For half a century NASA has kept a real treasure. But the time has come to reveal it. Three containers of stones, sand and dust collected during the Apollo missions on the moon, deliberately kept sealed so far, will soon be opened and entrusted to different research groups.
Thanks to modern technologies they will try to reveal their secrets, discovering more about our satellite and maybe even on the rest of the solar system. With an eye always focused on future space missions .
THE HIDDEN MOON’S TREASURE
Between 1969 and 1972 the Apollo astronauts collected from the surface of the Moon and brought almost 400 kilos to Earth between rocks, sand, pebbles and dust. Most of them were analysed far and wide with enthusiasm by the experts of the time, who decided to preserve some finds so that they could be studied in the future, with more advanced tools and technologies. Someone was even frozen to evaluate the best method of preservation.
“The technology available in the 60s and 70s was not able to do what we can do now,” explained University of Arizona astronomer Jessica Barnes who will soon get her hands on some of the samples. “Today we can observe a mineral and study its details even very finely, up to almost the width of a human hair”.
BACK ON THE MOON
Why reopen the chest of the moon’s treasure now? To be romantic, one could say that it is because 50 years have passed since Armstrong’s historic first step on lunar soil – it is an important anniversary.
But obviously there is a more pragmatic sense. NASA has recently confirmed its intention to want to take the human being back to the moon, because it has the means and the money. And when you go on a mission there is nothing better than being prepared. Hence the decision to finally put the lunar samples to hand.
To this end, NASA has recently announced that they have selected the nine teams that will take the samples into custody to find out as much as possible about their nature and the history of the Moon and the Solar System.
There will be 360 degree studies, which will analyse the samples to find out, for example, how water is stored and therefore exposed to radiations like the lunar one, and how much water there could be on the Moon frozen between the minerals. The water on the Moon could be fundamental both for human settlement and for future space missions. It can be drunk, but it can also be split into oxygen to breathe and hydrogen to be used as a propellant.
Other research groups will concentrate instead on the composition of the samples, looking for small coloured glass beads, the result of lava fountains dating back to the ancient volcanic activity of the Moon: precious fragments because they would give the opportunity to learn more about the interior of the satellite.
Other experts will still have the opportunity to investigate how the surrounding environment (i.e. Space) and the collisions with meteorites have shaped the Moon, reconstructing its history. “It’s a unique opportunity to get answers to questions that currently don’t have any,” Barnes commented, “It’s really important for future space missions that will bring more samples to the ground.”