Pristine Apollo-era Moon Rocks Being Analyzed

May 9, 2022 | Daily Space, Moon

IMAGE: A frozen Apollo 17 sample being processed inside a nitrogen-purged glove box at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The sample is one of many being studied as part of the ANGSA program. CREDIT: NASA/Robert Markowitz

During 1972’s Apollo 17 mission, astronauts collected lots of different types of rocks. When they came back to Earth, some of the rocks were frozen, to preserve volatile gases and other substances which may be in them. Other rocks remained at room temperature, for comparison.

Now in 2022, scientists are taking these rocks out of the freezer, part of an overall goal to help NASA’s return to the moon with the Artemis Program. The first step in this four-year-long process was to make a facility to process the special cold rocks for distribution to other researchers. Another problem was with the scientists working at the new facility. The cold facility requires a glovebox, which is challenging to use. The cold temperatures also produce frost, which limits visibility. The development of the facility will also help prepare equipment for returning cold samples by the Artemis missions.

As for the types of research being done, Jamie Elsilla, a research scientist at NASA Goddard, is looking for amino acids in the frozen rocks. The team hopes to find out how they got there and where they might be in the rest of the solar system. Elsilla said: Our research goal is to identify and quantify these small organic volatile compounds, as well as any amino acids, and to use the data to understand the prebiotic organic chemistry of the Moon.

Another team also got access to the frozen Moon rocks. Specifically, the team hopes to use the relatively unchanging noble gases to understand changes to any organic material in the rocks.

Both of these teams will compare their frozen samples with the room temperature ones.

More Information

NASA Goddard press release

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