Using the same safety protocols as those of spacewalks, a multicultural team of six astronauts is set to begin a search for life deep underground rather than in space.
The European Space Agency is preparing a group of astronauts, including a Canadian, for what will be a very particular walk... in caverns. In a two-week course designed to prepare them for spaceflight, the astronauts and their trainers will analyse team-working skills and leadership qualities. And once they've learned safety procedures for exploring caves, which is the first part of this special training, they will go deep underground, on September 7, for a stay of six days, somewhere on the island of Sardinia, Italy.
The ESA program says that caves hide many similarities to space travel, such as isolation, confined spaces, minimal privacy, and, of course, technical challenges and limited supplies (astronauts will be allowed only one shipment of supplies during their adventure). And as it happens, CAVES is also the abbreviation for "Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills".
The training has been designed to be as realistic as possible. Astronauts will not only perform scientific work and test the equipment, they will also... search for life. Since most of the caves in Sardinia have been left unexplored and uncharted, trainees are in for some surprises, and this also will be useful for their future missions.
The crew: David St-Jacques (Canada); Andreas Mogensen (Denmark); Soichi Noguchi (Japan); Michael Fincke (USA); Andrew J. Feustel (USA) and Nikolai V. Tikhonov (Russia). See here a short bio on each team member.