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All About Apollo Mission Training in Iceland

Iceland’s terrain is quite varied. Most of its area is made up of plateaus covered by lava and volcanic tuff. The relative alignment of the top surface is diversified by numerous volcanic cones often under ice cover. This is why it is often called the Land of Fire and Ice. If you take a tour to Askja in Iceland, be sure that this will be a unique experience, as unique as a space trip!

A view on Askja with its unique terrain perfect for the Apollo mission training

In terms of geology, Iceland is the youngest area of the European continent. It is located on the seismically active Mid-Atlantic Ridge, it is one of the most volcanically active areas in the world. Iceland has over 200 volcanoes, 30 of which have erupted since the island was settled. Although volcano eruptions had destructive effects, they have always been a magnet to the millions of tourists coming to Iceland every year.

There are some of the regions of Iceland that are totally out of this world. Some even resemble the lunar surface. This is the case of Askja. We have already mentioned in our previous articles that the land of Askja is not like of this world. It has unique landscapes which you will not find in any other place. This is the reason why it was chosen for the Apollo training which prepared astronauts for the lunar landing.

This is a place where geology training took place, as well at the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Its surface pretty much resembled the moon’s surface just like Askja in Iceland.

What is the Apollo program? All about the NASA Apollo Program

Let’s start with a definition and find out what the Apollo program was. It was initiated before the first American astronaut was launched into space. NASA announced the program in July 1960. The Apollo program was the country’s greatest technological achievement to date. There were six successful missions in total.

The Apollo program consisted of 11 manned flights starting from Apollo 7 to Apollo 17. The main Apollo ship was made of a cone-shaped command module attached to the cylindrical service module. Astronauts were in the command module during the flight. The service module was equipped with an engine that was used to place the ship in orbit around the moon. Later it was allowed to leave this orbit and fly towards Earth. It was used for sporadic course corrections as well.

Landing on the moon required the construction of a lunar module designed only for this purpose. The lack of atmosphere meant that the lander did not have to be aerodynamic.

The Armstrong family took a significant place in the Apollo mission; we all know the name, Neil Armstrong. He, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were on the Apollo 11 mission. This is was the first time man walked on the moon.

Astronauts training in Iceland

Nautagil in Askja is where the Apollo mission training took place in Iceland

This did not happen without any previous preparation. That is why training had to take place for the Apollo missions.

The astronauts’ training took place not only in simulators or laboratories but also were carried out on the terrain. Northern Iceland had the perfect scenery for the Apollo training. Askja’s geology field was perfect for practicing walking on the moon, collecting rocks, and distinguishing between rocks and geological formations.

The craters and lava fields made it perfect field training for the Apollo astronauts. They practiced in suits and used the instruments they would use on the moon.  

Apart from the terrain training and the geology training they also had to train for emergency situations. They have been trained on how to survive in the desert or the jungle in case of an emergency landing and how to find food and shelter. They were also shown how to transform the parachute into protective clothing.

It has been over 50 years now since the Apollo geology field trip took place and the Apollo astronauts first trained in Iceland. The first group arrived in 1965 and the second arrived in 1967. Both geology trips were much appreciated by the Apollo astronauts who agreed that Iceland was the most moon-like field compared to all the other areas they trained in previously.

“The exposure of Apollo Astronauts to the geology of Iceland contributed greatly to the experience of Apollo astronauts as they prepared for lunar exploration and sampling. All the lunar landing crews benefited from examination of the varied rock assemblages found in glacial outwash channels that resemble the complexities of the lunar surface debris layer. Apollo 11,12, 15, and 17 explorations of lunar volcanic terrain also gained insights from exposure to the varieties of newly-formed volcanic rocks and structures found in Iceland.” – Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17 Astronaut

Astronaut's boots which they used for their training in Askja for the Apollo mission

For those who would like to explore the history of the training of the Apollo a bit more, they should definitely visit the Exploration Museum in Husavik. It was founded in 2011 and was officially opened in 2014 by the president of Iceland. Örlygur Hnefill Örlygsson decided to create the museum after he found out that the Apollo astronauts had training near Husavik in 1965 and 1967. He and his friend started to collect all the information about the training for space travel and its connection to Iceland. We can now enjoy it all year long from Monday to Friday.

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