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.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: