When Sudbury, Ont., was a suitable substitute for the moon

NASA sent astronauts Charles Duke and John Young to Northern Ontario to study the terrain in 1971 in preparation for a moon landing.

U.S. astronauts travelled to northern Ontario to practice geology on rocks in the area

Sudbury landscape substitutes for the moon

51 years ago
Duration 1:45
Two American astronauts travel to the Ontario city in 1971 to practice their geology skills. 1:45

It was easier for a test pilot to learn the science of geology than for a scientist who studied rocks to learn to fly aircraft.

That's why NASA was training its astronauts in geology by sending them north to study the Sudbury Basin, which was "a classic example of an impact crater."

"Apollo astronauts have visited the Antarctic, Iceland, Mexico and the Arizona lava fields," said reporter Bob Evans, reporting for CBC on July 8, 1971.

By then, they were in Sudbury, Ont.

Learning the landscape

Astronaut Charles Duke, who was part of the Apollo 16 mission in 1972, was the 10th man to walk on the moon. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

The astronauts, Charles Duke and John Young, were part of the Apollo 16 mission.They later travelled to the moon in April 1972.

"Do you think you've been able to absorb enough of the science?" Evans asked Duke, who was wearing dark sunglasses and a tall cowboy hat.

Duke said the skills demanded of an astronaut had to be "a compromise." 

"We devote 30 per cent of our training time right now to science," said Duke. "It would be difficult for a scientist ... devoting more than two-thirds of his time to learn how to fly a vehicle."

As Duke was seen in a vest outfitted with a camera walking along some rock formations, Evans acknowledged that residents of the area "long ago grew tired of jokes about the local landscape looking like the mountains of the moon."  

The training effort also included some of the NASA scientists who would be in Houston during the Apollo 16 mission. (CBC News/CBC Archives)