In the 1970s, the agency sent astronauts to northeastern Ontario to prepare for their trips to the moon — and helped drive the region’s scientific aspirations
SUDBURY — In 1971, astronauts John Young and Charles Duke loaded up with equipment —backpacks, radios, cameras — and walked along rocky ledges, communicating their movements as if to a home base.
Later that year, they’d do the same thing nearly 385,000 kilometres away as astronauts on the Apollo 16 moon mission. On this day, though, they were in the Sudbury Basin, practising for the real thing.
“Once they did their traverse, we would go over what they saw,” remembers Don Phipps, a local geologist who helped facilitate the training. “One of the objects of this visit is that when they got on the moon, they could report back with some kind of knowledge of what they saw on the ground.”
The visit was the first of two that NASA took to Sudbury to prepare for the final two Apollo missions. Fifty years after the first astronauts landed on the moon, local experts say that these visits helped redefine the public’s understanding of the area’s geological history and spurred a dedication to scientific discovery in the region.
On December 7, 1972, David Pearson, a professor in the School of Environment at Laurentian University, stayed up past midnight with his students to record the launch of Apollo 17. Earlier that year, Pearson had joined astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison (Jack) Schmitt on a tour of the Sudbury Basin, a geological formation that resembles meteoric craters found on the moon and, like it, features breccia — “rock that consists of smashed up rock, rock with a lot of fragments,” Phipps explains.
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