(ORDO NEWS) — 50 years ago, NASA astronauts collected rock samples from the surface of the moon, which were sealed in 35-centimeter tubes. One of the containers was sealed in a vacuum, and the other was placed in a regular container. But both were returned to Earth.
Decades later, scientists are preparing to open the first tube that has remained tightly sealed all these years since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Why did they wait so long? The answer is simple – they wanted to take advantage of the technologies of the future, that is, our present.
“The agency knew that science and technology would evolve and allow scientists to study material in new ways to solve new questions in the future,” says NASA’s Lori Gleizes, director of planetary sciences.
An unsealed tube from this mission was discovered in 2019. Layers of lunar soil were preserved, and the sample gave researchers insight into things like landslides in airless places.
However, a sample that has been vacuum sealed may contain gas. There may be volatile substances inside the container that evaporate at normal temperatures (such as water ice and carbon dioxide).
What do scientists hope to find?
The amount of gases in the sample is expected to be very low, so scientists use a special device (and not even one!). For example, the European Space Agency (ESA) has developed a tool to puncture a sample and trap gases as they escape, which has been called the “Apollo can opener”.
If there are gases in the sample, scientists will be able to use state-of-the-art mass spectrometry technology to identify them.
“Each gas component analyzed can help tell a different part of the story about the origin and evolution of volatiles on the Moon and in the early solar system,” explained Francesca McDonald, who leads the project at ESA.
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