Azores cave will be used to simulate lunar base for nearly one week
Seven Portuguese and foreign researchers will be “travelling” to the Moon without leaving Earth in the first mission to simulate the lunar environment carried out in Portugal.
The mission will take place between November 22 and 28 at the Gruta do Natal, on Terceira Island, in the Azores.
“It’s an incredible team, and it’s been a fantastic journey for us to be able to ‘fly to the Moon, land’ and finally be here for a week. And let’s see if we all make it safely back to Earth,” Ana Pires, commander of ‘Missão Camões’ (Mission Camões)and researcher at the Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering, Technology and Science (INESC TEC), told Lusa and Antena 1.
The cave will soon be closed to the public and the lights will be switched off.
Two geoscientists, a geophysicist, an astrobiologist, an explorer, a specialist in human factors and climate and a psychologist will be divided into three stations where tents will be set up.
For seven days, they will be isolated in the cave and will only go up to the reception for meals, hygiene and brief internet access.
With the collaboration of 10 other researchers, they will carry out 14 experiments using drones, sensors and other technologies in the hope of collecting data that they can share with the international scientific community.
“We’re going to be here 24 hours a day. So we’ll have plenty of time to find out lots of things. We’re looking forward to finding out what stories this cave has to tell us,” says the mission commander.
More than studying the cave, the mission aims to prove whether it is possible to live inside a structure with characteristics that resemble a lunar environment.
“Basically, we’re going to try to understand whether a real astronaut would be able to live in this kind of environment and what the end result might be, which could one day provide clues for real missions. What does a geological structure like this need for an astronaut to be able to live here?” explains Ana Pires.
The geoscientists, for example, will try to discover what could be behind the walls of the cave using Lidar optical remote sensing technology, while the astrobiologist will collect samples of living organisms.
Yvette González, executive director of the mission and a researcher at Plymouth University in the United States, will study human factors and environmental empathy.
“As humans, do we believe that we live in reciprocity with the Earth? And what does that mean for living on the Moon or another planet? Do we look around and still feel connected to this kind of nature? Outside we look at a tree, a bird, but here do we look at the cave and feel connected to protect it, to live here in the long term?” she asked.
One of the aspects that the researcher is going to study is the extent to which the sensation of taking a shower can keep the “astronaut” more comfortable and contribute to their mental health.
Yvette found an innovative piece of equipment on the Internet, developed in Australia, which allows one to shower without electricity. One of the creators was Portuguese, and when he found out that the mission would be in the Azores, he offered the portable showers to the team.
The team will also take equipment developed in Japan and used by astronauts to exercise in a confined space.
The suits they will be wearing, a mix between a caving suit and a flight suit, were created especially for the mission by US aerospace engineer Sabrina Thompson’s company. Underneath, they will be wearing underwear and T-shirts made from intelligent textiles developed by Portuguese researcher Filipa Fernandes.
All in all, including the mission control and medical team accompanying the mission abroad, the Camões project is expected to involve around 30 people. The core team is made up of 11 people from five countries who speak eight languages.
Supporting the mission, which has received regional public support, will be the Os Montanheiros association, which manages the Gruta do Natal, but also the Civil Protection of the Azores and the Red Cross.
“I feel that we are all contributing to this mission, and I feel that the Terceira Island community has come together to make sure we succeed,” adds Ana Pires.