Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center want to open sealed lunar samples from Apollo missions in preparation for its plan to return humans to the moon.
The Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis or ANGSA program selected two proposals to study materials collected during Apollo 15, the fourth manned mission to successfully land on the moon, and Apollo 17, the last time that humans walked on the surface of Earth’s natural satellite. The samples have been left untouched since the Apollo program ended nearly 50 years ago.
The first proposal led by astrochemist Jamie Elsila will investigate the volatile organic compounds, the precursors to amino acids — the building blocks of life — previously detected from lunar samples. The team will also analyze whether there are more organic compounds and if they are better preserved in the shadowed regions of the moon.
In addition, the team will determine whether materials stored in a vacuum or in cold temperatures preserve the volatile organic compounds better than if stored at standard conditions. The results will determine how lunar samples to be collected in the future will be curated.
The second proposal to be lead by Natalie Curran and Barbara Cohen from Goddard’s Mid-Atlantic Noble Gas Research aims to study the geologic history of the moon, the amount of time that the samples have been exposed to cosmic rays on the surface, as well as events such as impacts and landslides.
“This is a unique and exciting opportunity to use state-of-the-art techniques on lunar samples that have been preserved for almost 50 years and to study questions that scientists at the time may have asked but didn’t have the ability to answer,” stated Elsila in a press release.
The findings of the studies selected under the program will inform NASA’s future mission to the Moon and to Mars in accordance to U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s Space Policy Directive-1 signed in December.
The space agency is aiming to send astronauts to the surface of the moon in the late 2020s. If successful, it would be the first manned mission to the moon since the Apollo program ended in 1972.