Coconino National Forest, Coconino County, Arizona
October 26, 2013
By Rick Kale
On Saturday, October 26th, 2013 a group of AIAA Phoenix and NSS members (well one member, Greg Rucker) took a trip to the Lava River Cave (Lava Tubes) near Flagstaff, Arizona. A carpool was arranged for those interested by meeting at the Happy Valley Park and Ride. A total of 13 people attended the event (10 via carpool from Phoenix, 3 met at the cave).
The concept for the trip was to investigate the possibility of using a subterranean tunnel on the Moon as an environment for manned living space and of course have fun while doing it. As the cave was explored, this idea was pondered by various members of the group. One of the first observations to be made was during the initial climb down into the cave. A safe path over loose rocks and areas with low ceilings had to be navigated in order to reach the main part of the cave. It was noted that explorers of a similar extraterrestrial tunnel would require compact and flexible spacesuits to safely move in that type of terrain or a robotic system employed first. Once in the main tunnel the space opened up and seemed like a suitable location to build a facility to live in. While the main cave structure would be large enough to build such a facility, the challenges associated with doing so were also recognized. As mentioned above, repeated access to the tunnel would be difficult so digging a shaft may be required to make it easier. The structural stability of the cave would also have to be carefully reviewed since visible rock fractures and falls were present throughout the cave. Lastly, the temperature of the cave was about 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit. In order to make a comfortable living space, insulation would be required to keep that space warm, and pressurized in the case of the Moon. This would all require extra equipment to be sent to the location and thus increased expense. Any required drilling or construction equipment would likely also be heavy compared to a surface exploration rover/buggy.
Being in the cave itself was a different environment than what is experienced in daily life. During a break, everyone shutoff their flashlights and just sat quietly for a few moments. There are few places that offer an opportunity to experience no light and nearly no sound. A decision was made at the end of the hike to all go to a restaurant in Flagstaff for lunch/dinner. This allowed for some socializing among the group before the trip back to Phoenix. Overall, everyone had a fun and enjoyable day.