Asclepios: Shooting for the Moon!

As part of the Asclepios project, a simulated mission to the Moon run by EPFL students, six would-be astronauts spent over a week living on a mock lunar base. Their extraterrestrial habitat was actually right here on Earth – at the Grimsel Test Site, to be precise. Here we look back on an adventure that was (almost) out of this world.

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In early July, a group of students from EPFL and other universities embarked on a mission to the Moon. Except the six-strong team – three women and three men – never actually left Earth. Instead, the would-be astronauts spent over a week living on a mock lunar base at a top-secret location as part of Asclepios, a project designed by students for students.

The setting for the analog mission was the Grimsel Test Site, a network of tunnels deep beneath the Bernese Alps in western Switzerland. The students met at the foot of a dam before being whisked away by minibus through pitch darkness. Inside, conditions were tough: a steady 13°C, relative humidity above 80%, no natural light – and, of course, no cellphone signal.

A few miles away, another team had converted the gym at Guttannen elementary school into a mission control center. From here, they could keep tabs on what was happening on the base around the clock and stay in constant contact with the crew. As liftoff drew near, everyone wished each other good luck and shared some last-minute words of advice. “We believe in you,” said Chloé Carrière, an EPFL student and president of [email protected], the student association behind the Asclepios mission. “Have a successful mission. See you on the Moon.” After some final hugs, the crew boarded the minibus that would take them deep under the mountain. And on Monday, at 6 p.m. sharp, they closed the door of the base. It would remain firmly shut for a further eight days. Everyone was in high spirits.

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