Open the time capsule of the Moon – Space & Astronomy


Like a time capsule, a container with samples of rocks and soil from the Moon brought to Earth by the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 is only opened now. Nothing similar had happened for 40 years, but NASA has now decided to use the pristine samples to train its researchers for future missions on the Moon under the Artemis program.

The opening of the container with samples of rocks and lunar soil collected in 1972 (source: NASA)

The container, opened in NASA's Johnson Space Cente in Houston, is a cylinder that contains a sample of the material that makes up the lunar soil, called regolith, collected in December 1972 by Apollo 17 astronauts Jack Schmitt and Eugene Cernan, the last man who so far has walked on the moon. In January 2020 it is planned to open a second container, with a sample collected by the same pair of astronauts.

The initiative is part of NASA's Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis (Angsa) project, which aims to study the samples collected in the Apollo program using them with new instruments, which were not available in the 1970s. "Today we can carry out impossible measures in the years of the Apollo program," notes the planetary geologist Sarah Noble, from the Angsa program. Today, in fact, techniques are available to detect 3D images, mass spectrometry (scanning with electrically charged atoms or molecules) and very high-resolution microtomy (which cuts the samples into ultra-thin sections) that allow the study of rocks in a very detailed way .

The astronaut Eugene Cernan collects the samples of lunar soil in the Apollo 17 mission (source: NASA)

"The analysis of these samples will allow new scientific discoveries on the Moon and will allow a new generation of scientists to refine their techniques to better study the samples that will be collected by the astronauts of the Artemis program," notes Francis McCubbin, of the Johnson Space Center of the Nasa.

Exploration of the Moon under the Artemis program, explains NASA, involves the use of lunar resources, including water ice that can be used to produce fuel or oxygen, and the study of uncontaminated samples can provide information on the origin of the lunar polar ice deposits, as well as on other potential resources for the future exploration of the Moon.

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