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Bridging Earth and Moon: Askja’s Geological Classroom for Apollo Astronauts

In the summers of 1965 and 1967, a curious endeavor unfolded on Iceland’s rugged terrain—an audacious attempt to train Apollo astronauts for lunar exploration. These two immersive field trips, held against the dramatic backdrop of Askja volcano, redefined the astronauts’ connection with geology, paving the way for their iconic lunar missions.

At first, NASA’s efforts to teach the astronauts geology in classrooms left astronauts snoozing. To awaken their scientific curiosity, NASA orchestrated a grand experiment: sending 32 astronauts to Askja, where they would grapple with geological complexities firsthand.

The goal was clear: familiarize the astronauts with geological jargon, equipping them to pinpoint optimal rock samples within tight lunar timeframes. The vast expanses of the Moon, their destination, held geological treasures they needed to decode quickly. Askja’s remarkable terrain, reminiscent of lunar landscapes, became their training ground. This unique approach transformed their relationship with geology, igniting an unparalleled zeal for the subject.

A resounding success, the Askja expeditions kindled the astronauts’ passion for geological pursuits. They recalled those Icelandic days as the turning point of their lunar training. Many of these spacefarers would later describe their Askja experience as the most vital part of their scientific preparation for walking on the Moon.

Recent years have seen the Exploration Museum welcoming the very heroes of Apollo back to Askja’s embrace. In 2015, under a timeless Icelandic sky, these intrepid explorers found themselves traversing the fresh lava fields of Holuhraun, shaped by a 2014-15 eruption. Harrison Schmitt, a geologist astronaut and Moonwalker, marveled at the still-warm lava expanse, declaring, “I have walked on the Moon a second time.”

Today, Askja’s legacy reverberates—a poignant reminder of the audacious human quest to explore beyond our planet’s bounds. The lessons of lunar preparation learned amid Askja’s majestic vistas continue to resonate, casting Iceland’s volcanic terrain as a critical chapter in humanity’s journey beyond Earth’s shores.

Media contact: Orly Orlyson +354 848 7600