Applauding Flagstaff’s Lunar Legacy

huge crater in cinder field - pin trees in background

Flagstaff Lunar Legacy Celebrates Flagstaff’s Role in Putting Humans on the Moon

I was flabbergasted to learn that every astronaut that walked on the moon trained here in my Flagstaff backyard. I knew about astronaut training at Meteor Crater, the Grand Canyon and in the cinder fields somewhere around Flagstaff, Arizona, but I never knew that NASA and the USGS trained every single one of the moonwalkers in this small mountain town. Moreover, I didn’t realize that they all used maps created by Flagstaff illustrators to find their way around the lunar surface.

So it turns out that Northern Arizona’s rocky canyons, distinctive craters and clear skies were perfect for mapping the lunar surface, testing moon buggies, simulating missions and training astronauts in geological fieldwork.

newspaper headline that reads "Men Walk on the Moon after Training in Flagstaff"

50th Anniversary of the First Lunar Landing

To celebrate Flagstaff’s part in putting humans on the moon, businesses, government agencies and attractions are coming together to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing. Local events for the Flagstaff Lunar Legacy celebration have been happening since last July and continue through the end of this year. The vast number of Flagstaff organizations involved in putting on the Flagstaff Lunar Legacy is symbolic of the 400K people who helped in the United States’ quest to go to the moon. “Many organizations are involved, and there is a lot of enthusiasm,” said Kevin Schindler, the historian at Lowell Observatory.

To plan and then actually put astronauts on the moon, NASA needed maps of the lunar surface and its craters. Lowell Observatory’s 24-inch Clark Refractor telescope was used as map illustrators worked side-by-side with scientists to draw charts used for the first Apollo mission to the moon. Lowell Observatory’s current exhibit entitled, Lowell’s Lunar Legacy, illustrates how researchers and astronauts worked together to ready for the initial moon launch.

Walk in the Footsteps of Apollo Astronauts

Walk in the footsteps of Apollo astronauts at the Cinder Lake Crater Field Astronaut Training Ground. USGS scientists from Flagstaff blasted the Cinder Lakes near Sunset Crater to create craters for field exercises. They simulated the moon’s surface by creating patterns that replicated 143 craters of the moon’s Sea of Tranquility. When I walked the historic site, I used Google maps set to satellite view on my smartphone to get an amazing sense of the place.

Directions: Take US Hwy 89 about two miles north of the Flagstaff Mall to Cinder Lake Landfill Road. Turn right and go almost two miles to a two-wheel dirt track just before the entrance of the landfill. Go right, drive about one mile to a gate and signage. Please respect the area by taking only pictures and leaving only footprints.

Unstoppable Stacey stands with husband Dan in front of volcanic lava field

Retrace the footsteps of Apollo astronauts at Sunset Crater

You can also retrace the footprints of Apollo astronauts at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument where on Friday, May 24 at 8 pm there will be an Astronaut Campfire Talk at Bonito Campground. The uneven Bonito Lava Flow replicated the lunar surface for moonwalk training and gear testing.

aerial view of massive meteor crater in Arizona landscape

Guided rim tours are included with admission at Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater, the best-preserved meteorite impact site on Earth is another spot where you can practice your moonwalk. Guided rim tours are included with admission. Apollo astronauts trained here for two days with local USGS planetary geologists before skyrocketing to the moon.  Talk about a “CRASH” course in geology. Learn more at https://meteorcrater.com

UNSTOPPABLE Stacey surprised by Moon Rover at USGS display

Moon Rover, the original Moon Buggy

Check out the prototype USGS Moon Rover Simulator at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center near Buffalo Park. The moon buggy, developed in Flagstaff to transport astronauts over the Cinder Lake Crater Field, is displayed with rare artifacts including Plaster of Paris hand imprints of Neil Armstrong and Frank Borman. Sign in for the self-guided tour that is open to the public during business hours in the lobby of the Shoemaker Building at 2255 North Gemini Road, Building 6.

NASA Portrait of young Charlie Duke
NASA photo - Public Domain

Moon-Walking Astronaut Charlie Duke to Speak in Flagstaff

Flagstaff Lunar Legacy events continue when on September 20, Apollo astronaut Charlie Duke will give the keynote presentation for the 2019 Flagstaff Festival of Science at NAU’s Ardrey Auditorium. The tenth and youngest person to ever walk on the moon, Charlie Duke practiced maneuvering the lunar rover prototype over rough volcanic terrain and in and out of the Cinder Lake Crater Field Astronaut Training Ground. “The suspension provided a lot smoother ride than we had on the Moon!” the Apollo 16 Lunar Module Pilot General said. “The practice rover on Earth was 800 to 900 pounds and a lot more stable. The one on the moon only weighed 80 pounds. The thing bounced around a lot.”

Duke also visited Meteor Crater and hiked the Grand Canyon as part of his astronaut training. As a tribute to Flagstaff and the support the astronauts received, he and Apollo 16 Commander John Young named a moon crater near their Lunar Highlands landing spot, “Flag Crater,” a name that remains today. “I found Flagstaff to be one of the most interesting places that we visited to study geology. I loved the people, the San Francisco Peaks and the beauty of the area,” he said.

Young woman holding candy apple in front of green wall and sign

Flagstaff Moon-Inspired Menu Items

Flagstaff eateries, breweries and cocktail lounges are taking part in the Flagstaff Lunar Legacy festivities by creating moon-inspired menu items. One of my favorites is the Dark and Light Side of the Moon, a candy apple covered in caramel, dark and white chocolate by Sweet Shoppe Candy Store. sweetshoppecandy.com

cocktail with blue ice ball on black background

Or splurge on the Earthrise Cocktail at Annex Cocktail Lounge that was inspired by the famous Earthrise picture taken during the Apollo 8 mission. annexcocktaillounge.com You must ask for the Giant Leap Sushi Roll at Karma Sushi as it is on their “Secret Menu.” karmaflagstaff.com

plaster of Paris cast of Neil Armstrong's and Frank Borman's hand prints

It is estimated that 600 million people witnessed the lunar landing, and I would love to hear from you about where you were when Neil A. Armstrong declared, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” Please share your memory below — I’d enjoy reading it!

Related Post: Eating Places in Flagstaff

4 thoughts on “Applauding Flagstaff’s Lunar Legacy”

    • Thanks for the kind words, Kevin. You were such a great resource for this article – I appreciate it very much. Can’t wait to learn more more about Flagstaff’ Lunar Legacy at upcoming events! #Flglunarlegacy

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