CAVES stands for Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills. The two-week course prepares astronauts to work safely and effectively in multicultural teams in an environment where safety is critical – in caves.
Held each year, CAVES teaches astronauts to explore the underground system of the Sa Grutta caves in Sardinia, Italy, as a team, delving deep underground to perform scientific experiments as well as chart and document their activities.
The course is run by the European Astronaut Centre to simulate spaceflight. Seasoned International Space Station astronauts as well as rookies participate in the course and share experiences while learning how to improve leadership, teamwork, decision-making and problem-solving skills.
CAVES presents the astronauts with environments and situations very similar to spaceflight, to help them transfer the learning from their caving expedition to space.
Behavioural activities are woven into the course to foster effective communication, decision-making, problem-solving, leadership and team dynamics.
An important element of the expedition is the daily debriefing, which reflects on the successes and errors of the day, on similarities with spaceflight experiences and on how to reapply successful strategies or improve by learning from mistakes.
Learning is enhanced by the presence of experienced astronauts, who share their valuable flight experience with rookies.