Each year, ESA invites a group of astronauts on a trip that is really out of this world: CAVES. They explore the underground system of the Sa Grutta caves in Sardinia, Italy. Staff During a Caves Program Dry Run, June 2013, © ESA–V. Crobu
The group of astronauts works just as they would in space.
CAVES stands for Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills. The two-week course prepares astronauts to work in multicultural teams in an environment where safety is critical.
The cave environment and situations faced are thrillingly similar to space, enabling astronauts to practise effective communication, decision-making, problem-solving and leadership. They are separated from the base camp, left all by themselves in the dark and cold, relying on nothing but their equipment – and each other.
Snapshot from the ESA’s 2012 Caves Trip, © ESA–V. Crobu
The lack of weightlessness is not a problem because the main lessons learned are inside each participant’s head and in the team dynamics. To achieve this, CAVES mixes rookie astronauts with seasoned spacefliers, who share their experiences.
This year’s CAVES will take place in September in Sardinia as in previous years, but the science programme is excitingly new.