Did You Know?
Iceland was chosen as the training ground for Apollo astronauts because it was the most “moonlike” surface.
The phrase “The area was used during training for the Apollo program to prepare astronauts for the lunar missions” is commonly used when trying to attract tourists to the Askja area on Iceland and similar desolated locations. You can see it all flashing before your eyes; heroic astronauts jumping around in bulky space suits, trying not to fall over in the moonlike landscape.
Well, it is a common misconception that the Apollo astronauts traveled to wastelands on earth to get used to the bleak hell of the barren moon. As someone said: “for that they could have stayed in Houston”. I’ve never been to Houston, so I cannot say…
However it had a more mundane explanation; they simply had to take geology lessons. The moon landings were foremost, at least in the beginning, about politics rooted in the cold war era. But in the end it was also about scientific exploration, and if there is one thing the moon has in abundance it is rocks and geology. The astronauts did not go there only for the view, they were expected to bring back samples of the moon, and preferably an interesting variation of specimens.
Two field trips were done to Iceland; one in 1965 and one in 1967. The GFT’s concentrated on the Askja caldera, where multiple volcanic eruptions had taken place over centuries. The astronauts had to learn to communicate by radio with geologists and report what they saw using “technical” terminology like for example “FSR” (“Football Sized Rock”) and describe the larger geological structures in front of them. Later their reports were scrutinized, with great amusement, by the scientists who would point out all the geology they had missed. No space suits were required for these lessons, that would not have been very practical.