Fifty years ago, NASA launched the Apollo program that successfully landed the first humans on the moon. Astronauts brought back 2,196 rock samples and scientists have just recently begun opening one of the last sealed tubes.
NASA had the samples collected and sealed away to be researched years later with better technology in the future.
Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, Lori Glaze commented:
[NASA] knew science and technology would evolve and allow scientists to study the material in new ways to address new questions in the future.
Sample 73001 was collected during the last Apollo 17 mission in December 1972 by Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt.
A 35cm long and 4cm wide tube had been inserted into the surface of the Moon to collect the rocks. The opened sample is one of two, which were vacuum-sealed on the Taurus-Littrow valley of the Moon.
Such samples are composed of numerous elements including gases or other substances such as water, carbon, etc.
Scientists wish to extract the elements present in minimal amounts and analyze them.
In early February, NASA removed the outer protective tube first. By late February, scientists had already pierced the main tube to harvest the gas inside. Scientists will now continue to extract elements and substances from the sample to study and research further on the sample.
The sample is different from those previously studied as it was collected from the site of a landslide. Deputy Apollo curator, Juliane Gross explained:
We don’t have rain on the Moon and so we don’t quite understand how landslides happen on the Moon.
After 73001, three more samples will remain to be studied, which senior curator, Ryan Zeigler assures will not have to wait for 50 more years to be extracted:
Particularly once they get Artemis samples back, it might be nice to do a direct comparison in real time between whatever is coming back from Artemis, and with one of these remaining unopened core, sealed cores.