Like on the moon astronauts use the Spanish island for training

(ORDO NEWS) — Kneeling on the edge of a deep crater, astronaut Alexander Gerst uses a chisel to collect a sample of volcanic rock and carefully places it in a white plastic bag.

Gerst is not on the moon, even if it looks like it. It is located in the heart of Los Vulcanes Natural Park on the island of Lanzarote in Spain.

Blackened lava fields, craters and volcanic chimneys, Lanzarote’s geology is very similar to that of the Moon and Mars. ESA and NASA have been sending astronauts to the island for years for training.

Gerst, who has flown two missions to the ISS, is one of a dozen astronauts who have taken part in ESA’s Pangea training course on Lanzarote over the past decade.

Named after the ancient supercontinent, Pangea gives astronauts, space engineers and geologists the skills they need to travel to other planets.

Students will learn how to identify and collect rock samples, conduct microbial DNA analysis on site, and report their results to mission control.

Gerst said the Pangea training course he just completed helps prepare astronauts to work independently in remote environments.

“If we face a problem, we have to solve it ourselves,” he said.

Gerst trained on Pangea with Stephanie Wilson, one of NASA’s most senior astronauts. Both are possible candidates for NASA’s next crewed missions to the Moon.

NASA and ESA also regularly use Lanzarote’s winding lava mounds to test rovers, remotely operated vehicles designed to navigate the surface of the Red Planet.

The unique geography of Lanzarote is due to the volcanic eruption that began in 1730 and lasted for six years, spewing ash and lava over large areas of land.

The eruption, considered one of the greatest volcanic disasters in human history, devastated more than 200 square kilometers of land – about a quarter of the island, which is currently home to about 156,000 people.

There are other volcanic areas, such as Hawaii, that could also be used for astronaut training, but Lanzarote has one advantage: it has little vegetation due to its desert climate.

The Canary Islands contribute a lot to space exploration in another way. Palma is home to one of the world’s largest optical telescopes, the Grand Canary Telescope. It is capable of detecting some of the faintest and most distant objects in the universe.

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