Exploring Inhospitable Environments
Did you know that astronauts train for outer space by living underground for 2 weeks?
Visiting a cave is like nothing else we can experience on the surface. It can encourage leadership and team-building skills while we manage our physical and mental limits. Most of us have come across a church, Boy Scout troop, or other community organization leading children into the cold, dark abyss. Perhaps you have lead one of these groups yourself. It is not just children that gain character-building experiences from being underground. The European Space Agency (ESA) has been hosting astronauts from different space agencies in caves of Sardinia, Italy for several years. The multi-cultural “cavenauts” as the ESA calls them, work underground for 14 days collecting survey data and other scientific data while adapting to living in isolation and depravation of the natural light cycles of earth. The ESA acknowledges that the cave is a much more hostile environment than what astronauts will experience at the International Space Station. However, it aims to teach the astronauts problem-solving skills and improved teamwork, among other things, which they will implement in Space. In 2012 “cavenauts” returned with a new species of crustacean, and in 2013, they logged 1.5 km of 3D survey data. But more importantly, they developed as astronauts who are better equipped to work with unfamiliar people in unfamiliar environments.
I can’t help but draw analogues to the benefits the general cave exploration community receives from extended survey and camp trips. I personally have had the pleasure of exploring caves for the past several years and have gained noticeable personal growth. Like many, I began my journey physically weak, and became trim and toned from the frequent trips. More lasting has been the mental endurance and ability to ignore minor discomfort. It probably prepared me for the protracted healing process I have encountered from my latest cave-related injury. (That is another story for a future blog post perhaps.) I have seen fellow cavers change from self-serving to team-serving, from out-of-shape to superman. We make life-long friendships while exercising patience with individuals we would really rather avoid. The benefits of caving reach far beyond the darkness of the cave. Take a moment to look back to where you once were when you started caving. I bet your Type II fun just became that much sweeter.