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Complex Systems Research, Incorporated NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts
Caves have been used in the ancient past as shelter or habitat by many organisms (including humans). Since antiquity, humans have explored caves for the minerals they contain and sometimes for ceremonial purposes. Over the past century, caves have become the target of increasing exploration, scientific research, and recreation. The use of caves on extraterrestrial bodies for human habitation has been suggested by several investigators. Lunar lava tube bases received early attention because lava tubes were clearly visible in lunar images from the Apollo Era. More recently, Mars Observer Camera data has shown us clear evidence of large tubes visible in a number of volcanic regions on Mars. The budding field of cave geomicrobiology has direct application to questions about subsurface life on other planets. Caves contain many unusual organisms making their living from unlikely materials like manganese, iron, and sulfur. This makes caves and other subsurface habitats prime targets for astrobiological missions to Mars and possibly other bodies. We present the results of a completed Phase I and on-going Phase II NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) study that intensively examines the possibilities of using extraterrestrial caves as both a resource for human explorers and as a highly promising scientific target for both robotic and future human missions to Mars and beyond. Open Access See Extended description for more information.
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Boston, Penelope J.; Frederick, R. D.; Hildreth-Werker, Val; Sprungman, Barbara; Thompson, S. L.; Welch, S. M.; and Werker, Jim C., "Human utilization of subsurface extraterrestrial environments: Final report" (2003). KIP Data Sets and Technical Reports. 87.