Thanks to decades of mining and logging, Sudbury, Ontario’s austere terrain is often likened to the surface of the moon. However, the similarities between the Sudbury moonscape and the moon itself are far more than skin deep when you consider the fact that this small Canadian city was one of the training sites for NASA’s Apollo moon missions.

Between 1971 and 1972, Sudbury hosted astronauts from the Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 moon missions as they used the Sudbury Basin to train to identify special geological formations on the moon. But why did NASA train in Sudbury specifically?

Contrary to the popular belief that it’s because the Sudbury moonscape is just as desolate as the moon, it’s actually because the geological features of the area are defined by a massive meteorite crash 1.85 billion years ago.

The third largest crater in the world, the Sudbury Basin stretches on for 130 kilometres and contains many unique rock formations and features that one would find on the moon, due to its own history of meteor and comet collisions.

It was the goal of the Sudbury Apollo astronauts to learn how to identify these specific formations like shatter cones and breccia as they surveyed the surface of the moon.

NASA Apollo Mission Sudbury ON Crew

Who Were the Sudbury Apollo Astronauts?

To this day many Sudbury residents in the geology community have vivid memories of meeting the Sudbury Apollo astronauts in the early 70s.

It was a very impressive experience to feel that you were rubbing shoulders with people who are going to the moon,” Laurentian University professor David Pearson told TVO. Not just going to the moon as an adventure, but extending our knowledge of the solar system.”

Pearson was one of many scientists and geology experts in Sudbury who helped the Apollo 17 team of Eugene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt, and Ronald Evans prepare for their journey from the Sudbury moonscape to the moon itself.

Their training involved touring across the Sudbury Basin by foot and by helicopter to identify rock features that were formed by impact events,” such as a meteor collision. Their geological training was particularly important, as Apollo 17 was slated to be the last of NASA’s missions to the moon. It was their responsibility to examine several high-priority sites, including two of the largest craters on the moon’s surface.

NASA Apollo Gene Cernan training in Sudbury

NASA’s Legacy in Sudbury

Prior to NASA’s visits in the early 70s, the Sudbury Basin’s status as an impact crater was actually a subject of geological debate. Many believed it was actually the result of volcanic activity rather than a meteorite collision.

However, the presence of the Sudbury Apollo astronauts helped legitimize the impact crater theory, especially once the Apollo 16 astronauts actually landed on the moon. In one famous clip, astronaut John Young can actually be heard comparing to the rock formations on the moon to the ones he saw during his training in Sudbury.

To this day, Sudbury remains a major center for geological research and education. It’s home to Science North and Dynamic Earth, two of the most popular interactive science museums in Northern Ontario. 

Special thanks to the staff at the Comfort Inn in Sudbury, ON for their suggestions.

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