SCIENCE: NASA breaks a tube of lunar gas and soil sealed under vacuum for 50 years.

The Apol­lo mis­sions to the Moon brought a total of 2,196 rock sam­ples to Earth. But NASA has only just begun to open one of the last, col­lect­ed 50 years ago.

All the while, some tubes were kept sealed so they could be stud­ied years lat­er, using the lat­est tech­ni­cal advances.

NASA knew that “sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy would evolve and allow sci­en­tists to study mate­r­i­al in new ways to address new ques­tions in the future,” said Lori Glaze, direc­tor of the plan­e­tary sci­ence divi­sion at NASA head­quar­ters. NASA, in a statement.

Named 73001, the sam­ple in ques­tion was col­lect­ed by astro­nauts Eugene Cer­nan and Har­ri­son Schmitt in Decem­ber 1972, dur­ing the Apol­lo 17 mis­sion — the last of the program.

The tube, 35cm long and 4cm wide (13.8 inch­es by 1.6 inch­es), had been ham­mered into the ground of the Moon’s Tau­rus-Lit­trow Val­ley to col­lect the rocks.

Of the only two sam­ples to have been vac­u­um sealed on the Moon, this is the first to be opened.

It could thus con­tain gas­es or volatile sub­stances (water, car­bon diox­ide, etc.).

And the objec­tive is to extract these gas­es, which are prob­a­bly only present in very small quan­ti­ties, in order to be able to ana­lyze them using spec­trom­e­try tech­niques that have become extreme­ly pre­cise in recent years.

At the begin­ning of Feb­ru­ary, the out­er pro­tec­tive tube was first removed.

It was not revealed that it con­tained moon gas, indi­cat­ing that the sam­ple it con­tained remained sealed.

Then, on Feb­ru­ary 23, sci­en­tists began a week-long process to punc­ture the main tube and har­vest the gas inside.

In the spring, the rock will then be care­ful­ly extract­ed and frag­ment­ed so that it can be stud­ied by dif­fer­ent sci­en­tif­ic teams.

The extrac­tion site of this sam­ple is par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing because it is the site of a landslide.

“Now we have no more rain on the Moon,” said Juliane Gross, Apol­lo’s assis­tant cura­tor. “And so we don’t quite under­stand how land­slides hap­pen on the Moon.”

Gross said the researchers hope to study the sam­ple to under­stand what is caus­ing the landslides.

After 73001, there will only be three lunar sam­ples left sealed. When will they in turn be open?

“I doubt we’ll wait anoth­er 50 years,” senior cura­tor Ryan Zei­gler said.

“Espe­cial­ly once they get the Artemis sam­ples back, it might be inter­est­ing to do a real-time, direct com­par­i­son between any­thing com­ing back from Artemis and with one of those remain­ing unopened sealed cores,” said he declared.

Artemis is NASA’s next lunar mis­sion; the agency wants to return humans to the Moon in 2025.

Large quan­ti­ties of gas should then be col­lect­ed, and the exper­i­ment cur­rent­ly being con­duct­ed makes it pos­si­ble to bet­ter pre­pare for this.

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