NASA uncorking Apollo Moon sample sealed since 1972


As far as Bordeaux is concerned, 1972 was a dismal year for the world famous wine. But Nasa is confident that the Taurus-Littrow Valley on the Moon did not experience the same wet growing season as Bordeaux, France did that year.

The US space agency getting ready to unclog a very special vessel, not wine, but a sample of moon rocks and regolith that remained sealed for 50 years after Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt scraped the material from the surface of the Moon in December 1972.

Nasa’s Apollo Next Generation sample analysis program will open the 3.81 centimeter by 35.56 centimeter sealed metal tube at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in hopes the sample can teach Nasa what tools and procedures will be needed to collect good lunar samples during the next Artemis program. NASA’s Artemis III mission, scheduled for 2025, will return humans to the moon for the first time since Apollo 17 to collect samples from the lunar south pole.

“Understanding the geological history and evolution of samples from the Moon 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 NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a statement.

The lunar samples were sealed twice, and the Nasa team began breaching the outer seal on February 11, carefully monitoring any gas that might have leaked from the inner seal, which would suggest the inner seal had failed.

No gas was detected, and on February 23, NASA began to break through the inner seal, a process likely to take several weeks, according to a NASA blog. Scientists hope to capture any volatile gases, such as water vapor and carbon dioxide, released by thawing the sample over the past five decades. Technologies such as mass spectroscopy have come a long way since the 1970s, and scientists hope to study these volatiles in a level of detail that was impossible for scientists 50 years ago.

That was the goal of keeping some Apollo samples in storage all this time, to begin with, according to Lori Glaze, director of the planetary science division at NASA headquarters.

“The agency knew that science and technology would evolve and allow scientists to study the material in new ways to address new questions in the future,” she said in a statement.

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