Apollo Sample Unveiled After 50 Years

Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz.

Ever since it was collected in December of 1972, Apollo sample 73001 has been sealed in an evacuated container and stored in the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Nearly 50 years later, on March 21-22, 2022, it was opened by scientists in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Division. The sample is one of the last collected by astronauts during the Apollo 17 mission and contains a mixture of broken rocky material and dust from the lunar surface.

Extensive preparation was needed before the sample tube could finally be opened in March 2022. For example, in February 2022, scientists first extracted any possible lunar gases from the container by piercing it. Any gases collected will be analyzed extensively in future studies to better understand their composition. Scientists also collected high-resolution three-dimensional images of the sample before opening it using X-ray computerized tomography (CT) technology. These images provided a permanent record of how the material was organized in the tube prior to opening and ensured that the science team could plan the best strategy for opening and extracting the sample.

The actual sample extraction took place in a glove box, and the highlights of that process can be watched here. By studying samples collected during the Apollo-era missions, scientists can better understand the geologic evolution of the Moon, including how and where volatile substances such as water/ice and CO2 have been stored. Furthermore, engineers can now make informed decisions on how to design tools that work best for sample collection on the Moon in future lunar missions. In fact, Sample 73001 represents one of a suite of lunar samples that are being studied to help plan for NASA’s Artemis program, which intends to return astronauts to the Moon by 2025. READ MORE