NASA astronaut Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17 lunar module pilot, uses an adjustable sampling scoop to retrieve lunar samples during the second Apollo 17 extravehicular activity, at Station 5 at the Taurus-Littrow landing site.
Almost 50 years after the Apollo missions returned lunar material to Earth, ESA experts are helping to uncover the secrets of two previously unopened samples to learn more about ancient processes on the Moon – and to refine and practice techniques for future sample return missions.
With one sample already being analysed, preparations are now being made to open the second later this year.
This work focuses on rock and soil retrieved during the 1972 Apollo 17 mission, and is part of NASA’s Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA) programme, which takes advantage of advanced analytical techniques.
"ANGSA ties together those who were involved in the initial curation and analysis of Apollo samples with the next generation of planetary scientists,” says Francesca McDonald, ESA Research Fellow who is coordinating ESA’s ANGSA participation. “Our diverse team includes Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt, the only geologist to walk on the Moon, who along with fellow Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan, originally collected the lunar material.
With future lunar missions likely to target the polar regions, and the international Mars Sample Return campaign in preparation, this will provide essential information for developing future extra-terrestrial sample containment and curation procedures.