Into the dark

Into the dark


30/10/2018 3:09 pm


ESA–L. Ricci


The geology field training course Pangaea is back for its third leg.

Designed to train astronauts and explorers on planetary formation and detecting signs of life, the Pangaea course combines classroom lectures with field trips to sites of geological interest.

Led by European scientists, this year’s participants include ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergei Kud-Sverchkov and ESA expert Aidan Cowley. They were introduced to geological processes, how to interpret rock formations and explorationtools before moving out into the field to put their knowledge into practice.

Starting in Germany, the team learned about impact craters at the world’s best preserved impact site: the Ries crater. The team then moved on to explore landscapes that resemble Mars at the Bletterbach canyon in the Italian Dolomites.

Exercises for the astronauts included describing rocks, identifying minerals and sketching the landscape as a means to read its history in detail.

From 11 to 16 November the team will get to explore the most Martian of all Earth-based landscapes: Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands.

This alien landscape is one of the best areas on Earth to understand the geological interactions between volcanic activity and water – two key factors in the search for life.

To be found among the rugged terrain are many lava tubes, such as the one pictured here.

Lava tubes are underground structures that also occur on the Moon and Mars. Being underground structures, they offer good shelters from radiation. They may contain subsurface water, and therefore be interesting in the search of extraterrestrial microbial life. This makes them an ideal site to explore for future planetary explorers.

During Pangaea-X from 19-23 November, the team will conduct a sample-return mission to test technologies for future space missions.

They will lay the groundwork for an exciting experiment to take place in 2019 from the International Space Station. The experiment will have an astronaut on the Space Station controlling a rover in Lanzarote to test robotics and relay communications, mission control logistics and robotic capabilities for future lunar and Martian missions. 

Follow the Pangaea course on social media and keep up to date with field activities via the blog.

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