CAVES 2016 In Pictures: How Astronauts Train for Space by Cave Diving

Training for Space?


ESA's Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills (CAVES) training program groups astronauts in training and Speleologists (those who study caves) on a six-night mission into the caves of Sardinia, Italy. NASA's Jessica Meir begins her descent into the next passage of the cave. Watch an amazing video of the CAVES 2016 mission and read our full story here.

It's a Bug, It's a Man...


Caves are one of the least explored frontiers on Earth, which makes them perfect training grounds for astronauts. Teamwork is a necessity and a focal point of this training. The "cavenauts" can be seen here (no, they aren't bugs) in a massive cavern.

Shadow Play


Teams underwent a week of aboveground training before descending into the depths. Even in these strange conditions, the astronauts-in-training — ESA’s Pedro Duque, NASA’s Jessica Meir and Richard Arnold, Japan’s astronaut Aki Hoshide, China’s Ye Guangfu and Russia’s Sergei Korsakov — had some fun moments.

Nature's Games


The "cavenauts" are a diverse group with a broad range of skills including science, engineering, flying, military and education. And they knew how to have fun in a dark cave - SHADOW FIGHT!

Seeing is Believing


The team set up basecamp 800 meters underground. On their expedition they found a 100 meter slickenside, exactly what one anticipates finding within a mountain.



The CAVES participants participated in planned activities similar to what takes place on the International Space Station — daily planning meetings, resupply events, scientific experiments and even "cavewalks." Strange and wondrous sights await astronauts in space … and spelunkers underground.

Earth's Insides


Throughout the course, team members practice what makes a good multicultural team: understanding leadership styles, following orders and even their own strengths and areas for self-improvement. Inside the cave system, participants explored underground lakes, building trust and endurance.

Applicable Training


Many activities are incorporated into the training. These challenges promote efficient and effective communication, decision-making, problem-solving, leadership and team dynamics.

Sharing Stories


According to CAVES mission director Loredana Bessone this group of "cavenauts" were going to be a great team. Building relationships around a lightsource after a meal, team members talk and share stories of the day.

Underground Beauty


The 2016 CAVES team explored deeper into the cave system than any other team. Here they make their way back to the main camp by way of Rainbow Lake.

Collecting Samples


The team mapped their progress through the cave and took samples of different substances along the way. Team members work at Rainbow Lake.

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Christine Lunsford
Producer and Contributing Writer

Christine Lunsford joined the team in 2010 as a freelance producer and later became a contributing writer, covering astrophotography images, astronomy photos and amazing space galleries and more. During her more than 10 years with, oversaw the site's monthly skywatching updates and produced overnight features and stories on the latest space discoveries. She enjoys learning about subjects of all kinds.