September 20, 2012

Cavenauts Emerge From Earth’s Underbelly After 6 Days

Watch the Video: After Training, Cavenauts Return to Earth

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

ESA's "cavenauts," who spent six days underneath the surface of our planet rather than outside of its atmosphere, have emerged from below.

The CAVES program gives astronauts a chance to work as a team, learning to adapt in a completely new environment together.

The Cavenauts performed "cavewalking" during their mission. They also conducted speleological research.

“Cavewalking is similar to a spacewalk," Course designer Loredana Bessone said in a prepared statement. "You have to pay continuous attention to the correct use of tools and safety protocols, to the progression path and to obstacles, which correspond to No Touch Zones and Keep Out Zones on the Space Station.”

CAVES is the first behavioral course to involve astronauts from all the partners of the International Space Station. Astronauts from the US, Japan, Russia, Canada and Denmark all took part in the recent spelunking.

During their venture into the Earth's nether regions, the astronauts conducted research on cave meteorology, geology, biology and microbiology.

The cavenauts also tested communication equipment on loan from CNSAS, which is the Italian alpine and speleological rescue organization.

The communication equipment allows for wireless contact between the team below, and mission control above.

ESA reported that the equipment worked well, and the team is hopeful that next year it can be used to explore more areas.

This year, the cavenauts were able to go deeper into the cave than the CAVES 2011 team, during which they discovered a "wonderland," according to NASA astronaut Mike Fincke.

“CAVES is perhaps the most physically demanding astronaut training that I have taken part in, and perhaps also the most rewarding," ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen said. “To complete the training, our crew had to work together effectively and efficiently as a team, which we did."

Mogensen described the experience as being both "unique" and "fantastic."