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Training of Apollo Astronauts in Iceland

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Training of Apollo Astronauts in Iceland

Photo: NASA

Q: I have read with interest an (old) online article of yours on the training of Apollo astronauts in Iceland.

I will be traveling to Iceland with my family this July and as a great fan of the Apollo program would also like to visit the places where the astronauts trained.

I would be very grateful for any additional information you may have on the points below:

I have been unable to retrieve information on when exactly the 50th anniversary celebration of the training of the astronauts in Iceland, with the participation of a few Apollo astronauts and Neil Armstrong’s relatives, will take place.

Iceland Review just states that it will be ‘in the summer’. The Húsavík Museum of Exploration, which is organizing the event, does not seem to have a public email address and two email addresses of its director, which I found on the web, do not seem to be functioning, as I have received no answer from him.

There seems to be some confusion as to what kind of training actually took place in Iceland. While there is no doubt that two geology field trips took place in 1965 and 1967 in the Askja region (there are plenty of photos and NASA reports also provide the details), I cannot find any confirmation of training having taken place in the other places referred to on the web (notably in the Reykjanes peninsula in Krýsuvík and/or Keilir) or the Eldhraun field near Mývatn.

Furthermore, Icelandic sources repeatedly state that Aldrin also trained in Iceland, whereas there is no confirmation of this in the NASA reports (Armstrong took part in one of the geology trips, whereas Aldrin didn’t participate in any).

Indeed, Icelandic sources also state that the ‘Apollo 11’ astronauts (Armstrong and Aldrin) trained in Iceland before flying to the Moon, while available NASA reports do not seem to confirm this. Iceland Review also affirms that ‘amongst the 12 men that have set foot on the moon, nine trained here in the county, including Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.’

Is the training of the Apollo 11 crew in Iceland just an urban myth that developed from the fact that two teams of astronauts (one including Armstrong) underwent geology training in Iceland, or is there some truth in this?

And if so, are there any persons in Iceland (geologists, historians, journalists, guides, drivers…) you could refer me to that have knowledge about this matter and could confirm if and where the Apollo11 training took place?

Thank you in advance for any assistance you may provide. Even an answer stating that you cannot assist me would be much appreciated.

I look very much forward to visiting (for the second time) your beautiful country.

Kind regards,

Andrej, Slovenia

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A: The 50th anniversary celebrations are a weeklong affair, and currently underway.

Astronaut and former U.S. Senator Harrison Schmitt—who was on the crew of Apollo 17, the last of the American Apollo Moon missions—has spent the last few days traveling Iceland with representatives from the Húsavík Museum of Exploration.

Yesterday he was joined by astronauts Rusty Schweickart and Walter Cunningham of the Apollo 7 and 9 missions, respectively, their wives Nancy Ramsey and Dot Cunningham, as well as Neil Armstrong’s oldest son Eric “Rick” Armstrong, and his three children.

Today Neil Armstrong’s younger son, Mark Armstrong, joined the group, accompanied by his three children, along with Dr. James Rice of the NASA Mars Exploration Rover Mission.

On Wednesday, July 15, a ceremony will be held at the museum in Húsavík, where a monument to the Askja training camp will be unveiled. Guests will also get a chance to meet the astronauts and their families.

On Thursday, July 16, the group plans to visit Askja and Holuhraun in Vatnajökull National Park. While their trip is private, the park is open to everyone, and travelers in the area are more than welcome to to approach the group and meet the astronauts.

Regarding your other questions, it appears that yes, Buzz Aldrin’s Iceland visit is indeed an urban myth. We stand corrected there. Aldrin was meant to have been part of the 1965 field trip, but ended up not going. Therefore NASA documents predating the trip include him in itineraries, resulting in the development of this fiction.

The Apollo 11 team then never expressly trained together in Iceland, but the geology field trips in Iceland were, however, an integral part of preparing for the first moon-landing. The primary purpose of the landing was the collection of rock samples, and so the geology field trips were conducted in preparation of that.

As to the veracity of claims that astronauts trained on the Reykjanes peninsula, or near Mývatn, I have not been able get definite conformation. However, it appears that there is most likely some base in reality for such claims.

Örlygur Hnefill Örlygsson, of the Húsavík Exploration Museum, helped us answer your question, and I’m sure he would be more than willing to answer any others you might have.

You can find his number on Ja.is, the Icelandic online phone-book.

On the Facebook Page of the Exploration Museum, you can then keep up with the astronauts’ travels in Iceland.

ESOK