NASA opens tube of moon dust from the Apollo missions
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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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

  • 26amtess
    12/03/2019 - 10:59 a.m.

    I think the most helpful thing that scientists could learn would be if the moon could be suitable for life

  • Weston-E2
    12/03/2019 - 11:51 a.m.

    NASA opens and studies moon dust. This is the first time they have opened it in over 4 decades, and they are sending
    samples to other countries and they have about 842 pounds of moon dust. They are going to use this moon dust to improve missions to the moon in the future. I think that it is cool that they are testing how they can improve their missions.
    But I wonder how does that improve the missions. and I think they didn't open it for so long is because they didn't have the technology.

  • Alyssa-E2
    12/04/2019 - 11:38 a.m.

    NASA scientists open sample of rock and soil collected from the moon during Apollo 17.The tube had been unopened for nearly 47 years.The sample is called 73002, second sample said to be opened in January is called 73001. Both will be analyzed. This is part of the Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis initiative. It is known as the ANGSA.

    I really liked this article. It was interesting how they collect samples and study them in many different labs.

  • 26ehprin
    12/05/2019 - 10:38 a.m.

    I think that the more they study, the more they can learn from it. For example, scientists have found a bit of water in the dust. That might mean that there is some life on other planets besides Earth. They can learn this from studying.

  • 26jpquin
    12/05/2019 - 10:39 a.m.

    They will be able to see if aliens have ever landed or walked on the moon. They also might be able to see how cold or hot it is on the moon. If we didn't have a moon we would be seeing in the dark. What I mean by that is it would be pitch dark. So it somehow gives us some light.

  • 26nrcart
    12/05/2019 - 10:41 a.m.

    The most helpful thing to learn from dust is to see if there are any living things on the moon. It would be nice to know if there are any living things on the moon because we could see what can live without gravity. Or what it would eat. Or just learn cool things about it.

  • 26alcham
    12/05/2019 - 11:08 a.m.

    The most helpful thing that scientists could learn from studying moon dust would be helpful to scientists because,we could take samples and know what the moon is made out of. The dust might be able to be used for different things we don't have today. It could also know if the moon is safe.

  • Sarah-E2
    12/06/2019 - 10:57 a.m.

    NASA has just opened a tube full of rock and dust from the Apollo 17 mission. NASA scientists have been studying this sample that has not been opened for 47 years. They have found great research in this sample and are looking forward to studying the samples in the future mission to Mars. I think that this article is very interesting however i don't understand why they did not open it sooner. They could have studied more and they could have compared it with more recent research.

  • 26jrhaas
    12/10/2019 - 10:39 a.m.

    Maybe when they do research the rocks on the moon they could use them for special tools in the future.

  • 26cmcarl
    12/10/2019 - 10:39 a.m.

    They could learn what the moon is made of.They could search for organic life.They will understand the moon more.They could learn the different types of material on the moon. They could examine it to see if anything happened since being brought to earth.

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