Astronauts train on a volcano in the Canary Islands

Uses Astronaut Alexander Gerst uses a chisel to take a sample of volcanic rock, and carefully places it inside a white plastic bag. The surface of the moon“.

But the 46-year-old German astronaut and a member of European Space Agencyis still on the ground, specifically in the Los Volcanes Natural Park in Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands Spanish off the northwest coast of Africa.

Lanzarote’s geology, with its black lava fields and volcanic flows, is so similar to the nature of the Moon and Mars that the European Space Agency and NASA have sent astronauts to the island for training.

“This place has lava, very similar to what we find on the moon,” the astronaut told AFP. He added that the island was a “unique training ground”.

Gerst, who has completed two missions on the International Space Station, is one of about a dozen astronauts who have taken part in the European Space Agency’s Pangea training course in Lanzarote over the past decade.

Named after the ancient supercontinent, Pangea seeks to give astronauts as well as space engineers and geologists the skills to go on missions to other planets.

Trainees learn how to identify and collect rock samples, perform in situ DNA analysis of microorganisms, and report their findings to the mission control center.

“Here, they are put in the field to experience terrain exploration, something they would have to do on the moon,” said course technical director Francesco Sauro.

largest volcanic disaster

Gerst said the Pangea course, which he just completed, helps prepare astronauts to work in a remote location on their own. “If we encounter a problem, we have to solve it ourselves,” he explained.

Gerst completed his course with Stephanie Wilson, one of the most prominent NASA astronauts. Both are potential candidates for NASA’s manned missions to the Moon.

NASA’s Artemis program aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface as early as 2025, although many experts believe the time frame may be longer.

Twelve astronauts walked on the Moon during six Apollo missions between 1969 and 1972. A return to the Moon is considered a necessity before a possible trip to Mars.

In addition, the US and European space agencies are using Lanzarote’s geography to test remotely controlled Mars vehicles designed to travel on the surface of the Red Planet.

Lanzarote’s unique geography dates back to a volcanic eruption that began in 1730 and lasted 6 years, which led to the release of ash and lava over vast areas of land.

This volcanic disaster, considered one of the largest in history, destroyed more than 200 square kilometers of terrain, about a quarter of the distance of the island, where about 156,000 people currently live.

desert-like climate

Although there are other volcanic areas that could also be used for astronaut training, Lanzarote has the advantage of having little vegetation due to its desert-like climate.

“There are many types of volcanic rocks in Lanzarote. They are exposed. There are no trees,” said Loredana Bissoni, project manager for Pangea.

The Canary Islands make a significant contribution to space exploration in another way as well. Las Palmas is home to one of the world’s largest optical telescopes.

Perched on top is the Great Canary Telescope, where it detects some of the faintest and most distant objects in the universe.

Las Palmas was chosen as a location for the telescope due to its cloudless skies and relatively low light pollution.


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