Posted by: jeanne | July 22, 2014

the exploration museum in husavik

yesterday we went to husavik, a little fishing town on the north coast of iceland. mainly these days it’s the center of the universe for whale watching, and being a nice day there were hundreds of tourists bundled up and waiting to go out in boats to look for whales. they have a system there, i’m told, so the whale watching usually brings good results.  in husavik are some nice restaurants, including the one we went to (solkuveitingar) that featured icelandic sushi (wonderful), some craft shops (kadlin hanvderksh, featuring all the things you can do with sheep bones, as well as other handicrafts and a cool knitted dickey sort of stole kind of turtleneck thing), a whale museum, and other things.  one of the interesting museums that nobody knows about is the exploration museum, but my guide knows the people there and dragged me in.  which was great, because it was all about the things i’m interested in.


being a fan of viking things, i was happy to see this guy standing in the entrance hall, dressed in as authentic gear as possible.  i had a good look at the cut of his clothes, as i do some clothing design myself and am always peeking under people’s hems and feeling the cloth.


i was particularly taken with his shoes, which can be made in your own home if you have the leather and the patience.


and his chain mail was also fantastic.  very heavy, i had to heft it.


further inside, there was a large room featuring early explorers, with portraits of the icelandic men of myth and saga.  sorry but i didn’t get any photos of them.  but i was entranced by the polar explorer section.  the photo above is of an old sextant, which is how they navigated in the age of instruments.  the settlers and viking explorers used icelandic spar, a calcite that is clear thru, and which will reveal the position of the sun thru the clouds by the reflections inside it.  but this museum didn’t go there, and instead showed quite a lot of the equipment that was used by the guys who went to both poles, early in the 20th century.


there were several old maps of iceland, including one drawn by mercator himself.  this wasn’t one of them, and the interesting thing about this map, which i never figured out, is that the northern part is outlined in red.  iceland was never divided into different countries, as ireland was, so this doesn’t mean the land beyond the pale, or anything like that.  i might never find out, but when you go, be sure and ask if they know.


i took this photo of a photo of an arctic explorer because i thought it was a native arctic guy dressed in their usual summer clothes.  turns out he was robert peary, and his claim to fame was being the first guy to the north pole.


the next room was all about the exploration of space, or more correctly, preparation for the moon shots in the 60s.  apparently i missed a huge celebration the day before, which marked the 45th anniversary of the moon landing.  but this was better, because the crowds were gone.  i’m not sure whose suit fills up the corner of the room when you first enter it, but it’s a real suit just like they wore on the first moon landing, which we got out of bed to watch on the tv in the living room, way back in 1969.  i wanted to see if i could fit into it, but there wasn’t time, and plus the folks who run the place probably wouldn’t have been amused.


here are some scale models of various vehicles used to get to the scale model of the moon.


there were a lot of photos commemorating the whole process.  the one above shows what i believe to be a wind tunnel test of a rocket design.  it’s a really cool picture.


the really interesting thing about this exhibit, and something i’m sure they don’t show in canaveral, is the fact that the astronauts trained in iceland.  they came up here to see what the surface of the moon might be like, to look at lava flows, to learn about a planet with no plants to hide its surface, and just wind and water to change it.  there was also a photo of the moon from the space capsule, but i couldn’t get a good shot of it.  it looked just like the surface of iceland’s highlands, with craters and erosion.  the only difference was that you could see the curve of the moon in the photo, and you can’t do that standing around on iceland’s surface.

the guys in the shot above – all guys, of course – are the astronauts, their icelandic guides, some of which are quite famous, and i think the icelandic president, who is much shorter and rounder than the tall thin astronauts.  must have been a job requirement back then.  not just male, but long and thin as well.


here’s another shot.  if you know what neil armstrong looked like back then, you can pick him out.  there are other famous faces in there, but i forget after 45 years.  you can’t tell the scale, but they have climbed way up some mountain and are studying the features of lava flows and glacial carving.  it must be summer, because they’re so lightly dressed.


outside the museum, let me digress for a moment, was one of the vehicles they must have used to crawl around in the back country with.  it’s a snowmobile, sort of.  the date on it says 1962, and it has tank treads on it and round portholes.  quite fanciful looking, but since you need a four-wheeler to go up there, on roads made of volcanic soil which slip and slide and swallow things whole, it looks like the perfect conveyance.


back inside they had more photos, and the ones that captured my attention were the patches and crew photos of the various missions to the moon.  i so remember these from my childhood.


these are things you won’t find outside of the various mission control tours back in the states, and it was really fun to go thru.  upstairs they had a movie of how the moon was made, and i sat for a bit watching it and couldn’t take a picture.  there were several screens showing various movie clips thruout the building, and probably several things i didn’t notice, because i was drawn to the moon things first, and the antarctic things second, and while i fell in love with the viking guy, i hardly glanced at various viking artifacts and displays.  for a small museum it had a lot of things to see.  i probably should have asked questions and gotten a knowledgeable guide to show me around, but there wasn’t time.  however, the things i saw stuck with me for the rest of the day.

there is probably a way to go up to the area the astronauts visited and walked around.  they might even have put on their suits and tried moving around on the lava.

all in all, well worth the visit.









  1. Thank you for visiting our museum and thank you for the kind words.


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