By Alexandra Witze
The Woodlands, Texas
At some point in the coming year, curators at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, will don protective suits and gloves, enter the high-tech laboratory that houses the United States’s trove of Moon rocks, and open a long metal tube that has been sealed since 1972. That’s when Apollo 17 astronauts pounded it into the ground in the Moon’s Taurus-Littrow Valley to collect rocks.
It will be the first time in decades that anyone has opened a pristine Apollo sample. “One should consider this a new mission to the Moon,” says Chip Shearer, a geologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque who plans to study the core using the latest laboratory techniques. Getting information from the decades-old core “is really a continuation of Apollo and a bridge to our future”, he said on 20 March at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.
Fresh studies of Apollo-era samples could help to shape the next generation of lunar geological discoveries, researchers said at the meeting. Scientists are applying modern techniques to analyse the 382 kilograms of Moon rocks that astronauts retrieved between 1969 and 1972, and using insights from historical and modern Apollo studies to decide the next set of sites to explore on the lunar surface.
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