The Artemis I mission took off spectacularly last week and made a close approach to the Moon this week, inspiring hope for the next phase of planetary exploration. This includes a return of humans to the Moon and building a lunar base. Given the exposure to radiation on the Moon (and Mars) far more than what we receive on the Earth, great care will need to be taken to protect astronauts working and living on the Moon – as well as on other planetary bodies in the future.
As Leroy Chiao, retired astronaut and former commander of the International Space Station, states, “Radiation shielding will be essential for human exploration of the Moon and Mars. One possible solution is to utilize caves for this purpose. The requirements for astronaut habitats, EVA suits and equipment should take cave exploration and development into consideration, for protection from both solar and galactic cosmic radiation.”
I’m pleased to be a co-author on a new publication, “Planetary Caves: A Solar System View of Processes and Products”, recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Planets. It identifies specific cave-forming processes across the solar system, with at least 3,545 sub-surface access points identified on 11 planetary bodies.
Besides providing shelter for future astronauts, caves also represent one of the best environments to search for life – both extinct and extant (surviving). As lead author Jut Wynne states, “Martian caves are sheltered from deadly surface radiation and violent windstorms, so they are more likely to exhibit a more constant temperature regime compared to the surface, and some may even contain water ice. This makes caves on Mars one of the most important exploration targets in the search for life.”