For the last 50 years, geologists have been slicing slivers from the lunar rocks of the Apollo missions for study, generating several significant discoveries in the process. Two samples, on the other hand, have remained vacuum-sealed for the whole duration. NASA has now established one. Superstitious people may consider this as a risky step, akin to uncovering a cursed tomb or other ill omens, but NASA is beyond such foolish worries, and anyhow, how awful could 2022 get? There was a brief rush of crucial research when the six Apollo missions to accomplish lunar landings returned with their rocks.
As the technology for studying rocks improved, discoveries that could not have been discovered at the time began to emerge. Unfortunately, any gases trapped in pockets inside the lunar material would have escaped over the period most samples were held on Earth, preventing us from examining them with contemporary technology.
Two samples stored in sealed containers on the Moon and not opened since scientists hope are the exception. One of them has now been opened, having been returned by Apollo 17 (the last crewed trip to the Moon). In a statement, Professor Alex Meshik of Washington University in St Louis stated, “For the previous 50 years, the lunar core has been sealed in a core sample vacuum container, which was then enclosed in an exterior vacuum container.” All of this was wrapped in Teflon bags, which were then placed in a nitrogen box within a vault to keep it safe from the Earth’s atmosphere, light, and even scientists eager to move ahead of their peers.
Meshik is part of the NASA-designated team that will carefully open the sample in the hopes of identifying whether any gas is there, and if so, whether it is original lunar material or has seeped in since, despite all efforts to avoid it. “There is no such thing as a perfect vacuum seal,” Meshik explained. “There was no way of knowing how the containers’ vacuum seals had held up after 50 years.” Did they manage to keep the vacuum? “Did they leak to any extent?” The extraction procedure was created to deal with a variety of distinct leakage conditions, adding to the task’s complexity.
We may learn nothing about lunar conditions in the worst-case situation, but we will be taught a lesson about the failure of sealing devices. Molecules that have escaped from the containers have been gathered, and the rocks will be examined to determine whether any gasses that have been trapped in the rocks have escaped. The world’s most advanced mass spectrometers will be used to analyze both the original and subsequent samples.
We’ll have to wait weeks for all of the possible gasses to disperse, and months for peer-reviewed results, but when they do, they’ll include comparisons with another sample taken at the same location but not preserved in this manner. Aside from the jokes about 2022 not being a risky year, there is a purpose for the opening date. In a blog post, NASA’s Thomoa Zurbuchen said, “Understanding the geologic history and development of the Moon samples at the Apollo landing sites will help us prepare for the sorts of materials that may be found during Artemis.”
The investigation will reveal if the Artemis mission needs even more safeguards to keep samples safe for future generations of researchers. It could also be useful for storing Martian pebbles. Although the Apollo missions missed the poles, which are now expected to hold underlying water ice, they landed at widely scattered areas in the hopes of capturing the Moon’s variety. The sample was found in an ancient landslide in the Taurus-Littrow Valley, which is located in the 3.8 billion-year-old mountains surrounding Mare Serenitatis. The material had been buried deep enough that its temperature would never have surpassed 0o C even over the long lunar day, boosting the likelihood that gasses would remain trapped inside.