Tunnels deep underground in North Yorkshire are providing a unique opportunity to study how humans might be able to live and operate on the Moon or on Mars.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have launched the Bio-SPHERE project in a unique research facility located 1.1 km below the surface, in one of the deepest mine sites in the UK. The project investigates how scientific and medical operations would take place in the challenging environments of the Moon and Mars.

It is the first of a series of new laboratory facilities planned to study how humans might work -- and stay healthy -- during long space missions, a key requirement for ensuring mission continuity on other planets.

The team is working in partnership with the Boulby Underground Laboratory, a 4,000m3 deep underground facility focused on particle physics, Earth sciences and astrobiology research, run by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (part of UK Research and Innovation) with the support of the Boulby Mine operators, ICL-UK.

The Bio-SPHERE project is based in a 3,000m3 tunnel network adjacent to the Boulby Laboratory, which go through 250-million-year-old rock salt deposits, consisting of Permian evaporite layers left over from the Zechstein Sea. This geological environment, together with the deep subsurface location, have enabled researchers to recreate the operational conditions humans would experience working in similar caverns on the Moon and Mars. This includes remoteness, limited access to new materials and challenges in moving heavy equipment around.

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