Credits: ESA-V.Crobu

Stefan in red and blue. Credits: ESA-V.Crobu

In order to introduce Stefan, I need to introduce his institute because I arrived at both of them in a rather convoluted way.

In January 2011, Jo and I went to visit some caves in Sardinia. The previous summer, I had identified one cave that I believed would make a great playground for a lesson on exploration and orientation, and Jo had suggested another cave for the lessons on cave mapping and photography: we needed to check them out. When we visited Sos Jocos, Jo pointed out some shiny droplets on the ceiling, which he said were called ‘cave gold, and which would merit some microbiological analysis. Jo also mentioned that no one had ever searched for micro-life in Sardinian caves, and that sounded extremely interesting: caves are isolated environments, and Sardinia is an island: studying those forms of life MUST be interesting. Plus, sampling operation techniques are also extremely interesting both for space exploration and for planetary protection. Jo suggested some US scientists, but I wanted to keep the team European. It was such a pity that Gerda Horneck, DLR’s expert in Astrobiology, had just retired! I approached a colleague from my Aurora programme days who was working on planetary protection issues at ESA, and I learned that Gerda had written a book with Petra Rettberg, the current head of the Radiation Biology team at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine at DLR in Cologne. So I wrote Petra an email, asking if we could meet. When we did, I expected her to throw me out of her office, but I began by introducing this weird course of mine, hoping for the best. I was thrilled when she agreed to take part.

Petra assigned Stefan to follow the project when his predecessor, who had worked on CAVES2011, left the institute. At first I thought I was going to have to deal with an extremely tedious and serious scientist, not adapted to the casual and informal environment of CAVES. Stefan prepared everything for CAVES2012 using some notes and everything I was able to pass on to him, but without having the chance to see where the sampling would be done. Of all the scientists, he was the most organised and thorough with equipment labelling and procedures preparation.

Stefan joined the CAVES2013 science preparation meeting in Bologna last February, and then we realised he’s anything but tedious. Then he joined the dry runs in June and we understood he can be serious if he wants to, but that it’s a choice, not his essence. Stefan could be a great caver if he wanted to. He swiftly learnt to use cave progression tools, and integrated easily in the Italian-speaking and eating environment of CAVES. It’s great to have both him and DLR onboard!

Loredana Bessone