Rocks large and small surround the Apollo 17 lunar rover and one of the mission's astronauts as they perch at the rim of a small but steep crater in December 1972. Scientists are still studying the rocks and soil brought back to Earth by all six Apollo lunar landing missions, learning important lessons about our satellite world. [NASA]
The last Apollo mission returned to Earth in December of 1972, bringing back a treasure trove of rocks, pebbles, and dirt for scientific study. Yet almost four decades later, much of that bounty — along with that of the other Apollo missions — remains locked away. It’s stored in climate-controlled rooms at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, waiting for new ideas and new technologies that will help unlock some of their secrets.
KUHLMAN: It is good that we’ve got samples to look at with the new analytical techniques, there’s no question about that.
Kim Kuhlman is a researcher at the Planetary Science Institute. She develops new techniques for studying samples from the Moon and other bodies.
KUHLMAN: There are just so many new analytical instruments. It’s the nanotechnology that has really come to the fore.
In all, the Apollo astronauts brought back 2200 bits of the Moon, which added up to about 840 pounds. Scientists analyzed many of those samples soon after the Apollo crews brought them to Earth. And that early work revealed important details about the Moon’s composition and history.
But scientists decided to hold many of the samples in reserve. That would allow them to take a better look as new tools were developed. Today, NASA sends out hundreds of samples for new analysis every year — usually no more than a few grams at a time. Yet these tiny bits of the Moon continue to yield big discoveries about our satellite world. More about that tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
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