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Before Moon Landing, Apollo Astronauts Learned Geology in Arizona

Today, astronaut candidates still train in and around Flagstaff, which is among many cities celebrating the 50th anniversary

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Undated photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center shows Apollo 15 astronauts Jim Irwin (L), and Dave Scott driving a prototype of a lunar rover in a volcanic cinder field east of Flagstaff, Ariz. VOA

Before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin knew they would be the first to walk on the moon, they took crash courses in geology at the Grand Canyon and a nearby impact crater that is the most well-preserved on Earth.

Northern Arizona has had deep ties to the Apollo missions: Every moon-walking astronaut trained here, and a crater on the moon was even named in honor of the city of Flagstaff.

“It’s a really interesting and unique part of our history, and it’s really cool to think that this relatively small town in northern Arizona played such a big role in the Apollo missions,” said Benjamin Carver, a public lands historian at Northern Arizona University.

Today, astronaut candidates still train in and around Flagstaff, which is among many cities celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing on July 20, 1969.

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Before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin knew they would be the first to walk on the moon. Pixabay

They walk in the same volcanic cinder fields where the U.S. Geological Survey intentionally blasted hundreds of craters from the ground to replicate the lunar surface, testing rovers and geology tools.

Scientists used early photos of the moon taken from orbit and re-created the Sea of Tranquility with “remarkable accuracy” before Apollo 11 landed there in 1969, the Geological Survey said.

Astronauts studied moon mapping at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff where Pluto was discovered and peered at their eventual destination through telescopes at various northern Arizona sites.

The region’s role in moon missions is credited to former Geological Survey scientist Gene Shoemaker, who moved the agency’s astrogeology branch to Flagstaff in 1963. It wasn’t long before Shoemaker guided Armstrong and Aldrin on hikes at Meteor Crater as he pushed to ensure NASA would include geology in lunar exploration.

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A story passed down by geologists at the crater says Aldrin ripped his spacesuit on jagged limestone rocks that are part of the aptly named “tear-pants formation,” forcing a redesign, head tour guide Jeff Beal said.

Armstrong and Aldrin also hiked the Grand Canyon. A historical photo shows Armstrong carrying a rock hammer, a hand lens and a backpack for rock samples.

Harrison “Jack” Schmitt was the only Apollo astronaut who didn’t train at the national park. The geologist left Flagstaff to become an astronaut, and while his comrades were learning geology, he was learning to be a pilot.

In another historical photo, Apollo astronauts Jim Irwin and David Scott ride around in Grover, a prototype of the lunar rover made in Flagstaff from spare parts and now on display at the Astrogeology Science Center.

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Northern Arizona has had deep ties to the Apollo missions: Every moon-walking astronaut trained here. Pixabay

The eventual lunar rover used in three Apollo missions famously got a broken fender on a 1972 mission to the moon. Astronauts cobbled together a quick fix that included a map produced by geologists in Flagstaff.

In yet another historical photo, Pete Conrad and Alan Bean stand in the volcanic cinder field bordered by ponderosa pine trees holding a tool carrier. Bean would later say: “I now love geology, thanks to these early experiences in Flagstaff,” local historian Kevin Schindler co-wrote in a book on space training in northern Arizona.

Lauren Edgar, a research geologist at the Astrogeology Science Center, is working with the 2017 class of astronaut candidates who will be in Flagstaff later this year for field training.

“It will be pretty inspiring for them. It’s inspiring for us being involved in this, but knowing you’re walking in the boot steps of these previous astronauts here in Flagstaff and, hopefully, some day on another body,” she said.

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Flagstaff is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing with tours, exhibits, talks and moon-themed food and art.

Charlie Duke, the youngest astronaut on the moon, is returning to Flagstaff in September as the keynote speaker at an annual science festival. He and Jason Young, who were on Apollo 17, named a moon crater “Flag Crater.”

Retired Flagstaff geologist Gerald Schaber plans to celebrate the lunar legacy wearing the same turquoise bolo tie that distinguished Shoemaker’s Arizona crew from others who worked on moon missions. Schaber was at Mission Control in Houston in 1969, monitoring black-and-white images while bent over a map trying to gauge the distance between Armstrong and Aldrin using cutouts of the men.

“I was just trying to do the best I could with the primitive tracking ability we had in those days,” he said from his home in Flagstaff where he has a signed photograph of a hill on the moon that Apollo 15 astronauts referred to “Schaber Hill.”

Of the three crater fields created in northern Arizona for astronaut training in the late 1960s, only one has a sign acknowledging its importance in the moon missions. Visitors can walk through gaps in a barbed-wire fence and feel their feet sink into the volcanic cinders, although not as deep as the astronauts’ feet on the moon.

The craters don’t come into view without being close up, some as darkened, shallow depressions and others as giant welts in the ground partially lost to the weather.

Arizona has approved a nomination to list several of the training sites on the National Register of Historic Places to better preserve them, but federal approval is still needed. (VOA)

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Christie’s Makes Largest Lunar Meteorites Available for Sale

Lunar meteorites arrived on Earth after having been blasted off the lunar surface

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Meteor shower is depicted in the above picture. Pixabay

Christies presents NWA 12691, a significant lunar rock, among the largest known in existence. Moon rock is among the rarest substances on Earth, with less than 650 kg. of lunar meteorites known to exist.

This example is the fifth largest piece of the Moon on Earth, larger than any returned by the Apollo programme. Valued in the region of �2 million, the specimen is available for immediate purchase via Christie’s Private Sales.

Lunar meteorites arrived on Earth after having been blasted off the lunar surface by the collision with an asteroid or comet. All of the Moon’s large craters were created by such impacts. This particular meteorite was part of a large meteorite shower straddling the Western Saharan, Algerian and Mauritanian borders, responsible for nearly half of all known lunar meteorites.

Approximately 30 different meteorites were collected, analysed, classified and assigned different NWA numbers in the belief they might be from different events and represent different lunar samples; but it has been determined that they all originate from the same lunar impact event as the current offering, NWA 12691, found in the Sahara Desert two years ago.

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All of the Moon’s large craters were created by having been blasted off the lunar surface by the collision with an asteroid or comet. Wikimedia Commons

James Hyslop, Christie’s Head of Science & Natural History: “I’ve been lucky enough to handle a few lunar meteorites at Christie’s over the years, but every time I see this specimen in the warehouse the sheer size of it bowls me over. Weighing over 13.5kg, it is so much larger than anything else that has ever been offered before. The experience of holding a piece of another world in your hands is something you never forget.”

Scientists identify Moon rocks by their specific textural, mineralogical, chemical and isotopic signatures. Many of the common minerals found on Earth are rare or absent on the Moon, while some lunar minerals are unknown on Earth. In addition, Moon rocks contain gases captured from the solar wind with isotope ratios very different from the same gases found on Earth.

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Christie’s will also offer for private sale a group of 13 aesthetic iron meteorites. Shaped by forces terrestrial and extra-terrestrial, this group of natural sculptures forms one of the most important collections of aesthetic iron meteorites in private hands. The collection, estimated in the region of �1.4 million, is available for immediate purchase via Christie’s Private Sales.

Unknown millennia ago – the exact date is lost to prehistory – an object weighing more than 26,000kg crashed into Earth. It originally formed 4.5 billion years ago from the core of a planetary- like body located between Mars and Jupiter, whose shattered remains are now part of the asteroid belt. An impact event ejected what was to become the Gibeon mass into interplanetary space before its descent to Earth, exploding in the atmosphere and raining down on what is now the Kalahari Desert. (IANS)

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Experience of Astronauts Who Return to Earth Amid Pandemic

Astronauts Returning to a Changed Earth Amid Pandemic

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Two U.S. astronauts say it’s hard to comprehend the changes on Earth that have occurred due to the coronavirus pandemic, as they prepare to return from the International Space Station. Pixabay

Two U.S. astronauts say it’s hard to comprehend the changes on Earth that have occurred due to the coronavirus pandemic, as they prepare to return from the International Space Station.

The astronauts, Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir, have been in space for more than half a year, having left Earth before anyone had ever heard of the coronavirus, let alone gotten sick or died.

Morgan said Friday from the space station that the crew has been trying to keep up with developments about the virus, but said, “It’s very hard to fathom” all that is going on.

Morgan, who is an Army emergency physician, said he feels a little guilty returning to Earth when the crisis is already underway.

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Meir said, “We can tell you that the Earth still looks just as stunning as always from up here, so it’s difficult to believe all the changes that have taken place since both of us have been up here.”

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U.S. astronaut Jessica Meir speaks, accompanied by Andrew Morgan and Chris Cassidy, during a news conference held by the American members of the International Space Station. VOA

“It is quite surreal for us to see this whole situation unfolding on the planet below,” she said.

Morgan said the pandemic has affected operations at NASA’s mission control, with the handover taking place “between shifts between two different rooms to minimize the contact.” He said NASA staff members are persevering through “their ingenuity and their professionalism” and said, “They’re going to return us to Earth safely, just like their predecessors did 50 years ago.”

Apollo 13 anniversary

The two U.S. astronauts, along with a Russian cosmonaut, Oleg Skripochka, will return to Earth on April 17, exactly 50 years after the U.S. Apollo 13 mission returned to Earth.

That mission faced a crisis when the spacecraft’s oxygen tank ruptured two days into the trip, aborting the astronauts’ mission to the moon.

“Once again, now there’s a crisis, and the crisis is on Earth,” Morgan said.

Meir said she is looking forward to seeing her family and friends again, even if just virtually. She said she expects to feel more isolated on Earth than in space.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected lives around the world. Pixabay

“We’re so busy with so many other amazing pursuits and we have this incredible vantage point of the Earth below, that we don’t really feel as much of that isolation,” Meir said.

Meir has been in space since September and Morgan since last July. They will return in a Soyuz capsule, landing in Kazakhstan.

The Americans will leave three astronauts who arrived at the space station Thursday — NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Russians Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

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The launch of a Russian Soyuz rocket carrying those astronauts was carried out under tight restrictions because of the coronavirus. Support workers wore masks and kept their distance from the crew to prevent the possibility of the virus being taken to the space station. The crew members, who routinely go into quarantine ahead of launch day, stayed in isolation longer than normal because of the virus.

Cassidy said Friday from the space station, “we knew as a crew we were going to be in quarantine about nine months ago or a year ago, those exact weeks, but we didn’t know the whole rest of the world was going to join us.”

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Following Thursday’s launch, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted his congratulations. “No virus is stronger than the human desire to explore,” he said.

The next astronauts who visit the space station will be launched by SpaceX from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, as early as next month. It will be the first launch of astronauts to the space station from the United States since NASA’s space shuttle program ended in 2011.  (VOA)

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NASA Selects Masten Space Systems To Deliver 8 Polaroids To Moon’s South Pole

Due to challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, NASA is leveraging virtual presence and communications tools to safely make progress on these important lunar exploration activities

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The payloads that will be delivered have been developed predominantly from the two recent NASA Provided Lunar Payloads (NPLP) and Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payloads (LSITP) solicitations. Pixabay

NASA has selected a California-based company called Masten Space Systems to deliver and operate eight payloads to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022, to help lay the foundation for human expeditions to the lunar surface beginning in 2024.

The payloads, which include nine instruments to assess the composition of the lunar surface, test precision landing technologies, and evaluate the radiation on the Moon, are being delivered under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative as part of the agency’s Artemis programme, the US space agency said on Wednesday.

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The $75.9 million award includes end-to-end services for delivery of the instruments, including payload integration, launch from Earth, landing on the Moon’s surface, and operation for at least 12 days. Masten Space Systems will land these payloads on the Moon with its XL-1 lander, NASA said.

“Commercial industry is critical to making our vision for lunar exploration a reality. The science and technology we are sending to the lunar surface ahead of our crewed missions will help us understand the lunar environment better than we ever have before,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

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NASA has selected a California-based company called Masten Space Systems to deliver and operate eight payloads to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022, to help lay the foundation for human expeditions to the lunar surface beginning in 2024. Pixabay

“These CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services ) deliveries are on the cutting edge of our work to do great science and support human exploration of the Moon. I’m happy to welcome another of our innovative companies to the group that is ready to start taking our payloads to the Moon as soon as possible,” Bridenstine said.

The payloads that will be delivered have been developed predominantly from the two recent NASA Provided Lunar Payloads (NPLP) and Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payloads (LSITP) solicitations.

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Due to challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, NASA is leveraging virtual presence and communications tools to safely make progress on these important lunar exploration activities, and to award this lunar surface delivery as it was scheduled prior to the pandemic. (IANS)