Canada's North provides training opportunity for Canadian Astronauts

Un astronaute de la mission Apollo 15 utilise une pioche pour briser des fragments de roche lunaire.

An Apollo 15 astronaut uses a hammer to break chips off Moon rocks. Credit: NASA

Missions to Mars, the Moon or asteroids – all have been cited as possible future destinations for space exploration, but how can astronauts prepare today for the challenges of tomorrow?

By doing field work in remote or "desolate" environments on Earth, astronauts can train for the kind of rigours that will await them on planetary bodies.

During the Apollo missions one of the chief duties of the astronauts was the study of lunar geology. Lunar samples were selected and taken back to Earth. Likewise, astronauts today can take field expeditions to analogue locations such as the Arctic to study unique geological formations.

Clearwater Lake

Clearwater Lakes, Northern Quebec.

Clearwater Lakes, Northern Quebec. Image and map provided by Dr. Osinski.

From August 18 to September 3, 2014, Canadian Space Agency Astronaut David Saint-Jacques will participate in a training expedition in the Arctic to learn methods and techniques for conducting geological fieldwork that could be applied to future missions to the Moon or an asteroid. During the two-week excursion, Saint-Jacques will assist Dr. Gordon Osinski and his research team from Western University's Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX) in studying impact cratering processes that can be applied to sites beyond our planet by studying different islands located on the site.

The team will study the Western Clearwater Lake, one of a pair of annular impact crater lakes located in Northern Quebec, Canada. It is the first time since the 1970s that people will visit this area to study the impact crater geology.

While the geology structure of the eastern lake is mostly submerged, the western lake presents several areas of interest that have a variety of geologic features and impact related rocks accessible within the limited distances suitable for a rover mission. The team will spend the first eight days of the expedition on Kamiskutanikaw Island before moving to Lepage Island. This is where they will be joined by a team from the NASA Ames Research Center's Field Investigations to Enable Solar System Science and Exploration (FINESSE) project. A Canadian geobiologist, Darlene Lim, is the deputy principal investigator of the FINESSE team at Ames and the SETI Institute. On September 3rd, most team members will leave, but Dr. Osinski's students will stay on Atkinson Island for an additional 10 days to pursue their research.

Follow @Astro_DavidS and @westernuCPSX to keep up to date on the mission!

Devon Island

In the summers of 2012 and 2013, CSA Astronaut Jeremy Hansen joined Dr. Osinski on similar geology field expeditions to Victoria Island and to the Haughton impact crater on Devon Island. Located in Baffin Bay of Nunavut, Canada, Devon Island is an extremely remote and uninhabited island that features one of the world's best exposed and preserved impact craters on Earth. The team only had a minimum of supplies and support, dropped off by airplane and isolated from civilization as they relied upon each other to fulfill their mission objectives.

Throughout his expedition to Devon Island, Jeremy tweeted updates and pictures from the Arctic. We accumulated them in a Flickr photo set.

Devon Island is located in Nunavut, in Canada's High Arctic.

Devon Island is located in Nunavut, in Canada's High Arctic. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Haughton Crater, Devon Island, Nunavut. Photo: Dr. Gordon Osinski

Haughton Crater, Devon Island, Nunavut. (Credit: Dr. Gordon Osinski)

Jeremy Hansen sets out for geology field training on Devon Island

In this video, CSA Astronaut Jeremy Hansen explains why astronauts perform geology field training in remote areas and describes his expedition to Devon Island. Hansen was in this High Arctic region July 16-25, 2013, accompanying Western University's Dr. Osinski and his team from the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration as they studied an impact crater.