Western takes first steps toward the Moon

In February, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada is joining the international effort to explore the Moon with robots and, eventually, humans. In order to prepare for these future missions, a team comprised of Western faculty, postdoctoral scholars, graduate and undergraduate students is conducting an analogue Moon mission over the next two weeks.

Dubbed CanMoon, this simulated mission is using the island of Lanzarote, Spain, as a stand-in for the Moon. With its volcanic rocks and lack of vegetation, Lanzarote makes an excellent analogue for the dark mare patches on the Moon. Equipped with a series of cameras and instruments, the field team receives commands from Mission Control on Western’s campus.

The CanMoon mission is driven by a series of science questions, just like an actual lunar mission. Over the next two weeks, the Western team will seek to address a variety of science objectives, including sampling the most volatile-rich rocks and exploring for mantle xenoliths (pieces of the mantle brought to the surface through volcanic eruptions). In addition, a major reason to conduct analogue missions is to develop and test operational approaches for future missions.

Some of the things the CanMoon team is studying is the best approach to selecting samples with a robot and how the use of virtual reality can improve the mission control’s ability to visualize planetary surfaces.

“Analogue missions such as this are an incredibly important step in getting Canada to the Moon,” explained Gordon Osinski, Director of Western’s Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX). “These simulated missions allow us to not only test instrumentation and develop best practices for mission operations, but they also provide an incredible training experience for students, which means we’ll be ready for when we do go to the Moon.”

Funded by the Canadian Space Agency through its Lunar Exploration Analogue Deployment (LEAD) program, the CanMoon mission provides training to 40 undergraduate and graduate students, as well as more than a dozen faculty and other researchers.