A pair of 14-inch tubes drilled into the moon’s surface by NASA astronauts 50 years ago. The astronauts, Eugene Cernan and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, vacuum-sealed one of the cylinders after filling it with pebbles and dirt. Both were returned to Earth.
At the Johnson Space Center in Houston, scientists are now ready to gently open that first tube, which has been firmly sealed since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, when humans last walked on the moon.
What took so long? To benefit from today’s technologies. For example, NASA’s Planetary Science Division head Lori Glaze said scientists will be able to investigate the material in new ways to solve new questions.
The mission’s unsealed tube was opened in 2019. The lunar soil layers had been maintained, and the sample revealed details on landslides in voids.
Because the sample is sealed, it may include anything besides rocks and soil: gas. The tube may contain volatiles, such as water ice and carbon dioxide, which evaporate at room temperature. The materials at the tube’s bottom were quite chilly when recovered.
Scientists are utilizing a manifold, built by a team at Washington University in St. Louis, to separate and collect these gases from the sample.
The European Space Agency (ESA) devised another technique to penetrate the sample and catch the vapors. They name it the “Apollo can opener.”
The cautious opening and capture procedure has begun, and so far the inner sample tube seal appears to be unbroken. Now the piercing begins, with the “can opener” poised to catch any gases that may escape.
Scientists can utilize contemporary mass spectrometry techniques to detect gases in the sample. (Mass spectrometry measures and analyses molecules.) The gas might potentially be sampled by other researchers.
“Each gas component that is analyzed can help to tell a different part of the story about the origin and evolution of volatiles on the Moon and within the early Solar System,” clarifiedFrancesca McDonald, who is running the project at ESA.
The study of these materials is linked to NASA’s Artemis missions, which will send people to the moon after a 50-year absence. Artemis’ plan includes bringing a woman and a person of color to the moon’s surface.