Where In The World Do Astronauts Train?
In the 1960’s, American astronauts went all over the world to find space-like settings on Earth where they could study geology in a way that might translate to harvesting a wealth of knowledge on the moon.
From a document entitled “Field Training Schedule for the First Three Groups of Astronauts,” here are the places they traveled in the name of training.
Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA.
The purpose of the Grand Canyon visits was to observe fundamental geological concepts: layering, superposition, ages, structures.
The astronauts went down the Kaibab trail and up the Bright Angel Trail, in small groups with geologists.
Big Bend-Marathon, Texas, USA.
Another basic geology study for interpretation and mapping of well exposed structural and stratigraphic
relationships. Also included was an introduction to volcanic rocks along the Rio Grande River west of Big
Bend National Park. Radios were used to communicate between the cars thereby allowing discussion of the geology while on the move.
Flagstaff, Arizona, USA
Largely show and tell of volcanic features such as lava flows, maars, cinder cones, and spatter cones in the
vicinity of Sunset crater and the Bonita lava flow. Then there were fly-overs of the same features as well as Meteor crater to get the orbital perspective.
Philmont Ranch, New Mexico, USA.
This trip involved more complex geology that was more difficult to follow than in previous locations; more like typical geologic problems and probably more like lunar geology. It included both igneous and sedimentary rocks, orientation with geologic maps, measuring and describing stratigraphic sections, strike and dip measurements, and recording of field notes.
Phase II of Geology Training
Newbury Crater, Oregon, USA.
The major objective of this trip was to observe, analyze and discuss various volcanic features in the vicinity of Newbury Crater, a large (50×30 mile) shield volcano. This is a complex of nested craters with an extreme range of differentiated volcanic rocks, obsidian flows, pumice cones, cinder cones and tuff rings.
Valles Caldera, New Mexico, USA.
October and November, 1964
The primary objective of this trip was to view the typical characteristics of ash flow tuffs and another caldera, the 25×35 km Valles caldera in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico, whose history is somewhat different from that seen at Newbury Caldera.
Incomparable display of recent basaltic volcanic features. Fresh, recent, and ancient lava-flow surfaces
could be compared and related to possible lunar surface features. They took trips to several volcanic features including lava tree molds, gas and lava vents, spatter ramparts and cones, flank eruptions of aa and pahoehoe flows, fissure eruptions and
beach sands of eroded lava, lava tubes, lava lakes, lava blisters, the saddle area between Muana Loa and Muana Kea, Pele’s tears and hair, Halemaumau fire pit, and pit craters.
Nevada Test Site, USA.
First experience with non-volcanic craters to help prepare for the study of impact craters. This allowed a
view of craters that were produced by a force more similar to the impacts that were thought to produce
many of the lunar craters. In addition, the NTS is in a volcanic complex, the Timber Mountain Caldera,
thereby allowing for a study of volcanic features next to the nuclear craters.
Meteor Crater, Arizona, USA.
This was the first experience with the detailed rocks and structures of a real impact crater.
Phase III of Geology Training
Katmai, Alaska, USA.
June and July, 1965
Explosive eruptions in 1912 deposited silica-rich pumice and ash over a large area in the Valley of Ten
Thousand Smokes in an eruption of 1912. Therefore, there is well documented historic data on the
eruption. Furthermore, subsequent stream erosion has cut deep gorges through the deposits allowing study
and interpretation of details in vertical sections. The summit of Katmai collapsed by 1500 feet during the
eruption. Fumaroles and vents formed in the hot ash flows and evidence for these was studied. The
volcanic features are quite fresh and offer an excellent opportunity to view volcanic materials and
landforms in nearly pristine condition.
This was the first of several exercises that were meant to be the start of simulations of lunar missions. This was known as “playing the Moon game” in which astronauts were divided into pairs, placed in a field location with very little prior information about the area, and pretended that they were on the moon.
Beautiful volcanic geology with practically no vegetation cover. Features includes calderas, ash cones,
steaming volcanic vents, cinders, pumice, various types of lava flows. Probably the most moon-like of the
Medicine Lake, California, USA
Another round of the “Moon game” and some independent mapping.
Zuni Salt Lake, New Mexico, USA
Geophysical exercises were held at Zuni Salt Lake and the astronauts helped lay out the traverses and used geophysical instruments to gather data and interpret the results.
Volcanic area with explosive craters and subsidence along ring fractures.
Check out our Space on Earth series for more inspiration for spacey places on planet Earth!