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Rare Rocks

February 6, 2021

Apollo 14 astronauts Al Shepard and Ed Mitchell picked up almost a hundred pounds of rocks and dirt. Most of that haul wasn’t originally from their landing spot, though. Instead, it was debris from an impact that happened hundreds of miles away — one of the biggest events in lunar history.

Shepard and Mitchell landed 50 years ago in a region known as Fra Mauro. Scientists picked the site because it was covered with debris from the collision with a giant asteroid that created Mare Imbrium — one of the biggest features on the Moon. The Apollo samples showed that the impact happened about four billion years ago.

And a study a couple of years ago found that one of the samples came from even farther: Earth. It likely was blasted into space when Earth was hit by an asteroid. A chunk of debris landed on Fra Mauro. It’s older than any Earth rock found on Earth itself.

Shepard and Mitchell conducted two moonwalks. When the second one was done, Shepard took a minute to enjoy himself — he hit some golf balls. They didn’t go far on the airless Moon — although you’d never know it from Shepard’s description:

SHEPARD: Miles and miles and miles.

After that, the astronauts were ready to leave the Moon and join crewmate Stuart Roosa in orbit:

SHEPARD: 3, 2, 1, zero. We have ignition. MITCHELL: What a liftoff! SHEPARD: And liftoff. MISSION CONTROL: Roger, ignition.

They returned to Earth on February 9th, 1971. Scientists continue to study their samples today — 50 years after a trip to the Moon.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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