NASA caves caving astronauts

Six astronauts spend a week in Italy's Sa Grutta cave.     Photo: ESA-V

Astronauts Complete Cave Training

Team spends a week underground

Although astronauts are professional space travelers, a majority of their training takes place on earth—or even underground. That was the case for six astronauts who spent a week in Italy’s Sa Grutta cave as part of the European Space Agency’s Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behavior and performance Skills (CAVES) course.

The mission was designed to simulate the isolation and danger they might experience on a space mission. They also mapped Sa Grutta using the prototype CaveSniper surveying tool, which allowed them to take measurements wirelessly. 

 The crew recounted the experience in their blog:

As it was on the Space Station, the end of our days were spent organizing data and images to make a coherent set of information for the ground team—or in this case—the surface team.“Communication with the surface team was limited to twice a day, more like what may be expected for planetary exploration, so questions had to be organized and formulated carefully.

The international team (two Americans, one Italian, one Canadian, one Russian, and one Japanese) was also tasked with scientific experiments. According to, “samples were taken for later analysis of water chemistry, microbiology of soil and surfaces, and atmosphere for CO2 [carbon dioxide], temperature and humidity.”

They also looked the part. “We were transformed into cavemen," the team wrote on their blog. "Sporting beards, dirty clothes, and a pungent aroma that we had become accustomed to.” 

Learn more about cave training @ESA_Caves


Tioga Pass, Entrance Station, Yosemite National Park, California, Winter, Snow,

Protesters Invade National Parks

Dozens entered at least three this weekend

The partial federal government shutdown continues to keep National Parks closed, but locked gates and a few park rangers didn't stop dozens of hikers and cyclists from entering at least three National Parks this weekend. Across the U.S., protesters either entered restricted areas or picketed at entrance stations.

"I wanted to go hiking today, and so I thought I'd invite some friends to come join me,"
James Milligan told KSL at Occupy Zion. "The way I see it this is our park over here and no one has a right to shut us out of it."

Crowds at both Zion National Park and Acadia National Park either climbed over gates that read "do not enter" or walked around baracades to hike and bike inside the parks on Saturday.

A family at Badlands National Park in South Dakota left their vehicle and threw cones blocking off scenic overlooks, posting the photos to Twitter. (Some National Parks, such as Badlands, are permitting visitors to drive through during the shutdown, but visitors are forbidden from exiting their vehicles.)

Some are critizing these protesters, saying that Washington D.C. is the appropriate venue for demonstrations.

"It's going to create a mess for the park employees that have to deal with the crowd and the attention," wrote Andrea Ketchmark of Grand Rapids, Michigan on Facebook. "The outrage should be focused where it belongs: the members of the House."

Protesters in California stopped short of entering Yosemite due to rumors that tresspassers will be fined or ticketed. Although the original plan was to stage a sit-in side the park, a dozen people calling themselves "Occupy Yosemite" picked outside the east enterence to Yosemite National Park on Friday, KCET reports.


El Capitan in Yosemite National Park     Photo: Pal Teravagimov /Shutterstock

Climbers on El Cap Ignore Shutdown

Climbers are able to sneak through

Despite the government shutdown, big-wall climbers have sneaked into Yosemite National Park and are scaling the 2,900-foot face of El Capitan.

The paucity of park staff has apparently made rule enforcement difficult, as illustrated by a photograph posted on Reddit showing small beacons of light spangling the sheer face, which takes an average climber several days to scale.


The new North Korean ski resort     Photo: rapgenius/Flickr

North Korea Ski Resort Opens This Week

Masik Pass a lavish pet project

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's first "world-class" ski resort, Masik Pass, is expected to be partially open this Thursday to commemorate the 86th aniversary of the Korean Workers Party.

While progress floundered this summer due to torrential summer rains and a falling out with the Swiss over purchasing ski lifts and cable cars, the North Korean media claims that workers are completing their quotas with double efficency. When finished, the resort will have three lifts, a hotel for foreigners and a hotel for North Koreans.

"We can make nuclear weapons and rockets," Kim Tae Yong, the North Korena ski association chief, told the Associated Press. "We can build a ski lift."

But why build a luxury ski resort when less than one percent of the population skis?

AP journalists say it is an international case of keeping up with the Jonses: South Korea is set to host the 2018 Winter Olympics; the North Koreans have won two medals in speed skating at the Winter Olympics; and Yong has vowed that North Korea will have a skiing world champion of its own in just a few years.


Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise Outside Online Protests

Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise     Photo: Roberta F./Wikimedia Commons

Greenpeace to File Criminal Complaint

Vessel and crew seized in protest

Greenpeace International intends to file a criminal complaint over the illegal seizure of the ship Arctic Sunrise last month. The ship and all its crewmembers were seized during a September 17 protest surrounding an oil platform in the Arctic Sea and continue to be held by Russian authorities.

"Armed men without identification boarded the vessel while wearing masks and pointing guns at those on board," said Alexander Mukhortov, the U.S. ship captain’s Lawyer. "They then took control of the vessel, confiscated personal belongings and put everyone in custody without documenting any of these actions.” 

In a press release, Greenpeace also claims mistreatment of the Artic Sunrise’s thirty crewmembers during transportation and detention. Greenpeace lawyers are citing a lack of drinking water, food, or the ability to exercise adequately.

The Netherlands also plans to file suit against Russia in hopes of recovering the ship and crew. The Dutch foreign minister explained, “I feel responsible for the ship and its crew because it’s a ship that sails under the Dutch flag,” the Washington Post reports. The Netherlands will file suit under the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

The oil platform that prompted the Greenpeace protest is the first offshore rig in the Arctic.

(Just released: Interrogation of Captain Peter Willcox by the Investigative Committee on the Arctic Sunrise on Friday September 28)

(Video: Greenpeace protesters on Arctic oil platform)