Science & Exploration


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ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / CAVES and Pangaea

Pangaea edition 2017 concentrated on Earth and planetary geology, interpreting orbital images, planetary protection, lunar geology and impact cratering. ESA personnel involved developing missions to the Moon participated. The course is primarily designed for astronauts and featured ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti taking part with Eurocom and ESA spacewalk instructor Hervé Stevenin, as well as members of ESA’s exploration strategy and future missions team. 

Pangaea prepares not only astronauts, but also mission developers to work with European planetary geology field scientists on operational concepts for exploration, operating rovers and the design of sample-return missions.

The team of astronauts, spacewalk experts, engineers and scientists used the course to tackle aspects of taking geological samples, discussing issues from operational field tools to mobility constraints, location, avoiding contamination of samples, support tools and documenting their work.

Apollo astronauts at Ries quarry
Apollo astronauts at Ries quarry

Three field trips were planned for this edition starting with a trip to the Ries impact crater, in western Bavaria, Germany, that was also visited by Apollo 14 astronauts in 1970.

After the last session of the course in Lanzarote, Spain, an extension campaign tested a series of technologies and protocols to increase awareness and prepare astronauts and operation engineers working in environments that resemble other planets.

During the course, ESA astronauts Matthias Maurer and Pedro Duque used their experience from previous Pangaea courses as well as ESA’s CAVES underground training course and NASA’s NEEMO underwater simulation missions.

Pangaea 2017 had three sessions:

European Astronaut Centre and Ries crater, Germany

  • Planetary Geology and Planetary Protection.
  • Impact Cratering: Field Trip to Ries Crater, Nördlingen.

Bletterbach, Italian Dolomites 

  • Sedimentary Geology of Earth and Mars.
  • Field Trip to Bletterbach Canyon.

Lanzarote, Spain

  • Astrobiology and Volcanoes.
  • Field Trips to various volcanic sites on Lanzarote.


The participants that took part in Pangaea 2017 were:

  • Samantha Cristoforetti, ESA astronaut and test pilot
  • Hervé Stevenin, ESA astronaut trainer
  • Matthias Maurer, ESA astronaut and scientist
  • Pedro Duque, ESA astronaut and engineer
  • William Carey, ESA robotics specialist
  • Shahrzad Hosseini, ESA's human spaceflight and robotic exploration strategy
Pangaea theory
Pangaea theory

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