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Hungry for more stories on science, culture and technology?Check out Brain Food: Insights and Discoveries from Northern Arizona. From ground breaking scientific research to global music projects, Brain Food profiles some of the unique projects happening in the region and the interesting people behind them. While there are no new episodes of Brain Food, we will continue to maintain the archive here.

Brain Food: Manmade Craters and Northern Arizona’s Role in Space Exploration

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Scott Thybony
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About 30 miles northeast of Flagstaff in a remote area of high desert, is a set of manmade craters blasted into an ancient lava flow. They were put there 50 years ago as a training site for astronauts preparing to walk and drive on the moon. 

Kevin Schindler, a historian with Lowell Observatory, says the craters are a reminder of northern Arizona’s role in Apollo moon missions.

“It’s interesting because every astronaut who walked on the moon trained in northern Arizona. You know, we look at these craters and think, ‘Okay, that’s back from the era when we sent astronauts to the moon.’ Well, NASA is still preparing for such things and even in recent years, NASA astronauts have come out to this area and done testing, part of the Desert RATS program. So, this isn’t just looking back in history, this is also looking to our future and the legacy of science and the natural resources that northern Arizona has,” he says.

Flagstaff-based writer and KNAU commentator Scott Thybony has explored the region extensively. He says the geologic features present a perfect training ground.

“Well in the far distance, you have the San Francisco Peaks on the skylines of the south and on the mesa top here, very flat, this was a lava flow somewhere close to 300,000 years ago that flowed over the edge of this monocline, the edge of the fold in the surface of the earth. They must have liked this flat terrain here and also the volcanic rock which would be similar to what they might expect to find on the moon,” he says.

The area is still used for astronaut training and rover testing in the quest to advance space exploration.

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