Science & Tech

NASA Just Opened a 50-Year-Old Time Capsule From the Moon for the First Time


NASA astronaut Harrison Schmitt collects lunar samples throughout the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.


In December 1972, NASA astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt drilled into the floor of the moon to gather lunar soil samples for transport again to Earth. This week, NASA lastly opened one in all the vacuum-sealed samples for the first time. 

“We have had an opportunity to open up this incredibly precious sample that’s been saved for 50 years under vacuum,” stated Thomas Zurbuchen, affiliate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a assertion. “We finally get to see what treasures are held within.”

The tube is a time capsule, not solely from the deep geological historical past of the moon, but in addition from an earlier time in the area age when our instruments have been extra primitive. 

“The agency knew science and technology would evolve and allow scientists to study the material in new ways to address new questions in the future,” stated Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

Zurbuchen says the timing can also be serendipitous as a result of it helps NASA put together for its upcoming return to the moon later this decade as a part of the Artemis program.

“Understanding the geologic history and evolution of the moon samples at the Apollo landing sites will help us prepare for the types of samples that may be encountered during Artemis,” he stated.

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Getting at the preserved sample wasn’t as simple as just popping a cap. Before the contents of the sealed tube could be extruded, it was first scanned using X-ray CT technology to create a 3D image of what the team could expect to find inside. Then all of the gas in an outer, protective tube was collected for study. 

Next, the inner container was pierced to extract any gases present inside.

“We have extracted gas out of this core, and we hope that will help scientists when they’re trying to understand the lunar gas signature by looking at the different aliquots [samples taken for chemical analysis],” stated Ryan Zeigler, Apollo pattern curator. 

Lastly the powdery grey contents have been pushed out of the cylinder and separated into half-centimeter increments.


The Apollo 17 core pattern 73001 processing workforce works at NASA’s Johnson Area Middle in Houston.

NASA/Robert Markowitz

Even earlier than beginning the course of on Monday, the workforce had performed dry runs utilizing a mock-up in the lab. The entire course of needed to be accomplished by sticking fingers into enormous gloves inside a vacuum glovebox and manipulating specialised instruments to get at the pattern. 

The work was accomplished as a part of the Apollo Subsequent Era Pattern Evaluation Program, or Angsa, at Johnson Area Middle in Houston.   

Now, with the cat out of the bag, or slightly the regolith out of the tube, the pattern must be analyzed to see what precisely has been ready half a century to be found.

NASA astromaterials curator Francis McCubbin says immediately’s astronauts will even pay the present ahead to scientists working in the latter half of this century. 

“We curated these samples for the long term, so that scientists 50 years in the future could analyze them,”  McCubbin says. “Through Artemis, we hope to offer the same possibilities for a new generation of scientists.”   

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