50-Year-Old Lunar Samples are Opened up for the First Time

Sample collection on the surface of the Moon. Apollo 16 astronaut Charles M. Duke Jr. is shown collecting samples with the Lunar Roving Vehicle in the left background. Image: NASA

NASA’s Apollo missions to the Moon brought back about 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of samples, including rocks, rock cores, rock, pebbles, sand, and dust. Scientists have studied those samples intently over the decades and have learned a lot. But they haven’t studied all of the samples.

In an impressive act of foresight, NASA left some of the samples unopened and in pristine condition. Why? Because they knew the technology used to study the samples would only improve over the decades.

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Chang’e-5 Brought Home 1.7 Kilograms of Lunar Samples

Chinese scientists open the sample container from the Chang-e-5 lunar sample return mission. Credit: Xinhua

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar lander retrieved about 1.7 kilograms (3.81 pounds) of samples from the Moon, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).  The Chang’e-5 sample return capsule landed in China’s Inner Mongolia region on December 16, 2020, successfully capping a 23-day odyssey that brought back the first lunar rocks since 1976.

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