Just a few weeks after Neil Armstrong made that famous boot print on the moon, NASA astronauts Alan Shepard, Gene Cernan, Ed Mitchell, and Joe Engle took a trip to Idaho’s moon-like national monument to do a little exploring. All were highly educated men who had gone through rigorous training to become astronauts. Cernan had even been to the moon already, though he didn’t get to set foot there. He was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 10, which was a dress rehearsal swing around our natural satellite that did not include a landing.
Educated though the astronauts were, none of them were geologists. NASA wanted to give them a little hands-on training on rock gathering and how to identify various volcanic features. These atypical tourists only spent a day at Craters of the Moon, on August 22, 1969.
Shepard went on to command Apollo 14, becoming the fifth person to set foot on the moon. Ed Mitchell was stepper number six. Gene Cernan went to the moon a couple of times and spent more time there than anyone else. He was also the last man to walk on the moon when he commanded Apollo 17. Engle didn’t make it to the moon, but he did make it back to Craters of the Moon. He, Mitchell, and Cernan all came back to participate in the park’s 75th anniversary celebration in 1999. Alan Shepard had passed away from leukemia in 1998.
By the way, the lunar astronauts did bring back some rocks; 842 pounds of them all told. They’re pricey little bits. A federal judge set their value at $50,800 per gram based on what it cost the federal government to go get them. That came up in a case where someone was trying to make some unauthorized sales of moon rocks.