Caving Analog Mission for Ocean, Earth, and Space exploration
After seven days in Gruta do Natal, the seven-member Crew Zero team emerged joyous from their mission. The realization of this vision, this science, and potential discoveries has been more than our entire team expected. More work is ahead as we analyze our findings and begin to share these through scientific publications, conferences, and other upcoming events.
Our gratitude to Associaçao Os Montanheiros for their tireless efforts and support to set us up for success. Every detail was considered, even those aspects we could not foresee.
To the Municipality of Angra do Heroísmo, thank you for the warm welcome and send off for our mission. Your full support was with us every step of the journey and we are honored to be part of the history of Terceira Island.
The Angra do Heroísmo Chamber of Commerce, we thank you for your unwavering support.
And the Regional Government of the Azores, thank you for trusting us with this part of the Earth. We hold it sacred and only hope our work contributes to the existing science that has taken shape here.
Conceived as a technical vision of Dr. Rui Moura, Professor of Geosciences at the University of Aveiro, and Dr. Ana Pires, Sea Georesources Researcher at the Centre for Robotics and Autonomous Systems at INESC TEC in Porto. Over the last three years, Dr. Moura and Dr. Pires have enlisted a powerful team of people passionate about protecting the oceans, taking action to conserve Earth, and understanding how space exploration can advance technologies for all three. The team will carry out this research analog at the Natal Cave (Gruta do Natal) site on Terceira Island. The Natal cave is an ideal and high-fidelity context for research. The location was selected based on interesting geology, accessibility, stability, and support from local organisations.
There are scientific characteristics of Azorean lava tube systems that can contribute to analog studies and help plan and design lunar and Martian missions. Multi-disciplined researchers can gain valuable insights into the environmental, engineering, minerals, crew composition, and robotic challenges associated with lava tube and cave exploration. Azorean and other Portugal-based scientists have studied these locations for decades, learning about the history of the formation and behavior of volcanic eruptions creating these islands. These austere environments can be hard to reach or demand a large investment to make them safe for human use and testing. So, the key is finding reachable, safe, and quality locations that offer scientific value across a broad spectrum of technical areas. Natal Cave in the Azores might be an option.
The goal of this first analog mission is really to prove the use of Azorean volcanic caves as a scientific and research space analog context for multisectoral and long-term investigations.
The hope is that by 2025, this collective team can offer a unique and replicable framework for productive international research collaboration as well as a new, validated analog mission site. Repeatable and high-fidelity use of the Azorean cave systems will help increase the development of space exploration approaches and methods for how we steward our home planet.
“Our intent is to firmly establish the site for future missions”, Dr. Rui Moura said, “the hope is that these Azorean caves serve as a laboratory for discovery for people from all nations and backgrounds”.
This seven-day space research analog will take place in the Natal Cave on Terceira Island in November 2023. Seven crew members will spend six nights and seven days in this lava tube cave, the first people to overnight in this environment. They hail from five countries, speak eight languages, and represent over 11 disciplines!.
A team of speleology, volcanism, microbiology, geochemistry, and space medicine experts from four countries will operate as Mission Control outside the cave.
Leveraging the unique features and biodiversity of Natal Cave as a scientific and research context, this first team will carry out approved, environmentally respectful, multisectoral longitudinal studies and investigations. We will be setting the foundation for future missions and carrying out geophysical, microbiological, climate, and human performance research.
Upon completion of the analog, the team will emerge in time to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of our host Azores-based nonprofit partner, Os Montanheiros!
Educational and Outreach Partners
Gear and Materials partners
Science and Exploration Partners