NASA scientists have just opened a lunar sample that had remained sealed since it was collected from the Moon 50 years ago, a blog post from the space agency reveals.
The organization said it was opening the sample, one of the last unopened lunar samples from its Apollo missions, to prepare for its upcoming Artemis moon landings.
Reveal the story of the Moon
The lunar soil container is being opened at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston by the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division (ARES), which stores NASA’s collection of space samples. The work is being carried out by Apollo’s Next Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA) program, with help from its partners at the European Space Agency.
“Understanding the geological history and evolution of Moon samples at Apollo landing sites will help us prepare for the types of samples that could be encountered during Artemis,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the directorate of NASA science missions in Washington.
“Artemis aims to bring cold, sealed samples back near the lunar south pole,” Zurbuchen continued. “This is an exciting learning opportunity to understand the tools needed to collect and transport these samples, analyze them, and store them on Earth for future generations of scientists.”
“The Apollo Can Opener”
NASA kept many of the lunar samples collected by the Apollo missions unopened, knowing that science and technology would evolve, allowing future teams to have a better idea when they opened their containers.
The container that is being opened now contains the ANGSA 73001 sample in a sealed tube that has been carefully stored in a protective external vacuum tube and in a controlled atmosphere environment at Johnson Space Center. In December, we announced that the European Space Agency’s state-of-the-art “Apollo can opener” machine will be used to extract materials from the container. The team behind the sample analysis will puncture the vacuum seal and slowly collect all the gases inside through a week-long process. They will then remove the rocks and soil at some point later this spring.
In September of last year, NASA’s Perseverance rover collected his first rock carrot Of March. The US space agency hopes to return this sample, and others, to Earth sometime in the 2030s. Before that happens, NASA aims to return humans to the Moon, and the analysis samples from these Apollo containers will help guide these future missions, which will collect more samples for future generations of scientists to unseal.