Saturday, June 27, 2009

Straight Dope

Posted By on Sat, Jun 27, 2009 at 2:00 PM

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In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond claims, "When NASA wanted to find some place on Earth resembling the surface of the Moon, so that our astronauts preparing for the first moon landing could practice in an environment similar to what they would encounter, NASA picked a formerly green area of Iceland that is now utterly barren." This struck me as wrong. Growing up, I heard the slag fields around Sudbury, Ontario, helped get the lunar astronauts accustomed to the moon's desolation. I've heard similar things about islands in the Canadian arctic and deserts in the American southwest. I can't see NASA hauling astronauts around the world just to look at places without trees. I wonder if the real explanation is that the astronauts had to take geology lessons. True?

— CAMERON BARR, EDMONTON

You nailed it, friend. Most astronaut field trips were about geology, not getting used to a bleak hell unfit for life. For that they could have stayed in Houston.

The astronauts trained at lots of sites in the U.S. and around the world, at least a couple of which humans had turned into wildernesses. According to Diamond, "Since human settlement began, most of [Iceland's] original trees and vegetation have been destroyed, and about half of the original soils have eroded into the ocean. As a result ... large areas ... that were green at the time that Vikings landed are now lifeless brown desert." Similarly, much of the area around Sudbury, Ontario, was a moonscape in the 1960s due to nickel smelting.

Continue reading Straight Dope

(Illustration by Slug Signorino)

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