The future human exploration of the Moon and Mars might require astronauts to get up and close to lava tubes, geological structures formed by flowing lava a long time ago. These caves are an excellent place to study the geological history of these worlds and they could be safe areas to build habitats.
To understand what the next generation of astronauts might face exploring these tunnels, scientists around the world are using the extreme or analogous environments found on our planet to design better spacesuits and tech in general so that astronauts can move through these rugged structures with as much ease as possible.
"Doing research in suits under EVA constraints makes everything much more difficult to do, and it all takes three times longer," Michaela Musilova said in a statement. "We need to train extensively on Earth to figure out the best methods and create the best EVA suits so that we'll be able to perform this kind of research on the moon and Mars one day."
Musilova is the director of HI-SEAS, the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. The “space-base” is located on Mauna Loa, on Hawaii's Big Island and it is created to simulate the rocky environment that astronauts could one day have to face on the Moon or Mars. The habitat has people living there for days, months, and even year-long missions, simulating what it might be like to be separated from the rest of humanity for such prolonged period of time.
Research from this project with a particular focus on extra-vehicular activities in lava tubes is being presented at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly 2021. The session is taking place on April 28, and will also see results from the EuroMoonMars project explorations, which include HI-SEAS but also locations in Iceland, Chile's Atacama Desert, and the Utah desert. Both projects come under the International MoonBase Alliance (IMA).
"There is so much we still need to learn, including about how humans interact under these challenging conditions," Musilova.
A peculiar thing reported from their long-isolation trial was a crew member experiencing “earth-flashes” where she had very brief sensations that she was somewhere else on Earth, like a street-corner in a busy city far away from Hawaii.
Human missions to the Moon are expected to start again over the next few years, so knowledge gathered in these analogous settings could come in handy very quickly.