Hotspot volcanoes

Astronaut training in the land of volcanoes


Standing at the edge of this volcanic edifice, the Pangea field team stops to take a 360 ° panoramic photo to show the science team remotely at ground control. Credit: ESA – A. Romeo

A team of astronauts, engineers and geologists travel to Spain’s Canary Islands, one of Europe’s volcanic hotspots, to learn how to best explore the Moon and Mars during the Pangea de ESA.

The participants in this edition are ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, ESA engineer Robin Eccleston and NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins, who is part of the group of NASA astronauts selected to potentially land on the Moon for the Artemis missions, where research into lunar geology will be crucial.

The crew learned to identify interesting rock samples and traces of life during field trips to the Italian Dolomites and Ries Crater in Germany in September.

Thanks to the teachings of leading European scientists, “we are now able to listen to and better understand the geological heartbeat of the planet. Some rocks are like open books telling you the story of our solar system,” says Andreas .

Volcanic universe

Lanzarote’s volcanic landscapes are exceptionally well preserved and recent geological activity makes it a unique open-air museum.

Here, the basaltic lava flows resemble vast plains on the Lunar Sea, and the volcanoes are similar to those in parts of Mars.

“In Lanzarote, we can really study the geological interactions between volcanic activity and water, two key factors in the search for life,” says Samuel Payler, coordinator of the Pangea training. Surprisingly, microorganisms can thrive inside rocks despite the seemingly barren soil.

Pangea – geology training for space exploration. Credit: European Space Agency

Volcanism is not exclusive to Earth. Our Moon had extensive volcanic activity until less than two billion years ago. Mars is currently a cold, dry desert, but in the past most of the planet’s surface was shaped by water and volcanoes much like Earth. The Red Planet has the largest known volcano in our global neighborhood, Mount Olympus, 22 km high.

Prepare for other planets

Pangea, named after the ancient supercontinent, prepares astronauts for expeditions to other planets. Trainees acquire skills and knowledge both in the field and in the classroom tailored to the needs of future planetary explorers.

Participants analyze soil chemistry and mineralogy, choose their own exploration routes and rely on technology in constant communication with scientific and training teams.

Astronaut training in the land of volcanoes

Roscosmos astronaut and former Pangea intern Sergei Kud-Sverchkov took this photo of the island of Lanzarote, Spain, from the International Space Station during his spaceflight mission in 2020. Credit: ESA – A . Romeo

“We teach astronauts to read and describe landscapes and to perform efficient sampling taking into account the environment around them, such as dust and volcanic rocks,” explains Francesco Sauro, director of the technical course at Pangea.

“From selecting a landing site to describing samples with the right scientific vocabulary, this is the basic geological education they will need on future field trips for lunar missions,” adds the geologist.

The geology of astronauts to the moon

Provided by the European Space Agency

Quote: Astronaut training in the land of volcanoes (2021, November 10) retrieved November 11, 2021 from

This document is subject to copyright. Other than fair use for private study or research purposes, no part may be reproduced without written permission. The content is provided for information only.