NASA is about to open a 50-year-old sealed lunar sample from Apollo 17


In December 1972, Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan collected a sample of lunar soil from the Taurus-Littrow Valley on the Moon, before returning the material to Earth inside a vacuum-sealed cylinder. For the past 49 years, the sample has remained untouched, but scientists are now preparing to puncture the container and analyze its contents.

Late opening is part of the Next Generation Apollo Sample Analysis (ANGSA) program, which oversees the examination of Apollo-era moon samples. In this case, the researchers will use a newly developed device that has been dubbed the “Apollo Can Opener” to unwrap their precious lunar bounty.

Built by the European Space Agency (ESA), the craft was specially designed to puncture the vacuum-sealed container and capture any fragile gases that might be hiding there. At this point, it’s unclear to what extent these vapors have been preserved by the cylinder that has housed them for the past five decades, but researchers hope the sample may contain hydrogen, helium and other noble gases trapped in the lunar soil.

By examining the material, scientists hope to gain valuable information about the Moon’s geology, while learning about the successes and failures of Apollo 17’s sample container. This information will help in the development of future sampling tools to be used. on the Moon, Mars or potentially even further.

“Opening and analyzing these samples now, with technical advancements made since the Apollo era, can enable new scientific discoveries on the Moon. It can also inspire and inform a new generation of explorers,” explained francesca mcdonaldwho leads ESA’s collaboration with ANGSA.

“We are eager to know how well the vacuum vessel preserved the sample and the fragile gases,” she says, adding that “each gaseous component analyzed can help tell a different part of the origin story. and the evolution of volatiles on the Moon and in the early solar system.

The last manned mission to the Moon, Apollo 17 was also the first to include a professional geologist among its crew, in the form of lunar module pilot Harrison Schmitt. Five mice named Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum and Phooey were also present in the command module.

The Taurus-Littrow Valley was chosen as the landing site so that the astronauts could reach samples of lunar soil that predated the Mare Imbrium lava plain, which had been explored and analyzed by the Apollo 15 mission the previous year. . Now that NASA has a can opener capable of releasing this sample, Apollo 17 could finally be on the verge of completing its mission.

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