Space Exploration Research and Astronaut Training

two men standing on dark blueish lava rocks and looking into the distance to where a third man is pointing
Craters of the Moon provided essential field training for the Apollo 14 astronauts.

NASA Photo

For more than 50 years, Craters of the Moon has served as a NASA space exploration research site and an astronaut training site.

On August 22, 1969, Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, Joe Engle, and Eugene Cernan landed at the airport in Arco. They then proceeded to Craters of the Moon where they explored the lava landscape and learned the basics of volcanic geology in preparation for future trips to the moon.

The astronauts came to Craters of the Moon because they were pilots and not geologists. NASA felt that these were men who might someday be walking on the moon. They would also have the rare opportunity to collect samples of different rocks on the moon. Since only a limited amount of material (850 pounds total in six moon landings) could be brought back, it was important that they know enough geology to pick up the most scientifically valuable specimens.

Since much of the moon's surface is covered by volcanic materials, it was very important that they know something about the lava they would encounter. This was the reason that the astronauts visited such places as Hawai'i, Iceland, and Craters of the Moon. Visiting these places allowed the astronauts to become educated observers who could describe the surface features they were exploring to geologists back on Earth.

In 1999, Cernan, Engle, and Mitchell returned to Craters of the Moon to help celebrate the Monument's 75th Anniversary, 30 years after training here. They spoke about how beneficial their training here had been and how knowing about what was "in their own backyard" prepared them so well for their missions to the moon.

"...We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind.”

-Eugene Cernan, the last words spoken on the moon at the end of the Apollo 17 mission

Black and white photo of a gray rock about 23 centimeters in diameter with a centimeter scale next to it labeled "1432100"
One of the rock samples brought back from the moon by the Apollo 14 crew in 1971. This sample of lunar breccia measures about 23 cm in diameter and weighs 9 kg (19.8 lbs).

NASA Photo / Johnson Space Center, photograph S71-29184.

portrait of a man wearing a white spacesuit with the American flag and NASA emblem

NASA Photo

Alan Shepard was a naval aviator, a test pilot, and a flight instructor. Named as one of the nation's original seven Mercury astronauts in 1959, Shepard became the first American and second person in space on May 5, 1961. He was Chief of the Astronaut Office from November 1963 to August 1969. He was mission commander of the Apollo 14 crew and is one of only 12 Americans to step on the moon. During his moon walk, he hit two golf balls with a specially designed golf club that could be folded into his spacesuit. He passed away on July 21, 1998.

a man wearing a white spacesuit with several patches on it including the NASA emblem

NASA Photo

Edgar Mitchell was a Navy pilot and a Research Project Pilot. He was selected by NASA for astronaut training in April 1966. He had one spaceflight, aboard the Apollo 14 lunar landing mission as the lunar module pilot, and served as support and backup crew on several other missions. Mitchell's first assignments at NASA were as support crew for Apollo 9, the second manned Apollo flight, and as the backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 10. His sole spaceflight was as Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 14, the third lunar landing mission launched January 31, 1971. During this mission he became the 6th astronaut to walk on the Moon. He passed away on February 4, 2016.

portrait of a man in a white spacesuit with the American flag and NASA emblem in front of a photo of the moon's surface

NASA Photo

Eugene Cernan journeyed into space on three missions. He first flew on Gemini 9 where he distinguished himself as one of the first Americans to walk in space. He was on the three-man crew of Apollo 10 which flew around the moon and he piloted their lunar landing module over the moon's surface to scout a landing spot for Apollo 11. He served as the backup commander for Apollo 14. Cernan then commanded Apollo 17, setting down his lunar landing module on the moon. He was on the moon longer than any other American who has walked on the moon. He was also the last astronaut to walk on the moon. He passed away on January 16, 2017.

portrait of a man wearing a white spacesuit with several patches on it next to a model lunar rover

NASA Photo

Joe Engle was a jet pilot, test pilot for the X-15, and astronaut. He served as the backup command module pilot for Apollo 14. He trained for Apollo 17 as the lunar module pilot, but was replaced on the crew in the final months of training to provide the opportunity for NASA to place a scientist on the moon in its final Apollo mission. Engle went on to pioneer the US Space Shuttle program and served as commander of the second and 20th space shuttle flights.

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7 minutes, 20 seconds

Astronauts revisit Craters of the Moon and reminisce about their visit here prior to their lunar excursions.

scientists hiking on lava
NASA scientists conducting research at Craters of the Moon in preparation for future Mars missions.
Space science research is ongoing at Craters of the Moon. Learn more about current research efforts by watching Outside Science (Inside Parks): Space Walk at Craters of the Moon.

Last updated: February 14, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
1266 Craters Loop Road
P.O. Box 29

Arco, ID 83213


208 527-1300

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