It was one giant step for mankind, but not many people realize that Sudbury has some close ties to the moon.

This week marks 50 years since the historic Apollo 11 mission, when man first walked on the moon. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would later send Apollo 16 and 17 to the Greater Sudbury area to study the city’s rocks, in order to prepare them for the mission ahead.

Geologist Ruth Debicki was assigned to the Apollo 17 team to show them around Sudbury during their two and a half days in the city.

"On the first day they were here, they did a flyover, and Ron Evans, who was the commander, didn’t go to the moon, he stayed up in space in the command module. He actually only did the flyover because that’s where he would be looking at things. When we were on the ground the following day, we looked at features one might be able to see on the sidewalk here or walking along the surface of the moon," said Debicki.

The Sudbury woman is now retired, but has studied the rock patterns in the region for decades.

According to Debicki, they are the result of two crater impacts, the oldest being more than 1.8 billion-years-old.

The city’s role as host to the astronauts has given it the unique distinction of being one of the only cities to ever be mentioned by name on the moon.

"It looks like a Sudbury breccia, and that’s the truth. I can’t believe it," said Apollo 16 Astronaut John Young.

His comments were caught on tape as he was examining rocks with black markings on the lunar surface.

Sudbury’s contribution to the space exploration is a major topic of interest at Science North, where it continues to be studied in great detail. Olathe MacIntyre is a staff scientist there.

"I feel like I’m in a cosmologically significant place here in Sudbury. It’s fun for me. I wanted to go to the moon. I actually wanted to go on Mars,” said MacIntyre. "The fact that the only scientist, Harrison or Jack Schmidt, to go to the moon trained here in Sudbury, that’s really exciting."

The anniversary comes as NASA sets its sights on astronauts returning to the moon and even to exploring Mars by the 2030s.

Experts say if the next generation of spacefaring astronauts wants to be ready, Sudbury is a good place to start.