On your road trip to the Grand Canyon, stop by a Meteor Crater and Lowell Observatory which have played critical roles in NASA's space program.
When President John F. Kennedy announced on May 25, 1961, that the U.S. would put men on the moon by the end of the 1960s, no one had a detailed map of the moon.
To make maps, NASA turned to Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., which owned the Clark Telescope built in 1896. Working feverishly for 10 years, teams of scientists and airbrush artists used the telescope at the Flagstaff observatory to view the moon and hand-draw exquisitely detailed maps of its surface.
“Imagine going to a foreign country without a map,” says Kevin Schindler, Lowell Observatory’s historian. “These maps helped astronauts figure out where they were going to land.”
But the astronauts also needed practice driving lunar roving vehicles in a crater-pocked landscape and picking up rocks in confining space suits.
Meteor Crater, 37 miles east of Flagstaff, gave every Apollo astronaut a preview of what they might see on the moon. The crater, formed about 50,000 years ago when a fiery asteroid crashed into the Earth, going 26,000 miles per hour.
Today, you can visit Meteor Crater and Lowell Observatory. At Lowell, view the moon’s craters and Saturn’s rings through the 32-foot-long Clark Telescope. And peer through the legendary Pluto Telescope, which helped 24-year-old observatory assistant Clyde Tombaugh discover Pluto in 1930. The interactive Space Guard Academy exhibit also is popular, as is Junior Astronomer, a program that allows kids to fill out a packet on-site and receive a patch.
“Of all the planets, only Pluto was discovered in this country, so it’s a neat piece not only of scientific history but American history,” Schindler says.
For more information:
1400 W. Mars Hill Rd., Flagstaff, AZ
From Flagstaff, AZ: Head east on I-40 about 35 miles. Take the Meteor Crater Road exit (exit 233) and turn right. Drive about 5 miles and you will see the crater.
From Winslow, AZ: Head west on I-40 about 18 miles. Take the Meteor Crater Road exit (exit 233) and turn left. Drive about 5 miles and you will see the crater.