Iceland: Gateway to the solar system
8 days November 2021
Register now at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will contact you later in the year with full tour details
Iceland has long been identified as boasting unique environments. Here you can walk and swim between tectonic plates, walk through lava tunnels, bath in geothermal waters, and experience the wild unforgiving landscapes of its interior. It is these unique environments which has attracted the space science community to use Iceland for many of its test sites for missions travelling to other planets.
Meet space expert, STEM communicator and author Niamh Shaw, and visit NASA test sites to meet the team conducting live experiments for the upcoming Mars missions, as Iceland shares similar mineralogy and terrain as the red planet. You will hear from the experts behind designing the technology for space exploration, as well as how technological developments can be used to harness our own planets energy for a more sustainable future. On top of this you will explore some of Icelands most iconic landscapes, including the tectonic plates at Silfra, Gulfoss waterfall, and Vatnajokull glacier as you traverse the country in specialist vehicles designed to tackle to hardest terrain.
Please note: There are elements of this tour that are based on current NASA plans. In the event of change we will contact you with the itinerary changes.
DAY 1: ARRIVE REYKJAVIK AND RELAX IN THE BLUE LAGOON
Arrive in Reykjavik
After check-in, you will visit the geothermal pools of the Blue Lagoon to unwind after your flight, before returning to your hotel to freshen up. You will then head to the Aurora Basecamp Observatory where you will be able to see the northern lights recreated indoors, as well as being surrounded by the iconic lava fields, one of the environments which recreate the harshness of other planets.
In the evening space expert, STEM communicator and authour Niam Shaw will give the first of two talks on our endeavours to establish life and bases on other planets.
DAY 2: SILFRA TECTONIC PLATES, FRIDHEIMAR GEOTHERMAL GREENHOUSE AND EVENING LECTURE
After breakfast you will embark on vehicles modified for the harsh terrain towards Þingvellir National Park, a registered UNESCO world heritage site accompanied by Niamh. Here, you will have the opportunity to see something which does not exist anywhere else, the opportunity to swim between the tectonic plates. Continuing inland, you will journey along a mountain road near Langjökull glacier, past the area where the NASA SAND-E Mars Rover was tested in 2019 due to its similarity to terrain on Mars. Nearby is the Gullfoss waterfall, where the majestic waterfall cascading in Hvítá glacial river is a good reminder of how much we rely on water for life on earth.
In the evening, you will see a working example of how technology and inspiration can be utilised to help humans shape their own environment in difficult conditions. At Friðheimar, sustainable geothermal power is used to maintain greenhouse climate throughout the year, allowing fruit and vegetables to survive even the severest Icelandic winter. You will be hosted at an evening event exclusively for New Scientist, enjoying an evening dinner and a second talk from Niamh.
DAY 3: KJOLUR MOUNTAIN ROAD AND KERLINGARFJOLL
Today you begin your journey towards the 2020 NASA test site. You will drive through the Kjölur mountain road, stopping at Kerlingarfjöll as the halfway point to your destination. This area is one of the most geologically dramatic visually due to its rock formations and colours, unique in Iceland. It is for these reasons that Iceland is so often used for space travel test sites, sharing many similar features to our nearest neighbour, Mars.
DAY 4: HVERAVELLIR GEOTHERMAL AREA AND MYVATN
Continuing along the Kjölur mountain road, you will stop at Hveravellir Nature Reserve, a popular geothermal hotspot with smoking fumaroles and bubbling water holes. Fenced in by glaciers mountains, craters, and lava fields- wherever you look the scenery is breath-taking. Spend the afternoon exploring the Mývatn area. Precipitation here is trapped by the porous volcanic bedrock and moves beneath the surface until it reappears in a series of springs which supply systems of rivers and lakes. You will overnight in Mývatn.
DAY 5: NASA SAND-E MARS ROVER TEST SITE VISIT
The NASA SAND_E Mars Rover is being tested approximately 3-4 hours’ drive from Mývatn in locations near Askja and Kverkfjöll. Once you have arrived, you will be able to see live tests being conducted which will determine experiments, logistics and hypotheses used in future Mars missions. NASA scientists will be on hand to explain the project, along with updates of the current Mars missions and the most recent findings.
DAY 6: VATNAJOKULL GLACIER AND ICELAND SPACE AGENCY
In 2019, Iceland Space Agency hosted the ISAGEVR1 Expedition to Grimsvötn volcano on top of the Vatnajökull glacier to field test the MS1 Mars Analog Spacesuit designed by the NASA/Johnson space centre. We will be working together with the agency to create a unique experience for you today on the glacier before you overnight at one of the closest towns.
DAY 7: HELLISHEIDI POWER PLANT AND REYKJAVIK
Today you will head back towards Reykjavik. A long day back through the rugged landscapes of Iceland, you will visit the Hellisheiði power plant, where geothermal energy provides nearly all the electricity for Reykjavik. The facility is also conducting research into the fight against climate change, sequestering carbon dioxide back into the volcanic basalt underground as a long term stable technique to reduce greenhouse gases on our own planet.
DAY 8: VOLCANIC LAVA TUBES AND BRIDGE BETWEEN CONTINENTS THEN DEPART REYKJAVIK
This morning you will enter Þríhnjúkagígur volcano, descending 120 meters to the bottom of the crater in an open cable lift. Further along you will explore Leiðarendi lava tube, used as a test site for technology to help explore subterranean environments on other planets.
In the afternoon, you will reach the bridge between the continents, spanning a gap in between the two tectonic plates, on your way to Keflavik airport and your evening flight home. This is a fitting reminder of the unique environments you have explored over the last week, and humans constant endeavour to explore, survive and thrive in them.