As we have gone through the first few days of training in the CAVES programme, something struck us as we watched each other learn the skills we will need for our exploration in the Sa Grutta cave.
When a child is young, it is a magical time for parents (or anyone around the child) to watch their passionate and emotional responses to the constant barrage of strange new sights, sounds and experiences. Not encumbered by filters of memories, pride or knowledge, children are free to experience the pure joy of discovery. A child's smile as they elatedly say "wow!" can even remind us of how amazing some things that we have taken for granted are.
Unfortunately as we grow older, you don't seem to say "wow" as much. Experience and knowledge inform you about the world and make it a bit more difficult to be in new environments and situations. When you take six astronauts, from diverse backgrounds and fairly significant bases of experience, "wow" becomes a rare word indeed.
This week, however, "wow" is commonplace for us, the six astronauts lucky enough to take part in this amazing program. Under the watchful eyes of our gracious hosts - a world class team of cavers, scientists, logisticians and more - we have been treated to the new and almost alien world of caves. It would be hard not to be awestruck when you squeeze yourself through what seems to be an impossibly small passage, only to emerge in a beautiful, immense cavern filled with a sea of ancient creations.
All astronauts come from diverse backgrounds so that we can be ready for the unknown - as a team. The common thread through us all, however, is that we are explorers. Our space agencies are constantly looking for ways to ready us for spaceflight by challenging us to go beyond our limits, out of our comfort zones, and emerge stronger and better prepared for the unchartered tests that await us in the cosmos. ESA has created an incredible spaceflight analogue to do just that, and in the process, has reminded us how to enjoy the thrill of discovery.
They have reminded us to say "wow!"