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‘Cave Woman’ Still Thinks It’s March

May 16, 1989

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) _ An isolation researcher thinks she has two months to go in her underground hideaway when in fact there’s only one week until she’ll see her first daylight since mid-January.

Stefania Follini, a 27-year-old interior decorator from Italy, has been in a two-room, 200-square-foot Plexiglas house under the hills west of Carlsbad since Jan. 13, without sunlight or other ways of measuring time.

The only sounds she hears are those of her own voice, her guitar, or an occasional buzzer sounded by researchers in a computer-equipped trailer on the surface, 50 feet above her.

″The buzzer is just to get her attention,″ said Rita Fraschini, interpreter and spokeswoman for Italian researchers who are sponsoring the experiment along with various U.S. universities and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

For about four months, the computer terminals have been Ms. Follini’s only mode of communication as she simulates what it might be like for space travelers isolated for extended periods.

A team of researchers monitor her with three video cameras and microphones, and they type in occasional messages to her computer.

They also track her temperature, heart rate and blood pressure and test her blood composition for any hormonal and other chemical changes. Ms. Follini sends up samples daily by means of a cannister on a string.

Questioned May 4, Ms. Follini said she thought it was March 7. However, at the request of The Associated Press, researcher Andrea Galvagno asked Ms. Follini to guess how far off her estimate was. She was not told the AP was asking or that anybody else was in the trailer.

She guessed she might be two weeks off.

Asked if she meant March 21, she replied in Italian on her keyboard, ″About, but I’ll celebrate spring a little later.″

Galvagno said Ms. Follini will come out of the cave May 23 but will not be told until the afternoon of May 22.

Ms. Follini wasn’t able to keep track of the time by her menstrual cycle because it stopped after she went underground, Galvagno said.

Galvagno and lead researcher Maurizio Montalbini have maintained a careful record of her sleeping patterns for the four months. For April 28-29, for example, she was awake 25 hours and slept 12; April 29-30 she spent 25 hours awake and four asleep; May 1 she was up 11 1/2 hours, then slept 4 1/2 ; and May 2, she was up 17 and slept seven.

Ms. Follini also has lost about 20 pounds. She passes her time reading, strumming, humming, writing messages on the computer and playing chess with herself.

For the first few months, Ms. Follini was ″kind of grouchy,″ but in the last month she has become accustomed to her situation and is concentrating better, Ms. Fraschini said.

Also, she said, Ms. Follini spent more time exploring the cave outside the enclosure in the early going but seldom heads out any more except to deliver her blood samples.

Ms. Follini said she doesn’t think there would be much difference between being isolated in space and being confined in a cave.

She said it might be impossible to rescue her from space, but if the cave collapsed, it would be hard to save her here as well.

Still, she said, there is some comfort knowing her colleagues are just 50 feet above.

″I prefer to have my feet on the dear, old Earth - or under it,″ she said.

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