Peek Behind the Scenes: Real Astronaut Training

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In 2009, entrepreneur and hotelier Örlygur Hnefill Örlygsson found out that in 1965 and 1967, astronauts of the Apollo Program came near his small town of Húsavík in Northern Iceland to collect samples of volcanic rocks under the guidance of Icelandic and American geologists.

The environment was very similar to that of the Moon, with volcanic geology and a lack of vegetation, so the NASA explorers felt that Iceland was a perfect location for their field studies. Among the astronauts that visited were Bill Anders (crew member of Apollo 8, the first flight to and around the moon) and Neil Armstrong (the first man to walk on the moon).

Örlygsson and colleagues studied everything there was to find about the field training and the lunar mission and collected dozens of photographs, magazines and even tools used by the astronauts themselves. “The Exploration Museum” became a fact in 2011 and was formally opened in 2014 by the President of Iceland.

Since then, Örlygsson has led expeditions to various remote parts of Iceland with people such as Apollo astronauts Walter Cunningham, Rusty Schweikart and Harrison Schmitt. Even Bill Anders returned to revisit the locations he trained in back in the 1960s.

The Astronaut Monument

The monument that you can see outside of The Exploration Museum was unveiled in 2015 during a special ceremony led by grandchildren of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong. It features all 32 names of the Apollo astronauts that were sent to Iceland for the training mission.

Museum director Örlygsson designed the monument together with his father and added two steel globes on top of two basalt columns, to represent the Earth and the Moon.

Pushing the Boundaries

While the main exhibition of the museum is the “Memories from the Moon” section, featuring a space suit, information on the Apollo missions and showcasing many space-related artifacts, the museum is dedicated to the history of human exploration in general.

Humans have the common need to always push beyond physical and psychological limits in order to develop and to make progress for humankind, and so the museum also shares the stories of exploration from the Viking explorers and the people that participated in the race to the poles.

Behind The Scenes

What I loved about this museum is that there are many vintage photographs showing the astronauts at work, and during their time off in Iceland. Below, you can see Neil Armstrong doing some fishing in a nearly river, for example.

There are also a few personal items that were used during the research in Iceland, such as this lunchbox and cup, that really make the exhibition feel personal and relatable. It’s great to get this sneak peek behind the scenes of a mission that would change the world forever!

One of my most memorable trips was to the volcanically active and very remote region of central Askja, Iceland, in July 1967. Known for its volcanic craters called calderas, this region had a very rocky terrain with black volcanic sand, as well as a large lake and hot springs. It was a misty, surreal place unlike anything I’d ever seen in my travels. And because we were there during the summer it seemed like the sun never set.” -Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 Astronaut

Dreaming Big

The Exploration Museum has no entrance fee, but all donations go toward expanding the museum and are highly appreciated.

Örlygur is currently planning to build a full size replica of the Apollo Lunar Module. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first manned flight of a Lunar Module on Apollo 9 and the first landing of a Lunar Module on the moon on Apollo 11, the replica will be unveiled in 2019.

To support this dream, you can buy one of the incredible patches (see photo above) that have been custom made to commemorate the geological training in Askja of the Apollo Astronauts between 1965-1976.

You can read a full review of the museum, with more close-up details of the exhibition on The Travel Tester Blog.

Practical Information

The Exploration Museum

Héðinsbraut 3, 640 Húsavík

+354 863 6990

www.explorationmuseum.com

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The museum is open in June, July and August from 2PM to 6PM. In September, the museum is open from 12PM to 3PM. The rest of the year, the museum has irregular opening times, but you can always call for a opening.

Please note that the museum is closed on Saturdays and Sundays.

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