CAVES Underground Expedition


The Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising Human Behaviour and Performance Skills (CAVES) expedition is a simulation of a space mission and an extreme training session, which is held four kilometres underground, in a cave.

This one-week underground adventure was designed by the European Space Agency (ESA) to train astronauts to live and work together as a team. CAVES meets two objectives by giving astronauts an opportunity to:

  1. tackle challenges associated with long space missions in a hostile environment
  2. participate in actual scientific studies with research teams, as they would on the International Space Station (ISS)

CAVES 2012

Learn more about CAVES training by watching this video by the ESA on CAVES 2012 (with the participation of Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques). (Credit: ESA)

A space-like environment in the depths of the Earth

The CAVES expedition takes place in Sa Grutta cave, on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, in Italy.

It prepares astronauts from around the world to:

  • work efficiently and safely in a group
  • resolve problems as a multicultural team
  • carry out complex scientific and technical tasks
  • explore unmapped areas
  • use procedures related to space exploration
Cavenauts dig adventure

Off for an adventure! The 2013 cavenauts begin their training by going down into the first cave. (Credit: ESA)

Non-standard working conditions

The cohorts of astronauts that participate in the CAVES expeditions experience the challenges, inconveniences and actual dangers of space exploration.

They have to work in extreme conditions, including the following:

  • confined spaces
  • limited private life
  • reduced equipment for hygiene and comfort
  • hostile environment (slippery and sharp surfaces, narrow passageways, total darkness, etc.)
  • variable temperature and humidity levels
  • extremely difficult emergency evacuation

In all, the environment is very similar to that of the ISS!

Our Canadian cavenauts

So far, two Canadian astronauts have participated in CAVES expeditions. David Saint-Jacques was the first astronaut to complete this training program in 2012. Jeremy Hansen went after him in 2013.

Catch that bug

Jeremy Hansen and his CAVES 2013 cohort take photos of insects. (Credit: ESA)

Specifically, they spent their days:

  • creating 3D maps of the sectors around their base camp in the cave
  • making detailed photographic surveys
  • analyzing airflow, temperature and humidity
  • taking geological, biological and microbiological samples with an aim to better understanding the fauna and environment in the area
  • contributing to ongoing research on planetary protection

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