Oregon’s Moon Country

Did you know that the NASA Apollo astronauts trained and sharpened their field geology skills in the 1960s in central Oregon?

This excellent 28-minute documentary by PBS called “Oregon’s Moon Country” describes how Oregon’s lava fields and craters were chosen as good training sites. The historical footage of the astronaut field trips in Oregon is combined with videos of their subsequent explorations on the Moon (videos from the Moon!!!) as well as interviews with astronauts, geologists, and other experts.

Apparently one astronaut, Jim Irwin, became good friends with Floyd Watson, who served as a local host in Bend, Oregon. Later, Floyd sent Jim a tiny sliver of Oregon lava and asked him to take it to the moon, and Jim Irwin did (!). (I find this story a little hard to believe.)

I look forward to the chance to visit some of these sites myself – including Fort Rock (a ring of tuff):

and Newberry National Volcanic Monument:


You can learn some more about the Newberry sights with this virtual tour. The area seems to be closed for the season, but it could be a great place to visit next spring!

1 Comment
1 of 1 people learned something from this entry.

  1. Scott Van Essen said,

    November 22, 2020 at 7:57 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    That is awesome. It made me think of my second favorite episode of From the Earth to the Moon, “Galileo was Right”. It’s about training astronauts to be geologists.

    After the excitement of getting anything back from the moon faded, scientists began to realize that astronauts were terrible geologists. They didn’t know how to choose the most interesting rocks to bring back or provide the context around the sample site.

    Harrison “Jack” Schmitt was (I believe) the first astronaut to come from a science background (Geology) and not a pilot background. He was the backup on Apollo 15 (eventually flew on 17) and brought in his old professor from Caltech to teach astronauts to both understand and love geology.

    Incidentally, I met Jack Schmitt back in 2001. He was a guest lecturer at Blastoff! and I went out to dinner with him and a few of my coworkers afterwards.

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