Astronauts train on volcanic island ‘like on the Moon’

The training sessions, which take place in the heart of the Lanzarote volcano, are carried out by ESA personnel and some members of NASA.


Kneeling before a deep crater, astronaut Alexander Gerst collects a sample of volcanic rock, which he carefully guards in a plastic bag. Although it may seem, it is not on the Moon , but in the Natural Park of Los Volcanes on the Spanish island of Lanzarote.

With its blackened lava fields, craters and caverns created by magma, Lanzarote’s geology is similar to what might be found on the Moon or Mars, which is why the European Space Agency ( ESA ) and NASA have been using the island for years . as a training ground for its astronauts .

“This place has lava formations that are very, very similar to what you get on the Moon ,” says Alexander Gerst, a 46-year-old German ESA astronaut , who calls Lanzarote a “unique training ground.”

Gerst, who completed two missions on the International Space Station (ISS), is one of a dozen astronauts who have participated in the Pangea training course over the past decade on Lanzarote, one of the islands of the Atlantic archipelago. of the Canary Islands, near the northwest coast of Africa.

Named after the ancient supercontinent, Pangea seeks to give astronauts and space engineers the geological skills necessary for future expeditions to other planets.

Participants learn to identify rock samples, collect them, perform on-site DNA analysis on microorganisms, and communicate their findings to the mission control center.

“Here they can experience what it is like to explore a terrain, something they will have to do on the Moon ,” says Francesco Sauro, technical director of the course.