Western geologist assists astronaut on future missions

Western University planetary geologist Gordon ‘Oz’ Osinski and his research team will be joined by Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Jeremy Hansen in the Canadian Arctic to investigate a possible new meteorite impact crater which, in turn, will help prepare for future international missions to the Moon or Mars.

It was July of 1971 when Astronauts Charles Duke and John Young were preparing for their Apollo 16 mission to the Moon by carrying out field geology training in and around Sudbury. Why Sudbury? Because it’s the site of one of the world’s largest meteorite impact craters – the immense scar, boasting a diameter of approximately 200 kilometres, left by the collision of asteroid almost two billion years ago.

Looking at the Moon on a clear night, it’s plain to see that meteorite impact craters are the most common geological feature on Earth’s closest celestial neighbor. And by studying the craters in Sudbury, the Apollo 16 astronauts were actually preparing themselves for what they could expect on the Moon.

Fast forward more than half a century and the newest cadre of astronauts are studying planetary geology for the first time since the Apollo missions.

Among these off-world explorers is Hansen, a former Canadian Armed Forces fighter pilot who graduated from NASA Astronaut Candidate Training in 2011, schooling that 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.

Hansen’s next small step before his giant leap is receiving hands-on field geology training on Victoria Island (or Kitlineq), a remote part of the Canadian Arctic. Thanks to collaboration between the CSA and Western’s Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration, Hansen will join Osinski and his research team to investigate reports of a new suspected meteorite impact crater.

Osinski, who has 13 Arctic field expeditions to his credit, is the NSERC/MDA/CSA Industrial Research Chair in Planetary Geology at Western.

“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,” explained 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 MDA Space Missions of Brampton, Ont.

To follow along with the exploration, please visit the official mission blog.

Hansen will also be tweeting from Victoria Island.