Arctic Crater Preps New Astronaut for Space

Canadian Astronaut Jeremy Hansen
Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen simulated tasks of a space mission underground. (Image credit: ESA-V.CROBU)

On the day NASA's New Horizons mission flew past Pluto, astronaut Jeremy Hansen was busy exploring a new world of his own.

He called Discovery News last week from a 28-kilometer (17-mile) wide crater that was only discovered in 2010 -- one that is high up in the Canadian Arctic, in a harsh spot that could be like the moon or Mars.

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While the air is breathable and help is only a plane ride away, the techniques Hansen and his team are using are supposed to prepare geologists (and astronauts) to move across the solar system. Leading the team was Gordon Osinski, a planetary geologist at the University of Western Ontario. [9 Coolest Mock Space Missions]

"He's looking at shatter cones, which are formations in rock that are formed under really high pressure. They're found in only two kinds of places on our planet: inside meteor craters and nuclear test sites," said Hansen, who is with the Canadian Space Agency.

In craters, they occur after a celestial visitor smashes into the ground at high speed and cause the ground to buckle and sometimes melt. Over thousands of years, craters on Earth get eroded by wind and rain. But on the moon, the only erosion comes from micrometeorites and the occasional big slam. Martian craters also get eroded, but the atmosphere is thinner and the dust different; this could change the erosion time.

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Could these shatter cones exist on other planets? Hansen says geologists don't know for sure, but they suspect they would (they are easier to spot up close). But just in case, Hansen is learning how to train his eyes to spot them.

Jeremy Hansen at the Tunnunik impact crater in the Arctic. (Image credit: Jeremy Hansen/Canadian Space Agency)

Going to the moon could happen after his career is finished, the 39-year-old astronaut acknowledges. But during his first spaceflight on the International Space Station, he will at least know how to spot and classify big craters from the air. And his training will go into the list of experiences that form the manuals for future generations of astronauts.

"I've seen how to do this on Earth, but in a spacesuit it will be different," he said. "Your mobility is significantly reduced, and on top of that, it's physically exhausting to move around in a spacesuit."

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Besides getting ready for space, Hansen has been doing other types of isolation training. In April, he and three other astronauts sealed themselves in the Johnson Space Center's Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) for a week to do a pretend mini-space station mission. While younger astronaut recruits did smaller simulations before, this was the first "high-fidelity" simulation to date, Hansen said. The other astronauts were Mike Hopkins (NASA), Jeanette Epps (NASA) and Satoshi Furukawa (Japan)

"Mike and Satoshi have both flown in space, so to spend time with them in that environment doing the things they did in space, I learned a ton with them," Hansen said.

This article was provided by Discovery News.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: