This is why NASA took 50 years to start studying the last few pieces of Moon rocks collected by the Apollo mission
- The lunar samples were collected by astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt in December 1972.
- Juliane Gross, deputy Apollo curator, noted that the sample could help the scientists understand how landslides are caused on the Moon.
- “I doubt we'll wait another 50 years,” senior curator Ryan Zeigler said while commenting on when the last three lunar samples will be analysed.
AdvertisementThe Apollo mission (1968-72) to the Moon brought 2,196 rock samples to the Earth nearly 50 years ago, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States has just started opening one of the last pieces.
NASA had decided to keep some of these Moon rocks sealed in a vacuum tube for later in order to leverage scientific advancements. This is why it took them nearly 50 years to reach the last few pieces.
NASA knew "science and technology would evolve and allow scientists to study the material in new ways to address new questions in the future," Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement.
Dubbed 73001, the lunar samples were collected by astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt in December 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission that was the last programme.
Of the only two samples to have been vacuum sealed on the Moon, this is the first to be opened. NASA believes that the samples could contain gases or volatile substances like water, carbon dioxide and more.
The aim is to extract these gases — which may be present in really small quantities — and analyse them using spectrometry (method of studying a particular spectrum) techniques that have become extremely precise over the years.
Here is what has happened so far:
|Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt collect 2,196 lunar rock samples while on Apollo 17 mission
|Early February 2022
|NASA removes the outer protective tube of the collected sample. This did not reveal any lunar gases, indicating that the sample was sealed.
|February 23, 2022
|NASA scientists begin a week-long process to pierce the main tube and harvest the gas inside the sealed container.
|In the coming months
|Rock will be extracted, broken up and studied by different scientific teams.
Juliane Gross, deputy Apollo curator, noted that the sample could help the scientists understand how landslides are caused on the moon. “Now we don't have rain on the Moon… And so we don't quite understand how landslides happen on the Moon," she added.
“I doubt we'll wait another 50 years,” senior curator Ryan Zeigler said while commenting on when the last three lunar samples will be analysed. "Particularly once they get Artemis samples back, it might be nice to do a direct comparison in real time between whatever's coming back from Artemis, and with one of these remaining unopened core, sealed cores," he further added.
Artemis is NASA's next moon mission planned for 2025, under which the US space agency wants to once again send humans to the moon.
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