Deep/Underwater Cave Environments

Deep/Underwater Cave Environments: Comments by William Stone
at the First NASA Risk and Exploration Symposium
"I've come from a rather unusual background in that I came up through engineering school wanting to be an astronaut, but had the good fortune of discovering that there were remaining places to be explored here on Earth in the meantime. As a teenager, I watched a couple of these guys who talked here this morning walk on the Moon. They were my heroes, and it was the U.S. space program that was directly responsible for my going out and getting a Ph.D. in engineering and wanting to work in space. In the process of trying to get into the Astronaut Corps at various times, I have also had the privilege of being involved with a large number of expeditionary projects dealing with things that go down into the Earth as opposed to things that go up. I added it up a little while ago. Over the last 26 years, I've spent 7 1/2 years in the field on expeditions, of which 353 days were below 1,000 meters deep underground, based from subterranean camps. So, I'm either a troglodyte or somebody who's looking for planetary exploration and hasn't been able to get off this pile of rock yet.
What I am going to do here this afternoon is to rapidly take you to three of the most remote places that humans have ever reached inside this planet. This is serious business. It is more serious, in my opinion, than high altitude mountaineering, because of the multidisciplinary nature and the remoteness. I don't consider expeditionary deep caving as something you do for excitement. You do it because it's an opportunity to explore one of the last true frontiers on this planet. The classic distinction on this subject came from arctic explorer Vilhjalmar Steffanson, who once spent five years working solo north of the Arctic Circle. Interviewed about this one time, the reporter asked [Steffanson], "Well, you're an adventurer, aren't you?" He said, "Son, adventure is what happens when exploration goes wrong."
I have had that motto emblazoned upon my heart in letters of gold ever since. You do not get Brownie points for having your name on a tombstone. You have to come back. With that in mind, I have actually taken a lot of cues from how NASA trains its astronauts when preparing for, and staffing, expeditions. In the subterranean world, where we are about to go, it is a gloves-off environment. The exploration front is now getting to the stage where it is so remote and so difficult to reach that no matter what technology we have at our disposal, and no matter how Olympically-trained and fit the people are who are involved with it, we still get stopped. Every time you go for four or five months in the field, if you're lucky, you're a kilometer or two deeper into the planet. I am going to try to give you an idea here just what this world is like. I'm going to show here what would be the equivalent of summitting Everest and K2, but it's all going to be in one continuous trip proceeding down, in order to give you a sequential feel for the logistics and remoteness.
Rising out of the southeastern area of southern Mexico is the Huautla plateau. It jumps straight up about 2,100 meters. The top of it is cratered with gigantic sinkholes. The water that rains on this area for 500 square kilometers all goes internally and, in the process of doing that, it creates some pretty substantially-sized voids. (...)"
Read the Full text: Spaceref.com

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