May 24, 2022

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How Apollo 17 Artemis is preparing to return to the moon – sky and telescope

Apollo next-generation sample analysis
A team of scientists, working as part of the next generation Apollo sample analysis, has begun extracting gas in the Apollo 17 deep core sample 73001.
James Blair / NASA / JSC

Old samples from the days of Apollo are helping NASA researchers prepare for a return to the moon’s surface in this decade.

Researchers present 53rd Planetary and Lunar Science Conference Preliminary results showed Next Generation Apollo Sample Analysis (ANGSA) The project is currently underway at NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center. Started in 2019 Under the supervision of both NASA and the European Space Agency, the project is looking at lunar samples stored in airtight containers since the Apollo 17 mission, the last Apollo mission to the moon that took place 50 years ago.

Gene Cernan collects a sample as part of the Apollo 17 . mission
Astronaut Gene Cernan collects samples 73001 and 73002.

The Apollo 17 crew of Eugene Cernan and Harrison “Jack” Schmidt left the Taurus Litro on the Moon aboard the ship. Challenger On December 14, 1972, with 115 kilograms (254 lb) of lunar material. Many of these scientists have helped learn about the Earth-Moon system over the years, but a small amount of samples have been set aside for future use, assuming that more sophisticated analysis techniques will emerge in the coming decades. (Part of the samples That NASA’s OSIRIS-REx will return from asteroid 101955 Bennu next year with ear discs for the same type of save.)

Laurie Glaze (Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters) says in a recent report: press release. “The ANGSA initiative is designed to specifically examine these stored and sealed specimens.”

The new project It was specifically designed to serve as a rehearsal for the mission of returning a new sample to Artemis Initiative, including material processing, examination and analysis with modern technologies. NASA will then apply the lessons learned from the ANGSA project to study new samples from the lunar surface.

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A x-ray scan of the 73002 sample from 1974 (bottom) vs. a micro-X-ray scan (top) of the same sample from 2019.
NASA / Ares

The sample tube, identified as 73001, has a core approximately 18.5 cm (7.3 in) long. Inside there is a portion of a light material collected from Taurus Valley Lettro Near two holes. This material called “Light Mantle” is believed to be part of a landslide from the southern massif.

Taurus Valley Lettro
Apollo 17 astronauts collected samples from the Taurus Litro Valley. Sample 73001 came from the foot of the South Massif.
NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Early analysis showed that the material in the core becomes progressively darker and redder near the top, which is consistent with the expected increase in space weathering toward the surface. The higher levels of iron oxide at the top of the core are likely due to an ejecta impact from nearby craters.

The techniques used demonstrated the value of external spectroscopy prior to dissection of the nucleus, and it is valuable for future sample analysis.

a sample
Color and reflection versus depth on the study base samples.
NASA / Ares

The scientists also tested different dissection techniques, revealing consistent proportions of the minerals pyroxene, olivine and ilmenite across the samples tested. However, a mineral called plagioclase is increasing in depth, indicating a decrease in igneous rocks and an increase in rocks typical of the lunar crust.

The careful analysis continues: Next, the team will carefully remove rocks and soil from the sample for further study over the coming months.

Artemis -1
The Artemis 1 is primed ahead of the car’s launch later this month.
NASA / Kim Shefflet

The unmanned Artemis 1 mission on the SLS rocket’s inaugural flight will take off on a flight around the Moon, soon. (The actual launch date will be determined after the car launches on March 17th.) The Artemis Initiative’s first lunar landing (also without crew), near the Moon’s south pole region, is scheduled for 2025.

The ANGSA project provides a fascinating scientific and generational link between the recent Apollo mission and the Artemis initiative.

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