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NASA is finally going to study Moon samples it gathered 50 years ago

Published Mar 12th, 2019 3:03PM EDT
moon samples
Image: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

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NASA has been to the Moon several times, but it’s been a while since the last visit. When astronauts explored the lunar surface during the Apollo missions they hauled back a whole bunch of Moon material for scientists to study back on Earth.

With decades having passed since the last manned Moon mission you might assume that any lunar samples NASA gathered back then had already been thoroughly studied by eager researchers. Well, you’d be wrong, and now after sitting for some 50-or-so years in storage, NASA is now releasing the lunar material samples to a number of research teams that were begging for the opportunity.

The samples from the Apollo 17 mission, which have been in secure storage at NASA since 1972, weigh just under two pounds. The rock and dust may still be hiding some secrets that a new generation of scientists could reveal. Six of the chosen research teams will get access to this material, which has never even been exposed to Earth’s air.

“By studying these precious lunar samples for the first time, a new generation of scientists will help advance our understanding of our lunar neighbor and prepare for the next era of exploration of the Moon and beyond,” NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen said in a statement. “This exploration will bring with it new and unique samples into the best labs right here on Earth.”

NASA has made it clear that it plans on returning the Moon sooner rather than later, and it’s not alone. Other space agencies from around the world are in the process of planning their own manned Moon missions, so we may soon have a whole lot more lunar material here on Earth to sift through. In the meantime, however, vacuum-sealed surface material is hard to come by.

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