Apollo 11: Flagstaff’s footprint in the lunar legacy

From Flagstaff to the Moon, Arizona played a key role in lunar landing

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Apollo 11 launched into our skies 50 years ago and headed to make history on the moon.

Before astronauts got there, they were training in our state and several Arizonans worked alongside them.

Jerry Schaber was one of them.

As anyone looks around his office, it’s clear his love for space is infinite. His walls are covered in the space and moon memorabilia he has collected over time.

"It was surreal. Like you were in another dimension," said Schaber. "You just can't believe that they were actually attempting this."

This Flagstaff native saw a side of Apollo 11 most others didn’t.

"My job was to add little cartoon cut outs and little dolls of Neil and Buzz Aldrin," he said. "I was hoping to keep track of where they were relative to each other."

Schaber was among many with jobs related to the mission.

This tiny Northern Arizona town, nestled along Route 66, was once a hub for space training.

"Every day the astronauts were coming into town," he said. "There was a newspaper article, another group, another group. It was really a pleasant place to live."

A pleasant place, because at the time, it was centered around the science of space travel.

Astrogeologist, Eugene Shoemaker, can be credited for that. Shoemaker planted the United States Geological Survey’s Flagstaff roots.

His wife, Carolyn Shoemaker, said Flagstaff just made sense.

"It had a meteor crater nearby. It had cinder cones. It had lots of lava," Shoemaker said. "All sorts of geologic things that astronauts should learn."

Back then, Shoemaker and Schaber worked alongside others at the USGS and prepared astronauts for the trips of a lifetime.

It was an exciting time for the city in the pines -- as they taught these test pilots about rocks on the moon.

Geologists even blew crater holes near Cinder Lake. Some of those craters still remain today.

Explosives used to create new 'craters' for the astronauts to train in. (Source: U.S. Geological Survey)
Explosives used to create new 'craters' for the astronauts to train in. (Source: U.S. Geological Survey)

Lowell Observatory’s, Kevin Schindler, explained the holes were used so astronauts could practice driving Grover the Rover.

Grover is a near-copy of the rover used to navigate the moon on later missions.

It’s experiences like this that astronauts enjoyed. The astronauts appreciated being hands-on.

"Few of them really liked to think about geology anyway," said Schaber. "They really liked being out in the field with us."

But Schaber’s favorite part comes from his proudest moment. He identified where a rock came from on the moon, after astronauts brought it back.

"This rock is the only rock on Apollo 11 that was returned by the crew that has ever had it's orientation," Schaber said. "I'm proud to say I did that. I worked really hard to do that."

This experience is one he's thrilled to have had the chance to live.

"I've always considered myself to be extremely fortunate," he said. "To be born at the right place at the right time."

Thanks to his hard work, he's fortunate enough to have a spot on the moon. The tallest hill on the moon landing site is named Schaber Hill.

He has a lunar legacy of his own.

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