UKSA PR — ESA’s UK astronaut Tim Peake, together with fellow astronauts Thomas Pesquet from France, Randolph Bresnik from NASA, Norishige Kanai from Japan and Sergey Ryzhikov from Russia, has just completed (21 September 2011) a week of living and working in a dark and humid cave – a unique training experience, organised by ESA, to prepare astronauts for space.
The 5 astronauts are now going through debriefings similar to those that follow an astronaut’s return from a space mission.
Cave training is a new challenge for astronauts. Being cut off from the outside world with minimal privacy, new technical challenges and limited comfort present a number of psychological issues for those involved. The use of artificial light in constant darkness alters the perception of time and of colour and the absence of natural time cues from daylight may affect the circadian rhythm and sleep patterns.
Similarly to long-duration space missions, the daily routine for the trainees is organised around timelines, decided twice daily by phone with a supporting ‘ground’ team at the cave’s entrance.
Mission tasks include mapping, photography, geological and microbiological sampling. The training might also provide valuable material for scientists studying these caves – many of them unmapped or unexplored. Sampling methods for future planetary missions are also benefitting, along with psychological and medical studies.
Major Peake, a former helicopter pilot in the Army Air Corps, will become the UK’s first official astronaut in space when he finally gets into orbit. He is one of 6 trainee ESA astronauts who were selected from amongst 8,000 hopefuls.