Exploration of the Martian caves will be interesting to look for traces of organic molecules preserved from the ultraviolet and cosmic rays that destroy them in surface up to 1 m deep. And we cannot totally rule out the idea of finding extremophile organisms still alive especially in or near ice. Lava tubes and chasms of volcanic origin of a respectable size (300 m in diameter and 160 m in depth) were detected on Mars without, of course, any knowledge of the underground extensions of these structures. In order to work on this type of exploration, the Austrian ÖWF organized 4 days of simulation and experiments in the Dachstein ice cave in Austria in the Salzburg region in 2012.
A visit to the Petit-Dales cave in Normandy in August 2014 revealed that it could lend itself to a scenario of exploration of a lava tube, although it is geologically an old underground river . Thanks to the kindness of Jean-Pierre Viard, caving team leader who cleared the cave for decades, a « Planète Mars » team and two video teams were able to access the cave on May 28th 2016 for an exploration simulation of Martian cave.
A 10-minute summary video from Jonathan Barbier, an association member, and the Gargouille Productions team is available below:
Lucie Poulet and Alain Souchier at the beginning of the simulation on May 28 (doc. J. Barbier / I. Ebran / Gargouille Productions)
Exploration of a sloping gallery after scouting by the association Cliff Reconnaissance Vehicle (doc. J. Barbier / I. Ebran / Gargouille Productions)
A small room reached after 20 m of crawling progression (doc. J. Barbier / I. Ebran / Gargouille Productions)
The objectives were:
-Simplified measurements of the dimensions of the cave (length of the portions of rectilinear corridors, angle of these portions between them)
-Using the Cliff Reconnaissance Vehicle to recognize a slope before entering it
-Testing the use of a rope and descender in a slope with the spacesuit
-Testing the progression in space suit in an area where one cannot stand
-Macro views of interesting areas
But the objective was also to check the behavior of the simulation spacesuits and the various equipment under conditions more difficult than a simulated EVA in the open air.
Some examples of the results obtained are presented below.
Some of the cartographic results (doc. JP Viard / APM)
Example of partial 360 ° mapping of a cave room using the helmet camera (doc. APM)
Use of the association Cliff Reconnaissance Vehicle for a preliminary reconnaissance of a sloping corridor (doc. APM)
Descent in spacesuit with rope and descender (doc. APM)
Crawling in a spacesuit? May be not in the first expeditions but already on the Moon the astronauts subjected their spacesuits to severe tests with numerous falls (doc. J. Barbier / I / Ebran / Gargouille Productions / APM / NASA)
Macro views of thin alluvia strata (doc. APM)
A very detailed account of the operations and the lessons learned can be found in the following document:
Video reports on the Grotte des Petites-Dales are available here: