The last time a human stepped foot on the moon was during the Apollo era moon landings. The Apollo missions returned samples of moon rocks and soil for further study on Earth. NASA opted to leave some of the moon samples untouched, and they have sat that way for nearly 50 years.
NASA has announced that it has chosen nine teams to continue the Apollo legacy and finally study the moon samples returned to Earth. A total of $8 million has been awarded to the teams for the project. NASA says that analyzing the samples now gives a new generation of scientists the opportunity to advance the understanding of the moon.
Six of the nine teams will look at three remaining lunar samples from Apollo missions 15, 16, and 17. These samples have never been exposed to the Earth’s atmosphere. Those specific samples were returned to Earth on Apollo 17 mission by astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Gene Cernan in 1972.
They have been vacuum sealed since they left the moon. Some of the samples are from Apollo 15 and have been stored in helium since 1971. The teams chosen include NASA Ames Research Center/Bay Area Environmental Research Institute, NASA Ames, NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, NASA Goddard, University of Arizona, University of California Berkeley, US Naval Research Laboratory, University of New Mexico, and Mount Holyoke College/Planetary Science Institute.
The first step on the project is for the teams to work together to determine the best way to open the samples to avoid contamination. The Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program is funding the research.