Alone in a dark cave

Alone in a dark cave

Why do humans undertake voyages of personal discovery, or expose themselves to difficult conditions for long periods of time? What can we learn from their experiences?

British mountaineer George Mallory made his fatal attempt to climb Mount Everest in 1924 with simply “Because she is thereWhile such missions may have deeply personal motivations, research conducted during expeditions in extreme conditions can contribute to our understanding of how humans respond to environmental challenges.

The research findings can be applied to a variety of settings, including remote locations here on Earth and even human exploration of space.

Search for extreme environments

Many explorers are looking for “extreme environmentsThis term describes extreme and unusual environmental conditions where it is difficult for life forms such as humans to survive and thrive. Examples include places that experience extreme temperatures, pressure, altitude, precipitation, breathable air, natural light, or hazardous chemical concentrations.

In recent years, humans have performed many extreme experiments, either alone or in groups. In June 2023, Joseph Dettori, a biomedical engineer at the University of South Florida, Complete a record-breaking 100 days It lives 9.15 meters underwater in a private habitat. At this depth, the pressure is almost twice what we experience on Earth. As mentioned afterwards:

“The human body has never been under water for so long. This experience changed me in an important way, and my biggest hope is that I inspired a new generation of explorers and researchers to push all boundaries.”

From November 2021 to April 2023 Spanish Mountaineer Beatrice Flamini He spent 500 days alone in a dark underground cave. she Aims To learn more about how the human mind and body cope with extreme isolation and deprivation. When asked why she seemed so happy to be out of the cave, she said answered: “How would you feel if you had a dream and made it come true? Would you break out crying?”

In 2021, the so-called deep time A project in France isolated 15 volunteers in an underground cave for 40 days and nights without access to sunlight, watches or phones. The project Aiming to explore human adaptation to isolation and harsh conditions, along with the absence of the natural stimuli that provide a sense of time.

Space training

It holds the European Space Agency, as part of its astronaut training programme Three week course In an underground cave system. This work prepares astronauts to work safely and effectively in multicultural teams in a place where safety is paramount.

Extreme environments can be useful not only for training and simulation. Places with physical similarities to space environments can also serve as sites for so-called analog missions. These field tests are less expensive and more convenient than space research. They allow the testing of experimental technology, equipment, and concepts along with the evaluation of human physical and psychological responses to challenging conditions.

In addition Analog missions objective Is to look for possible collateral, or countermeasuresagainst what NASA calls “Five dangers of human spaceflight“.

here they are:

  1. radiation Exposure to high levels of space radiation outside the Earth’s magnetic field
  2. isolation and confinement Moving away from everything familiar on Earth and confining it to a relatively small and unchanging space can affect well-being, behavior and performance
  3. distance from the ground – The farther we are from Earth, the greater the communication delays and challenges, and hence the need for independence and self-sufficiency
  4. gravity – Astronauts can face up to four Different attractive environments. There is “normal gravity” or 1 gram on Earth; Microgravity (“weightlessness”) in Earth orbit and in transit in deep space; And a partial gravity of 0.17 grams on the Moon and 0.38 grams on Mars. All of these have different effects on the human body
  5. hostile and closed environments Life support systems are intended to provide a controlled environment, but problems can occur. microbial life forms They are an additional consideration for both the astronaut and the spacecraft.
The five dangers to humans in space, as explained by NASA.  Image: NASA

The five dangers to humans in space, as explained by NASA. Image: NASA

there Many different types From analog missions, including in the Antarctic, Arctic, underwater and desert. There are also small enclosed group habitats such as NASA Hera Unit at Johnson Space Center and privately owned Hello seas Native to the island of Hawaii.

What we learn in extreme environments can be useful closer to home, too.

We’re all in this together

search in Isolation and confinement Provide helpful advice for people who have experienced lockdown during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Telehealth Research is already benefiting people who live in isolated and remote areas. The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs manages a Space for Health This initiative aims to help countries leverage space infrastructure to achieve better global health outcomes. NASA spin off An archive documenting the rich history of how space research has benefited life on Earth.

By pushing the boundaries of human exploration in challenging environments, people not only learn more about themselves and their place in the world, but they also make a unique contribution to a better understanding of human limits.

This knowledge can help us in various ways, both here on Earth and in humanity’s ultimate quest to reach the stars. DM

This story was first published on Conversation.

Rowena Christiansen is Lecturer and Subject Coordinator at the University of Melbourne.


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