How Government Geologists Recreated the Moon in Flagstaff, Arizona

Simulated LM and equipment testing at Cinder Lake. (USGS photo P463, F11067199 Source: David Kring, LPI)

From July 1969 to December 1972 the astronauts of NASA’s Apollo missions explored the alien landscape of the lunar surface, flag-planting, kangaroo-hopping, shuffling, digging, and Grand Prix-roving across six sites on the Moon. In order to prepare for their off-world adventures though, they needed extensive practice here on Earth so they would be ready to execute the long lists of activities they were required to accomplish during their lunar EVAs. But where on the surface of our weather-eroded planet could they find the type of landscape that resembles the Moon’s rugged, dusty, and — most importantly — cratered terrain?

To the USGS, that sounded like a job for Arizona’s Cinder Lake Crater Fields, where the remains of an 882-year-old volcanic eruption had set the stage for making a very Moonlike training ground.

The Cinder Lake Crater Fields northeast of Flagstaff, AZ, near the famous San Francisco peaks and just south of the Sunset Crater volcano, were used for Apollo-era astronaut training because of its inherently lunar-like volcanic landscape. Except that the craters there were actually created by the USGS in 1967 by detonating explosives to simulate the specific lunar impact craters that the astronauts would encounter on the Moon itself.

USGS photo of crater detonation in Arizona (Source: David Kring, LPI)

Read the rest of my article on Universe Today, and learn even more about the Apollo-era testing in Arizona in this recent azcentral.com article.

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