NASA Is Opening Its Secret Lunar Rock Vaults
NASA is marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing by opening its moon rock samples to geologists.
Hundreds of pounds of moon rocks have been closely guarded in a restricted Houston lab for decades. But now, NASA wants modern geologists to examine the rocks using state-of-the-art technology.
NASA stated that it was a coincidence that it’s opening the vault in the 50th year since the lunar landing, but with NASA’s new Artemis program to put astronauts back on the moon by 2024, the samples are once again at the forefront of space exploration.
Many of the samples are pristine and have never been exposed to Earth’s atmosphere. The samples were vacuum-packed on the moon and either frozen or stored in helium after the Apollo splashdowns. Many have remained untouched. NASA said the wait was intentional so that future technology could be used for analysis. Approximately 70% of the samples are pristine, while 15% has already been loaned out for research. The remaining 15% is at White Sands in New Mexico for safekeeping.
The Lunar Rovers’ Haul
While Apollo 11 brought back the fewest samples (48 pounds), all six missions brought back a total of nearly 850 pounds of rock. Apollo 15 to 17 had lunar rovers, so they brought back much more.
NASA said that they are still learning new things about the moon, even 50 years later. For example, scientists determined the ages of the Mars and Mercury surfaces and determined that Jupiter and the other outer planets formed close to the sun then moved outward. All of this was learned studying moon rocks.
For the next year, NASA plans to provide researchers with samples from Apollo 17, which counted among its crew geologist Harrison Schmitt, who is still involved in the program today and helping with these samples.
In all, NASA has more than 100,000 samples. The agency has selected nine American research teams to study the rocks.