NASA opens tube of moon dust from the Apollo missions The recently opened Apollo moon sample. (NASA/James Blair/National Park Service)
NASA opens tube of moon dust from the Apollo missions
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NASA scientists recently opened a sample. It was a tube of rock and soil. It was collected on the moon during Apollo 17. The tube remained unopened for nearly 47 years. It is the first time NASA scientists have broken in to a fresh moon sample in over four decades. Researchers are using the lunar dirt. They are testing next-generation sampling tools. This is in preparation for the next time humans fly to the moon.

The sample tube holds about 15 ounces. Inside is lunar regolith, which is loose rocky material. If is from the moon's surface. Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt were Apollo 17 astronauts. They collected the material during the mission. It was in December of 1972. It was NASA's last crewed mission to the moon. 

The sample is called 73002. It was taken from a two-foot-long tube. The astronauts drove it into a landslide deposit in a feature called the Lara Crater. There is also a second sample. It is called 73001. It's scheduled to be opened in January

Both will be analyzed. This is part of the Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis initiative. It is known as the ANGSA.

"We are able to make measurements today that were just not possible during the years of the Apollo program," said Sarah Noble in a statement. She is an ANGSA program scientist. 

"The analysis of these samples will maximize the science return from Apollo, as well as enable a new generation of scientists and curators to refine their techniques. And help prepare future explorers for lunar missions anticipated in the 2020s and beyond."

Sample 73002 has been sealed since it was collected. But it was not in vacuum conditions. Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, created a high-resolution 3D image. It is of the dust and crushed rock that is within the tube. This was done before it was removed. 

The sample is being removed from the tube using special tools. They are inside an enclosure filled with ultra-pure nitrogen. The sample will then be divided into quarter-inch segments. It will be distributed to various research teams.

The second sample is 73001. It was collected in a special vacuum-sealed tube. The researchers hope they will be able to capture and analyze gases. These might be released from that sample when it is opened. That will happen early next year.

NASA announced that nine labs would receive bits of the samples last March. They will look at various properties. These properties include how volatile molecules are stored on the lunar surface. One example of these volatile molecules is water.

They will examine what organic materials are found on the moon. They will look at the effects of "space weathering." That is how the moon's environment shapes its geology. 

Other teams will use the samples to study the geologic history of the moon. They will examine the moon's timeline. They will look at meteorite impacts and how much volcanic activity there was on the moon in the past.

"By studying these precious lunar samples for the first time, a new generation of scientists will help advance our understanding of our lunar neighbor and prepare for the next era of exploration of the moon and beyond," says Thomas Zurbuchen. He is an associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. 

"This exploration will bring with it new and unique samples into the best labs right here on Earth."

Lisa Grossman works for Science News. She reports that NASA has about 842 pounds of moon rocks and dust. This also includes core samples. These were collected during the six Apollo moon landings. These happened between 1969 and 1972. 

50,000 samples of moon material have been studied since those missions. They have been studied at 500 labs. These labs are in 15 countries. Over 80 percent of the moon material has not been touched. Most of it is stored in a specially built lab in Houston.

Technology has improved over the last 50 years. Those samples have revolutionized our understanding of the moon. Grossman reported that researchers studying the samples have found hundreds of times more water in moon dust than previously recorded. That's just in the last decade. Geologists have also studied the samples. They have mapped how the moon's magnetic fields have changed over time. This clues them in on what was going on in the moon's interior.

"Getting samples from another part of the moon would revolutionize our understanding of the moon and of the solar system. Just like the Apollo samples did," Ryan Zeigler told Grossman. He works at Johnson Space Center. He is the Apollo sample curator.

The next lunar sample return is scheduled to happen soon as part of the Artemis program. It is a mission to land the first woman and next man on the moon. This is set to happen by 2024. But some critics believe that program's timeline is too optimistic. They think it may be impacted by politics down on Earth. 

NASA still has several hundred pounds of moon samples left from Apollo. These will be helpful. Scientists may need to focus on those for a little bit longer.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What do you think may be the most helpful thing scientists could learn by studying the moon dust?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (20)
  • 26trthor
    11/21/2019 - 10:38 a.m.

    I think it is cool that they are sampling the dirt.Too check out what kind of dirt it is .Maybe we have that same dirt on Earth.One question, why did they wait so long to open it?

  • 26bkvees
    11/21/2019 - 10:38 a.m.

    Moon dust could have proproties that could cure sicknesses. Like a proprity that could cure a cold, or the flu.

  • 26grkino
    11/21/2019 - 10:43 a.m.

    By if we can grow crops on the moon someone can survive. Someone can survive their then if the world ends they can go there or live their.I think thats what studying moon dust can do.

  • 26mlhans
    11/26/2019 - 10:39 a.m.

    I think that from these samples , we could figure out if how much water is on the moon. If there is water for crops on the moon we could experiment with the crops that we grow. Also we could see if we could live there. Also it could help us predict the conditions of the Moon when we travel to the moon again.

  • 26jdmoli
    11/26/2019 - 10:46 a.m.

    It will help us understand about the moon,and our universe in new ways.

  • 26ymberr
    11/26/2019 - 10:50 a.m.

    That's cool that NASA still has more samples from the Apollo.I think it would be fun to examine what organic materials are found on the moon.Technology has improved over the last 50 years. Those samples have revolutionized our understanding of the moon.

  • 26njsara
    12/03/2019 - 10:31 a.m.

    They will learn about the moon and other things about the moon.

  • 26drwhea
    12/03/2019 - 10:34 a.m.

    I think that the moon dust can do many of things that w dont even know about. If the moon dust is that capable of
    doing alot of things and maybe it can cure people with a rare disease or it could help alot of people if it can do what we think it can do even though alot of people have different thoughts on what it can do my point is i think it may help people with a rare desiase.

  • 26gmnels
    12/03/2019 - 10:38 a.m.

    I think it is very cool that they are sampling the dust It's pretty cool.

  • 26acanan
    12/03/2019 - 10:45 a.m.

    the most helpful thing would be, to estimate electrical properties from radar waves bouncing off the moon. And the dust can cure a sickness.

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