Cinder Lake near Flagstaff helped train astronauts for moon missions

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (FOX 10) -- 50 years ago this week, man first set foot on the moon.

The world was watching as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history as part of the Apollo 11 mission, but before that day, a big part of their training happened in Northern Arizona, from the Lowell Observatory to the Grand Canyon, and Meteor Crater

NASA astronauts also landed at Cinder Lake, located near Flagstaff, before man made that one small step on the moon.

"A whole variety of terrain around Northern Arizona that they could also encounter on the moon, So this was a great place to train the astronauts," said Nadine Barlow, who works with NASA as an astronomer at Northern Arizona University.

Barlow said every Apollo astronaut, including Armstrong and Aldrin, first came to Cinder Lake for some down-to-earth training.

The Cinder Lake area is covered in cinder from a volcanic eruption, meaning it's made up of much of the same material from the landing spot for Apollo 11 on the moon. NASA set off explosions to make the craters in order to replicate the lunar surface, so astronauts could practice getting around. They also took crash courses in geology, learning how to spot the right rocks to bring back to earth.

"If we're going to send people to the moon, we should train them to do a little science while they are there," said Barlow.

Nowadays, Cinder Lake is mostly for campers and weekend warriors, with much of what NASA did in the area being swept away by time.

Some at the lake, however, don't believe humanity has been to the moon.

"I think it was just a way to put more money into NASA," said Michelle Lomeli.

Barlow insists that man did land on the moon on July 20, 1969, and she said astronauts will continue to come back to Arizona to prepare for future lunar landings, as well as a planned trip to Mars.

"We've got a current class of astronauts that will go back to the moon, even Mars, and they're actually doing a lot of the training in Northern Arizona, even today," said Barlow.

As an interesting fact, near the south pole of the Moon is the Shoemaker Crater, which is named after Eugene Shoemaker, a man who led much of the geological training for the astronauts in the Flagstaff area.