The NASA scientists have opened an untouched rock and soil samples brought from Moon to Earth nearly five decades ago. The samples were collected on the Moon by Apollo 17 astronauts GeneCernan and Jack Schmitt in 1972. Apollo 17 was the final mission of the US space agency’s Apollo project. The Apollo 17 mission was launched on December 7, 1972. It returned to Earth twelve days later on December 19. Apollo 17 remains the most recent mission wherein humans have traveled beyond Earth orbit. The samples were unlocked at Johnson Space Center’s Lunar Curation Laboratory in Houston. The 1.5-inch wide tube holding the small stash of Moon rocks and dust was collected by the two astronauts during their second of the three moonwalks on December 12. The 430 grams material was collected near the rim of Lara Crater. It was kept sealed for the last 47 years but not under the vacuum. The US space agency in a statement said that another sample is slated to be opened in January 2020.
Scientists opened these samples as a part of the space agency’s Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA) initiative. Scientists believe that these samples will enable new discoveries about the Moon. It will also help the upcoming generation of scientists to redefine their techniques using new tools to study future samples collected from Moon on Artemis program. Under the Artemis mission, NASA is planning to land the first woman and next man on the Moon surface by 2024.
Most of the Apollo missions’ samples brought to Earth from Moon have either been studied or are part of ongoing research. However, the space agency had carefully stored a number of samples. The motive behind this was to test the stored samples using advanced technology at an appropriate time that could help in further exploration. The NASA statement said that the findings from the just unlocked samples will provide new insights into the Moon. It said that scientists will use techniques like non-destructive 3D imaging, ultra-high-resolution microtomy and mass spectrometry to study these samples.