Kate Green at Discover wrote a report about a simulated Mars mission taking place on Hawaii. While most of the time on the mission is spent inside logging nutritional information and taking psychological inventories, the crew recently was able to go on an extra vehicular activity (EVA) to explore the surrounding geography. The goal of the EVA was to investigate the geological composition of local lava tubes and caves.
Caves and lava tubes aren’t only just scientifically interesting, they could serve as natural bases for early colonists on the Moon or Mars. Without any needing any additional construction, caves and lava tubes could offer colonists a more reliable temperature than what’s available at the surface. Even more importantly, caves and lava tubes could offer humans protection from otherwise deadly cosmic radiation that would eliminate the need to schlep materials for radiation shielding from Earth. The downside is that caves on Earth are often very dangerous to humans with steep drops and full of sharp rocks (Kate’s team referred to them as “death pits”).
In order to reduce risk for future Mars or Moon colonists, candidate caves will need to be explored by probes to evaluate whether they represent cozy homes or pits of death. It costs a lot of time and money to send astronauts off our planet just to wind up in a pit of death, so we’ll probably want to avoid those wherever possible.
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