Hawaii and the Apollo Astronauts

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Jim Lovell and Fred Haise on Geology Training in Hawaii, December, 1969. NASA
Jim Lovell and Fred Haise on Geology Training in Hawaii, December, 1969. NASA

Recently a story made the circuit telling of rare photos of the astronauts on geology field training, particularly in Hawaii. Despite some rather massive “never-before-seen” hyperbole by the press (they’ve been around for years); the story appears to have originated from Rob Kelso, executive director of the Pacific International Space Center. Kelso went on search for the photos to document Hawaii’s role in training the Apollo astronauts for the Moon.

In addition to photos of the geology trips, 16mm motion picture film was taken documenting Apollo crew geology training. An Apollo 13 trip to Hawaii is captured on one of these reels, available above. The Apollo 13 trip depicted in the footage is a December 17-20, 1969 trip involving Lovell, Haise, Young and Duke.

Phase I field training in geology for the Apollo astronauts covered varied terrain in an effort to educate moonwalkers in the basics of field geology in areas similar to what they would encounter on their missions. An excellent summary of these field trips from the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal documents the trips, starting in March of 1964.

Sites included the Grand Canyon, Big Bend-Marathon, Texas, Flagstaff, Arizona, Philmont Ranch in New Mexico, Newbury Crater Bend, Oregon, Valles Caldera, New Mexico, and Hawaii.

In June of 1965 a group containing future moonwalkers Aldrin, Armstrong, Bean, Conrad and Scott examined fresh, recent and ancient lava flows in Hawaii, including a trip to the summit of Muana Loa.

Trips were also made to the Nevada Test site, Meteor Crater, Arizona, Alaska, Iceland, and Mexico.

As crews were assigned to particular missions, further mission-specific training was conducted. In February of 1968 the Apollo 8 crew and their backups (and the Apollo 9 crew) trained at Big Bend, Texas. The timing of this training reveals at least some thought had been given to Apollo 8 (or 9) going all the way out to the Moon even before the summer discussions on Apollo 8’s lunar destination.

Apollo 11 trained in February of 1969 at Sierra Blanco, Texas. (Aldrin, Armstrong, Lovell, Haise).

For a great short synopsis (and a few good story tidbits) on Apollo geology training, seek out Moon Trip by Elbert King from the Lunar/Planetary Institute. Chapter II focuses on Astronaut Geology Training.

To A Rocky Moon by Don E. Wilhelms is also an excellent account of geology on Apollo, and is available online from the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

Spacecraft Films has provided a copy of the 16mm footage of the Apollo 13 Hawaii Geology trip to the Pacific International Space Center for their use. The footage is available on our Apollo 13 DVD set. Reels of astronauts undertaking geology training are also available on our Apollo 16 DVD set and our Apollo 17 DVD set.

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