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ESA Conducts Second PANGAEA Training for Astronauts’ Future Mars Exploration

Oct 26, 2016 05:57 AM EDT
German Astronaut Alexander Gerst Aboard The International Space Station
The European Space Agency (ESA) has begun the second phase of its PANGAEA field training for the astronauts’ future missions to the Red Planet.
(Photo : Alexander Gerst / ESA via Getty Images)

The European Space Agency (ESA) has started the second phase of its astronaut training program, this time in a landscape very similar to Mars.

ESA astronauts Luca Parmitano and Pedro Duque, along with Matthias Maurer of Eurocom, have begun the second PANGAEA planetary geological field training at Geoparque Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain. The astronauts will perform specific tasks on the island, which will serve as a "planetary analogue"--a setting with terrain similar to that on Mars--of the geography and climate of the Red Planet.

The PANGAEA course is designed to provide ESA astronauts with introductory and practical knowledge of Earth and planetary geology to prepare them for future exploration missions. The course will also enable astronauts to communicate with science advisors on Earth effectively, using geological language.

"We do this course because we want to prepare our astronauts not just to explore other planets and to be geologists on other planets, but to prepare the exploration together with engineers and scientists and to be able to be equal in discussing features, science, difficulties, logistics, safety," Loredana Bessone, PANGAEA project manager, said in a video released by ESA.

"To know geology, and to become knowledgeable about the Moon, Mars, asteroids, at a level that geologists would appreciate."

According to ESA, the new session will have the team involved in a series of geological traverses with specific scientific questions to be addressed. First, the astronauts will study the traverses using satellite images and follow the path on the ground, communicating with a supposed ground team of scientists by radio. They will then select a set of sampling sites based on expert advice, and collect samples to be returned for further analysis.

"I am very happy to be in this beautiful part of my home country for this course," ESA astronaut Pedro Duque said. "The environment of Lanzarote is very unique in the world, but looks a lot like what we know other worlds will show to future astronauts! I will do my best to help prepare a course in which future colleagues will receive all the knowledge they will need to make a difference during exploration of other planets."

The first phase of the course was done in Bressanone, Italy on Sept. 10.

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