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Interesting photo: Astro recalls preliminary work of Apollo 13

April 17, 2020

The USGS was involved very early in the Apollo program. NASA and the U.S. Geological survey were working together in the field training program for astronauts.

The founding father of Astrogeology, Gene Shoemaker said, "You don't need to go through the usual Geo. 1, Geo. 2 kinds of things. You can learn what you really need to learn in the field."

USGS Apollo 13 astronauts
Apollo 13 astronauts: Jim Lovell (left) and Fred Haise (right) talking with a geologist at Black Canyon Crater Field, February 1970, at Black Mesa in the Verde Valley near Cottonwood, about 60 miles southwest of Flagstaff. This was a 35 acre site in which 850 tons of TNT and 43 tons of ammonium nitrate were used to create 380 craters ranging in diameter from 6 to 82 feet and was first used for training by the Apollo 13 crew in March 1970.

It was clear that field observations were to be a major part of the geologically oriented training experience. Basic knowledge of geological principles, processes, structures, descriptive terms, rock types and a few other things, however, were necessary before those field experiences could be meaningful.

The USGS also developed some training capabilities starting with a man-made crater field that was produced between July and October of 1967 by explosive blasts in the Cinder Lake area, 7½ miles northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona. This was in a relatively flat area underlain by several layers of volcanic cinders. Forty-seven craters ranging from 5 to 43 feet in diameter were produced in a 500 feet by 500 feet area. The USGS produced a second crater field in the Cinder Lake area during 1968. This one was 1700 feet by 1700 feet and had more craters than the original one, some up to 100 feet in diameter. This area continued to be used extensively throughout the Apollo program. Another crater field was produced during February 1970 at Black Mesa in the Verde Valley near Cottonwood, about 60 miles southwest of Flagstaff. 

Learn more about Apollo 13!

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