The Exploration Museum Iceland is an ode to the history of human exploration.
It’s located in the center of Húsavík in Northern Iceland, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Arctic Circle. Chances are you’re not just casually driving by and decide to visit, I’ll admit.
This museum was founded in 2011 by entrepreneur and hotelier Örlygur Hnefill Örlygsson and formally opened in 2014 by the President of Iceland. I had the chance to meet one of these important people during my trip (spoiler alert: it wasn’t the president) and learn more about the vision behind the museum and the importance of space exploration in Iceland.
Today, I’d love to take you behind the scenes of my visit and show you all the amazing things I discovered here!
EXPLORATION MUSEUM ICELAND
NASA Astronaut Training in Iceland
The story of the opening of the museum is a remarkable one: In 2009, Örlygur found out that in 1965 and 1967, the Astronauts of the Apollo Program came near his town of Húsavík, as part of their NASA training.
Apparently, Iceland has an environment very similar to that of the Moon, thanks to its volcanic geology and the lack of vegetation. And so the Apollo astronauts came here to study geology and practiced collecting samples under the guidance of Icelandic and American geologists. As you do.
The astronauts had already trained at the Grand Canyon, in Hawaii, Alaska, at the Meteor Crater in Arizona, and at other places around the US, but they felt that Iceland was the most moon-like of the field areas.
Among the astronauts in the 1967 group were Neil Armstrong and Bill Anders. Bill was on the crew of Apollo 8, the first flight to and around the Moon. Neil became, as we all know, the first man to walk on the Moon.
Expeditions in Iceland
Örlygur and colleagues started to study more about the connection between Iceland and space travel and went on collecting documentary materials about the famous NASA Astronauts’ trainings.
In the beginning it was mainly pictures of their journey to Iceland, but soon it also became magazines, tools used by the astronauts in Iceland, and the collection began to grow.
In 2015, Örlygur has led an expedition with Apollo astronauts Walter Cunningham, Rusty Schweikart and Harrison Schmitt, as well as the family of Neil Armstrong, to the new lava of Holuhraun, created by fissure eruptions in 2014 and 2015.
He also led a similar expedition with Apollo astronauts Bill Anders and Charlie Duke to a remote part of the central highlands of Iceland, where the astronauts were trained in geology in 1965 and 1967, before the Lunar missions.
“We took one of our best field trips to Iceland. If you want to go to a place on earth that looks like the Moon, central Iceland should be high on your list, as it beautifully displays volcanic geology with virtually no vegetation cover.”– Dr. Elbert A. King, Apollo Program Geologist
Main Exhibition Rooms
In the beginning, the museum would only be about the Moon and its exploration, but soon the team realized that the theme of the collection was more than just space exploration: it was about the common need of the human being to always push beyond physical and psychological limits in order to develop and to make progresses for the humankind.
In other times of human history, these boundaries have been other ones: the oceans, deserts, unknown territories, rivers, mountains, poles…. No matter what it was, people have been trying to go beyond them. And so the museum now also shares the other stories of exploration and shows the feats and accomplishments achieved by International & Iceland explorers of different times, towards different boundaries.
Today, there are a few different parts to the museum, focusing on:
- The International & Iceland History Timeline of Exploration
- The Iceland Vikings Explorers
- The Race to the Poles
- Moon Landing and Space Exploration
- The Volcanic Landscape of Iceland
Which one would you be most interested in?
Memories from the Moon
The highlight of this museum of Icelandic history and exploration is of course the section on the Apollo NASA Astronaut Training near Húsavík in 1965 and 1967.
Over 50 photographs from the field training are in the museums collection, as well as many other interesting items that have been collected over the years.
Of course, as a space geek, the astronaut suit drew my attention right away. But I also loved nosing around the little items that were carefully displayed on the walls and the showcases of this room. It was really well done and you could see the passion on the subject by the curators!
“One of my most memorable trips was to the volcanically active and very remote region of central Askja, Iceland, in July 1967. Known for its volcanic craters called calderas, this region had a very rocky terrain with black volcanic sand, as well as a large lake and hot springs. It was a misty, surreal place unlike anything I’d ever seen in my travels. And because we were there during the summer it seemed like the sun never set.”-Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 Astronaut
The vintage photographs were so beautiful. Here you see Neil Armstrong fishing, haha!
My dad’s newspaper collection on the Lunar Landing would fit right in here…
Under the displays, you can find a couple of footprints of the astronauts! Seems the museum definitely needs more space to display these properly! Please donate when you’re here!
“I spent around ten days exploring the volcanically active regions of Iceland, a place so stark and barren I felt as if I were already on the moon. We were there in the summertime, and it seemed like the sun never set. You could be out at 3 a.m. and see people strolling the city streets, the stores still open”
-Al Worden, Apollo 15 Astronaut
Just a casual video shoot with me talking about my own astronaut training. NASA has nothing on me!
1 day and 14 years later, I was born!
Rock Stars, Really.
An impression of what life on the moon would look like… would you go if you had the chance?
Some Secret Artifacts
Not everything that belongs to the museum’s collection is on display, simply because they are super-mega expensive. But luckily, we got a quick look at them:
Neil Armstrong’s Sailing Jumper
An Icelandic coin that went to the moon
The official Apollo 11 Mission Badge
A real moon rock! Tiny, but real!
“We went to Hawaii, to Iceland, great places to focus on volcanic rocks. The assumption was that on the Moon we would encounter tectonic formations principally, or remnants of volcanic and tectonic lava flows, that sort of thing. I was very tempted to sneak a piece of limestone up there with us on Apollo 11 and bring it back as a sample.”
– Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 Astronaut
The Astronaut Monument
On July 15, 2015, a monument was unveiled in front of The Exploration Museum by the grandchildren of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong (Kyle, Bryce, Lily, Oksana, Andrew, and Kali). On the monument, you can read the names of the 32 Apollo astronauts that were sent to Iceland for a NASA training program in geology for manned lunar missions in 1965 and 1967, seven of which later later walked on the Moon.
The monument has two steel globes on top of two basalt columns, representing the Earth and the Moon. Örlygur co-designed it with his father.
Örlygur has also announced that he’s planning to build a full size replica of the Apollo Lunar Module. This will be unveiled in 2019, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first manned flight of a Lunar Module on Apollo 9 and the first landing of a Lunar Module on the moon on Apollo 11.
While a museum visit is free, of course any donation you can give after your visit will help make the dream of completing the expansion of the museum and the building of the replica come true!
We bought this incredible patch to support the museum!
The Exploration Museum
Address: Héðinsbraut 3, 640 Húsavík
Telephone: +354 863 6990
Director: Örlygur Hnefill Örlygsson
Curator: Francesco Perini and Giuditta Gubbi
Opening Hours: June, July, August: 14.00 – 18.00 / September: 12.00 – 15.00 (rest of year call for opening)
Closed on Saturdays and Sundays!
Entrance Fee: Pay what you want to help expand the museum!
What are the best Hotels in Husavik Iceland?
I stayed in two different accommodations: a hostel and a hotel Husavik.
The hostel is perfect if you’re on a budget or with a group of people, and there are some nice astronaut references at the sign out front. The Husavik hotels are for those in need of a big more comfort and with a larger budget. Also here, there is a nice wink to the relation with space, as you’ll get an astronaut duvet cover! How cool!
Vallholtsvegur, 9, 640 Húsavík, Iceland
Húsavík Cape Hotel
Laugarbrekka 16, 640 Húsavík, Iceland
Where to Eat in Húsavík?
We had a lovely dinner at Gamli Baukur. a cosy restaurant that serves fresh local seafood and other local and international dishes with an amazing view over the harbour and the mountains across the bay. Can recommend it!
What to do in Husavik?
Besides the Exploration Museum, there are plenty more Husavik adventures to have!
Some other highlights of this town include the whale museum Husavik, which makes sense, because whale watching in Husavik is one of the biggest draws to this area for visitors!
For when I come back one day: Whale Watching Husavik
There are some great tours in Iceland on Get Your Guide. Check them out:
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