In 1965 and 1967, two groups of American astronauts came to Iceland to prepare for their journey to a place no one else had gone: the moon. Here on Earth, Iceland is known for it’s otherworldly landscapes and geological formations that compare to the surface moon (Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar shot in Iceland, as well as many other sci-fi films!). So the Apollo astronauts came to study geology and practice collecting samples like they would on their mission. This July, fifty years after the astronauts and geologists visited Iceland for the first time, they will return to celebrate the anniversary.
Apollo geology training in Iceland (1967) from goIceland on Vimeo.
In total, nine Apollo astronauts came to Iceland to train for their voyage. On the 50th anniversary, three of them will return to Iceland: Walter Cunningham, who was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 7, Rusty Schweickart, the lunar module pilot for Apollo 9, and Harrison Schmitt, who on Apollo 17, became the last man to step on the moon. Neil Armstrong’s family, sons Rick and Mark, will also attend the celebrations in Iceland, which will be held from July 6 to July 20. The astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason, who flew on NASA’s STS-85 shuttle mission in 1996, will also attend. He was born in Iceland and lived there until the age of 7, making him the only Icelandic-born astronaut ever.
On July 15, a memorial for the Apollo astronaut training in Iceland will be unveiled, and on July 16, Rusty, Walter and the Armstrong family will go to Askja for a reunion field trip.
The trip is being organized by Örlýgur Hnefill Örlýgsson, who manages The Exploration Museum at Húsavík in North Eastern Iceland. The Exploration Museum dedicates itself to the history of human exploration, from Vikings to explorers in space. There, Harrison Schmitt will accept the inaugural Leifur Eriksson Exploration Award.
It’s been fifty years, but Iceland has not forgotten its part in that giant leap for mankind. Though everyone knows the Apollo astronauts were the first to land on the moon, remember that first they had to land in Iceland!