The CAVES 2013 (Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behavior and performance Skills) course took place, incidentally, in a cave system.
The course was designed by the European Space Agency as a training opportunity for astronauts to learn about the challenges of isolation, communication, exploration and discovery that would face them when in space aboard the International Space Station – or, quite literally, exploring other worlds.
Using Earth as a training ground for exploring space is nothing new: astronauts routinely train underwater to prepare for spacewalks and other missions; this past summer Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen went on a geology expedition in Canada’s high arctic to learn how to conduct field geology. He also served as mission commander on the CAVES 2013 course for several days.
The CAVES course equally provides an opportunity for the astronauts to learn how to become better explorers and for mission controllers to figure out how to conduct these remote operations in challenging environments with limited communication.
Missions like CAVES is precisely what will enable future voyages away from Earth to be successful, and it’s great that the Canadian Space Agency participates.During their six-day stay underground in September for CAVES 2013, the astronauts were busy creating 3D cave maps of the areas around their base-camp, photographic surveys, and taking samples of rarely-seen cave organisms. This year’s mission objectives also included monitoring airflow, temperature and humidity and taking geological, biological and microbiological samples. All which are tasks that would be standard on future missions in space.
They also happen to teach us more about Earth, which is interestingly often the underwritten goal of space exploration. In order to learn more about what’s happening right here, we have to look outwards in order to build a dataset that includes examples from places other than Earth. After all, Earth is but one example of how things work. Maybe what’s happening here is typical; maybe it’s not. To find out, we have to build a basis of comparison.
It also strikes me how amazing, and numerous, “other worlds” exist right here on Earth. Whether thinking about the ocean floor, tops of mountains, or deep inside a cave – Earth has environments so numerous and unique that it could be compared to visiting another planet. In fact on the CAVES mission in 2012, the astronauts participating even found a new form of life!