Fifty years ago this month, a group of Apollo astronauts arrived in Iceland for a week of geology training. A second field trip was made in 1967. For two weeks in July 2015, astronauts from these groups have again spent time in Iceland, revisiting the same training areas and other natural phenomena found on the island, located in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean.
During this latest visit to Iceland, the astronauts also got the chance to explore the new lava flow at Holuhraun, the site of a volcanic eruption which began on 29 August 2014, lasted for some six months and produced a lava flow of more than 33 square miles, the largest in Iceland since 1783.
It was very special to be back in Iceland after all these years. Hard to believe; half a century has passed! It was a great reminder of the wonderful friendly people of Iceland, somewhat typified by the fact that our hosts had gotten hold of the very same old Mercedes bus that had carted us out to the remote geologic sites 50 years before… and employed it to do so again! Not only that, but the very capable and informative bus driver was the grandson of the bus driver we had 50 years ago. Now that’s not only interesting, but mindful!”
– Rusty Schweickart, Apollo 9 Astronaut
Harrison Schmitt who explored the lunar surface during the Apollo 17 mission arrived in Iceland on July 5 and a week later, Walter Cunningham of Apollo 7 and Rusty Schweickart of Apollo 9 arrived with their wives. They were joined by NASA astrogeologist Dr. Jim Rice and the family of the late lunar explorer Neil Armstrong.
“I have walked on the moon a second time,” Harrison Schmitt said, smiling to the group after walking on the new lava flow, still to be explored in detail.
The trip was organized by The Exploration Museum in the town of Húsavík, Northern Iceland. On July 15th, the grandchildren of Neil Armstrong, Kyle, Bryce, Lily, Oksana, Andrew, and Kali, unveiled a monument outside the museum, honoring the 32 astronauts that trained in Iceland in 1965 and 1967, seven of which later later walked on the Moon. Last week, during a visit to the training area at Nautagil in the Northeastern highlands of Iceland, Armstrong’s grandchildren also got the chance to play the Moon-game, a game developed by the geology instructors to get the competitive astronauts who usually look towards the skies, to look down at the surface geology.
The museum had previously been visited by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders and SkyLab and Space shuttle astronaut Owen Garriott.
The expedition to the Icelandic highlands and the Holuhraun lava flow was led by geophysicist and polar explorer Ari Trausti Guðmundsson and The Exploration Museum director Örlygur Hnefill Örlygsson.
Apollo astronaut training in Iceland 1965 & 1967
In this video: Neil Armstrong's grandchildren, Kyle, Bryce, Lily, Oksana, Andrew and Kali, unveil the Astronaut Monument in Húsavík on July 15, 2015. In all, 32 NASA astronauts were sent to Iceland in 1965 and 1967 to study geology as part of the Apollo program.
Photos by Völundur Jónsson, Helga Kvam, Gaukur Hjartarson and Hafþór Hreiðarsson.