In Spain, specifically in the volcanic island of Lanzaroteon his knees before a deep crater, astronaut Alexander Gerst collects a rock sample, which he jealously guards in a plastic bag, although it seems, it’s not on the moonbut in the Volcanoes Natural Park.
Astronauts train on the volcanic island of Lanzarote “like on the Moon”, what should you know?
With its blackened lava fields, craters and caverns created by magma, the geology of Lanzarote is similar to what could be found on the Moon or Marsso the European Space Agency (THIS), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (POTfor its acronym in English), have been using the island for years as a training ground for their astronauts.
“This place has lava formations that are very, very similar to those found on the Moon.”, says Alexander Gerst, a 46-year-old German ESA astronaut, who describes Lanzarote as “unique training ground”.
Gerst, who completed two missions in the International Space Station (ISS), is one of a dozen astronauts who have participated in the training course Pangea (Pangea in English), during the last decade in Lanzarote, one of the islands of the Atlantic archipelago of the Canary Islands, near the northwest coast of Africa.
Named after the former supercontinent, Pangea seeks to provide astronauts and space engineers with the geological skills necessary for future expeditions to other planets..
Participants learn to identify rock samples, to collect them, to carry out on-site DNA analysis on microorganisms and to report their findings to mission control.
“Here you can experience how it is explore a terrain, something they will have to do on the Moon”, affirms Francesco Sauro, technical director of the course.
Why is the volcanic island region of Lanzarote unique for your training?
Gerst, who has just completed his training at Lanzarotesays that the course prepares astronauts to work in remote places and using their own means.
“If there is any problem, we have to figure it out ourselves”, he points out.
Gerst did the training of Pangea along with Stephanie Wilson, one of the oldest astronauts in the POT. Both are possible candidates for the US space agency’s next manned lunar missions.
Baptized with the name of the Greek goddess twin sister of Apollo, The Artemis program seeks to return astronauts to the Moon from 2025although many experts estimate that it could be delayed.
Only twelve astronauts have walked on the lunar surface, sent on all six missions NASA Apollobetween 1969 and 1972.
NASA and ESA also regularly use the surface of Lanzarote, dotted with mounds of solidified lava, to test rovers, the remote-controlled vehicles designed to move over the surface of Mars.
The unique geography of Lanzarote it was shaped by a six-year volcanic eruption that began in 1730, spewing lava and ash over large tracts of land.
Considered one of worst volcanic cataclysm on recordthe eruption devastated more than 200 square kilometers of land, the equivalent of a quarter of the island that today is home to 156 thousand people.
Although there are other places of volcanic origin, such as Hawaii, suitable for astronaut training, Lanzarote has the advantage of having little vegetation, due to its desert climate.
“You find different types of volcanic rocks in Lanzarote. And they are in sight, there are no trees”, says the leader of the Pangaea project, Loredana Bessone.
“You can see far away as if you were on the moon“, he points.
The Canary Islands also contribute in another way to space exploration: with the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), located in La Palma.
One of the largest telescopes in the world, the GTC can see some of the most distant objects in the Universe.
The Palm was selected to install the telescope mainly because of its cloud-free skies and low light pollution.