in Sardinia, Italy to set the scene for space-like astronaut training later this summer.

Astronauts train by living in extreme conditions

June 25, 2014

ESA's team of astronaut trainers spent last week in the caves of Sardinia preparing for CAVES 2014, a two-week course for astronauts to get to grips with living in extreme conditions.

Cavenauts return to Earth

September 21, 2012

The international team of astronauts taking part in ESA's caving adventure have returned to Earth after spending six days underground. The voyage to the surface of our planet took them five hours from basecamp.

Astronauts going underground

September 12, 2012

ESA's CAVES training programme began its second phase last Friday as six astronauts ventured into the Sardinian caves in Italy that are their home this week. CAVES mimics elements of spaceflight to prepare astronauts and ...

Recommended for you

New space industry emerges: on-orbit servicing

November 17, 2018

Imagine an airport where thousands of planes, empty of fuel, are left abandoned on the tarmac. That is what has been happening for decades with satellites that circle the Earth.

SpaceX gets nod to put 12,000 satellites in orbit

November 16, 2018

SpaceX got the green light this week from US authorities to put a constellation of nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit in order to boost cheap, wireless internet access by the 2020s.

Electric blue thrusters propelling BepiColombo to Mercury

November 16, 2018

In mid-December, twin discs will begin glowing blue on the underside of a minibus-sized spacecraft in deep space. At that moment Europe and Japan's BepiColombo mission will have just come a crucial step closer to Mercury.

Overflowing crater lakes carved canyons across Mars

November 16, 2018

Today, most of the water on Mars is locked away in frozen ice caps. But billions of years ago it flowed freely across the surface, forming rushing rivers that emptied into craters, forming lakes and seas. New research led ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.