NASA has announced that it is ready to open the locked vault containing pristine treasures Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin collected from the moon 50 years ago.
The vault is at Johnson Space Center in Houston in the US in a restricted-access laboratory. Few people have seen the hundreds of kilograms of rocks inside and fewer still have touched them.
But now, NASA is ready to let geologists use 21st-century technology to do tests not invented in 1969.
The vault opening coincides with the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing.
“It’s sort of a coincidence that we’re opening them in the year of the anniversary,” explained NASA’s Apollo sample curator Ryan Zeigler.
The anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s feat is close. Their lunar module Eagle landed on July 20, 1969 on the moon’s Sea of Tranquillity.
Dr Zeigler’s job is to preserve the 382kg of lunar samples the 12 moonwalkers brought back from lunar landings from 1969 to 1972 and ensure scientists get the best possible samples for study.
Neil Armstrong was the primary rock collector and photographer. Buzz Aldrin gathered two core samples just beneath the surface during the 2.5-hour moonwalk
Some of the soil and bits of rock were vacuum-packed on the moon and never exposed to Earth’s atmosphere. Others were frozen or stored in helium gas following splashdown and then left untouched.
The lab’s staff is now trying to figure out how best to remove the samples from their tubes and other containers without contaminating or spoiling anything. They’re practising with mock-up equipment and pretend lunar dirt.
(With agency inputs)