NASA Field Geology Training Prepares Artemis Mission Support Teams  

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Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)

A group of people stand on a incline with lava rocks.
A small team of participants in the Geology 101 field training gather on a large pile of rocks from a lava flow.
NASA/Robert Markowitz

NASA engineers, managers, and flight directors recently traded their cubicles and conference rooms for an ancient volcanic field in the northern Arizona desert to participate in a field geology course aimed at arming them with first-hand experience in what Artemis astronauts will do when they explore the Moon. 

The two-and-a-half-day exercise for Artemis mission support teams was a condensed version of the rigorous training astronauts receive to prepare for Artemis missions to the lunar South Pole region, but shares an important purpose.  

“We are building a common language and a common understanding of what it will be like to do field geology on the surface of the Moon,” said Cindy Evans, Artemis geology training lead at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “This is so the people who are building spacesuits, building tools, building software systems, the people who will be flight controllers, and the managers who direct and fund all of this, can all understand the interlocking parts of surface exploration.” 

We are building a common language and a common understanding of what it will be like to do field geology on the surface of the Moon.

Cindy Evans

Cindy Evans

Artemis Geology Training Lead at NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Small teams led by geology experts from NASA, the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey), and academia studied maps, built hypotheses about the geologic history of the area, and trekked for miles to test whether those hypotheses match reality. This field test required smashing rocks with hammers to study their mineral makeup, and carefully selecting a few to examine further after returning from the field in the same way Artemis astronauts will return samples from the Moon.  

Geology studies help uncover the rich physical history of an area. Each rock type represents a process and the order of layering of those rocks reveals a story that could unlock a planet’s secrets, offering clues for how it was formed and evolved over time.  

“The Moon doesn’t have an atmosphere or flowing water like we have here on Earth, and doesn’t have plate tectonics, which are processes that erase a lot of the evidence from the early Earth,” said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist in the Exploration Systems Development Mission directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The Moon still has that evidence, so we can go to the Moon and learn lessons about our home planet that we can’t learn here on the Earth.”  

Three people are on a hill made of lava rocks.
Artemis curation lead Juliane Gross, left, NASA flight controller Grant Harman, center, and imagery scientist Marco Lozano collect and examine samples during the Geology 101 field course.
NASA/Robert Markowitz

In the desert, as the mission support team members practiced the fundamental methods used by geologists to study an environment, they pieced together the story of the region. The planned walking paths, known as traverses, frequently changed based on what they were finding. Teams embraced the principle of “flexecution” – or flexible execution – a practice that could come into play as astronauts explore the lunar surface and report findings to a backroom of scientists supporting the mission in the Mission Control Center at Johnson, referred to as the science evaluation room.  

“The geologists will be the science evaluation room during Artemis missions, assimilating real-time mission data to understand the observations, tracking the samples, going back to the maps that they’ve built trying to understand how all those pieces fit together on a day-by-day and traverse-by-traverse basis,” said Evans. “When the astronauts return home with the samples and with their full observations, the scientists can hit the ground running to address key science questions.” 

With Artemis, NASA will study the history of the Moon and its relationship with Earth and build a blueprint for deeper space exploration. 

A woman holds a rock close to her face so she can get a better look.
NASA Flight Director Diane Dailey examines a rock at the Geology 101 field training for Artemis mission support teams in the northern Arizona desert.
NASA/Robert Markowitz

“What we’re doing now is laying the groundwork for long-term exploration at the Moon,” Bleacher said. “Laying that groundwork will then help us explore other destinations like Mars. The Moon is a part of everything that we understand here on the Earth. It’s also an anchor point to help us understand how to interpret everything else in the solar system.” 

NASA conducts field tests in locations on Earth that have lunar-like landscapes to test a variety of operations and procedures, as well as new technologies, before leaving Earth for Artemis missions on the Moon. In addition to this geology training to build a foundation for mission support teams, another team will conduct simulated moonwalks in the Arizona desert this spring with mockup spacesuits to test hardware and new capabilities, like a heads-up display using augmented reality, for future Artemis missions.  

Through Artemis, NASA will send astronauts – including the first woman, first person of color, and its first international partner astronaut – to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before prepare for human missions to Mars for the benefit of all.

Rachel Barry  
Johnson Space Center 


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