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New OPB Documentary Explores ‘Moon Country’ in Central Oregon, A Once Unique Training Ground for NASA Astronauts


This year, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first human-crewed moon landing. Before that historic event in 1969, nearly all of the Apollo astronauts trained to walk on the moon in Central Oregon.  

Next month, OPB will premiere a new, half-hour “Oregon Experience” documentary that offers a historical look into NASA’s work in Oregon lava fields, which had unique formations that were believed to resemble the lunar surface. 

Oregon’s Moon Country” premieres Monday, Dec. 16 at 9 p.m. on OPB TV. It will be available to watch online at the same time at opb.org/mooncountry

Before the first lunar landing, no one knew exactly what to expect on the moon’s surface. Central Oregon’s unique volcanic features were thought to be an ideal training ground. Astronauts visited Hole in the Ground, Fort Rock, the Newberry Volcano, and the McKenzie lava fields, among other geological landmarks.  

The field trips provided invaluable training. The Apollo astronauts practiced negotiating the jagged lava flows and studied the terrain. 

Locals promoted the area as “Moon Country,” and an international lunar geological conference drew scientists from all over the world. An increase in tourism helped establish new visitor centers, as well as astronomy observatories still in use today.  

After the Apollo missions successfully went to the moon, some of the lunar rocks came to Oregon universities for breakthrough research that helped shape our understanding of the solar system.  

OPB uncovers this history in “Oregon’s Moon Country,” and details the instrumental role this part of Oregon played in the historic moon landing. It features rarely seen film from the time period, historical images, NASA animation, and interviews with:  

  • Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, Apollo 17 astronaut and geologist
  • John Byrne, Oregon State University president,1984-1995 
  • Jack Higginbotham, director, Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium
  • David Warmflash, MD, astrobiologist and science writer
  • Finn J.D. John, Oregon State University instructor
  • Ingrid Ockert, NASA history fellow
  • Paul Reynolds, Bend mayor, 1964-65
  • Shan de Silva, professor of Geology and Geophysics, Oregon State University
  • Mary Devlin, former visitor information center attendant, Deschutes National Forest
  • Josef Dufek, Center for Volcanology, University of Oregon 

Oregon’s Moon Country” is written and produced by Kami Horton and edited by Bruce Barrow. For more information, visit opb.org/mooncountry.

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