Opening Sealed Apollo Moon Samples May Solve NASA's Biggest Mysteries
Beginning in 1969, astronauts aboard the Apollo missions collected rocks and other geological samples from the surface of the moon, sealed them in special containers, and brought them home. According to Space.com, some of the boxes from Apollo 15, 16, and 17 have remained sealed for over 40 years, and now might be the time to crack them open and learn the secrets they hold.
Six Apollo missions resulted in a collection of over 2,200 samples, which are stored at the aptly named Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Seals were broken on some of the containers years ago, but NASA was wise enough not to open all of its gifts on Christmas Eve.
"Samples were intentionally saved for a time when technology and instrumentation had advanced to the point that we could maximize the scientific return on these unique samples," said Ryan Zeigler, Apollo sample curator, Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office manager for NASA, and one of the scientists advocating for the opening of the samples. "Given the recent renewed interest in the moon, and specifically about the volatile budget of lunar regolith, these sealed samples likely contain information that would be important in the design of future lunar missions."
Using the Apollo 17 mission samples to support their case, Zeigler and his colleagues wrote about the potential for learning important information about our planet's relationship with its only permanent satellite.
"Subsequent analyses of these samples provided fundamental insights into the origin and history of the Earth-Moon system and how planets and even Solar Systems work," reads a paper that the scientists will present later this month at the 49th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.
The abstract notes that because of the delicate nature of the samples, some of the "transitory characteristics" were lost. No one knows how tight the vacuum seal on the remaining boxes is today, or how tight it will be in another 40 years.
If at least one of the containers is opened now, NASA could avoid losing more data to time and disturbed samples. And who knows what the scientists could find if given the opportunity to analyze the specimens—traces of water? Life? Nothing at all? There's only one way to find out.