As far as claret goes, 1972 was a dismal year for the world-famous wine. But Nasa is confident the Taurus-Littrow Valley on the Moon did not suffer the same wet growing season as Bordeaux, France that year.
The US space agency is preparing to uncork a very special container, not wine, but a sample of lunar rocks and regolith that has remained sealed for 50 years after Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt scraped the material from the Moon’s surface in December 1972.
Nasa’s Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis Program will open the sealed, 3.81 centimeters by 35.56 centimeters metal tube at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas in the hope the sample can teach Nasa what tools and procedures will be necessary to take good lunar samples during the upcoming Artemis program. Nasa’s Artemis III mission, scheduled for sometime in 2025, will return humans to the Moon for the first time since Apollo 17 to take samples of the lunar South Pole.
“Understanding the geologic history and evolution of the Moon samples at the Apollo landing sites will help us prepare for the types of samples that may be encountered during Artemis,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement.
The lunar samples were double sealed, and the Nasa team began piercing the outer seal on 11 February, carefully monitoring for any gas that could have leaked from the inner seal, which would suggest the inner seal failed.
No gas was detected, and on 23 February, Nasa began piercing the inner seal, a process likely to take many weeks, according to a Nasa blog. Scientists hope to capture any volatile gasses, such as water vapor and carbon dioxide, released by the thawing of the sample over the past five decades. Technologies such as mass spectroscopy have advanced tremendously since the 1970s, and scientists hope to study such volatiles in a detail not possible for scientists 50 years ago.
That was the point 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 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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