Skip to main content

Astronauts Head Underground on Mock Space Mission

CAVES Expedition in Sardinia, Italy
An archival picture of a CAVES (Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills) expedition in Sardinia, Italy. (Image credit: ESA—A. Romeo)

Five astronauts are going underground to figure out better ways to live and work in space.

The European Space Agency's CAVES exploration course, which helps astronauts and support staff prepare for the rigors of a space mission, kicked off this week in Italy.

CAVES — short for Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behavior and performance Skills — sends crewmembers into a cavern called Sa Grutta on the island of Sardinia. While the "cavenauts" will enter Sa Grutta for a six-day stay on Friday (Sept. 12), their training for this simulated exploration mission began Monday (Sept. 8).

Isolated environments such as caves, remote Arctic areas and underwater environments are commonly used to get astronauts used to the challenges of space missions.

This year, the cavenauts plan to make their activities parallel those aboard the International Space Station as closely as possible. Procedures will have the same terminology, standards and formats that astronauts use on a real space mission, researchers said. One major goal is to reduce how much training astronauts need to participate in CAVES.

"Cavenauts will need to rely on a mobile underground communication system, and on daily mission logs sent back to the ‘ground’ team," CAVES project manager Loredana Bessone said in a statement.

A shaft of sunlight shines on a past CAVES (Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills) expedition underground in Sardinia, Italy. (Image credit: ESA/A. Romeo)

"Last year’s team pushed their exploration further than ever before," Bessone added. "This year, the team will need to set up an advanced exploration camp, out of reach of their base campsite and its communication system."

The astronauts also plan to test tablets to collect and synchronize data, which was also done this summer as part of the underwater NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) expeditionin the Aquarius lab, on the seabed off the coast of Key Largo, Fla.

Five astronauts, including three spaceflight veterans, will take part in this year's CAVES expedition. The European Space Agency's Luca Parmitano and cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin will have an underground reunion after spending part of last year aboard the International Space Station.

Joining them will be three-flight veteran Michael Fossum (NASA) and rookies Scott Tingle (NASA) and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, a Russian cosmonaut.

Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace, or @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+. Original article on

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.