In the past, Apollo astronauts prepared for their trips to the Moon by studying Moon-like geology here on Earth. Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Jeremy Hansen will train for future international missions to the Moon or Mars as he joins an expedition next week to look for a new impact meteorite crater in the Arctic.
The Moon and Mars are covered with impact craters – the result of collisions with rocks and asteroids of varying sizes over time. Because there is little weathering on the Moon, the craters last millions and even billions of years. It is harder to find similar craters on the Earth as the ones created millions of years ago have long since weathered away and are hard to find.
Hansen will be joining a six-man expedition to the Arctic to look for an ancient crater on Victoria Island (also known as Kitlineq). University of Western Ontario planetary geologist Gordon “Oz” Osinski will lead his research team to the Canadian Arctic July 1-12. Osinski, who has 13 Arctic field expeditions to his credit, is the NSERC/MDA/CSA Industrial Research Chair in Planetary Geology and is the Acting Director of Western’s Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration.
CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen, a former Canadian Armed Forces fighter pilot, graduated from NASA Astronaut Candidate Training in 2011. This training included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in International Space Station systems, Extravehicular Activity (EVA), robotics, physiological training, T-38 flight training and water and wilderness survival training.
“This analogue mission is very much like what a real mission will be like. None of the team has ever been to this site and very little is known about this region of the Arctic,” explains Osinski. “That said, we’re hoping to find definitive evidence that this crater is the result of a meteorite impact event and we’re also looking for any signs of possible ‘life after death’ colonizing it in the form of hydrothermal systems and lake sediments.”
The research team will utilize Canadian-built RADARSAT-2 imaging to aid in the selection of a landing site for the Twin Otter aircraft and to identify potential sites of scientific interest. In addition to the standard tools of a geologist, such as a hammer and compass, Osinski, Hansen and the others will also use modern technologies including a LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging), which is provided by Toronto-based Optech Inc. and a 3D stereo camera imaging system, designed and developed by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. Space Missions of Brampton, Ont.
In an interview on CTV’s Canada AM Friday morning, Hansen described the expedition. “We’ll be going to Victoria Island for a ten-day expedition – we believe this may be an impact site – we have no idea. No one has studied it before. We’ll be flown into the Arctic in two Twin Otter aircraft, we’ll try to find a suitable place to land – they’ll drop us off and we’ll spend ten days exploring – to try and figure out if and when a meteorite hit the Earth and what it can tell us about the history of our planet. For me, I’ll be able to watch Dr. Oz, a master, unravel the puzzle for the first time.”
“The Moon, asteroids and Mars are time capsules for our solar system. We can learn a lot fro them. We don’t fully understand the cratering process. Dr. Oz has been studying these craters in the Earth – it’s a lot cheaper on Earth than on the Moon – to try and understand how these things formed – and what they can tell us about the history of the solar system.”
“I’ll be put into some rigorous circumstances – you’re disconnected from society – and some of the safety that provides – it is sort of like going to space. We’ll be in the Arctic, the airplanes are going to leave us and ideally, ten days later, they’ll return for us. We are on our own – that sort of expeditionary mentality is important for astronaut training. I’ll also do some field science which is an important part of getting ready to go to places like the Moon and asteroids.”
To follow along with the exploration, please visit the official mission blog.
Hansen will also be tweeting from Victoria Island. Follow him at http://twitter.com/astro_jeremy