D: Yaël, have you heard this conspiracy? People say the moon landing was faked! Where do folks even get these ideas?
Y: Something as major as the moon landing can be hard to believe. I guess for some people, it’s easier to imagine that the astronauts never left Arizona.
D: Arizona? The Apollo 11 mission blasted off from Florida.
Y: Sure, but NASA was in Arizona, too. In 1967, two years before Neil Armstrong left his footprint in the lunar dust, engineers figured out a way to recreate the moon’s surface—on earth. That way, astronauts could get used to the terrain they would travel on.
D: That terrain is the Mare Tranquillitatis! That’s Latin for the Sea of Tranquility, and it’s the place on the moon where NASA landed Apollo 11. At that time, scientists could take detailed satellite photos of the moon, so it makes sense they would use that information to replicate the moon’s landscape.
Y: Replicate it they did, using plenty of dynamite! At Cinder Lake, a dozen miles north of Flagstaff, scientists found old lava fields. The old ash, they realized, would likely be similar to the surface of the moon. So the scientists blew over a hundred craters in the landscape, imitating the design and relative age of craters in the Sea of Tranquility. Astronauts tested equipment, mapped pathways, studied lunar geology, and steered rovers over the pockmarked ground.
D: I just looked up Cinder Lake on my GPS. The craters are still clearly visible, and it’s now a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts. How about a field trip out there, Yaël? One small step for man…