In this July 20, 1969 photo made available by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity. (Photo: AP)
WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- NASA scientists opened on Tuesday an untouched rock and soil sample from the moon returned to Earth on Apollo 17, marking the first time in more than 40 years a pristine sample of rock and soil from the Apollo era has been opened.
The sample numbered 73002 was collected on the moon by Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt, who drove a four-centimeter-wide tube into the surface of the moon to collect it, according to NASA's news release on Wednesday.
Some samples returned to Earth on Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions have been kept untouched, all intended to be opened and analyzed with more advanced analytical technologies than were available during Apollo.
"We are able to make measurements today that were just not possible during the years of the Apollo program," said Sarah Noble, a scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C.
Advances in techniques such as non-destructive 3D imaging, mass spectrometry and ultra-high resolution microtomy will allow for a coordinated study of these samples at an unprecedented scale, according to NASA.
Sample 73002, along with another sample numbered 73001 to be opened in early 2020, is part of a two-foot long tube of regolith that collected from a landslide deposit near Lara Crater at the Apollo 17 site.
Those samples preserve the vertical layering within the lunar soil, information about landslides on airless bodies like the moon, and a record of the volatiles trapped within lunar regolith, according to NASA.
"The findings from these samples will provide NASA new insights into the moon, including the history of impacts on the lunar surface, how landslides occur on the lunar surface, and how the moon's crust has evolved over time," said Charles Shearer, a scientist at NASA.