NASA scientists mine Apollo-era lunar samples to study moon for Artemis mission – Reuters

NASA scientists are excavating the last unopened lunar sample from the Apollo era to learn more about the moon and prepare for a return to the lunar surface. NASA’s Artemis mission aims to bring cold, sealed samples back near the moon’s south pole. The sample was opened at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and is being studied by the Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis Program (ANGSA) – a scientific team aimed at the upcoming Antarctic mission Artemis ) before learning more about the sample and the lunar surface. moon.

“Understanding the geological history and evolution of lunar samples from the Apollo landing sites will help us prepare for the types of samples we may encounter during Artemis,” said Thomas Zubchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. A statement said . .

When the Apollo astronauts returned with these samples some 50 years ago, NASA had the foresight to leave some of them unopened and pristine.

ANGSA sample 73001 is part of the Apollo 17 trainer tube sample collected in December 1972 by astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt.

Astronauts hammered a pair of connected 1.5-by-14-inch tubes into the lunar surface to collect rock and soil fragments from landslide deposits in the lunar Taurus-Littrow Valley.

The astronauts then individually sealed a vacuum training tube on the moon and sent them back to Earth. Only two training tubes on the moon have been vacuum-sealed in this way, and this is the first to be opened.

The other half of the training tube, 73002, was returned in an unsealed container, which was opened in 2019.

Now, the scientists are focusing on the lower sealed part of the core – sample 73001.

It has been carefully stored in a protective external vacuum tube and controlled atmosphere environment.

The amount of gas expected in this sealed Apollo sample is probably very small.

If scientists can carefully extract these gases, they can be analyzed and identified using modern mass spectrometry techniques.

The device used to extract and collect the gas is called a manifold.

A team from the European Space Agency led a team to build this special tool to carefully puncture the container containing the lunar sample without letting any gas escape.

Together, they created and rigorously tested a one-of-a-kind system to collect extremely valuable materials—gases and solids—enclosed inside containers.

On February 11, the team began a painstaking process that lasted several months, first by opening the outer protective tube and trapping any gas inside, thereby removing the sample.

They knew what gases had to be present in the outer container and found that everything worked as expected.

The tube does not appear to contain lunar gas, suggesting that the seal on the inner sample tube may still be intact.

On February 23, the team began the next phase: a weeks-long process of destroying the inner container and slowly collecting all the lunar gas it hopes is still inside.

Once the gas extraction process is complete, the ARES team will be ready to carefully remove the soil and rocks from the container, possibly later this spring.

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