In the mid-1970s, when scientists determined that the Mistastin crater in Labrador had moon-like features, the Apollo mission finally took off, and it was too late for astronauts to take advantage of the site. This is for training.
But now, as Artemis astronauts prepare for their next lunar mission, a Canadian expert says the remote crater could provide important insight into what awaits them. .
Gordon Osinski, professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Western University in London, Ont., said Mistastin was discovered as an impact crater in the mid-1970s.
Impact craters are created when an asteroid or meteorite hits Earth, melting and recrystallizing rock through shock waves. One of the unique things about Mistastin, he said, is that it’s formed from anorthosite — a brightly colored, highly reflective rock — that makes up much of the moon’s surface known as the lunar plateau.
“That also makes it one of the best training sites for Artemis astronauts,” Osinski said. “My dream is that every astronaut who walks on the moon in the next few years will visit this impact crater north of Labrador because of those attributes.”
A Canadian astronaut will join Artemis II, scheduled for May 2024. This will make Canada the second country to have an astronaut orbiting the moon. During the 10-day mission, the crew is expected to set the record for the furthest human travel beyond the dark side of the moon. Artemis III, currently set for 2025, is expected to return humans to the moon’s surface to explore the moon’s near-Antarctic region for the first time.
Mistastin, also known as Kamestastin, is located on the traditional hunting grounds of the Mushuau Innu. George Rich from the Innu Nation said they welcome scientists as long as they get the necessary permission to be on their traditional lands.
A Canadian Space Agency spokesman said no decisions have been made regarding astronaut training at this time.
“We are happy to assist with training and resume opportunities when the time comes,” Sarah Berjaoui said in an email.
Apollo astronauts trained at Arizona’s Meteor Crater, which is just over a kilometer wide, much smaller than the 28-kilometer wide Mistastin. Astronauts from the Apollo 16 and 17 missions in the early 1970s trained in Sudbury, Ont., because the place’s lack of greenery and wide rock formations made the crew feel like they were on the moon.
Cassandra Marion, science adviser at the Canadian Air and Space Museum in Ottawa, who has been to Mistastin crater six times, describes the place as “suffocatingly beautiful”. The crater lies on the tundra-taiga line and is accessible by cargo planes landing on either runway.
She says it’s quiet and its rocks are similar to those found on the lunar surface, but Mistastin is different in some respects, including having lots of blueberry bushes and a lake as part of it. remnants of the last Ice Age.
Osinski, who has been to the crater twice, says Mistastin could be used to train astronauts in field geology, teaching them how to record observations of an entirely new area.
“These things are obviously very important, because the astronauts won’t be the ones looking at the samples when they return to Earth,” he said.
“It will be the scientists, so making sure they capture all the observations that we need is very important.” Mistastin crater can be a training ground to select the best rocks to study and make notes for researchers, he said.
“Faced with dozens of potential samples, how do we choose the best ones to bring back to answer the questions scientists ask?”
In September 2021, Canadian astronaut Joshua Kutryk and NASA astronaut Matthew Dominick, members of the Artemis team, spent time training at the Mistastin crater, where they learned to identify possible rocks seen on the moon. Most of the rocks are accessible through cliff faces and exposed, and are millions of years old.
“I have discussed returning next September with a larger group that includes both Canadian and US astronauts,” Osinski said.
The popular theory is that the moon was formed from debris when a Mars-sized object crashed into Earth billions of years ago. He explains that the molten surface has cooled over time and lighter rocks called anorthosites rise to the top. Those rocks make up most of the moon’s surface and give the moon a shimmering white glow, but they’re rare on Earth. Marion said the area where Artemis hopes to land on the far side of the moon in the south pole is mostly made up of anorthosite.
For all but a select few, Mistastin is as close to the lunar landscape as possible.
The crater that was sculpted about 36 million years ago when an asteroid hit the Earth’s landscape is striking, says Osinski.
“You have a beautiful view of this impact crater. It’s definitely one of the most unique geological sites I’ve been to.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 22, 2023.