Tomorrow 6 astronauts will be travelling in the opposite direction and be descended into the caves of Sardinia, off the west coast of Italy. As part of the CAVES project, they will live underground for six days in preparation for space flight. Caves are a good environment to substitute space flight, as they both share similar features: the astronauts will be exposed to dark, confined spaces and must adapt to a lack of privacy while in isolation from the rest of the world.
Its impressive to think that this is just preparation for the astronauts (who represent 6 different space agencies) and that the next time that experience similar conditions they may be well above the Earth’s surface, rather than below it. But, they will be making the most of their time down there by mapping, surveying and searching for life.
‘Nobody has systematically looked for life in these caves’ explained ESA astronaut trainer and CAVES course designer Loredana Bessone.
The CAVES project has been running since 2008 and each year has added new space-flight components to the training. It stands for Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and exercising human behaviour and performance Skills, and attracts agencies like NASA, ESA and the Russian and Japanese programmes. The 6 astronauts taking part this Friday are:
- Mike Fincke – NASA
- Andrew Feustel – NASA
- Andreas Mogensen – ESA
- Nikolai Tikhonov – from the Russian Space Programme
- Soichi Noguchi – a Japanese spaceflyer
- David Saint-Jacques – Canadian Space Agency
As well as their mapping and surveying, the astronauts will test new communications systems, employ safety protocols, and report to mission control – just as they would do in space.