Thursday, April 18, 2019

NASA to Open Lunar Samples Untouched Since Collection

Frankly, this article shocked me, but according to a news article from Machine Design, NASA and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will soon be opening some lunar samples that have not been touched since Apollo 17 at the very end of 1972.  The samples were sealed while on the moon to keep them "vacuum packed" and have never been opened.
Nine “special samples” were collected during the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions and stored in containers with indium knife-edge seals to maintain a lunar-like vacuum. Apollo mission planners devised these special sample containers to meticulously preserve fragile and transitory sample characteristics (e.g., solar wind volatiles and volatile coatings). Three of these samples have remained sealed in their original Apollo containers until today.

Cosmochemists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will get a chance to analyze these Apollo 17 relics to study the geologic history of the site where the rocks were collected, a geologic cold trap where water may have been able to freeze. This marks the first time a sample will be studied in detail since the end of the Apollo program.
The surface of the moon is covered by a fine, powdery, dust called regolith created by meteoritic bombardment of the Moon’s surface over the past 4.5 billion years.  Volatile elements, such as those from coronal mass ejections from the sun, can get trapped in the powdery regolith and the techniques for finding, identifying, and determining quantities of these volatiles have improved in the intervening 50 years. 

One of the neatest aspects of this new analysis is that the guy who collected some of these samples, Geologist Harrison Schmitt, 83, will be part of the LLNL team doing the studies.

(Harrison Schmitt on the lunar surface during Apollo 17 - his only space flight.  It's only when you look at device in the right foreground that you realize you're looking at a color photograph, the scene is so monochromatic - NASA photo)
A new NASA program, the Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis, has selected nine teams to extend the science legacy of the Apollo missions by studying pieces of the Moon that have been carefully stored and remained untouched for nearly 50 years. LLNL is part of the University of New Mexico team of scientists that will look at the vacuum-sealed samples to study both the volatile element record and the geologic history of the Apollo 17 site.

The teams were selected by NASA’s Planetary Science Div. and will be funded by the space agency’s Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program. The goal is to get the most data possible from these samples in preparation for future lunar missions anticipated in the 2020s and beyond.

LLNL will conduct the measurement of noble gasses, as well as analyze major and trace elements and chronology on large clasts. Specifically, they will determine how noble gases were modified by meteorite impacts on the regolith, define the source of hydrogen in hydrogen-bearing minerals in the regolith, and investigate the origin of meteorites that hit the Moon through its history. The group will also determine the ages of samples in the regolith using a variety of dating techniques to better understand the timing of crust formation on the Moon.
One would have to consider these specimens to be essentially priceless and irreplaceable, at least for now.  Naturally nobody is just going to pop open the vacuum container and say, "now what?"  That's going to be decided long in advance.  Before that happens, the teams will meet at NASA's Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston for planning sessions to determine the best way to open the samples to avoid contaminating them or destroying opportunities to learn something from them.


  1. Too bad the last container of Right Stuff was used up long ago.

    1. It's hard to do a "what's really wrong with NASA" article in a reply. They don't allow enough characters. Heck, it would be hard to do a "what's really wrong" piece as blog post, but part of it has to be that for a long time, if you went to the visitor's center on the Cape, the majority of it was essentially, "look at what we did in the 1960s!". It used to be easy to find pictures of abandoned and rusted out launch structures and I only say "used to be" because I haven't looked in years.

      SpaceX signing a contract to lease pad 39A for their launch infrastructure probably did more to preserve NASA's accomplishments than they did. At least some of the launch pad will be there.

      From the outside, NASA looks like just another arthritic government bureaucracy, bound by Pournelle's Iron Law. They've forgotten what they're supposed to do and forgotten how to do it.

      Somewhere along the way, Eisenhower's "military industrial complex" morphed into the "government industrial complex", but people still write about "endless wars" and other military aspects, rather than the reality of how we end up with everything the does going over budget and completed late - if it works at all.

    2. Allow a brief statement that might be viewed as political.

      Trump has the "Right Stuff". He grew up in the times when we either rushed home to watch space launches or watched them at school. After the first couple of Shuttle launches things were too routine to be interesting.

  2. Here's a podcast relevant to this topic. Earth's "oldest" rock found WHERE? (and other affirmations)

    The episode was produced during their fundraising period so you might have to skip around to find the relevant segments. They do try to minimize the time spent on fundraising so their other podcasts won't be interrupted with that if you choose to listen to others.

    Check out their Moon page. Find the list of "the many transient lunar events (that shouldn't be happening if the moon is old)" Very interesting

    The information presented is all drawn from SECULAR scientific sources. You are welcome to disagree with their interpretations, but you can't dismiss their facts.

  3. The only medicine I know of to treat Pournelle's Iron Law is competition. The fundamental property that distinguishes government from most other organizations is that government destroys its competition with a military. Every rocket which can reenter an astronaut could reenter a bomb. NASA is doing what they're supposed to do, gun control, and until recently (SpaceX) doing it well. However, SpaceX first demonstrated success when they only had 600 employees. What will happen when building such a rocket only takes 100 employees?

    1. What will happen when building such a rocket only takes 100 employees?

      That's easy. They'll reduce the number of employees. They just laid off about 10% of their workforce. 577 laid off in California alone.

      I see no reason to think they wouldn't.

    2. Where I was going with this, is that when ICBMs can be built by groups of 100, they will be, and NASA's gun control will be broken. The Kurzweil plots of technological growth show areas of flat, then popping up to a greater-than-exponential trend line. The flat area is successful gun control. Today, the personal defense weapon, the handgun, is nearly unchanged from 100 years ago. When the personal defense weapon pops up to its suppressed capability, invaders will be much less able to force innocents to do things they don't want to.

    3. "nearly unchanged for 100 years ago" Have you checked the price tags?
      And I don't care about "inflation adjusted". It would cost thousands of dollars a year to properly equip and train my family. Guns, ammo, education, and a legal fund.

    4. BlueCat57 - one of those comparisons that comes up when people talk gold's buying power being a standard is that in the late 1800s a one ounce gold coin bought a nice handgun; a Colt Single Action Army, and today an ounce of gold will still buy you a rather nice handgun. Not a custom gunsmithed 1911, but a good production 1911 for sure, or a couple of Glocks, Springfields, SIGs or other polymer framed guns. I've never seen it expressed as how many hours of labor bought the gun in 1880 vs. now.

      Anon - I can't recall who I heard make the argument that handguns have advanced in the last hundred years, but they've advanced in materials, manufacturability and safety, not in the basic function of providing an effective bullet at useful speeds. For example, it's expected that if you drop a gun it won't fire, but that has only been relatively recently.

      Why no advancement in the basic function? Simply because the available handgun performance is well matched to people's sizes and abilities to control the guns, and those human factors haven't changed much in that time. Guns are as advanced as the market will bear. I have no idea what you're thinking of as the suppressed capability of the PDW. I would guess that if there was some advance that was useful to the military, they'd have it long before us. AFAIK, they're using the same handguns the private sector uses.

      The rest, I'm afraid, I understand even less what you're talking about. AFAIK, NASA has nothing to do with ICBMs, so they have no control over them, which means no such thing as NASA's gun control (over ICBMs?)

    5. SGB - Historical comparisons are complicated to say the least. I hadn't thought about an "ounce of gold". My main point was that there is more to gun ownership than just the gun. I can't remember exactly what I was paying for a box of 50 .22 Long Rifle, but for some reason I am thinking 50 cents or less if I bought a "case" of 500.

      Well what do you know! That $29 for 500 today would be $5 in 1970, so I guess things haven't changed as much as I thought.

    6. Anon and SGB - As for guns not changing much, neither have knives, arrows, or for that matter sticks and stones.

      All you got to do is kill the other guy before they kill you. You can only make them so dead. Yeah, I'm not very PC about stuff like that. I've got a grey beard too.

  4. Harrison Schmitt's first and only space flight was to the surface of the moon.

    That's like running for political office only once in your life - and getting elected President of the United States.

  5. Will they test it to see what species of TREES the samples came from on the moon?

    'Moon rock' given to Holland by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin is fake
    A moon rock given to the Dutch prime minister by Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969 has turned out to be a fake. Curators at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, where the rock has attracted tens of thousands of visitors each year, discovered that the "lunar rock", valued at £308,000, was in fact petrified wood.

    Dan Kurt

    1. That one made me LOL and make sure my wife saw it.

      The mind boggles at trying to imagine what really happened.