Hotspot volcanoes

Explorations of Mars and the Moon begin from Spanish volcanoes


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.

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.

The basaltic lava flows of the island of Lanzarote, located in the far east of the Canary Islands, resemble vast plains on the Lunar Sea, and the volcanoes are similar to those in parts of Mars. This will help the Pangea participants prepare for future expeditions to Mars and the Moon.

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.

“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,” says 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.