By Sarah Kaplan
The first person to set foot on the moon had one last task before he came home.
Neil Armstrong needed to pick up rocks — as many as he could carry, as interesting as he could find. The material he collected would constitute humanity’s first samples taken from another world.
With less than 10 minutes to go before the end of his moonwalk, Armstrong used tongs to pile about 20 rocks into a specialized collection box. Deciding it wasn’t full enough, he scooped an additional 13 pounds of lunar soil into the container.
Today, a tablespoon of that soil sits in a sealed dish in a locked and windowless lab at Johnson Space Center in Houston. It is a prized piece of the Apollo program’s greatest scientific legacy: nearly 850 pounds of moon rocks.
For 50 years, research on these rocks has transformed our understanding of the moon, revealing the circumstances of its birth and the reasons for its mottled face. Now, NASA has decided to release three new samples for analysis — samples that no scientist has touched.
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