Astronauts brought back 380 kilograms (838 pounds) of lunar material over the six Apollo missions that landed on the Moon. A lot of those samples and rocks have been extensively analyzed to expand our understanding of our natural satellite. Some of those samples, however, have remained sealed, and now NASA has decided to open two.
The investigation is part of NASA’s Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA). The space agency will study these samples with techniques that weren’t available four decades ago when they were collected.
“We are able to make measurements today that were just not possible during the years of the Apollo program,” Dr Sarah Noble, ANGSA program scientist, said in a statement. “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.”
All the yet-to-be unsealed samples come from the last three lunar missions, namely Apollo 15, 16 and 17. The current ANGSA plan will focus on two samples from Apollo 17. One of the samples was closed but not vacuum sealed during collection (recently opened on November 5), while the other was vacuum sealed directly on the Moon and will be opened in early 2020.
“Opening these samples now will enable new scientific discoveries about the Moon and will allow a new generation of scientists to refine their techniques to better study future samples returned by Artemis astronauts,” added Francis McCubbin, NASA’s astromaterials curator at Johnson Space Center. “Our scientific technologies have vastly improved in the past 50 years and scientists have an opportunity to analyze these samples in ways not previously possible.”
NASA is planning an ambitious return to the Moon over the next decade. The Artemis Program will see several missions investigate our natural satellite like never before in preparation for a crewed landing some time after 2024.
Analyzing these samples is key to the Artemis Program. In these small collections of lunar soil (the regolith), there is a ton of information waiting to be revealed.