I recently reviewed the preparation literature for CAVES and spent some time speaking with astronauts who previously completed CAVES training. To say that I am excited is an understatement! CAVES offers a true sense of exploration with everything that typically accompanies it. What has captured my imagination the most is that we will be venturing into part of the cave system that has yet to be mapped! Although it seems that explorers have likely been there before in the cave’s history, we have no maps, and as such, we will be venturing into the unknown. This is very appealing to me.
As we explore we will do so with scientific method in mind. We will make great efforts to map the new sections of the cave and take the time to observe and study what other creatures have made the cave their home. All the while we will manage the challenges and risks that operating and living in a cave provide. For one, we will have to balance our personal drive to press further and further into the cave with the practical safety aspects of where we are. At best, an able-body person will be many hours from the relative safety of the isolated cave entrance. At worst, a seriously injured person will exit the caves only after a significant team effort to evacuate them through the treacherous terrain. These real-world consequences are part of what makes CAVES an incredible analogue and preparation ground for space explorers. We will also have to balance where we place our basecamp against resource availability, potential flooding risks and proximity to our daily science goals.
Earlier this summer, I spent time in the Canadian High Arctic on a geology field expedition learning methods and techniques for conducting geological fieldwork that can be applied to sites beyond our planet. This trip was a great precursor to CAVES. Our team only had a minimum of supplies and support, faced communications, physical and psychological challenges and was isolated from civilization. We relied upon each other to fulfil our mission objectives.
I understand well that analogue training incrementally prepares me for space exploration, but I also realize what an incredible life experience they provide. I already feel privileged to have the opportunity to take part in this expedition. I always come back from experiences like this with a renewed appreciation for life and a broader perspective!