Astronauts: Fly me to the Moon – but fly me to Iceland first

19.07.2019

The vast and diverse landscape of the United States of America is not only the stuff an authentic Hollywood backdrop is made of. In parts, it also offers the essentials a training ground for missions of national and international gravity requires: a moonlike scenery with lots of rubble bearing geological secrets to be lifted, in preparation for lunar missions by NASA, for instance.

Yet, when it comes to „moonlike“, no place on earth is more suitable to simulate an extraterrestrial situation better than Iceland can thanks to its volcanic origin. In 1965 and 1967, two groups of Apollo astronauts accompanied by geologists travelled to the destination for geological studies in preparation for their journey to the Moon. Among the 1967-group was Neil Armstrong, whose Apollo-11-mission was the component vital for the US Space Race to be won over the USSR. It made John F. Kennedy’s challenge, pronounced in 1961, come true: to “land a man on the Moon, and return him safely to the Earth”, before the end of the decade. On the 20th of July, 1969 at 20:17 UTC, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and Neil Armstrong became the first human ever to leave his footprints on the powdery lunar surface.

„That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind“

Geological studies: analyse these rocks! The area used for astronaut training lies in the Dyngjufjöll Mountains, a volcano system in the central highlands scarred with fissures and dominated by the sunken crater Askja (the Icelandic expression for caldera). Askja was formed at the end of the Ice Age during a major eruption. Another massive eruption following in 1875 blew up a staggering 2.5 cubic kilometres of volcanic material. The ensuing depression filled with ground water and formed Lake Askja, at 200 metres Iceland's deepest lake. Photo ©Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson – www.artic-images.com

Geological studies: analyse these rocks!
The area used for astronaut training lies in the Dyngjufjöll Mountains, a volcano system in the central highlands scarred with fissures and dominated by the sunken crater Askja (the Icelandic expression for caldera). Askja was formed at the end of the Ice Age during a major eruption. Another massive eruption following in 1875 blew up a staggering 2.5 cubic kilometres of volcanic material. The ensuing depression filled with ground water and formed Lake Askja, at 200 metres Iceland’s deepest lake. Photo ©Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson – www.artic-images.com

Exceperts of a progress report  by Dr. Mark Helper, an US geologist who accompanied astronauts to Iceland: „We took one of our best field trips to Iceland. If you want to go to a place on earth that looks like the Moon, central Iceland should be high on your list, as it beautifully displays volcanic geology with virtually no vegetation cover.  Our field exercises on the rim of the Askja Caldera went very well. I spent most of my time  working with Dave Scott, Gene Cernan, and C. C. Williams. Scott and Cernan were especially adept at unraveling the sequence of geological events along the caldera rim.(Photos 28-31).  They knew quite a bit about the rocks.“ http://www.lpi.usra.edu/publications/books/moonTrip/iiAstronautGeologyTraining.pdf Photo by Sverrir Pálsson – The Exporation Museum

Excerpt from a progress report by Dr. Mark Helper, a US geologist who accompanied astronauts to Iceland in the 1960s:
„We took one of our best field trips to Iceland. If you want to go to a place on earth that looks like the Moon, central Iceland should be high on your list, as it beautifully displays volcanic geology with virtually no vegetation cover. Our field exercises on the rim of the Askja Caldera went very well. I spent most of my time working with Dave Scott, Gene Cernan, and C. C. Williams. Scott and Cernan were especially adept at unravelling the sequence of geological events along the caldera rim…They knew quite a bit about the rocks.“
http://www.lpi.usra.edu/publications/books/moonTrip/iiAstronautGeologyTraining.pdf
Photo ©Sverrir Pálsson – The Exploration Museum

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Astronaut Expedition in Iceland

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Astronaut Expedition in Iceland

Terrestrial „Moon“ revisited by Apollo astronauts

Five decades after the first field training took place in 1965, the Exploration Museum in Húsavík celebrated its 50th anniversary in July 2015 in the presence of Armstrong family and three former astronauts: Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17), Rusty Schweickart (Apollo 9) and Walter Cunningham (Apollo 7). They were joined by NASA astrogeologist Dr. Jim Rice. Neil Armstrong’s grandchildren unveiled a monument outside the museum, honouring the 32 astronauts who trained in Iceland in 1965 and 1967, seven of whom later walked on the Moon. www.explorationmuseum.com

The honourable guests visited the training area at Nautagil in the Northeastern highlands of Iceland and the Holuhraun lava flow. Their group was led by geophysicist and polar explorer Ari Trausti Guðmundsson and The Exploration Museum director Örlygur Hnefill Örlygsson.

The honourable guests visited the training area at Nautagil in the Northeastern highlands of Iceland and the Holuhraun lava flow. Their group was led by geophysicist and polar explorer Ari Trausti Guðmundsson and The Exploration Museum director Örlygur Hnefill Örlygsson. Photo courtesy of ©Exploration Museum.

©Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson – www.artic-images.com

Iceland’s moonlike surface. Photo ©Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson – www.artic-images.com

Astronaut experience MICE style

The Destination Management Company Nordic Visitor is a versed partner when it comes to organising events or incentives in Iceland. And they are blessed with a contagious sense of humour next to the talent of putting their cause into memorable phrases:

„Geologically speaking, Iceland is one of the world’s youngest countries. Sure, our adolescent terrain throws the occasional tantrum (in the form of a volcanic eruption ), but we’ve learned to love these growing pains: over 87 per cent of our buildings and pools are heated by low-cost geothermal energy.
Great things happen when groups visit Iceland. For example, the first humans to set foot on the moon set their feet here first. (And it took less than one orbit to fly here!) In the 1960s, Apollo 11 astronauts trained for their fateful mission in the lunar landscapes of Iceland’s volcanic highlands.
Only one per cent of Iceland is covered by forests, which means those astronauts didn’t have to worry about running into a tree while doing the moonwalk. Besides, trees would just obscure the magnificent views of the colourful mountains, mossy lava fields, vast glaciers and hot springs.
http://dmc.nordicvisitor.com/iceland/why-iceland

… but Iceland certainly serves for more than just acting as a lunar substitute.

http://www.islandsstofa.is/EN

Please also read our article http://goodmeetings.com/2014/04/iceland-an-adventurous-sheep-gathering-experience