The key to humans living on Mars is being tested in a disused mine 1.1km below Yorkshire.
Scientists have turned deep tunnels under the countryside into an underground lab to investigate how scientific and medical operations would take place in challenging other-worldly environments.
University of Birmingham researchers have launched the Bio-SPHERE – Biomedical Sub-surface Pod for Habitability and Extreme-environments Research in Expeditions – project in a research facility in one of the UK's deepest mine sites at Boulby in the North Yorkshire Moors.
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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.
The project is based in network of tunnels which go through 250-million-year-old rock salt deposits.
The geological environment and deep sub-surface location have enabled researchers to recreate the operational conditions humans would experience working in similar caverns on the Moon and Mars.
Astronauts would face similar remoteness, limited access to new materials and challenges in moving heavy equipment around in the ultra-low radiation environment.
It will enable boffins to investigate how effective underground habitats might be in protecting space crews from deep space radiation – a significant risk to exploration.
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Lead researcher Dr Alexandra Iordachescu, Principal Investigator in the School of Chemical Engineering, said: “This project will help to gather the information that can advise on the life support systems, devices, and biomaterials which could be used in medical emergencies and tissue repair following damage in deep-space missions.
“The data is likely to bring numerous benefits for Earth-based applications as well, such as delivering biomedical interventions in remote areas or in hazardous environments.”
Professor Sean Paling from the Boulby Underground Laboratory, added: “Bio-SPHERE promises to help answer some key logistical questions in establishing sustainable living conditions in remote, subterranean environments, and in doing so will significantly contribute to the essential preparations for our collective long, difficult, and exciting journey ahead (to other planets).”
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